On “Identifying” with Our Ancestors

I want to share what my dear wife, Kay, posted on Facebook this morning, and my further response to it (the sharing here of which is her idea—ostensibly in the interests of posterity.)

Here’s her post:

Considering “identity”. With which ancestry is one to identify? Am I my European invaders? or my Cherokee victims? Do I have to identify with all Europeans that came to America, or may I identify with my particular Europeans that, as far as I know, came here and settled and farmed unoccupied land. As far as I know, I don’t have any conquistadors nor even any revolutionaries in my ancestry. Pretty boring, I guess.

#justastudyinWhoAmIanyways #partofmebeenherelongtime #partofmeheardaboutbetterplacetoliveandcomeonover #thebattlewithinme #notreally

And now, my reply:

You have excellently highlighted the arbitrariness of picking and choosing that with which one will “identify” regarding his or her ancestors.

I think it says a great deal about us, what traits we choose. Suppose we take a shine to the violence of one, or to the brilliance of another—or to the plight of the one, or the dominance of another.

It’s also pretty interesting that anyone should feel compelled to identify with an ancestor as opposed to identifying with anyone ELSE that they never met. Hmmm. It is indeed an arbitrary practice, and far from a rational exercise.

But I digress.

Peter Pelham brought the first pipe organ (so I have read) to the New World. Shall I revel in that, and insist that it has relevance in the fact that I am also an ̶o̶r̶g̶a̶n̶i̶s̶t̶ singer? Alternately, some of the Pelhams were brought to the New World to be residents in the penal colony of Georgia. Shall I then “identify” with them regarding my avocation as a proponent of ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶l̶i̶f̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶c̶r̶i̶m̶e̶ the rule of law?

John Pelham, on the other hand, was a mighty-fine cannoneer in the War for Southern Independence. He was killed in action, posthumously promoted from Major to Colonel, and honored by having a city named for him in 23 states–including some in that region that fought against him. And his strategy (now called “Shoot and Scoot”) is still studied at West Point to this very day. I identify strongly with him, based on his love for peanut butter and banana sandwiches—which fact, although not supported by any extant account of his preferences, is firmly established in my mind on the unassailable basis that he being so good a strategist, he simply MUST have loved peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

That’s all I have to say about that.

On further discussion, I decided that the best way to celebrate the abritariness of it all would be for us each to take a year to “identify” with someone else’s ancestors! Starting today, therefore, I am now identifying with the Egyptians–and more specifically, with Amhenhotep IV, affectionately known to those of us in his family as Akhenaten, and to King Tut, of course, as Uncle Dad.

Pa Akhenaten, as I like to call him, really shook things up, moving the capitol city 11 miles down the Nile and making significant changes to their religious practices.  After his death, his reforms were promptly eradicated and his new palace and temple torn down and their stones used to build cisterns and bathrooms and such.  It’s this last part in particular that I choose to identify with.  I’m not sure how, exactly, but I’ll think of  away.  After all, I have a year to work on it!

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The Tyranny of the Offended

When is it a foul to cry, “FOUL!”?  And what evil can be worked by making the charge falsely?

To be sure, there are many offenders in this world–many abusers, manipulators, and cheaters.  Many who are violent and vile and unfair.  Many who take unfair advantage, and who won’t play by the same rules by which they expect others to play.  We have all–even the tyrants among us–been mistreated by such people from time to time.  For some of us it’s occasional, and for others, such mistreatment is a way of life.  For some it’s severe, and for others it’s mild.  Still, however, we have all suffered under it, even if we also sometimes dish it out ourselves. Continue reading

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Some Things to Ponder During the Great Gun Debate

This post is a reworking of some thoughts I recently posted on Facebook.

As the nation considers taking away (some or all) gun rights from the public, so as to make incidents like the Parkland, FL massacre less likely to happen in the future, I’d like to submit a question for public consideration:

At what cost are we willing to “do something”?  Are we willing to take measures that would otherwise–on any normal day–be considered a violation of sacred rights? 

Here’s what I’m getting at.

Image from https://gunnewsdaily.com/10-best-handguns-women/

Since firearms became generally available in the United States, women–for the first time in history–had the means to defend themselves with these instruments against violent and aggressive men, who were naturally larger and stronger than the women.  It changed our culture.  It didn’t make it perfect, mind you, but it made much better.  Many bad guys of this sort have been killed in this way, removing their evil menace from our society.  Meanwhile, many a brutal attack has been deterred by women with guns–either in the heat of the moment, or more generally, because bad guys know that many women do have guns, and will use them to defend themselves.

Just imagine the outcry, however, if Congress should announce tomorrow that women were no longer allowed to own or carry guns!  We’d immediately hear charges of Misogyny! and Discrimination!  And rightly so!  Indeed, a great many women are gun owners and enthusiasts.  If you doubt me, just read some of these articles that come up in a Google search for [women for guns].  And this site claims that a whopping 40% of NRA members  are women, so we’re not talking small numbers here.  (I’m not an NRA member, by the way.)  So, if we were to single out women, disallowing them to have and to carry guns, there’d be a huge blowback, to be sure.

And it doesn’t stop with just women.  For example, it was with guns that the Lakota and Cheyenne defended themselves successfully against Custer at Little Big Horn.  Among other weapons, they used state-of-the-art guns that were superior to those used by the US troops at the time.  But imagine if Congress were to announce tomorrow that the members of native tribes were no longer allowed to have guns.  Rather than Misogyny!, the cry would be Racism!   Congress has no right, we would be told, to disallow a class of people the right to defend themselves with modern instruments.  (And they’d be right.)

Indeed, other minorities have their gun rights supporters, too.  Consider, for example, the articles returned in my Google search for [blacks for guns].  Here’s a class of people who once had zero rights in those states (both North and South) where they were held as slaves–and while there are certainly still some inequities today, no one can reasonably deny that it’s a monumental change to go from slavery to gun ownership (even if it took a immorally-long time to get there).  Imagine, then, the uproar that would occur if Congress were to announce tomorrow that blacks were non longer allowed to own and to carry firearms.

And here’s a list of articles returned on a Google search for [gays for guns].  Should we expect any less outcry from gays over having their gun rights revoked than we should from blacks or natives or women?  Wouldn’t it be an equally-egregious violation of their rights?  Of course, it would!

The fact of the matter is that many classes of people have made effective use of “the great equalizer” (the gun) to defend themselves and their interests against violent attackers–whether those attackers were from their own class, or from some other.  Gun rights supporters include people of all skin colors, people of various sexual dispositions, young people, old people, people with families, people with small businesses, people protecting themselves, people protecting others, people assisting law enforcement officers, people protecting their property, and people protecting law and order in general.  Left-handed people, right-handed people, short, tall, fat, skinny, nice, mean, good-humored or bad-humored.  Single out any one of these groups and tell them that they’ll no longer be allowed to have guns, and you will feel the sting of backlash as they assert that you are a tyrant for infringing on their rights.

What is being proposed?

One of the more popular proposals in play since the Parkland shooting is to raise the legal age for purchasing a long gun (a rifle or shotgun) to 21, where it is currently 18 in some states.  (The Parkland shooting suspect is 19 years old, so to many, such a measure seems appropriate to keep 19-year-olds from using rifles to commit mass murders.)  But just what are we doing here?  Aren’t we singling out a single class, and disallowing them guns, just as I discussed above?  In this case, it’s not women or blacks or gays or natives, but young people who are being singled out.  How is this any different from singling out all blacks, had the shooter been black, or all women, had the shooter been a woman, or all gays, had the shooter been gay?  And, of course, should such a law be passed to discriminate against 18-20-year-olds, whatever shall we do when a 22-year-old with a rifle shows up to commit another massacre?  (More about this later.)

Another popular proposal is the ever-present idea of taking away guns from all non-law-enforcement citizens.  How does it make it any more fair, however, to violate the rights of all these various classes of people?  If I rob everybody in a train holdup, is that somehow more justifiable than if I were to rob only, say, the women or the gays aboard the train?  By what manner of chimerical logic could this be defended?  The more people I rob, the more egregious the crime.

How is it that denying the rights of a huge class of people is the proper way to avoid massacres in the future?  And where has it been proven that either of these particular proposed strategies would even be effective?  Just what are we willing to do here, in order to “just do something”?  Just how much are we preparing to gamble on a proposition that hasn’t even been demonstrated to be true?

“If it saves the life of just one child…”

One fairly popular argument is that the violation of the rights of so very many people is justified “if it saves the life of just one child” or “if it saves just one life.”  (See these articles returned on a Google search for [if it saves the life of just one child].)

Is this really true?  Is a policy automatically justifiable if it “saves just one life”?  If that were the case, the banning cars would certainly save at least one life.  (People sometimes die in car collisions.)  So would banning dogs.  (People are sometimes mauled to death by dogs.)  So would banning knives.  (People are sometimes killed with knives.)  So would banning abortions.  (People are sometimes killed by abortion.) And so would banning medicine.  (People are sometimes killed by medicine.)

Under this (poor) reasoning, therefore, all these bans would be justifiable.  But are those in favor of banning guns in favor of banning all causes of human death?  Well, I don’t know, but I can tell you that I have not yet met such a person in my 52 years.  Indeed, I’m quite sure that many of the “ban the guns” people I’ve met would vigorously defend against any attempt to ban cars or abortions or any of these other things that they consider to be their rights.

So, is gun control really about “saving just one life”?  Or is that just a thing to say when you’re playing to an emotionally-charged audience that’s not likely to think this one through?  Yes, I think that’s it.  It has to be it, because as it stands today, a great many lives (even children’s lives) are being saved each month because people do have and use guns to defend themselves against violent people.  How many children, then, are we willing to endanger in order to “save just one child’s life?”

Suppose that the authorities were to show up at your door to take away your child because another child needs an emergency heart transplant, and your child has been chosen as the donor.  Would you think this a fair arrangement?  Would you find it convincing when they apologized for the situation, saying, “I know this really sucks for you, but if it saves just one child’s life, it’s worth it!”

Of course, you wouldn’t.  Why should you have to pay the price for someone else’s benefit?

And so it goes with taking away the rights of all these varied people to keep and bear arms, in an attempt to “save just one child’s life.”  Look what an inordinate trade that is. What you’re doing is making a lot of people vulnerable to violent people, where, as of today, they could should them dead in justifiable self defense.

“Just DO something!”

I totally understand the urge after a tragedy like this to “just DO something!”  But are we not to be careful what we do?  Is it impossible that we could make a foolish decision in the matter?  Suppose, for example, that we were to ban all schools (the shooting happened in a school), so as to make it impossible to replicate this crime.  Or suppose that we we were to ban Uber (the shooter took an Uber car to the scene) to make it impossible to replicate these crimes?  Wouldn’t those two “solutions” be rather stupid and counterproductive?  Sure, they would.  But they’d be “doing something,” wouldn’t they?

It’s just really not that hard to see that “doing something” is not in itself an adequate answer to our problems.  We had better be careful what we do.  It will have consequences.

Are we up to the task of solving this one?

So, our society, which is not really accustomed to giving careful thought to our ways, is prompted by this Parkland incident to consider that something ought to be done.

Great. I get that.

But let’s do something easy, right? (I’m being sarcastic here.)  No need to figure out the actual cause of such massacres, right? No, let’s just slap a Band-Aid on it, and pretend that we’ve done enough–until the next tragedy comes along.

For example, this 19-year-old shooter who had legally bought his own rifle, could not have legally done so had the legal age been 21, so let’s raise the age. Easy, right? Sure it is, and then when some 22-year-old shooter commits mass murder with a gun later, we can debate raising the age to 25 because that’ll be easy, too.  It’ll be our new policy–as in the Geico commercials that say, “It’s what you do.” 

But will we apply such policies to all such problems?  For example, when some 22 year-old decides to plow a car into a crowded sidewalk, killing just s many people, are we really going to do something of this sort about that?  Probably not.  We wouldn’t disallow driving–or sidewalks–or walking on sidewalks in the case of a mass murder via automobile, because, for some reason, we’re much more willing to write such cases off as anomalies that are not worth changing the whole culture over.

Now, why is that? Isn’t there some sort of bias in play when it comes to those particular deaths that are committed with guns? Of course, there is.  When guns are involved, some of us take off our normal, every-day “thinking caps” and put on special caps for a special kind of thinking we wouldn’t dream of using in day-to-day matters.

Only the woefully-ignorant or the insane would believe that the gun itself is the actual cause of the massacre. That is, that owning the rifle itself is the one factor that caused this kid to commit murders. If that were true—that a gun can cause a person to become criminally insane—then we’d have millions of massacres each year, because there are millions of gun owners who would be under the corrupting influence of the guns they own.  (If you want to see how many people believe that guns cause crime, see these Google search returns:  [“guns cause crime”] and [“guns cause murder”].)

Whatever we do, however—and I’m speaking sarcastically again—let’s not get into why this particular kid did it, because that would be too hard a topic. That would cause us to face the fact that 30 years ago, a dozen or more trucks in the school parking lot had shotguns and rifles hanging in their rear windows—loaded, even—and the doors were left unlocked at school—-and a great many thousands of school days came and went without anybody going nuts and murdering their classmates. In fact, in those days, had there been an active shooter in the schools, most of those boys would have run to their trucks to get their guns in order to put the shooter down.

But let’s not figure out what is causing this tiny, tiny fraction of boys in these last two decades to commit such atrocities, because that’s just too much work. Let’s not look at violent influences. Let’s not look at poor parenting. Let’s not look at the continual lowering of the bar when it comes to teaching character and virtue in the schools. Let’s not look at the growing hands-off policies, such has how the kid who punches the bully in the nose gets punished more severely than does the bully who started the whole thing—and how everyone’s afraid of being harassed or even sued by the parents of bullies. Let’s not look at how violent behavior can be protected behind the facade of “racism” (because the violent kid has this or that skin color, and we all know that any criticism leveled against anybody with that skin color simply must be an outcropping of racism, right? I mean, nobody of this or that particular skin color could be violent, and in need of being punished or removed, right?)

The fact of the matter is that many things have broken down in the case of a boy who would do such a thing as this.

Banisters, Handrails, and Cliffs

Here’s a (not-so-great) picture I recently took, showing some boys standing at a banister.  Why don’t these boys jump over?  Why don’t they accidentally fall over?  In fact, when was the last time you saw anybody fall over a handrail or banister?  In your experience, isn’t this an exceedingly rare event? 

Yes, it is.  There’s something about normal humans that makes it pretty easy to keep themselves from go over banisters, handrails, and cliffs.  Whether it’s fear of pain or death, or some other motivator, they prove quite capable of keeping themselves from crossing the line, so to speak.  So, why is that?  By what miracle can billion and billions of people each year keep themselves from falling over rails and stepping off cliffs?  I submit that this is a standard human capability—just as is the capability of keeping oneself from committing mass murder.  Kids who commit mass murder are the exception, and not the rule.  Even in the case of natural cliffs that have no handrails, most people have no problem self-regulating.  That is, in deciding for themselves how close is too close to get to the edge.  And so it is with murder.  Even those who might have a thought of murder pass through their minds are plenty well-enough in control of themselves not to act on it.

What is it, then, about this very small group of boys who have committed mass murder in schools these last couple of decades?  This has not been going on for as long as there have been guns?  (And that’s another proof that the guns themselves are not the cause of the crimes.)  Are these “normal” boys?  Has the “standard model” boy in the United States somehow changed such that they are all now predisposed to mass murder?

I don’t think so.  These murderous kids (and I’m assuming for this point that they are all guilty as charged, even though I have not examined the evidence against them to make a judgment myself) are the exceptions, and not the rule.  But what has changed is that such exceptions seem more likely than before.  Let me explain.

What should we expect?

In an increasingly dehumanizing culture—where kids at school become more and more like cattle in a cattle chute—just commodities to be managed—not real persons, but liabilities—not to be interacted with on the personal level, but only en masse—not to be personally trained and corrected as needed, but to be sent off to school, where the expectation is that he or she will get everything he or she needs to be a “productive member of society”—and lastly, where if we cared one iota to look at the actual outcome of this way of thinking about our kids, we’d see that each decade of this practice cranks out kids that are less mature than the decade before——in a culture like this, you’ve just got to expect that some percentage of those kids are going to sail right through the widening cracks, and turn out to be murderers.

The pendulum has swung too far on too many issues—and there are several causes behind it. Here are a few that should be considered (in no particular order):

  1. In the rush to de-religionize the schools, we have made the foolish mistake of assuming that character and virtue are matters of religion, and not of general civic interest. So, we don’t teach such things at school any more. Instead, we put kids in a situation where the bulk of their social life is conducted in a system that pays practically zero attention to such matters. The standards of behavior that are enforced have more and more to do with keeping order in the schools, and less and less to do with why order might just be a good thing.
  2. In an increasingly litigious society, school officials are afraid to tell it like it is for fear of being sued. If you’re wondering what happened to moral courage, see #1 above. (Remember, today’s administrators were yesterday’s students.)
  3. The defensive punch in the nose that previously cured a great many bullies is now forbidden, and is grounds for expulsion in too many school systems. They are now taught that it’s the school’s business to deal with the bully, and not the victim’s business. But now that the schools are in charge of that, we get to see just how incompetent they are to handle it—particularly in a system characterized by points #1 and #2 above.
  4. In this age of the video screen, there are myriad influences that simply did not exist 30 years ago. There are many more ways to go astray today than before. Many more things for the loner–the maladjusted kid—to get into while letting his bad thoughts fester. He’s not out riding bikes with his friends, and suffering the shunning that naturally comes when he treats them wrong, so he’s not learning these valuable life lessons early–when they can do the most good.
  5. In this poor economy where inflation steals value from the dollars one has already earned and put into his pocket, there is less and less time for family—-which used to be a much bigger influence on child development than it is now. Practically every family today has 100% of the parents working full time. Money is very needful, but money is not the only thing a kid needs to grow into a mature adult. And whatever time the hard-working parents do have to spend with the kids is being competed for by the video screens with which the parents themselves have now grown up. See #4.
  6. In religion (and in Christianity in particular), there is a broadening movement in which it is argued that what really counts the most are things like grace and forgiveness and patience, while things like responsibility, maturation, reliability, and character are grossly de-emphasized. This is now more prevalent than before, and surely, it is not without its widespread societal influence.

Now, #6 brings me back to this idea that the pendulum has now swung too far, for a great many people have found themselves unwilling to treat this Parkland incident with “things like grace and forgiveness and patience”, and are more inclined to “do something” in hopes of avoiding any such event in the future. Does this mean, however, that we’re finally ready as a society to tackle things like 1-6 above? Hardly. That’s much too hard for us; we have no intention whatsoever of giving careful consideration to the question, “what kind of people are we?”

No, it’ll be much easier just to pass a new law—even though we already have plenty of laws against murder. Whenever we’ve finished whatever we’re going to “do about” the Parkland shooting, we will congratulate ourselves that we have won a “victory”. Then we’ll forget all about it, until the next atrocity—because that’s what kind of people we are.

On the whole—when you consider all of us together in some sort of “average” way of looking at things—we are an increasingly sorry nation, caring less and less about honesty, rationality, and responsibility with each generation. Even those of us who think that we personally are not “part of the problem” quite often are. Surely, the millions on the “just do something” bandwagon don’t think that whatever measures they will end up supporting could possibly be adding to our woes and avoiding dealing with our real problems—but that’s exactly what is happening. And that’s what almost always happens–because that’s what kind of people we are.

Now, if you personally are not that kind of person, then how about working on some solutions for the more fundamental problems (such as 1-6 above), rather than hacking away at the leaves of evil while its root lies unchallenged? Our lame and wayward concept of citizenship is what prompted me to write my recent novel.

The fact of the matter is that there is much that can be done that actually addresses fundamental issues. But as it is, few of us are accustomed to thinking in this expansive and analytical fashion, and are much more apt to end up being suckers aboard the “just do something” bandwagon.

Jack Pelham is the author of The Extraordinary Visit of Benjamin True:  The State of the Union as no one else would tell it, and the founder of the Society for Reality-Based Thinking (WebsiteFacebook.)


Posted in Activism, Character, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

15 Tough Questions About the Heinous Acts of Young People

In the wake of the Parkland, FL school shootings, the details of which I have not studied, and about which I will not comment any further, here are some tough questions for America’s consideration–and no, they’re not about gun control, either for or against.  As I said, these are not suggestions; they are questions for consideration and discussion. 
These questions will make you think–really think–and at a scope and depth that is uncommon in our national culture–even though many of us are generally quite capable of most of it.  Some of these questions will surely spawn some ideas, and some of those might be great, while others may be terrible.  The goal here, however, is not just to rush to and argue some preferred conclusions, but to be able to rule things in or out based on Reality-Based Thinking—thinking that is deliberately honest, rational, and responsible.

Continue reading

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Why I’ve Stopped Watching Football

Though I quite enjoy many things about watching my favorite team play football, I don’t like what it does to me as a person.  So I’m done.  It’s a matter of first things first, my personal authenticity taking precedence over my enjoyment and entertainment.  I’ll explain below, but please understand that this is not some rash move over my favorite team’s loss in its season opener last night.  I still love the FSU Seminoles, and wish them and all their fans the best!

The Personal Issues at Stake

Anger.  If I’ve already had a difficult day, a frustrating football game tends to incite me to anger rather easily.  I note that I’m tempted Continue reading

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The Allure of Compromise and Its Failure To Keep Its Promises

One friend’s teenage son complains that there ought to be some “middle ground” between the uber-healthy foods his mom provides, and the convenient, tasty, and unhealthy snacks he finds at his friends’ houses.  This idea of a “middle ground” has some serious problems, however, and it’s got me thinking this morning—and not just about food.

It’s an interesting notion–this idea that compromising on what is best is somehow the right and fair and proper and open-minded and moral and enlightened and normal thing to do. It is the idea that compromise itself is the best policy, and that those in their right minds should naturally practice compromise as a fundamental paradigm in life—as the default manner of reasoning. It is the fallacy that in every disagreement, there should be some “middle ground” to which both parties should rightly repair themselves. It is the fallacy that all opinions have equal merit, that all strategies are equally likely to end in good outcomes, that a thing and its opposite can somehow have equal value, or that a thing and a discounted version of the thing both have equal value.  It is the fallacy that the best thing to do is that which is not the best thing.

To be maintained as a way of life, however, such a notion is generally not stated as clearly as I have put it here.  Rather, it must remain fuzzy and unclear—not as a thing to be exhaustively proven and demonstrated, but quietly assumed and beyond questioning. Its primary purpose is to avoid the realities of diligence–to avoid the sting of reality:  that work is require in order to maintain what is right and best. It is a wish for a reality of a different sort–one that simply doesn’t exist—one in which no difficult decision need be made, and moreover, in which no difficult decision need be carried out in deed.

Those who employ such notion of compromise, however, do not do so consistently. Indeed, they do not want to do so consistently, for there are certain instances in this real world where compromise makes for flagrant failure.  Consider the following ridiculous scenarios:

  1. Lisa sits down to watch the big game, which she knows to be on channel 206.  When she turns on the TV, she sees that it’s on channel 82.  Being a devotee of compromise, she decides to find the “middle ground”, and tunes the TV to channel 144.
  2. Billy knows that it takes 3 gallons of gasoline to mow the field behind his house.  He drives to town and purchases 2.5 gallons for the task, thinking that this is a good compromise because “it’s good to compromise on everything”.  He knows he’ll have to come back for more gas later, but it just seems right to him not to go all the way—not to do things right the first time.
  3. Sally’s chicken pen has three holes in its fence, torn by debris blown by last night’s storm.  Sally is afraid her chickens will escape, so she sets out to repair the holes.  She patches two holes, and figures that this is a fair and proper compromise between what she ought to do and what she is willing to do.  As a result, several chickens escape and are eaten by various predators.

Most people would find compromises such as the ones in these scenarios to be foolish.   They (the people) are not entirely deluded about reality, and they readily understand that some things just don’t work unless they are done right.  Further, and more importantly, they have a motive to see certain things done right.  That is, they have decided to care about certain things enough to go to the effort.  In other areas, where they give in to the temptation to compromise, what is lacking is this level of care—this moral operation of applying oneself to do what is right and best.

Compromise is one-sided.

Have you ever noticed that compromise always gives less, and never more?  The way we think about it, it’s not considered a compromise to donate $10 when asked to donate $5.  We don’t call it a compromise to spend 30 minutes on the treadmill when the plan was for 20 minutes.  No, the whole idea that drives compromise is the avoidance of full exertion.  The point of it is to give less than what is needed, and not more.  It is an attempt to escape from responsibility—from reality.

Compromise promises us that life will be better under its influence than without it.  It promises that we will feel better having done less than what is best.  But this is the stuff from which regret is made.  And who among us feels that life is better with regret than without?  No one, of course.  Compromise is a liar.

I remember a college roommate who sleepily shuffled into the kitchen, removed the milk from the refrigerator, and sniffed it to see if it was still fresh.  At detecting a sour odor, he winced, put the cap back on the jug, and proceeded to put it back into the refrigerator—as if it might be better tomorrow!  He could just as easily have dropped the jug into the trash can, which was a mere step away, but the greater promise, as he perceived it, was in putting it back into the refrigerator, where it could continue to disappoint other roommates who would try the sniff test for themselves, and where it would still need to be thrown out.  He simply wasn’t thinking it through.  Otherwise, he’d have quickly realized that the best and most efficient course of action would be to dispose of the milk and be done with it.  His compromise, therefore, was in doing less thinking than the situation required.

And so it is with eating junk food snacks.  Ask anyone whether junk food is healthy to eat, and they’ll tell you “no”.  They certainly know better than to eat it, whether they actually eat it or not.  Thus does it generally come down to the question of whether we will do what we know is best.  But compromise is always there—always lurking about to promise us at every opportunity that life would be better if we would do less than the best.  It is the excuse that supplants personal diligence and discipline.  But who ever reaches the death bed, convinced that he or she was too diligent in life, and had made too few compromises?

The tug of compromise is as certain as the hold that inertia has on an object at rest.  Resting objects do not spring into motion without being acted upon by some force.  And so it is with our naturally ability to apply ourselves toward doing and thinking what is right and best.  It is a reality of this world in which we live that such operations require the deliberate exertion of energy, which exertion we will not always find convenient or desirable.

The way I see it, we have two choices.  We can sit around wishing that there were an easier way, or we can get up and do what needs to be done.  We can put all the lipstick we like on the pig of compromise, but at the end of the day, it’s still a pig.  And isn’t it interesting when someone actually goes to the trouble of putting lipstick on that pig?  I mean, if the point of the compromise is to shirk responsibility, then why volunteer to be responsible for defending the practice of compromise as if it were a good and proper practice?  Why not just do the work of diligence in the first place, rather than to do the work of pretending to justify the lack of work?

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Lousy “Christian” Logic on Why Voting for Evil is Good

TownHall.com has posted an article by Christian theologian Wayne Grudem under the title, Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice.  To put it bluntly, the article’s logic is lousy.  Let me count the ways.

Grudem’s thesis statement is this:

(I think) voting for Trump is a morally good choice.

That’s his conclusion, and he claims that those who say otherwise are “incorrect”.  He specifically addresses those who say “when faced with a choice between ‘the lesser of two evils,’ the morally right thing is to choose neither one.”   And so now it is up to Mr. Grudem to prove his case.  Here’s his first argument (emphasis added):

I do not think that voting for Donald Trump is a morally evil choice because there is nothing morally wrong with voting for a flawed candidate if you think he will do more good for the nation than his opponent. In fact, it is the morally right thing to do.

Now, Mr. Grudem does not support this assertion—the one that holds that as long as you think your candidate is better, there is “nothing morally wrong” with voting for him or her. He does not offer any evidence to demonstrate to us that he is right. And it’s probably best that he did not try.  By this logic, Judas Iscariot would have been a fine candidate choice because at least he’s not as bad as Beelzebub (the lord of evil spirits).  And by the same logic, Beelzebub would have been a fine candidate because he was not as bad as Satan.  And lest you think I’m waxing ridiculous with these particular examples, let me point out that by this same reasoning, Hillary Clinton would be a justifiable choice for president if she were running against Putin or Ahmadinejad.

Right away, we see that Mr. Grudem employs relativistic reasoning in defense of the idea that voting for a “lesser-of-two-evils” candidate is a morally good action.  This, of course, is not only a logical no-no, but is quite contrary to certain paradigms found in the Bible.  Here are a few passages for your consideration, each followed by my thoughts on their relevance.

Ephesians 5:11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

Is this statement a fair representation of Paul’s paradigm on taking part in evil?  If so, we see that they were to take “no part” in it.  It doesn’t say “take the smaller part in it”, but “take no part”.  Interestingly, this is from the ESV, a translation that Mr. Grudem oversaw, so there’s little room here for bickering about translations; Mr. Grudem should accept this at face value, yet he seems to make an exception when it comes to this election.

1 Timothy 5:22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.

Again I ask whether this one-liner from Paul is typical of his paradigm about whether Christians should ever participate in wrongdoing.  If a candidate is expected to be a wrongdoer—and Mr. Trump is—then what would Paul have said about actively supporting Mr. Trump’s campaign by voting for him?

So, would voting Trump into office be bad for the USA?  Does he have any bad qualities and/or habits that would likely have a bad effect on the nation?  Well, for that, let’s turn to the opinion of Mr. Grudem.  Here are his exact words regarding Trump’s faults:

He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages.

If nothing else, the “brash” behavior is quite a scary trait for a President.  It is from a lack of judgment—from foolishness—which is never once spoken well of in the scriptures.  Consider these passages:

Proverbs 10:14 The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.

Proverbs 14:16 One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless.

Proverbs 26:1 Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool.

Do we really want to “bring ruin near” with a foolish president?  Do we really want a “reckless and careless” administration?  Do we really want to “honor” a man for whom “honor is not fitting”?  As my son would enthusiastically interject (humorously), “What would possibly go wrong with THAT?!”

Yes, these are just a few of the things the Bible says about fools, but does Mr. Grudem think they should be taken into consideration in this present matter of Trump 2016?  Well, apparently not.  Pay close attention to Grudem’s sentence that closes the paragraph from above that detailed what is wrong with Mr. Trump (emphasis added):

These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.

Again, these are very serious flaws, but Grudem is careful to stipulate “in this election”.  And that brings us back to his relativism.  Yes, they are terrible flaws, but Grudem thinks that there’s some sort of good cause in play that trumps (no pun intended, though one is quite appropriate here) normal Christian morality.

Grudem continues with a completely irrelevant argument:

On the other hand, I think some of the accusations hurled against him are unjustified.

It’s not the inaccurate accusations that should keep someone from voting for Mr. Trump.  To bring it up here amounts to saying “Look, he’s not as bad as people make out.”  Well, actually, Trump is worse than most Americans realize.  I say that because most Americans are not very keen on the Constitution and the Rule of Law, else they would squirm at hearing many of Trump’s plans to undermine both.

In his penultimate grasp at straws, Grudem writes:

He has been an unusually successful problem solver in business. He has raised remarkable children. Many who have known him personally speak highly of his kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity.

The suggestion here is that a guy with these qualities must be a good choice for President.  Such notion, however, is false.  Having good qualities does not erase or offset bad qualities.  It does not make them any less bad.  If it did, Joseph Stalin could not have been so bad since he had a very warm relationship with his daughter, Svetlana, yet we know him still as the “Butcher”.

And that brings us to Grudem’s parting argument (emphasis added):

But the main reason I call him “a good candidate with flaws” is that I think most of the policies he supports are those that will do the most good for the nation.

“The most good”?  The most good of what?  The most good of all possible choices for president?  Or is it “the most good” between Trump and Clinton?  Surely, Grudem means the latter.  In other words Grudem might as well be arguing that our only two choices are Trump and Clinton, and that no other option for America is possible at this time.  And there’s your problem, Mr. Grudem.

This “two-party system” that is nowhere authorized in the Constitution, and that has a stranglehold on our politics—Grudem’s advice seems to be to run with it, as if it were not our right to overthrow it for the abomination that it is.  This exemplifies a cognitive error that cognitive scientist Daniel Kahneman might classify as a WYSIATI problem.  (What You See Is All There Is.)  That is, Grudem does not have in mind fixing anything.  He does not have in mind the philosophical origins of our Union.  He does not have in mind principle and righteousness, but merely that the one bad choice seems better than the other bad choice.  He’s not searching for solutions, but for what are commonly called “justifications”.  And no doubt, what he has conjured up here will be quite satisfying to Christians who identify as Republicans.

One wonders whether Grudem would find this altered verse to be logically compelling:

For God so loved the world that he gave flawed Peter, since at least Peter, even with his flaws, wasn’t as bad as Satan.

Grudem’s piece is quite troubling once its logical foundation is uncovered for the relativistic mess that it is.  Even more troubling is the fact that arguments of this (low) quality should find an audience in this culture.  But they do—even at TownHall.com—where part of the plan is to manipulate the religious voters into voting a certain way, whether God likes it or not.

Remember, according to Grudem’s relativist logic, Hillary Clinton would be a justifiable candidate, as long as someone worse than here were running, too.  So really, how impressive is it that such a reasoner as Grudem tauts Trump as the “moral” choice?  This is not morality, but foolishness.

For the record, I support neither candidate and neither party.  It is never a good idea to do the wrong thing—not even “for a good cause”.  Self correction is the rightful duty of all humans and of all human cultures.

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The Leaf Cloud Theory (of Trees)

What follows is a brief description of my Leaf Cloud Theory of Trees.

Perhaps through some sinister government conspiracy, or perhaps only through commonplace institutional dullness, schools in America have taught students for many generations that trees come about through deposition of seeds (such as acorns or pine cones) into suitable soil.  The seeds, it is said, then sprout and grow into (sometimes quite large) trees, which, of course, yield canopies of leaves.

New evidence, however, suggests that this model may be inaccurate.  Without getting bogged down in details and proofs, the intent of this brief article is simply to present the basics of the Leaf Cloud Theory.

Leaf Clouds

A leaf cloud of moderate proportion.

A leaf cloud of moderate proportion.

Nearly everyone has stopped at some point to admire a tree, but very few actually understand how trees get there in the first place.  To complicate matters, as fewer and fewer people spend time outdoors in each successive generation, long-understood phenomena become more scarcely understood until what remains is mistakenly considered to be mere fable.  Perhaps there is no better example of this than the leaf cloud.

Living leaves, because they are strongly social beings, tend to form themselves into societies numbering from just a few to a few hundred thousand.  In such numbers, and under the right conditions, electromagnetic anomalies occur and leaves in societies of sufficient size will levitate in cloud-like formations.  Hence, the name “leaf cloud”.  (See photo above.)  The greater the number of leaves, the higher the levitation, as a general rule.  Most single leaves, especially when they are brown, are unable to levitate, while green leaf groupings of as few as two to four have sometimes been witnessed to levitate within mere centimeters of the ground.  Larger leaf clouds are rarely witnessed to levitate more than a few hundred feet above the ground.

The Need for Water

Early Channel Formation

Early Trunk Line Formation

Leaves in such cloud societies are still limited by their need for water.  Once the society has decided on a promising location (such decision is believed to be by popular vote), its separate leaves begin to emit single, twig-like appendages, one per leaf.  These join together, attaching the various leaves together and growing in length, in search of similar appendages from other groupings of leaves within the cloud.

The effect of this corporate joining together is that the appendages nearer the earth are considerably thicker, as if by some additive effect.  They dangle downward as they continue to grow and join together.

“Trunk” Formation

Half-Formed Trunk Line

Half-Formed Trunk Line Thickening and Approaching the Ground

Once all the leaves have integrated themselves into the collective, the water channels so formed will join themselves into a single “trunk” line reaching ever closer to the ground.

At this point, the forming trunk line begins to form a crusty outer layer (commonly referred to as “bark”) in order to protect the interior water lines from evaporation.

The amount of energy expended by the leaf cloud to form a trunk line sufficient to reach the ground is considerable.  It is believed that this is the reason that leaf clouds of lesser population remain low to the ground, while tall trunk lines are only ever formed by large leaf clouds—those having sufficient energy for it.  Once the trunk line has reached half way to the ground, the individual leaves are short on energy and are in danger of death should any complications occur.


Fully Grounded Leaf Cloud

Fully Grounded Leaf Cloud

The process of grounding with a suitable trunk line moves very quickly, and this is crucial for the survival of the leaf cloud.  In their energy-starved state, normal occurrences such as full sunlight can prove deadly.   This is why it is believed that almost all leaf cloud trunk line installations occur at night, as it not only minimizes the threat of death from exhaustion of the weaker leaves in the cloud, but also tends to hide the installation from more particular species who may object to a trunk line being installed in any given location.

Well, that’s enough detail for now.  You’ll likely have questions, but you know how to reach me.  In the meantime, I’ll be busy overturning all the world’s ignorance and scientific hogwash.

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Why Does the Bible Warn So Much Against Being Deceived?

There are many warnings in the Bible against being deceived.  Here are three from the New Testament to get our study started:

1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

Galatians 6:7  Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

1 John 3:7  Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.

Such warnings are commonplace, and they range from general warnings to warnings about deceit on specific topics.  In fact, the idea of deceiving and lying is a fairly common theme in the Bible.  Depending on the English version, the word “deceive” and its variations occur about 65 times throughout the Bible.  (That’s an average of about once per book.)  Meanwhile, liar and its variations appear about 20 times, while lie to and lied to appear about 10 times.  This doesn’t count, of course, instances in which we read about someone lying in a narrative that doesn’t come out and use one of these words or terms.  Even if we count our estimate at a modest 95 occurrences, however, we end up with roughly 1.5 mentions of lying per book in the Bible, on the average.

And if that’s not enough to cement the topic of lying/deceit as an important one, God’s bold statement that the place of liars is in the Lake of Fire should certainly do it:

Revelation 21:8  But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

I note that it’s not just some liars, but all of them that are in view in this passage.  The wise believer, therefore, would do well to heed these passages.

1 Corinthians 3:18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

1 John 1:8  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Galatians 6:3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves

James 1:26  If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.

I could go on, of course, but the people who are interested in being honest have already seen enough, while those looking for a way out of total honesty will still be looking for a way out even if I show them every passage there is.

The reason the Bible talks about it so much is that every time we think about anything, decide on anything, write anything, or tell anybody anything, we have an opportunity to be dishonest.  Every time.  Just as we have an opportunity to fall down every time we walk, we have an opportunity to make moral errors every time we think or communicate.  God knows this, of course.  Hence, all the mentions of it in the Bible.

And if I understand the Bible correctly–and I do–God is simply not interested in the eternal company of people who are not fully committed to the truth.


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Choosing Between Church And God

If you are a member of a church, you are frequently called upon to choose between church and God.  Let me spell it out for you.

When you were young, there was always some kid around encouraging you to do things your parents disallowed.  Do you remember that?  Or maybe it was a classmate trying to get you to disobey school rules.  Even today at work, there may likely be one or more coworkers who actively encourage you to break the rules in order to do things in a way that’s more advantageous to the employees and less so to the employer.

This sort of thing happens because not everybody shares the same paradigms about life.  Whenever a standard is set, whether parental rules or rules on the job or public law, there will always be somebody who wants to cheat.  And while we could debate whether an individual has any obligation to follow this or that rule, I’d rather just fast forward this discussion by taking it to the top level.

Christians have an implicit obligation to obey God.  They also have an implicit obligation to revere what God says.  After all, when you claim that someone is the Supreme Being in the universe and the Creator of all that is, a certain amount of respect and homage is implicit in that.  Since Christianity is a book-based religion, wherein the central facts are recorded in the Bible, there is also implicit in Christianity some level of responsibility to the information in the Bible.  For example, we call the Creator “Yahweh” because that’s one of the names by which he is known in the Bible, and we don’t call him “Doug” or “Jerry” because he is not known by those names in the Bible.  Or, to give another example, we go around teaching that God’s son was born in Bethlehem.  We could teach instead that he was born in Schenectady, NY, but we don’t do that because we draw our information about him from the Bible, and not from imagination.

That’s basically how it works.  And it works that way with more than just information; it also works that way with our moral code.  For example, a diligent Christian believes that God hates lies because he or she can read as much in the Bible.  The diligent believer, therefore, shuns lying.

But then there’s church.  And at church, there’s always going to be somebody trying to get us to cut corners and to cheat in one way or another on our obligations to God.  It happens all the time, whether it’s cheating with doctrine, with morals, or with the purpose for the program.  The fact of the matter is that it’s just way easier to run a church as one sees fit than it is to run it in such a way that everything that goes on there jibes 100% with all 1,100+ pages of the Bible.  So the program comes first.  And, fortunately for the program-mongers, very few in the pews are the sort to pay much attention to the departures from scripture.

Those who are, of course, can generally be talked into relaxing their objections.  Things like “just go along to be unified” or “look, we’re doing this for a good cause” are particularly effective.  And then there’s the table-turning tactic that bullies the objector into submission—things like, “I see a lot of pride in your thinking about this”, or “What are you going to do, start your own church?”

At the end of the day, however, all this boils down to what will be the fundamental paradigm of the people in the group.  What is their prime directive?  Is it to keep the church running, or is it to please God?  I vote for the latter.  But, of course, I had to cast such vote with my feet—again and again, as I realized just how impossible it is to find a church that is interested in fully embracing everything the Bible teaches.


Posted in Paradigms, Religion, Uncategorized | Leave a comment