Why I try to ignore the news cycle and focus on my own success first

The idea that the public should be well-informed about local, regional, national, and global events is misguided and harmful.

It stems from the fact that in a democracy, every citizen can theoretically influence events on a global scale through the vote. The implication of this is that every citizen is ethically obligated to stay informed on the issues in order to make informed votes.

However, this standard is both impossible and harmful. The vast majority of people are busy with their personal lives and must already consume and process a huge amount of information to stay competitive in the modern world. It is impossible for non-intellectuals to keep up.

The impossible standard of the “informed citizen” leads to constant disillusionment of intellectuals with the public. The result is a perceived gulf between the “educated” intellectual elite and the “ignorant” working masses, who the elite feels must be ruled for their own good through a mythology of invented, ever-escalating crises, posed by as immigrants, rogue nations, abortion doctors, greedy landlords, corrupt CEOs, etc.

It is impossible for the average citizen to make a truly informed decision about a single local candidate, the interaction of national candidates with complex issues.

During the last election cycle, I met a fellow dad in the park who gave me an election flier, as he was running for a position as a local judge. I went to the link on his flier and tried to make a list of pros and cons.

Pro: he’s a nice guy, friendly and doting dad. Con: he’s a Democrat, along with all the other bad positions Democrats hold. Pro: he is a fellow secular Jew, which means we probably share views on many issues. Con: he’s a secular Jew, which means that he probably supports “social justice” and many other things I oppose.

I don’t remember the specific stances on his election site, but after reviewing them, I still felt completely unqualified to support or oppose his candidacy.

I am aware of my own ignorance and know that no matter how much attention I paid to the news, I could not even make an informed decision about a single local election, much less state or national roles. I had a long list of reasons why Trump and Hillary would both be terrible presidents, but ultimately, I could only make a wild guess about which one would be worse.

It’s impossible to make informed votes in a political system where the elected representatives have arbitrary power to disregard constitutional principles and the rule of law after they are in office.

Politics is impossibly complicated, and a distraction from the ongoing task of being successful in life. It’s intentionally addictive, as politicians compete to invent new and more urgent emergencies to grab the public’s attention. Politicians and the intellectual elite work with the media to manipulate the news cycle to direct attention to their pet issues, so that all news becomes politically radicalized. I have noticed how people who become immersed in the game of political theatre can hardly focus on the difficult job of reaching their own goals and maintaining the events that affect their own lives in context to political alarmism. It’s much easier to blame their failures on their preferred political scapegoats.

This is not to say that I advocate complete ignorance of politics. I believe in certain civic responsibilities — not because I live in a certain country, but simply from a selfish desire for a better life for myself and those I care for. Among these, is the duty to assist in emergencies, to testify against criminals, to serve on a jury when asked, and to speak on behalf of principles which make our civilization possible and denounce those who erode it.

I follow and engage in political causes only where basic social principles are at stake. For example, I believe that everyone who values American values, civilization, and just law ought to denounce the vicious campaign against immigrants.

Aside from such cases, I believe that unless politics is your career or primary hobby, you should ignore the news cycle to the maximum extent practicable in your life, and instead focus on being educated in areas relevant to the success of your personal projects.

20 things you can do on election day to improve your life

While improving the world is a worthy goal, it is even more important to invest in yourself. Your life is the only one under your control, and setting an example for others is one of the best way to create positive change. Don’t get distracted by politics – no matter who you vote for, it will only leave you distracted, disillusioned and feeling more powerless than ever. You can act right now to improve your life in a million small ways, and become a model for others to do the same. Here are 20 ideas for becoming the change you wish to see in the world:

Everywhere I look today, everyone is telling me how important it is that I vote.  I’ve written before why I am boycotting the vote this election.  The fact is that regardless of where you live or who you support, as a practical matter, your vote makes very little difference.   However, just because I am opposed to voting, does not mean that I’ve given up.  There are many worthwhile charitable and for-profit organizations that you can support instead of wasting your time and money on elections.

While improving the world is a worthy goal, it is even more important to invest in yourself.  Your life is the only one under your control, and setting an example for others is one of the best way to create positive change.  Don’t get distracted by politics – no matter who you vote for, it will only leave you distracted, disillusioned and feeling more powerless than ever.  You can act right now to improve your life in a million small ways, and become a model for others to do the same.  Here are 20 ideas for becoming the change you wish to see in the world:

1 Skip the small talk and talk about issues that really matter:

During the typical electoral banter on election night, skip the small talk and have a genuine discussion. Ask your friend why he holds a particular position about an issue, and then ask why he believes that, and so one.  Don’t stop until you’re sharing fundamental ideas.

2 Ask someone’s opinion and really listen:

Once you understand someone’s perspective, it is much easier to convince them.  And who knows, you might even change your own mind.

3 Buy some bitcoin.  Even better, buy something with bitcoin:

I don’t need to tell you why bitcoin is a big deal.  Read one of the 100 articles here.   Bitcoin is not perfect, but this magic Internet money is one of the best hopes humanity has of building a genuinely free society.   It may take several decades, but every time you make a bitcoin purchase, you make a small investment in a free society .

4 Invest $5 in the stock market:

I started investing with the first money I ever made at 15 sweeping construction sites.  I’m not very good with math, but somehow I figured out that if I start early and make a small return every year, I can make a fortune without doing anything much.   This strategy has been working great for me for over 20 years now, yet I keep hearing excuses that people don’t have money to invest.   Look, now you can start as low as $1 just by tapping a few options in an app.  The important thing is to get started early.

5 Update your LinkedIn profile:

Unhappy with your job?  Great – update your LinkedIn profile, and get started with your next one.  Happy with your job?  Update your profile anyway – you never know when a better opportunity will come along.  By always staying in the market, you will know what you’re worth, and take advantage of opportunities can come your way.  LinkedIn has liberated more workers from jobs they hate than all the unions of the world.

6 Ask someone new at the office out to lunch:

It’s easy to have lunch with the same four guys on your team every day.  However, work lunches are a key opportunity to advance your career.  Whether it’s a mentor, or your peer on another team, eating together is a valuable opportunity to become more effective at your job.   Lunches can be used to get advice on your ideas, build support for a project, develop inter-departmental collaborations, or find out what someone really thinks without the pressure of an official meeting.  Effective leaders use informal opportunities like lunches and walks to explore people’s preferences and build consensus and formal meetings only to seal the deal.

7 Go for a walk in the park:

I don’t know much about health and medicine, but I know this: our bodies evolved to need a variety of daily movement.  Exercise is great, but unless you’re a pro athlete, it’s always going to be a small fraction of your total time.  Also, stretching out exercise lowers the intensity and that kind of repeated stress lead to injury.  So: find a way to walk every day.  It will improve your mood, give your more energy, and prevent illness.  

8 Go to bed early tonight:

Skip the election results and go to bed early night.  A proper sleep schedule accounts for about 50% of success in life.  Here’s your chance to show your commitment.

9 Make a list of 25 things you want to do in life.  Now, never think about the last 20 again.   

This is Warren Buffet’s secret to success.   Focus on what is important, and don’t let all the other things be a distraction to you.

10 Ride your bike (or just walk) to work:

I ride a bike to work almost every morning.   This saves me nearly $10,000 for year, among many other benefits.  

11 Bring your lunch to work:

I save at least $2000 per year this way – and I eat much healthier, and save tons of time.  

12 Buy your significant other flowers:

Do I need to explain why this one is a winner?

13 Go through your closet and give away anything you don’t fit into or haven’t worn in over a year

You don’t need that baggage in your life.

14 Post some old photos on Facebook/Instagram/Google Photos/Snapchat:

Do you know how you always take photos and promise to share them, but never do?   Go find all those old photos and share them today.  It will bring break some great memories, and people will really appreciate you for it.  It will certainly be a welcome distraction from the election.

While you’re at it, find some old family photos, scan them, and tag them up on Facebook or Google.  Your relatives will love you for it, even if you haven’t spoken for 20 years.

15 Change the battery on your phone:

Look, I know it sounds like I’m running out of ideas, but tons of people I know are always anxious about their battery life.  The ones who keep checking their screen, closing their apps, and leaving early because their phone is about to die.

Did you know that battery life drops sharply after about 18 months?  I change my iPhone’s battery every year, and it feels like I have a new phone.  It costs $20, and takes about 10 minutes to do.

16 Change the cabin air filter in your car:

I discovered this recently:  The cabin air filter filters all the filthy disgusting highway air that you breathe.  The oil change place wanted $45 to do it.  The old filter was clogged full of leaves, mold, and bugs.  I was breathing that stuff!  I paid $15 on Amazon.com and changed it myself in about 5 minutes.  It’s got charcoal and baking soda and I feel much better on the few occasions that I have to drive.

17 Cancel your cable and get rid of our television:

I know this seems like a big ask, but I got rid of my my TV in 2010 and have never regretted it.  I still watch stuff occasionally, but it’s a conscious decision, and I have to make some effort, so the quality of what I end up watching is much better.

18 Write a thank you letter to someone.

19 Pitch a new project to your boss – or better yet, just do it.

Putting your career first is the best way to make your first million while you’re still young.

20 Throw away all the old adapters and broken electronics you have lying around:

Seriously.  I used to have boxed and boxes of them.   USB-C is coming.  Just trash it all.  Trust me – I spent my entire career in IT, and I found the adapter I needed in there maybe two times.

21 Clean up your address book:

Use an app like CircleBack (free) to merge duplicates, update outdated contacts, etc.

While you’re at it, find someone you haven’t heard from in a while, and send them a hello.

22 Write a blog post:

What do you think is a better use of my time – going out to the polls, or writing this list?  If at least one person tries a single idea on my list, I will have influenced someone’s life for the better.  Do you think the same can be said of you going to vote?  Go inspire someone.

Five reasons why I’m boycotting the vote

In short, here is why I won’t vote: it is a waste of time, it will have no meaningful impact on the outcome even if my candidate wins, it sanctions a fundamentally immoral process, and any notion that third party candidate will make a difference is a fantasy.

Today is the last day to register to vote. Here is why I am boycotting the vote:

First, the only thing which is practically guaranteed to happen from my registering to vote is that I will be drafted for jury duty.
In most places, jury duty is based on voter registration, and since so few people register to vote, there is a good chance you will be drafted within a few months of registering to vote.
I have nothing against serving on a jury, but in the USA, something like 97% of cases are settled before the jury gets to decide anything. It’s quite likely that all that will happen is a day wasted at court. Even if you are picked as a jury pool candidate, if you have any strong opinions either way, you will be disqualified. So forget any chance of having a positive impact on the law – the system is stacked against jurors changing the outcome from what the legal system demands. The conviction rate in the USA is about 90%.

Second, your vote makes no practical difference on the election. Your individual vote is extremely unlikely to make any difference.
In terms of return on investment, the return on several hours of your time is virtually nil.

Third, even if your prefered candidate wins, there is no guarantee that he will make good on his campaign promises. Remember when Obama said his would be “the most transparent administration ever”? How did that go? In fact most politicians are the figurehead of an entrenched bureaucracy, and have no power to change its momentum.

Fourth, the process of voting in a democratic system of governance is inherently immoral. A just social-political system is one which is consistent with human nature and moral principles. The opinion of any number of people does not make the law any moral than an edict by one man. I’m not suggesting dictatorship – only that the process by which the law is made is irrelevant as to the morality of the resulting social-political system. However, violent interference in other people’s lives is immoral – whether it’s done by a thief in a dark alley, or by a majority vote on election day. Any system which permits peoples to vote to coerce upon others is immoral – and so is participation in such a system. Since all actions taken by a government funded by involuntary taxation are coercive, so is any sanction of such a system. This sanction matters: a politician elected by 2% of the public has a lot less mandate than one elected by 98%. Less mandate by politicians means more freedom by the people to build a better society.

Fifth, let’s consider the upcoming 2016 presidential election and the Libertarian option. Mainstream surveys show that majority of public does not like either major party candidate.  Yet despite this, it is virtually certain that one of them will win. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is very unlikely to break into the double digits. If a third party alternative is hopeless against the two most repulsive candidates in living memory, there is truly no chance for a third party to win the election.  Voting is therefore a distraction from superior strategies – such as entrepreneurship or judicial activism.

In short, here is why I won’t vote: it is a waste of time, it will have no meaningful impact on the outcome even if my candidate wins, it sanctions a fundamentally immoral process, and any notion that third party candidate will make a difference is a fantasy.