Notes on Personal Agency

“Suffering is the experience of the impossibility to escape oneself–an inescapable passivity.”

Are you truly free? Are you aware of your actions, why you do them, and are you actively choosing them?

You must have self-awareness in order to be free. This freedom is a kind of maturation of selfhood, which in turn increases your responsibility.  I refer to selfhood because I define the self as being a reflecting, self-aware individual, who is not entirely defined by its past experiences and environment. The self is necessarily an effectless cause, such that the part of it that is a true self is not an effect and has the ability to cause with the force of will. He who is not self-aware at all has little responsibility. With true freedom comes great responsibility, but can we say that if you have the ability to choose otherwise, you are automatically free?

This self-awareness or knowledge of oneself is not a step toward freedom; it is a condition for freedom. It doesn’t “push” you towards freedom. Self-awareness is not an action in itself; it is a precursor. It participates, but it does not drive a person to act. So if it doesn’t, then what does?

But you can never exist independently of your own habits. They influence our judgment of them and any change we can will to take place must always define itself in relation to the habits from which it emerges.

So then, our freedom, if we are to achieve it, seems to be always bounded.

Let us examine the case the we have sufficient motivation to do otherwise. An agoraphobic person who cannot bring himself to leave his house finds his house has caught on fire. Driven by the instinctual motivation to survive, he finds sufficient motivation to leave his house. Some psychologists say that because this motivation that exists to do otherwise, this person is not entirely pathological. They think their is an openness to their psychology from which a will can be built open to act otherwise. I do not think this necessarily follows, as the ability to act otherwise is a result of a motivation that is just as unchosen as the compulsion in question.

So then, are we still always compelled but by other, conflicting motivations?

Freedom must be the ability to do otherwise and consciously deciding in a directed manner. If desire underlies all motivation, to what extent can we force ourselves desire otherwise?

I am inclined to think that a person is free insofar as they can act without motivation. So where exactly is the “opening” where free will exists if motivation is a requirement to change? That motivation comes from somewhere, unless it is a spontaneous impulse, but that isn’t a choice either. I can only conclude that it is necessary for us to create our own motivation, being born entirely of our own reasoning, and choosing values that guide us by careful, independent reflection.

The ability to interject requires a sense of empowerment in the individual, and this largely comes from the ability to reinterpret your own story and embrace and account for your own narrative. True freedom is only attainable if you are not compelled by anything that has not been chosen consciously. We all have the capability to be free, as human beings with minds capable of distancing ourselves from desire. I suppose then, in order to be free, we must create sufficient motivation to be free. I do think that such motivation can be born entirely out of the self. It is the self’s own drive to further manifest itself.

 

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The Balance between Business and Braininess

I have two main passions in life, which I am pursuing seriously and not just as hobbies: business and academics. I am also quite interested in bettering my artistic skills. I am passionate about ballet, painting, and writing. I am not very ambitious though with art; it’s a private, personal journey. Perhaps one day I’ll pursue them more seriously, but right now I don’t have the time. As for business and academics, the two are very, very different activities. Business is real world, practical, and all about action. Academics is in the clouds, impractical, and all about contemplation. They occupy very different mental spaces, and the more I do each, the stronger my desire for the other becomes.

Business makes me feel strong, capable, and powerful. It makes me feel in control of my life and like I can at once create useful value in the world and freedom for myself. It’s fun, like a game. The object is to steadily increase cashflow andmath-manipulatives maintain the organization of the operation and the happiness of everyone involved. When I go to a new place now, I think about its potential, its economic activity, and the constraints on its improvement. I want to realize my own potential. I want to build an empire. There’s something about building something from scratch that brings me a very deep satisfaction.

 

Academics, on the other hand, makes me feel intrigued, genuine, and existentially fulfilled. The pursuit of intellectual clarity speaks more to my soul; it represents a more fundamental part of myself. Perhaps a better word than academics is intellectualism, because academics implies the involvement in an institution devoted to intellectualism, but an institution is unnecessary for the pursuit of knowledge, and in fact, in many ways, institutions are increasingly stifling for continued intellectual development for more reasons than one. But that is another article.

Without intellectualism, my devotion to business would leave me feeling empty. Without business, a full commitment to intellectualism would leave me feeling cut off from the world, indulging in a kind of narcissism, and would otherwise leave another part of my character unexpressed. And so I am left to attempt to balance the two, which as I said occupy very different states of mind. It is difficult to switch them on and off. If I indulge in my obsession over business, I will spend every moment counting numbers, planning aggressive tactics, and doing everything in my power to make shit happen. I forget about the truth in the world. The world that is sitting there indifferent to my blind participation in society. And when I obsess over ideas, I grow uninterested in petty real world details and I forget about what needs to get done.

Both engagements at once increase and decrease my incentives in the other. They increase it because they are like yin and yang; one makes up for what the other lacks. They decrease it because they are each mentally addicting in the sense that I forget the other state of mind exists when I am preoccupied with the one of them.

This is a conundrum. I fantasize about being in an office full of books and paint and chalkboard scribbles while somehow being available to oversee my businesses. I still don’t know how much this fantasy is actually possible. But for now I see no other possibility for myself other than to try to realize it.

It is fascinating in itself just how different these two careers are and how it could be possible to do both. There are no rules for our paths in life, only judgments, fears, and perceived limitations. It is my personal philosophy, perhaps naive, that if you desperately want two different things, if they are not morally conflicting, then you should find a way to have both. If in them there lies a contradiction, then you should ask yourself if there is a real contradiction there and not just an imagined one, because we only have one life to live and the fact that we can choose exactly how to live it is a beautiful thing. Our path in life should be a creative one, not one fashioned for us by society.

 

 

 

 

 

AirBNB: the Controversy

AirBNB launched in 2008, then called Airbed & Breakfast. Over the next two years, the company boomed, changing its name to AirBNB and reaching 1 million nights booked in 89 different countries by the spring of 2011.

AirBNB quickly became a well-known alternative to hotels. It is attractive due to its affordability, personalized home feel, kitchen space for cooking to further save money, and friendly hosts available to give information and tips about the city from a local’s perspective. A growing number of people choose AirBNB over hotels, and hotel lobbyists as a result began to battle against the current practices of short-term rental companies like AirBNB.

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AirBNB remains largely unregulated, existing in a legal grey area. Normally it is considered OK if you are the owner or you have the owner’s permission as well as the permission of the other residents in the building. If you or a roommate are living at least part of the time in the apartment, then technically it is perfectly legal in the US to use the apartment additionally for AirBNB purposes, as was determined in the 2013 NYC court case against Nigel Warren, whose fine of $2,400 was eventually lifted, with the help of AirBNB, after proving that a roommate was there for part of the time.

The legal war continued for a year between AirBNB and NYC, but throughout that time AirBNB more than doubled its guests served, from 4 million to 9 million in only 8 months’ time. Eventually NYC gave over the information of its hosts who rent out multiple properties without its main occupant present, but given that they number in the tens of thousands, it is still a daunting task to enforce regulations even when they are established.

Cities across the country are grappling with these questions.

Like New York, Santa Monica banned short-term rental of entire homes when the host is not present and additionally imposes a 14-percent tax when a host rents out a room in his house.

Cities, one by one, are establishing their own rules. San Francisco residents are now permitted to rent out homes for a maximum of only 90 days a year. In Philadelphia, the maximum is 180 days and hosts must also pay an 8 1/2% hotel tax to the city.

In many markets, Airbnb and similar short-term online rental marketplaces are technically illegal, but lax enforcement of existing laws has allowed these entities to grow exponentially in size.

Their increasing popularity, together with unclear regulatory structures, has prompted many local governments to examine new ways to tax and regulate these companies.

Airbnb has led aggressive outreach programs in several cities, engaging local officials, agreeing to collect and pay some taxes, and pushing for favorable rewrites of local planning law.

Hosts are responsible for filing their own income tax as self-employed real estate business owners. AirBNB has begun including a hotel tax within their fees in many cities, and the number of cities included is growing. It is a relatively slow process, however, as AirBNB must work with each city individually. In fall of 2014, AirBNB began collecting a 12% occupancy tax from guests and hosts to pass along to the government of their behalf in Amsterdam, San Jose, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

The main problem remains that most of the apartments are zoned as residential, and therefore to be perfectly legal, in additional to paying all taxes, hosts much check zoning laws and possibly be required to register the business and get the apartment approved for <30 nights occupancy use.

What makes this not very straightforward is that the majority of hosts let only one property–their own home. The number of hosts that have multiple for-profit properties listed on AirBNB is only about a maximum of 1 out of 10 in most cities. Therefore the law would be applied differently to different hosts on AirBNB, which makes regulating AirBNB as a whole unclear.

Vijay Dandapani chairs the New York City Hotel Association:

“We have a fire command system, security systems that give you protections from intruders, and so on. The moment you get into converting your house into a hotel, which is de facto what is being done nowadays, none of those protections are there.”

The question is: how much freedom do people deserve? These are properties either they own or another owns with whom they have a contract and consensual agreement with. We aren’t required to have such stringent standards for fire command and security systems in our own homes, even when sublet for at least 30 days, so why does it suddenly become an issue when renting for less than 30 days? I suppose the line must be drawn somewhere, but the line seems to be pushing its limits against personal freedom and our own responsibility for the consideration of our own personal safety.

This is a community issue. If the neighbors in the apartment building have no problem with the use of the apartment as a vacation home, then it’s really none of the state’s business what the apartment is being used for. I could be knitting 24/7 in my residence and selling my self-made scarves and sweaters to all the strangers kind enough to stop by–it would be absurd to prosecute me for refusing to declare this as a business.

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This is where it becomes interesting, because the state doesn’t care much about 5 or 10 scarves being sold every once in a while under the table, but to sell 30/day every day, advertise, and put a sign up on my door saying “Welcome, come inside and buy my knitwear!” Suddenly there is pressure to pay income tax and it becomes a question whether I am illegally using a residential zone as a commercial one.

The shared economy has reintroduced power to the people and the community by introducing platforms that create free, largely unregulated markets. This is a good thing. There was a time with the government kept out of people’s business for the most part. The power and control of the government has continued to increase and the internet is making this a great deal easier for them. The idea that every bit of gain we make must be shared with the government is absurd in my opinion, but the government prefers to control and profit from all markets, always. Free markets are so natural–people are attracted to freedom and personal/mutual gain, which is why services such as AirBNB and Uber grow exponentially and very quickly overtake heavily regulated markets.

I have no qualms with the income tax, but I personally think the hotel and occupancy tax is unfounded. Again, you have to draw the line somewhere, but I favor privacy, personal freedom, and decisions based in the immediate community for such limited scale uses of property.

Even so, like many hosts, we simply wish to continue doing what we do; if we have to make less money by paying an assortment of taxes and fees, then so be it. But it will be great when the day comes when we hosts no longer have to feel like we might be doing something wrong when everyone directly involved is happy and we are contributing to the vitality of a booming free market.

 

 

 

Interview with a nomad: Dale Walker on alternative living

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Dale Walker and the Dalai Lama. Sept 22, 1984.

There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
    A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
    And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
    And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
    And they don’t know how to rest.

Dale Walker is a nomad with a thirst for freedom and the wanderer lifestyle. He’s currently 51 years old. He grew up in a small town in Iowa with three brothers and four sisters. He has an interesting story to tell about his adventurous youth and philosophy of life.

Hi Dale Walker. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview for me.

As you have already told me, you ran away from home at the age of 12 and made it 100 miles before getting caught and spending a night in jail. What motivated you to run away from home that day? Did you have problems at home?

No, there were no problems at home. I simply wanted to be a child star and set out for Hollywood. I bought a bus ticket only as far as Omaha, Nebraska so the local ticket agent wouldn’t know my ultimate destination. I planned to buy the ticket to California from Omaha. Fortunately though, I was detained before I got that far.

What was it like spending a night in jail at 12 years old?


The night in jail was supposed to be an object lesson. I was still close enough to home and it was early enough in the day that my parents could have come to get me right away. It was a small town jail with only one cell and there were no other prisoners. They fed me supper, I slept, then my mom picked me up the next morning.

 

So your parents picked you up and what happened next?


There was no punishment. My parents understood that kids will be kids. 
I just went on with my life, taking up a job at a cafe.My life got a lot more complicated later that year though. My sister died in a tragic car accident two days before Christmas. She was only sixteen. The last time I had seen her alive, she had introduced me to marijuana. She told me to quit smoking cigarettes but never stop smoking weed. Then a few days later, she was gone. Makes me sad to write about her even now, forty years later. It affected me quite deeply. I was pretty much on my own after that. My parents had their own grief to deal with and gave me free reign to handle mine. Mom told me later that she thought I blamed God.By the next summer, I’d fought my way into the cool kids clique. They wouldn’t let me hang out until I challenged George Fritz to a fight. He knew how to fight and I didn’t. He kept punching me and I’d fall down but I always got back up. Finally he said, “Please don’t get back up.”

I replied, “I’m getting back up.” That made me one of them.

Then I met Mark Woods. He was older, 20 or so, and had been to Altamont where he’d overdosed on LSD. He lived with his mom and all he had to do was mow the lawn. He subcontracted that chore out to me though and paid me with an album, an issue of High Times, and a joint. That’s when I learned there was a true counterculture. High Times reported on it and the albums, such as CSNY’s Four Way Street and Black Sabbath’s Bloody Sabbath, gave me a feel for it. I’d smoke the joint, read the magazine, and listen to the music.

I took a lot of drugs then, uppers, downers, and LSD. I grew my hair out and became a freak. I made friends with other misfits and we raised hell. We got drunk, stole cars, and broke into buildings. We cruised around on the gravel roads and raided deserted farmsteads for gasoline. During this whole time, I was still working and saving money. Then I got caught.

I was sent to a juvenile detention center for a three week evaluation. I had a few more run ins with the law after that, but I mostly spent this time getting new girlfriends and hanging out with friends. I was a popular guy.

 

I’m very sorry to hear about your sister. You left again at 15 and hitchhiked for 7 years. Where exactly were you hitchhiking and did you ever visit home again during this time?

 

My first trip was back to Florida to see some girls I’d met at Disney. They didn’t like me anymore though and I ended up on the street in Fort Lauderdale. I slept under the Las Olas Street bridge. I got a job at a state park the second day I was there and rented a place. I threw a party almost right away. I wanted to thank all the street people who had helped me that first week. I let a guy move in with me but he was a prostitute and a junkie and I couldn’t abide that so kicked him out.

That’s when I met Roger. He was the first of many true nomads that I would meet in my life. Roger spent ten years living in Century Park in Nashville and had spent the last year living as Jesus on the beach. He had the look. He supported himself picking magic mushrooms and selling them on the beach. I often call this phase of my life “Magic mushrooms with Jesus.”

That was the summer I turned 16. I went back home later that year but no longer fit (if I ever had) and shortly left again. This time for Seattle. Over the next five years, I hitched to 48 states, 9 provinces of Canada, and even to Mexico. I went back home many times and even went to college for a semester. By then though, the road knew my name and kept calling for me.

So after these 7 years, from the age of 22, you began traveling with your own vehicles. Where did you go and why? What was different about this experience, having your own vehicles to travel with?

My first car after all that hitching was a 2-ton dump truck, a 53 Chevy. It had been my best friend’s truck and his mother gave it to me after he was beat to death. Of course, I needed money for gas from then on. I had a little money from odd jobs and drove to Missouri. I met some tree-planters there and became a reforestation technician. Over the course of the next ten seasons, I planted more than a million trees. It was seasonal work and the money didn’t last all year so I also collected scrap metal and also relied on gratitude as I had hitchhiking. I also continued to travel everywhere. Missouri to North Carolina to Oregon to Arizona then back to Missouri. By then, I had a traveling companion, a woman who had hitched almost as much as me. We spent four years together.You mentioned to me that at some point you met the Dalai Lama. When and where did that happen and what did you take away from the experience?

This is a great story. I was hitching to Charlottesville to visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson who had always been one of my heroes. I never made it to Monticello and instead, got a ride with someone going to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Tibetan Meditation Center in Charlottesville. This was just a few days before the Dalai Lama was to arrive in DC and the monks gave us invitations to a small reception to be held at the Tibetan Meditation Center in Washington DC. I stayed with my ride and his family. They had a commune in the 
mountains West of Staunton. We tried to see the Dalai Lama at the

Washingtom Cathedral but it was full to capacity when we arrived. The reception we were invited to was the following day and I spent the night camped in Rock Creek Park across from the meditation center.

Everyone was excited when the Dalai Lama arrived. I have a picture of that moment and the look of joy on every face is so profound. I didn’t really know much about him but he in some way recognized me. Just before his arrival, the monks had informed everyone waiting that His Holiness would not be doing the Kata greeting. He did it with me though.

The one thing I remember from his talk is when he said that he was no different from anyone else except that he’d had the benefit of training since he was a child. I fell asleep during his talk. There’s a whole thing about falling asleep in the presence of the Dalai Lama. In retrospect, it was like getting a years worth of inner smile training in a moment.

 

Eventually you met your wife and had two children. How much has your philosophy of life influenced how you raised your children? What did you do for a living while you were settled down?

 

I don’t know if I ever really settled down. I lived on the mountain for ten years on an old homestead where I lived rent free due to having a bad accident with the deputy sheriff. I came around a blind corner on the wrong side of the road and ran into him head on.
Totaling a cop car made me a local and the old home-place was my reward.The mother of my children was a gypsy bellydancer when I met her and we had our children at home. Although we had a midwife there who actually delivered them, I’m the attending physician on their birth certificates. We raised them the natural way. Up on the mountain, they called people like us “wholesome people” because we were into natural
foods and the simple life.We moved off the mountain when they were little though and for many reasons. It was partly because of Y2K. I asked my neighbor if he was stocking up on food just in case. He said, “No, I have guns. My neighbors have food.” That’s when I decided to move us back to the Midwest.I worked in a factory then but before long became a scholar. I’ve earned a couple degrees. It made me smarter but it did not magically make me career oriented. I’ve had some rewarding jobs working with people experiencing homelessness and with people who suffer from mental disabilities. Now I’m just counting the days now until my youngest graduates and I can go back on the road. My kids now? One is a hippie just like me. She is an incredibly talented young woman with so much potential. I’m glad she had me and blessed that I had her. I think we saved each other. My mom left home at 15. I left home at 15. But she didn’t have to. God, that gives me tears to write that. I feel so trapped being housed when I could be free on the road but the blessing of spending this time with her trumps everything. I’m not made for this culture.

My other daughter is a beautiful young woman too. She’s more traditional but in a very non-traditional way. It’s taking her longer to mature than her younger sister but she is doing great. I love both my girls. Let me add that their mother and I separated when my little girl was just ten. The younger one stayed with me and the older lived with her mother. I’ve been a single dad all these years since.

Where do you see yourself going from here?


I’m liquidating and going back on the road. This time by bicycle. My daughter let me spread my wings last year. I traveled as much as in the old days. I made three or four hitchhiking trips, two long bicycle 
tours totaling more than a thousand miles, and several road trips. (I still have a car but not for long.) I put my understandings to the test
on these journeys and have a solid philosophy that works magic. I’m also now an elder of my tribe, I get a lot of respect and am well known.
I would like to ask you one final question. What does freedom mean to you?
To me, freedom is some small measure of awareness that time and space are illusions. There’s only here and now. Freedom is to remember that the whole is integral to the essence of every little part. There’s no here without there nor now without then. John Lennon said it best, “Let it be”.

Thank you for your time and sharing these details, Dale. You have had such an interesting and alternative life, living it exactly your way. I wish you all the best as you continue to wander.