Category Archives: Essays

The Path Forward

You are walking through the forest. The trees are thick, and the path is hard to see. Thankfully, you have a map to guide your way.

You reach a divide in the forest, with one path going one way, and a second path going another. You look down at your map – and realize that you have no idea where you are.

An owl spots you from a tree high above. “Where are you heading, friend?”

“I’m trying to reach the other side of the forest.” you reply.

“Do you know the way?” asks the owl.

“Well, I have this map…” you begin to say.

“Oh, that won’t help you at all!” the owl says, looking at your map.

“Why not?”

“Because what got you here won’t get you where you need to go.”


It can be painful to realize that the map you had to guide you through the forest won’t help you anymore.

Maybe the forest has changed, and you need a new map for the new forest.

Maybe the person who gave you the map was using it in the past, when the forest was different. Or maybe the forest was always like this – the map was wrong in the past, and it’s wrong now. Maybe you had a map that was almost right, but you became confused by the terrain, and made the wrong additions to the map.

Or maybe the people telling you about the path ahead lied to you. Maybe they’re lying to themselves.

Whatever reason the map is wrong, it’s wrong. And if you want to get where you need to go, you need a new map.

That can mean different things. Maybe there’s some obstacle that you’ve never believed in, that you’ve refused to put on your map – but if it’s part of the forest, you’re going to need it on the map.

Maybe the trail you were told to walk won’t get you out of the forest, and you need a new trail.

Or an old trail that everyone else has forgotten.

Maybe you need different equipment. A better backpack, to carry everything. A different walking stick, for the difficult terrain. Or even a flashlight – you thought you’d make it through the forest during the day, only to realize that night is falling.

And you’ll need your own light if you’re going to make it.

Maybe you need to leave a few things behind – otherwise you’ll be slowed down. The fun puzzle you brought with you isn’t going to help you. The interesting rocks you’ve been collecting are only going to weigh you down.

You can’t get attached to those things. They won’t help you get where you need to go.

The path ahead is difficult and dangerous, far more dangerous than you were prepared for. There are many places you can lose your step… and many predators watching from the trees.

You can’t stay in one place. You can’t go back. And you can’t use your old map.

Time to make a new map – and find a new path forward.

Dear Polite Society

I’ve been lying to myself for a long time.

The lie I’ve been telling myself is that if I hide enough parts of myself, or if I try to express myself in careful enough ways, I could find a place in normal, mainstream, polite society.

This is false.

I am never going to fit into polite society, whether I try to fit in or not.

It’s Time to Stop

I’ve always been a weird guy. I say weird things. I do weird things. I think weird thoughts. Even when I try to speak, act, or think in normal ways, I end up doing all of those things in weird ways.

You express yourself around regular people, and sometimes they get mad at you. For a long time, I had the belief that when someone gets mad at you, it’s usually because you did something wrong. You did something annoying, or said something offensive. There are times where that’s the case, but it also happens when you’re not being annoying, and haven’t said anything close to offensive. I don’t think that’s what’s really going.

What’s really going on is that there is a large group of people who will never approve of you if you’re not normal. It doesn’t actually matter what you say. It doesn’t actually matter what you do. It doesn’t actually matter what you think, or how carefully you express those thoughts. What they disapprove of is that you’re a weird person, who either can’t or won’t be normal.

And if you try to be normal, that’s even worse. They will just despise you even more, because they think you’re hiding something – because you are hiding something. You’re hiding your real thoughts and feelings, and people can sense that. They disapproved of you before, and now they disapprove of you even more.

If there’s no way to gain your approval, respect, or friendship, why should I even bother?

It’s time to stop. It’s time to stop trying to fit into normal society. It’s time to stop hiding parts of myself, or wasting time trying to carefully express myself, to try and fit into a narrow band of acceptable words, actions, and thoughts. If being myself and trying to fit in both get me equally criticized, harassed, and shamed, I might as well just be myself.

Creating a Life Outside of the Norm

I’m not going to have a normal career. Especially one that would require working at a normal company, or being approved of by normal people. Either I’ll have some skill that makes me money regardless of whether people like me, or I find a way of appealing to a small group of people who like me as I am.

I’m not going to date normal women. Instead I need to lean into being eccentric and weird – if most women don’t like that, then it wouldn’t have worked out anyway. Rejection is how people are kept apart who would be unhappy together. The women who actually like me at my weirdest are the women I should be trying to date in the first place.

I’m not going to have normal friends. If one of my current friends doesn’t like something I say or do, then maybe we shouldn’t be friends. There’s a lot of people in the world. The internet makes it possible to meet all kinds of people, and make new friends.

Creating a life outside the norm is hard. But it’s easier if you do it with the right people.

I need to find people I genuinely like, who genuinely like me. The only way to do that is to stop hiding myself, and be willing to be vulnerable to people who might look at me and say they don’t like the real me.

Varieties of Conformity

And there are many who won’t like it. People are familiar with the normal kinds of conformists, the ones who loudly and obviously shout that what you’re doing isn’t normal, and that you need to stop. But there are other types of conformists. The list of them is potentially endless, but there are a handful I’m thinking of.

There are people who will dislike you under the guise that you did something annoying or offensive, when they are just annoyed or offended by anything and anyone that isn’t normal. They just won’t say so out loud.

There are people who claim to be open-minded or tolerant, but all they’ve done is take their conventional upbringing, create the mirror image of it, and try to enforce that as a new norm or convention – one that you don’t match just as much as the conventional upbringing.

There are people who have such a high need for agreement that any kind of disagreement is intolerable. And if this person has a low enough stress tolerance, disagreement is so stressful that it feels like violence to them.

There are people who cannot separate their feelings about a person from what the person is actually like, and if they dislike you for any reason, they conclude that you must be a bad person in general.

There are people who hold you to standards that they would never hold themselves to, either out of a lack of self-awareness, or simply because they want to limit you in a way that benefits them.

If any of the above makes you angry, maybe you should ask yourself why.

The point is that there are many varieties of conformity. And many varieties of conformist. If you try to appease them, they will never be satisfied, and you will spend the rest of your days trying to meet their standards, instead of doing what you think is important.

The revelation that nothing you do will be good enough for this kind of person is depressing – at first. And then it’s liberating. It’s not that you’re doing something wrong…

It’s that you never had a chance in the first place.

So it’s time to stop hiding myself. It’s time to stop apologizing for things I don’t think are wrong. It’s time to stop trying to appeal to people who have already decided they dislike me and will never approve of me.

TL;DR

In short, I’m going to do whatever the fuck I want, and if you don’t like it, that sounds like a You problem.

Regularly Scheduled Reviews

How do you know you’re making progress towards your goals?

Here’s one idea for keeping track: regularly scheduled reviews.

Earlier this year, I did an Annual Review, reflecting on what went well (or didn’t) in 2020. It asked three basic questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What am I working toward?

There’s lots of other questions you can add to an annual review, but these are important ones for reflecting on your progress over the year.

Now take that idea of an annual review, with it’s three basic questions, and do it more often.

  • Annual review, done at the end of the year where you complete and establish yearly goals.
  • Quarterly Review at the end of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall, with yearly goals dividing into quarterly goals.
  • Monthly Review at the end of the month, with quarterly goals dividing into monthly goals.
  • Weekly Review at the end of the week, with monthly goals dividing into weekly goals.
  • Daily Review at the end of the day, with weekly goals dividing into daily goals.

Doing these five reviews on a regular basis gives you an idea of how much progress you’re (actually) making towards your goals. Rather than assume you’ve made progress, you have to reflect on how close you are to your goals, and what steps you should take (and when) to reach those goals. Accountability. Measurement. Planning. Iteration.

Obviously there are a couple ways to do something like this, and this is just one. But you should be doing something like this, regularly reflecting on your actions and planning your future (near and long-term).

When is your next review coming up?

A Riddle

Here is a riddle for you:

You have an important message to share with the world.

You fear that if you don’t share this message, the future will be horrible.

However, there is a problem.

People don’t listen to the message when it comes from you.

There might be many reasons why.

Whatever the reason, they will not listen to you.

Rarely, people will listen to this message, or similar messages, when they come from other people.

But you are not those people.

So then, with all that in mind:

How do you get people to listen to the message?

If you have ideas, I will be happy to read your message.

“…and sometimes, the games play you.” Confessions of a Video Game Addict

April 4th will mark 100 days since I’ve played any video games.

That might not mean much to a lot of people, or even sound silly or unnecessary. But it means something to me.

Let me tell you a story. A story I’ve been meaning to write for a long time.

A Lifelong Obsession

I’ve played video games since I was a small child. It’s one of the earliest things I can remember, other than watching cartoons. I never had an Xbox or Playstation, but as a toddler I did have a PC with a lot of educational games and kid games.

And then after that, RTS games. RPGs. FPSes. Minecraft. Skyrim. The works.

I’ve played video games near-constantly my entire life. There have been a few points where I couldn’t play video games – while moving across the country, during school, and so on – but other than that, in any average week, I was probably playing video games for hours on end.

And it was a mistake. It was all a mistake.

I’ve spent too much time playing video games over the last 20+ years. It’s hard to count how many hours I’ve played… but I’m going to guess in the range of 5,000-10,000 hours over the entire course of my life.

That’s a lot.

I said a little bit about this in my 2020 annual review, but that’s time that could have been spent reading, learning an instrument, working out, or learning a marketable skill. And now that those hours are gone, I can’t get them back and spend them on something else.

A Mediocre Life

I don’t believe playing video games is wrong, evil, unethical, or anything like that. But in my case, I do believe that playing video games has made me a less interesting person. A less skilled person. A less healthy person.

And, probably most importantly, a less happy person.

My life is not satisfactory. My life doesn’t meet the level of my vision. My body, my career, my knowledge, skills, and abilities – none of them are anywhere close to what I want them to be.

In short, I judge my life mediocre.

Video games aren’t the only reason for that – I could write 10 or 20 more essays to list every reason! But it’s the biggest reason, in terms of hours. Gaming is the one activity that has had the largest negative impact on my life. I recognize that now.

A Male-Trapping Addiction

I also recognize that it wasn’t just negative. It was an addiction.

There have been so many points in my life where I used video games to avoid other things. Schoolwork. Friendships. Fitness. Or even just the hard work of figuring out what I actually want out of life, instead of what would please other people.

There have been points where I needed to do vital work – on myself, in school, in everything – and avoided it for weeks on end, lost in some quest or building some castle. One more turn. One more quest. One more cave to explore. Video games are fun, but they become fun mixed with torture when you know, in the root of your being, you should be doing something else. That this was not how you were meant to live.

I won’t get into the specific examples. There are too many to name.

There have been just as many times that I wanted to stop. Just as many times that I recognized that this was an addiction, destroying my life, and I needed to unplug.

But it’s hard to unplug – especially if you are a man.

I’m going to say something spicy. Something possibly controversial, depending on the person. If you take the average man and the average woman (or at least 80% of men, and 80% of women), one thing that will separate them is that the average man, at his core, is far more achievement-oriented than the average woman. The average woman, by contrast, is far more relationship-oriented.

Again, averages. There are achievement-oriented women, and relationship-oriented men. The outliers are real, but the averages are just as real.

Anyway.

I believe that video games, other than being games, are achievement simulators. Making money. Completing tasks. Organizing armies. Managing resources. Changing the course of history. Even winning the heart of a woman, and starting a family. Most games have literal achievements, and it becomes a meta-game to complete them all.

There are plenty of women who love video games, and a decent number of women who are video game addicts themselves (although, far more women in today’s age are social media addicts instead). But you combine the average man being achievement-oriented, combined with video games being achievement simulators, combined with modern video games being designed to be as addictive as possible…

The result is millions of men, addicted to video games whether they admit it or not, spending the majority of their free time working on virtual tasks instead of achieving things in real life.

I don’t want to be one of those men anymore.

Playing Life to Win

Sometimes, you’re the one playing games – and sometimes, the games play you.

If that’s the case, you need to stop playing.

Full disclosure: admittedly, while I’ve stopped playing video games, I haven’t completely cut out all video game content. I don’t watch streamers, but there is one video game series I am still watching. Maybe 5% of the videos I watch are video game related, so 1 of every 20.

Pretty good, all things considered.

And all things considered, video games aren’t all bad. Just mostly bad.

There have been a few video games I’ve played that aren’t just interesting, but philosophically compelling. That have touched my beliefs in ways beyond the average FPS or RPG. Maybe one. Maybe a handful.

But most video games aren’t like that.

One of my college professors taught an English class called “Video Games as Literature” – and there many games that fall into that category. They can be forms of interactive storytelling, telling stories in ways just as compelling as a book or movie.

But most video games aren’t like that.

There’s even a case for video games being useful tools for real life tasks, or teaching useful skills, namely resource management.

But most video games aren’t like that.

Most video games are barely disguised Skinner Boxes, lab-tested to be as addictive as possible. The time investment is potentially infinite. And so are the negative consequences.

(Will I play video games in the future? Perhaps. Sparingly. Probably only those handful of games that have enriched my philosophy, instead of using up hours of my life I wish I could get back. But there are ways of exploring the themes and ideas of those games without playing them as games.)

I don’t want to play games anymore. I want to achieve things in real life, and have something to show for it other than a Steam achievement. I want to build things in real life. Make a million dollars in real life. Explore places in real life. Form relationships in real life. Change the course of history in real life.

There’s only one game I truly want to play.

The game of life.

And I want to play to win.

On Banning Books

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” – George Orwell

This is intended to be a shorter post.

I have a few sacred principles. I try to keep it to a short list these days. Things like “Don’t commit murder.” Or “Don’t vote for Donald Trump.” Important things.

One of the other principles on that list looks something like this:

Don’t ban books just because you find them offensive.

Note that I’m not saying “Don’t ban books, ever.” I think that would be going too far. If a book encourages people to do things that are physically or objectively harmful, there might be a case for banning it. Books like “Murder Is Good, Actually” or “How To Force Feed Your Autistic Child Bleach” are candidates for being banned.

Even that has some exceptions. We need to define objective harm (as opposed to subjective offense). And even once we have defined that, there are books that objectively encourage murder or political violence – but they are key texts for historical political movements, and thus have historical value. Those need to be sold (and read) in order to understand those movements.

But otherwise, I believe in the principle: Don’t ban books just because you find them offensive.

I have plenty of books I find offensive. Books that go against my values. Books that I don’t want anyone to agree with.

But I don’t want them banned. I would like to have them read, and then have people respond to the book to show what’s wrong with it. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Dissecting a book, showing where it is wrong, finding a better answer or better solution – these are exercises in ethics.

Banning a book is an exercise in power.

And often a futile exercise at that. If a book is banned (or people do something else to prevent me from reading it), that makes me want to read the book. Even if I didn’t plan on it before, now I’m going to read it. Because if a book is important enough to ban, it’s important enough to read.

You think a book is bad, and not worth my time to read? Okay, make the case for that so that I can read better books instead. You find a book offensive, and prevent me from reading it? Now I’m going to read the book, to see why you went out of your way to ban it.

If you tell me not to read a book, or force me not to read a book, I’m going to read it. Don’t tell me what I’m allowed to read.

I’m going to make up my own mind about what is offensive, and what is not. I’m going to make decisions about what I read, and what I don’t. You don’t get to make those decisions for me, no matter what your intentions are.

And if one political side, or political party, is banning books, I’m going to join the other side. Not because I agree with them on everything (or anything at all), but because I’m going to be on the side that doesn’t ban books, no matter what side that is.

And then if that side that I just joined starts banning books? I’m going to switch back to the other side! Because I’m going to be on the side that doesn’t ban books, no matter what side that is.

If you ban a book, you aren’t protecting me. You’re trying to tell me what to think. You might find that book offensive, but I might not. Maybe I’ll agree that it’s offensive, but it will be because I think it’s offensive, not because you think it’s offensive.

Read banned books. Read challenged books. Read controversial books. Read books that people don’t want you to read. If someone wants to stop you from reading a book, that means you need to go out or your way to read it. Don’t let other people do your thinking for you. Make up your own mind. Decide on your own values. Think for yourself about whether a book is offensive or not.

But most importantly of all:

Don’t ban books just because you find them offensive.

2020 Annual Review – the Annus Horribilis

So!

2020 is over.

It’s been a rough year – for just about everybody. Hopefully we’ve all taken the time to stop what we’re doing, stay home, and rethink our lives.

It’s the end of the year, the beginning of a new one. Several people (including James Clear, author of Atomic Habits) take the time to do an annual review, reflect on the previous year, and set themselves up for success in the next one.

Since I’ve never done this, I’ll just steal Clear’s 3 questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What am I working toward?

Let’s get started.

1. What went well this year?

I didn’t catch COVID!

That’s good.

Once it became clear around March or April that this year was going to be defined by COVID, my main goal for the year became to not catch COVID. I believe in smart risk-taking – but my tolerance for the risk of catching a deadly infectious disease is not very high.

All of my other goals or priorities shifted for the year, since most of the things I planned to do in 2020 became difficult, unimportant, or impossible in light of the pandemic. Health, or even survival, takes precedence over everything else.

None of my immediate family members caught COVID (that I know of), or died from COVID. The amount of personal tragedy in my life was relatively small, something a lot of other people can’t say.

I read 51 books in 2020, depending on how you count it. That’s good. Many of those books were really good, and several of them ended up on my recommended book list. Looking back, I should have spent even more time reading, but 51 is a respectable amount, even if a pandemic gives you a lot of time to read.

I complete NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month, where you spend the month of November writing 50,000 words of a novel. My “novel” is in an unfinished state, and I’m really not sure anything will come of it. More on that below.

If I take an overall view at the current state of my life, I ended the year in position relatively similar to where I started. Maybe a few things are a little better, and maybe a few others are a little worse. A small minority of people had a fantastic year, improving their life in every respect compared to me… and many others had one of the worst years of their life, or even lost their lives.

2. What didn’t go so well this year?

Materially and practically speaking, the year went about as well as it could have. Better than a lot of people. I didn’t catch COVID. I didn’t die. No one I know died from COVID.

However, I have to count this year as one of the worst of my life, and certainly in the bottom half of years of my life. I suspect most people are going to say the same. I spent most of the year worried, and in despair about the state of the world and its future. There’s a lot of things I should have done more of: meditate, read Stoic philosophy, refuse to worry over things I cannot control. But I didn’t do enough of those things, and my mindset suffered over most of the year. It just goes to show that when the outside world is out of your control, the only thing you truly have is your mind.

The pandemic meant that I had a lot of time to spend productively this year – but my productivity suffered greatly. Instead, I spent (roughly) 1000 hours this year playing video games, 200-400 of which was spent playing and modding one RPG. For hardcore gamers that’s not a lot, but I could have spent that 1000 hours in many other ways. Learning a musical instrument. Working out. Learning a marketable skill. Or reading. While it’s true that I read around 50 books this year, 1000 hours of video games could have been spent reading an additional 50, or 100 books.

It just goes to show that it isn’t just about how much time you have, it’s about using the time you have effectively.

Oh well. At least I didn’t die from COVID.

3. What am I working toward?

After the annus horribilis of 2020, there’s a few key areas I’m looking to improve on in 2021.

Business/Career:

I’ll get something out of the way first: I mentioned that I did NaNoWriMo this year. It was interesting, and I’m glad I did it. But I think I need to put novel writing aside for now, or make it a low priority, because I have goals other than being a novelist.

Namely? Solving climate change. Earlier in 2020 I was researching climate change and then posting what I learned every week – but then I stopped when I realized that I didn’t need to become an expert about how climate change works, since there are already people who are experts in that. What I need to do is become an expert in solving climate change. To solve a problem, you don’t need to know everything about it – but you do need to know what leverage points exist that can be manipulated to either make the problem smaller, or solve the problem entirely. Once that leveraged solution is found, you scale it up 1000x.

But then how do you scale that solution up? I’ve come to believe that a corporation needs to be founded specifically to find a scientific solution to climate change, and make it profitable. This corporation would be designed from the ground up for the specific purpose of making money by solving climate change, and ignoring literally everything else that doesn’t contribute to that.

I either need to design that corporation, or join it in the unlikely event the right kind of corporation exists.

That’s the long term. The short term is finding a way of generating capital to create this corporation. That either requires angel investing, or generating capital through entrepreneurship. I have ideas for both paths.

Fitness:

I want to look like a Greek statue by the end of the year.

That’s not hyperbole. I don’t want to just look good, or be athletic by the end of the year. I want to have my body match the aesthetic dimensions of a Greek statue.

greek statue

Photo by Chait Goli on Pexels.com

It’s called the Grecian Ideal, and it’s what bodybuilders used to aim for before the age of steroids and mass monsters. Obviously looking like a Greek statue requires diet and exercise, but more specifically it requires going to one of the Grecial Ideal Calculators to find the measurements for your ideal (male) body. I have my measurements – combined with several fitness books, fitness equipment, and a specific exercise plan, I have a far better chance of actually sticking to my fitness goals, despite setting them higher.

Will I literally look like a Greek statue at the end of the year? Unlikely, unless I secretly have superstar genetics. But I’ll be far closer by the end of the year than the beginning of the year.

Mindset:

I spent most of 2020 in despair about the state of the world. While a lot of other people did too, that is neither healthy nor productive. I’ve decided that this year is the year I establish a regular meditation habit. I’ve dabbled in meditation before, but the trick is to keep doing it. It’s one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself, and is incredibly easy considering that it is largely the act of doing nothing – something we’ve all forgotten to do in the age of screens and constant distraction.

Writing:

I also want to write more – blog posts, rather than fiction. I have this blog, but I don’t do nearly enough with it. What to write? One of the next things I’m going to write about on this blog is about my relationship with video games – and reevaluating that relationship.

Reading:

In 2020, I read about 50 books.

In 2021, I want to read at least 80 books.

Why? Because I know I can read that many, and I have a very long reading list. At the same time, I’m going to pick a few books that I must read this year. These are books that I think have a good chance of ending up in my book recommendations. If I read a lot of other books, that’s good. But if I spend the next 11 months only reading these books, that will be also fine, as long as I get to these absolutely-critical-must-read books.

These days I divide the books I read into 12 categories (you’ll probably want different ones for yourself), so I’ll pick 1 book from each category.

My Must-Read Books for 2021:

Very famous books, very difficult books, books I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, and one book I’ve been meaning to re-read for a long time.

I think that covers just about everything for this Annual Review.

I completed NaNoWriMo 2020. Now what?

I completed NaNoWriMo 2020.

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to spend the month of November writing 50,000 words of a novel – while the main goal is to write a 50,000 word first draft, other goals include writing 50,000 words for an existing project, or just writing 50,000 words you never look at again.

Why did I do this? Basically, November 1st arrived, and I saw people making posts about doing NaNoWriMo. I’ve dabbled in fiction writing before, and NaNoWriMo has been on my bucket list for a while, but it completely slipped my mind this year. I wasn’t planning on doing NaNo, but after seeing the posts about it, I said to myself:

“Fuck it, I’m doing NaNoWriMo.”

So I did. I had a couple false starts, starting two ideas that weren’t working out. Then, I started writing about one idea that took on a life of its own. Because of the false starts, I technically started late, and most days I was writing 2,000-3,000 words a day instead of the usual 1,667. That’s definitely a lot more than I usually write, and between the daily word count and the late start I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it.

But, on November 30th, I made it over 50,000 words. Around 50,700 according to the website I use to write, and around 50,200 when copy-pasted into a Word document. Closer to 55,000 if you count the words from the false starts. I’m counting that as a win.

So what’s the novel about? A lot of things. Fighting Nazis. A horrible global virus. People who think differently than other people. The ethics of emerging technologies. How much values can shift over decades or centuries. And several other topics.

It’s possible that some events in 2020 helped inspire this story.

Is the novel done? No, not even close. If I did want to finish this, it’s going to be several months at minimum. Right now it’s not even a finished first draft, let alone a complete story. I feel like there’s a lot of research I need to do to make the story as realistic as possible. And without giving too much away, a big part of the story is about contemporary people reacting to a radically different society – and that probably means a lot of contemporary readers reading the story and giving their reaction.

To be fair to myself, all of that is probably normal, since this is my first serious attempt at writing an original story.

What’s next? In between my other projects, I’m going to spend the month of December only working on the first chapter. Put all of my efforts into that chapter, make it as high quality as possible, and then send it to about a dozen people. Based on their reactions, I’ll decide if this is a viable novel or not.

After, that I’ll see what the future holds.

Solving Climate Change, Whatever It Takes

I recently had my 25th birthday. While that would normally be an important day, recent events have made it more important than usual.

Let me tell you a story.

It was the middle of August. I’m scrolling through reddit like I normally would, when I find this Reuters article. The gist: Greenland is melting fast, faster than yearly snow fall can rebuild the ice. It’s melting fast enough that even if we radically lowered carbon emissions, it’s going to completely melt over the coming decades. That means an average 6 meters of sea level rise.

That’s about 20 feet. That’s… not good, to put it mildly. The article doesn’t say it, but if Greenland is on track to melt, Antarctica probably is too. And that means far more than 6 meters of sea level rise.

This is a depressing article… for most people. But when I read, I felt something different:

A crushing sense of purpose.

You see, I’ve been concerned about climate change for years. At one point, I was actively researching a solution for climate change… and then stopped. A distraction here. A pandemic there. You know how it goes. For the past few months, when I haven’t been rethinking my life, I’ve been playing games, reading books, watching Netflix, and definitely not thinking about climate change.

And then I read about Greenland, and realized… I can’t do that. The best evidence I’ve seen says climate change is real. I’m open-minded, but I have every reason to believe it’s going to get worse.

The storms will grow larger. The droughts will go longer. The heat waves will get hotter. The forests will burn faster. The seas will rise, and the deserts will move to meet them. If the worst predictions come to pass, the Earth will be transformed, millions will die, millions more will become climate refugees, and billions more will suffer the consequences if climate change isn’t stopped.

I reject that future, and substitute my own.

I’ve made a decision: I have to find a solution if one exists. I can’t sit by and do nothing while the world burns and the seas rise. Climate change needs to be stopped, and I need to do whatever it takes to solve it. Not because it’s my destiny; I don’t believe in destiny. And it’s not about me being a perfect fit for the job either; to paraphrase a famous videogame quote, even the wrong man in the right place “…can make all the difference in the world.”

I intend to be the right man.

This is my promise to the people of the Earth, to all of my descendants, and especially to myself: I will do whatever it takes to stop climate change. I will work with anyone if it means stopping climate change. I will pay any price, bear any burden, and march through the fires of Hell if that is what it takes to stop climate change.

“He who has a why can bear almost any how.”

So what is this going to take? What does this mean? It means I can’t play around anymore. I can’t play video games; climate change is not a game, and there is no reward for failure. I can’t watch pointless videos or read pointless posts on reddit; every hour browsing the internet is an hour wasted. I can’t waste time on pointless drama – personal or political – when there are millions of lives at stake.

The habits of adolescence are not sufficient for the task at hand.

I need to read every available book on climate change, and any book that will make me better able to solve climate change. I might dislike the author or disagree with their political views, but those are unimportant when millions of lives are at stake. The absolute best books I read will get added to my book recommendations.

I need to learn everything I can about climate change, and every possible solution for solving it. Even if the solution is unpopular or has taboo tradeoffs, it needs to be considered; there’s too much at stake to not be open-minded. Whatever I learn, I need to find a way of turning into a practical solution for climate change.

I need to turn myself into a person capable of solving climate change. I need to work long hours (50 hour weeks, 70 hour weeks, 100 hour weeks, more if necessary), and make those hours count. I need to be able to work longer hours than I’ve ever worked, focus more than I’ve ever focused, read faster than I’ve ever read, and be more organized than I’ve ever been. I need to be smart, capable, and free in all the ways that others are not if I want to have any chance of solving this.

I need to not use social media very much if at all, except in ways that directly and indirectly lead to climate change being solved.

I need to be as healthy as possible, so I can devote as much energy as possible to this. Being healthy is not the same as being competent, but anyone who’s ever been sick will tell you that it’s hard to work long hours or solve hard problems if your body is getting in the way. I need to sleep well, eat well, exercise, and get all the vitamins and minerals needed for healthy living. And I need to experiment with different health habits; what works for you might not work for me, and vice versa.

I need to be a focused writer. Anything I write about going forward either needs to be directly related to climate change, or needs to be indirectly helpful for solving climate change.

I need to not worry as much about current events, whether it’s a pandemic, election, or anything else. Those things will either resolve themselves, or become so bad that I’m forced to worry about them. It’s not because those things are unimportant, it’s that I don’t have time to focus on them with millions of lives at stake.

And it is millions. You can’t predict the future with certainty, but you can look at probabilities… and the probabilities aren’t looking good unless a solution is found.

TLDR: My name is Proteus Morrill, and I’m going to solve climate change no matter what it takes.

Patriotism – Why I Love the United States in Spite of Its Flaws

I love the United States of America.

That’s become a less popular thing to say these days – you hear far more people criticizing or even hating America, laying out its flaws and failures – but I still love this country.

I love the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – flawed documents to be sure, but documents that have had a powerful impact on the structure of every new government that has come afterward. From sheer impact alone, these documents will be studied for centuries to come, alongside works like the Magna Carta or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I love the rights and freedoms those documents – the Constitution and Bill of Rights – lay out. Freedom of religion, of speech, of press, of assembly, of petition – all of which add up to freedom of thought. I love the right to bear arms (even if I don’t particularly love, or hate, guns), which I’ll call a right to self-defense. I love that several amendments set out to give the citizens of this country a fair trial, whether their accuser is another citizen or the government itself.

I love the separation of powers, and that the United States was created to explicitly not feature dictatorship, monarchy, nobility, or aristocracy. Leaders are elected, not born. There are limits on their power – frustrating when those limits are on leaders you support, and a godsend for the leaders you despise. Wealth has obvious advantages, but doesn’t come with hereditary land or titles. There are no kings, dukes, or duchesses of the United States – and that’s a feature, not a bug.

I love the Statue of Liberty – but more importantly, I love the line from “The New Colossus” inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

I love that millions of people around the world, desperate to escape the tyranny, oppression, and slavery found in their homelands, have looked to the United States as a sanctuary from those evils. The shining city on a hill, to use the cliche. I love that for all of its flaws and failures, so many people yearn to come to America – and that so many movements for human rights and freedoms around the world have been inspired by the American story.

Many people criticize that the rights and freedoms America prides itself on were not extended to millions of people at the birth of this country – I love that the American story includes the fight to extend those freedoms to everyone. I love that the women and freemen of America have rights and liberties their ancestors could not have hoped to enjoy, even in a limited or flawed form.

That fight is not over. It is far from over. I doubt that fight will be over soon – but its a fight worth continuing.

I’m not saying anything new. But on this Independence Day, I’m looking for reasons to love this country. The current moment is laser-focused on the many flaws and failures of America – in government, in policing, in matters of race. The drive to improve on this country’s flaws is valid and important – but while many are declaring that the United States of America is an irredeemable nation founded on sin and blood, I refuse to do so. The United States has flaws. It has made mistakes. Its history is full of failures of morality – some stretching back to its founding. But I am a patriot. I love my country, not because it is perfect, but because much of it is great, and worth defending and improving.

I am not a nationalist – hugging flags, nostalgic to the core, convinced that my country is perfect or inherently superior, and that anything that doesn’t fit into that perfect image deserves scorn or violence (whether along lines of race, religion or culture). I am also not the opposite. I’m not sure what the word would be, but perhaps “anti-nationalist” – not someone who is against nations, but someone who believes their nation is inherently inferior or evil, its sins are irredeemable, no progress is noteworthy or praiseworthy, and that anything short of starting over from the beginning is insufficient to correct the moral calculus.

On this Independence Day, I am reflecting on America – both on what has made it great, and the work needed to make it even better. Its values – and its ongoing attempt to live up to them. The millions of people who have contributed to this country’s story – and the millions more who never had the opportunity to do so. Its accomplishments – and its failures.

I am a patriot – I don’t want to destroy my country, I want to fix its errors and make it better. And I hope you’re a patriot too, whatever country you call home.