Me at FEE: DonorSee & the Cajun Navy

I got published today. FEE again. Topic: DonorSee—one of my favorite apps.

DonorSee is a realistically hopeful app. Glyer believes in the eagerness of people to help one another and uses the power of real-time video to make that happen. In that way, it relies on the same goodwill that underlies the sharing economy—trust in each other, and faith that continuous feedback loops will reward good, honest work.

But DonorSee is also a reaction to the grossly ineffective and corrupt “big charity” model that has the giving industry stuck in the twentieth century. While we can tip our Uber drivers directly and in real-time, we send aid to hurricane victims through massive, archaic organizations—thousands of employees, some paid millions annually, who all sit together in a neighborhood of limestone buildings just north of Capitol Hill.

Gret Glyer (founded DonorSee) is what I like to call a “doer.” He’s someone who’s seen a problem and is actually fixing it. Not trying to fix it. Not explaining how it should be fixed. Not raising awareness so that, somewhere, someday, something might be done about it by someone. He is actively solving the problem every day.

This always involves starting a business. A venture. A risk-laden enterprise that requires a big chunk of your time and energy. Many simply don’t care enough to risk this much, even for causes they claim to support—noble causes that everyone can agree on. Frankly, I know almost no one who walks the walk like this.

Reminds me of something I read on Medium the other day—an excerpt from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s new book, Skin in the Game:

Finally, when young people who “want to help mankind” come to me, asking: “What should I do? I want to reduce poverty, save the world” and similar noble aspirations at the macro-level. My suggestion is:

1) never engage in virtue signaling;

2) never engage in rent seeking;

3) you must start a business. Take risks, start a business.

Yes, take risk, and if you get rich (what is optional) spend your money generously on others. We need people to take (bounded) risks. The entire idea is to move these kids away from the macro, away from abstract universal aims, that social engineering that bring tail risks to society. Doing business will always help; institutions may help but they are equally likely to harm (I am being optimistic; I am certain that except for a few most do end up harming).

Risk is the highest virtue.

“Business” is not some option for your life. A career choice you may or may not make. It is life, if you intend to accomplish anything lasting, anything worthwhile.

Take a risk. Start a business. Model Glyer—he lived for three years with the world’s poorest people in Malawi. Came back to the US and did exactly the thing he knew needed to be done to help the people in Malawi, and elsewhere, who lack the most basic provisions of life. It involved taking risk and starting a business, not petitioning others to fund an unsustainable charity simply because they ought to. You ought, as he did, to consider not just what’s right, but reality.

What will work? What will solve the problem you think really needs to be solved? Ask this question in a vacuum at first—ignore context or what other people tell you they are trying to do about it (because probably what they’re doing isn’t working if you still see a big problem there). Find your answer, and do that thing. Adjust your circumstances accordingly.

You’ve probably been taught to do things the other way around. Find the path of least resistance, given your context and what others are doing, then make your decision. That’s a fast track to nothing.

Real “doers” do what needs to be done. The rest follow.

My blog, and Cincinnati

I’m going to blog here more often.

I’m getting worried about Facebook and Google. I worry a bit about their censoring policies. I’m also deciding, slowly but surely, that’s it’s just plain risky to host the bulk of my creative content with one company, behind one single password. My blog is safer.

I also think about my son—he’s 16 months old. So much of what I write—my messages to friends, my notes, my thoughts on things—is online, be it Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was rummage through my dad’s library. I’d look at his books and get a sense of what he believed. I’d see old photos of him in college—yearbooks and Kodak frames stuffed in textbooks—that put him in a a different perspective. I’d find letters he’d written to my mom or to his parents that helped me understand who he really was, what he thought about besides me and my brother.

I want my son to have that, too. I want him to be able to see who is dad was, and is, on the inside—what I’m thinking about, what I believe. Of course, I want to tell him these things in person as he grows, but inevitably I will forget to say something, or forget what I once believed, or forget that, once upon a time, I did ask the same questions he’s asking and I did have a hard time deciding the answer. I want him to see where I’ve been, what I’ve done. If not for this blog, the only record of that will be in my password-protected email inbox.

So I want a record. And I want to be open about things—there’s not enough of that around these days.

My goal here isn’t to get as much web traffic as possible. But I do have more to say now, for some reason, than before. I had writers block for several months this year—really since last fall. I was busy. Moved from Virginia to Florida, my business is booming, my wife and I are slowly renovating our home.

That’s all changed, now. I’ll credit that both to settling into my new home and to the church community I’ve found here in Jacksonville. Great preaching, strong community. The whole thing just makes me think a lot more than I had been, at least about things other than work and market research.

I’ll start off with the photo at top. I took that from Mt. Adams in Cincinnati, OH earlier this month. I went to meet with a client. Spent the evening prior walking the city, ultimately climbing back up Mt. Adams (I was there last year, too) to take a photo for my wife. The neighborhood up there is picture-perfect. Old row homes, almost all with a view like this. Quaint, quiet, serene. Walked by a family excitedly reviewing the footprint of their new home, perched on the edge of a cliff with the same view in my picture.

One of the coolest places I’ve been. I highly recommend it. Here’s me at the top:

Avoid alarmism

Alarmism isn’t just annoying.

Yes, it’s a great marketing ploy—insisting, to others and to yourself, that we live in the worst of times and that whatever evil we’re now facing threatens to topple the entire human race.

But it’s bad for us. There are just some things you shouldn’t do, even in the name of your sincerely held belief. Alarmist rhetoric is one of those things.

When we tell ourselves and those around us that what we’re witnessing is of momentous and drastic consequence, we open the door ever more slightly for momentous and drastic action. We move the Overton Window, so to speak, to allow for changes to our long-held and organic traditions.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

But are we really living in desperate times? Is that for certain? And aren’t desperate measures something we should avoid if at all possible?

Yes to the third question, which means we should be careful before insisting that we are, in fact, living in desperate times.

In one way, this is the definition of maturity—not over-reacting or under-reacting, but keeping everything in perspective (or, at least, trying to).

Alarmism is immature. It’s not helpful. And it’s more than just annoying—it’s an unwarranted threat to traditional values that exist for a reason. Values that protect us from the darker corners of our nature.

Parallels

The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dish-watery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.

-The Chicago Times, reporting on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

The President is no more than a well-meaning baboon. I went to the White House directly after tea, where I found ‘the Original Gorilla,’ about as intelligent as ever. What a specimen to be at the head of our affairs now.

-George McClellan, General-in-chief of the Union Army, writing of Lincoln

Dear President Obama,

We are writing to express our grave concern regarding the mental stability of our President-Elect. Professional standards do not permit us to venture a diagnosis for a public figure whom we have not evaluated personally. Nevertheless, his widely reported symptoms of mental instability — including grandiosity, impulsivity, hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, and an apparent inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality — lead us to question his fitness for the immense responsibilities of the office.

We strongly recommend that, in preparation for assuming these responsibilities, he receive a full medical and neuropsychiatric evaluation by an impartial team of investigators.

-Herman, Gartrell & Mosbacher, MDs.

Grief is unscripted

To grieve doesn’t mean to be depressed. It doesn’t mean to be sad, distraught, or devastated. If it meant one of those things, it would be called one of those things.

To grieve is to experience what happens after someone you love dies. This is different for everyone, and its form depends on circumstance.

Grief is a word, which means it describes something. Somewhere along the line, some creative person decided to label the experience “grief.” The word did not exist ex nihilo, or come into existence on its own power. It is not prescriptiveWhen someone dies, you aren’t supposed to grieve. You do grieve. Grief is whatever you feel or think or see or do after a loved one dies that you know, in your heart, is related to their death.

Grief does not suddenly begin and promptly end, either. Grief surfaces in a small way when we first come to truly understand that someone we love will die one day. This realization happens slowly—over the course of many years, even—but it changes everything. It colors the way we see things and how relate to our loved ones. It manifests as all forms of emotion as we mature. It’s always somewhere in our hearts and minds. It morphs and intensifies around the time of a loved one’s death (especially immediately after) and it runs it course until we ourselves die.

This doesn’t mean we will always be sad after a loved one dies. Grief, remember, is not the same thing as depression or sadness. Usually, after some weeks or months of a loved one’s death, it morphs again. It may not manifest as tears quite as often, or ever again. It may turn into a steady feeling of having lost something, or a subtle feeling of tiredness or mental exhaustion. For others, it may even turn into some form of energy or a powerful source of inspiration.

Grief is different for everyone. No one’s grief is better than another’s.

But no matter how our grief morphs and shapes and manifests in our lives, it stays with us. It is part of us—part of being human—and, in an odd but true way, enriches our understanding of just what’s important in the world.

Let grief happen. Be sad for a time. But also let grief morph. Let it anger you, frustrate you, exhaust you, inspire you. Talk about it with others. Remember the one you’ve lost or are about to lose. Say whatever you want to say.

Grief is unscripted.

Identity politics & retreating political consciousness

Columbia University’s Mark Lilla, writing on the retreat of liberal political consciousness. My emphasis added.

The politics of identity is nothing new, certainly on the American right. What was astonishing during the Reagan Dispensation was the development of a left-wing version of it that became the de facto creed of two generations of liberal politicians, professors, schoolteachers, journalists, movement activists, and officials of the Democratic Party.

This was not a historical accident. For the fascination, and then obsession, with identity did not challenge the fundamental principle of Reaganism. It reinforced that principle: individualism. Identity politics on the left was at first about large classes of people — African-Americans, women — seeking to redress major historical wrongs by mobilizing and then working through our political institutions to secure their rights. But by the 1980s it had given way to a pseudo-politics of self-regard and increasingly narrow and exclusionary self-definition that is now cultivated in our colleges and universities. The main result has been to turn young people back onto themselves, rather than turning them toward the wider world. It has left them unprepared to think about the common good and what must be done practically to secure it — especially the hard and unglamorous task of persuading people very different from themselves to join a common effort.

Every advance of liberal identity consciousness has marked a retreat of liberal political consciousness. Without which no vision of America’s future can be imagined.

Give something a try

I drove my wife and son 232 miles to see the eclipse in totality today.

Five hours to get there, and we didn’t see it. Too much cloud cover. It was thrilling to watch the earth darken around us (the eclipse plus cloud cover means it got very dark and rather cool), but it was disappointing to come so far and miss so much of the event.

But I don’t regret going. I knew before we left this morning that we had about a 50/50 chance of missing it. I also knew it was going to be a long day with lots of driving (I hate driving), whether we saw it or not. And that’s super-tough on a one-year old.

I don’t regret going because I realized afterwards that this wasn’t about seeing the eclipse. It was about doing something exciting. And whether we made it exciting was really up to us, and not the clouds. Here we are, thoroughly excited, waiting for the eclipse in the median at a grungy truck stop in St. George, SC.I learned something today, too. I’m reminded of what it means to actually try. To aim for a target, know the odds, and release the arrow with all the gumption and skill as you possess (be it great or small). To go forward confidently, knowing that many who try will fail, and knowing exactly how bad that failure will feel.

Our try “failed,” but in an unexpectedly refreshing sort of way. We know we failed. There was no hiding that fact from ourselves, each other, or the hundreds of people sitting around us, staring up at the overcast sky.

I don’t try things enough. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. Everywhere we turn, we’re encouraged to avoid risks, or find the easy way out, or just revert back to what we know so we don’t end up somewhere we really don’t want to be. What can be worse than being stuck somewhere you don’t want to be when so much awaits you back at home, where you’re comfortable? That’s a prevailing attitude these days.

But that attitude is unfortunate. When we don’t try, we don’t learn, we don’t grow. Not trying means not letting the world around us shape our thinking or open doors—doors that often lead to transformative and powerful experiences.

Only a few times in my life have I truly tried something big—gave it my all for a long time, knowing there are very specific odds (often against me) that I can’t avoid. I honestly don’t remember ever winning these sorts of tries in the past. I bet what happened is I failed too many times and just gave up. Chose to quit trying somewhere along the line.

I don’t want that for my son. I want him to try. To work as hard as he can, even when he knows the set-in-stone odds of failure. And I want him to see that his dad tries, too. Because in the end, becoming a better person isn’t just about the goals you set and achieve, but the victories you discover along the road—experiences (like ours today) that draw you closer to each other and to God, and that make you a stronger person.

Fun people try. Exciting people try. Strong people try. Don’t be afraid to try, and to fail.

Trying is a victory in itself.

The internet is wreaking havoc on our perception of reality

From an anonymous redditor, on how the internet magnifies the intensity and frequency of terrorism around the world.

The internet is wreaking havoc on our perception of reality.

Read about what was going on in the 70’s when you had Arab nationalist groups and radical Communist groups and groups like the IRA and UVF. Shit was spiraling out of hand back then. Airplanes were getting hijacked all over. It was absolutely nuts. Watch a movie like Munich or Carlos The Jackel to see how crazy things were. To top everything off, you had the Cold War going on so every country’s intelligence agency was using radical terrorist groups to play off of each other left and right.

These days things seem to have mellowed out. But if you spend enough time on the internet, you’d think at any second you’re going to get clubbed by a neo-Nazi or run over by ISIS or Donald Trump is living under your bed waiting to steal your soul. There’s a reason for that: clicks make money and sensationalism gets you clicks.

 

On #charlottesville at church

Brian K. Miller on #charlottesville at church:

Second, I generally think it’s unhealthy – and perhaps even a bit narcissistic – to demand that an act be universally acknowledged. Things can be universally wrong (murder, racism, etc.) but we can only deal them within our own sphere of influence. When we demand universal action to local issues of injustice terrible things can follow – like when police officers in Dallas were blamed and killed for the shooting of a man in Minnesota. But even if the terrible side-effects can be negated, there are often no discernible positive effects either.

For instance, if someone close to me were killed in a traffic accident, I can’t imagine it would console me to know that people I have never met posted hashtags about the death on Facebook and gathered to talk about it amongst themselves. In fact, I would find it a little morbid. I can’t imagine the narcissism required to desire such attention. What would console me would be the presence and help of friends and family – those who are in a position and place to actually help. There is of course a converse side to this. If my loved one were killed by a drunk-driver in a regime that didn’t penalize drunk-driving then I would definitely find some comfort in a mass political movement recognizing the wrongness of the regime and working to stop drunk-driving. If your church has no problem with racism – and is perhaps even a well integrated community that is a shining example of how to overcome racism – then changing the sermon to preach against racism strikes me as the former example above of people gathering to discuss a death that they have no connection to.

The more appropriate course of action would be to gather as a community outside of church and do things to actually counter racism in your own community, write letters to those affected in Charlottesville, or get on a bus and join counter-protesters. All these things of course require real action because they are focused on the local and specific instance of evil. If evil is an abstraction then it demands nothing of us. We can fight it with abstraction. But if it manifests as some specific thing – incarnate in the world, like anti-christ, if you will – then it can be opposed with specific action.