Follow The Sun Week 3: The Beauty of Structure

The most delightful and unexpected outcome of our follow the sun experiment is that the sunlight imposes structure on our days.  Liz and I would never have chosen to read during dinner and then walk and talk after sunset before this experiment.  But the limitations imposed by sunset created the conditions where it is now justified to do this. The structure of our days forces us out of what had been the default into something else: a new opportunity to make an intentional choice about what we do with our time.    

How long do we intend to keep on doing this?  Probably for the next month at least.  Then August will come and shatter this structure with some family beach time.  Family time is well worth it, I think.

How could we continue this into the winter?  I am thinking that we can keep the summer sun schedule.  Awake at 0600.  Lights out at 845p.  Make up the shorter days with artificial lights until lights out.  Could be good.

Sects and Violence

I want to talk today about what "Islam" means. I am not a muslim and I am a complete outsider. I see danger in some ideas associated with Islam and beauty in some of the ideas. I see people saying Islam is peace. And I see mobs and violence associated with it. And so I think it's long overdue to ask whether we are all referring to the same thing when we refer to "Islam".

From what I can see, Islam means peace to most Muslims I know. And to some Muslims, it means violence visited upon other people for various different reasons: some political, some moral, always opportunistic, and always justified by some grandiose vision (a story). And the latter part is a bit sticky since the spectacle and tragedy creates a more vivid impression in the mind than the many Muslim neighbors we know and work with.

Let's Talk About Sects, Baby

Let me tell you about a trick of the human mind. It is a tendency for non-Muslims to think about Islam as one enormous monolith with complete homogeneity of belief and action. But Muslims are 1.6 Billion+ in number. And the idea of one great Islam doesn't withstand scrutiny.

Every religious or philosophical movement has within it a manifold of sects. People just can't seem to agree on things. Take any belief system and you can break it down to subgroups based on the disagreements.

To provide specific examples, I have collected here an accounting of the major religions I could think of and their sub-sects scraped from Wikipedia:

  • Chrisitanity: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical,...
  • Judaism: Rabinnic, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Humanistic,...
  • Hinduism: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, Smartism,...
  • Buddhism: Therevada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Zen,...

And as for Islam? Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Salafi, Wahhabi,...

There are no incidents of complete uniform belief within any belief system. Humans are messy, sloppy creatures subject to entropy. Our brains are meat-machines driven by huge variations in chemistry. Fuzzy logic? check. Non-logical leaps? check. Context-dropping? check. Mistakes of thinking? check. Hormone-driven teenagers? check.

You know why clear thinking is beautiful when you hear it? Because it is rare. Reason is slow and requires discipline and it is always impressive to hear an idea that is simple and clear and true.

Aside: Beware of Mob Think

There is a sort of situation worth mentioning where uniformity does arise... where an idea can become so loud that it drowns out other ideas. When human beings are in a mob driven by fear and anger whipped into a frenzy, we have shown ourselves to be capable of frighteningly uniform non-thinking. The Rwandan genocide comes to mind. Nazi Germany comes to mind.

People are capable of their ugliest actions when they blindly react rather than stepping back and thinking about things rationally, and acting accordingly. And, in the case of Rwanda and Nazi Germany, both resulted in the creation of cultures that slaughtered unimaginable numbers.

Labels Fail Us

Back to the main point. The labels: Islam. Muslim.

There is a visual that Sam Harris mentioned in his chat with Neil Tyson about what a Christian imagines when they find out that a person can be painted with the term "Atheist":

they think they know a lot about you based on your admission that you are an atheist... It's almost like you're in a debate with someone and they draw the police crime scene outline of a dead body on the sidewalk and you just walk up and lie down in it... that you just conform perfectly to their expectations of how clueless you must be of their context.

Don't we do this with "Islam"... just a little? We imagine Islam as one thing. We imagine Muslims as one people who conform perfectly to some expectation.

The labels fail Muslims and the labels fail non-Muslims alike. The labels expose non-Muslims to the mistake of thinking in "Us vs. Them" terms with Muslims as the other. And the labels expose Muslims to taking a defensive posture where "We are under attack" by an unjust world who will not accept them. The labels expose Muslims to having their fear and frustrations manipulated.

But these are just stories and they are divisive ones. These are the ones that deliver us into the hands of Neo-fascists. And we don't want those hands anywhere near us so it's time to abandon these stories, which divide us.


Beyond Us Vs. Them

We need some new narratives to give us hope and something to strive for.

Instead of Us vs. Them... What if we just thought of this whole mess as a bunch of people with a bunch of mixed-up ideas and some of them are poison?

Rather than considering Islam as one set of ideas interpretable only one way, we can remember that ideas are subject to fashion trends. They are subject to trending upward or downward at any given point in time.

Here are ideas I would love to see trend upward:

  • Non-Muslims reflect and realize that Muslims are our neighbors and friends and co-workers. Most of them want to live their lives and raise their families. We act accordingly. We love our neighbors.
  • The world notices that Muslims have their versions of Goebbels and Hitler. And the world will need to put these tyrants down in exactly the same way: total war ending in unconditional surrender. This is the only way to defeat evil that has decided to wage war: Force met with overwhelming force.
  • Muslims embrace freedom of speech and dissent by all, especially other Muslims, and Non-Muslims unilaterally choose to stop disrespecting Muhammad because it's nearly always a gimmicky cheap shot that is not doing anybody any good.
  • Muslims come out in support of liberal values. We will support and encourage these people because they have right on their side. Further, we work to encourage the conservatives among Muslims to respect the rights of all human beings alike (male, female, gay, straight), just as we do with non-Muslim conservatives. Live and let live becomes the universal norm.
  • "Islam means peace" becomes a statement of intention... a movement and a mantra owned by Muslims: they are defiant, vocal, and visible movement of the majority.
  • Secularism: All people of all religions work to keep their religions separate from the state. There are no state religions. Just respect and protection of rights for all beliefs and creeds.

The only way we can do this is to see the bigger "Us". We, as humans, need to see Universal principles describing fundamental rights. In other words: the conditions under which we are able to live with one another.

We don't need to be innovators who must define fundamental rights for the first time. We have the shoulders of giants to stand on. But as I said, ideas are subject to fashion and we do have to keep these ideas trending upward. It's constant upkeep... yes. There is no magic bullet to make humans respect rights for all time.

But it's good work if you can get it. And as always... Discipline Equals Freedom.

Parents: Be Aware... You May Be Keeping Up With The Jones's Kids

How much money are we willing to spend on our kids? How much time? How much effort? And how much sacrifice?

Raising your kids, and providing for them the best start you can is a sacred cow. Just try to question it out loud and you'd better be prepared for some judgment to be hurled your way.

Today's topic came up for me while reading the morning's blog posts in my RSS reader, which is an outdated way to subscribe to blogs.

RSS is antequated but democratic. Most important of all it is free of the crappy click-bait and post-modern one-liner meditation GIFs that abound on social media. Incidentally, it's the exact same medium I use for my podcast subscriptions, but podcast apps hide the RSS-ness of it all.

Keeping Up with The Jones's Kids

Back to the topic at hand... In an article (1) on the Mr. Money Moustache blog, I caught some insights that ring true. A section of it rails against the notion of a fancy education in which the author observes "a very common bias in US society":

...that spending an absolute sh**load of money on your children is a necessary and advantageous thing to do. You could sum up our generous but financially suicidal belief system in this quote from his story:

“I never wanted to keep up with the Joneses. But, like many Americans, I wanted my children to keep up with the Joneses’ children, because I knew how easily my girls could be marginalized in a society where nearly all the rewards go to a small, well-educated elite. (All right, I wanted them to be winners.)”

Parental FOMO

The article isn't primarily on this topic but it was the most interesting part. It sparked two very interesting insights for me:

  1. parents have to fight a bias toward unlimited and undisciplined spending on a fancy education for their kids to try to get them into "an educational elite".
  2. parents experience FOMO (fear of missing out) for their kids which drives them into a keeping up with the Jonses' kids behavior.

We're told nowadays to "check our privilege". (I hate this one, actually but it has been able to find cultural purchase for some very valid reasons). Jocko Willink and Leif Babin have an entire chapter in their book (3) about "checking your ego". These are things that blind you. They are sources of bias. That's why you need to find a way to escape their gravity.

We might have to add to this: "Check your FOMO". Parental or otherwise.

FOMO is subtle fear. It is sneaky and persistent. It keeps coming back around. And you will need conditioning to resist it.

"Discipline Equals Freedom"

I've been pondering these words a lot since I've been really enjoying the Jocko podcast (2). How can discipline mean freedom? Freedom from what?

Discipline frees you from being driven by emotion and limited by your biases.

Discipline means practicing checking ALL of your biases. (You don't want to work out this morning? Good! You're going to get after it anyway because we are doing this.)

Discipline frees YOUR MIND so that you can step back to assess a situation and make decisions from the better part of your nature.


  1. Article: The Cheap Ticket Into the Elite Class - Mr Money Moustache
  2. Jocko Podcast
  3. Book: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin