2021-03-03

How To Meet The Love Of Your Life

When I was fresh out of college, I was working at a place where lots of young people my age worked. It was a lot of fun, because we all liked to laugh and hang out together. Every day at work was like spending time with a big group of friends. Those are always the best workplaces, at least when you're young.

One of my fellow coworkers - let's call her S - was something of a workplace stereotype: she was young, very beautiful, had recently been through a breakup, and had thus started to sleep around a lot, and consequently a lot of the young men in the workplace had started to pay a lot of extra attention to her. She enjoyed the attention, and they enjoyed giving it to her, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

At the time, I didn't fully understand this dynamic. It wasn't until a few years later, after I had worked for a few different employers and observed the same phenomenon again and again that I finally wrapped my head around it. I remember working in a big office in Ottawa, and there was one very attractive and newly hired young woman there. Let's call her L. L spent half her time joking innocently with the men in the office and the other half of the time talking about her boyfriend. But she was 22 years old and fresh out of college, and all the creepy old men in the office knew she was going to soon break up with her boyfriend and inevitably start sleeping around. They were hanging on for their chance, when it inevitably happened. And it did. 

I don't fault anyone for "shooting their shot," but it bothered me a lot that many of the guys surrounding L all the time were twenty years older than she was, and married. They were creeps. L couldn't see it, because she was young, naive, and convinced that all these creeps were just fun guys to hang out with at work. It was a path to being used.

That was years after I met S, but S was in a similar situation. S had a lot of other issues going on with her, as well: she had unresolved parental baggage, had experienced a certain amount of abuse, was possibly bisexual in an extremely conservative community, and so on. But she was also a very nice young lady with a terrific sense of humor, and she made great conversation. So she and I became fast friends.

One time, S and I were talking. She mentioned that she gets lonely, and that was one of the reasons she got attached to so many guys. I suggested that she try hanging out with friends instead. I told her that she had lots of friends, and she should spend her time with them if she felt lonely.

When she heard this, she laughed, and said, "And what if I feel like having sex? Should I call up my friend Breanne and say, 'Hey, can you help me out with this?'"

I laughed, too. But I didn't reply.

*        *        *

Although S and I were good friends and very compatible at the time, we never got together. I ended up in a relationship with a very different kind of woman. Let's call that woman M. M was funny, smart, and one of the most terrific friends I ever had.

M was also depressed, a fact I didn't initially notice or understand about her. Being with M gradually slid into a very difficult relationship. Prozac Nation is one of the most accurate portrayals of depression I have ever seen on film; being in a relationship with M often times felt a lot like being a character in Prozac Nation. Perhaps a better man could have persevered in a relationship like that. As for me, I didn't have the right stuff. M and I went our separate ways.

Building a life together with someone involves creating a trajectory for yourself. Your mutual aspirations fuse together into a coherent plan forward, and everything you do becomes a march toward your aspirational goal. Or, one of you is crushingly depressed and neither of you can see beyond the fog descending all around you. A bad relationship - even between good people - will rob you of your sense of self and steal from you any kind of trajectory you once had. You become a very different person than you are used to being, a very different person than the one you always wanted to be. Your life becomes a game of perpetuating the relationship, of always trying to save it from the inevitable.

Truly, you can live your whole life that way. What happened to me, however, was that I made a sort of rational realization one day: If I fight this hard in a relationship this bad, imagine what I might be able to achieve if I fought that hard for a relationship that was even just a little bit better. I knew what kind of effort I was capable of; I had been putting in that effort for years. What if there was someone out there who was capable of putting in even a fraction of that effort... for me?

*        *        *

Like many people who go through break-ups, I had spent months breaking up with M and not even realizing it. I got out of a dead-end public service job and into a really exciting consulting job. I stopped shaving my head. I started training hard as a runner again. I wrote a dozen really good songs. I even changed what soap I was using. It was a metamorphosis I simply didn't recognize until M and I called things off, and I moved out. Moving out even entailed getting a new apartment, and buying a new car. And of course that new job required a new wardrobe. An outside observer might have said that I had become a completely different person, but the truth is that I had become more of myself. 

That in itself is a whole story that needs telling, but what matters here is that I had stripped myself of the pieces of my identity that weren't actually mine to begin with. Those pieces belonged to the relationship I was in, and the identity that went along with it. The new pieces were the ones I put there by choice, deliberately, based on my own beliefs about who I really am.

This was my crossroads. At this point, I could go the way of S or L. I was young, gainfully employed, fit, attractive, and surrounded by beautiful people who also didn't mind being surrounded by me. 

*        *        *

I had already undergone a significant metamorphosis. It occurred to me that I might take it further. What if, instead of just becoming a better person, I decided to shoot for the moon? What if, instead of living a better life, I aimed to live an ideal life? 

I thought about what an ideal life might actually be like. If I could be doing anything with myself, what would that be? What is the kind of thing I've always dreamed of, but which I've never dared to attempt?

Well, people have all kinds of dreams. Some dream of being rich and famous, others dream of being captains of industry or CEOs; some want to become artists and undertake the Bohemian life, others have wanderlust and set out to see the world. Some have simple dreams, like being parents or living in an old farmhouse; others hatch complex schemes of achieving a list of accomplishments at specified points in their lives.

When I thought about the kind of life I dreamed of living, I thought about a peaceful little beach I saw in Central America. I thought about the humble but beautiful coffee estates in the mountains of El Salvador. I imagined a life in which I could live in one of those nice, small little open-air villas, drinking coffee, picking up groceries on a motorcycle, and spending my days strumming my guitar on the beach. It's not for everyone, but it's what I wanted. Maybe, while I was there, I would meet a local woman who wanted to spend her time similarly. 

With this thought in mind, I started taking small steps toward my dream. What would it take to accomplish something like that? I knew I needed a lot more money, and so I started working on my professional development. I started practicing my Spanish daily, and listening to Spanish language music and radio programs. I got rid of my TV and spent that time reading books and bettering myself. 

For a while, that became my life. I worked hard all day, put in overtime, went home and worked out, ate dinner, and then read and studied. In a way, it was lonely, but it was also extremely productive. I felt optimistic for the future, and each small thing I did in a day seemed like a tiny step I was taking in the direction of my dreams.

That was when I discovered the secret.

*        *        *

I had a vision of the future and a small amount of momentum taking me toward it. What I soon discovered is that people gravitate toward these kinds of vectors. In the dating market and the market for friendship, people are attracted to those who know where they're going, even if that destination is different from what they themselves prefer.

You could think of it like this: millions of other 28-year-old men in the world had good jobs and a reasonably sunny disposition; only a few knew what they wanted out of life.

Of course, here I must pause to point out that many 28-year-old men know what they want out of life, and what they want is lots of casual sex and some good times. That's not a vision for a lifetime, that's a vision for next Saturday night. People aren't attracted to a great vision of next Saturday night - at least, not the kind of people you want to spend your life with. People are attracted to a great vision for a lifetime. 

I met many women during this period of my life, and more to the point, many women met me. That is, I suddenly found myself the center of a great deal of positive attention. That was great. Although I met many women, I did not date many women. This is where my path diverged from that of S and L.

I had another friend we'll call A. A lived thousands of miles away, and was in a similar situation as I was. We both had our own chosen visions of the future and wanted to achieve them. We were both interested in finding a person to share it with. But, while I was searching for the kind of woman I definitely knew wouldn't hurt me like M did, A was not being as deliberate in her search.

Then, one day, we were IM-ing about our respective dating lives. While I was working my way closer and closer toward the kind of women I felt really good about dating, A had been on a string of dates and was casually having sex with a number of men, with no serious prospects on the horizon.

I started telling A about my philosophy, about how I had devised a vision of the future that I wanted, and about how the women I wanted to date were all people who respected that vision and wanted to be a part of it, people who could nurture me as a person as I nurtured them, people I could fall in love with. And the more I held that in mind as my ideal, the closer I seemed to get.

Then my friend A said, "I have physical needs, and I need to get those met." She sounded just like S. And just like S, A was taking herself further and further away from positive, nurturing relationships, positioning herself to be used by opportunistic partners who were not interested in her long-term vision.

And the kicker is: A was willing to give it all up to get her physical needs met. I've been horny, too, but Jesus Christ.

*        *        *

Flash forward some thirteen years.

I am married to a wonderful woman I met during that phase of my life. We moved somewhere warm and pleasant, and possibly temporary. We still share that vision of the future that I developed long ago, but we also recognize that if we achieve the same headspace in a different location, that will be okay, too. But we are still taking steps toward it. Meanwhile, we have two beautiful children, a comfortable living situation, all of our basic needs are met, and we have a wonderful, loving relationship.

A is doing okay. She could be doing better. Her ambition is a shadow of what it once was, and she went through a long period of very mentally difficult years.

S is also doing okay, but she never went anywhere in life. She's a single mother. She's still beautiful, but she lives a hard life.

I didn't keep up with L.

I also didn't keep up with M, but by all accounts, she is doing okay, too, and I'm happy about that.

It's easy to compare myself to people who are doing a lot worse than I am, and of course that isn't really the point. At the same time, I also can't deny that my life is going really well, and my choices and philosophies have played a direct role in achieving that result. I'm still on a positive trajectory, and I'm the one who put myself on that trajectory. Life is good for me in large part because I chose a good path.

And I met and married the love of my life. I achieved this by arriving at a vision of what kind of person I wanted to be in an ideal state, and taking consistent steps toward that goal. In doing so, I instantly became a more attractive person to the people around me. People are hungry for positive directions, they want to be a part of a good thing. Even if they don't want to be a part of it, they want to spectate.

So, developing a dream of what kind of good person you want to be, and attempting to become that good person, is how you meet the love of your life.

2021-01-25

Life In A Global Pandemic, Part 12

I received the Moderrna COVID-19 vaccine.

Instead of selling it on the open market, the world's largest capitalist economy has decided to use central planning to distribute the vaccines. I wish I could say I didn't see that coming, but the global response to this virus has been a disaster of central planning from the very beginning. It stands to reason that the "end" (?) of the pandemic should unfold the same way.

Tarrant County provided a website, distributed mainly by word-of-mouth as far as I can tell, through which residents could register to receive the vaccine. It is not first come, first served. Instead, patients were linked to an electronic form, in which we disclosed our age, race, sex, and so on, along with any "preexisting conditions" we might have. This is to ensure that the vaccine goes first to the sick and the weak, rather than to the young, strong, socially active people who are probably responsible for transmitting the virus so widely. That said, I do think the old and the at-risk ought to have first crack at the vaccine.

"Luckily" for me, I acquired type 1 diabetes more than a decade ago. (Tempus fugit!) The county's electronic form doesn't differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and of course it is only type 2 diabetes that is listed as the kind of "preexisting condition" that puts one at risk of death from COVID-19. Since I can't go on the open market and buy myself a shot, though, I didn't feel too badly about answering truthfully that I have "diabetes" and letting the health department sort out the details. Within a week, I had my appointment for receiving the vaccine scheduled.

The health department called me three times on Friday. I didn't recognize the number, so I let it go to voicemail. In any case, it was an automated call all three times. They also sent me three identical emails the text of which was verbatim to the phone calls I received. The emails contained a link to confirm my appointment, and so I did. The appointment was scheduled for the following day "between 9 AM and 11 AM."

I showed up at about 8:45 AM, and there was already a long lineup of cars waiting to park. Police split traffic up into four separate queues, which eventually merged back into two separate lines. Once we found a parking space, we lined up again inside the building - two separate lines this time. I waited in line for perhaps 40 minutes, during which time volunteers checked my paperwork no less than five times. Finally, I arrived at a registration table, where my paperwork was checked again, my driver's license and insurance information were taken down, and then I was directed into an all-new queue. This queue happened to split into two lines for about 20 yards, before merging back into one queue again. Central planning is wonderful, isn't it?

At last, I was allowed inside a conference room, where I sat at a table and someone administered the vaccine. I was then directed to a second person who gave me my "vaccine card," along with a memorized set of instructions that I will never be able to remember. The gist of it was that I needed my "vaccine card" to get my second vaccine dose, which I will be able to receive in four weeks' time. She also told me, despite CDC information to the contrary, that I cannot mix vaccines, meaning that since I received the Moderna vaccine, I should only get the Moderna vaccine for my second dose, otherwise it won't work. Finally, she gave me a sticky-note with a time written on it: 10:14 AM, the time when I would be allowed to leave the building. Apparently they make people wait in the conference room for 20 minutes to ensure that nobody has an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

Then I went home.

My sister had received the Moderna vaccine a few weeks before I did. By her account, the vaccine causes muscle cramps, tiredness, feverishness, and so on. I expected to have a similar experience, so I quickly went for a nice, hard run when I got home. I figured that if I was going to be out of commission for a day or two, I should get a good workout in before I started feeling down.

None of those adverse reactions happened for me. The injection site became about as sore as it would be for a tetanus or DTAP vaccine. I did not experience tiredness, pain, fever, or anything else. I feel perfectly fine.

I would recommend the vaccine to others. Hopefully, most everyone will eventually receive an effective vaccine, and the spread of this disease can be minimized as much as possible. I understand that this is one of the first widely used mRNA vaccines ever made. I was curious about it for that reason. This is a new mechanism of action, one that has not previously received widespread federal approval. (According to a handout I received when I was given my vaccine, the Moderna vaccine is "not FDA-approved." They want everyone to know that they are getting an unapproved vaccine, presumably so that no one will ever think to blame the FDA if something goes wrong. Nothing says "accountability" quite like government.) I think now that the concept has essentially been proven, we can expect to see more mRNA vaccines in the future. This could mean a cure for the common cold, to say nothing about all the other, more serious, diseases we might be able to cure with new vaccine technology. 

If there is anything positive about any of this, that's it. It's exciting to be a part of medical history. I'll let you know if I grow a demonic hand or something, but at this point I am expecting it to be smooth-sailing from here.

2021-01-22

3-D Chess And The Federal Minimum Wage

MSN.com reports that President Joe Biden is signing an executive order to set the wage minimum paid to federal employees and contractors at $15 per hour.

Note that this is not actually "an increase in the federal minimum wage." Biden's executive order is about the wage that the federal government pays to its own employees. It is not an executive order about setting a national minimum wage. If I'm not mistaken, the latter requires Congress and could never be achieved by an executive order. 

Biden has always been popular among federal employee unions, school unions, and the like, because he has always been quite favorable to their policy preferences in the past. So it will not be surprising if we hear members of these unions reacting quite happily to Biden's executive order on federal wages. That's a political win for Biden.

Interestingly enough, though, it might also be an example of 3-D chess. Why? Because increases in the minimum wage are well-understood to decrease employment. When you make something more expensive - in this case, labor costs - you get less of that something - in this case, labor. This is one of the most empirically robust findings in economics. It's not even worth debating anymore. Increases in the minimum wage decrease employment. 

Thanks to both the covid-19 pandemic and the various government lockdowns attendant thereto, the economy is in quite a pickle. The federal government is spending money like a drunken sailor, money it doesn't actually have. So the government's debt is increasing, and its budget deficit is increasing, and the US economy is not very healthy. One solution proposed by those who favor "austerity measures" is a reduction in federal spending. 

So the question is, how would a Democrat who wants to make unions happy choose to reduce federal spending while still pleasing his union supporters? One way might be to raise the wage standard such that the federal government hires fewer employees, reducing costs. Of course, this can only happen if the workforce reduction (or its growth rate) is reduced by more than the cost of the wage increase. Well, the federal government is now free to reduce the size of its workforce as much as it wants, since the unions are happy and US citizens in general have received the signal that Biden is "good for labor."

It will be interesting to watch and see what happens to the size of the federal workforce.

2021-01-11

Quick! Do Something! Anything!

It's often been said that "haste makes waste." I happen to agree. Unfortunately, most people do not.

In a stunning admission over the weekend, one of my far-left friends said that free speech absolutism was a conservative position. I call this "stunning," of course, because free speech absolutism has been, for the majority of my lifetime and that of my parents and grandparents, the liberal position. If anything, it has been a left wing position, held only by the most ardent of leftists. 

While I'm pleased that the right has discovered a newfound appreciation for freedom of speech, I'm disturbed by how quickly the left has shrugged it off completely. They now accept without question that there should always be some restrictions on the freedom of speech.

Before I continue, let's get the obvious out of the way: In this blog post, I'll be focusing mainly on the ethical principle of free speech and open dialog, the belief that society is freer and better off when all viewpoints are expressed than it would be if certain kinds of ideas were banished from conversation, even informally. I will not be referring to the merely legal concept of a constitutionally protected freedom from a government's legally denying people speech rights. The reason I'm making this differentiation is because it's possible to shut down a conversation without violating any law or civil right. 

The impulse is understandable on some level. When one encounters very abhorrent views, it's natural to want to get the hell away from them. In our personal lives, we can manage to do so very easily, by walking away. If someone decides to follow us around with a megaphone and scream abhorrent views at us no matter where we go, we have a tort to deal with that kind of harassment, and there is really no issue of free and open dialog at play.

But when a cadre of very powerful media moguls decide to collude against a particular strain of free expression, severely limiting society's access to that strain of thought, even if they're within their rights to do it, free and open dialog has been abridged. Not legally abridged, mind you, but abridged.

This, in turn narrows the available array of ideas. In the moment, that might achieve a given end. You might temporarily stamp-out a particular strain of thought, at least until the people who believe that strain of thought figure out a more reliable way to broadcast their beliefs. (I understand that Ham radio is still an option...)

The next time society encounters a strain of thought that it thinks is abhorrent, they will have that much easier a time squashing it out. The problem arises when the thought they're squashing out isn't truly abhorrent with respect to the arc of history. For example, interracial marriage used to be considered abhorrent, and those advocating it used to be reviled. In the long run, though, interracial marriage is good for humanity, and most of us now fully recognize that it's not an abhorrent thing at all.

How did society go from reviling interracial marriage to tolerating it, and then to appreciating it? I think society accomplished this through free and open dialog about interracial marriage. We started by talking about it and making people mad; then we talked about it and made people bored; now we talk about it and make people happy. That's evolution, for you.

Notice that the people who reviled interracial marriage did not know at the time that they were reviling something that was actually not a problem at all. Instead, they thought they were standing up for what was right! Sticking to you own!, they thought. That's how it's supposed to be!

They were wrong, and needed convincing. That's what free speech does for us.

Free speech does something else for us: It lays bare the arguments for bad ideas, and enables smart people to defeat those arguments. Imagine a bad idea that everyone knows about, but that no one is allowed to discuss. Take teenage sexual intercourse, for example. Many teens are unable to discuss sex with their parents, because their parents forbid such discussions from being had. So those teens often grow up either sexually repressed or they get themselves into a kind of trouble that they could have avoided if they had had better information from a trusted source. Talking about teenage sexual activity doesn't lead to teenage sexual activity. The data on that are all pretty clear, and they state that teens who are able to have supportive and informative conversations about sex with their parents grow up to be better adjusted and to avoid more of the pitfalls of sex, such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. That's because having conversations out in the open about bad ideas enables us to respond to all bad arguments with good counterarguments.

The critic may here respond, "But some of these people don't care about or won't listen to counterarguments!" No, they won't. You can't control how other people respond to your arguments, however. Preventing them from being able to speak at all -  on whatever platform we happen to be talking about - is the authoritarian impulse. It won't work. 

The left used to understand this quite well. I am sad that they no longer do.

2021-01-08

The Left Can Meme - At Last

For years, the trope on social media has been "the left can't meme." The right, especially the alt-right and the 4-chan right, have been a relentless band of merry pranksters on the internet for ten years or more, mercilessly lampooning every aspect of the left. Meanwhile, the left, for its part, has been unable to counter the attacks because the left's memes are lame

The typical right-leaning meme shows some sort of pop culture artifact which, when combined with a real and actual position held by left-leaning people, combines to make a funny joke that is universally understood. The typical left-leaning meme, by contrast, usually shows a picture of someone who is angry, accompanied by some words about how dumb or infuriating the right is. It's not clear that the latter example really is a joke. It's just a photo attached to a short rant. It's lame. That's why the left can't meme.

Or, at least, that's why I thought the left couldn't meme. I thought the people creating these memes basically had such bad senses of humor that they couldn't make an effective joke at the right's expense. And perhaps that is still true of many left-leaning memers. 

In the last 48 hours, however, the left's ability to meme has blossomed in the wake of the weird thing that happened at the Capitol building. For the first time in my life, I'm seeing some genuinely funny left-leaning memes lampooning the right quite effectively. 

What changed? Here's a theory:

For decades, the left have been staging protests and attendant photo ops, and these events have been full of, well, clowns. Leftist protests for many, many years have been filled with fringe characters sporting weird clothes, dreadlocks, piercings, and costumes. The events have been attended by people doing drugs and playing with juggling sticks. It's been close to a literal circus every time the left has shown up to protest something. Any photo from such an event is a meme in the making. It's impossible to take such people seriously because it is almost as if they don't take themselves seriously. 

Right-leaning protests, by contrast, have been full of people wearing either leather or blue jeans and sporting American flags, but beyond that, they look pretty much like the people you see at the local gas station. We might criticize their ideas, their grammar, or etc., but a photograph of these people hasn't in the past been an easy laugh

So, there has always been that difference between the left and the right. 

But not anymore. 

When Trump's clown circus stormed the capitol building, they looked every bit as ridiculous as the left has looked whenever they showed up to protest. Wearing face paint and buffalo skins, grinning like fools, and prancing around like circus performers, these rightist protestors made absolute idiots of themselves, and everybody knows it. 

That fact is now well-established in leftist memes. The left can finally use actual photos of actual rightist idiots to refer to commonly understood cultural events, and the left can give it to the right good and hard. Best of all, the right brought all this upon themselves, and they deserve it.

Truthfully, I don't know what the future holds for conservatism or Republicanism in America. I honestly don't see how the Republicans can recover from such a total self-destruction. What serious person is going to continue to stand behind such a clown show? 

2021-01-07

Is There Racial Disparity In Coup Attempts?

There are a lot of Twitter screenshots floating around out there about how 52 people got arrested for yesterday's crazy quasi-coup attempt at the Capitol building, versus 14,000 arrests during the George Floyd protests. This disparity, according to those who point it out, proves "white privilege" and "structural racism."

Has the world gone mad? The US government was possibly attempted to have been taken over by a furry yesterday, and people want to argue about how bad it would have been if the furry had been black. 

For perspective, imagine that you're walking through Times Square, when suddenly a flying saucer descends from the skies, lands right in the middle, the door pops open, and out walk three greys and Jesus Christ, all wearing polka-dot space suits, and when the crowd falls silent, they all yell in unison, "Whassup, my n-words!!!" Then, the next day, everyone on Twitter starts arguing about whether it was racist for them to have used the n-word. Not a peep about proof of extraterrestrial life or the second coming of the Messiah, no, it's all about racism.

I am sensitive to the plight of the marginalized, but our present predicament desperately needs to remain fully contextualized. The outgoing president of the United States of America may or may not have committed incitement or treason or sedition or whatever, using a deranged army of furries. Maybe now is not the time to remark that black lives matter.

They do matter. But what the flying fish just happened yesterday???