Category Archives: Lifestyle

A Tendency to Cooperate

Teamwork is mankind's greatest achievement

Ayn Rand believed that people could become self-reliant by elevating their own interests above all else; as the Ayn Rand Institute’s web site says, she “wrote volumes urging people to be selfish.” As a result, she opposed religious and political controls that could hinder individuals from pursuing their personal goals. Certainly, there’s something to be said for having a society of people who are free to achieve their goals, right?

But when Rand’s followers extol her promotion of personal liberty, they fail to recognize or admit that individualism—or objectivism, as she preferred to call it—as a guiding principle:

  1. Doesn’t work in practice, and
  2. Is not the highest expression of mankind.

After reading Rand’s 1943 novel, The Fountainhead,” I came across Randall Munroe’s comic that pretty much depicted my impression. He said:

“I had a hard time with Ayn Rand because I found myself enthusiastically agreeing with the first 90% of every sentence, but getting lost at ‘therefore, be a huge a**hole to everyone.'”

And there are concrete examples of her philosophy’s failure in practice and as a description of what drives human achievement.

Sears CEO Eddie Lampert has been largely guided by Rand’s ideas in his leadership of the company:

“Lampert broke the company into over 30 individual units, each with its own management, and each measured separately for profit and loss. Acting in their individual self-interest, they would be forced to compete with each other and thereby generate higher profits…What actually happened is that units began to behave something like the cutthroat city-states of Italy around the time Machiavelli was penning his guide to rule-by-selfishness. As Mina Kimes has reported in Bloomberg Businessweek, they went to war with each other.”

A decade into Lampert’s tenure, Business Insider said, “the 124-year-old retailer is imploding.”

Rand said, “Man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man—in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life.” She believed that teamwork was for savages.

But not only have humans always had a tendency to cooperate and to look out for each other, in fact, it may be “that it is our hyper-social, cooperative brain that sets us apart [from other human-like species]. From language and culture to war and love, our most distinctively human behaviours all have a social element.” Teamwork is mankind’s greatest achievement.

Oftentimes, Rand’s self-interested fans end up simply sounding like children who scream through tears, “You’re not the boss of me.”

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A Horse, Of Course

A horse’s size and strength typically command awe and respect, mixed perhaps with a bit of fear for the uninitiated. But when watching an experienced horseman locked in a dance with a horse—walking forward, moving back—gracefully sensing each other’s movements before they happen, the horse’s power and beauty under control is an amazing thing to behold.

Lessons can be learned about life, including communication and leadership styles, by being around horses and connecting with them. “Horses have a very unique and honest way of teaching us about ourselves,” said Abby Jane Ferrin, an equestrian programs manager.

Working with horses teaches the value of:

The similarity of horses’ social and responsive behavior to human beings allows many types of special needs to be addressed by interacting with a horse. Equestrian therapy uses horses to promote emotional growth in individuals with ADD, anxiety, autism, dementia, delayed mental development, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, depression, and brain injuries. It promotes confidence and self-esteem, enhances social relationships, and improves coping skills.

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Getting Better, V

News of success is the best way to inspire continued progress, according to Australian think tank Future Crunch.

“We really feel that negativity leads to cynicism, apathy, hopelessness and even hate,” said FC’s Tane Hunter. “While it does galvanise a few people into action, for the vast majority it really causes a retraction.”

“We believe a much better way to inspire change is through optimism. We believe that’s the best method and emotion to drive creative innovation and to build a better future.”

One example is to go beyond the stories heralding the economic “success stories” of these nations in the last few years:

According to Future Crunch, the greatest economic success story of all time is currently taking place in countries around the world.

For most of recorded history, they said, only a tiny elite enjoyed higher standards of living. By far the majority of people were dirt poor—”bone-crushing, unrelenting, one-inadequate-meal-a-day, soul-destroying, no-dentist, no-doctor, no-electricity, single-accident-means-life-and-death poor”; inequality was just the way the world worked. As recently as 1970, around 60% of the world’s 3.7 billion people lived in extreme poverty. Today, less than 10% do, the lowest proportion of people in extreme poverty ever.

As Oxford researcher Max Roser puts it, the front page headline every day for the last 25 years should have read:

SINCE YESTERDAY, 137,000 PEOPLE
HAVE BEEN LIFTED OUT OF EXTREME POVERTY.

Future Crunch know the world is not a perfect place. “We still have massive issues with climate change, mass migration, Trump, Brexit, the rise of the alt-right, terrorism and Syria,” Hunter said.

But they insist, “you have to hold two ideas in your head at once: that the world is getting better and the world is not yet good enough. Our successors in the past should really give us hope as we move forward into the future.”

For the average human being on the planet today, the world has never been a better place. That’s a story well worth telling.

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No Newspapers, No Spreadsheets, No Waiting

As a kid in the 1970s, my friends and I played simulated baseball games by rolling dice and viewing charts made using the statistics of Major League players from previous seasons. Before long, however, we decided that the probabilities represented by the charts were not based on recent enough data. So we started taking the current season’s numbers—a limited version of which was printed in the newspaper every Sunday—and making new charts for our games every week.

Beginning in the 1980s, a scoring system called rotisserie baseball allowed people to form teams that competed based on the current statistics of Major League players, similar to what we had done, but without the probability-based gameplay aspect.

In the early 1990s, some friends in the office started a rotisserie (or fantasy) baseball league that relied heavily on two resources which had appeared just a few years before:

  • USA Today
  • Electronic spreadsheets

Introduced in 1982 as a national daily newspaper, USA Today printed the complete Major League Baseball statistics in the paper’s sports section every week of the season. It was a twice-weekly ritual to assign one of the league’s team managers to acquire a copy of the paper—for American League numbers on Tuesday and National League numbers on Wednesday—on the way to the office. We knew where the delivery boxes were around town and often what time they were typically filled, and we relied on the paper on those days for the week’s statistics to update the numbers for our players.

The league’s commissioner (who didn’t have a computer at home) would go to the office on Saturdays and enter the week’s numbers from the paper into our spreadsheet, which calculated current team totals and league standings that were printed and distributed to the owners on Mondays.

When the web came along in the late 1990s, of course, online fantasy leagues were quickly launched by major sports entities to attract visitors to their sites. Now, I manage fantasy teams in leagues with owners across the country and around the world. And while I no longer celebrate successes at year’s end with a Yoo-Hoo shower in a borrowed tuxedo, during the season I have access to my players’ data and the league standings in real time, pitch by pitch. No newspapers. No spreadsheets. No waiting. Amazing.

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My Heart’s Desire

What does travel do for us? Mark Twain said that it’s “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” That can be true, of course, but certainly the act of traveling is not a guaranteed cure for small, unhealthy thinking.

Several years ago, one of my sisters and her husband sent what I consider the most obnoxious Christmas card ever. Its greeting was, “This year we got to go to Paris. Again.”

Marcel Proust insisted that, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,” and you can do that without leaving home. Ralph Waldo Emerson advised, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.” And L. Frank Baum’s cherished protagonist Dorothy Gale learned, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!”

Malcolm Gladwell once proposed a prohibition on ever telling anyone what college you attended in order to remove prestige as a factor in college selection. What if travelers were prohibited from ever telling anyone on their return where they had been in order to remove prestige as a motivation for traveling? Would that encourage us instead—at home or on the road—to “carry the beautiful with us”?

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I’m Doing Something

Elvis Costello said, “I don’t go out much at night; I don’t go out much at all.” In fact, many people now often prefer staying in to going out for reasons that include:

  • Feeling free to act and dress however they want.
  • Saving their money.
  • Avoiding meaningless conversations.
  • Avoiding competition for parking, seating or using the bathroom.

But if I want to spend a couple of hours reading a book or the news online, I often prefer going out to a café or a public space to sitting in my living room. And I’m all over this scene from Seinfeld:

GEORGE: Do you mind if I watch [this tape] here?
JERRY: What for?
GEORGE: Because if I watch it at my apartment I feel like I’m not doing anything. If I watch it here, I’m out of the house; I’m doing something.

Even when I do go out, however, I don’t necessarily want to talk to anyone. Again, Seinfeld:

ELAINE: Come on, let’s go do something. I don’t want to just sit around here.
JERRY: Okay.
ELAINE: Want to go get something to eat?
JERRY: Where do you want to go?
ELAINE: I don’t care, I’m not hungry.
JERRY: We could go to one of those cappuccino places. They let you just sit there.
ELAINE: What are we gonna do there? Talk?
JERRY: We can talk.
ELAINE: I’ll go if I don’t have to talk.

It seems, however, that despite my lack of a social impulse and my squeamishness with conversation, I do feel sympathy for the idea of a “third place.” Ray Oldenburg said that third places—”public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact”—are “central to local democracy and community vitality.” They should be:

  • Neutral—”in which we all feel at home and comfortable”
  • Level—”by its nature, an inclusive place”
  • Conversational—”the cardinal and sustaining activity of third places everywhere”
  • Accessible—”one may go alone at almost any time of the day or evening with assurances that acquaintances will be there”
  • Regular—”the right people are there to make it come alive, and they are the regulars”
  • Unpretentious—”typically plain”
  • Playful—”joy and acceptance reign over anxiety and alienation”

Johnny Dzubak said that a third place “puts you in touch with people who are unlike you, which is an important part of growth for every man.” But he also said, for a third place to be right for you, it needs to have “the kind of people you’d want to spend time with.” I don’t know if such a place exists for me; I don’t know if I can be comfortable in a place “where everybody knows your name.”

Is it just the sounds of a public place that I like, not the interaction? What is it about third places that I like when I don’t particularly like talking with people or getting to know them?

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Killer Instinct

I noticed a few days ago that the last four books I’ve read are all about murder cases (three real, one fictional):

It had been my intent after reading several dense, fundamental concept-laden histories of thought and culture to take a bit of a break, but not particularly to read about a bunch of killers. When I itemized the list above, however, it made me think—not for the first time—about why I, or we, dwell so easily on crime, particularly murder.

Psychologist Paul Mattiuzzi said, “We wonder about the victim, about the perpetrator, and about the circumstances. We are intrigued by the motive and the method and how they got away or how they got caught. We wonder who would be capable of the crime and whether they are ‘normal’ like us or hopefully quite different.”

Writer Joe Bunting reasoned, “People love puzzles…Everyone I know who likes doing crossword puzzles says mystery is their favorite genre.” And, moreover, “People are puzzles…It’s often difficult to understand why people do the things they do. Detective stories give us a glimpse into people we would never get in real life.”

While admitting that our obsession simply feeds “a deep fascination with the human psyche,” columnist Molly Fosco claimed more pragmatically that reading about crime helps us be “aware of the different types of dangerous situations [we] might encounter and know how to prevent them.”

Professor Scott Bonn agreed, saying that “serial killers appeal to the most basic and powerful instinct in all of us—that is, survival.”

People watching, logic, primal urges. I guess my/our fascination with a good murder mystery—real or imagined—is no mystery.

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