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The Long Now
Part 2: Make, Protect, Teach
Every three or four generations, humanity consumes itself with the fang and claw of fascism and collectivism. Every three or four generations, we eat our own.
This is that time. This is the Long Now.
In politics it takes the form of a widening gyre, where the center cannot hold against the onslaught of polarizing political entrepreneurs who eliminate the political promise of the future, replacing it with the Long Now of constant political fear. In economics it takes the form of a market utility, where those same illiberal political entrepreneurs eliminate the economic risk of the future, replacing it with the Long Now of constant economic stimulus.
The first note in this series was about my personal response to the Long Now. Tick-tock.
Today’s note is about my political response to the Long Now. Make – Protect – Teach.
My question is not how we prevent or avoid the Long Now. Sorry, but that ship has sailed.
No, my question is how we keep the flame of small-l liberal thought and small-c conservative thought alive through the Long Now, so that it can light the world again when this, too, shall pass.
My question is … must we ALL become rhinoceroses?
Eugène Ionesco’s masterpiece, Rhinoceros, is about a central European town where the citizens turn, one by one, into rhinoceroses. Once changed, they do what rhinoceroses do, which is rampage through the town, destroying everything in their path. People are a little puzzled at first, what with their fellow citizens just turning into rampaging rhinos out of the blue, but even that slight puzzlement fades quickly enough. Soon it’s just the New Normal. Soon it’s just the way things are … a good thing, even. Only one man resists the siren call of rhinocerosness, and that choice brings nothing but pain and existential doubt, as he is utterly … profoundly … alone.
Ionesco was born in Romania in 1909, spent most of childhood in France, and returned to Romania when he was 16. He got married and had a kid, pursued a career as a poet and playwright, but ended up fleeing Romania in 1942 for Marseilles. He wrote Rhinoceros in 1959 to describe the rise of the fascists in his homeland, a particularly nasty crew of Eastern Orthodox ultranationalists who went by names like the Iron Guard, the Legion of the Archangel Michael, the Greenshirts, and the National Legionary State.
The Iron Guard didn’t seize power in some bloody putsch, and they didn’t rise to ascendancy overnight. No, it took 13 years for them to come to power, contesting parliamentary elections all the way along. They got 0.4% of the vote in 1927, 1.1% of the vote in 1931, 2.4% of the vote in 1932, got themselves banned in 1933, returned with a new name in 1936, and won 15.8% of the vote in 1937. They were banned again in 1939 following the dissolution of parliament, but struck a deal with strongman-general-turned-politician Ion Antonescu and became the only legal political party in 1940.
And then the pogroms began.
Like the Bucharest pogrom of 1941, where – per the US attaché report to Washington after visiting one of the many massacre sites – “sixty Jewish corpses were discovered [in the meat-packing plant] on the hooks used for carcasses. They were all skinned … and the quantity of blood about was evidence that they had been skinned alive.” Their guts were hung around their necks and they were labeled “kosher meat”. Yes, some were children. A five-year-old girl is mentioned, flayed alive.
You know, I almost didn’t keep that last paragraph. Too harsh, I thought. Takes away from the flow of the larger argument I’m trying to make here, I thought. Some readers will get distracted, I thought, and some will get angry. Some will not recover or read beyond that paragraph, I thought.
I mean … there are no massacres in Ionesco’s play. There’s a lot of property damage. A few people trampled to death by the rampaging rhinoceroses. But there are no ritualistic mass murders. No butchery of five-year-old girls. Ionesco’s play is kinda cool, by which I mean it is not hot. Not emotional. It’s one long allegory. And yet he lived within 50 miles of Bucharest. He saw the 1941 pogroms with his own eyes!
Ionesco wrote about the PROCESS of the widening gyre and the Long Now, not the OUTCOME.
Why? Because he didn’t have to write about the outcome. Hell, his audience had LIVED the outcome.
I don’t have that luxury. All we know of mass murder is what we see on Criminal Minds.
So I’m keeping that paragraph. Because Central Europe. Because Biafra. Because Cambodia. Because Rwanda. Because (I suspect) Xinjiang. This is what it looks like when Things Fall Apart. I need you to be aware of the stakes.
I need you to be aware of what can happen – of what ALWAYS happens – when we become rhinoceroses.
But now I need to pull you back from the emotion and horror of the OUTCOME of the widening gyre that was Romania in the 1930s, just like I need to pull you back from the OUTCOME of the widening gyre that was Nigeria in the 1960s or Cambodia in the 1970s or Rwanda in the 1990s. Because otherwise I can’t bring home the Big Point that Ionesco was making about the PROCESS of the widening gyre and the Long Now. Which is this:
It wasn’t just the bad guys who became rhinoceroses.
Sure, the local brutes and rightwing martinets are some of the first to become rhinoceroses. But soon enough it’s the scientists and the academics and the logicians who turn. They are the worst of the lot. Not because they’re the biggest and baddest rhinos. But because they know better. Because they make a conscious and deliberate choice IN THEIR HEADS to lie to themselves and embrace a real and palpable evil IN THEIR HEARTS.
“All cats die. Socrates is dead. Therefore, Socrates is a cat.”
THIS is the syllogism of the logician turned rhinoceros. It’s nonsense. It’s logically wrong. But THIS is the lie that a rhinoceros scientist can convince himself is truth. THIS is how an intelligent, educated academic who loves his family and his dog can witness a pogrom. And look away. Ehh … gotta break a few eggs.
Romanian politics in the 1930s was a classic widening gyre, spread out over a decade, and policy followed the classic Long Now formula – more and more economic stimulus, more and more political fear-mongering. This was true of the fascists, for sure. IT WAS ALSO TRUE OF THE LIBERALS.
By February 1938, when King Carol II dissolved the parliament, nothing mattered anymore in Romanian politics. There was no “truth”. There was only narrative. There was only spectacle. There was only the naked exercise of power and the celebration of that naked exercise of power. You didn’t just seize control. You seized control, and then you threw yourself a big parade for doing it. This was true of the fascists, for sure. IT WAS ALSO TRUE OF THE LIBERALS.
That’s the kicker of Rhinoceros. It wasn’t just the bad guys who turned. It was everyone.
Just like it’s not just the bad guys who are becoming rhinoceroses in America today. It’s everyone.
How does THAT happen?
Through the embrace by ALL political actors of the idea that NOTHING MATTERS beyond that which accretes power, that power is to be sought for power’s sake and that once attained, power must be USED. Used for draining the swamp. Used for unmasking the corruption of the Trumps or the Clintons or (and here’s where I make a clever connection with 1930s Romania) the Hohenzollerns or the Bratianus. Used for undoing the obscene legislative influence of the Democrats under Nancy Pelosi or the Republicans under Mitch McConnell or (and here I go again) the National Peasant Party under Armand Calinescu or the Everything for the Country Party under Corneliu Codreanu.
It has all happened before. Many times. It is all happening again.
You will hear that the danger at hand is so great, so existential, that NOTHING MATTERS other than combating that danger, that you must sacrifice your most precious possession – your autonomy of mind – to believe in the necessity of these political actions. You must not only think that it is possible for 2 + 2 = 5 if the political exigency is urgent enough, you must believe that it is necessary for 2 + 2 = 5. Orwell called this “collective solipsism”. I call it political nihilism. Either way, THIS is the politics of the Long Now.
And once you believe that NOTHING MATTERS … poof! you have chosen to become a rhinoceros.
So you vote for Bob Menendez. You vote for Roy Moore. You excuse your party’s lies and your politician’s thuggery and moral corruption as necessary to prevent some greater evil.
Here’s the kicker.
There’s not a damn thing that you or I can do to stop this.
There’s only one thing that you or I can do. Luckily, it’s the most important thing.
We can refuse to become rhinoceroses ourselves.
Am I saying that we don’t fight against iniquity and evil? Am I saying that we just cede the field to the rhinos who are already running amuck?
So here’s where I’m going to lose a lot of you …
Yes, there will be a time to step boldly into the public political arena and help write a new set of rules, help re-establish political institutions that allow for cooperative gameplay and shared notions of the good life, and help instantiate small-l liberal and small-c conservative principles in a top-down manner.
But that time is not now.
Now is the time when the political institutions that allow for cooperative gameplay and shared notions of the good life are being shattered, and now is the time when they will continue to be shattered. Now is the time of the widening gyre, and you can no more command it to stop from the top-down than King Canute could command the tides. No, it’s precisely the opposite, where everything from the top-down will be devoted to rewriting the history and the narrative of the tides, intentionally moving us farther and farther into the Sea of Nudge.
Once you start looking for sharpies, you will see them everywhere.
That’s true for Trump today, and it will be true for whoever is in the White House in 2020. That’s political nihilism. That’s the way this ALWAYS plays out.
The Long Now is going to get worse before it gets better. A lot worse. Yes, that means more and more economic “stimulus”, more and more financialization and propping up of financial asset prices. You think there is a snowball’s chance in hell of a recession before the November 2020 election? LOL.
It also means more and more political fear-mongering and gyre-widening and nihilism-embracing. You think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that either the Democrat or Republican party will ever again represent anything other than the accretion of power for power’s sake? Also, LOL. The Republican party is already all MAGA all the time. It is already 100% rhinoceros. By the time the primary season is over, the Democrats will be the same. Look at our Election Index analysis … the narrative center of this election is almost entirely race and gender identity memes. It’s like a pure SJW rhinoceros-inducing potion.
Should you vote in 2020? Sure. But as a statement of your personal identity, not out of some misplaced notion of efficacy or consequentialism.
Should you engage in national politics with more than your vote at this stage in the widening gyre? I mean … if you must. But when you give your heart to the rhinos, you become one yourself. Or you get trampled.
My advice? Abandon the party as your vehicle for political participation.
My alternative? The Epsilon Theory Pack.
My platform? Make – Protect – Teach.
We had our first “Pack Meet-up” last Saturday at Rusty’s house … about 30 Premium and Professional subscribers from all over the East Coast.
The barbeque was Rusty’s labor of love. Four beef briskets, three pork collars, three slabs of pork ribs. There was no vegan option. Sorry, not sorry. Enough food to feed an army, but somehow it was inhaled. Everyone brought a bottle of something to share with the group. That – and a commitment to an evening of full-hearted conversation – was the only admittance fee. Age range was 23 years-old to 75 years-young. Was there a lot of money around that table? I guess. You’d never know it from the utter lack of conversational alpha-dog-sniffing … unique for any Fairfield County dinner I’ve ever been to.
Know what we talked about? The political.
Know what we didn’t talk about? NOT AT ALL? Politics.
What is the political if not politics? It’s how we lead our lives as social animals. It’s how we understand small-l liberal and small-c conservative virtues as they play out in our lives. It’s what we want to SAY to the world through our efforts to Make, Protect and Teach.
THIS is where we stand our ground. Not on some national political scale where we are either turned into rhinos ourselves or trampled into the mud. But on the personal scale. On the scale of our families and our communities. A scale where we can recognize ourselves once again, not as a means to some grand Statist end, but as members of a clear-eyed and full-hearted Pack.
The way through the Long Now is a social movement, not a political party.
A social movement based on resistance and refusal. A refusal to vote for ridiculous candidates. A refusal to buy ridiculous securities. A refusal to take on ridiculous debts. A refusal to abdicate our identity and autonomy of mind.
And it’s more than refusal. It’s more than just saying “Homey don’t play that”, more than just turning the other cheek. There is also action. But it is action in service to our Pack, not action in self-aggrandizement and the celebration of power itself.
I believe that a decentralized and service-oriented social movement at scale can thrive in the age of social media technology. I believe that a decentralized and service-oriented social movement can both inoculate our hearts from the top-down Nudges that push us into rhinocerosness, as well as fill us with a positive energy that reverses the pervasive alienation that creates the Neb Tnuhs of the world.
It’s a social movement for a revitalized foundation of citizenship. It’s Make – Protect – Teach.
There’s no primacy to these three rightful objects of political power and the citizenship which drives them. Put Teach at the top of the triangle. Spin everything 90 degrees. Marry two of them. Take them independently. Change the colors and the font size. I’m not trying to be symbolic here.
I’m trying to be Real.
I’m trying to provide an alternative to the abstracted world of narrative and cartoon that rules our mindfulness from the top down, in favor of a concreted world of actual human beings making things and protecting each other and teaching each other, where we act as Stewards of our children’s future rather than as Managers of our personal now.
What does it mean to Make?
It means you are an inventor. A manufacturer. An artist. A craftsman. A kid at a Maker Fair. A farmer. An engineer. A home builder. A coder. It’s the creation of some THING through the application of some creative IDEA.
What does it mean to Protect?
It means you are a soldier. A policeman. A fireman. An EMT. A nurse. A doctor. It’s a Neighborhood Watch. It’s a mechanic fixing a car. It’s also a unionization drive. It’s also a fiduciary managing a portfolio.
What does it mean to Teach?
It means you are a teacher, of course. Or a writer. Or a researcher. Or a priest. Or a home-schooling mom. It means you’ve got something to say to your Pack, and you’ve got the guts to say it.
What is NOT some form of Make – Protect – Teach?
Basically, if you are in the business of money (and that includes you, Crypto Bro) or in the business of business, then you are neither a Maker nor a Protector nor a Teacher. The sole exception to this – and it’s why this job is my universal suggestion to people who say they want to work in finance but in an authentic, socially-supportive way – is the fiduciary financial advisor. A fiduciary is a Steward. A fiduciary is a Protector. It is unlike any other role in financial services, and it’s the only role I’d want to have.
Management, both in the private and public sphere, is out. Banking is out, both investment and commercial. Corporate lawyering. Consulting. Trading. Sales and Marketing. Out. Out. Out. Out.
If you are using your time and brains to make more money for a profit-seeking organization, or if you are using your time and brains to manage the time and money of a non-making, non-protecting, non-teaching government organization … then you’re outside the Make – Protect – Teach framework. There are no hard and fast rules here, and I mean to be more inclusive than not. But I think you understand the distinction.
Let’s just say that zero of the Forbes 100 Innovative Leaders list (LOL!) would make my list of Make – Protect – Teach. Neither would our professional political “leaders”, including 99% of current Senators and Representatives. As for current and recent residents of the White House … don’t make me laugh.
And yes, I realize that the vast majority of people reading this note would not be practitioners of Make – Protect – Teach, at least not in their day job.
But it doesn’t have to be your day job. It just has to be your Identity.
This is a social movement for people who are IN the world-as-it-is but not OF the world-as-it-is. I’m not saying that your success IN the world, financial or otherwise, is either laudable or damning. I’m just recognizing that it is. I’m saying that your success IN the world, financial or otherwise, does not DEFINE you. Unless you let it.
Everyone can Make – Protect – Teach.
Even Jeff Bezos. I guess.
Today our system of social rewards and political power is based entirely on MONEY, not just in our laws and in our practices – which is bad enough – but even more so IN OUR HEARTS.
Yes, there’s a town full of rhinoceroses there, too.
It was not always so. It is not ordained that it must always be.
What’s at stake with the Make – Protect – Teach movement? Well, in some distant day, when we do in fact remake the rules and institutions of society, you’ll need to be a Maker, Protector or Teacher to be a full citizen. You’ll need to be a Maker, Protector or Teacher to vote. It will never be the route to making the most money, but that’s a feature, not a bug. I think the answer to teachers’ pay scales isn’t to pay them like a corporate lawyer or an investment banker, but to reward their superior social participation through superior political representation.
The American revolution was founded on the slogan “No taxation without representation”. That direct link between taxation and representation was severed long ago, and NOT to the advantage of the people who deserve it the most – the middle class and the working poor. I mean, if you think the middle class and the working poor are represented AT ALL in Washington … once again, LOL. It’s time for a new American revolution, and my slogan is “No representation without making, protecting or teaching.” Okay, maybe that doesn’t sing. How’s this: “No representation without real participation.” Yeah, I like that.
It used to be commonplace to think of military service as a prerequisite for citizenship, and by commonplace I mean universal in the societies where the small-l liberal virtues of democracy and the small-c conservative virtues of citizenship were actually invented. Today we get an occasional watered-down version of this floated in a half-hearted way by Grumpy Grandpas who want those darn kids to spend two years in some national service program. Well, it’s not two years, it’s a lifetime. And it’s not those darn kids, it’s all of us. And it’s not public service to the national government, for god’s sake, but private service of Making and Protecting and Teaching to whatever level of community sustains us … and we them. That’s how a pack works.
It will start small. It will start with your family. And over time it will grow to include your community, especially your physical community. Over time it will spread fractal-like everywhere.
As Below, So Above.
In the meantime, we evaluate our current crop of gyre-widening political candidates and policies on the basis of how little damage they do to a society based on Make – Protect – Teach. I’m not expecting any of them to get this. And I’m keeping my emotional distance from all of them. But I’ll talk with anyone.
Also in the meantime, this is how we change the structure of OUR social conversation, from “politics” to the political. Here’s my offer:
Put together a group of 20+ people who want to have a full-hearted conversation about Make – Protect – Teach, who want to think and act differently in their political lives. Let me know when you’re getting together with some advance notice, and I’ll be there.
I can help publicize and organize. We are 100,000 strong, all over the world. If you can find a sponsor to pay direct expenses of the meet-up, great. If you can’t, we’ll make it work anyway.
Dinner by dinner. Handshake by handshake. Conversation by conversation. That’s how we do it.
To paraphrase Margaret Mead, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed Makers, Protectors and Teachers can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has!
The Long Now
Part 2: Make, Protect, Teach
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This is so cogent and powerful that it will take some time to digest but the importance cannot be understated. I really appreciate it.
Jack: Did you know there’s a Fight Club up in Delaware City?
Tyler: Yeah, I heard.
Jack: There’s one in Penn’s Grove, too. Bob even found one up in Newcastle.
Tyler: Yeah. Did you start that one?
Jack: No. I thought you did.
Just perfect. Left with chills, again…
If your readers have not read “Shop Class as Soul Craft,” I commend it to them. Those with a religious inclination should look at “The Benedict Option” by Rod Dreher who discusses a lot of the same concerns and points about creating small, local cultures that can withstand the tides of disintegration that are rolling in.
This article resonated with me all the way to the statement about empowering teachers as political and civic leaders. They may be engaged in a noble profession, and individually heroic, but as a group they’re impossibly corrupt, politically ideological (rhinoceroses?), and advocate for things that are directly contrary to the welfare of children. In a sense, they should act like fiduciaries, but they have large conflicts of interest and engage in self-dealing.
“For anyone who believes that [ Julian] Assange is a ‘rapist’ who is ‘evading justice’ and is ‘holed up at the embassy’ because he is a ‘coward’; indeed, anyone who focuses on the actions and personality of Assange instead of the content of the leaks published by his organization…for you the message is this: You will not realize it (yet) but you have been successfully co-opted into the propaganda efforts to deflect attention from the numerous, horrific, documented crimes of imperial interests and the deep corruption of major institutions and their top officials.
The people responsible for disseminating this propaganda will laugh at how they have successfully transformed you into a pack of animals baying for the blood of one man whose ‘crime’ has been to shine a spotlight on the corruption they are paid well to obscure.
They will chortle with delight at your almost complete lack of interest in the decades upon decades of mass murder, torture, rapes, oppression and illegal coups that have been carried out in your name with your taxes and with the help of officials you have voted for, while you focus your ire instead on one of the most obvious set-ups (that of Assange) ever…along with all the other tried-and-tested distractions.
The only thing that may astound even them is how easy it has been to manipulate you. In the internet age, ignorance really is a choice – the choice between being a manipulated dupe and a free thinker. Quite literally, millions of lives depend on it. What will it be?” ~ Simon Wood
While your notes have always been thoughtful and intellectually stimulating, this is the first one to my memory that feels empowering. Thank you
Thanks Ben. There is always ‘weather’ … it can often be understood/interpreted (more or less) by season … it amazes me that a huge percentage of the global population doesn’t seem to understand that this is true in culture, politics and economics … Thanks for pointing it out.
sorry, i dont think i have ever actually commented on an internet post before.
Just re-read and I really hope that this goes down as a pivotal document in our country’s history.
Really ties together the loose ends that I (we) have been trying to work through for years.
Its a powerful call to action that is going to really stick in my craw as someone firmly but uncomfortably outside the Maker-Teacher -Protector realm. Some tough choices to make.
Mathew Crawford is brilliant. I second that recommendation. Also every novel by Alan Furst but the first one Dark Star begins in Romania and it is about being caught between “the opposite but similar barbarisms of Nazism and Bolshevism”
Thanks, Jacob! Great to have you in the Pack.
Truly excellent work. Thank you, Ben. This right here is the plan I’ve been longing to see, trying to formulate in my own head, but get distracted by the rhinos and their rampaging.
I thought the 2nd foundation partner’s strategy is to hide in plain sight. This makes it too obvious. The make-protect-teach folks need to have some rhino skins, you know, just to look like them and survive until the day when new rules will be made.
Evil is like gravity, all you need is a little push. Joker in Dark Knight. We will have a lot of little pushes and we will fight gravity, with the pack.
Quite a thought provoking piece, Ben. I’ll have to read it several times because it raises so many questions and potential gray areas.
What exactly do you mean by “the business of business”? Obviously the petroleum engineer who designs a well frack that produces x number of additional barrels of oil is within the Make-Protect-Teach triangle. But is the management team that assembles the land, equipment and capital to make drilling the well possible on the outside? How can the engineer practice his profession without the resources brought within the confines of a for profit business? And that raises questions from those who think that the engineer that makes oil production more efficient is actually destroying the planet or at the least not making anything of value.
And are you suggesting that only those within the Make-Protect-Teach triangle be allowed to participate in the political process?
If so then I give you all the credit in the world for going out on the limb with such a controversial idea. I look forward to more clarity and detail from you on this topic in the coming months.
This post is emotionally powerful and a vivid depiction of what has happened elsewhere…the factual counterpart to Sinclair Lewis’ fictional (but plausible) book It Can’t Happen Here. It can happen here! I am still figuring out what to do about it.
My first step was to become, at last, a paying member of the Pack. Let’s do this!
This was the note, I think, for many ET’ers, that spanned the divide between the framework of “Clear Eyes, Full Heart”, particularly as to how to support the Process, with all of the activities we do day-to-day, week to week. Reconciling what we do for a living with the concreted world that ET has helped us see.
Ben described “The Shadow” as the inauthenticity of communication, “Between the idea and the Reality, between the motion and the act falls the Shadow”. I saw it as the inconsistencies between the Metaverse (The Snow Crash one that basically envelops most professions) artifacts (narratives, cartoons, half truths, abstractions, lies) and the Process as described in Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose. You see the Metaverse clearly, but what do you DO? This is Cypher in the Matrix, eating a steak and deciding that he cannot deal with the Shadow, the new knowledge of his real state.
And as Ben said “You cannot unsee the Shadow”, instead you focus on minimization through honesty. Make-Protect-Teach is honesty in action. “But it doesn’t have to be your day job, just your Identity”. It’s great. Having said that, at some point I do think that eventually if the day job and Identity clash enough, the Shadow will loom taller. Compartmentalization can work for some people to an extent. But only so far. That’s the challenge many of us face. It’s the hardest thing I have had to face philosophically, probably ever.
Thanks for your note above Ben, brilliant stuff.
“The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.”
― Arundhati Roy
I agree with Kristin’s second point. This sentence struck me as not necessarily my experience.
“I think the answer to teachers’ pay scales isn’t to pay them like a corporate lawyer or an investment banker, but to reward their superior social participation through superior political representation.”
I still remember my freshman English teacher saying to our class, “the only thing I’m not allowed to do with class time is read to you. So, each of you will just read silently to yourself.” Even at the time, as a 9th grader, I was disappointed.
Then I think of the doctor who gave me stitches at the urgent care at 9pm, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Or how my local pediatrician office provides unscheduled office hours from 8 to 12 on Saturday and Sunday mornings so we don’t have to take our kids to the ER.
My point being that maybe profession isn’t a great factor for assigning superior political representation.
Long time listener, first time caller.
There are many thing I love about ET, but one of the best things about it is the truths it reveals - truths that are right in front of us but that we don’t see until they are revealed by the truthtellers of ET. I can’t tell you how many ET notes I have read that have made me say “Yes!” and helped me better understand the world. But, not this note. The “Make, Protect, Teach” principle Ben espouses misses the mark for me. There is a kernel of truth to it, but only a kernel, and it would set us down the wrong path. The error in the “Make, Protect, Teach” principle is in equating a person’s occupation - what they do to make money and survive in this world - with that person’s value to society. Now, I’m not saying a person’s occupation has no correlation to their value to society, but it is not a direct correlation. Take teachers for instance. Just being a teacher doesn’t make you a positive member of society. There are lots of small-minded, petty, vindictive, and generally crappy teachers out there. And by the same token, being a corporate lawyer, banker, or member of business management doesn’t mean that you aren’t a positive member of society. These occupations (and, full disclosure, I am one of those nasty corporate lawyers everyone loves to hate) are all vital and necessary to modern society and have every bit as much intrinsic value to society as those extolled in the note as being “Make, Protect, Teach”-worthy.
For me, it is not what you do but how you do it. Let me explain. I believe that life is the Great Mystery; an unsolvable puzzle. We understand only a small fraction of what goes on around us, and can only hope to gain a slightly better understanding during our lives. My belief that we live in a fundamental state of mystery underlies my small “l” liberal beliefs. Given the unknowable nature of life, all people need the freedom to believe and act differently, to make mistakes (or what I believe to be mistakes), to be wrong (or what I believe to be wrong), to be different. There are three things that give value to my “mysterious” life:
For me, the pursuit of the “good life” is the pursuit of these three things, for myself and others. Jim Valvano said there are three things we should do every day: 1) Laugh; 2) Think; and 3) Have your emotions moved to tears. I don’t do these every day, but I aspire to. I believe that there are three things that give any person “value” to society: 1) Do they enjoy life and help others enjoy their lives?; 2) Are they both truthful and truth-seeking and do they help other seek truth in their lives?; and 3) Do they love and support their family, friends, acquaintances as they seek to maneuver through life’s great mystery? So, an artist that creates a work of art that helps millions better understand life has great value to society. On the other hand, an artist that creates small-minded drivel that speaks to no one has very little value to society. It is not what you do, it is how you do it. “Make, Protect, Teach” is close, but for me it is “Spread Joy, Seek/Tell Truth, Love/Support Others”.
And by the way Ben, despite my disagreement with this note, you are the best Truthteller I have ever known. As always, thanks for making me Think.
When I wrote this note, I really struggled with the idea of giving too much citizenship “weight” to one’s JOB. As David points out, there are plenty of sociopathic, bad citizens who are also teachers or police or engineers. And there are plenty of full-hearted good citizens who are lawyers or management or bureaucrats. But I really do think (and there’s a long-winded Bayesian argument here that I won’t bore you with), that choosing a profession that inherently emphasizes some notion of service over money (in my lingo, Make/Protect/Teach) over a profession that inherently emphasizes the reverse is a MEANINGFUL SIGNAL that you are a citizen. It’s not the only meaningful signal! Coaching a kids’ soccer team … setting up a Maker space at the local library … spending your time (NOT just your money!) in service to your Pack … these are ALL meaningful (and sufficient) signals that you’re in the Make/Protect/Teach framework.
EITHER of these signals is enough for me to give you the presumption of citizenship in the M/P/T framework.
The reason I’m focused on signals is that I’m trying to find a recipe for a mass society - a nation of hundreds of millions of people - to organize their shared concept of citizenship on something that can’t be BOUGHT and something that requires SERVICE, without creating a caste system of “approved” jobs or a requirement for “national service”. Using signals (EITHER a job that inherently favors service over money OR an inherently service-oriented use of your time) will have lots of false positives (“bad” citizens who generate a “good” signal). But that’s far more just than a system that generates lots of false negatives (“good” citizens who do not generate a “good” signal).
I do disagree with David on two points. First, just thinking well-meaning and society-supporting thoughts is not enough. It’s necessary but not sufficient. There must also be ACTION taken in support of those thoughts. Second, the outcome of that action isn’t the important thing, it’s the EFFORT. It doesn’t matter to me if an artist does crappy art that no one likes. It doesn’t matter to me if a writer publishes a crappy blog that no one reads. What matters to me (and I know that I sound like a contestant on The Bachelorette when I say this) is that Makers/Protectors/Teachers are Making/Protecting/Teaching FOR THE RIGHT REASONS. That’s a really tough thing to evaluate in a mass society (much less a small society like the cast of a reality TV show) - which is why I focus on signals and erring on the side of false positives - but I think it’s the right place to make an evaluation.
One last observation … this is the first in-depth conversation I think I’ve ever had with my brother on the meaning of life (and all that). I’m 55 years old and he’s 53. If Epsilon Theory stopped tomorrow, experiencing THIS ALONE would have made it ALL worthwhile. Full-hearted engagement, bringing us closer together … THIS is our purpose. Thank you, David. I love you.
AS BELOW, SO ABOVE.
Regarding the pogroms described above: In short I believe that an image or graphic would inspire less thought than Ben’s word picture. I truly appreciate Ben’s word craft and the concepts they communicate on multiple levels all at once. Today’s generation is image focused from memes on up to doctored news photos, but the more digital experience we gain, the less we trust the images that dominate present media. At 69+ years I am fortunate to have three sons in the low to mid-20s. Despite the sometimes personal frustration from culture gap, they are a window into the present distortions and how they relate to their generation. This is true though we tried to insulate them from a lot of this until they were older through home education with heavy literary emphasis,. I do see evidence that it is still there - at least in part, as they have higher critical opinions of what is going on in their cultural surrounds. Yes, I do share Ben’s articles, and I know some of them are read.
For most of the last 20 years, I chose to work daily in the Make, Protect, Teach alternate dimension of today’s rhino narrative. The financial payment to date has been minimal. As the founder (seven years ago on 9/11) of a new agricultural cooperative focused on our native North American Elderberry, I work with multiple dozens of farmers and small businesses from coast-to-coast. Elderberry is not a primary crop, but presents an opportunity for quality cashflow from a perennial that can be incorporated into farm planning to help restore the environment by reducing erosion, purifying runoff and support dozens of native pollinators, etc. The flowers and berries themselves possess dense nutrition with great potential to improve public health. Our whole program is based on education and building decentralized organization and infrastructure that rewards individual initiative balanced against cooperative research, ingredient development, production and marketing. Although we have been fortunate to receive a few modest grants, most of our growing success is from people investing their own money, time, thought and hard work, sales proceeds, and my initial investment in people organizations that otherwise would only have purchased a good used truck. So be inspired by the varied menu of epsilon theory musings. Let the words and rhymes flow through your minds and hearts until they find a home there, a right-for-you place to root down, apply and grow upward, then do it in faith. You will be surprised at who you connect with even as I am encouraged and strengthened almost daily by my grower members and customers.
Thanks for this quote. Most of us are far from perfect, and anyone subjected to what Julian Assange experienced, well… We should not be too quick to judge harshly.
I love the essay. As to the repeated evolution of societal disintegration, I return to the lessons of Neil Howe’s The Fourth Turning. As to the nascent awareness and resolution of societal evolution, I call the Pack, “martians” and I consider myself a charter member. I am 75 years old and I have been looking for the island of “martians” described in Brave New World most of my life. Here is the rub. Only one of my friends, in addition to my wife, is also a member of the pack, a martian. I responded to your notice of interest in participating in a pack and I not only commend it, I think it may be the only way we find each other. Kudos.
I can see how that attitude affects my husband’s profession as dentists. Group practice everywhere. Dentists graduate with huge debts. Unnecessary Treatment suggested in the name of prevention… Can we join as members of the health professionals?
Incredibly piece, Ben - inspiring. You’ve persuaded me to join the pack (OK, I was a little jealous of the food porn photo too!)
I’ve been reading for years, but this note clinched it for me…time to join “for realz”. So much to digest here.
“Every three or four generations, humanity consumes itself with the fang and claw of fascism and collectivism. Every three or four generations, we eat our own.”
This cyclical pattern is something I’ve wanted to study more deeply since my first exposure to it reading Ibn Khaldun’s theories, written 700 years ago, of the rise and fall of dynasties in the ancient Near East. After reading this post, I searched for more resources. I found “The Fourth Turning” by William Strauss which looks decent on first impression.
Can any members of the Pack recommend any additional resources for studying this pattern? A robust data-driven approach to the problem would be invaluable, given our human tendency to see patterns everywhere we look.
You are amazing Sir.
This is an article in which the “preventive ship from flaying a five y.o. has sailed” and is all but certain to happen because every few generations “we eat our own”.
You are 100% wrong. And I am going to prove to the entire world you are wrong. If I fail, I will be wrong about one human’s statement, while you will have given up on humanity.
Even under the best of circumstances when making trades and investments, I approach them all with hope of gain, not with certainty. I view the process of constructing causal chains to execute a certain view of markets as a prerequisite prayer to hope, sometimes inspite of the odds. In life, it is mostly inspite of the odds. This is the essence of being a human.
This is the third time I am reading this article and it left me wondering how I could have missed such anomaly in a human being in whose mind unspeakable outcome is but certain regardless of actions. This cannot be a human.
If you and I meet, it will be over a game of poker, or whichever is your favorite, and I will be kicking your ass all the way to Alabama where hopefully you will come across the soul of your father, a doctor, in whose career am certain that realm of causes pertaining to a patient seized to exist at least once, only to find himself doing what’s best anyway. Because it is clear you have plenty of mind, but not much soul as to be hopeful enough to expect outcomes from your own actions that are beyond possibilities of your own or anybody else’s mind.
It’s my promise to entire humanity.
What does it mean to Make? Teach your kids that’s Ok to “fail”.
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