The rhythm of history

I finished a few books in the last week  (Economics in One Lesson, Liberalism in the Classic Tradition and A Renegade History of the United States) so that clears up some space to start a few more.  In addition to a deep interest in history (especially the revisionist sort) I am also getting more interested in philosophy.  I’ve read a few of the “foundational” works but have been wanting to get more of an overview of the different schools of thought, so I went to a book store (the hell you say?!?!) and found a copy of Betrand Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy” to see if it would scratch that itch.  This is from the introduction:

Every community is exposed to two opposite dangers: ossification through too much discipline and reverence for tradition, on the one hand; on the other hand, dissolution, or subjection to foreign conquest, through the growth of an individualism and personal independence that makes co-operation impossible. In general, important civilizations start with a rigid and superstitious system, gradually relaxed, and leading, at a certain stage, to a period of brilliant genius, while the good of the old tradition remains and the evil inherent in its dissolution has not yet developed. But as the evil unfolds, it leads to anarchy, thence, inevitably, to a new tyranny, producing a new synthesis secured by a new system of dogma. The doctrine of liberalism is an attempt to escape from this endless oscillation. The essence of liberalism is an attempt to secure a social order not based on irrational dogma, and insuring stability without involving more restraints than are necessary for the preservation of the community. Whether this attempt can succeed only the future can determine.

Sold.  At 1,000 pages I this one will take me a while to get through (and to be honest I may not read it all but may skim it and then use it as a reference) but the intro convinced me to read more.


Finishing Last

This past weekend I had the chance to compete in a 3 gun match outside of Lexington at Blue Grass Sportsman’s League.  It was my first 3 gun match since November of 2012 and it showed.  Despite being a pretty competitive in pistol only competitions over the last few years, I was anything but competitive on Saturday.  I was so un-competitive that I came in last out of 64 competitors (there were 2 that got DQ’d that I supposed I technically came in ahead of).  Last by a reasonably wide margin.

I was under no illusion that I was going to win, but I did feel like I might have come in somewhere in the top part of the lower half.  Nope.  Last.  I’m a competitive person so this really is bothering me – I actually woke up a few times through the night last night reliving mistakes in stages and thinking of things I could have done better.

I’m still going through the scores and watching the video, but there are a few things I need to work on before I head to the next match (which could be as soon as September if I get in and have the time):

  • First off, I actually need to work on things before I head to the next match.  I can’t just show up and expect to magically do better.
  • I need to pick a rifle and ammunition and stick with it – learning what it will do everything from 5 to 200 yards.  I decided to use my Tavor for this match since I hadn’t put it to any hard use and wanted to see how well it would run.  It ran fine and did everything I asked it to – but I wasn’t familiar enough how it performed at close range so as a result I way underestimated the mechanical offset of the M21 red dot on some close range shots, missing low as a result.
  • I need to work on my shotgun – both shooting and reloading.  I had to take multiple shots on some plates and missed two of my slug shots.  I was also very inefficient and inconsistent with my reloads, which is probably the most time consuming part of shotgun stages.  I need to build some more muscle memory here and the only way that’s going to come is with practice.  Its not so much a gear issue, but I am going to look into getting a new choke to tighten things up at range a bit and I may also eventually invest in a TWiNs loading (or even a Quad Loading) system.
  • The actual shooting is important of course, but perhaps the biggest improvement will come from better stage planning: what order to engage targets, where to start when there is an option, what guns to use when there is an option, when to reload and how much, etc.  Some of this will come with just being more comfortable with 3 gun stages.  I’m also going to rework my cart to have more space for my gear and add some space for a cooler – staying hydrated is a key part of being able to think straight.  Lastly, I’m going to ask for more help – since everyone on a squad is likely better than me, I can learn a lot by asking them how they plan to approach a stage and/or watching them in action.

In my best attempt to turn lemons into lemonade, I am going to use my last place finish as a motivation to get better in a competition that I enjoy.  I might still come in last again, but with work I know I can improve.


Thoughts on Liberalism

I checked one more book off my reading list on Monday: Liberalism by Ludwig von Mises.  It’s a relatively short read, albeit a little difficult since it was originally written in German and then translated and also because its written in the more complex grammatical structure of the earlier half of the 20th century (side note: I am continually amazed when reading “standard” texts from the late 19th and early 20th century how much we’ve lost in terms of language and reading – I’m no dummy and this stuff can be hard to comprehend).

First off let’s be clear on the title: Liberalism.  In a realworld example of Orwellian newspeak , the term liberal has been co-opted by a group that has fundamentally different philosophies and objectives than those (like von Mises) that originally labeled themselves that way.  This is not a book about global warming, gun control or health care.  Rather, it describes what would be called today a fundamentally libertarian world view.  The label libertarian (after this book was written) seems to have been invented precisely because the term liberal was co-opted.  This same thing is happening now with the term ‘conservative’ to the point that we now have neo-cons (really Trotskyism) and paleo-cons (the ‘real’ conservatives).  Von Mises addresses this war of language and labels directly in an appendix written decades after the original publication but before Libertarian was a widely accepted label, where he argues that the term Liberal shouldn’t be given up so easily.  I think that battle has since been lost.

As I said it’s a short read, but if you only have time / interest to read a bit of it, the big payoff for me was Chapter 4, titled Liberalism and Political Parties.  In 33 pages, von Mises lays waste to the idea that “parties of special interest” (i.e. political parties that seek to get benefits for special groups – at the expense of other groups) can ever result in a workable system.  Von Mises doesn’t make a moral argument, but rather a very practical, almost utilitarian view of why it just won’t work – or at least won’t accomplish the stated objectives of providing an organizational system for a peaceful, productive society.  The whole chapter is full of gold, but here’s one nugget:

This is one of the two fundamental weaknesses of all parties aiming at privileges on behalf of special interests. On the one hand, they are obliged to rely on only a small group, because privileges cease to be privileges when they are granted to the majority; but, on the other hand, it is only in their guise as the champions and representatives of the majority that they have any prospect of realizing their demands. The fact that many parties in different countries have sometimes succeeded in overcoming this difficulty in carrying on their propaganda and have managed to imbue each social stratum or group with the conviction that its members may expect special advantages from the triumph of the party speaks only for the diplomatic and tactical skill of the leadership and for the want of judgment and the political immaturity of the voting masses. It by no means proves that a real solution of the problem is, in fact, possible. Of course, one can simultaneously promise city-dwellers cheaper bread and farmers higher prices for grain, but one cannot keep both promises at the same time. It is easy enough to promise one group that one will support an increase in certain government expenditures without a corresponding reduction in other government expenditures, and at the same time hold out to another group the prospect of lower taxes; but one cannot keep both these promises at the same time either. The technique of these parties is based on the division of society into producers and consumers. They are also wont to make use of the usual hypostasis of the state in questions of fiscal policy that enables them to advocate new expenditures to be paid out of the public treasury without any particular concern on their part over how such expenses are to be defrayed, and at the same time to complain about the heavy burden of taxes.

In all honesty after reading and contemplating this material, its amazing that the current system – which is comprised entirely of special interests – has been able to keep things together for so long.  The swelling interests in the ideas of liberalism libertarian-ism may be an indication that a real change for the better may be underway.

Happy accidents

I’ve made a rather unconcious, but very positive change over the last 24 months. It all started when in a fit of budget streamlining I cancelled my cable subscription, much to the dismay of my kids. It was a small decision, driven mostly by the idea that I could save $50 a month for something I wasn’t really using, more so than any grand ideas about spending less time in front of the boob tube. The kids adapted (watching more YouTube, Netflix and iTunes) and I didn’t miss it (except for during college football season…but even then I did like the “extra” time in my Saturdays).

About a year later, I discovered the Von Mises Institute literature library. I was just starting the journey I am still on to more deeply explore philosophy, economics and politics, and it has been a treasure. A few months after that I discovered the torrent bundle which let me have the whole bundle of more than 1,000 great works on the philosophy of liberty on my desktop (and in my personal cloud thanks to the OwnCloud setup on an old desktop I had sitting around).

Last fall, I started transferring a few PDFs from the docs from the torrent bundle to GoodReader on my ipad. I read Rothbard’s For a New Liberty that way. I also grabbed a few fiction ebooks, most notably Makers by Cory Doctorow (great read, BTW).

Canceling cable freed up the time to read more, the iPad gave me a somewhat book like platform (portable with pages)…and the fact that the content was free removed a financial barrier, albeit a small one (books don’t cost that much). The most recent tweak was the snap decision to purchase a refurbished Amazon kindle paper white. While it may seem like yet another device to carry (and keep charged) it actually has made a big difference, primarily reducing the amount of time it takes me to get through a book. The display is a little easier on the eyes, so I can read longer with less fatigue on the kindle than on the iPad, but I think the biggest difference is the fact that there aren’t any distractions on the kindle: no Facebook, no twitter, no email, no messages, no blogs. When I have the kindle in my hand, all I can do is read, so that’s all I do.

The addition of the kindle has also opened up some additional content sources as well: there a number of free kindle books available to anyone (I.e. you don’t have to have a branded kindle device to get them – you can get them for free on the iPad or android app or the cloud reader). I was able to read Cicero, Hobbes, and Locke this way. In addition, I am an Amazon Prime member, so I can get one free book from the “lending library” as well. I just finished up a book on Tesla that I got for “free” there (admittedly I do pay for Prime, but I would anyway based on the number of items I get shipped from them every year, so it’s not free but rather zero incremental cost).

One last bit I discovered just a few weeks ago is Calibre Library, a great free application (donations appreciated) that allows you easily easily convert PDFs and ePub formatted docs to mobi that the kindle can easily consume and display. I’m still playing around with it, but so far it’s allowed me to convert and read a PDF of John Taylor Gatto’s “The Underground History of American Education” and a ePub of Von Mises “Liberalism”.

Through a series of small decisions and happy accidents I have changed how I spend my leisure free time (contrasting with my working free time – gardening, riding horses, reloading, shooting, practicing Krav Maga, etc): reading instead of watching. Learning instead of vegging. Exercising my intellect rather than getting dumbed down. I wish I could say that it was a deliberate, planned change, but I guess this is a case where I would rather be lucky than good.

GoPro Video from my IDPA match yesterday

My lovely and talented wife got me a GoPro for my birthday this year and I’ve been using it to record my IDPA matches – they are fun (for me) to watch and there are few things I see where I can improve.

I’ve been shooting IDPA for more than 5 years now.  I actually am the match director for a monthly match that I started at the range a few miles from my house – the good thing about that is that it makes me shoot at least once a month.  IDPA is a great sport for anyone looking to get more proficient with their handgun in simulated real world defensive situations.  If you are near by, come check out our match or if not, check out’s club finder to find a match close to you.  You can come and watch a match, but if you have the gear to compete, I suggest you bring it – once you see it, you’ll want in!

10 things you can do to declare your own independence

Tomorrow is one of the few bank holidays that we get in these United States.  We may have gained our independence (note, I said may…) from King George, but we definitely lost a lot of holidays in the process.  The holiday is know by various names:

  • Independence day by the patriotic
  • Fourth of July by the secular
  • Revolution day by the British
  • Just any other day by the rest of the world

The original idea of the holiday was to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress in 1776, popularly considered to be the birthday of these United States (whether that view is correct or not is an interesting side story).  Over the past 200+ years, the meaning behind the holiday have changed.  What was once a remembrance of  a declaration in support of rule by natural law rather than rule by man has slowly become a tribute to the state that exists solely to rule men.

So, to honor the intents and brave actions of the original signers of the DoI, I am going to spend some time tomorrow celebrating and furthering my own personal independence.  If you want to do the same, here are a few ideas in no particular order:

  1. Free your mind.  Read a history, science, mathematics or philosophy book.  Fiction is great, but there is something freeing about understanding a little more about how the world you live in works.
  2. Free your actions. Far too many of us spend too much time reliving the past and/or worrying/hoping about the future.  Knowing history has its place, and having an idea of where you want to get to is a good idea as well, but the reality os the only decision making power we have is right now.  Look into stoicism, mindful living or any of the other approaches to stop obsessing on the past or worrying about the future.  You can only act in the now.
  3. Free your labor. Start your own business.  It doesn’t have to be a complete replacement for your job “working for the man” – it can be something small that you can do in a few hours a week or even a month.  If it never turns into anything bigger, it will help you in your “real” job and if it does, then you are on to bigger and better things.
  4. Free your body .  Eat better food.  Plant some seeds. Cook something.  Go for a walk.  Your body is your temple – do some preventive maintenance.
  5. Free your wallet. Convert some of your cash into Bitcoin or precious metals – and then spend it!  Actually do a transaction with bitcoin – face to face if you can.  Go somewhere and ask them if they will take silver (make sure to ask before the service or product is rendered).  If that’s just too far out then pay off a debt.
  6. Free your security.  Learn how to shoot.  Take a martial arts class.  Learn how to take care of yourself.  When seconds count, the police are minutes away.
  7. Free your prejudices. Think of a group you hate – or if you’re not one to hate, one that you strongly dislike or mistrust.  Muslims or Christians.  Gays or Straights.  Blacks or Whites.  Immigrants or Natives.  Find someone in that group, introduce yourself, talk to them and find all the things you have in common.
  8. Free your consent. Don’t pay a tax.  Perform non violent civil disobedience for something you believe in.  Commit a victimless crime.
  9. Free your attention. Stop watching / reading MSM. There are plenty of blogs, podcasts, and youtube channels that actually deserve you paying attention too (remember there is a reason it’s called paying attention for a reason – it’s not free!)
  10. Free your ideas. Take the time to sit own and write down an idea you have.  Or record a podcast or  a video.  Put your idea out there and see what people think – don’t be cowed by culture or peer pressure into keeping your idea bottled up.  Share it with the world and take honest feedback – it’ll make it better, or if its already good it will spread.

Pick one from the list above, or even better suggest another in the comments, and just do it.  Make independence personal.



A stateless society would be chaos (for good)

It’s no secret that I am a huge podcast fan.  I subscribe to more than 30 and listen to about 10-15 episodes a week (lots of driving and mowing time).  One of my two favorite are put out by Dan Carlin – Hardcore History and Common Sense.  At various times in each of them, Dan describes himself as a “fan of history” as opposed to be a historian. I have never considered myself to be either – a fan or history, much less a historian – but that has changed rapidly in the last 18 months.  It started with the stories that Dan tells on Hardcore History and has rapidly expanded – of the 5 books I am reading right now (my wife hates that), 4 of them are history books.

Although I have only recently become a fan of history, I have been a math geek (as opposed to a mathematician) much longer.  I can recall sitting inside for recess one day in 4th grade and listening to my teacher (Ms. Arlinghaus) work with a 5th grade student on some math he was struggling with.  It was fascinating…and I understood it.  For whatever reason, I decided right then and there that I was “good at math”.  I breezed through the rest of elementary and junior high math, took all the advanced classes in HS and spent a lot of free time reading books about math and physics, ending up going to school to become a mechanical engineer (side note: I did finally meet my match in mathematics in Differential Equations II – I had to take it twice).

Last week at Porcfest, I had the chance to run into some fellow math geeks.  After the introductions and background chat, for some reason or another we got onto the topic of chaos theory and how it relates to a stateless society.  One question people ask when first introduced to the idea of a  stateless society (besides “who will build the roads?”) is “without the state, won’ everything devolve into chaos?”

I think Rothbard did a pretty good job of answering the chaos question (he even provides an answer for the roads question ;-) from a philosophical and human behavior standpoint, but can we explore the question using mathematics as well?  The branch of mathematics devoted to investigating chaos is aptly named chaos theory.  The Wikipedia article in the previous link does a great job giving an overview of the aspects, history and application of the theory.  For this discussion, however, we can start with the basic definition of chaos that chaos theory uses.  Lorenz put it this way:

Chaos: When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.

In my words:

A Chaotic system is a deterministic system which is highly sensitive to initial conditions.  While chaos may seem random, it is in fact highly predictable – but only if the initial conditions are known precisely.

So unlike the popular perception of chaos (which can be shortly summarized as no one knows what will happen, but its likely to be bad) math tells us that you can know what will happen, IF you precisely understand the starting conditions.

Getting back to the original question: yes, a stateless society would result in chaos.  But a society ruled by a leviathan state also results in chaos.  Chaos is not created by the absence or presence of a state, but merely by the presence of multiple self-determinant, but interacting degrees of freedom.  By definition society consists of more than one person.  By definition each person in that society has their own unique wants and needs = they are self determinant, but interacting degrees of freedom.  Therefore all societies will always be chaotic.

Since a state run societies and stateless stateless societies are both chaotic, the more interesting question becomes: which form of chaos is most beneficial to its participants? In answering this question, its easy to fall into the normalcy bias trap: thinking that what we have now isn’t so bad and saying that no one know what a stateless society would actually produce since its never been tried (wrong on both counts – but thats another argument).  If we are able to avoid that trap, chaos theory might shed some light on an answer.  Chaos theory tell us that if we know the initial conditions of the system, we can know the eventual outcome.  So, let’s compare some of the initial conditions of the state run and the stateless society:

State Run society Initial Conditions Stateless society Initial Conditions
  • Use of force (by those permitted) is the norm – theft, violence, kidnapping
  • Human potential is limited
  • People do what they are told
  • Dependency / blame culture
  • Most communication is propagandized – limited or skewed information
  • Decision making through emotion or flight / fight responses
  • Mass acceptance of the non-aggression principle
  • Human potential is unlimited
  • People do what they are interested in
  • Self ownership culture
  • Critical thinking makes propaganda ineffective, so communication is honest
  • Decision making through the gathering of evidence and the application of reason

Does anyone know exactly what a stateless society would look like?  Of course not, although as I said in a previous post I think there are some experiments which give us a pretty good idea.  However, I don’t think it takes a math geek (or even a fan of math) to look at those two lists of initial conditions and make a pretty accurate prediction about which chaos they’d want to live in.



Porcfest reflections from a first time attendee

I have started and then deleted this post at least 8 times today.  There are so many ideas, so many stories, so many next actions that I think its too big for one post.  Plus all of it probably needs some time to digest before it will make any sense.  So instead of trying to capture it all, I’m going to simply get across the top level idea that was rolling around in my head as I made the 16.5 hour drive home from my first Porcfest yesterday.

The Porcupine Freedom Festival (aka Porcfest) was held last week in Lancaster, NH at the Roger’s campground.  Porcfest is a project of the Free State Project and last week was it’s 11th incarnation, although it was the first that I attended.  It would have been tough for me to put into words what Porcfest is before I went – and its even tougher now that I have been there.  The simplest description is that its sort of a cross between Woodstock and Burning man…except its in New Hampshire…and its organized by libertarians.  Instead of music or art though, the central theme of porcfest is freedom – what it is, what keeps us from it and how to get more of it.

I hadn’t even heard of porcfest a year ago.  I barely knew anything about libertarianism, classical liberalism or anarcho-capitalism.  12 months ago I’d never heard of Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard or Hans-Herman Hoppe, much less read anything they have written.  Through a series of interesting circumstances, chance encounters and good fortune, all of these conditions changed.  Not only had I heard of porcfest, but I had a ticket to attend in hand (OK, it was virtual and was paid for in bitcoin), a campground reservation, and driving directions.

Again, I am not going to try to describe everything I experienced, while I was there, much less everything that went on.  Attempts to catalog each experience are what lead to the ‘CTL-A’ + ‘Delete’ 8 times before this.  However, here are a few examples of what went on through the week after arriving mid-day on Wednesday (the one day it rained…all day):

  • I participated in 20+ talks, workshops and panel sessions.  And by participated, I mean more than just employing active listening – porcfest is all about participation.  Topics ranged from how labels limit the effectiveness of communication to a history of irregular conflict.
  • I saw capitalism in its purest form (i.e. with no government interference).  There was a wifi network that an attendee setup to provide better service than the campground (worked great the first few days before the attendance swelled).  There were food vendors selling everything from bullet proof coffee to pulled pork to home made ice cream.  There was a guy selling firewood and ice (I had to take to opportunity to buy wood for bitcoin!).  There were even kids who got into the act – selling popcorn, glow sticks, painting nails or offering dog sitting services.
  • I saw people of all shapes, sizes, creeds, ages, colors and genders mixed together in relatively close quarters (and for a time without good sanitation facilities…another post).  Hippies, Grandmas,   Kids,  Nerds (or were they Geeks?), Punks, Rednecks – none of them cloistering into their respective groups, but actively engaging with members of all the other groups and doing more than just getting along – thriving, learning, building.
  • I traded for food and clothes using silver, bitcoin and (when I had to) cash.  Both of my kids decided to come with me to porcfest (subject of another post someday…short version = totally cool!).  I would hand them a few silver dimes and they bought what they wanted / needed through the day for breakfast and lunch.
  • I went to some great parties.  (Probably not the subject of a future post…all pictures have been destroyed ;-).
  • I met hundreds of “like-minded” individuals.  The term “like-minded” individuals needs some explanation here.  I am using it here for lack of a better word (if you know of one, please let me know so I don’t have to explain myself every time on this point). Like-minded is normally used to convey the idea that a group of people have the same view of a particular issue.  That couldn’t be further from the truth in describing the group at porcfest.  The reality is that there were all sorts of different perspectives, ideas and theories – the only universal seemed to be the non aggression principle.  I spent a considerable amount of time talking to a few anarcho-communists (don’t worry – I didn’t know what those were a few months ago either) who have very different views from mine on a wide range of ideas, including some pretty basic things like the definition of property.  Rather than sharing common conclusions, this group of like minded people shared a common approach.  Everyone I encountered was ready willing and able to use reason, evidence and critical thinking to present their ideas and discuss alternatives.  There were lots of different results – but everyone was able to “show their work” on how they got there.

After 4 days in Lancaster, the overwhelming feeling I have coming out of porcfest is simply this:  a peaceful society based on the non-aggression principle is possible and is, in fact, vastly superior to the conditions we find ourselves in today.  Porcfest is the petri dish (insert sanitation issue jokes here) that creates the evidence that it works in practice, not just in theory.  If you remove aggression from the equation, people won’t starve in the streets, rape and kill each other, or generally devolve into being ruled by the law of the jungle.  Absent aggression, people will cooperate, find a way to (profitably) meet each others needs, and will openly share ideas and learn from each other.

A week ago, I thought all of those positives might be true.  I wished them to be true.  I grappled with a few theories that attempted to proved that they are true.  Now that I’ve been to porcfest I know they are true.  That is powerful knowledge.



Stop by and see me sometime

Two weeks from today I’ll be packing up the Jetta to head to New Hampshire for my first porcfest.  First heard about this festival last year and through the course of the year convinced myself I should go.  As a bonus, when my kids heard about it, they both wanted to tag along.  If you happen to be going and want to show a newbie around, stop by and say hi – here’s where we’ll will be:


Schooling vs education and the quest for happiness

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year trying to figure out the best advice I can give my kids to help them figure out what it is that they want to do with the rest of their life.  A lot of the advice lately is use the time you have now wisely.  You can try 100 different things in the next 5 to 10 years and fail at all but 1 of them and end up being both happy and successful (side note: we have also had the conversation about measuring success on your own terms and not on someone else’s or society’s, etc).  There are all sorts of negatives that have come along with the invention of adolescence so you might as well take advantage of one of the benefits: people (read “grown-ups”) expect you to make mistakes.

And so comes this article into my Facebook feed last night:  Productivity And The Education Delusion.   The author has tried to tie together a whole bunch of themes in one (relatively) brief article: Piketty’s new book, code camps,  and the proliferation of bullshit jobs.   Its a good summary of a number of issues, but in the end I’m not sure what the author is calling for other than a general call to arms for fellow start ups to figure it out.

The only section that really got my spidey senses tingling was the mention of job specific training in grade school.  I’m all for giving people real skills that will enable them to produce things.  The key question is who chooses?  Far too many of these school to work schemes involve a magic sorting test that tell you what you are good at and then force you into strongly suggest you pursue training for that profession.  For school to work programs to actually produce results that are beneficial to those being schooled, they have to select their own path.  The idea that John Taylor Gatto puts forth in one of his books comes to mind when explaining the differences between text books and “real” books:

One way to see the difference between schoolbooks and real books like Moby Dick is to examine different procedures which separate librarians, the custodians of real books, from schoolteachers, the custodians of schoolbooks. To begin with, libraries are usually comfortable, clean, and quiet. They are orderly places where you can actually read instead of just pretending to read.

For some reason libraries are never age-segregated, nor do they presume to segregate readers by questionable tests of ability any more than farms or forests or oceans do. The librarian doesn’t tell me what to read, doesn’t tell me what sequence of reading I have to follow, doesn’t grade my reading. The librarian trusts me to have a worthwhile purpose of my own. I appreciate that and trust the library in return.

Some other significant differences between libraries and schools: the librarian lets me ask my own questions and helps me when I want help, not when she decides I need it. If I feel like reading all day long, that’s okay with the librarian, who doesn’t compel me to stop at intervals by ringing a bell in my ear. The library keeps its nose out of my home. It doesn’t send letters to my family, nor does it issue orders on how I should use my reading time at home.

The library doesn’t play favorites; it’s a democratic place as seems proper in a democracy. If the books I want are available, I get them, even if that decision deprives someone more gifted and talented than I am. The library never humiliates me by posting ranked lists of good readers. It presumes good reading is its own reward and doesn’t need to be held up as an object lesson to bad readers. One of the strangest differences between a library and a school is that you almost never see a kid behaving badly in a library.

The library never makes predictions about my future based on my past reading habits. It tolerates eccentric reading because it realizes free men and women are often very eccentric. Finally, the library has real books, not schoolbooks. I know the Moby Dick I find in the library won’t have questions at the end of the chapter or be scientifically bowdlerized. Library books are not written by collective pens. At least not yet.

Letting people choose their own path (having more libraries and fewer schools is one way to let this happen) is a good start.  But there is something more fundamental that I think is necessary.  The author talks about the arms race between automation and education – and points to the fact that education has been loosing for at least a few decades.  This assumes that the only valuable work for people to do is task oriented – build this engine, make this hamburger, send this email.

Tasks are of course important to actually getting work done, but getting the right work done requires first deciding what to do.  What kind of engines do people want?  Are burgers the best thing to make right now?  What should the email say to get people to read it and respond?  This work is much harder to automate but it also requires more than just training.  It requires true education, which brings forth a person’s innate abilities, and an ability to think critically, using the lost disciplines of grammar, logic and rhetoric.  School to work is fine (as long as each student gets to pick their own training), but everyone should first have the opportunity to learn how to think.  That’s one job that can’t be automated (yet).