Saturday, August 12, 2017

Making Meaning Out of Chaos: Some Thoughts on Trump and Skepticism

If you follow my rants on Facebook, you know I've had a wide range of ever-changing thoughts on the shit-storm that is the Trump candidacy and subsequent presidency. Early in the campaign season, I saw him as a bit of a joke. When he started gaining traction, I took notice. When he won the primary, I was thoroughly impressed. Then he beat Hillary. At that point, I assumed Trump was a masterful political tactician who, as a long-time New York Democrat, managed to expertly troll his way into the White House as a fanatical white nationalist conservative. Or so I thought. The most important part of that post? This line:

"I would be willing to gamble an uncomfortable amount of money that we're going to see a very, very different Trump in office."

Turns out I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Also worth noting - I am not a Trump supporter even though I was impressed with his performance. Some of his policies would balance out our sociopolitical swing to the far left over the last few years, thus he could have been good for political balance. I voted for Johnson. ;-)

Since inauguration, we've seen the exact same Trump we saw on the campaign trail. This deeply saddens me. First, like most people, I don't like being wrong. But I also don't have a problem admitting it. This is how we grow as people... we recognize when we fucked up, understand why, and plot a better course. 

Secondly and more importantly, I genuinely thought Trump could be the president that ends our recent trend of hyper-partisanship that has divided 'Murica for the last decade and a half. I thought Trump could be the leader we needed. Again, I was very, very wrong. 

As it turns out, Trump is basically the person he appears to be on the surface - an unpredictable, egotistical, idiot with no real leadership skills and a really bad tendency to throw his allies under the bus to avoid taking responsibility for his own failures. Pretty much every decision he makes systematically results in him pissing away his own political power. When he took office, both the GOP and Democrats were terrified of the dude. Now? He's a laughing-stock.

Trump rants aside, this post is really about skepticism and how hope can blind our judgment. I wanted Trump to be someone he wasn't, which led me to give him the benefit of the doubt longer than I should have based on clear, objective evidence. I wanted to see something that simply wasn't there. 

Why do we do this?

Early Man

Wayyyyy back in the day, man would look upon naturally-occurring phenomena like the rising and setting of the sun, the movement of the stars, thunder and lightning, disease and death, and so on, and derive explanations. This seems to be where religion came from. We made meaning out of shit we couldn't explain. 

Later, when we developed better observational skills and tools, we develop better, more plausible explanations. Of course, we're still skeptical about these observations as any good student of science should be, but we're pretty damn certain our present observations and explanations are better than our observations and explanations from the past. 

Interestingly, we all seem to have a personal threshold that represents the point where we reject the old explanation and adopt the new. Centuries ago (or earlier if we look beyond Western Civ.), man recognized the world was not flat. It was spherical. At first, those who proposed it were treated as heretics. But the acceptance of the idea grew over time. Eventually, more and more people passed that personal threshold and accepted the new idea. Today, with the exception of a few fanatical laggards, we all accept this "new" explanation.

Enter the Trump Phenomenon

In all likelihood, I was wrong about Trump. I say "in all likelihood" because, being the good scientist I am, I do not like to rule out any possible explanations entirely, even silly stuff like "Trump is an animatronic device controlled by Illuminati." It took me a lot longer to come to the "Trump is a disaster" conclusion because I wanted him to be the great leader who would unite our populace that we haven't had in decades. 

Hope clouded my judgment. 

Lesson learned. 

There's also another factor at play... I do not like to underestimate people who seek power overtly or covertly. Trump's change in behaviors over the last few years seemed suspect. People don't generally take a 180 degree sociopolitical turn that late in life unless they have a very good reason... like winning the most powerful job in the world. To me, there were two possible explanations:

1. Trump was a masterful tactician supported by expert manipulators and big data, and knew exactly what to say at the right time to the right people to usurp not only his own party, but the entire political establishment. Or...

2. Trump was the right guy at the right time in the right place and got really fucking lucky.

On November 10th, I would have been willing to put most of my life savings on the first explanation. Today? I wouldn't waste tree fiddy on that same bet. The lesson I learned - don't let emotion cloud your observational skills. 

Of course, there's still a sizeable percentage of the American public that genuinely believes Trump is a masterful tactician. Odds are good they're more emotionally-invested in Trump than I was, ergo they have more reason to believe he's something he isn't. As time passes, unless something radically changes, the number of people in this camp will continue to decline to the point where the Trump presidency becomes untenable. 

So What's Next for Trump?

Even though I was wrong about Trump's presidency, I'm not going to stop making predictions. Based on the present course, I predict there's a very high probability he gets removed from office via impeachment. I predict the Russian investigation will turn up more sketchy shit, but we'll eventually figure out that Trump and his team were just stupidly incompetent and most of the apparent "collusion" was the Russians masterfully manipulating us. His impeachment will occur due to obstruction of justice, not collusion, probably related to the eventual firing of Meuller.

I predict the GOP will hold the Senate and the House, though they will lose many seats in the junior chamber. More importantly, the election cycle will alienate many representatives who once supported Trump. None of Trump's big four agenda items (repeal and replace ACA, tax reform, infrastructure improvement, and the border wall) will come to fruition, though we may get some minor tweaking of the tax code. 

Right now, our biggest concern is the North Korea situation. I predict this will end in diplomacy and we'll forget about the issue by Thanksgiving. As unhinged as Trump is, his generals won't let him start a war. Unless North Korea changes course on their decades-long pattern of saber-rattling and is foolish enough to attack us or our allies... but that seems completely implausible. Odds are good Trump's rhetoric is a diversion from the domestic shit show. 


As humans, we have an innate drive to make sense of chaos, and we all have personal thresholds when we give plausible explanations of chaos and when we accept chaos for what it is. It took me a long time to reach the conclusion that Trump is a chaotic shit-show, and this delay was due to my desire to want Trump to be a clever tactician. But alas, he is not. 

Lesson learned. 

How about you? Are there times you've stuck to implausible explanations longer than you should have? Leave a comment!


Friday, August 4, 2017

Makin' Shit Happen: The Plans to Move

Back in December of last year, I wrote a post about being bored as Hell and needing to make changes to my life. The gist? We've been in San Diego for almost five years. I've more or less been drifting along, just enjoying our weird lifestyle. But it started to get a little stale. The novelty of being poor hobos wore off and the realities of living in a an expensive, crowded city started setting in. After experiencing the strongest, longest bout of depression I've experienced in years (which I wrote about earlier), I knew I needed to change shit up.

Shelly and I kicked around a lot of ideas. We knew we wanted to move away from the city. The traffic and people and noise were just getting to be too much of a constant stressor. As I had discussed in the "Sell the Kids" post, we had identified a few areas where we would consider moving. We also considered staying in SoCal, but moving to the mountains. We have a lot of good friends in the area, and the weather's usually phenomenal. This indecision caused us to spend a lot of time contemplating options. We were basically stuck in a cycle of indecision. 

Then something unexpected happened.

We had been planning a trip back to Michigan, our home state, to visit friends and family. And reminisce about our past lives. We decided to drive to capture some nostalgia from our RV travel days (we spent two years on the road crisscrossing the US) because our kids were mostly too young to remember much. That trip tuned out to be fabulous because it immediately ignited the passion for adventure that had been missing for years. Specifically, it was the drive through Southern Utah's canyon country and the Colorado Rockies that did it. Even now, weeks later, the thought gives me goosebumps. 

It reminded us that a) we LOVED that part of the country, and b) we had plans to settle somewhere like that before we got sidetracked with the San Diego area (and jiu jitsu.) Other shit added to the reignition of the passion. Seeing our friends reminded us that we don't have to live in proximity to our friends in SoCal. The quiet seclusion of rural Michigan reminded us of how much we crave silence. The wide-open spaces reminded us of how much we love the freedom that comes with a sparse population density. Finally, shooting some handguns with our friend Christian reminded me how much I miss my days as a hunter. There were a thousand more things that stoked that fire, too.

While in Michigan, Shelly and I had a lot of long talks about the goals we had before the RV travel opportunity materialized, and how much we wanted to make that happen. The more we discussed it, the more we realized that dream was simply impossible in SoCal. The cost of living in general, and the cost of real estate in particular, would mean we'd have to work incredibly long hours to afford even a sliver of the life we really wanted.

Fuck that. 

Long ago, we learned the folly of the Faustian bargain of working all the time to afford the stuff you no longer have time to enjoy. And we want to continue giving our kids a steady diet of new experiences. We've lived in an ultra-religious conservative area. We've lived in a predominantly agnostic ultra-liberal area. We've lived in lily-white suburbs. We've lived in a place where they're an ethnic minority. We've experienced a materialistic lifestyle; we've lived in abject poverty. We've lived in places with long, brutal winters and we've lived in places with long, sweltering summers. Now it's time to give them a rural experience. 

By the time we left Michigan, we had a plan in place. The real clincher, though, came as I was driving over the westbound Loveland Pass on I-70 in Colorado. Everyone was sleeping and the traffic was light. Just as I crossed the summit, the light from the sunrise flooded the mountain peaks ahead. I'm not a religious person, or even spiritual for that matter. But that felt like some kind of sign. Just like that, the decision was made. We're moving to Colorado

Of course, there are a ton of logistics involved. Without going into unnecessary details, we set up an eighteen month timeline. There's shit that I need to do before moving, which includes:

  • Pay off all our debt. Before we hit the road in the RV, we were well on our way towards eliminating all our debt via Dave Ramsey's "debt snowball" methodology. We got away from it because a) we don't currently make much money, and b) we kinda got caught up in the California culture of being okay with ridiculous amounts of debt. However, the loss of freedom that comes with debt is simply unacceptable to me. So we're gonna pay that shit off.
  • Learn a trade. I want some new career options, and I miss working with my hands. Most of my jobs since college have been decidedly white collar, so I need a change. Specifically, I need to get away from the pressure of being "always on" as a writer. Or putting up with regulation bullshit as a teacher. Over the next eighteen months, I'm learning some combination of the three - gunsmithing, plumbing, or electrical. When we move, this will offer more opportunities for jobs and/or apprenticeships.
  • Launch a business. Shelly and I have been kicking around a business idea for years, but the logistics and the red tape of SoCal have made it difficult to launch. At heart, we're both decidedly entrepreneurial. We both have great, complimentary business skills and we love working together. Barefoot Running University has been exceptionally successful from a profit margin standpoint, but we want to move beyond the confines of that particular brand. To accomplish this goal, I've gotten a part-time job as a school security officer at a local school district. I'll post more on this in the future.
  • Earn my brown belt in jiu jitsu. This is more of a personal goal than anything else, and a motivation trick to keep training. When I get extremely motivated to plan adventures (like moving), activities tend to fall by the wayside. The belt itself is meaningless, but it gives me a framework to learn specific skills and ideas, which will guide my training. 
  • Re-immerse myself in firearms and hunting. For the first twenty or so years of my life, I was immersed in hunting culture. My father was an avid and skilled outdoorsman, and I love feeling the connection to him whenever I'm in the wilderness or shooting. To accomplish this goal, I plan on applying to local gun store and ranges, which will also lead to the "learn gunsmithing" goal. You know, two birds...
  • Take the Man Camp (officially renamed from "San Diego Man Camp" to the more location-independent "Das Man Camp") outside Facebook. I originally created this group with the intent on doing what amounts to life coaching, then I spent some time interacting with life coaches. <BARF!> I could not do what they do because it violates my personal ethics. So after some aimlessness as a mere Facebook group, I've decided to refocus Das Man Camp as a recreational group centered around developing better skills in general and leadership in particular. I'll be posting more about this in the future, too. 

So these are the things I've been working on since returning from Michigan. It's been a Hell of a rush... it's been a long time since I felt this powerful motivation to make shit happen. I've been incredibly busy with building the foundation for all this shit, but it's the kind of busy that energizes me on a primal level. It's time to make shit happen.