Don’t be a Cog is on YouTube!

Hello world! It’s been a while since I posted. I have some ideas ruminating in my head. But I’ve also been working on putting my blog posts into a video/narration format on a YouTube channel! You can listen to them here:

 

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCheRRD02Bo34WArt8heL5IQ

 

In addition to adding narrated versions of my posts, I plan to do some unscripted “vlogs” as well in which I don’t read an existing post but simply talk about a certain topic.

 

The channel is still in its early stages and only has a few videos so far. But enjoy! Feel free to leave comments to let me know what you think, and like/share/subscribe.

Trump’s Trade War: Long-Term Thinking in a Short-Term Age

Trade is one of the key differentiators Trump was able to capitalize on to stand out in the 2016 election. Now at the helm of America’s trade regime, he has enacted tariffs he spoke about on the campaign trail, probably the most significant of which being those on foreign steel and aluminum, which aside from their domestic economic benefit in the form of employment, hold national security value as well.

 

Of course, Washington Swamp creatures, Never-Trumpers, and many liberals who knew zero about international trade until last year, have relentlessly accosted the president over his trade decisions, including doom-and-gloom prognostications of price hikes due a trade war with China. To these, Trump blithely responds that we already lost the trade war with China years ago and he’s merely trying to dig us out of the rubble.

 

In a perfect world, there would be no tariffs. Trump actually reached an agreement with the EU recently stating that our mutual goal is zero tariffs. I doubt that will happen, but it shows that Trump understands that it’s better for no one to have tariffs than for tariffs to exist for only one side. The problem is, most nations do have tariffs, and some have higher tariffs than others. We also do more business with some nations than others. If no other nations had tariffs, we wouldn’t need any either; in fact, we would look like the Global Bad Guy if we did.

 

But other countries with whom we do business charge us higher tariffs than we charge them. This is obviously an imbalanced situation. Trump is trying to bring balance to a problem that no previous administration was willing to tackle but instead kicked down the road until it landed in his lap. Rather than deal with the problem when it was a smaller problem, previous administrations and Congresses accepted a lying-down, defeated position before large, tariff-happy economies like China, Japan, and Europe. We didn’t hit back with enough tariffs of our own, and prices settled. The subject of tariffs faded from public memory, and voila, we had the “new economic normal.”

 

Our “normal” is, in fact, a position of weakness. If the health of our economy is built on economic capitulation to China and other countries, we don’t have much of an economy. We’re more like a tribute-paying state, willingly giving away money to maintain the status quo. That’s like an economy being held for ransom. And a lot of American liberals seem to have Stockholm Syndrome.

 

The key is that in order to get back to a place of even footing with other countries like China, course correction is required, and course correction always causes some level of pain.

 

This is the idea that overnight-trade-expert liberals and Washington Swamp Creatures can’t seem to grasp. It’s similar to what gets said about Social Security and Medicare’s ballooning price tags every election cycle. No one wants to bite the bullet now, so we kick the can down the road…to our kids’ generation. Well, when it comes to trade, Trump has decided it’s time to actually bite a bullet for a change instead of kicking the can down the road even longer. He’s read about and seen devastation of our economy for decades, and he’s had enough. Now for the average American, it’s true that biting the bullet might mean a little pain in the form of higher prices. Personally, I don’t think it will be anything nearly as bad as the doomsayers (who generally hate Trump and want to make him look bad) predict. China exports to us far, far more than they import from us, which means they need us more than we need them, which means we hold most of the cards. In a dollar-for-dollar trade war, Xi Jinping’s government knows it cannot win. But give it a couple more decades and it could, and that’s something Trump is trying to head off.

 

It kills me though that rich Swamp elites can endlessly bemoan the specter of a slight increase in prices at the grocery store, the mall, or the Apple store. Big deal! We are helping ourselves in the long run by actually dealing with this problem, no longer choosing to let it nickle-and-dime the country for the rest of our lives. Of course, the average Swamp Creature doesn’t care about Trump’s working-class base, who stand to gain the most from a rectified trade situation. They don’t care if those who aren’t as well off benefit in the long run with jobs. The Swamp Creatures are more concerned about any potential tiny pinprick to their own personal budgets. I feel this is an issue that we need a slight dose of collectivism on—commitment to our fellow countrymen. Their fates being inextricably tied to an ever-enlarging central government, Swamp Creatures can never be relied on to put the needs of the population before their own—that’s how they reached the high perch of Swamp Creature in the first place.

 

The trade issue is a lesson for a much larger problem, already mentioned—social entitlement programs. I’m not saying we should bite all the bullets at once, but once we’ve bitten and swallowed the trade bullet, learning that it didn’t kill us as everyone said it would, perhaps then it’s time to bite one of the entitlement bullets. The unwillingness of Swamp elites to let Trump make us bite the trade bullet and get it over with, thereby ensuring it will be an even bigger bullet years from now for our kids, is exactly the kind of thinking that everyone before us exercised and which produced the trade bullet in the first place. There wouldn’t have been a trade bullet to bite if past administrations and Congresses had retaliated with tariffs and not loved good economic numbers to get re-elected on more than the long-term economic health of the country.

 

But that’s what politicians are best at—selling short-term happiness in order to get re-elected while obfuscating long-term pain.

 

If we don’t do something about entitlements, the next generation will curse us for not having the courage to bite the bullet and fix the problem before it got to them. It’s actually cowardly and hypocritical to punt these problems to our children, the same children we raise to believe that we will always have their best interest at heart.

Protect Your Mind: Be Careful of Advertising and “News”

Emotional manipulation is the modus operandi of today’s media. Buying decisions are often emotional decisions, so advertising campaigns intentionally appeal to emotion probably more often than they appeal to reason. When you watch TV, go to the movies, or browse your favorite websites, you are basically paying, through cable/internet packages or movie tickets, to be manipulated by the companies who create the content you are experiencing.

 

In some cases this manipulation is not harmful. For example, we can tell by previews when a new movie is out that we know will be a moving human-interest story. Movies like that can help us regain perspective on life and get in touch with emotions we may have become dull to.

 

However, most movies aren’t like this. They thrive on either raising adrenaline or appealing to our baser selves, the part of us that wants to do life our way instead of God’s way, through all manner of lewdness, degeneracy, and violence. As movie genres have developed, we can tell by the preview what kind of movie the newest flick will be, whether action, comedy, sci-fi, horror, drama, or a family movie, and we choose to go see it based on whichever appeal(s) we decide to respond to.

 

But to me, even most movies are less harmful than modern advertising, which is far more manipulative. A movie preview can get us to spend $10-15, not counting a $6 box of candy, plus, the investment is up front, assuming it’s not a movie known to have a sequel in the works. Video games are the same way. You watch a trailer on YouTube or see a commercial, and you decide before using the product whether or not you’ll spend the money. But with TV and internet ads, it’s both a front-end and back-end investment. For example, there are no commercials during a movie. You’ve already spent the money, and now you just get to enjoy the product without the need for further appeals, assuming it won’t have a sequel. But with TV, not only do we have to pay up front, we are paying to watch ads we don’t want to watch while using the product. Facebook is free because there are ads. TV has ads, yet it’s not free. And the ads on TV are, I would argue, much more potent than online ads because they promote big-ticket items more often. TV commercials are designed to motivate us to spend thousands of dollars on big-ticket purchases we don’t really need and may not be able to afford without going into debt. That debt then hangs over us like a cloud, affecting our mood and stress level for the worse. Sometimes we’re so stressed out by finances that we just plop down and…watch TV. The cycle begins anew, and we pay money to even be in this cycle, via our cable subscription.

 

I’m not saying don’t have TV. I’m saying we need to be more self-aware regarding advertising. Like I said, ads are specifically designed to manipulate you—especially your emotions. Yes, I’m a capitalist, and yes, sometimes ads alert you to a product that will actually enhance your life for a reasonable cost. But most ads on TV don’t do that, or you would buy everything you see on TV. There are plenty of things you would have never bought if you didn’t know about, and your life would have probably been just fine, with around the same happiness level as after you bought the item. Heck, you might actually have been happier because you had fewer possessions to manage…less “clutter” and certainly less debt. In the marketing world, the term demand generation or demand gen is used for certain types of advertising. To me, that phrase in itself is very revealing. Marketers know they have to create demand that didn’t previously exist, meaning they have to convince you that your life isn’t good enough they way it is—you need their product. This is obviously a form of manipulation.

 

If a product was really that great, why would they need to use emotional appeals to get you to buy it? Manipulating someone else’s emotions is not a good way to treat another human being. Also, it’s become acutely evident to me that most TV shows (as in, series) are designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, by which I mean people who seek escapism and don’t want to entertain much of an inner thought life. Sure, the producers of these shows are answering a consumer demand (one they probably “generated”). But by doing so, they exacerbate the problem because the human brain always seeks the easiest route. This is part of how addiction develops—the more an action is repeated, the more defined specific neural pathways become and the more your brain wants to travel them. Useless, degenerate programming on TV, Netflix, Prime, YouTube, or anywhere else capitalizes on this constantly and has seemingly no qualms about it. I never even heard the term “binge-watching” until about six years ago. Was this really something our society needed, on top of all our other dysfunction?

 

Also, there’s the news. Setting aside the “fake news” meme, much of what is reported on the news is done to drive ratings. News stations trade on heart-wrenching emotional stories on one end of the spectrum, and gruesome, heinous crimes and terrorism on the other. The former is relatively benign, as long as you’re OK being manipulated into sticking around to watch a few more commercials, but the latter is really an issue. The net effect of all these crime and death and destruction stories is simply an increase in paranoia among the population. News broadcasters don’t care about this. They want to drive ratings, and they know people tune in to what is shocking (see previous paragraph). When we see a gruesome news story about what some serial killer did, don’t we think to ourselves upon noticing the slightest deviation in our neighbor’s normal behavior, “they could be a serial killer“? In reality, such incidents are extremely rare and a lot of extra stress is spent on precautions, like not being able to trust anyone, that ended up being unnecessary. Many other countries do not have this problem, and America’s media is somewhat unique in its level of devoting so much coverage to such harrowing news stories. Overall, this is one of the problems associated with having a for-profit news industry. I don’t know what the answer is (it’s certainly not state control of media), but my advice would be, unless it’s a news story about a heinous crime in your own city or region, it’s probably not worth watching because you’ll just freak yourself out, and something that had nothing to do with you will have a sizable negative mental and emotional impact on you.

 

In summary, my suggestion to the reader is to be way, way more thoughtful about what you put into the complex computer known as your brain. Instead of being manipulated and taken advantage of by opportunistic media companies and purveyors of expensive, unnecessary, and debt-ridden purchases, which you pay to see the ads for, take a step back and evaluate your media intake. Even movies should be considered from the perspective of desensitization, in light of the neural pathway phenomenon in the brain. Movies have gotten more coarse, violent, and gruesome over the years because last year’s content no longer shocks the audience enough to create a thrill (adrenaline rush). “The envelope” must be continually pushed to maintain the same shocking effect. The question is, where does it stop? How far will we go in search of entertainment? Ask yourself how and why you are allowing yourself to be manipulated, and if there is something more healthy and constructive you could be doing with your leisure time—and even more relaxing, because as someone pointed out, no one really feels relaxed after watching seven shows in a row on Netflix.

 

Don’t be a cog in these media master manipulators’ machine.

How to Rule the World: A Guide for the “Elite”

Davos. Bildebergers. Council on Foreign Relations. Deep State. Trilateral Commission. All these are combinations on the same Punnet square—the “elite” rumored to secretly run the world. Most people have heard of at least one of these groups, and some people take it to another level with wild conspiracy theories. “The Elite” was a major theme of the 2016 election and continues to be a flashpoint in populist, nationalist, and conservative political campaigns everywhere. But whichever label you choose the use to describe the idea of secret overlords running everything with the average person having little or no say, they all seem to share the same mindset. I wanted to explore this mindset and make some educated guesses as to what motivates such people and why they are so successful in their designs. The best way to do this is to look inside your own human nature, something the elites have in common with the average person, and imagine how you would behave if you had practically unlimited wealth, vast global knowledge and connections, invulnerability to most laws, and, above all, the one thing that motivates the elite more than anything—the fear of losing what you have. What would you do if you were in such a position, with practically unlimited resources yet with everything to lose? The following is my best guess at how I would behave if I was the archetypal soulless, remorseless, arrogant elitist who believes that what I want is always correct and justified.

 

The elites run on money. Without it, they lose their friends and their position. So the first component to being in the elite is being very wealthy. Wealth brings friends (if even for the wrong reasons). Friends mean influence, a network, and eventually status. If your friends are also wealthy, you can benefit symbiotically from their influence and network as well. The more you benefit, the wealthier you become, gaining you more friends, status, and so on. There is a ceiling though—the “old money” elites who are much more established than you and for much longer. Rise high enough in the ranks, and you have to start being careful or they’ll swat you.

 

But imagine you break through the ceiling somehow and you’re in the elite of the elite. You can travel anywhere in the world you want. You have a personal bodyguard detail as well as friends in the police wherever you go. When you travel, you do so on private jets, private ships, private everything, putting you out of the reach of the average prole with his problems and tendency to behave unpredictably. Your mission is to eliminate all risks in your life except the ones you want present, such as risky investments.

 

You’re out of the reach of most laws and governments with your connections and access to the best lawyers. On top of that, through business contract patronage and philanthropy, you can control government officials and influential NGOs. Even if you got arrested for an obvious public offense, chances are you can buy your way out of the justice system in most countries, or your friends can talk to the higher-ups.

 

You influence politicians to pass laws favorable to your interests, which generally means laws that help you acquire or protect assets. This could be in the form of complex financial laws or laws that make life difficult for competitor businesses. For example, if your company can’t afford a private jet, you can advocate for legislation that restricts all businesses’ ability to use private jets, in order to level the playing field. Maybe the messaging used in the passage of such a law centers on environmental concerns.

 

As the elite, you are a globalist. This means you believe in the slow dissolution of borders, nation-states, the eradication of nationalism, and a worldwide central government that you, conveniently, will either be a part of or be in favor with. All these pesky nation-states of people fighting for their own interests injects way too much risk into your plans. So you generously fund whichever political armies promise to eliminate patriotic instincts. One way to do this is to fund and advocate expanded powers for international alliances like the United Nations, European Union, NATO, and so on. The stronger these international bodies are, the more they can bring the behavior of nation-states into line with what you as “the elite” know is the path to peace (and a larger balance sheet). Liberal international institutionalism is your favorite ice cream flavor.

 

The problem is, those annoying nation-states resist threats to their sovereignty. Fortunately, there are many tools available in the political arsenal to weaken the national resolve of a population. Enough immigration will create chaos and social dissolution. When the dust settles, you’ll have a population that can be easily ruled. Or, you can go after the most basic unit of society—the family—by promoting cohabitation, devaluing marriage, making divorce easy, promoting abnormal and dysfunctional sexual behaviors, and instituting relentless political correctness against those who cling to the classical definition of family. People without stable families have a harder time becoming educated, self-sufficient adults who can organize and resist you, or who can at least compete for wealth. You need to muck up society with mass social confusion to prevent such personalities from forming in the first place.

 

Or you can go even further and simply try to decrease the size of the population to something more manageable. You don’t want war, because that would lead to the destruction of assets that you own or could acquire. Instead, stop the population from growing and then wait out the demographic downturn, especially since automation means fewer people will be needed to power the economy. Reduce population growth by promoting abortion and by promoting feminism, which drives a wedge between the sexes, thereby preventing procreation in long-term unions capable of raising functional adults. Of course, contraception is also a prominent weapon and must be ubiquitous in order to prevent births in the first place. Promote promiscuity and pornography so that humanity’s sexual urges are misfired in directions unproductive for the growth of a healthy, intelligent, well-adjusted population who would, again, be capable of resisting you. Of course, any religious institutions that defy these tactics need to be brought down to size. Use the media to give them a negative image (more on media influence later), especially among impressionable youth.

 

Note that these strategies should only be employed against countries that are causing you problems. The countries that produce the immigration waves needed to overwhelm the countries you are trying to dissolve or depress—don’t use these social tactics against them. You need them to keep cranking out large populations so that there are enough people to immigrate to the target countries. If, at some point, those nations also become a threat to your plans, you can simply pivot your laser beam of social chaos to them instead (or as well, depending on your funds). These tactics are guaranteed to succeed if allowed time to work.

 

Another thing you need to do, obviously, is disarm any population that could organize a resistance movement against global control, or against whichever country or group you are trying to use to supress the target population. Make it so that governments have a monopoly on weaponry (except for your own security detail and mercenaries around the world whom you can hire).

 

America in particular is the most difficult pocket of resistance to your globalist, elite ambitions. Americans stubbornly cling to their Bill of Rights, annoyingly protecting them from:

  • Attacks on the religious institutions you are trying to defeat in order to muck up the social gears of society (1st Amendment)
  • Attacks on their right to free speech, which allows the resistance to get their message out, draw media attention, and organize (1st Amendment)
  • Attacks on their ability to assemble freely, with which they can mount effective, public defenses before a watching world (1st Amendment)
  • Attacks on their right to defend themselves with arms (2nd Amendment)
  • Attacks on their freedom from exactly the kind of surveillance you need in order to preempt their activities (4th Amendment)
  • Attacks that corrupt their justice system, allowing it to be used by the “highest bidder” (5th Amendment)
  • Attacks on individual states’ ability to defy the central government (10th Amendment)

And many others. America’s Constitution is unique and is the political code that obstructs your goals more than anything else in government. You will never be able to rule the world unless you can get rid of America’s Constitution.

 

You also need loose governmental control of the global economy. Without it, the markets are too prone to fluctuation and your investments are at greater risk. Globalization is your best friend—create so much interdependence that no single component’s failure can sink the whole. Global wealth inequality too produces instability and volatility, so you need to move wealth creation from countries with a lot to countries with little, to even things out. Spread American and Western wealth across the whole world. If that can’t be done, then you’ll just have to reduce the amount of wealth in the West. Social collapse is a great way to do that, but there will be collateral damage you’d rather avoid if possible.

 

You want to be a part of the governmental intelligentsia that help shape policy, or you at least need friends in that web. This is where think tanks and big-name NGOs come in handy. They have pull far above that of the average citizen, and are key to crafting policy that furthers your interests—subtly, without the public catching on.

 

These organizations also help shape military policy. America has the largest and most powerful military, which you can use to guarantee world peace. However, since America has a democratic form of government, you need to find a way to separate the use of the military from the desires of the voters. Make sure you sell new conflicts or potential new conflicts right so that the public won’t demand that their representatives pull the military back. And the worst possible use of the American military is homeland defense only. That huge military does you no good if it only defends the American homeland. That would allow rogue regimes to create chaos, and chaos usually hurts your bottom line. You need to spread the American military all over the globe to ensure peace everywhere possible. Wars can profit, but peace and a smoothly functioning economy profits more. That being said, anywhere that the American military doesn’t want to reach, use a different military, but make sure you keep it quiet and keep the atrocities out of the news. Although, if such news will cause the Americans to intervene, that works too. You may need to have your favored political candidates in various countries win elections partly through hawkish stances toward the Americans or other countries. As long as it wins, great, but just make sure they don’t actually put actions behind those words.

 

The media is your other best friend. Television, cinema, the music industry, video games, the news, and of course, social media…no matter the geography, you have multiple easy ways to condition the public with the messages you want them to imbibe. From Hollywood to Bollywood to Nashville to New York City to Silicon Valley, your friends in high places can make social conditioning happen. You also use these tools to distract people from what’s going on in society. Unless it’s something you don’t like, in which case you can blow it up in the media and social media for everyone to get outraged about.

 

Academia must also fall under your control. This is easy because academics are easily manipulated by the offer of pontificating their views to young minds while being highly paid and tenured. Fortunately, most academics live in lala-land and actually believe in all the stuff you’re promoting in order to manipulate society. Who cares…just put the academics to good use. They also go a long way in supporting and feeding talent into the many think tanks you use to shape policy. Further, they influence the ground army of socialist and anarchist street thugs whose activities and violence intimidate conservatives. Make sure law enforcement in the big Western cities—the hives of anarchist and socialist angst—are pulled back, giving these thugs freedom to create chaos until they are an accepted part of society and can easily suppress conservative expression on their “turf.”

 

Follow all these steps and you will achieve control. At that point, you only have to worry about the people on your own level or anyone left above you. There, on a plane above that of mere mortals, you will duke out your struggle for power and wealth, while the mortals below go about their lives, oblivious to all the ways you’ve have made the world a worse place by your scorched-earth march to wealth and control.

 

Oh, there’s just one problem: God sees. In fact, read Revelation 18 and you’ll see how someday, he will hurl down the elites who are happy to ruin the human race—which he made in His image—for their own selfish benefit.

How I’ve Stayed Cold & Flu Free for Over a Year

We all know when cold & flu season breaks out because it’s first noticed at work. The first coworker to call out sick in the fall is the early warning system that the cold & flu storm has arrived. Soon, a cascade of coworkers call out sick and seemingly only half to two-thirds of your coworkers are “in” at any given time.

 

Last year was also a year of heavy ups and downs in Maryland weather, something which I’m told wears down your immune system because your body keeps having to adjust to drastic changes in temperature. Despite this and the yearly plague outbreak at work, I have managed to stay cold and flu free for over a year now. (The only sickness I got was food poisoning, I’m pretty sure.) I’ve definitely felt colds coming on, but I’ve successfully fought them off in less than 24 hours every time. I wanted to share the tips that I believe helped me do this…other than prayer!

 

Zinc lozenges. I’m a huge fan of these now and take them all the time once the weather starts to get cold. The most popular brand is Cold-Eeze. According to the packaging, zinc is a mineral that kills cold germs when it comes into contact with them. So, sucking on a zinc lozenge a couple times a day kills cold germs in your mouth, thereby reducing the number of cold germs in your body taxing your immune system. I definitely credit these with saving me from the onset of many a cold. I move them around in my mouth, including under the tongue, so that they contact all areas of my mouth, wherever the germs may be hiding.

 

Sleep and take naps. I made it a real point to get as much sleep as I could and to never get less than 7.5 hrs of sleep a night. Obviously I fell short of that sometimes but I took it very seriously, knowing that sleep is the best way to fight off a typical sickness. This also means when you feel something coming on, take a nap as soon as you can. And when you’re sick, don’t lay in bed watching Netflix and don’t play video games or even read. Those things still tax your body to some extent and just delay recovery. Just sleep. If you can’t fall asleep, just keep lying there, eyes closed, and eventually you probably will. I can’t stress sleep enough. I went into many a nap feeling like something was attacking me, and woke up from the nap feeling completely normal. SLEEP!

 

If you have trouble sleeping in general, you can try what I use, which is an over-the-counter sleep aid called diphenhydramine. On the package it will just say something like “Sleep Aid” or “Sleep Aid PM” but the active ingredient of diphenhydramine is what to look for—it has been very effective to me. Of course, make sure it’s something you can medically take without any issues. A few things to note about using it: It’s best to take it 1.5-2 hours before you actually lay down to sleep because that’s when it really starts to kick in, and it will kick in pretty hard. It usually gives me 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, maybe getting up for the bathroom once but then falling right back asleep. However, it will make you groggy when you wake up, especially if you have to get up before the 7-8 hours of its effects are over. The grogginess is very noticeable and not fun, but it’s worth it to me for the deep sleep, since natural sleep aids like melatonin have never been very effective for me.

 

Related to sleep is the need to sleep in warm clothing. Last year I began the habit of sleeping with a beanie on my head. I had never done that before, and it seems coincidental that I also didn’t get sick. I’m now a huge believer. Most of the heat that escapes your body does so through your head and feet. So sleep with a hat on when the weather is cold or your house is cool, and sleep with heavy socks on. Also, the part of your body besides those two to focus on keeping warm the most is your chest. I will often fall asleep with my arms folded on my chest, circulating additional body heat in my chest area. This conserves heat and helps your body exert less energy to keep your chest (where your heart is) warm. So to review, sleep in a knit hat, thick socks, and focus on keeping your chest warm.

 

Flu shot. The last couple years I have started to take this seriously after my dad leaned on me about it. They are usually no more than $10 at your local pharmacy or grocery store, and might even be free under your insurance. Yes, I don’t like needles, and yes, the site of the shot hurts for a few days. But this is a small price to pay for the misery of flu symptoms like vomiting, severe aches and pains, headache, and others, not to mention using up sick time at work and unexpectedly having to buy Gatorade, Sprite, chicken soup, etc. especially when you don’t feel like going to the store or you have to ask someone to go for you because you keep throwing up. Short of a medical reason to not get the flu shot, you should get it. I know there is always a chance you get a different flu than the one the shot is designed for, but reduce your chances of getting any flu by getting the shot. I try to get it no later than mid-November because it takes a few weeks for your body to adapt to the dead flu virus contained in the shot. You want your immunity up and running by the time all the Christmas parties and travel stress arrive. Really, getting it as soon as they start issuing it, which I think is mid to late October, is best.

 

Vitamins. I have no way of knowing if they actually contributed to being illness free, but I spend a little extra (you can get a good deal at Costco) to take multivitamins all year and a vitamin C supplement specifically during fall, winter, and early spring.

 

Stay hydrated. Hydration is always important, but it’s especially important when your body is exerting itself trying to ward off all sorts of germs. Drink plenty of water. Generally your water intake is optimal when your urine is clear or close to it.

 

So there you have it, some tips I used last year, and will be using in perpetuity, to keep myself illness free. All that time spent not being sick is time you can spend on other things that are important to you. So make use of these tips, and best of luck this fall & winter.

What Other Nations Know: Economy Without Culture Will Fail

Regrettably, this past week saw the suicide of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. His show Parts Unknown was (still is) my favorite TV show. In it, he traveled the world in search of authentic cuisine, culture, subculture, history, politics, and interesting people. I’ve seen probably 30% of the 11 seasons of the show, but this was still enough to make it my favorite.

 

My favorite one episode is when he goes to Shanghai, China. It has a more somber, serious tone than most episodes, and it addresses big questions. The opening montage of images and music establishes the themes: Unimagined wealth and opportunity, the future, and the fear of missing out. These are the conversations that play out during the episode as Bourdain visits with Shanghainese residents.

 

I come away from the Shanghai episode with a few strongly felt beliefs, most of which had already been simmering in my mind but were affirmed and magnified, even emotionally, by this particular episode. The newest of these beliefs is the seemingly unstoppable nature of Chinese economic conquest. Supporting this is what appears to be, although I haven’t been to China, a culture far more homogenous than what we have in America. Atop Chinese culture sits the authoritarian Chinese government, which will stop at nothing to win the economic competitions of the world and which has great latitude in dictating how Chinese culture is or is not preserved.

 

The thing that makes rapid Chinese economic growth different than our own is that they have retained their culture through the process, or in spite of it. In America, we have not done this, as evidenced by the fact that there is no longer a universal definition of what it means to be American. The only things we all have in common are the land itself, our form of government, and the rights guaranteed in our Constitution. However, if you ask a Chinese person what it means to be Chinese, you will get a longer answer. Our problem is that land, style of government, and rights alone a culture do not make. The Chinese have fewer political rights than us, but no one would say they have a weaker culture than we do. And therein lies the key to their future economic victories: They are supported by a strong culture. Sure, China has modernized a lot and the culture has changed. But it’s still recognizably Chinese to any external observer. What would an external observer consider recognizably American? Guns? Barbecue? Fast Food? Militarism? “Freedom?” These things are not enough to sustain the world’s largest economy (us) forever. “Freedom” increasingly means different things to different people, after all.

 

The Shanghai episode also highlights a mortal threat to our continued success as a country: The utter inferiority of our big cities (i.e. 600K+ people) compared to those of East Asia. On what basis can New York, L.A., Chicago, and even D.C. compete with the likes of Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul, and Hong Kong? They can’t, because our biggest cities have degenerated into powder kegs of racial anger, a “tossed salad” of subcultures with no unifying American culture, and the ever-present, unceasing rat race. Nothing in that mixture suffices as one definition of what it means to be American. It’s as if American culture means not having a culture. By definition, a culture unifies an entire people, but Americans are not unified by anything except the few things I’ve already listed.

 

The rat race is the single biggest contributor to the lack of American culture because it diverts us from addressing the other issues in a meaningful way. Does anyone really immigrate to America because they love American culture? People come here because it’s easy to make money here. In America, we have allowed the pursuit of wealth to blind us to the cultural degradation going on all around us. If you want to make money in America, you probably have to move to one of our big cities and sacrifice your health, sanity, and probably morals, for 20-30 years in the rat race before whatever is left of you can retire. Our small towns and rural areas have dealt with the resulting “brain drain” for a long time. As a nation, we should have been asking questions by now about whether this is optimal for our long-term national health, but our cities and states are too locked in economic competition to have the conversation. Plus, the whole machine has the media as its champion, continually lauding glistening city life as the path to happiness and prosperity.

 

Of course, China has brain drain too. In fact, many people in China move not just from the rural areas to the cities and suburbs, but even to other countries, like America, sometimes because of government oppression or the fear of it. But the people going from China’s small towns to her cities remain recognizably Chinese in culture. If I had to pinpoint the source of true “American” culture, the closest I could get would be in America’s small towns, i.e. “small town values.” If that is accurate, then the people who flee our small towns for economic opportunity in the cities often lose the things in their lives that made them culturally “American.” Our cities are insular, overcrowded islands of angst, narcissism, degeneracy, suspicion, and insolence. These same cities sucking the most talented young people out of our small towns and corrupting them is a sad sight indeed.

 

It’s hard to ignore Chinese success. The richness of other Americans doesn’t bother me, because I know that for the most part, they have paid a high price for it—basically, their sanity. But through at least the glimpse of Shanghai’s rich that I saw in Bourdain’s show, they seem to be both rich and sane. Of course, it’s a show, and we’re only seeing what the producers want us to see. But who would I rather sit down to dinner with? Five rich people from Shanghai, or five rich people from DC or New York? Shanghai, because I already know they are more cultured, seemingly more sane, and probably better conversationalists as a result of both. The only thing left that American culture teaches all Americans to care about—not just in the small towns but all Americans—is chasing the dollar. Ask yourself, who benefits from that arrangement? Not the average American, for the reasons I’ve stated.

 

In Europe, culture is way, way more important than in the US. At the same time, the US is an economic behemoth when put against even Germany, the EU’s strongest economy. There is no contest. There never will be, but it’s because Europeans don’t “live to work”—they make time for the things that make them culturally German, or French, or Spanish, or Polish, etc. China’s ability to stay culturally Chinese despite its meteoric economic rise is why, in my view, they are probably going to win the economic contest with the US eventually. America has exhausted its population chasing economic growth, and we basically have no national culture left. China has exhausted many things chasing success, such as its environment, but it still has plenty of culture, and the more of an upper hand they gain on us and everyone else, the more they can slow down and thereby preserve their culture even more effectively. So currently, I don’t see any way they can lose.

 

Add to this the specter of low birth rates haunting all advanced economies. America’s birth rate would I’m sure be below replacement level if it weren’t for immigration. Now in Asia, you do have massive birth rate problems, especially in places like Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore. The young of these countries can’t be bothered to slow down, get married, and start families in their mad pursuit of success. It’s worth saying that there is no point in preserving your culture if you have no one to pass it on to. So this is not an exoneration of East Asia’s rat race and birth rate woes and a condemnation of only ours. It’s a problem that affects both sides of the Pacific and that neither side is anywhere close to figuring out. And actually, the main culprit is right under the noses of all governments involved, but it is politically impossible to resolve, so I don’t see it changing under present conditions.

 

But take birth rates between East Asia and the US and use it as a study in contrasts. In China, they finally relaxed the One Child Policy into a Two Child Policy. Meanwhile, we have people marching in DC in insolent pink hats shaped like reproductive organs, demanding the right to kill babies in the womb. From an anthropological perspective, any people obsessed with destroying its own progeny is delusional and not living in reality. We also have people busily inventing “new genders.” You don’t have this lunacy in China, because people aren’t so numbed by nihilistic living and socially liberal indoctrination that they have nothing better to do with their lives. Then we have our media, such as our movies, TV, and music scene. These constantly pump degenerate idiocy into the lives of the young people who, as is necessary for societal continuance, should be getting married and starting families instead of trying to live out and identify with thug-life and street fantasies, or even yuppie fantasies. East Asian countries have been importing and trying to mimic our music and movies for a long time, but we’re doing them no favors by “exporting” these to them, no matter how badly they want them. No politician talks about the epidemic of single motherhood or single fatherhood or divorce in America or the indecency of our media culture. These things all represent large-scale challenges to the survival and perpetuation of our society, as they would in any society, but so few people do anything about it. That’s a lack of will and lack of agreement with one’s society that the Chinese, our greatest economic competitor, do not seem to be cursed with, and that’s why they’ll win if nothing changes.

 

I’m all for Trump’s desire to bring our economy back (which he has done much for and doesn’t get enough credit for), and to deal with our trade imbalances, but even he doesn’t address these underlying issues. It doesn’t matter how good our economy is if our society has no culture and no next generation to pass on our culture OR economy to. No politician I know of is brave enough to go on record with a statement like that. The Chinese don’t have to say it, apparently, because they aren’t making the same mistakes in this area. If China is able to get its birth rate above replacement level while ours continues to decline, we are toast.

 

Steve Bannon, firebrand conservative operative, has said a lot of things, and I don’t pretend to understand his ideology in much depth, nor do I agree with everything I know him to have said. That necessary disclaimer being out of the way (since we live in an age of guilt by association), there is one powerful statement he has said multiple times: “We’re not just an economy. We’re a civic society.” That statement is one that I have never heard a politician say any approximation of. In elections it always just comes down to the economy: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Economy is important, as any poor nation will tell you, but it’s not everything. Culture is a big missing ingredient in our society’s trajectory, meaning our economy is growing in opposition to what’s left of our culture. We are essentially in afterburner, expending costly culture to gain wealth. Somehow East Asian countries have figured out how blunt the “de-culturation” effect of rapid economic growth to a manageable level. We have not figured this out and show no signs of doing so.

 

Fortunately for me, I live in New Mexico, an undisputed beacon of culture. (I plan to write more on New Mexican culture in the future.) New Mexico is also a “poor state,” and tends to score in the bottom 10 states by multiple economic indicators. But New Mexico has figured out culture, and a lot of the culture here ranges in age from 100 to 400 years. I would like to see New Mexico be a more prosperous state, but not at the expense of its culture. Economies can come back, but once lost, culture is harder to retrieve, relearn, and revive. Contrast this with Maryland, the richest state, and the place I recently moved back to New Mexico from. Maryland has pretty much no prevailing culture, despite subcultures in places like Annapolis and “tossed salad” multiculturalism in the counties close to DC.  So as New Mexico struggles to climb the economic ladder, I think to myself: Do it carefully, or your future will look like Maryland, where the only prevailing “culture” is the rat race because there is nothing else that all Marylanders have in common.

 

A society can survive a bad economy, but no society can survive a lack of culture. Without anything binding them together, people will fragment based on their subcultures, just like a wrote about in my essay on Singapore and multiculturalism. I fear this is the path America is on unless we can re-grow a culture and stop sacrificing everything for the economy. After all, the economy exists to serve us, not the other way around.

Living Above the “-isms”

In previous posts I’ve written about the futility of political outrage as well as about the evils of political correctness and how to be free of it. In this essay, I want to approach these topics from a different angle and expound on why both political outrage and the political correctness liberals thrust upon us are not worth anyone’s time, including yours.

 

Instead of focusing our attention on the true problems in our lives, we tend to distract ourselves with political arguments that provide no net value. I don’t mean discussing political ideas as a hobby, I mean emotional arguments over politics. Our society’s biggest problems are not even on the election ballot, either in the form of a candidate or referendum, so in arguing about politics we are majoring in our minors.

 

Take two examples: Americans are drowning in debt and unhealthy foods. When was the last time you saw either of those issues on the ballot or heard a candidate address them in a speech? I know in New York they passed a law limiting the size of soda cups a few years ago. Examples like that seem few and far between, though, and they’re generally local issues only. At the national level, our politicians don’t talk about Americans’ personal debt or the obesity epidemic in our country (even though healthcare costs would probably be lower if we were a healthier country).

 

Debt, health, and even broken relationships are three of the things most likely to keep the average American up at night. But instead of focusing our energy on these problems, we waste it arguing with each other on social media about things that have little to no effect on our everyday lives, sometimes creating more broken relationships in the process. The only reason I can think of that we do this is because it’s far easier to argue on social media than it is to try to fix our problems. It’s as if getting mad about politics is an outlet for our emotions, even while it prevents us from addressing the issues putting us in that emotional state to begin with.

 

An integral piece of these political fights is the set of political, ideological, and philosophical labels we attach to ourselves and to others. I call these “-isms”—basically any word that ends in -ist or -ism. While an -ism has utility as a way to summarize a set of ideas, we spend a lot of time labeling ourselves with -isms, defending them, or labeling others with -isms and then attacking them. To me, a lot of -isms just boil down to theories about abstract “boogeyman” forces somewhere out there in the ether trying to “get” us. When you take a step back and look at it from a high level view, it looks ridiculous, and the average person simply doesn’t live their life with this kind of unhealthy preoccupation.

 

For example, I consider myself a capitalist. I believe that capitalism is the most effective economic system available. The only reason I would need to use that word, though, would be to summarize my views in opposition to other views. In reality, most Americans live like capitalists but see no need to publicly identify themselves as such. Now suppose someone tells you they’re a socialist. Socialism has its textbook definition of government ownership of the means of production of goods. But what does them being a socialist actually look like? They vote for far left candidates, argue on social media that socialism is better, go to protests, and engage in other political activities. But what about their enormous student loan balance, the broken relationship(s) in their life, and their health problems? What does their being a socialist, or my being a capitalist, do about those things? Even socialism doesn’t purport to improve medical care, it just purports to make it free or less expensive. And medical care is only one aspect of your health. In reality, all their exertion about being a socialist has done nothing to improve their life (other than maybe meeting like-minded friends). So my point is that it’s basically a huge waste of time to go around touting our chosen -isms or putting labels on others. Why are we doing this when there are much more important things we could be doing with our time, and even other, more effective forms of R&R in case we’re just doing it because we’re bored?

 

This leads us an inherent flaw of liberalism: It needs perpetual outrage in order to survive. Anger is its lifeblood. That alone shows that liberalism is fundamentally unnatural, because human beings are not designed to live in a state of perpetual outrage. Liberals have devised an entire zodiac of oppressive forces, but if you listen to them explain it, it just sounds like abstract theories about something “out there.” Rarely can they cite a personal experience of oppression at the hands of malevolent forces. In reality, their everyday lives are not much different than anyone else’s except for all the time they spend arguing about their political beliefs. Imagine what they could accomplish if they stopped caring and spent that time and energy solving the problems that keep them up at night, like finances, health, and relationships. And to be fair, there are plenty of conservatives and Trumpists making the exact same mistake by making everything about politics.

 

Most things in politics can’t hurt us unless we believe they can. That’s practically the definition of an illusion. But in the ivory tower of liberalism’s thought leaders, oppression must be invented and exaggerated in order to generate sufficient emotion among the rank-and-file to keep the movement going…and to continue providing liberal academics with posh positions… and reinforce the self-licking ice-cream cone of liberal media elitism… and funnel money to Democratic politicians. So the ivory tower liberal elites invent or exaggerate oppression, funnel it down to the grassroots level, and eventually it ends up in your News Feed, where the greatest achievement of humanity—Facebook arguments—can then begin making the world a better place…not.

 

Like I wrote about in my essay on freeing yourself from political correctness, you must learn to care about politics less. For anyone like me who enjoys the intellectual stimulation of politics, you must learn to keep it as a hobby instead of as an overlord. The key is how emotionally invested you are or aren’t. I wrote my recent essay on Singapore and multiculturalism because I enjoyed doing so, not because I was angry. That’s a big difference between politics as a hobby vs. an emotional flashpoint in your life. When I was going to GW, in one of my classes we were making observations about how angry people were getting about the 2016 election. One of my (liberal) classmates complained that this anger was unnecessary and unhelpful. “I get on social media to get mad,” he observed, in a moment of honesty that made us all laugh because we could all relate.

 

I could get really upset about liberal shenanigans if I really wanted to. I’ve been quite angry about it before. And I really do believe that if Hillary Clinton had won, we’d be well on our way to devolving into a corrupt, quasi-socialist, third-world banana republic. But my political anger has never accomplished anything except elevating my stress level and worsening my mood. It makes no sense to do this to ourselves when we a) already know how we’re going to vote next time, b) have volunteered if we wanted to, and c) have donated money if we wanted to. Voting, volunteering, and giving money are the main ways to affect a political campaign. If we choose not to do those things, great, but it makes no sense to complain if there’s more you could be doing but you aren’t doing it. If you don’t care enough to do those things, why are you complaining? I thought you didn’t care? And if you have done those things, there’s no use getting stressed out then either because you’ve already done all you can do. So you see that it never really makes sense to get stressed out about politics, and the same logic applies to our “-isms” or the “-isms” we affix to others or that they affix to themselves. Our society has a lot of problems and we sort of look ridiculous spending so much time arguing with each other about politics when it’s not the main culprit of our unhappiness. Politics has become a way we distract ourselves—just another form of quick & easy entertainment, and one that reaches across all our devices.

 

In conclusion, you can live above the “-isms ” by not stressing out about politics and, just as importantly, by not letting others project their “-isms” onto you. Consider “-isms” to be figments of the imagination until proven otherwise. (Although, don’t say that to their adherents.) Just don’t let it affect you and live freely with a free mind. Don’t be a cog in the outrage machine.

Active Listening: An Underrated Superpower

Active listening is probably the conversational skill Millennials are the most sorely lacking in. Somewhere along the way, we stopped listening, stopped caring about listening, and thus stopped knowing how to listen. There is nothing that will help your small talk more than active listening.

 

When we truly listen—making appropriate eye contact—the other person feels at ease in the conversation. They feel you actually care what they have to say. Think back to the last time you were talking to someone who clearly did not care what you had to say and was just waiting for their turn to talk. They may even have interrupted you to insert their thought. That’s not a conversation both of you enjoy; it’s one-sided.

 

Learning the importance of listening involves some humility. It involves thinking more highly of the other person and what they have to say than you would otherwise. Even if they are saying something completely inane that they have said a thousand times before, try to listen as though at any moment they may say something life changing. They’re saying what they’re saying for a reason; if it’s an enigma to you, asking questions to figure out why it’s important to them.

 

The secret to effective listening is concentration. At first, it will take enormous concentration to become a better listener in conversation. Over time, though, it will develop into a habit. If it helps, think of your attention as a laser beam. A giant, red laser beam, like when Cyclops from X-Men takes off his visor. Like your attention, the laser has to be controlled, or it’s all over the place. You need to focus it on the person who is talking to you. Always, always focus on that person, and try to ignore everything else going on.

 

When I was learning how to be better at conversation, I would observe how the average person reacts when interrupted by an external stimulus. Sometimes I would see it coming and watch with anticipation. For example, Person A is involved in a conversation and, unbeknownst to them, one of their buddies, Person B, shows up. Person B walks over and says hi, and I observe how surprised Person A is to see them. What they say, their tone, their volume, and their gesturing. Nowadays, most of the time I’m the “Person A” being interrupted by the external stimulus. The difference between the two comes down to one thing: Concentration. Nowadays, after learning this lesson, instead of observing others, I generally don’t care what everyone else is doing because I’m focused on the person I’m talking to. In fact, I might even react with slight annoyance if interrupted by something or someone, depending on who or what it is. Guess what? That’s what everyone else has doing all along.

 

The Importance of Eye Contact

Eye contact is trickier than listening, I will admit. It’s usually not hard to make eye contact with a close friend or family member, because you are usually relaxed around that person. After all, important signals are sent through the eyes, and you don’t want to miss them. However, with people you are not as comfortable around, it’s harder.

 

Concentration is also the key to improving eye contact. However, don’t think of it in the laser beam way. Think of it as being so absorbed with the conversation that you are dying to know the next thing they have to say. In fact, even if it’s a conversation you hate, it may still be in your best interest to do this because they may say something that gives you an out. Crude, but true. But back to most conversations, which you (hopefully) don’t hate, you will find yourself staring full-force into their eyes, yet not in a creepy way. The kind of staring into their eyes that I am talking about is essentially mining them for conversation. They will keep talking and eventually say something that spurs a response from you. When responding, you’ll keep staring into their eyes because you’re trying to communicate at full blast what you want to say as efficiently as possible, and using eye contact in combination with all other verbal and non-verbal methods is the most efficient way to do this.

 

Additionally, a key element is to clear your mind while you listen and don’t spend any time thinking of what you are going to say next. Turn your mind into a blank slate that has no thoughts. When you have this blank-slate approach, you are fully present with that person, and they can tell you’re actively listening, including eye contact. Don’t worry, when it’s your turn to talk, you’ll be able to think of what to say in response or you’ll simply stream-of-consciousness something and it’ll most likely work out just as well. Trust the process and don’t think ahead of what to say while you should be listening. I can’t emphasize this point enough.

 

If all else fails, and you simply cannot make yourself maintain eye contact with the other person, cut your losses and look down the entire conversation, as long as you are actively listening and using fillers (more on that below). This is actually pretty effective in networking conversations because it is often so loud at networking happy hours and events that it looks like you’re simply trying to have your ear face them to hear better. However, the goal is to work your way up to being comfortable maintaining eye contact with anyone.

 

Conversational Fillers

Conversational fillers are the small phrases and sounds of acknowledgment peppered throughout a conversation that let the other person know you’re still paying attention. Examples include, “Uh-huh,” “mm-hmm,” “right,” “OK,” and others. Most people use these; you should too. The great thing about them is that active listening—intense concentration on what the other person is saying—will cause you to automatically know when a filler is needed. You will have a gut feeling, and at first you may consciously need to think to yourself, “There’s that feeling…quick, say ‘uh-huh’!” But as you improve, it will become habit and you won’t have to think about it. You will just use a filler reflexively.

 

A word of advice: Alternate your fillers every couple of uses. Don’t use “uh-huh” six times in a row, or you will sound like a robot. Throw in some other fillers. When you are on the receiving end of fillers—for example, telling a story—notice how good you feel when the other person periodically uses a filler. It tells you they’re still interested in what you have to say. If they don’t use them, you feel like they’re not really listening. These are the same reactions people will have toward you depending on whether or not you use fillers.

 

Below is a fictitious example of how to use fillers:

PETE: So the other day I was in the checkout line at Whole Foods and this guy behind me starts talking about how he had someone come out to look at his roof…

ME: Uh-huh.

PETE: …and he said the guy gets there, sets up the ladder, climbs up onto the roof, and he’s barely up there for two minutes before he comes down and takes down the ladder…

ME: Uh-huh.

PETE: and he said the guy goes right up to him and says it’s going to cost almost twice what he quoted him earlier that same day to do the work. I mean, he didn’t literally say “twice”, but the amount he quoted was basically double what he originally said.

ME: Right.

PETE: So then he said they got into this huge argument and his wife came out and had to essentially break them up and the contractor cussed him out and he was totally shocked.

ME: Oh snap!

PETE: And that contractor had been recommended by a friend. Soooo he said it’s back to online reviews to find someone else for the roof.

ME: Ha ha ha…yup.

 

Whenever anyone tells a story, it’s pretty much inevitable that fillers can and should be used by someone in the audience. Maybe if it’s a group conversation and there is a total social butterfly present, you can sit back and let that person do all the fillers. But if you are the main audience, be sure to use fillers. Like I said, the more you practice, you will begin using them without realizing it.

 

So to review: Active listening is like a laser beam of concentration, so point it at the target; maintain eye contact by wiping your mind of thoughts and being a blank slate so you can hang on their every word; and use conversational fillers until they’re natural because they let the other person know you’re still listening.

How to Make Small Talk: Rules 1 & 2

This is the last installment in the 10 Rules of Small Talk series. I hope you have enjoyed these posts and found them helpful. I will posting more about small talk rules & tips in the future!

 

Rule #2: Keep it Light: Avoid Certain Topics when Making Small Talk

According to conventional wisdom, religion and politics are the two things you should never discuss in casual conversation (Charles Schultz added the Great Pumpkin to the list). This rule usually applies, but really it depends why you are there. People break this rule all the time, and it can be a painful, agonizing thing to behold, and even worse to have to directly respond to. I will cover how to get out of such situations in future posts, but here, I want to drive home the importance of this rule.

Think back to your own experience. When was the last time a conversation got unexpectedly serious? It’s not a pleasant feeling, is it? It totally kills the energy. I can’t count how many conversations I was in in 2016 where the presidential election came up. I also can’t think of a bigger conversational minefield, and I would simply nod and use the “mm-hmm” and “uh-huh” conversational fillers, while being inwardly disappointed with the person for not being able to find a more creative and inclusive conversational topic. When the election came up, no matter which candidate the other person supported, the predictable litany of complaints about the opposing candidate would ensue. This kind of scenario wrecks any good conversation unless you get lucky and are talking to someone with similar political views. Conversations with strangers, however, are a big gamble with these topics, so the word to the wise is to not go there.

Now, as a Christian, I sometimes bring up my faith in a casual conversation with a stranger. We are expected to want to share the gospel message with others. However, it’s something that needs to be done with caution, consideration, and prayer, in order to maximize the effectiveness.

Whoever came up with the rule about religion and politics did not pick those topics because of the topics themselves. They picked them because the topics have a way of turning a conversation unexpectedly serious and even negative. People have widely varying and often emotional views on such subjects. So, keep it light so that the other person feels no negative emotions and will want to keep talking to you. Even if you’re just trying to fill a short period of time with something other than awkward silence, you don’t want to leave the other person with a bad impression. You might run into them again.

Going back to our example of being in the dentist office from the earlier post, if instead of saying you were there for an annual cleaning and then asking the other person what they were there for, if you instead started going on and on about your recent root canal and how painful it was, you have turned the conversation negative and it will wither. People don’t want to hear someone else complain. One rule people often teach about dating is to avoid saying anything negative. That generally applies here too, unless you are commiserating with the other person. That can be the right response at times, but most conversations should stay light.

 

Rule #1: Improving Will Take Effort at First but Will Become Easier

At first, it will take conscious effort and concentration to improve your small talk skills. However, I promise it will get easier. You may even end up enjoying it, if nothing else than for the challenge. Sometimes when someone starts making small talk with me, I realize that the conversational chess match has begun. If this is how you have to think of small talk in order to get comfortable with it until it feels more natural, so be it. It can be fun to see how long you can make it before one of you makes the first social blunder and breaks “the rules” of small talk. In the end, however, what matters is that both of you come away with a positive social experience, although the best conversations are those in which no one breaks the rules.

 

Anyone can get better at small talk. Not everyone can realistically get better at a given skill, sport, trade, or craft. It may be due to time constraints, physical reasons, or other factors. However, the opportunities for small talk are around us constantly, and it’s a skill we will need for the rest of our lives. Decide to embrace small talk, armed with these rules, which have given you the initial strategies, techniques, and mindset shifts you need to get started. We are, by design, social creatures, so it’s only natural to be able to carry on a conversation with a stranger. We usually aren’t taught how to do it, though—we are just expected to learn by example. I devised these rules for anyone who needs help beyond that. Again, I emphasize that this is something anyone can do and get good at.

The Singapore Example and the Limits of Multiculturalism in America

“In multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion. Supposing I’d run their [the British] system here, Malays would vote for Muslims, Indians would vote for Indians, Chinese would vote for Chinese. I would have a constant clash in my Parliament which cannot be resolved because the Chinese majority would always overrule them.” – Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore 1959-1990

 

The tiny island nation of Singapore, located between Malaysia and Indonesia, consistently ranks among the top 10 countries in development and economic strength, even beating out the US in some measurements. In less than 50 years, Singapore transformed from a third-world British colony and World War II conquest of Imperial Japan to a glistening, highly-developed economic giant. Singapore is one of the “Four Asian Tigers,” powerhouse Asian economies also including Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan. Singapore’s astonishing success has been the subject of many a book and white paper.

 

Lee Kuan Yew was independent Singapore’s first prime minister. He governed for three decades, and occupied various governmental and political positions afterward until his death in 2015. He governed in perpetual fear of the collapse of the society he had built, and believed to his death that his People’s Action Party (PAP), which still governs Singapore as a virtually one-party state, needed to rigidly maintain power and often suspend democratic norms in order to keep the society together. Lee was often condemned for autocratic rule and even human rights and press abuses.

 

What was it that Lee feared so much, causing him to govern this way? Identity politics.

 

In 1963, Singapore, still loosely under British control, merged with Malaysia due to strong ties between the two nations and the hope of economic benefits. However, the first year of the new union was marred by conflicts between Malaysia’s (the name of combined Malaysia and Singapore) dominant political party, United Malays National Organization (UMNO), and Singapore’s PAP party, as well as deadly race rioting between Singapore’s Malay and Chinese populations. The central position of Malaysia’s prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, and his party was the need to fight for the rights of ethnic Malays, including those in Singapore. In fact, from the outset of the union there was considerable concern that the inclusion of the Singaporean Chinese population would alter the ethnic proportions of the voting base upon which UMNO depended to maintain dominance. Lee Kuan Yew’s consistent theme, on the other hand, was that the new Malaysia needed enforced racial equality in order to survive. Lee held a meeting with prominent Singaporean Malay organizations and leaders to assure them they would not be discriminated against, but throughout 1964 Malaysia’s PM and UMNO politicos made multiple incendiary moves and statements that increased suspicion among Singaporean Malays toward the Singaporean Chinese population. Two sets of deadly race riots broke out in Singapore that year, and negotiations between UMNO and PAP on various issues were making little progress.

 

In 1965, less than two years after unification, Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman decided that Singapore needed to separate from Malaysia to avoid further conflicts. Negotiations to achieve this went on in secrecy between the two sides, with Lee Kuan Yew and other Singaporean officials negotiating with the Malaysian government after it was made clear there was no way Singapore would be allowed to remain in Malaysia. The move to separate Singapore from Malaysia required an amendment to the Malaysian Constitution in the Malaysian Parliament, and PM Abdul Rahman introduced a resolution on August 9, 1965, which was passed by a vote of 126-0. That day, Singapore became independent and Lee Kuan Yew gave an emotional speech explaining the break-up to the people of Singapore.

 

This is the only incident in modern history that I know of in which one country has been voted out of another against its wishes. While there were economic and political issues at play, it is inescapably clear the racial conflict was a linchpin in the desire of Malaysian leaders to expel Singapore. It was negotiated and communicated in ways that made it look like something other than an expulsion, but for all intents and purposes that’s exactly what it was since Singapore didn’t want to separate. The entire episode profoundly affected Lee Kuan Yew’s political philosophy and only further strengthened his belief that Singapore could not last as a multiracial society if identity politics were allowed. Being Chinese himself, he walked the talk by making English the official language of Singapore (to this day), not Chinese which was the language of the Chinese majority (although English was actually his first language). This move earned him many critics, but he believed that giving a clear demographic advantage to one group would eventually tear the country apart.

 

There were additional race riots in 1969, but over the next several decades Singapore grew into a peaceful and stable economic titan. The People’s Action Party maintained a veritable stranglehold on national politics, as it does to this day. However, Lee Kuan Yew’s quasi-autocratic methods and the PAP’s dominance are not the reason I write this essay.

 

Multiculturalism has probably never been a more hot-button issue in America than it is right now, and I don’t see it getting better any time soon. Lee Kuan Yew’s quote about people voting based on race and religion in a multiracial society has nary proven truer than in America today. Even the most novice student of politics understands which groups vote for which political parties, sometimes in staggeringly high proportions. Blacks and Hispanics vote heavily for the Democratic Party. Most whites vote Republican, although by a lesser volume. Even different Christian denominations tend to vote for different parties. Non-Hispanic immigrants are believed (the data is difficult to decode) to vote Democrat. Asians generally vote Democrat, although there is a growing trend among Indian Americans of voting Republican.

 

Democrats have aggressively courted the immigrant vote over the years, especially in the 2016 and now 2018 election cycles. The word “xenophobia” was practically unknown to the public until Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton popularized it to mean irrational fear of immigrants, using it to galvanize the Hispanic segment of the Democratic voting base. The Democrats have carefully constructed a constellation of various ethnic groups in order to counter the steadfast strength of conservative white voters. Never before the 2016 election have the charges of racism and other, similar forms of acrimony flown so freely across the airwaves, including Hillary essentially calling Donald Trump a racist during a presidential debate televised around the world when she condemned his “racist lie” that Obama wasn’t born in the US.

 

The Hart-Cellar Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 overhauled the American immigration system by removing restrictions on national origin which had basically preferred European immigrants beforehand (think waves of German immigrants in the early 1900s). This change occurred during the height of the Civil Rights Movement era and was viewed as further dispelling racism in society. Although Senator Ted Kennedy assured the public that the bill would not substantially alter national demographics, that is what ended up happening.

 

But this essay is not about the past, it is about the future. Given the demographic changes in the US over the past 50 years and the ever-increasing tension in our society regarding race, immigration, and even religion, we must step back and look at the course we are on. How much worse will the tensions get? Is there a breaking point, and if so when is it? We’ve already seen race riots—those are nothing new. But could there be something more drastic ahead?

 

I’m of the belief that race matters way less than people think. Race is just the ways that some human bodies are different than others, but all are human bodies. Race obviously is most noticeable in the way someone looks as compared to someone else, but this is a surface level characteristic. What really matters is culture, and that’s why I titled this essay with “the Limits of Multiculturalism in America,” not “the Limits of Multiracialism in America.” Our policies toward multiculturalism are what will determine our national future probably more than anything else. Currently, we are doing an abysmal job of assimilating new immigrants. In fact, until this process is righted and strengthened, we should greatly reduce immigration because we’re accepting immigrants faster than we can assimilate them. Sure, we have a citizenship test, but that is laughably insufficient for assimilation. Since we have been doing such a poor job, we have become what some describe as a “tossed salad” instead the traditional metaphor of a “melting pot.” But unless you’re in an international airport, putting multiple distinct cultures with little to nothing in common next to each other tends to bring rivalries.

 

I say all this not because I dislike immigrants. It’s normal for a country to have an immigration policy, and every country has at least some immigration (beyond tourism). I’m pretty sure even North Korea has Chinese guest workers (could be wrong). But our system is out of control and we have no good method of assimilation. No other country except the currently beleaguered countries of Western Europe approach immigration this way. Other countries expect you to assimilate—to “become similar” to the population. Obviously you cannot racially assimilate, which is why this is not a racial issue. But you can culturally assimilate, and in other countries you are expected to do so. You are viewed as a guest in other countries, with a highly limited ability to make claims on your host country until you’re a citizen.

 

The Democrats have known for years that they are struggling to keep the white vote. There are multiple reasons for this, but one factor is the falling white birth rate. The Democrats know that the next generation will have fewer whites in proportion to other ethnicities, particularly Hispanic Americans. The black population has remained about the same proportion for years, and Asians, while a fast-growing population due to immigration, are still too small of a constituency for the Democrats to make much of a national appeal to. Their sights are firmly set on the Hispanic vote as the key to electoral dominance, which is why the Democrats fight any attempts to reduce either legal or illegal immigration. Additionally, most immigrants to America come from political traditions similar to the big-government policies espoused by the Democrats, which is another way they court the immigrant vote. The minimal-government model of our Constitution is a rare animal indeed, and were it strictly enforced there would be less draw for immigration because the government would be much smaller and could provide far fewer social services.

 

So where does all this lead? What I’m concerned about as a very real possibility is a future break-up of America along ethno-cultural lines. If, for example, the Mexican-American population becomes the majority in California, then California’s politicians could simply focus (openly) on appealing to Mexican-American concerns. Just like Malaysia’s UMNO party focused only on Malay issues, Democrats only need to pick the largest group and pander to them to stay in power.

 

Additionally, as long as the Democrats successfully conflate Trump’s tough stance on immigration with racism against Mexicans and others of Central American descent, he cannot effectively make an appeal, as Lee Kuan Yew did, for a multiracial society in which no race is given priority over another. Trump repeatedly emphasizes in his speeches that we are all Americans, not whatever the color of our skin is. He is right, and America’s experiment as a multiracial society can succeed, but only if we stop being such a multicultural one. Do I think Trump has some racist beliefs? He might. But what matters is how he governs, not what his inner beliefs are. The vision of America that he enunciates is one not of a country of “hyphenated Americans” but of all one people, known simply as Americans, no hyphens needed.

 

But imagine any one of the following scenarios. In the future, California secedes as a majority Mexican-American state that wants self-determination in accordance with its ethnic identity. I’m a big believer in self-determination and the right to secede, but although I wouldn’t miss uber-liberal California, I don’t want America to break up. Or if not California, maybe the same thing happens with Texas or a section of it. Perhaps California or part of Texas joins with Mexico, like Singapore joined with Malaysia. Or what if, a few decades from now, today’s minorities are large enough to create a permanent voting majority and dominate Congress? If they dominated Congress, could they vote out “white” parts of the country that resisted ethnic transformation out of the US, just as Malaysia expelled Singapore? Or what if the poor white regions like the Appalachian states were deemed a “drag” on the national economy while simultaneously accused of incurable racism? Or if they resisted affirmative action policies, which was another bone of contention between Malaysia and Singapore?

 

A staple of American consciousness is the belief that “it can’t happen here,” but to me, these scenarios are not as far-fetched as they sound. The Democrats are examples of politicians who will say or propose virtually anything to maintain power. They will always “go there,” wherever “there” is, if they think they’ll come out on top on Election Day. This is a sad state of affairs, because national preservation through a unifying culture, something even a country as tiny as Singapore knows is necessary for survival as a political unit, should always trump identity politics. Unfortunately, the Democrats don’t care about healing old wounds; they’re only interested in winning, even if it means ripping off bandages (sometimes while calling it “healing”).

 

I write a lot about the need to not get upset about politics. I am not writing this essay to stir emotion. When I first read about Singapore’s history and how they were expelled from Malaysia because of, among other factors, racial tensions and bloodshed, I thought I might be seeing a future break-up scenario for America. I wanted to share this because too many people in politics today don’t have a long-term view with regards to immigration and culture, and don’t focus on what all other countries know—that a divided populace means a divided country, and sometimes that division becomes literal.

 

And if you were offended by this essay, I suggest reading the previous one about how to free your mind from political correctness.

 

“I always tried to be correct, not politically correct.” – Lee Kuan Yew

 

Sources for Singapore history: Wikipedia and the National Library of Singapore website