All Posts in “Praxis”

Praxis by #’s

I finished Praxis slightly over a month ago. Since then I have been thinking back on my 9 months in the program a lot. From the time I moved to Atlanta in September, here is a short and incomplete list of some significant numbers from my experience and the things I have learned / produced.

Not included on this list, but most important to me, are the relationships that I made through my work experience at FEE and my education experience with Praxis. In both, I was able to make long-term friendships with inspiring and ambitious people who share my core values. This was the most important thing for me going into Praxis, and these friendships are the important takeaway for me as I look back on it.

What’s Happening Now

A lot happened in June, and I want to give you guys an update on the changes and what is up next for me.

June was my last month as a participant in Praxis. My business partner for the nine months was the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). I had a blast working at FEE and living in Atlanta from September to June. Packing up and getting ready to leave at the start of June was very bittersweet.

For a long time, I’ve been excited about the idea of a long road trip around America. Since there was some time before I had to be back in Canada, this was the perfect opportunity to make the dream a reality.

Re-examining the Past

“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” – George Orwell, 1984

A couple days ago something caused me to start thinking about my high school education on economics. Realistically, my lack of education on economics, while I was in the school system.

I remember being in grade 9 or 10 social studies and being taught about mercantilism. The lesson was that colonizers were able to exploit colonies by purchasing raw materials abroad and then processing them back in the motherland.

There is no doubt that European colonizers were guilty of many terrible things. But purchasing resources abroad, and then processing them at home is not one of them.

The idea was that if I buy a piece of wood from you for $10, then use my skills to turn it into a chair which I sell for $100, that I have somehow wronged you. Since I increased the value of something by $90, I have somehow conned the man who sold me the wood. Even though I am responsible for taking something that used to be worth $10 and turning it into something worth $100, I am somehow doing something wrong.

Some point later on, in the same class we learned about the Great Depression. My memory of high school is pretty fuzzy, but the narrative we were taught was the Great Depression kind of appeared out of nowhere. No one saw it coming until people started selling stocks. Kind of like a hurricane, you can’t say what started it. But, once it started, it was the story of labor getting together, mass demonstrations and unions fighting for the common man, then eventually the problem was solved by this New Deal thing. The government solved the problem (this is the way a lot of problems are solved in school textbooks) by employing a shit-load of unemployed men. Building roads and random stuff made the depression go away.

Only years later, when I discovered Larry Reed’s Great Myths of the Great Depression did I see a more sensical version of events.

I have had countless conversations with people who think that governments solved the Great Depression by spending a ton of money they didn’t have on projects that didn’t actually create much value for society. But because this lesson was taught, when a new financial crisis appears the government can revert the most politically advantageous solution (print money for FREE STUFF!!).

Your view of reality and of life in the present is to a large extent, grounded on things you believe about the past. Many of these lessons were fed to us as children, in schools, and are presented from only one viewpoint. The history you have learned is the foundation for many of your beliefs about the present moment. It’s time to give that foundation an inspection.

Puritan Revolution

“During what we call the American Revolution, a second American revolution took place: a counterrevolution against the pleasure culture of the cities. Personal freedom and sensual pleasure came under attack during the democratic revolution not because the revolutionaries were puritans but because democracy is puritanical.” – Thaddeus Russell, A Renegade History of the United States

The American Revolution is commonly seen as a win for freedom. A nation was born. It freed itself from a far away government and monarch. Democracy and liberty won out over monarchy and paternalism. But is this only part of the story?

What if the common man actually lost freedom because of the revolution? What if people had more freedom when they were ruled by a far away King?

“The one thing that could make men forsake their own freedom and still believe they were free was self-rule”

Freedom is used to mean a lot of different things. You can want more freedom at work. You can search for a feeling of freedom. You can fight for freedom from an oppressive government.

So far in Renegade History, no distinction has been made between political freedom — what you are able to do without the threat of government repercussion– and practical freedom — what you are actually able to do.

A good example of political vs. personal freedom comes from Washington State. In 2010, if you were out at a picnic in a park in Seattle, and you wanted to eat a weed brownie you could have been arrested. Politically speaking you were not free to make and eat something with cannabis in it. Practically speaking, the chance of repercussions for doing this was zero. In 2016, you are politically free to have that brownie, as well as being practically able to buy and eat it.

The American Revolution traded rule of the British for a representative democracy. The people freed themselves of a colonial government, but did they become less free?

In the late 18th century, in the lead up to the Revolution, American cities were extremely socially liberal.

People drank heavily, blacks and whites drank together in lower-class taverns. Women were involved in all sorts of professions that would come to be seen as unfeminine. Prostitutes operated openly in taverns and on the street, with no care about the race of a customer. Same-sex and pre-marital sex were common and not looked down upon by members of the common class.

American democracy replaced rule by England with rule by American ruling elite. Since those in government depended on being elected they had more of an incentive to control public behavior. Citizens in the democracy, now realizing they would bear some responsibility for the irresponsibility of others had a greater incentive to attempt to control the behavior they didn’t like in others. And they had a route to do it through electing officials that would enforce their standards of morality on everyone.

For a democracy to function effectively it would need a hard working, rule abiding, virtuous group of citizens. It can not sustain itself if everyone is drinking, and chasing their own personal pleasure. Especially when those people chasing benefits for themselves take all the positions of power in the government.

This is History From The Gutter Up

A Renegade History goes deeper. It goes beneath what the new “social history” portrayed as the bottom. It tells the story of “bad” Americans — drunkards, prostitutes, “shiftless” slaves and white slackers, criminals, juvenile delinquents, brazen homosexuals, and others who operated beneath American society — and shows how they shaped our world, created new pleasures, and expanded our freedoms. This is history from the gutter up.” – Thaddeus Russell

History was originally about great men. Heroic against evil. Leaders against leaders. A small group of influential leaders with massive influence that shaped the world we live in today. Then history changed. Academics realized that great men made for easy stories, but not a more truthful account of the things that shape society.

Academics in the 60’s and 70’s started to tell stories about great movements instead of great men. Stories of mass political and social movements captured something exciting. Many people joining together to make their voices heard, and to change the course of history. And these mass movements no doubt resulted in change. This history was told as history from “the bottom up”. But it was still a story about social and political movements. Not exactly the bottom.

There is a group missing from almost all accounts of history. The low life’s, that ignore the rules of society, act for their own pleasure, and in many ways create a lot of the social freedoms we enjoy today. In A Renegade History of the United States Thaddeus Russell tells history “from the gutter up”.

It is a story of freedom that is not about permission granted from politicians, or freedom created by massive protests, but instead liberties gained by people shamlessly doing what they want to do. Prostitutes ready to serve any customer, regardless of skin colour, low class taverns becoming the first integrated public spaces in the country. And many of the people we recognize as hero’s of these mass social movements, being actively opposed to many aspects of their own cultures.

You can see a version of this societal change in progress around the U.S. with the cannabis movement. You can look to Washigton state and say that a referrendum allowed people to freely smoke cannabis. Or you can look to the lobbying effort and political legalization movement, and say that the people active in that movement created the freedom. The largely forgotten, but crucially important group are the ones who didn’t care to lobby government, or convince a majority of the state, but years ago simply started shamelessly smoking weed because that is what they wanted to do.

History from the gutter up is scary for people in positions of power. It is a history of societal change that largely ignores them. It creates an avenue for future social change that is not depent on winning political power, but instead offers anyone the opportunity to begin social change by simply doing what they want to do no matter what social norms, and puritan ideals they may be offending.

Blogging for 33 Days in a Row

From December 8th until January 10th I wrote something for my blog every day. One night it didn’t get posted until 1 am, but still, every day before I went to sleep I wrote something and posted it.

Looking back on it now, it went by quickly. After the first week I was really just in the groove, not thinking too much about whether I wanted to post something or not just finding time to write something every day.

When I started, I was struggling with what to write. I spent hours on each post the first few days. Procrastinating. Sitting around trying to think of something great that I had some insight on. I was taking a long ass time every day, and it wasn’t going to work over the course of a month. Over time, it got easier.

Having the pressure to post something every day pushed me out of my comfort zone. The fact that I committed to posting led me to post things that I may never have posted. I posted some poems. I posted some personal stuff. I posted blogs about subjects that I didn’t feel well versed in.

Committing to blog everyday expanded the realm of what I am comfortable blogging about. I am more comfortable writing something artistic. I am more comfortable writing something philosophical. I am more comfortable writing something personal. And, I am more comfortable publishing things that aren’t perfect.

I knew that just because I hit publish on something didn’t mean I had to be certain, and an expert on it. I knew that, but I still felt it in some ways. Now I am comfortable putting something out there that I might change my mind about later. And I am more comfortable to put my thinking process out in the open.

It took a lot of time, but after 33 days, I feel great for having done it.

January PDP

This month, for my personal development project, I will be completing a short book about traveling places and learning things. The goal for the month is to learn about self-publishing, and marketing a book, while also working on my writing by going through the process of editing and completing this thing.

My deliverables at the end of the month will be a ready to publish version of the book, along with some fancy cover art.

The actual publish of said book won’t be too far behind the end of the month.

If you have self-published a book, and have any tips, I would love to hear about them in the comments!

Enjoy Life More | Lose Yourself

I keep reminding myself that I shouldn’t take life so seriously. I shouldn’t end up feeling so stressed. I tell myself that in the long run, all of this little stuff I’m stressing about won’t matter, so I should feel relaxed. I should feel happy, but it doesn’t work.

I have these moments of clarity when everything seems to make sense. I notice that I feel happy, I notice that I feel alive. I have these positive emotions and in my mind, I continue to make note of how I’m feeling. I tell people, “I feel really happy right now” and I keep saying it in my head. I notice that I feel happy, and then I fell happy that I feel happy.

I get caught in a trap. I enjoy the effects of positively reinforcing emotions, so the habit is continually practiced. Then when I start to feel down, I try to stop this habit of judging my emotions. It doesn’t work, though. I’ve already practiced it too much.

I notice myself feeling stressed and I feel stressed about feeling stressed. I notice myself feeling sad and feel frustrated about feeling sad. Instead of just accepting how I feel at the start, I compound the feeling by trying to avoid it.

Then there is the second layer of the problem. The second reason that judging your emotions leads you to anxiety and depression.

When I am noticing that I am feeling happy, I am judging that emotion in comparison to the way I felt before. Happiness then isn’t a state like a speed reading on a speedometer. Happiness becomes the acceleration of my mood.

To notice myself feeling happy, I need to be judging my current state against a feeling of less happiness. Feeling’s don’t last for long, so you don’t have a long time frame to compare against. I end up comparing to how I felt in the hours or the days before. If I’ve been feeling decent the entire time, it is easy to trick myself into thinking that I’m not happy, even if I had been experiencing the same mental state.

My good moods get normalized. So when I start to feel less happy, I get frustrated, or sad, or just generally worried about it. By judging my emotions, I end up making myself miserable.

The trick to enjoying life more is to stop trying to enjoy life more. Stop judging the way I’m feeling all the time; worrying about if I am happy, or sad, or stressed. Enjoying life is not about noticing that you are happy; it is about getting lost. Getting past that part of your mind that wants to compare everything to everything else, and getting lost in the moment.

When you get lost in an activity or in learning a new skill, you aren’t judging the way you are feeling, you are just living. You get lost in your life, and you are experiencing what it is like to be alive.

About Time

I watched the movie About Time last night. If you haven’t seen it — you should — but it is about a 20 something who learns that he can travel back in time and relive moments of his own life. He can go back and change things that went wrong, that he didn’t like, or he can just choose to relive the moments of his life.

The movie covers about ten years of his life. Moving out of his family home, finding love, starting a family, and experiencing death of a loved one.

I originally came across the movie by fluke. Amanda and I were on a bus in Peru. Traveling from the desert oasis of Huacachina to Lima, the capital. This movie just happened to be playing. I fell in love with the message. Towards the end, I was sitting there on the bus crying. Touched by the father and son relationship. Feeling grateful to be alive.

There are some plot holes. Some questions that come up about the mechanics of the time travel. But, there is also a great message you can take from the movie. The message told through this story is to savor life. To be aware of the magic of living and to enjoy it, instead of getting wrapped up in the stressors that don’t actually matter when you consider the fact that you are going to die.

It shows death, not as something to fear, but as an excellent way to remember to experience life. 

Sometimes

Sometimes I feel scared to think.

I sit at my computer waiting. As if something is going to happen, and then I will know exactly what to write about.

It doesn’t usually seem to work.

What works is a stream of consciousness.

Opening the tap on my mind and letting all sorts of thoughts flow out. Eventually catching a good one, and exploring that further.

Sometimes I feel nervous about thinking.

I search for answers to questions, instead of coming up with my own solutions. I think of a question and wonder, “what does X think about this question?”

It’s like I’m trying to avoid the responsibility of forming an opinion.

Sometimes forming an opinion can be scary.

When you state an opinion, you are opening yourself up to the possibility that you are wrong. You are opening yourself up to judgement.

You are also opening yourself up to being correct, but that doesn’t jump to the front of your mind while you are pondering the risk.

Why does it feel so risky?