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A harsh mistress (with apologies to R.A.H.)

The marketplace is not your friend. It’s not your enemy either. It simply doesn’t care. It is one of the most absolutely neutral things in the universe.

The marketplace tends to reward you in proportion to the value you bring to it. Oh, some people will interfere with this from time to time, but over long periods of time, it rewards value. It doesn’t really care about people.

Just like it doesn’t really care about people, the marketplace doesn’t care about your needs, wants, dreams, hopes or your aspirations. All it cares about is the value you bring. Dream big all you want. Unless your dreams produce value, the marketplace won’t reward them.

Skills are what make you valuable to the marketplace. Skills are everything in the marketplace. They define the value you bring. Dreams, it turns out, are not skills.

Some of my skills are a lot of fun to exercise. Unfortunately, they don’t pay very well. I have other skills, not nearly as much fun, which pay far better. Why? They are more valuable to the marketplace. If those skills become obsolete tomorrow, they will cease to pay well. If I want more money, I need more and better skills. So do you.

The marketplace, like history, has some lessons to teach. Also like history, it doesn’t care if you learn them or not. Not learning them, though, is going to cost you and will cost you far more than money.

If the marketplace is not your friend, then what is it? It is, more than anything else, a harsh mistress.

NOTE: If you haven’t read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein, you’ve missed out on a great book. You should go buy it now.


Who knew there were so many operatives

One of my pet peeves is terms that get overused (unless, of course, I overuse them, in which case they are “well-used” at worst). Of overused terms, one I particularly despise is the word “operative.” Here are some relatively recent examples.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over? It’s like a Robert Ludlum novel.

Changing your personal narrative – philosophy

It has been a while coming, but this is the next installment in my “how to change your personal narrative” series. As with pretty much everything I write on this topic, there’s a decent chance you’ve already read something similar to what I write here. That’s okay. When it comes to “what life is all about” and “how do I get the life I want” type questions, there’s really nothing new out there. Jim Rohn used to say he wanted to “talk about some old stuff.” I figure, if it’s good enough for Mr. Rohn, it’s good enough for a redneck kid from North Carolina.

Today’s topic is philosophy. Please understand that when I use the word philosophy, I’m not talking about the writings of some dead guys who used big words to explain concepts that were hard enough to understand before they got hold of them. I have previously defined philosophy as “everything you know and how you choose to let it affect you.” To that I added “…it is what you know and how you act based upon what you know.”This is the definition to keep in mind for this post.

Let’s start with this: we know a whole lot more than we can do. This has some real world implications for all of us. For instance, while I may know how to save money for the future, I may also know how to live beyond my means (or I may at least know that each of these is possible). But, while I know both, I can’t consistently do both. Likewise, while I may know how to run the Operating Room for a major medical center and how to run a full-time hypnosis clinic that sees people for 8-10 hours every day, I can’t do both at the same time. This is why the definition of philosophy matters. We can only act on a portion of everything we know.

Since we can only act on a portion of what we know, and since the things we know (whether experientially, by what we’ve read, by what we’ve seen from others or by what others have told us) can greatly influence us, it’s important to know what those things are and how we’re letting them affect us.

Let’s pretend for the moment your definition of a successful or well-lived life, the life you want to live, includes doing as little as you possibly can to make money and living as simply as humanly possible. And yet, you seem to always find yourself working long, hard hours in a job that pays far more than you believe you need. Why would you do such a thing? Well, let’s further pretend you were raised by Depression era parents who worked diligently to instill in you both a work ethic that was perhaps excessive and a need to achieve material success. These two things, I submit, would be in conflict with this hypothetical life you want.

Here’s another example. Pretend you want to make a lot of money. In this case, we’ll define “a lot of money” as a consistent 7 figure personal income. Let’s also say you grew believing honesty and integrity are vitally important. At the same time, you grew up in a time and place where the common attitude toward those with a lot of money was that having a lot of money was proof of being dishonest. It was proof the person with a lot of money had schemed and cheated his way to wealth. Financial success, then = dishonesty.

In both cases, a person could find himself/herself sabotaging their very best efforts to achieve what they wanted. Why? Because your subconscious mind, the part of your mind that is concerned, not with what is right or wrong, good or bad, or moral or immoral, but with what is familiar, keeps bringing you back to what is familiar and psychologically comfortable. It keeps you doing things that are consistent with your philosophy.

What then, are we to do? If it is a person’s philosophy that determine what he/she does, regardless of what he/she wants, how is that behavior to be changed? Fortunately, there are some answers.

For the person who really wants to know, who really wants to increase his/her self-awareness, it is possible to learn what your philosophy is regarding almost any aspect of life. More than that, not only can you know your philosophy, you can change it.

How to do those two things, knowing what your philosophy is and changing it once you know what it is, will be the topics of the next post in this series.

Objective ethics?

I try really hard to not be rigid. Truly, I do. At the same time, I was raised to believe some things truly are categorical imperatives. We didn’t call them that and I have some doubts as to just how many of my relatives could have told me who Immanuel Kant was, had I even known to ask. What I did know, was this: there are some things one simply does not do. Ever.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize some things are perhaps not as black and white as I once believed. Really, this has been more of a realization that I don’t have all the answers to all of the questions. Growing up is like that. As a person of Christian faith, who is closer to 80 than 18, I’ve reached the point of being relatively comfortable with not only saying “I don’t know,” but even with a section of scripture that, in a different context, expresses what I now see as a great truth. In Isaiah 55:8 we find “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.… I’m okay with that. Regardless of a person’s view of spirituality and faith, there are, at least currently, some things we simply don’t know. Some things, though, seem constant, at least to me.

Sarah Hoyt’s blog features a guest post by Caitlin I. Woods. Dealing with situational ethics, she makes the point that eliminating objective right and wrong is a dangerous and usually unnecessary step – for most people, most of the time, there is no need to argue circumstances dictate what is right and wrong. Can we devise a sufficiently convoluted hypothetical situation in which objective right and wrong are at least questioned if not abandoned? Of course. In fact, that’s how she opens.

“Is it wrong to steal if it’s to feed your starving family?

No, no, wait—I mean, what if you *really really* needed the food, and you had no alternative way to get it, and you had a huge extended family that was going to die, *literally die* if you didn’t procure food for them *right now*. And you live in a hideous dystopic world where the powers that be are intentionally starving everyone, and the only people who have food are the ones that are actively starving

everyone else, and…”

She follows with what is arguably the best response to any hypothetical situation clearly designed to lead to arrival at a predetermined conclusion.

“Stop. Just stop.

Yes, I’m sure it’s possible to posit a world where the only reasonable alternative to death is theft, and even a world where any moral person would cheer the decision. You win. I will completely and totally agree that it is theoretically possible to come up with the circumstance.

So. Freaking. What.”

She gives a quick overview of the problems with the question asked, pointing out that in the real world, the one in which you, I and  presumably those who would question the existence of objective right and wrong live, there are almost always options beyond the ones the hypothetical offers.

“I think the best comparison is really something like… I don’t know, gravity. The effects of gravity vary wildly depending on where in the universe you’re observing it. In a black hole, it is an astoundingly inescapable force that even light is powerless against. On Deimos, a human could, unassisted, attain escape velocity.

For pretty much all practical purposes, though? Gravity is 32ft/s^2, and anyone who needs to deal with it being different than that will certainly know it well enough in advance to be able to make the proper allowances.

In the same vein, while it’s possible to come up with a circumstance in which it isn’t wrong to steal… it’s not here, it’s not now, and it’s a circumstance none of us are likely to come across. Ever. Let me put it this way: While we can have an argument about whether it is more moral to steal than to allow someone under your care to die of starvation, there are *so many millions of options to take* before that’s even remotely an issue that I’m astounded at the sheer fatuousness it requires to come up with the circumstance.”

I know that in my case, the “there are no other options” limitations placed on me by such questioners really annoy me. As a result, I usually reject the premise(s) of the question. I hate it when people try, overtly or otherwise, to shove a given belief or position down my throat.

Then, she calls the whole thing what it is – an attempt to destroy the very concept of objective ethics. It’s not simply a silly question you’re asked in a situation like that. Nope. It’s an attempt to force you into accepting as true something you’d normally reject, thereby calling into doubt a far more basic belief – that there can even be an objective ethic.

“But it’s not fatuousness. Not really.

It’s an inherent, knowing attempt to destroy the entire idea of things being always right or wrong *at all*.”

I encourage you to read the entire posting. It’s well worth your time. I think, in many cases, people are for some reason unable to accept that something can be wrong and yet virtually unavoidable at the same time. In my opinion, it is for things like this that the legal arena, for instance, has jury nullification. Maybe there are times the conflict is not between whether a thing is right or wrong, but between something being right or wrong and necessity.

I’m reminded of the story, probably apocryphal, about New York Mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia. I have the text saved to my computer. Sadly I don’t remember the source. The story goes like this:

“In the middle of the Great Depression, New York City mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, strived to live with the people. It was not unusual for him to ride with the firefighters, raid with the police, or take field trips with orphans. On a bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told the mayor that her daughter’s husband had left, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving.

However, the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor,” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.”

LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous hat, saying, “Here is the ten-dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

The following day, New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered woman who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren. Fifty cents of that amount was contributed by the grocery store owner himself, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.”

Read the rest of the post. It’s worth your time and consideration.


Don’t be weird

I want to talk about network marketing…

Okay, not really. What I really want to talk about is liberty. More specifically, I want to talk about how to increase it or spread it to more people. To do that, however, want to talk about a concept related to it. But first, a story.

I know a number of people who were, and are, successful network marketers. By “successful” I mean the following

  1. They work with real and legitimate companies
  2. They offer goods or services people would buy even if there were no business opportunity attached
  3. Through their work, they have had a real and positive impact on their lives and the lives of others
  4. They have all followed the same basic plan for achieving their success

One of these people always offers the same advice to those who choose to work with him:

“Don’t be weird”

That’s it. That’s his advice. Oh, he talks about other things, the “how to” part of running a legitimate and successful business like his, but this is the one he focuses on.

How does this relate to liberty?

Every single one of the people I mentioned above has built his or her business to the point of earning 6 figures a year by doing, broadly speaking, the same thing. They found somewhere between 3 and 5 people who saw things the same way they did and taught them how to “do the business,” and they started with the people they knew. Now, they would, even after finding those 3-5 people, continue to search for others who saw things the same way, but it was those 3-5 who ensured they would reach what most people would consider a significant income. Additional people simply meant more reach, more impact and, yes, more money. All of this is particularly true of those who were not possessed of an overwhelming or almost other worldly level of charisma.

Many of us in the various liberty/prepping/homesteading movements have wondered how we manage to  bring about change on a national level. How can we increase liberty? How do we help people become more prepared for some reasonably to be anticipated natural disaster? How do we show people the joy and freedom of homesteading? I submit the following is a valid way to proceed.

  1. We take care to live lives that don’t appear, to outsiders, to be one-dimensional
  2. While we don’t avoid talking about our lifestyle choices (homesteading, prepping, what have you), we also don’t talk about them every time we meet people. Instead, we let them come up as a normal part of a conversation in which they are appropriate topics. Then, as with all other topics, we avoid going off on some long-winded monologue about the joys of raising chickens or what we view as the coming _______(insert catastrophic event of your choice), or any of a thousand other things.
  3. When people tell us, in the course of the above-mentioned normal conversation, they just don’t see the necessity of having a pantry with “X” months of food, we do not
    1. Tell them they must not love their families or liberty
    2. Walk off obviously shaking our heads in disbelief
  4. We find, during the course of normal, everyday life and conversation, 3-5 people who see things the way we do. We help them get to the point they will do the same thing. By the way, the first 3-5 who say they agree with us will almost certainly not be the ones who actually stick with homesteading/prepping/spreading the word.Afterward, we continue to look for others, but the 3-5 is enough. More committed people just makes things change more quickly.*
  5. We stay in this thing “for the long haul.” That shouldn’t be a big challenge for us. After all, our homesteading and preparedness are lifestyles instead of mere fad following, right?
  6. We remember we will have our greatest effect if we remain a true grassroots movement. The grassroots progression, I submit, is local –> state –> regional –> national, not the other way around!
  7. We remain absolutely committed to a simple principle: Don’t be weird!

Liberty, I have decided, is a concept many people have not seriously considered. Oh, they like the general idea, but they haven’t really given it a lot of thought. If we dump everything we know and believe about liberty on people who aren’t ready to hear it, look at just some of what we’re likely telling them (well, at least it’s some of what I’d be telling them), what we are asking them to believe, much of which they may have never considered.

  • You can’t trust the government you’ve always been taught to trust
  • You can’t really trust the political party/ideology with which you likely identify
  • Freedom and liberty come from accepting absolute responsibility and accountability for your decisions and actions
  • The government has no legal obligation to ensure your safety as an individual
  • Everything you allow others, whether individually or collectively, to provide you, also provides them ever-increasing control over you and your life
  • Laws, all laws, are ultimately backed up by the threat of deadly force
  • None of us have any right to the fruit of another’s labor
  • The world owes us nothing
  • To be truly free, to truly exercise liberty, we must allow those with whom we have the strongest of disagreements to likewise be free

This is, I think, a lot for many people to wrap their heads around, especially in practical terms. It might sound fine when discussed in some theoretical or academic discussion. It can look a whole lot different when we are challenged to live it out in real life.

So, if you want to bring about change, if you want to help increase liberty, don’t be one-dimensional. Don’t let your enthusiasm for your lifestyle and message lead you into dominating conversations. Don’t be rude. And, above all, don’t be weird!

*NOTE: Finding “3-5 people who see things the way we do” is most emphatically not code for suggesting people start forming anti-government “cells.” That would be truly weird, very counterproductive and not conducive to the spread of liberty. So, I’m not asking you to be part of any such cell. If you give some hint you want me to be part of such a cell, I will likely give you a very special gift I and other veterans have reserved just for people like you. 

Everything of value has a price

On this day, 181 years ago, the siege of the Alamo came to an end. Outnumbered seven to one, The defenders of the Alamo held off the Mexican Army under the command of General Santa Anna for 13 days. With the possible exception of three survivors, the defenders who had not been slain in the battle itself were executed afterward.

13 days later, the Texian army under the command of Sam Houston would again engage the Mexican forces,  this time in the Battle of San Jacinto. Now merely outnumbered by 50%, they would kill nearly half of a numerically superior force and wound and capture nearly all the rest, including General Santa Anna himself. This particular bloody ass-kicking of a battle lasted a grand total of 18 minutes.

Other than being an interesting bit of military history, what does this have to do with anything?

Whether we are discussing Horatio at the bridge, the battle to hold the pass at Thermopylae, the siege of the Alamo, the Battle of San Jacinto or any other battle against arguably overwhelming odds, there is something to be learned.

In just a few months this nation will observe a day that is famous for, among other things, the signing of a particular document. This document, the one we know as the Declaration of Independence, concludes with the pledge of the signers to dedicate to the cause “our lives our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

What this all has to do with anything is this. The degree to which you, I or anyone else is committed to the preservation or achievement of something we claim to hold dear, can be measured largely by what we are willing to risk and sacrifice for it – the price we are willing to pay.

What, then, do you hold dear? Family? Your faith? Your home? Your nation? Liberty itself? In all likelihood you will never have to sacrifice your life, your fortune or your sacred honor in defense of these things. You will, however, almost certainly have to sacrifice your time, your energy, your effort and your human desire and inclination to put yourself first. This is a challenge. It is the one you face, it is the one I face and it is the one all of us face. The odds are most of us will never face a situation in which we must go out in a blaze of glory. Instead, we will face the arguably more challenging task of doing, day after day, that which protects, preserves and defends that which is important to us.

It is my hope, my wish and my prayer that each of us will find the strength, the courage and the commitment to daily do what must be done in the interest of those things that truly matter.

Remember the Alamo.

I just can’t buy it

Let me begin with this: I have no interest in a flame war with James Wesley Rawles, his supporters/admirers or those who disagree with him. If you’re inclined toward such a war, feel free to stop reading, right now.  I have been to Rawles website,, and found some good information there. He sometimes expresses views I support. Sometimes, he expresses views I most certainly do not support. So what? I’ve not yet met the person in the preparedness community or any other community, with whom I agree on everything. Besides, it’s his blog. He has no obligation to write or accept articles with which I or anyone else approve. That’s the way it should be. I doubt he cares whether I agree with him or not. That, too, is the way it should be. After all, many of us in the prepping and homesteading communities primarily want one thing – to be left alone to live our own lives the way we see fit, including having our own philosophies and opinions. Moving on…

There are, among devotees of preparedness, a number of people who want to be prepared for, among other things, the “Golden Horde” that will engage in mass exodus from the cities in the event of a TEOTWAWKI event. From a historical perspective, the Golden Horde was a Mongol khanate established in the 13th century by Batu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan. It’s fascinating to read about. To get a good feel for it, I suggest you begin with a reading of Genghis Khan and follow the story from there rather than beginning with the life of Batu Khan. Concerns about a modern-day Golden Horde share nothing with the historical one other than the name. In this article, I’m only really concerned about this modern-day version.

The short version of the concerns about a Golden Horde is this: in the even of a true TEOTWAWKI event, many people, perhaps even millions of people, will stream from the cities into the countryside in a desperate search for food, water and other resources. Some people suggest it will happen, but the numbers will be lower though still enough to be a problem (“10% of 10% of a million people is still enough to ruin your day,” is fairly common reasoning). The idea is that so many people will flee the cities as to overrun those farms, small towns, homesteads and preppers who are not adequately prepared. I submit this belief suffers from a lack of thought and logic.

Let’s imagine a scenario in which we have a true SHTF situation, one in which life as we know it really does come to an end. True societal collapse has come, and it has come suddenly, catching virtually everyone (except, you know, some in the preparedness community) by surprise. This scenario has its own problems, as collapse is usually a process rather than an event, but we’ll go with this one. Our city for such fun will be Los Angeles, California.

Historically, when things have gone bad, people have tended to flock toward the cities rather than away from them. After all, that’s where the resources are and that’s where government typically focuses its relief efforts, at least at first. I see no reason to believe this would be different in the US, in the event of some society shattering event. So, at least initially, people would be more likely to stream into the cities, rather than out of them. But, let’s wait a bit…

Okay, we’ve waited long enough for a few things to happen. Store shelves are empty, not simply because of the failure of “just in time” replenishment, but also because government crisis management systems are overloaded. Infrastructure is failing rapidly. There is little or no electricity or natural gas. Gas stations are out of fuel. When people turn on the faucet or push the handle on the toilet, nothing happens. Now, we’re told, the Golden Horde will flee the cities by the millions, spreading out into the countryside, wreaking havoc and leaving devastation in its wake. Here’s why I disagree.

  • Disease will kill many. Most people do not know what to do with their own waste if the toilets stop working. This lack of knowledge sets people up for cholera and dysentery.
  • Crime is an issue. Gangs and other criminal organizations are unlikely to ignore so many people and the easy targets they will represent as they struggle to leave the city on foot (no gas, remember?). With the highways presumably clogged by cars that are now no more than immobile hunks of metal and plastic, foot travel is a necessity.
  • Our big cities and associated metro areas cover huge areas of real estate. Most people live in them, rather than on their edges. If you are in Los Angeles, it’s a long walk to an area with food and water.
    • Most Americans walk no more than 2.5-3.0 miles/day. While some have suggested the average adult can walk almost 100 miles in a 24 day, I disagree. When I was much younger, I participated in my first walk-a-thon and completed the 20 mile course. While I was very physically active, before I reached the 20 mile mark, I could tell I was well on my way to being done. My muscles were cramping, so my pace had slowed considerably. I had burned through my energy stores, so as the evening approached I became cold and began shivering, even though it wasn’t significantly cooler than it had been earlier in the day.
    • In 2013, the Advisory Board noted some details from a CDC report. These details are important to the concept of a Golden Horde.
      • 80% of U.S. adults do not meet federal recommendations for aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening exercise;
      • 60% drink alcohol, including an increased number who said they have consumed five or more drinks in one day over the previous year;
      • One-third are completely inactive during their leisure time; and
      • 20% smoke, with fewer than half attempting to quit within the past year.
      • Further, the CDC tells us
        • 37.9% of adults age 20 and over are obese and
        • 70.7% of adults age 20 and over are overweight, including obesity
    • The area outside Los Angeles that must be traveled, on foot, before one reaches an area likely to have food and water, is desert and mountains.Shall our Golden Horde cross the desert in the heat, or the mountains in the cold?
    • It seems unlikely the criminal element of our cities would choose to ignore those “easy pickings” that were wandering out of the city. Remember, most of the law-abiding people in our big cities have been effectively disarmed by their governments. The same is not true of the criminals who would prey on them.
    • What the proponents of the Golden Horde Hypothesis (if that term is not already claimed, I’m claiming it) would have us believe, then, is that, to a great extent, the countryside is going to be overrun by people who are actually unlikely to make it to the edge of the metropolitan areas in which they reside. Between criminal gangs, starvation, dehydration, hypo/hyper thermia, lack of physical endurance and the spread of disease, I simply do not see many of them making it, at least not in any significant numbers.

“But,” you say, “you chose Los Angeles. Not every city is like LA.” That’s correct. On the other hand every city does tend to spread out, leaving the people who actually live in the city further to go. Let’s take another example. Since I live in Texas, we’ll use the Dallas-Forth Worth Metroplex.

TEOTWAWKI has arrived. The situation is the same as in Los Angeles (empty shelves, etc.). You aren’t a homesteader or prepper. You’re just an average, likely to be overweight and out of shape urbanite. But you have heard there is abundant food and water, just there for the taking, in the vast tropical paradise known as West Texas. Accordingly, you set out for Abilene. Using the DFW airport as the average distance, you’ll need to walk about 175 miles. Good news. There’s more likely to be ground water around the Metroplex. You brought a kettle or pot for boiling it, yes? You know how to make a fire, don’t you? You didn’t abandon it because it’s too heavy, did you? Are you making sure you do “your business” away from the water you find to drink? Do you actually take the time to boil your water or is your dehydration related desperation so great you decide to just “take the chance?” Did you bring something in which to collect and carry water when you find it? Are you traveling alone or with others? Does your survival plan involve you making a real 20 miles every single day (if you’ve not done it, you should get out and walk 20 miles. No warm up, no preparation. Just get up one morning and walk 20 miles.  Do you have the very young or elderly with you? If you do, their food and water needs combined with a much slower speed will make your trip take considerably longer. What will you do when you begin the gradual 1200 foot climb from Dallas to Abilene? Where do you intend to find water once you’re out of the DFW area? What about food, regardless of where you are? You’re armed, trained and prepared for the criminal gangs who will want whatever food, water and other resources you have, aren’t you, like the average urbanite?

The point is, I could ask similar questions about every major city in the US. Would some people make it out? Of course. I just don’t buy the Golden Horde Hypothesis. Certainly, as a person’s distance from a metropolitan area increases, his/her chance of meeting a “Horder” would seem to decrease (a variation of the inverse square law, perhaps?), simply as a matter of geography. Once we factor in time, distance to be traveled, physical deconditioning, lack of basic knowledge and skills, disease, crime, dehydration, starvation, etc, the likelihood seems vanishingly small.

What do you think?