Every man rebels against the idea that this is it. Fights windmills, saves damsels all in search of greater purpose…You have no greater purpose, because it is enough. -Kevin Garvey Sr

This is the single quote I return to most. In a modern existence teeming with temptation, it’s the task of a lifetime avoiding perpetual dissatisfaction with the present when compared to alt-presents just barely out of reach: If only I had a coffee… If only I had a better job … If only I had planned a nice vacation … If only I had a better lover … If only I had new golf clubs… Beyond the immediate downsides of this “grass is always greener” thinking – namely, that your attention is sucked away from the here and now making full appreciation of the here and now impossible – giving in sends you on a path with no limiting principle; satisfying one desire provides (maybe) brief relief before being replaced by a new one. The promised fulfillment’s emptiness is undeniably revealed, and yet you are no less likely to be duped again in the future.

But of course sometimes the grass is indeed greener. Sometimes, “when I think I’m being self-sufficient, I’m really just learning to live without the things that I need.”[1] Need. Such a weak word, at least to me. I need nothing! Can survive, nay thrive, in any situation! This is a true part of my identity, but is it actually TRUE?[2] There’s no scarier question. Each of us crafts an identity as a refuge in a complicated, capricious world. It’s comforting to know who you are. Unfortunately, comfort is the area least likely probed for holes, which means your agreeable identity may be working against your long-term self-interest.

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How to Live in the Moment

I don’t remember most days, not even wedding days; I do remember your wedding day, and I imagine I will continue to remember it for the foreseeable future.

Since this is a wedding note, and since we live in a time of grand narratives where everything neatly ties together with whatever you happen to care deeply about, I’ll try to show how your wedding confirmed the narrative I already knew to be true about xxxxxxxxx. See, I have a special fondness for xxxxxxxxx. There’s something about being around him that’s energizing. Truly. I believe he’s excited to see me, to spend time with me, and to further learn the ridiculousness of my character. This may seem like a basic definition of friendship, but it’s not. Other “friends” will genuinely look forward to an encounter only to be silently longing for the plane back home shortly after commencement. I know this because I do it. It never feels like xxxxxxxxx does. Another way to say all of this is to say that xxxxxxxxx helps me live in the moment. And while I can’t, due to lack of experience, honestly say xxxxxxxxx has the same effect on me, I also have enough experience with her to know that I can’t dismiss the possibility. Or at the very least, I think xxxxxxxxx can augment and support xxxxxxxxx’s unique strengths, and he (better) augment and support her strengths (like drawing/painting; keep drawing/painting).

For now, though, our focus shall be on our overarching narrative that forms the backbone of this letter. So just as it’s no surprise that Trump obviously did the awful thing that perfectly fits the narrative you hold about him, it’s no surprise that your wedding was a beautiful exercise in presence.

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This teenage airhead in adult form wants to talk about her stepson’s generation’s devaluation of marriage with the earnestness of I’ve-just-got-to-say-something. Is there any consideration that perhaps she, a divorcee remarried to another divorcee, might not be the ideal candidate to hold court on such matters? Of course not. Remember, this is Regina George grown up. Did she at least have any theories, theories that surely cast herself as the bearer of wisdom the younger generation should hungrily consume? Actually, no. I spent the first six minutes of the conversation absorbing her punchline-free prattling, responding with, “Yea, but why don’t they value marriage?” and getting, “They just don’t” in return.

Growing tired of the dance and confident (always) that I could make this conversation more enjoyable for both parties, I began postulating answers to my question. Theses like the decline of religion and the rise of women were similarly met with shrugs. Opportunity cost, however, was received with the excitement of a child realizing his father’s guiding hand was no longer on the back of the bike. It was then I realized that her confusion about her stepson’s generation was not faux at all: she really didn’t know why they were the way they were, she really did want to know, and my premise that marriage has never been more costly allowed her a breakthrough that for so long had been out of her grasp.

It’s 1937. You grow up in a small Nebraskan town. You will die in a small Nebraskan town. The choices you’ll make in the intervening years will be necessarily limited by lack of options, irrespective of prosperity. You can be alone and bored as a bachelor or get married and be less alone and less bored. Even if you weren’t toiling on Maslov’s lower rungs (as our fictional Nebraskan is), you live in a society with fewer ways to express freedom – weekend jaunts to visit friends on the East Coast aren’t on the table because (a) you don’t have friends on the East Coast, and (b) there isn’t an airport infrastructure to accommodate this type of travel. Obviously, you get married.

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Your father is a great American success story. Your mother perhaps even more so. Though you, the member of the next generation that you are, a generation that’s so exhaustingly hyper-aware, might quip back that their success is the product of some form of oppression and privilege and that, in fact, they would be more successful living more fulfilling lives if they were not in America but in some Scandinavian country. I’ll freely concede all of these points since you’re, what, a few weeks old, and I will not debase myself by arguing with a baby.

But in my concession, I can’t help but point out that even in your “correctness” you still have a choice to focus on the quip in the first place; just because an observation is accurate doesn’t make it worthy of attention. Yes, it’s important to be living in reality, to not be deluded. Yes, positive change can start with proper identification of a suboptimal order. And sure, you get to feel smarter than everyone else by always pointing out what they overlook. Here you are a few weeks into existence getting to look down at me. Must be nice.

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Do Cool Stuff

Somehow, someway I experience minimal material wanting or pressure. Oh sure, I’ll see a catchy advert and be momentarily tossed into a cycle of thinking how much better my life would be if I had, say, that freshest cell phone. But I’m good at catching myself and accepting that winning these mental battles is a necessary part of a modern existence bursting with advertising. It’s also bursting with nudges, big and small, conveying the message that my happiness is contingent on upping my neighbor purchase-wise. Again, I reject the proposal and experience zero jealousy as the girl-next-door piles up the latest and greatest.

But don’t see me as some moral hero totally divorced from the interpersonal competition; I’m simply competing on a different metric. I was in Milwaukee a few weeks ago at a nice dinner with some nice people. One of these people was regaling the crowd with tales of his adventures from three years in Shanghai. The more, more, more impulse flowed through me. He has done cooler stuff than me. I need to do some cooler stuff. Maybe I should move to Tokyo or Singapore.

I have very few goals in life. At the top of that short list is “Be Wise.” The high correlation coefficient (~.8) between age and wisdom can hide the fact that it’s experience, not time, “causing” wisdom. Thus, if one does not make wisdom-maximizing choices, he may well end up a sheltered 70-year-old bested by an unusually intrepid teenager.

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7.3.2021 Rule GT6432

While you’ll find existence is a cornucopia of lovely experiences, you’ll also find that the current iteration of human is spending an outsized share of his time mired in frivolity and hate. Not that these states are necessarily bad or unproductive, just that creativity is dulled by residing in these states for too long.

And it is through creativity and the accompanying excitement it so often births that a population can become problem-solvers of the highest order. This is not only good for the advancement of society but also for the individuals themselves, or so King World XVIII believes.

See, instead of 4.15.20 Rule HJ8945 offering King World XVIII a respite from circling thoughts about free will, his thoughts merely morphed into an offshoot problem the Free Will Battles rarely cover. That is: why do humans use their free will in ways that reliably hurt their long-term self-interests? Yea, yea, yea, there’s the whole immediate satisfaction bit and evolution in a world of scarcity and blah blah blah, but none of that reasonableness offers a path forward. King World XVIII wanted a path forward.

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Right Things vs. Wrong Things

I think our society too often celebrates the wrong things. And because of this, we humans are too often pursuing the wrong things. By wrong, I simply mean stuff that will not maximize flourishing, and may, in fact, militate against it. Which all leads to my appearance here today: I want to celebrate your candor, a vital right thing that you have demonstrated since the first day I met you.

Now, most everyone will nod their heads in agreement, Oh yes, being honest is so important. Crucial. Gotta do it. But then they will proceed to behave quite counter to this “obvious” ideal. Aside from a few truly malevolent actors, I think this discrepancy between words and actions is due to an incorrect prioritization, not actual falseness in supporting the value of truth.

Take a meet-up with a friend that begins the same way all such meet-ups begin, “How are you doing?” Let’s pretend this isn’t merely small talk, that the friend has infinite time and truly craves a real answer. You can (a) highlight (with perhaps some truth shading) the things that seem to enhance your status – Damn, she is smart! Damn, she is cool! Damn, she is impressive! – or (b) nakedly highlight the things that might reduce your status. Now, being smart, cool, or impressive isn’t a wrong thing, but the pursuit of status over all else is. It’s this attitude of more, more, more just because it looks good that drives (a) over (b). Nearly everyone wants to be truthful, but only about certain types of truths.

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Excel in Uncertainty

There you are waiting. Maybe it’s seven years from now. Maybe it’s seventeen. But I see you clearly struggling with the lack of clarity. Your parents will have taught you well, loved you well, supported you well: that won’t be the issue.

No, the procrastination is the natural result of unavoidable uncertainty inherent to the human experience. Path A will look preferable on certain days … only to be supplanted – in your mind – by Path B on different days. Around and around your mind will spin with such relentless force you’ll sometimes wish someone else would just decide for you – a free man pleading for less freedom.

I implore you to pause in moments like this and consider your parents. Just look at this house! Their jobs! Their vast networks of friends! Everything is so idyllic! Sure, absorbing those outcomes may lead to the conclusion that your parents followed a simple blueprint devoid of the endless machinations currently racking your mind. Yet it is the wrong conclusion, for your parents were extended stay tenants in the land of uncertainty. Most people make a decision and are awarded a long period of tranquil certainty; your parents, on the other hand, earned their “extended stay” status because their decisions were so often abruptly followed by ever more uncertainty. Which could turn someone cold, or paralyze him, or make him feel justified to constantly complain, could fill him with rage and jealousy. Not your parents. No way.

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Is This Problem Solveable?

While the emotional lull may feel quite similar, there is a crucial difference between confidently possessing potential actions that may feasibly solve a problem  (PPA) and having exhausted all conceivable actions (ECA).
I posit that this difference is deeply understood and helps to explain procrastination. There is hope in PPA. When you start to spiral negatively, you can rescue yourself with thoughts of all things left to try: I’ll email Bob on Monday; I’ll call the doctor this week; I’ll read those studies soon. This rescue mission often works well. So well, in fact, that part of you will decide to not take those stated actions, because if they don’t work, you’ll be stranded without the ability to save oneself from darkness.
This logic misses a key point that the list of potential actions is not fixed, that the process of exhausting some of them indeed births new potential actions (e.g., you e-mail Bob and he says, “No, but I think I have a better person for you to contact”).
Unfortunately, the list of potential actions is also not infinite; at some point, the births cease and you truly can run out of ideas to dreadfully arrive in ECA. Of course, it’s hard to know for sure if you are in ECA. Perhaps you are simply looking to excuse yourself from making an effort. Simple test: can a stranger instantly come up with ideas to try? If “yes,” then you ain’t in ECA. (Being laughably far from ECA is why it’s hard for me to be too sympathetic toward people with “health issues” who haven’t perfected exercise, sleep, nutrition, and screens.)
When you are truly in ECA, I don’t really have an answer. This is maybe where acceptance enters, though I don’t really get how non-Jedi’s do that to a considerable enough degree to truly reverse darkness if the ECA state is truly bad. Something like actively fighting against your wants/vision of yourself? xxxxxxxxx told me how whenever someone would ask him to play basketball the desire would emerge to play. Yes, I love basketball. But he, through years of “mourning,” disabused himself of the thought that he’s the type of person who plays basketball (because his injury prevented him from playing). That, while it wasn’t what he would have planned or wanted, it’s what is, and what is is totally fine, glorious even, in a different way. Nothing is so unbearable that you can’t bear it because you are, in fact, bearing it in this moment. And this moment. And this moment.
Ughhhh. I really don’t know.

Dear “Cancel Culture,”

There’s a certain type of self-important buffoon clogging up airports from sea to shining sea who needs to be placed squarely in your crosshairs. The boarding process begins with priority, then the disabled, then the parents of small children before turning to a numerical countdown from small to large. Even if you had never before flown, the numerical part is so easy to comprehend that ignorance isn’t a viable defense. 

Yet, there’s the target – proud owner of a group #7 ticket – stalking so close to the line of people with lower boarding numbers you’d think he’s actually in line. Now, if he was deciding to circumvent the boarding order entirely and was truly in line, boarding group be damned, we’d call him unethical and leave it at that. After all, his gross action has minimal consequences. 

What we cannot tolerate, nay what we MUST not tolerate, is the person who thinks he can hold himself in high moral esteem by not actually getting in line, but by being so close to the line that when #7 beams out over the loudspeaker he’ll be the first #7 to board. For this action has ripple effects that materially taint the boarding process: people with lower boarding numbers will accumulate behind him incorrectly believing they are in the real line. With fake disbelief, our target will eventually address the duped fliers incorrectly accumulating behind him by claiming complete innocence and attempting to redirect blame onto us. We are not fooled. You know what you have done. We know what you have done. 

Sic ‘em. Woof, woof, woof!