Saturday, October 6, 2012

The October Pledge & Revealed Preferences

I'm feeling a bit like a crappy friend and a crappy human being.

My best friend at my work, Jeff Proctor, came up with a really cool idea. Or at least, I want to believe that it's cool. I love it, actually...

The idea is called "The October Pledge" (which you should totally like on Facebook right now!), and the idea is simple... For the whole month of October, or the month leading up to this year's presidential election, you agree to do the following:
"No matter how I vote (or don't vote) in November, I pledge to spend the month of October creating value and bringing joy to the lives of others. I will abstain from political commentary (positive or negative) and, instead, spend my time taking actions that make my life -- and the lives of people around me -- better. When November comes, I will take whatever political action my beliefs warrant, but for now, I choose people over politics!"
That's it. Should be easy enough... The only problem is, for me... It isn't easy at all.

So, I'm here to talk about the difficulty for me, and make a little note about revealed preferences. The concept of "revealed preferences" is an idea in economics in which we recognize that people say they like or dislike all sorts of things, but at the end of the day, what matters is how we act.

I can claim that I love backpacking (and I do claim this), but if I spend my Saturdays sitting on my couch watching a movie instead, I'm demonstrating a revealed preference such that movie-watching is in reality a higher valued way to spend my time than is backpacking. Unfortunately, in addition to being a good example to illustrate the concept, it's also a true story.

I wish it wasn't sometimes.

Honestly... I really do wish I was the guy who went out by himself wind, rain or shine and did cool outdoorsy activities. I wish I spent more (any) time this summer with my kayak than I did at my desk working on Learn Liberty videos. Alas, that's not what I did. I revealed a preference all summer for working over kayaking.

I am proud to say that this morning I did go out to an archery range nearby to get some target practice with my brand-new recurve bow. I suppose that's a bit random, but it's fun and it's decent light exercise combined with skill & hand-eye coordination, so it's pretty engaging. Maybe next week I can get someone to go out there with me... Plus, at least the bow is something I can easily toss in my car. The kayak is a ton of work by comparison. So is backpacking... Especially when you don't really have anyone to go with you.

Anyway, the thing is... Movie watching makes me very happy too, and it isn't a ton of work. It also benefits me by keeping me in the loop on what industry people are doing, what audiences care about and I can totally rationalize it as professionally beneficial behavior. And I mean, it is... But also, I just enjoy doing it. So that's what I do.

So........ What's all this got to do with the October Pledge?

Well, I've come to realize that as much as I don't care about politicians or "politics" per se, and while it would actually be very easy to not talk about the election or engage in any kind of armchair punditry for the next month, I do get a great deal of benefit from having intellectual discussions about economics & philosophy, and these things intersect with politics so much that I think it'd be very difficult for me to abide by the spirit of the pledge. You can see this as a revealed preference in action nearly every day if you follow my twitter or Facebook feeds.

So I can't make the full promise.

What I can do is say that I won't engage in any punditry, and I won't talk about Romney or Obama's electoral campaigns, or whether or not one or the other will win... I don't care very much about that in any case, and frankly, I really don't think it matters which wins to a large degree. I will probably still write about and engage in discussions philosophy & economics, and frankly, I don't see how I can avoid these things being perceived of as "political", even when I don't necessarily believe they are in the strictest sense.

I will also do my best in the next 4 weeks to make the overwhelming majority of my posts be about art, music, film, and other creative endeavors. To the extent that I can create value for other people... well... I gave blood last week, which was good, I've written two in-depth emails to people recently in response to their questions seeking advice about how to get into creative careers, and I'm working on a bunch of value creation at work and as a freelancer.

For myself, even though it's getting to be a bit more problematic weather wise, I'm going to try to get out and do some more active things like the archery or kayaking, and meanwhile, I have a bunch of skills I want to learn creatively as well... particularly in the realm of animation.

I may even get back actually into writing a science-fiction feature film script which I had a "winning" concept for about a year ago. Just to see if I am actually capable of something like that.

Who knows.

Jeff's right. Politics is stupid, particularly around election time, and now is the time every four years when everyone tends to go completely bonkers anyway. It's a time when a bunch of amateurs who don't care enough to even learn the first thing about the ideas or issues in play suddenly come out of the woodwork with innumerable opinions based on nothing but their own team allegiances. It's a pretty dismal time, to be honest.

So I agree entirely that I don't really want to be a part of it.

I can't sway anyone's opinion at this point in the year in any case, and even if I could, if at all possible I'd sway it away from voting at all. Or I'd at least try to sway it towards voting "no confidence" or for a 3rd party or write-in candidate. I'd also probably tell you to vote down every expansion of government and every increase in spending you can at a local level... But since I can also do basic math, and have a perfunctory understanding of Public Choice Theory, I don't know that it would matter even if you did.

That seems cynical, but it is pretty realistic.

Alright, so... I'll do my best to avoid the whole subject for the next few weeks, but I make no promises. If you want to support the October Pledge, and I really do think you should - particularly if you don't work in a politically-charged field like I do - then by all means, share the Facebook page and change your profile picture. Get on board.

Creating value for yourself and others is something we should be doing all the time, and even if the state makes that harder to do by initiating and supporting violence against peaceful people and restricting individual choice... we can still opt to ignore it wherever possible.

This might be one of those moments. Good luck.

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