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Free will is a sticky wicket.

Our experience is that free will is everywhere: I want coffee so I grab a cup and lift it to my mouth, sip, and swallow.

But there is growing evidence to suggest that free will is a mirage.

In Libet’s famous experiment, he asked volunteers to record when they felt intention to move by reporting the position of the secondhand on a clock at the precise moment they felt they had made the decision to move their hand.

Interestingly he recorded brainstem activity (subconscious) one half second prior to the perceived intention to move.

This finding suggested that the decision to move was a subconscious act, and that conscious thought (or free will) is restrospective rather than causative.

In other words our conscious mind displays the sort of magical thinking of a fool who watches lightning strike a tree, and then convinces himself that he made the lightning happen.


I totally just did that…

This is not settled science, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Why? Because the implications are profound. Are we truly executive agents unleashing our wills upon the world? Or are we just animals moving around reactively and telling ourselves pretty stories about our actions, after-the-fact?

I would like to make use of the latter hypothesis, that free will is an illusion.

Why? Because it conveniently allows me to advocate for the potential of Early Retirement Theory to do nothing less than save the world!

I have a sneaking suspicion that we are just animals, seeking to pass on our unique genomes and maximize our own pleasure most of the time.

Sure, we have language, and the unique ability to exchange interesting ideas.

But in my experience decisions are made on a much more guttural level.

An example.

Scientific evidence is unequivocal that our current way of living is unsustainable.

We are spewing carbon into the atmosphere, deforesting our Little Blue Dot, and exploiting our limited resources in a completely unnecessary way.

I believe in science. I believe this depressing scenario to be the case (as do large insurance companies by the way.) And I firmly believe that this evidence is sound by any rational metric.

And yet each day I climb into my SUV and drive to work.

And I consume a ridiculous amount of resources.

Why? Because there’s a constant battle between my animal nature (which likes the feeling of a seat warmer and the soothing tones of Howard Stern on satellite radio better than the feeling of carrying groceries 5 blocks in the rain, ) and my conscious mind (who tells me that this is a ridiculously selfish, destructive, and unnecessary act.)

And guess who wins? The animal. At least nine times out of ten when I need milk I climb into the car and drive five blocks to Trader Joe’s.

Another example.

I have confessed to being a bleeding heart liberal.

It is simply the way I see the world.

I believe in fairness, transparency, and charity. I believe in a world of progressive taxation and upward mobility, where it is just as easy to climb up the socioeconomic staircase as it is to fall down. And I believe that moving from being merely rich to superrich should be infinitely harder than moving from being poor to being lower middle-class. I believe in environmental stewardship and personal autonomy over one’s own body and everything else. I would even say this perspective is fundamental to who I am.

But you’ve read this blog. And it is in many ways a treasure trove of step-by-step schemes on how to minimize one’s taxes and live a fiscally conservative life, all while betting on the ever expanding capitalist machine that is the market.

Am I a hypocrite?

Of course I am. But I would rather be a hypocrite than a fool.

The only way of living that makes any sense to me is one that is true to my animal core. I feel it is important to be straight forward and honest, and to come to terms with my true essential nature. I seek to align myself with the Id that always wants more, and cares about nothing more than its own survival.

Which brings me around to my main thesis.

The early retirement philosophy is the only one that I’ve seen that harnesses self interest in a manner that actually shrinks greed and the endless drive for more consumption.

How does it do this?

It starts with the simple realization that the choice to consume right now is a choice to sacrifice future freedom.

And this simple concept has made it clear to me that my thirst for freedom is one my strongest animal impulses.

I am drunk with this selfish idea of financial independence.

And this thirst for freedom makes it very easy for me to temper my constant and immediate desire to consume.

I want a new pair of jeans and a Porsche just like you do. But I want freedom much, much, more.

And I can’t help but believe that if you truly consider your options, you will too.

To be an early retirement enthusiast is to come to terms with the limits of your own desire. It is to define your number. It is to engage in the constant tug-of-war between immediate gratification, and freedom. It is a license to pursue happiness, and forego endless and fruitless striving.

And if you are anything like me, and you start playing this game, you’ll find that your desire to consume becomes ever more tempered in an unconscious way.

Luxury will start to look foolish.

Efficiency will start to look sexy.

You will know you’re a convert when you start considering biking to work (as I am.) Or when you start entertaining the idea of downsizing your house.

It is as if you’re harnessing your true, selfish, and animal nature in a way that moves you ineffably towards a more rational and (globally) sustainable way of life.

What other philosophy do you know that aligns you’re selfish Id, with your idealistic and philosophical better nature?

Liberalism is dead because it ignores our true animal nature. It is inconsistent with the way we actually make decisions.

Conservatism is dead because it leads to ever widening inequality and entrenched corrupt interests. And because it depends on constant growth which is becoming ever more impossible.

Early retirement theory is a third way. It is honest, rewarding, and sustainable.

It engages our unconscious mind (the one that’s actually calling the shots,) in a way that our conscious mind would be proud of (and will probably take credit for after-the-fact.)

It is the very definition of a win-win proposition.  And who are the big winners?

You, and the whole wide world.


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