The Curious Case of a Meaningful Life

Life is a series of random events. Your life has been a series of random events. You did not choose when you were born, who your parents were, or where you lived. You did not choose the house you grew up in, the school you went to, or the food you ate. You may have gotten to choose your friends, but that was limited by where you lived and what school you attended. As you grew up, you may have been able to express more preferences over the food you ate, who your friends were, the classes you took, or the extracurricular activities in which you participated, but you were still limited by the location of your house and your family, as well as their income. If you graduated high school, you may have faced the first real choice that was all yours; going to college.

Don’t get too excited, though, because like all the other events in your life, this one was not all of your doing either. The choice to go to college is dependent upon your intellectual aptitude, as is the college you go to. If you don’t like school, college is a bad idea, so you don’t go. If you like school, but aren’t intellectually gifted, Harvard is out of the question. Even if you are intellectually gifted, Harvard is expensive and may be out of the question anyway. You are also limited by your personal interests. If you love graphic design, going to a school that specializes in engineering would probably not be the best idea. Let’s say you do decide on a college that suits you, what then?

From that point on, all of the friends you make, and even if you find someone special and marry them, all depends on the fact that you chose that particular university. Let’s say you are a trained engineer upon graduation. You are not likely to get hired on somewhere as a Cold War Historian. Your current and future job opportunities are restricted to engineer, lest you get retrained or receive advanced training in a related field. You could also do something that is a far simpler occupation, like selling men’s shoes, but that would be far less money, so the choice is not likely to be made.

Did you find someone special along the way? Did you get married? Are you planning on having kids? The kids you have with your spouse are a random combination of your DNA, so even though you chose to have kids, you do not get to choose the kids you have. Did you choose your neighborhood, or was it the most affordable option in the nicest neighborhood outside of the city in which you work? Did you choose the route you take to work every day, or is it simply the fastest option given the outlay of the roads? Did someone cut you off on your way? Did they do this to spite you, or did they do it because they are a bad driver in a hurry? Did it make you late to work or cause a collision? These are all random events. You have some choice in the matter, but the vast majority of the circumstances surrounding your choices are out of your control. So, why am I bringing this up?

The human brain is a pattern recognition machine. It is so good at taking the randomness of our environment and organizing and codifying it to make sense of everything that when we see certain patterns or symbols regularly we stop consciously recognizing them. We do this with stop signs on a regular basis. If one said “Spot,” would you notice? Probably not. This is also why traffic cones and signs are bright orange; you are more likely to notice the change. But, how is this relevant to the topic at hand?

We like to believe that everything happens for a reason. The truth is, we ascribe meaning to all of the random things that happen to us. This is how we cope with a reality that is completely random and chaotic. We seek order externally, and we create it within our own lives. We have places for our dishes, our cleaning supplies, our clothes, our garbage, and even the rooms in which we sleep every night. We set up schedules so our bodies can operate optimally, and so we can interact with other people effectively. We eschew randomness at every opportunity. We even avoid people that are flakey and cannot show up on time or cancel on plans often. If you are like me, you have found that the more regimented and regular you can make your life and behaviors, the greater your functionality and chances of success are. These are choices I have made, and I value them. I have chosen to give them meaning.

Another, and possibly detrimental, occurrence when trying to make sense of our random world is to believe in a guiding power. God, or some other spiritual entity, has a plan for all of us, and what happens to you is what is best for you according to their plan. This is an incredibly dangerous mindset to cultivate as it takes away the agency you do have for the choices you make. If some supernatural entity has the control over the things in my life, then it doesn’t matter what choices I make. Everything happens for a reason, and it is all according to his plan. So, I will just go along for the ride. We become passengers in our own lives. I would argue this leads to a great deal of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. While we may not have complete control over our lives, there is great power and self-satisfaction in knowing we have the capacity to make the best possible choices for ourselves within the circumstances before us. Let that empower you.

As we progress through the randomness of life, remember, anything that has meaning in our lives does so because we have chosen to give it. A meaningful life is something entirely of our own creation. Take time to think of all of the people, places, events, and objects in your life that you value. Why do you value them? What is the meaning or significance they hold in your life? How have they changed who you are, and was it for the better or worse? How have you impacted the lives of others? Are you a meaningful person in the lives of other people? If you are, know that you are because they have chosen to make you so. We may live in a world of random events, but there is strength and power in knowing we have the capacity to choose how those events and people impact our lives. Use that power to make your life better. Give meaning to the events that make you better, and give meaning to the people that give you meaning in their lives and want the best for you. Your flourishing is within your own capacity.

What We Really Want From a Relationship

Relationships are one of the greatest expressions of anarchy we experience every day. We have relationships with our parents, our friends, and our significant other, should we have one, and all of them have one thing in common; they are voluntarily chosen. As a child, you cannot choose your family, but when you become an adult, you are free to choose if you want to associate with your family of origin. You do get to choose your friends from day one, and you do get to choose your significant other. You also get to choose if you want to have children and start your own family. You must keep in mind, however, that the children you have did not choose you as parents, so you have to be as awesome to them as you can be so it is as if they would have chosen you. That is a story for another time, however, so before I get too off topic, I should get to the purpose of this post.

I spend a fair amount of time on online dating sites, and despite the fact that they are all set up like Amazon selling you the best version of possible partners you can purchase, I have not been successful in finding someone. I have, however, made some good observations. Most profiles of women read something like this. “Hi! I am an exciting and interesting person who does exciting and interesting things. I like a fun night out, but I also like to spend a fun night in. I like to go on adventures, but I also like to be low key. I’m looking for someone to share my life with!” Pardon my generalities, but that is how most of the profiles read. The reason for this is twofold. One, the person wants to appear as normal as possible, and two, the person wants to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. While this strategy increases the likelihood of receiving potential mates, it does not increase the likelihood of meeting the right mate. This leads me to my point.

What we want out of relationships is not to have some to share our lives with, or to adventure with. What we really want is someone that sees us for who we are, the good and the bad, and accepts us for all of it. This is true for friendships as well as for romantic relationships. We may advertise how awesome we can be for another person, but in truth, we do this because we want to find someone who sees how awesome we really are. We are not all awesome in the same way either. If that were the case, we would all be homogenous interchangeable sex robots with no particular regard who we spend time with, sleep with, or have kids with. Thankfully that dream of the authoritarian left is not a reality and life is far more exciting!

It is because we are all so unique that we spend so much time worrying about finding a special partner, and we put so much emphasis on the necessity to be seen for who we really are. Most people are not consciously aware of this necessity, but they pursue it anyway. Often their attempts at achieving it are misguided and backwards, but sometimes it does work out. When someone starts out trying to be as appealing to as many people as possible, the weeding out process gets extreme. However, if a person were to be as specific as possible with their description of themselves and what they are looking for, then perhaps we would all be better at finding that special someone. Of course, you cannot find what you do not know you are seeking.

If we are to find true happiness and a loving relationship with the right partner, we must be honest with ourselves about who we are and what we are seeking. Instead of being as general as possible in your dating search, be specific. If you like analogies, then try this one; dating is like traveling. You know you are going on a trip, and there is a specific destination intended, however, the vaguer you are, the more likely you are to get lost. If, on the other hand, you know the exact GPS coordinates of your destination, you will be sure to find it. Unfortunately, people are not points on a map, so finding who suits you best is not going to be that easy. This is why self-knowledge is so important. If you know what you like and do not like, what makes you happy and what does not, then you are more likely to find the person that suits you best.

You should never compromise who you are or what you believe for the sake of a relationship that you think will make you happy. This is a recipe for disaster. If you are not true to yourself, you will never be happy. This is as true in relationships with people as it is in relationships with institutions. This is why anarchy is so important in all aspects of life. It is also why it is so challenging. It is easy to believe you have no influence over large, distant, and seemingly powerful institutions like governments, and it is hard to believe how much power you have over the personal relationships in your life. When you realize that the governments have power only because of your tacit compliance with them, you start to see them for the house of cards they are. When you realize the people in your life are only there because you have chosen to let them be there, you start to see how powerful you really are. Embrace that power, and define your life and your relationships in the ways that make you the happiest. You owe yourself that much.

The Necessity of Choice

If I put a gun to your head and tell you to rob a liquor store, are you guilty of robbery? No. By placing your life under threat of death, I have removed all choice from you, and subsequently all agency. Anyone who tells you that you still had a choice is clearly demented as they think death is a viable option. Agency is moral responsibility for your actions. Without agency, there can be no virtue as the morality of the choice is removed from you. This is why government and all of its actions are morally wrong. Everything the government does comes at the threat of death or as a result of it.

Do you pay your taxes? I do, but not willingly. I pay them because I know that if I refuse, eventually a man with a gun will come to my house, threaten my life, put me in chains, kidnap me, and place me in a cage. If I refuse, or attempt to defend myself, he will shoot me. I have no agency in the action of paying my taxes. This is also why taxation is theft.

Now, you may say the government does some good things with the money it steals from me and everyone else in the form of taxation. Even if the money stolen in taxes goes to feed poor, blind, starving, AIDS ridden children in Africa, it is still an immoral act as the funds are ill-gotten gains. When the government provides welfare for the poor, retirement funds for the old, and education for the illiterate, it is not committing a moral action. The ends do not justify the means. Even if you support what the government is doing, you are not making a moral choice. No matter how much you delude yourself, you do not have agency in what the government is doing, and therefore neither you, nor the government is making a moral choice.

This is why anarchy is the only moral political ideal. Every individual has full agency for his or her choices, and morality falls squarely on his or her shoulders. If you choose to help the illiterate become literate, the poor get food, or the old live comfortably, you are acting morally because you have the freedom to choose not to do those things. Likewise, if you choose to rob that liquor store, you are responsible for that immoral act. Anarchy is the only system that allows humans to reach the full potential of their agency, and it is therefore the only system that can achieve human flourishing.

Internalizing Morality to Escape the Police State

The United States was founded on the idea of limited government because it was expected of the citizens to not only know the difference between right and wrong; they were expected to act upon it. In order for there to be a civilization at all, individuals must take it upon themselves to do what is right, or at the very least, not do what is wrong. Civilization is characterized by voluntary interactions between all individuals of that society. When force is initiated, civilization is lost. When individuals act in accordance with objective moral standards, no outside policing entity is necessary. However, when individuals start to act immorally, i.e. they start hurting other people or taking their stuff, an external enforcement institution is necessary. We witness this today as the police, sheriffs, FBI, and myriad of other acronym agencies from state and local governments. In a state of anarchy, the majority of these institutions would not exist, either in their current form, or at all. (I will touch on those ideas in later posts.) So, the question necessarily becomes, why do we have them now, and will we need them once we progress into a state of anarchy? This question is a two parter, so I will answer the questions separately but in order.

As it stands in the United States, we have a high degree of violent crime within urban inner city environments. Property crime is also high within these areas. These are the most dangerous places to be in the U.S. We also have suburban areas where the crime rate is next to zero. Additionally, we have an overwhelmingly large volume of laws and codes governing business interactions and corporate entities coming from state and federal governments. Laws against murder are universal within the country, so the fact that murders occur in some places and not others is evidence to the fact that it is not the law stopping murders from occurring. So, what is it then?

As with all things, it is individual choices. Individuals choose to murder, whether that choice is rational or not. Understanding those motives are beyond the scope of this article, however, it can reasonably be said that those committing the crime are of the belief that committing the act is the best choice they can make given their particular circumstances. (I will write another article on the requirements for human action at a later time.) It is my belief that in a state of anarchy, those circumstances will be dramatically different (again, I will write another article on this topic in its entirety). With different circumstances and better incentives, those that view murder as a viable option now will internalize the consequences of their actions and more than likely make the choice not to initiate harm. So, what then of the other codes and convoluted heaps of laws on the books?

It is my belief that all of these codes written by governments of all levels are attempts to control and manage the actions of peaceful and productive people. If the government can criminalize an otherwise morally neutral action, they can arrest, prosecute and control otherwise peaceful and productive people. The drug war is a perfect example of this. At its base, all you have is people growing, buying, selling, and consuming plants. There is nothing immoral about this. However, because the government has criminalized this, they have overwhelming power and authority to intervene and brutalize otherwise peaceful people. A similar situation arises with anti-trust legislation. There is nothing immoral about having a natural monopoly or almost monopoly within a completely free market system. The only way you achieve such market share is by being the absolute best producer in the market and your customers value your products. When the government writes laws intervening with this, they are expanding their power base in an effort to control and criminalize the actions of peaceful and productive people. The government wants nothing more than to accumulate power and it does that by criminalizing peaceful acts and demonizing peaceful productive people. Make no mistake, the end goal of all governments is complete tyrannical control over the people; a police state. So, how do we escape it?

When individuals act in accordance with objective morality, they do not need external enforcement agencies. Even in a state of anarchy, some enforcement and arbitration agencies will be necessary, however, their services will be voluntary and subject entirely to the will of the consumers. When you need security, you will hire a security company. When you need arbitration, you will hire an arbitration company. (This will be elaborated on in a later post as well. The information is too voluminous for this post at this point, so I ask you to trust that I know what I’m talking about for now.) If you are not satisfied with the services, you will fire them. This forces the companies to do their jobs extremely well, be as respectful to the consumers as possible, and to respect objective morality in all of their dealings. A no-knock raid at 3 A.M. will be out of the question. There is also the power of social ostracism. A person that is not complying with objective morality will be denied services within an anarchist society, thus rending them incapable of surviving on their current path, but incentivizing them to improve their behavior. An authoritarian super-state and violent police state will become ridiculous notions of a barbarous past, but how do we get from where we are to a state of anarchy?

Answering that question is one of the purposes of this blog. I want to present the truth as plainly as possible here, and I want to espouse the virtues of anarchy so everyone can start to appreciate how wonderful such a society could be and what true civilization is. As Confucius said, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” The government is a violent, coercive organization composed of people that want to control you. Taxation is theft. War is murder. Anarchy is peace, freedom, and civilization. It is also the key to human flourishing.

How Can You Have Morality Without God?

If you are an atheist who has ever argued for objective morality, you have inevitably been asked the question, “Without God, how can you have morality?” This is a common question, and it is one that is pervasive from believers toward the non-believers. It is an important question to answer, both for the sake of establishing a sound moral theory without religion attached to it, and for the sake of preventing grand-scale physical conflict such as a holy war. In order to begin, I will establish that morality must be deducible from reality otherwise it is meaningless. Then, I will explain why this is actually a good thing from the religious perspective. Finally, I will touch on how this recognition will help stop massive violent conflict.

I have already established that morality can be deduced from reality with my article The Moral Framework. Now, I will explain why this must be the only rational case for morality in order for it to have any meaning. The religious will proclaim that morality comes from God, and they will cite the Ten Commandments and other proclamations within the Bible as evidence. I ask you this, do you know the difference between right and wrong? How do you know? Let’s take murder as an example. We can all agree that murder is wrong, yet, how do we know? Do we know it is wrong because God says so, or do we know because, either we have some inherent sense that we wouldn’t want to be killed so killing must be bad, or because we can prove it through a moral framework? If right and wrong are dependent upon dictates from God, then right and wrong are completely arbitrary and meaningless dependent solely upon God’s whim. God could just as easily proclaim that murdering people over seven feet tall is a good thing as they reach too close to heaven. I think we can all agree that this would be ridiculous. However, if morality is determined objectively, as in deduced from reality, then God’s proclamation that murder is wrong is an observation of reality, it is a declaration of what can be understood, not a dictate to be accepted mandatorily. This frees morality from dependence upon religion and places it openly in the realm of objective reality, and even the religious are better for it.

The Bible states that we are created in God’s image. If this is the case, and we as individual humans have the capacity to reason and deduce a sound moral theory from reality, then God has this ability as well.  When God declares that murder is wrong, he must be deducing this fact from observed reality and sharing his conclusions with us so we know right and wrong before we are able to deduce it rationally ourselves. Now that we are able to reason for ourselves and prove that murder is wrong from our own observations or reality, does this not bring us closer to God? I ask this question to believers in order to better understand them. I am not a believer, so I can only speculate. It is my hope that I am correct and recognizing our capacity to reason and acting upon it does in fact bring people closer to God.

Lastly, I want to explain how recognizing objective universal morality can end some of the worst and longest lasting conflicts of all time. In fact, it can end all war. Holy War is waged largely on the principle, “My God is greater than yours and he wills me to kill you.” The Crusades were about his, and the violence that comes out of the Middle East from Muslims today is also based upon this idea. Muslims fight each other over this idea, and they have the same God. Governments go to war with each other, using their citizens as cannon fodder for the same faulty reasoning. These are all representations of belief in irrational morality. “Because God wills it,” or “Because the government voted on it,” are not sound moral frameworks upon which to base action, let alone a series of actions that results in the deaths of thousands, if not millions of people. When we free ourselves from irrational belief systems, we are able to start our journey of human flourishing.

If we can recognize that there is an objective moral framework, one that deduces morality from observed reality, we can end violent conflict on a mass scale. No longer will countless human lives be thrown away at the altar of irrational belief systems. Why people believe in irrational belief systems is a discussion for another time, however, I will leave you with one final idea. Anarchy, sweet though it is, cannot prevent irrational belief systems from forming. However, it can rid us of the coercive and destructive belief systems we are currently subject to, and for that, I am forever enthralled. It is my hope, dear reader, that you will join me in my captivation.

The Moral Framework

As with all political ideals, a sound moral theory must be presented to establish the validity of the ideal. I do that here.

Politics, at least political science, deals primarily with ideas about how systems should operate in order to best ensure justice is achieved within society. It seeks to codify into law how men ought to act and establish a just system of recourse for when laws are broken. Of course, this begs the question, “How should men act?” (As an aside, when I say men, I mean individual people. Men is just shorter and faster to type.) In order to answer this question, we must establish a basic framework of ethics and morality.

Morality is the study of right and wrong, and ethics is the application of rules governing right and wrong action within a society. We have to determine what is right and what is wrong, and in order to do this, we start by accepting some basic facts of reality.

  • We exist. Some philosophers in the past have tried to argue that we do not exist or we cannot know if we exist. Our capacity to think, feel, and interact with reality should be evidence enough of this.
  • We have free will. The fact that I have chosen to write these words and the fact that you are now choosing to read them is evidence of this.
  • An individual owns his or her body. Without self-ownership, all ownership is impossible. Ownership is defined as the ability to exercise exclusive control over something. An individual is the only being capable of exercising exclusive control over his or her body, and is therefore the owner of the self.
  • Through self-ownership, each individual is responsible for his or her actions. This is called moral agency, or simply agency.
  • Agency makes each individual responsible for the impact of his or her actions towards one’s self and towards others.
  • Through self-ownership, we are able to acquire other property as well. Clothes, cars, land, etc. and we are responsible for these items just as we are responsible for our bodies.
  • We are allowed to preserve and defend our ownership over ourselves and our property. No person has the right to violate self-ownership or the ownership rights there derived. If a person cannot defend his or her body or property, then it cannot be said that they have exclusive control over it and therefore do not own it. This is a contradiction, and therefore we conclude that self-preservation and defense are inherently a part of self-ownership.

From these founding principles, we deduce the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP), which states the initiation of the use of force is morally wrong. The NAP is a deduction from observed reality; it is not an assertion. We deduce that because any initiation of the use of force interferes with the principles of self-ownership, it is a violation of reality, and is therefore immoral. Allow me to elaborate.

Murder, rape, assault, and theft are all obvious violations of the NAP. Murder violates self-ownership by ending the function of a body that is not owned by the perpetrator. Rape and assault are both violations of self-ownership in that the attacker is compelling action against the victim’s will which violates the principle of self-ownership and therefore cannot stand. Theft is simply the taking of another’s property and of course is a violation of the principle of self-ownership.

Fraud and deception are a little harder to categorize, but they are also violations of the NAP as they seek to compel one to act against his own self-ownership without full volition. If I hire you to vacuum the rugs in my house, and you agree, that is a completely sound contract. If, however, I have cut a hole in the floor under one of my rugs with the sole intent of having you fall into it, you are not responsible for the ensuing injuries to your person; I am. I have intentionally led you into a situation that is clearly against your own best self-interest, and I am responsible for the outcome. If I was not aware of the hole, or you enjoyed falling into holes and knew beforehand that it was there, the situation would be different. Due to the fact that I was fully aware that I was defrauding you, I am responsible for the outcome.

This the moral framework by which we establish a moral society under anarchy. This will of course require a high degree of internalization of morality as well as some voluntary enforcement systems, all ideas that will be covered in subsequent posts.

What Is Human Flourishing?

This blog’s subtext is, “One man’s love affair with human flourishing.” So, I suppose I should define what human flourishing is. Simply stated, human flourishing is every individual achieving self-actualization. Of course, for this to be simply understood, we would have to understand what self-actualization is first.

The idea of self-actualization was made most relevant by Abraham Maslow in his work on the hierarchy of needs. Self-actualization was at the top of his hierarchy, and it is defined as follows: “the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualized in what he is potentially.” This means many different things to many different people, so I will give you my take on it here. Self-actualization requires enough self-knowledge to know who you are as a person, enough courage to stand up for what you believe to be true, and the persistence to achieve those virtues you practice in order to experience happiness.

That may seem like a tall order, but understand, as Aristotle pointed out, happiness is the only end in and of itself; it is not a means to another end. Life should be about experiencing happiness. It is not our goal to pursue happiness, rather, it should be our goal to experience it. True happiness requires a high degree of self-knowledge, lest we fall into naked hedonism. Eating junk food and engaging in unattached sex can give a great deal of pleasure, however, these practices do not lead to happiness or self-fulfillment. Junk food may taste good, but it will make you sick, and while unattached sex may be pleasurable in the moment, it does not lead to the long lasting partnership of a loving relationship. In order to be happy, we must understand that our actions have consequences, and in order to be self-actualized, we must recognize that our choices need to lead us towards experiencing happiness.

A self-actualized person realizes that all his choices matter, and he is responsible for their outcomes. He recognizes that in order to experience happiness, he must endeavor to achieve virtue, and he must surround himself with like-minded people. He has the understanding to know what will and will not make him happy, and he has the foresight and fortitude to act in ways that will lead him to happiness. It is through happiness that all individual human beings truly flourish. The character of a person is expressed most explicitly when he is doing that which makes him most happy.

What make you most happy? Do you enjoy helping other people, empathizing with the struggling, encouraging individuals to excel, solving complex problems that otherwise hinder human progress, or discovering ways to improve the quality of human life? If you do, chances are you are a good person, doing these things makes you happy, and in so doing them, you flourish. Likewise, if you enjoy hurting other people, chances are good you are a terrible person, and while causing harm makes you happy, you express the true depravity of your character. I would argue that while only a very small minority of people fall into the latter category, the vast majority of people are part of the former, and we are all better off for it.

At this point, you may be wondering, “What the hell does any of this have to do with anarchy?” Anarchy is an environment in which each individual has the most freedom possible in order to achieve self-actualization, and thus achieve human flourishing. If you want to live, as I want to live, in a world where every individual has the most opportunity possible to flourish, then like me, you are an anarchist, and I bid you welcome!

What Is Anarchy?

If you look up the definition of anarchy, you will most likely come across a definition like this: a state of society without government or law, political and social disorder due to the absence of governmental control, confusion, chaos, or disorder. In actuality, anarchy should be defined as follows: an absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal. Anarchy simply means without rulers. It is not a world without rules, order, or the law. The idea that you are capable of making your own decisions for how you run your own life is so radical and inflammatory that it must be derided as evil, terrible, and life threatening. The truth is, we live in a state of anarchy most of our lives, and the government is just a criminal organization set up to control your life and extort your wealth.

It is my intention through this blog to make a cohesive case for anarchy and all of its benefits and how the political ideal will lead to the best possible outcome for human flourishing. This will be a journey for me, and I may venture from the path from time to time. I will also delve into what I believe is human flourishing in all of its facets. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I am very passionate about it, so I hope you enjoy my writing.

Ah, Sweet Anarchy

Ah, sweet anarchy,

How glorious are thee!

Basking in the virtues

Of freedom and liberty!

Asking that I make choices

Only for me!

Ah, sweet anarchy,

How righteous though art!

Establishing equality of opportunity,

Right from the start,

Asking that each individual

Play only his part.

Ah, sweet anarchy,

How noble are you!

Not limiting yourself,

Only for a few,

And universalizing ethics,

That you do too!

Ah, sweet anarchy,

Thou art so just!

Compelling us to action

Because you know we must,

It is within our own resolve,

You teach us to trust.

Ah, sweet anarchy,

How you fill me with hope!

For the glory of humanity

Is no boring trope!

And if you were a woman,

We would surely elope!