Frontier, Stagnation, Cycle

The Frontier and Freedom

There’s a wonderful thing about the frontier. It’s a place where the rules don’t exist. Anything is possible … so long as it sustains existence on the frontier.

America was a frontier—”The New World”—a place where humanity was able to experiment with new ways to exist as a society—ways forbidden by the prevailing powers in the Old World. Perhaps more than anything, frontiers lack structure and reigning institutions, regulations, and norms. It’s within this vacuum that novelty has a chance.

The Internet, too, has been a frontier. A digital plane where new business models, new ways to engage and communicate, and more could all be tried.

Freedom is found on the frontier.

The Tyranny of the Status Quo

And what’s the opposite of the frontier but the rules, norms, and prevailing powers of the status quo? Ruling states, businesses, wealth, and more exert monopolistic constraints that choke out the possibility of alternatives. The chance for novel ideas.

It is the established order of things—the status quo—that makes it hard to think differently. So what do you do?

All is Not Lost

Thankfully, the status quo is stagnant … systems wound up like a mechanical watch that can only work in a very calculated way. Rigid.

Over time, systems start opposing their proper purpose. They grow so large—or even so specialized—as to be inefficient, brittle, and unable to adapt to changing conditions.

This stagnation results in opportunity because the status quo can’t adapt to changing conditions. And it’s innate inefficiency means some are under-served. Before long, there emerges a possibility of new frontiers.

This is a Cycle

It’s this ebb and flow between the frontier and the status quo that we cycle back-and-forth, iterating and evolving over time. It’s the way of evolution. It’s the way of systems. It’s the way of life. And it’s been this way for millions of years.

Creativity and Constraints

You probably remember a handful people in your elementary, middle, and high school who were known as the “artists.” They were the ones who turned in the beautiful drawings, won the contests, got tapped for t-shirt designs, etc.

I was one of them. With the reputation of an artist came two common refrains. The first? “You’re so talented.” And the second: “You’re so creative.”

But both statements aren’t quite accurate.

Talent? My proficiency as an artist came from paying attention to detail and being a perfectionist. It wasn’t talent; it was focused practice.

And I’ve never felt creative. In my mind, to be creative is to be able to imagine new things from nothing, which has never been easy for me.

Only, after awhile, I realized something. I am creative so long as I have constraints. Constraints create a problem to be solved. And by attempting to solve intractable problems I could be creativity.

Constraints strip away possibility and introduce challenges to overcome. The creative person—the artist, the inventor, the entrepreneur—finds a novel way.

The Age of Too Much

Have you noticed you have an attention problem?

There are only so many TV shows we can binge watch on Netflix, photos we can scroll, books we can read, games we can play, and on and on.

Our attention problem is due to an exponential growth in things to do, content to consume, and things to distract ourselves with. On YouTube alone, some 300 minutes of new video content are uploaded every minute.

That’s one type of content on one platform.

Outside of content like video, news, opinions, and social media, there are millions of apps, each promising to do some job better, provide an ever more delightful distraction, whatever.

It’s on this infinite supply of distractions that we spend our attention. But it’s never enough. So we busy ourselves in our boredom.

Active boredom.

And we have no choice but to limit what content we consume, directing our attention to whatever’s most satisfying or worse, what’s most engagingly distracting—ignoring all else.

Welcome to the Age of Too Much.

The 8 Ways Normal People Are Turned Into True Believers

Could You Join a Cult?

I doubt you’ve ever worried about inadvertently joining a cult. “Only whack-o’s join cults,” you say, “I could never be like that …”

Of course, to be sure, who could be like that? The notion you might abandon your sense of self, adopt a doctrine of unquestionable beliefs, and in the course, cut ties with friends and family from the outside to become a card-carrying, kool-aid drinking cultist … Not gonna happen!

Because cults are for crazy people.

Except that’s not quite right. Cults make crazy people. Cults take normal people—that is, as normal as any of us are—and upend how they understand the world. They change how individuals process reality, ultimately converting well-adjusted individuals into glossy-eyed true believers.

Maybe it could happen to you.

And maybe that’s what makes cults so very terrifying.

But maybe you’re not ready to believe me, so try to see it from a different angle.  

To Exist is to Aggress

Pacifism is defined by Google as the belief that any violence, including war, is unjustifiable under any circumstances, and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means.

But what does that mean in practice? I think many if not most of us agree: violence is to be avoided if at all possible. Except therein lay a clue: avoid violence. If the avoidance of harming others or self is the core determinant of an idea, is not the thing being avoided foundational to the concept?

How to Fix the World

The world’s got problems. Poverty, sickness, violence, crime, exploitation, and countless other bad things exist. They are not good. What more, their very existence is a red flag that something must be done. But what?

No matter your politics or philosophy, most of us would agree making the world a better place is a desireable goal. Where we all differ is in deciding what should be done to accomplish that goal.

So let’s break it down.

The Mote and the Beam

From the Sermon on the Mount comes the story of the Mote and the Beam. A refresher:

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. — Matthew 7:1-5 KJV 

I’m no Biblical scholar. That’s my dad. But what of the mote and the beam? Is it merely a store about being hesitant to judge others? Maybe. Or maybe it’s something more.

The Canary in the Coal Mine and Leaving Dysfunctional Groups

The expression “canary in a coal mine” originates from coal miners using canaries as a kind of early warning system. The miners would take the birds into the mine and periodically check-in on their status. The delicate canaries were more susceptible to gases like carbon monoxide, so if they suddenly stopped moving, miners would be alerted of dangerous air conditions.

Hence, the expression “canary in a coal mine” is an idiomatic way of talking about events that portend negative things to come.