If We No Longer Pay Attention to Things We Don’t Control



What’s Left For Us to Focus On?


Our time is better invested in actually learning about trends that impact us directly.


Imagine making this simple change in your life: whatever you don’t control, you stop paying attention to it. This includes a vast array of “news” and “crises” that we have zero control over: the wretched flooding in Timbukthree, geopolitics, distant wars, macro-economic trends, politics above the micro-local level, and so on.


Once we stop paying attention to everything we don’t control, what’s left to focus on? The simple answer is “whatever we do control,” which tends to be in our household or individual sphere of influence: the duties, habits and rituals of everyday life. In other words, we control our responses to whatever forces we don’t control.


But wait a minute. Aren’t we supposed to be “engaged, informed citizens” so we can make informed decisions? And doesn’t this require us to pay attention to everything presented to us as “newsworthy,” “a dangerous crisis” and of “pressing national interest”?


That sounds nice, but precisely what “decisions” do we have a say in? We can vote for a toxic political party (there’s two choices! Wow!) or a candidate who raised big bucks by promising the moon to constituents and big-money contributors, and we can vote for or against a local bond issue or a local regulation that’s on the ballot.


How great is our control of whatever we’re voting on? Shall we admit it’s negligible?


Did anything we watched or read in the past few years change our minds, or do we vote pretty much as we’ve done for years because our views remain the same? For most people, the answer is “nothing I watched or read changed my views.” So what was the point of squandering hundreds of hours watching/reading “news,” “crises” and “commentary”?


These “decisions” come up every two years in some form. The rest of the time, exactly what is our control/influence? Posting tweets and social media comments? Uploading video rants? And how many people completely change their minds based on hyper-ventilating tweets or partisan outbursts, all of which tend to be one or two sentences long?


In today’s hyper-partisan divide, the short answer is “no one.” People tend to read what confirms their existing views and rage at whatever they disagree with. Neither changes any minds, nor engages those who have no interest in the staged spectacles in the Coliseum.


If the entire media/social media “industry” boils down to bias confirmation and outrage that changes nothing, then isn’t the whole thing nothing but perverse, deranging entertainment? In other words, we enjoy confirming our biases and trashing those who disagree with us, and switching seamlessly between puppies and kittens and dire warnings of doom.


The owners of media/social media know this, and so they go to great lengths to make their junk food for the mind especially addictive.


But there is an opportunity cost to investing so much of our time and energy in perverse entertainment, for those hours could have been invested in what we do control, i.e. our own lives.


This is the point of Self-Reliance: focus our time, capital and energy on what we do control and stop wasting time and energy on time-sinks and emotional mudpits we don’t control or influence at all.


Our time is better invested in actually learning about trends that impact us directly. Real learning takes time and study. This is the purpose of books. Other media are designed to influence without providing context or alternate histories. There is no way to cram the context and critiques into a short video program or a slide deck.


Unfortunately, reading books that are substantial enough to add to our understanding is losing ground to spectacles, which are of course designed to be more fun than actual learning.


Self-Reliance isn’t about controlling or influencing others, it’s about modifying our response to macro-trends so we not just survive but thrive. We don’t control our governance, economy or society, but we do control our response to unfavorable trends. We can change careers, change where we live, change who we associate with, expand our network of makers and producers and pursue many other consequential, positive actions.


I’m not immune to the charms of puppies and kittens and impending doom, but the trick is to limit one’s exposure as one might do to any dangerous form of radiation: a few minutes is OK but then shut down the source and return to investing in our own life.





New Podcast: Turmoil Ahead As We Enter The New Era Of ‘Scarcity’ (53 min)


My Bio

At readers’ request, I’ve prepared a biography. I am not confident this is the right length or has the desired information; the whole project veers uncomfortably close to PR. On the other hand, who wants to read a boring bio? I am reminded of the “Peanuts” comic character Lucy, who once issued this terse biographical summary: “A man was born, he lived, he died.” All undoubtedly true, but somewhat lacking in narrative.


I was raised in southern California as a rootless cosmopolitan: born in Santa Monica, and then towed by an upwardly mobile family to Van Nuys, Tarzana, Los Feliz and San Marino, where the penultimate conclusion of upward mobility, divorce and a shattered family, sent us to Big Bear Lake in the San Bernadino mountains.


The next iteration of family took us to the island of Lanai in Hawaii, where I was honored to join the outstanding basketball team (as benchwarmer), and where we rode the only Matchless 350 cc motorcycle on the island, and most likely in the state, through the red-dirt pineapple fields to the splendidly isolated rocky coastline. In 1969-70, this was the old planation Hawaii, where we picked pine in summer beneath a sweltering sun.


We next moved to Honolulu, where I graduated from Punahou School and earned a degree in Comparative Philosophy (i.e. East and West) at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. The family moved back to California and I stayed on, working my way through college apprenticing in the building/remodeling trades.


I was quite active in the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) and the People’s Party of Hawaii in this era (1970s).


I next moved to the Big Island of Hawaii, where my partner and I built over fifty custom homes and a 43-unit subdivision, as well as several commercial projects.


Nearly going broke was all well and good, but I was driven to pursue my dream-career as a writer, so we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1987 where I worked in non-profit education while writing free-lance journalism articles on housing, design and urban planning.


Within a few years I returned to self-employment, a genteel poverty interrupted by an 18-month gig re-organizing the back office of a quantitative stock market analyst. I learned how to lose money in the market with efficiency and aplomb, lessons I continue to practice when the temptation to battle the Monster Id strikes.


Somewhere in here my first novel was published by The Permanent Press, but alas it fell still-born from the press–a now monotonous result of writing fiction. (Seven novels and I still can’t stop myself.)


I started the Of Two Minds blog in May 2005 as a side project of self-expression, and in an unpredictable twist of evolutionary incaution, that project has ballooned into a website with about 3,500 pages that has drawn almost 20 million page views.


The site’s primary asset may well be the extensive global network of friends and correspondents I draw upon for intelligence and analysis.


The blog is #7 in CNBC’s top alternative financial sites, and is republished on numerous popular sites such as Zero Hedge, Financial Sense, and David Stockman’s Contra Corner. I am frequently interviewed by alternative media personalities such as Max Keiser, and am a contributing writer on peakprosperity.com.


End conventional bio; bits and pieces


My work does not fit into any ideological box; indeed, I view all ideologies as obsolete and misleading. I doubt this is a surprise to you if you’ve read the blog.


My lifelong avocations include bicycling, gardening, guitar, camping in the American West, cooking, carpentry and fitness, all of which are reflected in the blog.


I would re-write the bumper sticker “New York, London, Paris, Hilo” as “Shanghai, Kyoto, Bangkok, Paris, Hilo.” Many people wonder where I live; I split my time between the S.F. Bay Area and the Big Island, though I visit friends and family on Oahu as often as possible.


Our heritage is Scots-Irish (County Down), English and French; via marriage the family inlcudes Hispanic-American, African-American and Asian-American members. I think the word is polyglot.


Our military history: grandfather, U.S. Navy, 4-stack destroyer U.S.S. Lea (DD-118), Pacific/China, 1920-22; father, U.S. Navy, LST, Pacific Theater, 1945; uncle, Army Air Force, 1943-44, 25 B-17 missions over Europe; stepfather: Career U.S. Air Force, retired as Lt. Colonel, served in U.S., Europe, Vietnam and Korea.


Measured in terms of money I am not rich, but measured in friendships, health and output, I feel very wealthy indeed. I like my work and feel there is purpose in the blog’s independent critiques of the Status Quo and in the positive view I have of the next iteration of our economy and society.


I lead most of my life in the real world, and as a result my time online is extremely limited. This is why email to this site is read but may not be acknowledged. I regret the limitations but I receive thousands of emails a year and am only one 60-year old person with many other duties and tasks.


In my experience, good luck is rare; the default setting is rejection, disinterest and failure. I concur with Winston Churchill, who held that “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” That more or less sums up my biography.



charles hugh smith


My new book is now available at a 10% discount ($8.95 ebook, $18 print): Self-Reliance in the 21st Century.

Read the first chapter for free (PDF)

Read excerpts of all three chapters

Podcast with Richard Bonugli: Self Reliance in the 21st Century (43 min)

My recent books:

The Asian Heroine Who Seduced Me (Novel) print $10.95, Kindle $6.95 Read an excerpt for free (PDF)

When You Can’t Go On: Burnout, Reckoning and Renewal $18 print, $8.95 Kindle ebook; audiobook Read the first section for free (PDF)

Global Crisis, National Renewal: A (Revolutionary) Grand Strategy for the United States (Kindle $9.95, print $24, audiobook) Read Chapter One for free (PDF).

A Hacker’s Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake (Novel) $4.95 Kindle, $10.95 print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 Kindle, $15 print) Read the first section for free

Become a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.



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