Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Art of Date Improvisation

I used to believe that planning dates was an important thing. Figuring out all the logistics in advance seemed like the best idea. However, over the past year or so, my mindset has completely changed. As someone who lives radically in the moment, I rarely make any plans at all more than a week in advance, I don't even start considering date ideas until at least the day before the date, and I never solidly plan any date anymore. Instead, I mentally sketch a general idea of what I might feel like doing and leave plenty of room for improvisation. The result of an improvisational approach to dates? Dates are a lot more fluid, a lot more enjoyable, and any obstacles or deviations completely fail to bother me. I welcome change and unexpected turns of event.

There are several crucial elements to improvisational dates. In many ways, improvisational dates are very similar to good jazz solos, but there are certainly a few differences.

Have an Array of Possibilities Beforehand
Improvisation isn't about coming with stuff completely out of thin air. Instead, it's about having a wide range of possible directions to go, and choosing them in the moment, in accordance with the present mood. As such, before the date begins it's vital to have a mental list of possibilities. This can be a list of various venues that you might feel like visiting, or this might be a list of various activities that can be done at a given location. Your array or choices can be as broad or as selective as desired. A simple improvisational date list might be as simple as Outdoor Activity (go for a walk, play frisbee, kick around a soccer ball, or play at a playground) followed by a Meal (grill steaks at home, grab a burger from In-N-Out, or pickup Chinese food) and then relax at home (listen to new CD, play video games, cuddle and watch a movie, or play cards). That simple improvisational framework offer 48 possible dates, consisting of only three different activities. The vastness of your array of possibilities is limited only by your imagination.

Establish Proper Expectations
This one is fairly obvious, but it's also an absolutely crucial one. Given that improvisational dates aren't always "tried and tested," it is important that both you and your date have no solidly set expectations for what will or will not happen. Disappointment and dates don't mix especially well and they often don't end well, either. As such, it is important for you not to count on certain things happening or working out perfectly, and it's important for your date not to have any misconceptions about what you might end up doing or where you might end up going. The simplest way to eliminate false expectations in your date's mind is simply not to tell her where you're going or what you're doing. Not only does this circumvent any misconceptions or problematic expectations, but it also serves to enhance your aura of mystery.

Be Confident and Decisive
Since improvisional dates often change on whim, it is critical that you remain perfectly confident and firmly decisive. Displaying these two leadership qualities well communicates the subtext that you can be trusted and that no obstacles deter or bother you. When you are confident and decisive enough, your date will never even know whether a given adventure was pre-planned or improvised. In her mind, it all flowed together so smoothly and seamlessly that it hardly seems like the result of improvisation. When things don't go as smoothly as planned, she has the opportunity to see that you can dynamically handle situations as they arise. Either way, you win.

Improvise Based on the Energy of the Date
Since the chief focus of the date isn't the venues visited and the activities done, it's important to keep the interpersonal vibe the central focus of the date. The best choices are made based on the level of energy and the present vibe of the date. If the two of you are starting to reach a lower-level of energy, it probably isn't a good idea to go for a three-mile run or begin an indepth discussion of quantum physics. Likewise, if the mood is starting to get more personal and connected, it probably isn't a good idea to do something that involves competition or puts too much physical or emotional space between you and your date. Instead, the way you improvise should capitalize on the flow of energy and serve to further direct it. Some of the best dates are ones that have contrasting levels of energy or vibes. This serves to engage both people's emotions more fully and creates a more visceral experience.

Most Importantly, Have Fun!
In the end, the whole point of improvisional dates is to have a good time doing some fun things with a person that you like. As such, it is important to only choose elements that will be mutually enjoyable. If one of the ideas you previously thought of doesn't seem like a fun choice, don't do it. If none of the options you have in mind seem fun, then throw them all out and choose something else. If something you're doing is even more fun than you expected, then do it for longer. If something you thought would be fun ends up being quite dull, don't waste any more time on it--change activities right away! There are few things more enjoyable in life than having an amazing time with someone you enjoy being around.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Text Game - Always Have An Agenda

Both Roissy and Aunt Haley have written blogs today on text game. The simple fact is, in today's world, texting is the primary means of interpersonal distance communication. Phone calls are rare and mostly unnecessary. E-mails are too cumbersome and inconvenient. Contrarily, texts are short, quick, and direct. As such, the art of text game is to capitalize on the positive qualities of texting while minimizing the losses associated with the limitations of the medium.

As someone who has been texting and IMing girls for years, I've directly experienced the impact of most of the pros and cons of texting. From my experiences, the most important rule of text game is: always have an agenda. The reason for this is that texting is a poor substitute for practically anything else. Given the extremely limited amount of information communicated, texting is a poor way to attempt any serious attraction or comfort building. It is also a very poor medium for conversations of any depth. Instead, it is best used mainly for the following things:

This one is self-explanatory. The purpose of your communication is to invite a girl to a specific event. There are two ways to handle this sort of text. Either you can send a full detail invitation which requires only a confirmation text, or you can send a minimal detail invitation that requires the girl to ask for additional details if she's interested.

Frame Communication
The purpose of a frame communication text is to convey some aspect of your personality to a girl. Teasing a girl, ignoring a direct question, referring to a girl in a certain manner, or reframing a question or statement are all examples of dominant attraction-building frame communications.

Connection Pings
The purpose of these texts is to establish a brief moment of connection and possibly to determine a girl's present emotional state towards you and/or life. These can be as direct as, "Hi how r u?" or more indirect in the form of a non-needy trial/feeler text.

Information Gathering
These texts are used when you wish to find out something. Often the entire exchange is merely a question and an answer. In other cases, this is used as a prelude to a date invitation. The key to a good information gathering text is brevity and clarity. Phrase the question in the simplest unmistakable form possible.

Information Transmission
Occasionally there is a change of plan or some intervening circumstance that will require you to inform a girl of something. In these cases, keep it simple and communicate no more than you need to. The point is simply to keep her informed.

Anything else besides those things is mere unnecessary fluff. Tight game requires one to completely eliminate needless fluff. Whenever you send a text, always know exactly what the purpose of the communication is. If there's any doubt about whether you should send a certain text, or why you're sending a certain text, just delete it. The main point of text game is to set up a date in order to spend some quality one-on-one time with a girl. All other aspects of text game are simply a means to that end. The best way to tighten up your text game? Stick to the basics, always have a specific agenda for every single message you send, and don't spend much time or energy texting. Texting should always serve to enhance your life--never to distract you from living it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Adventures and the Masculine Soul

There is always a depth of the human soul that is never fully seen or fully experienced. Since the experience of life is a temporally-bound journey always in motion, the desires and pleasures of a man aren't static. They change. They vary. Yet, each various stage of life and pursuit reveals a part of the soul. The dynamic nature of existence makes it all but impossible to grasp the full depth of any person's soul, including one's own soul. Instead, any part of life or oneself is a small piece of puzzle, a mere fraction of the totality of being.

While often conquering challenges is what motivates and drives men, there is also a supreme pleasure to be found in embarking on adventures. Adventuring and exploration have been manly pursuits since the dawn of time. There has always been a natural curiosity within the heart of a man, leading him to wonder what lies beyond his present horizons. Masculinity flourishes in asking that question and setting forth to discover the answer. While the danger and challenge of an adventure may be a part of the appeal, there is something deeper and more profound that drives a man to expand his world. Some things are done simply for the sake of seeing what they lead to. The appeal of an adventure is that what is currently unknown will become known. A man desires to discover new things. There is a profound pleasure in the very process of discovery.

The process of discovery takes many various forms. Some men love to explore our planet and visit new geographical locations. Some men love to explore the inner workings of people and how they tick. Some men love to explore and study a certain area of life in depth, often involving exploration of the theoretical and intellectual sort. Some men love to do things that have never been done or attempted before. Regardless of what aspect of life or the world is being explored, the same core desire for adventure is what unifies all of these various quests for discovery. Masculinity thrives on the impulse to discover.

Recently, in my own life, I have found a strong desire to explore and engage in various adventures. I've been opening myself up to visiting places, doing new things, and connecting with different sorts of people than I usually would. What motivates me? The desire to discover. The curiosity that I feel towards what lies in a certain direction that I haven't been. In embarking on these various quests, I have found that there is a supreme joy in the process of discovery, almost regardless of the specifics of what is discovered. A couple of weeks ago I visited a city that I hadn't been to before, with the intent of running a little errand. The errand itself only took about 15 minutes, but I was so fascinated by the city that I found myself walking around for nearly two hours just seeing what was there. It was a rather novel and exciting experience. The city had its own unique vibe, mix of people, and array of interesting places and shops. The pleasure was in the discovery of a small, yet interesting, corner of the world that I had never experienced before.

Similarly, recently my brother and I decided to start a small business of our own. Right now we're in the process of working out the logistics and we won't actually be up and running until a couple of weeks from now. In the process of figuring out the best way to approach the business, I couldn't help but feel excited about the newness of it all. As I examined my feelings, I found that the main joy I felt wasn't because it seemed like a challenge to surmount or because it might result in additional cash flow. Indeed, this venture certainly won't immediately provide nearly enough money to enable me to leave either of my day jobs. Instead, the reason I feel so excited is because it is an adventure. What excites me is the mere fact that we're trying something new. I really don't know how it will go. But, I also am not especially concerned with the outcome. Whether this turns into something profitable and sustainable, or whether it fizzles and merely breaks even, either way the experience of starting this sort of a business will be something thoroughly new and wholly enjoyable.

Masculinity thrives in the presence of novelty and in the pursuit of the unknown. Men do not resist the urge to discover new things and broaden their world. Instead, they allow their inner desire for exploration to motivate them to go new places, meet new people and try new things. Through these experiences there is a natural broadening of the soul and a greater awareness of the depth of life and being that inescapably emerges as a man pursues that which curiosity draws him towards. Adventuring requires a level of confidence that a man can face challenges as they arise. It requires a boldness that does not fear something simply because it is unknown. It requires a willingness to risk one's time, well-being or material assets. Regular adventureing keeps life meaningful and exciting, keeps a man's heart engaged and passionate, and serves to remind others that our world is a compelling and endlessly interesting place. Nothing feels better than discovering something new and exciting!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's Easier To Make It Than To Fake It

The popular slogan, "Fake it until you make it," tries to convey the idea that simply by trying to do something and trying to have the right frame of mine, eventually a person will reach the point where it becomes easy and feels natural. According to such a mindset, copying external behaviors and mannierisms leads to genuine change of personality, given enough time. My own conception of making personal progress is a bit different, however. In the well-known quote from Star Wars, Yoda offers the sage advice, "Do or do not, there is no try." The mindset conveyed by Yoda in that quote is simply this:

Action is what defines you.

Regardless of what goes on in your mind, and what perspectives you think you have, the simple fact of the matter is that who are you is created, expressed and perceived on the basis of what you do. When you take an action, it directly impacts reality; how you perceive yourself, how others perceive you and what results you reap are directly tied into the actions you take. Actions come in many forms. Whether physically doing things, creating things, going places, speaking to others or even speaking to yourself, all these things impact reality.

When you adopt this mentality you realize that there is no such thing as "faking it." There are only actions that you have taken and actions that you haven't taken. Whenever you're confronted with a new situation, the right question to ask is, "How do I want to act, in this situation?" Whatever attitudes you choose to adopt and actions you choose to take are very real and can impact life profoundly. The only limitation at that point is the mental array of options that you offer yourself. The more various possible actions that you are aware of, the greater the flexibility of choice you have.

The secret to acting well is to have a wide mental array of options and a decent grasp of the possible outcomes of each action. Having an expanded palette of options and an ability to predict outcomes is the result of life experience. The more various things you've considered and tried in the past, the more possibilities you will have in the present. Similarly, in order to adopt a specific persona, it does not much matter what type of things you've done before or how you've thought about situations in the past. All you need to do to be able to adopt a new persona is to have a clear idea about how such a person would think about things, what such a person would say to people, how such a person would carry himself, and what sorts of things such a person would do.

Adopting a new persona, then, is as simple as understanding the mindset and external manifestation of such a persona and acting in accordance with that understanding. At you first you find yourself asking, "How would a confident person handle this situation?" or "What would a wealthy person do in this situation?" or "How would an empathetic person connect with this individual?" The more you act in accordance with your new persona, the sooner you find yourself simply asking, "How should I handle this situation?" or "Given that I have plenty of money, what do I want to do in this situation?" or "How can I best emotionally connect with this individual?"

Since actions define your essence, there is no such thing as faking it. The only difference is how much you have internalized a given persona. The more you are used to thinking about things a certain way and acting a certain way, the more you truly believe that you are a certain sort of person. The change in mentality and the change in actions occur simultaneously, and they are inseparable. Insofar as one acts differently, there is genuine change. Insofar as actions remain the same, it matters not how much one thinks that they think differently. The key to inner change is simply to know who you want to be and then to be that person. You are not bound by who you have been in the past or what you have done before. Be the person you want to be and act the way you want to act. There is no way to fake it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Silence: A Subtle, Yet Powerful Ally

Silence isn't something that many of us are naturally appreciative of, particularly in social situations. So accustomed to an endless flow of words, it's easy to feel a growing tension whenever silence lingers during a date or in a group setting. As I learn to relax my pace of life and social flow, I have begun to develop a deep appreciation for social silence. While it might first seem like something to be avoided, a fuller analysis reveals that there are more instances where silence confers positive benefits than where it hinders relationship.

Game Application: On first dates, especially, silence is a very powerful thing. Once attraction has already been established, allowing silence to linger serves to do several things. First, the tension that naturally accompanies periods of silence serves to further build and heighten attraction. Second, by demonstrating that you are comfortable with being silent around your date, you give her implicit permission to also relax and enjoy simply being; after the first few times, this works to develop more comfort. Third, by not constantly carrying and directing the conversation, there is space for more two-sided interactions, which is great for establishing real connection. Fourth, the periods of silence offer space for non-verbal communication, which is generally more powerful and efficacious than verbal communication, especially in any romantic setting. Lastly, the simple fact that you aren't saying anything means you aren't killing attraction by saying too much or saying the wrong things.

Non-Game Applications: Silence is what affords people space to think more deeply, sort through their own thoughts and feelings and make internal progress on a topic. As such, leaving ample room for contemplation is a vital technique which is usable within a broad array of settings. In a teaching setting, leaving more room for answers encourages further thinking by those who aren't quite as swift to think of an answer, or who are more hesitant to express their thoughts. The more silence you allow, the greater the depth of learning that can occur. Similarly, in a coaching or counseling relationship, space is one of the most crucial elements of the relationship. In both instances, since any real change must emerge from within, it is crucial for a client to be fully aware of their own thoughts and feelings, which only occurs with ample mental space. Even on a personal level, silence is an indispensible ally. Embracing silence always results in a greater depth of personal peace and a higher level of awareness. As a spiritual practice, silence is one of the most challenging and yet most valuable rituals an individual can engage in. Whether used for the purposes of prayer, meditation or simply stillness, silence provides the space needed for a soul to connect with the divine.

In all these instances, silence is something that is incredibly powerful. The slight discomfort that might be felt initially can hardly compare with the rich benefits offered to one who appreciates and fully utilizes silence. In social situations, silence is not golden simply because it is the absence of speech. Instead, silence itself is a positive good that is underappreciated and often underutilized. Only as a person begins to see the positive power that silence has to offer, can that silence be harnessed for personal and social enrichment. Once that understanding is reached, however, there is scarcely a limit to its potential for positive effect.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Insightfulness of a One-Line Marketing Slogan

This morning, as I was driving to meet with a new potential client, there was a sign that caught my attention. It read, "Everyone drives used cars." At first glance, it seemed like the typical appeal-to-popularity type of marketing gimmick used to convince you, as a consumer, to join the masses (real or imaginary) by making the same choice they all are supposedly making. My second thought, in analyzing the one-liner from a logical basis, immediately shocked me with the profundity of the statement. It wasn't merely an appeal-to-popularity. It was a statement of logical fact. That simple fact is one that has been quite obscured to us, due to mental conditioning.

When considering cars, as consumers, we are taught that there are two extremely different categories of vehicles: new and used. These categories of vehicles are presented to us as polar opposites. New vehicles and used vehicles are sold at different places, for different prices by different sorts of people. New vehicles are presented to us a superior choice, FAR more valuable than any used vehicle could hope to be. Used vehicles (except when being described by a salesman) are old, decrepit things that are merely functional, but not especially desirable.

That one-line slogan cut through all of that socially-conditioned thinking. The simple fact is, the only actual difference between a used one, is simply that it has been owned by someone. But even an ostenibly new vehicle can quite accurately be described as "used" a mere week after its purchase. The moment the car is even driven off the lot, its market valuable depreciates, and it may properly be classified as a used vehicle. Hence, the statement "Everyone drives used cars," is a mere declaration of fact. The fact that we have accepted the taxonomies offered to us and created an artificial mental distinction between new and used vehicles is a sign that we often embrace the modern tendency to taxonomize things without giving them much thought.

The other insight this slogan offers is that social status is mostly a mental illusion. Social perceptions play an undeniable role in influencing the decisions we make and the judgments we make of others. A person's car is a sort of status symbol. Regardless of the actual substance and being of a person, people use psychological shortcuts to judge a person. I recently read about a fellow who performed a social experiment. He scheduled dates with two different women. With the first woman, he dressed up really nicely and picked her up in a brand new Bentley. With the second woman, he wore very casual clothing and picked her up in an old beat-up car. The content of the dates themselves were essentially the same. Yet, the way the two women viewed him was extremely divergent. While one had an extremely positive view of the fellow, the other woman described him as a "loser." The exact same guy was perceived in completely different way, simply based on the way he dressed and what car he drove.

In that regard, the brilliance of the slogan is in the way it highlights the way we often don't even see things through our own eyes, nor do we judge things rationally. Instead, we often allow other people's judgments and categories to be used in lieu of our own. We accept the inaccurate and agenda-driven perceptions of others and use them as a shortcut to thinking things through on our own. Humility offers us an alternate way to approach life and people, by pointing out the wisdom of suspending judgments and by pointing out the potential pitfall that arises when overcategorizing various aspects of life.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Essential Ingredient for Meaningful Teaching

The most effective sorts are teaching are the ones that are student-centric rather than curriculum-centric. While curriculum-centric teaching focuses ostensibly on what students "ought" to know, student-centric teaching emphasizes that which students will actually find personally meaningful. This is not a paradigm generally embraced by teaching institutions. Curriculum-centric teaching is the norm in American public schools, private schools, and churches today. This misplaced focus is one of the major reasons why most teaching is perceived as irrelevant. If the goal of teaching is for students to be better prepared for life and better equipped to face various challenges, then it is imperative that students learn things that practically impact their lives. In order for students to learn things that practically impact their lives, it is necessary that whatever is taught directly addresses things that pertain to students' lives.

Curriculum-centric teaching does not effectively meet this need since curriculum-centric teaching has several instrinsic limitations. The first limitation of curriculum-centric teaching is that curriculums are developed by the people who teach, based on their own impressions of what students will find useful rather than being developed directly based on feedback and inquiries from students. The second limitation of curriculum-centric teaching is that it is fairly inflexible. Since curriculum-centric teaching typically emphasizes specific lessons that must be taught in a specific order, there is little room for day-to-day flexibility or deviation from the scheduled content. Additionally, since curriculums are generally developed and refined over a period of time and not prone to be changed rapidly, many of them are based on the real or perceived needs of students in times past, rather than being developed in response to the needs of today's students. The third limitation of curriculum-centric teaching is that it is uniformly "taught" to a broad range of students, whose varying levels of foundational knowledge and learning styles serve to negate the effectiveness of what is taught. Curriculum-centric teaching cannot be easily adapted to the needs of individual students or groups of students.

Student-centric learning, contrastingly, focuses on what students actually need to know. It is form of responsive, dynamic teaching, rather than being static and inflexible. For a teacher to teach students content of relevance, it is indispensible for teachers to be aware of what matters to students, what students struggle with, what students think about, and how students think. For this sort of awareness to be developed, teaching must be a relational experience rather than a merely "academic" one. An atmosphere of open dialog and direct student feedback must be continually cultivated. Simple "factual" communication is insufficient to gauge what students are actually learning. Instead, two-way communication must be the foundation of learning.

As an illustration, there is a profound difference between a teacher informing a student of a fact, and a teacher answering a question posed by a student, even if the hypothetical content is exactly the same. When a teacher informs a student of a fact, this may be a fact that the student does not care about, has no deeper comprehesion of, or already knows. However, when a student poses a self-motivated question, the answer then given is one that is desired, likely unknown and one which the student is prepared to develop a comprehension of. The best way to prepare students to learn is by encouraging them to ask questions, showing them how to ask questions, and having an environment where question-asking and open discussion are encouraged.

Upon the foundation of open dialog and relational learning, is it certainly possible to teach specific lessons about specific topics, since relevance has already been established. After (or even during) the teaching of specific lessons, it is best if there is room for direct feedback about the helpfulness and relevance of the lesson. Apart from establishing that a specific topic is relevant to a student, however, there is limited usefulness in teaching specific lessons. Relevance is the most essential ingreident for meaningful teaching. Anything that is taught must be relevant to the students' lives, comprehensible by the students, and taught in a manner that ensures students are able to connect with the way it is being taught.

The focus in developing lessons should be on quality, rather than quantity. Rather than throwing lots of factual content at students and hoping for them to retain some of it, teaching would be far more effective if most of the time were spent on seeking to develop relationships with students and determining topics of relevance. A few lessons that are highly relevant far outweigh the practical value of many lessons with limited relevance. This is a paradigm that is utilized by effective salesmen, effective couselors, and effective entrepreneurs. Developing a strategy that ensures relevance to the target market is the key to success for those sorts of jobs. If a similar paradigm were adopted towards teaching methods, the quantity of teaching and time spend teaching would decrease, while the quality of the lessons taught would increase exponentially.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Facades We Use

With some friends, deep and meaningful conversation flows naturally. With other friends, the conversational depth almost never exceeds that of a puddle. In the past few days I've had some extremely rich and fulfilling conversations with friends. One friend and I were discussing how people connect with each other. There is always the general social conversation that most of society favors: small-talk, polite inquiries into well-being, topics deemed of general interest. While that helps keep things comfortable and light, in many ways it's a way of avoiding deeper connection.

Though many people secretly crave deeper connection, most people also are fearful of being genuine or vulnerable with others. In group settings, this insecurity is even more pronounced. While people might be willing to discuss things that are more personal in a one-on-one context, in a group setting there is much more general hesitance to express one's true thoughts and feelings. Of course, apart from some expression of one's true thoughts and feelings, neither friendship nor deeper connection can occur between two people.

Facades of all sorts inhibit such connection. Whenever we act or speak in such a way as to disguise our true thoughts or feelings, we are utilizing a facade. Fundamentally, there are two types of facades. Some people have cultivated an unconscious facade. They are not aware of the social-exterior they display (or at least attempt to display) to others. Most people who have an unconscious facade also expect others to utilize a similar facade, and actually have a harder time connecting with those who do not have a similar facade. Such people generally feel a desire to connect with others, but are unaware of their own insecurities and fears which prevent deeper connection.

Another sort of facade is the intentionally-crafted sort. This type of facade is not an accidental or subconscious creation, but instead is consciously developed with the explicit aim of effecting social interactions. Those who have crafted facades generally possess a deeper awareness of their own mannerisms, behaviors, and speech patterns as well as a heightened awareness of social norms and the perceptions of others. As a result of "trying on" various personalities and testing various mannerisms, they generally are fairly easily able to see through the facades of others, and also are more able to manipulate the perceptions of others.

The other kind of person, the most rare sort, is the truly genuine person. Such a person generally does not utilize a facade of any sort in social interactions. Truly genuine people generally are genuine for one of three reasons:

Some are completely oblivious to social norms and perceptions and therefore violate all sorts of social norms simply on accident. These sorts of people tend to be social misfits who aren't necessarily disliked but generally have a harder time fitting in with any social group.

Some people are extremely naturally assertive and therefore take no thought for whatever social norms they violate. They do what they like, say whatever they're thinking and simply leave their words and actions unfiltered. These people are often perceived as jerks and assholes, but also are admired and loved by some, simply for their unapologetic (and often raw) genuineness.

Some people have completely worked through their own insecurities, and as a result of having a deep self-acceptance, in meekness they offer themselves to the world as they are, unconcerned with the judgments of others. These kinds of people are often aware of social norms, but neither adhere to the social norms, nor flagrantly violate them. They have a certain grace and easy-going presence about them.

Those people who are very genuine have a greater capacity for developing deeper and more lasting connections based on genuine respect. Yet, the path of being genuine is not an easy one to walk. In a culture that is quite superficial and expects a certain level of superficiality, it takes boldness and humility to be aware of social norms without being enslaved to them. Yet, the eschewing of facades is a necessary prerequisite to connecting with people more fully. Both the fear-based unconscious facades and the crafted and calculated facades generally do more harm than good. They keep people socially "safe" while simultaneously preventing people from building the relationships they desire.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Glorious Mess

As I was listening to some new music, I began to ponder the human condition. Sometimes people puzzle me. Sometimes I puzzle myself. For being intelligent beings, it often boggles my mind how much chaos, drama and complication surrounds human life. Human existence isn't something that is nice, predictable or formulaic. It's anything but.

The simple truth is, we are imperfect people, living in a broken and disconnected world. Each of us is trying to make sense of it. Each of us looks for meaning in life. Some discover that the only meaning behind it is that there isn't any meaning. Some find fulfillment in the arms of a person. Some find satisfaction in a particular hobby or pursuit. Yet, there isn't a single one of us who doesn't occasionally feel out of place. As if this world isn't quite the right sort of place. As if we're merely outsiders. Maybe we shake those feelings off and try something new. If only we can discover the right secret, everything will feel right.

So we make mistakes. We try new things. We go new places. We meet new people. In search of... something. We're not really quite sure what. Sometimes, we feel that we've found it. The new somethings enamor us, and for a few moments everything feels okay. But, the feelings never last. The spell is broken and the feelings of disconnection return. It isn't okay to feel so out of place, is it? There's so much that we're supposed to be thankful for. Why does everything seem to be a struggle? Even when everything seems superficially well. How are you doing, they ask? "I'm fine," is the standard reply. But, are we? What does it mean to be fine?

As my thoughts transcended, I began to ponder what God must think of humanity. Does He love us in spite of our flaws and imperfections? Does He manage to find some enjoyment in us despite our endless quest for happiness in all the wrong things? Why did God create us, knowing that we would stray? Why would He create a world which He knew would be a fallen and broken world, tainted by sin and defaced by human rebellion? He seems to find joy in the midst of all it. How does He manage that?

Maybe God doesn't like things that are simple, perfect, and formulaic. What if God created our world not in spite of its fallenness, but because of it? What if God loves people not in spite of their flaws, but because of them? What if God enjoys watching and participating in the little stories of our lives exactly because they are dramatic and full of drama? What if God gave us a broad range of emotions, because there is meaning and purpose in experiencing all of them? What if God delights in the chaos and unpredictability of it all? What if He takes pleasure in the small and large ironies? What if God is less concerned with sin and punishment and more interested in the journey and direction of our lives?

What if this world isn't merely a mess? What if God didn't want to create a perfect universe? What if God made things exactly the way He did, because He wanted it to be a glorious mess?

Just a thought.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Faux Democracy

Those in the know have well been aware of the fact that though America is a purported representative democracy, in truth it is neither representative, nor is it a democracy. Though allegedly the will of the people is what governs our land, there is no longer even a pretense of such a structure. The governmental system of checks and balances that was instituted by our Founding Fathers has completely broken down. The system is running amok, and has effectively negated the checks and balances that were emplaced to prevent tyranny.

As today's news heralds the overturning of the California ban on gay marriage, so the power structure is again revealed for what it truly is. Twice, the people of California voted that only marriage between one man and one woman should be recognized by the state of California. Proposition 22, enacted in 2000, was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2008. For that reason, Proposition 8 was proposed for the November 2008 election, giving the voters another opportunity to express themselves. The voters again chose to define marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.

Yet, today our government has yet again declared that they do not serve the will of the people. The legislative, executive and judicial branches of the government have again demonstrated that their agendas are more important than the will of the people. Each branch continues to overstep their legally-appointed bounds, as we see the judicial branch effectively working to create their own laws, through striking down or reinterpretting those laws they deem unfit. The legislative branch is more than happy to spend taxpayer dollars and pass oppressive laws in spite of public opposition to various acts and pieces of legislation. The executive branch readily oversteps their boundaries by involving us in unapproved wars, violating clear rules of procedure in enforcing the law and engaging in scare tactics as a means of extorting citizens.

The writing is on the wall. Anyone who misses the clear revelation of the power structure in America is either ignorant or living in denial. The American government is not concerned with the well-being of its citizens. Presently, government qua government functions only to further its own agendas and perpetuate an increase in governmental power. Today marks another victory for tyranny and oppression. For those of us who love freedom and who believe that the only legitimate role of the government is to serve the interests of its constituents, this new ruling is yet another harbinger that America is no longer a nation that believes in either of those key principles. We are living in a faux democracy. Even those things that we directly vote for are not given serious consideration by our overlords.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Post Worth Highlighting

I just came across this post by Phoenixism and the vital truth of what he wrote really struck me. In a lot of corners of the Roissyshere, there seems to be an extreme overemphasis on female physical beauty, almost at the expense of all else. While there is token mention of various personality traits that are desirable, there is exceedingly little emphasis on character traits or consistently honorable behavior. While such an emphasis on externals alone does seem to make sense, given the general focus on short-term relationships and the irreligious nature of those whose voices are heard, yet such reductionism is still dangerous to internalize.

Phoenixism's post, entitled, "The Plain Jane and the culture of artificiality," addresses this very issue and raises the question of whether what men think they want is preventing them from finding what they actually seek, relationally. This excerpt from ths post boldly points out the truth:
We men are fond of sanctifying the the gilded image of feminine perfection while failing to live out our own sense of perfection. I see way too many men in this community who are ragingly superficial while acting the part of mindless clowns, which is fine because this gig will work and it will get some guys laid. The problem as I see it is that their own personal offerings do not invoke the quality of female perfection they act entitled to. The woman they desire and not-so-discreetly reward is the flashy temptress who willingly immerses herself in the same social outlets the men do and which affords both the ability to meet on mutually artificial terms. Men seek the brainless, whored out image they have learned from television and the rest of pop culture. Men, playing the feminine role of pretentious attention whore only serve to encourage and proliferate the same behavior in women who are their natural mating demographic.

The dating scene amongst the majority of 20-somethings (extending into their early 30s, as well) seems one that is etched with subdued superficiality and half-hearted standards when in fact the overriding impulse is one of purely physical and visceral pleasure.
There is a strong tendency, especially in those who are seeking new ways of perceiving and approaching relationships, to kow-tow to the current cultural trends and adopt such mindsets, almost uncritically. Given that Game theory places a strong emphasis on appearance, social status, and external communication, it is quite easy to fall into the trap of changing one's ideals, without even realizing that a change has taken place. When a man begins to be acutely status-conscious, he consider the implications of every word, every garment, every public interaction and every woman he dates. While an awareness of the social impact of certain things isn't harmful, it is quite easy to become enslaved to the whims of other peoples' perceptions, instead of adopting a fixed, rational foundation for considering what should be done and said. That is a trap which must be avoided, since much is as stake. As Phoenixism points out in his post, often the superficiality that many men absorb causes them to overlook women who might make much better relationship prospects.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Insights on What Is Actually Taught In Classrooms - Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

Neil Postman summarizes the messages that are taught through the classroom environment as primarily these:
1 - Passive acceptance is a more desirable response than active criticism.
2 - Discovering knowledge is beyond the power of students.
3 - Recall and the collection of unrelated "facts" is the goal of education.
4 - Authority is to be trusted and valued more than independent judgment.
5 - One's own ideas and those of one's classmates are inconsequential.
6 - Feelings are irrelevant in education.
7 - There is always a single, unambiguous Right Answer to a question.
8 - Each subject is unique and distinct

He goes on to provide some examples of how these lessons are played out in adult life.

Take, for example, the message that recall - particularly the recall of random facts - is the highest form of intellectual achievement. This belief explains the enormous popularity of quiz shows, the genuine admiration given by audiences to contestants who in thirty seconds can name the concert halls in which each of Beethoven's symphonies had its first public performance. How else explain the great delight so many take in playing Trivia? Is there a man more prized among men than he who can settle a baseball dispute by identifying without equivocation the winner of the National League RBI title in 1943 (Bill 'Swish' Nicholson.)

Recently we attended a party at which the game Trivia was played. One young man sat sullen and silent through several rounds, perhaps thinking that nothing could be more dull. At some point, the question arose, 'What were the names of the actor and actress who starred in My First Nighter?’ From somewhere deep within him an answer formed, and he quite astonished himself, and everyone else, by blurting it out. (Les Tremaine and Barbara Luddy.) For several moments afterwards, he could not conceal his delight. He was in the fifth grade again, and the question might have been, 'What is the principal river of Uruguay?' He had supplied the answer, and faster than anyone else. And that is good, as every classroom environment he'd ever been in had taught him.

Watch a man - say, a politician - being interviewed on television, and you are observing a demonstration of what both he and his interrogators learned in school: all questions have answers, and it is a good thing to give an answer even if there is none to give, even if you don't understand the question, even if the question contains erroneous assumptions, even if you
are ignorant of the facts required to answer. Have you ever heard a man being interviewed say, 'I don't have the faintest idea', or 'I don't know enough even to guess', or 'I have been asked that question before, but all my answers to it seem to be wrong?' One does not 'blame' men, especially if they are politicians, for providing instant answers to all questions. The public requires that they do, since the public has learned that instant answer giving is the most important sign of an educated man.

What all of us have learned (and how difficult it is to unlearn it) is that it is not important that our utterances satisfy the demands of the question (or of reality), but that they satisfy the demands of the classroom environment. Teacher asks. Student answers. Have you ever heard of a student who replied to a question, 'Does anyone know the answer to that question?' or 'I don't understand what I would have to do in order to find an answer', or 'I have been asked that question before and, frankly, I've never understood what it meant? Such behavior would invariably result in some form of penalty and is, of course, scrupulously avoided, except by 'wise guys'. Thus, students learn not to value it. They get the message. And yet few teachers consciously articulate such a message. It is not part of the 'content' of their instruction. No teacher even said: 'Don't value uncertainty and tentativeness. Don't question questions. Above all, don't think.' The message is
communicated quietly, insidiously, relentlessly and effectively through the structure of the classroom: through the role of the teacher, the role of the student, the rules of their verbal game, the rights that are assigned, the arrangements made for communication, the 'doings' that are praised or censured. In other words, the medium is the message.

Have you ever heard of a student taking notes on the remarks of another student? Probably not. Because the organization of the classroom makes it clear that what students say is not the 'content' of instruction. Therefore, it will not be included on tests. Therefore, they can ignore it.

Have you ever heard of a student indicating an interest in how a textbook writer arrived at his conclusions? Rarely, we would guess. Most students are unaware that textbooks are written by human beings. Besides, the classroom structure does not suggest that the processes of inquiry are of any importance.

Have you ever heard of a student suggesting a more useful definition of something that the teacher has already defined? Or of a student who asked, 'Whose facts are those?' Or of a student who asked, 'What is a fact?' Or of a student who asked, 'Why are we doing this work?'

Now, if you reflect on the fact that most classroom environments are managed so that such questions as those will not be asked, you can become very depressed. Consider, for example, when 'knowledge' comes from. It isn't just there in a book, waiting for someone to come along and 'learn' it. Knowledge is produced in response to questions. And new knowledge results from the asking of new questions; quite often new questions about old questions. Here is the point: once you have learned how to ask questions - relevant and appropriate and substantial questions - you have leaned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know. Let us remind you, for a moment, of the process that characterizes school environments: what students are restricted to (solely and even vengefully) is the process of memorizing (partially and temporarily) somebody else's answers to somebody else's questions. It is staggering to consider the implications of this fact. The most important and intellectual ability man has yet developed - the art and science of asking questions - is not taught in school! Moreover, it is not 'taught' in the most devastating way possible: by arranging the environment so that significant question asking is not valued. It is doubtful if you can think of many schools that include question asking, or methods of inquiry, as part of their curriculum. But even if you knew a hundred that did, there would be little cause for celebration unless the classrooms were arranged, so that students could do question asking; not talk about it, read about it, be told about it. Asking questions is behavior. If you don't do it, you don't learn it. It really is as simple as that.
Not only is Postman highly critical of the current goals and methods of learning, but he goes further by beginning to suggest what the goal of education should be. Rather than the goal of education being to know a large quantity of decontextualized information, the goal of education should be that students should be capable of learning relevant things. The goal isn't to learn stuff, the goal is to learn how to learn and what to learn. In today's classrooms, few people are taught how to learn, and no-one is taught what to learn. This is a major flaw with our present educational paradigm. It is one which requires a remedy.

The necessary means of achieving those two goals cannot possibly be a standardized approach, since every person is different. Individuals differ in their learning styles and they also differ in what they need to know. There can be no single answer to the question, "How does a person learn?" Instead, there are many various answers. Likewise, there can be no single answer to the question, "What does a person need to learn?" What a person needs to know to function well in life diverges greatly from one person to another.

While the educational goals that Neil Postman hints at are somewhat different than those that I view as the main goals of education, yet it remains that his observations are incisive and his perspective is clearly valuable in considering the best methods of education.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Insights on What Is Actually Taught In Classrooms - Part 1

Education is something that matters deeply to me, because what one learns profoundly impacts the way one functions in life. Education is something that matters to individuals and something that matters to society as a whole. Even within the blogosphere, education is something that people are currently contemplating. Not long ago, Dave in Hawaii wrote a blog summarizing some of the key things that are taught in schools, according to John Taylor Gatto.

While my inquiry into the ideal method of education is still far from complete, the insights that Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner offer in their book, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, strike me as profound and novel. Inquiring minds will find these excerpts are excellent food for thought.
"The medium is the message" implies that the invention of a dichotomy between content and method is both naive and dangerous. It implies that the critical content of any learning experience is the method of process through which the learning occurs. Almost any sensible parent knows that, as does any effective top sergeant. It is not what you say to people that counts; it is what you have them do. If most teachers have not yet grasped this idea, it is not for lack of evidence. It may, however, be due to their failure to look in the direction where the evidence can be seen. In order to understand what kinds of behaviors classrooms promote, one must become accustomed to observing what, in fact, students actually do in them. What students do in the classroom is what they learn (as Dewey would say), and what they learn to do is the classroom's message (as McLuhan would say). Now, what is it that students do in the classroom? Well, mostly, they sit and listen to the teacher. Mostly, they are required to believe in authorities, or at least pretend to such belief when they take tests. Mostly, they are required to remember. They are almost never required to make observations, formulate definitions, or perform any intellectual operations that go beyond repeating what someone else says is true. They are rarely encouraged to ask substantive questions, although they are permitted to ask about administrative and technical details. (How long should the paper be? Does spelling count? When is the assignment due?) It is practically unheard of for students to play any role in determining what problems are worth studying or what procedures of inquiry ought to be used. Examine the types of questions teachers ask in classrooms, and you will find that most of them are what might technically be called "convergent questions," but which might be more simply called "Guess what I'm thinking" questions. Here are a few that will sound familiar:

What is a noun?
What were the three causes of the Civil War?
What is the principal river of Uruguay?
What is the definition of a nonrestrictive clause?
What is the real meaning of this poem?
How many sets of chromosomes do human beings have?
Why did Brutus betray Caesar?

So, what students mostly do in class is guess what the teacher wants them to say. Constantly, they must try to supply "The Right Answer." It does not seem to matter if the subject is English of history or science; mostly, students do the same thing. And since it is indisputably (if not publicly) recognized that the ostensible "content" of such courses is rarely remembered beyond the last quiz (in which you are required to remember only 65 percent of what you were told), it is safe to say that just about the only learning that occurs in classrooms is that which is communicated by the structures of the classroom itself. What are these learnings? What are these messages? Here are a few among many, none of which you will ever find officially listed among the aims of teachers:

-Passive acceptance is a more desirable response to ideas than active criticism.
-Discovering knowledge is beyond the power of students and is, in any case, none of their business.
- Recall is the highest form of intellectual achievement, and the collection of unrelated "facts" is the goal of education.
- The voice of authority is to be trusted and valued more than independent judgment.
- One's own ideas and those of one's classmates are inconsequential.
- Feelings are irrelevant in education.
- There is always a single, unambiguous Right Answer to a question.
- English is not History and History is not Science and Science is not Art and Art is not Music, and Art and Music are minor subjects and English, History and Science major subjects, and a subject is something you "take" and, when you have taken it, you have "had" it, and if you have "had" it, you are immune and need not take it again. (The Vaccination Theory of Education?)

Each of these learnings is expressed in specific behaviors that are on constant display throughout our culture...
Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner present a compelling case that what is taught is school isn't primarily the content that comes to mind when we think of the various subjects that are hypothetically being taught. Instead, the most powerful and enduring lessons that are taught in classrooms are ones concerning structure and method. Personally, I find it no coincidence that my own personal experiences with formal education yield similar observations.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Male Attractiveness Relativity

A man's attractiveness often varies from group to group. While a woman's attractiveness is fairly constant and unchangable, a man's attractiveness is both malleable and perceptually relative. How he is perceived (by both men and women) depends on who he is seen with and what his interactions are like. Those who are students of social dynamics and human attractiveness know that there are three major factors that signal a man's attractiveness in the dating market:

- Leader of men
- Protector of loved ones
- Pre-selected by women

Women mostly judge a man's attractiveness by his social prowess. A man who displays confidence, is charming, well-connected, and is admired by others is seen as very attractive. However, women rarely judge a man's attractiveness directly. Typically, there are many mental shortcuts used to quickly assess a man's attractiveness. This is one of the reasons why pick-up artist materials work well. They teach shortcuts that enhance one's perceptual sexual market value. Alpha mimcry techniques work quite well to fool people short term. While there is a difference between apparent connectedness and genuine connectedness, the heuristics used to measure connectedness and confidence do not allow for such a distinction to be made. A few moments of observation are used to judge a man's attractiveness, though such a judgment may not be accurate.

For example, if a man enters a venue and immediately walks over to talk to someone, as an observer you have no way of knowing whether this fellow is already friends with that person, or if they are a perfect stranger to him. If a man walks into the room with a pretty girl next to him, he immediately appears desirable, even though she may just be a friend or his sister. Due to the use of heuristics in judging a man's attractiveness, first impressions are incredibly vital. While making a great first impression and subsequently not dropping the ball are the key to picking up strangers, the game is entirely different within longer-term social groups. Yet, the same fundamental rules still apply.

When extremely limited information is available, the first impression is practically all the information a person or a group of people have about a man. However, with each new interaction, more information is acquired and a man's attractiveness is reassessed. First impressions are either further established or discarded. Someone may make a great first impression but subsequently show themselves to be less confident, charming or connected than initially perceived. Alternately, sometimes a person makes a poor first impression but consistently shows themselves to be a high quality person in future interactions. First impressions are not discarded easily, but they certainly are not etched in stone.

Because each group is different, the same man may be perceived very differently by various groups. Accordingly, his relative attractiveness may diverge greatly from group to group. At work, a man may seem very distant, detached and anti-social, while with his college buddies he is the life of the party. A man may be seen as very positive and uplifting person by church friends, while viewed as cynical and sarcastic by his family. These perceptual differences are often partially rooted in reality and partially skewed by inaccurate perceptions or extenuating circumstances. Observers who notice a man's interaction with one group may reach extremely difference conclusions about him than observers witnessing him interacting with a different group.

Is one set of observations a more accurate determinant of his attractiveness than another? I think not. Instead, it seems clear that a man's attractiveness genuinely varies. A man who acts anti-socially at work may genuinely be quite unattractive within that context. But, the same man may be extremely attractive when he is with a peer group that includes several hot girls he's dated, some cool friends who genuinely look up to him, and a few people who are very happy to have him around. Not only are perceptions of a man's attractiveness quite subjective, but his very attractiveness may vary greatly from one group to the next.

For those men who seek to apply Game as more than a short-term fix, they have to seek their ideal element and capitalize on that. Where is a man perceived as the most attractive? Why is he perceived that way by them? How can he capitalize on attraction-builders and minimize attraction-killers? Inner Game is about knowing yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses, and utilizing that knowledge to your advantage.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Entry-Level Job Options In A Recessed Economy

While it isn't my primary occupation, I run a small life coaching practice. A client came to me seeking guidance concerning finding a job for her son. He's a young fellow who is fairly capable, but isn't especially confident in his abilities and hasn't bothered pursuing any higher education. He's held a couple of short-term jobs, but by choice he has never been employed for more than a couple of months. As such, at this point he desires a job, but isn't quite sure what sort of opportunities are actually available.

In other times, the answer to this would be fairly simple. He could simply find an entry-level position or a retail job in the area and be employed quickly and easily. Of course, with the present state of the economy, that simply isn't an option. Indeed, I have several friends who have been searching for any sort of entry-level work without fruitful results. One friend of mine recently landed a job that pays on a "commission-only" basis. However, since it's a politically-oriented job rather than an economically oriented one, there really is no way to earn any serious money on commission. In practice, his pay is below minimum wage.

Since I have had personal experience with alternative forms of employment and earning money, here are a few ideas for those who wish to be doing something with their lives in the midst of our presently recessed economy.

1 - Merchandising
While it isn't the simplest and easiest job in the world, there is plenty of money to be made with only a modicum of effort, if only you know how to approach it. Unlike many jobs, buying and selling things requires no job applications, no interviews and no commitment. All you have to do is find a way to make a decent amount of profit by buying things at low prices and reselling them at higher prices. The best way to do this is to choose items where your profit margin is greater than $30. Hot electronic items and popular consumer goods are a good bet. Simply scour the internet (eBay, Amazon, Craigslist...etc) for an item that is selling for far less than it's value and resell it at a higher price. I have two friends who consistently make good money doing this. At $30-$40 profit per sale, you can make nearly $28K per year if only you average three transactions per day. With a bit more effort, you can make even more money. All it takes to succeed at merchandising is basic math and good searching skills.

2 - Utilize Social Connections
This is one of the best means of actually getting a job. While submitting job applications and going to interviews is a fairly hit and miss process for entry-level work, having connections can land you a job with much less effort and hassle. If you are part of a community, especially a mixed-group community, there are often many job opportunities available to you that are acquirable simply through social leverage. Last time I was looking for a job, I landed a great part-time job simply because I was aware of opportunities that weren't available to the public. With that job, the resume submission and interview process were mere formalities. I have a long list of friends who acquired jobs through their social circles. Churches are one of the richest sources of non-application job opportunities.

3 - Personal Skill Marketing
While work of this sort isn't necessarily as steady and consistent as the other options mentioned, there is still quite reasonable demand for personal skills of all sorts. Rather than seeking a job, simply assess your own skills and market them in order to supply a steady stream of work. Can you mow a lawn? Start offering yardwork services. Are you good at house cleaning? Start a cleaning service. Are you skilled in an academic subject? Offering your tutoring services. Are you great at childcare? Look for nanny jobs in rich areas. There is plenty of money to be made if you simply market the skills you already have. Anything that you land is money in your pocket. There is no need to apply for jobs or go through interviews. Just make a post on Craigslist and/or other specialized websites. Go door-to-door and pass out flyers. I have earned more than a few dollars marketing my skills in various ways, and I know quite a few others who have done the same. A couple of friends have even established businesses this way.

4 - Missionary/Organization/Volunteer Work
This last option isn't a lucrative one. But, that doesn't mean it isn't a highly viable choice. Rather than seeking a means of earning money, there are a good number of options that are adventures in themselves. Plenty of different missionaries, organizations and even families are always looking for people to help them in their endeavors. Often, in exchange for your services, they will provide room and board. Doing something like this gives you an opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone, develop various skillsets, and interact with people who have a different approach to life. Taking advantage of long-term or short-term opportunities is a great way to avoid the job market altogether, while experiencing sides of life that many people never see. These sort of opportunities (especially international ones) also look very good on resumes, which may provides future employment opportunities.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Misunderstanding the Recession

It should be no surprise that journalists have very little conception concerning the true cause of the high unemployment rates faced in America today. Accordingly, it also should be no surprise the the proposed remedy is absolutely worthless and counterproductive. An article in the news today, entitled "Why Everyone Suffers When Job Seekers Give Up", clearly misses the mark with its analysis of the economic realities.

Among the surprises in last month's job report was the downward slide in the unemployment rate from 9.7 percent to 9.5 percent. Most of the time, high unemployment rates are bad and low unemployment rates are better. But when the percentage of out-of-work Americans dipped in June, it was driven largely by a 652,000 drop in the labor force.

Some job seekers might see this, on its face, as a good thing--fewer labor force participants means less competition for jobs. The truth is much less helpful. When able workers drop out of the job market, their households make do with less income, and their long-term financial health may be threatened, as savings are depleted. The aggregate economy suffers, too, as it chugs its way out of recession--it loses their contributions as workers and their buying power as consumers.
The aggregate economy might suffer from workers abandoning their jobs and ceasing productive ventures, but the economy does not suffer at all from job seekers abandoning seeking jobs. Since they currently are producing nothing of economic value, their continuing to produce nothing of value results in no economic net change. It only reduces the amount of job candidates for the infinitessimally small amount of available jobs from a supermassive number to a merely extremely excessive one. How will companies ever find suitable candidates now?

The growth in discouraged workers is clearly correlated with the high numbers of long-term unemployed--as people who have spent a year or two looking for work unsuccessfully begin to lose the will to keep searching. With five job seekers for every job opening, and some jobs not likely ever returning, the search has been incredibly difficult for many. This is worrying, says Sung Won Sohn, an economist at Smith School of Business and Economics. "If you look at the total unemployment, about 50 percent are long-term unemployed ... and I suspect that a lot of these people are just dropping out of the labor force, saying 'this is just a waste of time,'" Sohn says. "It's not only an economic problem but a social problem as well. Many of these people are very able--they're in their forties, fifties, they still have quite a few years left in them."
Oh my, what a shocker! After unsuccessfully searching for a job for a long time, people are really giving up the search? I never would have guessed! How could they be so socially irresponsible? It's obviously not a waste of time to keep applying to jobs with a negligible chance of being hired and a slim chance of even getting an interview.

Discouraged workers can't help the economy move toward recovery, as they generally can't contribute to the aggregate demand without generating income, paying much in taxes, or consuming much, Autor says. Over the longer term, some discouraged workers will never return to the labor force and may depend on financial support from family members, or public programs such as federal disability benefits or Medicaid. "In addition to the losses these individuals suffer as a result of not remaining active in the labor market, their withdrawal is also an expensive proposition for the public," Autor says. "Prime age adults who exit the labor force permanently will generally receive considerably more in public benefits and transfer income than they will pay in taxes. Thus, in net, their withdrawal increases the dependency ratio, that is the ratio of non-workers to workers."
Now we're getting a little closer to the real issue. Although, a pivotal point is being missed. Not only are discouraged workers incapable of helping move the economy towards recovery, employed workers are similarly unable to help move the economy towards recovery. Our economy is lying in shambles because of the pervasive government intervention into the economy, the oppressive weight of taxes and regulations, and the global lack of understanding the long-term impact of debt, on a national or an individual basis. There is nothing economically wrong with discouraged workers depending on support from family members. However, when there exist public programs that support those who are not contributing economically to society, it distorts labor incentives. When the available jobs are extremely hard to get, and when there is incentive to give up and rely on government support, guess what choice people will generally make? The problem has two sides, but both sides have the same root cause. They are two sides of one coin. The reasons behind the lack of jobs and the reason why people can survive without jobs are one and the same: government intervention.

Retraining programs will likely be key to getting discouraged workers back into the workforce. "What's worrying is you have this sea of unemployed people who seem to not have the right skill sets for where jobs may be being created in this economy," says Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR, an economic consulting firm in New York.
Of course, the solution advocated by our all-wise media is the same one propagated in society at large. If we just had more education and training programs, our economy would be better off. If people were better trained, or had more specialized training then there would be plenty of productive economic activities for everyone. As with most of the diagnoses and solutions offered by our benevolent social guardians, nothing could be further from the truth. The problem isn't a matter of education and training. Higher education is becoming increasingly useless in the modern economy. The reason we have an inadequate number of jobs is because incentives are distorted due to the government tinkering with labor prices, levying excessive taxes, creating an ever-increasingly incomprehensible labyrinth of regulations, and monkeying with the monetary system through the Federal Reserve System.

The solution is a return to true laissez-faire capitalism, where people can actually be rewarded for working hard and being innovative. Until there exist enough incentives for innovation and jobs for those who wish to be employed, it should be no surprise that people are abandoning the search for work. Until the systemic obstructions to the creation of jobs and economic innovation are removed, the incentives are distorted enough that people are simply going to play it safe. But, again, we the people are having the same tired cliches fed to us. More training, higher education and endless perseverance are the keys to individual economic stability. The problem couldn't possibly be a systemic or institutional one.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Wayward Beings

One theme that recurs frequently in the pages of Scripture is the idea that human beings are wayward and sinful. From the third chapter of Genesis and the Fall of Man until the Great White Throne of Judgment mentioned in Revelation 20, the entire Bible is about people being wayward. We do what we shouldn't do, and don't do the things we should. We pursue things that lead to destruction and avoid things that lead to restoration and life. We value that which is transitory and illusory while denigrating that which is really of worth. All of us live this way. All of us fairly consistently behave in counterproductive manners.

I was reminded of that potent and inescapable fact as I was conversing with my younger brother. Despite being fairly young, he has more wisdom than many people even twice his age. Recently he has been reading through the books of Job, Psalms and Proverbs. As we were discussing the ways various people perceive things, the things people value and the behaviors people exhibit and reward, we were both struck by the simple realization that people really do live almost precisely contrary to the way the Bible teaches. In almost any area of life, wherever society encourages one mindset or set of behaviors, the Bible advocates precisely the opposite path.

Modern Values
Quid pro quo
Material wealth
Striving for gain
Instant gratification

God's Values
Unconditional love
Pursuit of holiness
Reliance on God's provision
Sacrificial giving
Spiritual prosperity
Proper assessment of self

The dichotomy is quite stark. Today we are relentlessly taught to "look out for number one." We are bombarded with messages that material wealth is the key to success, happiness and social status. We are reminded that "you have to depend on yourself because people will always let you down." We value the pursuit of personal happiness more than we care to enhance the lives of others or live by God's moral code. We are told to "be irrationally confident" and "to err on the side of too much cockiness rather than too little." They say that "there is no such thing as unconditional love" and therefore we should never expect it or give it. We are inundated with messages that religion and spirituality are empty or soul-killing things that prevent abundant living. We are encouraged to have an excess of self-esteem, regardless of the rightness of such an opinion. Cliques and snobbery are encouraged, and those who aren't sufficiently exclusive in their social connections are frowned upon. We are taught to give less than we receive, and never be the first one to give. This dichotomy is powerful, pronounced and deeply ingrained in our mental processes.

Yet, it is all backwards. And, throughout human history, it always has been. The clear division that we see between societal values and God's value is not something peculiar to our era. Rather, this is a social phenomenon that has existed since mankind came into being. It is one which afflicts us all. I am no stranger to valuing the things I shouldn't, pursuing things that are transitory and viewing myself through the distorted lenses of my own perceptions or societies perceptions. The disease of sin is an infectious one which spreads and takes over unless it is resisted. The only cure is spiritual renewal, which comes from submission to God and bathing oneself in the words of God.

"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." (Romans 12:2)
This is also why I am firm believer in Christianity. The Christian metanarrative is the only one that properly explains why we are such wayward beings, attests to sinfulness being an abnormal condition, and offers a solution to that dilemma. Some worldviews postulate that though we are broken beings we are as we always have been, and therefore there can be no solution. Some worldviews deny that there is anything wrong with humanity. Thank God that though there is a disease in humanity, there is also grace and room for redemption. It just takes a bit of humility and the hard work of repentence.

Friday, July 2, 2010

On The Odd Apparent Disconnect Between Religiousness and Intelligence

There are a great many odd and peculiar ideas in our world. Recently, I was pondering one of the most odd of all of them. Even just the other day, someone responded to one my posts with the entirely off-topic comment:

You seem so intelligent, Silas, therefore, your religiosity puzzles me.
My initial thought upon reading such a comment was, "How could I possibly be intelligent and not be religious?" Of course, the simple fact is that I couldn't be both intelligent and non-religious. There are a great many people who can be intelligent and yet non-religious, but I most certainly am not one of them. Yet, there, in precisely that paradox, is the simple truth revealed. Intelligence has very little to do with the veracity of one's beliefs. Intelligence may be correlated with the complexity and depth of one's worldview, but never with the correctness thereof. The intelligent mind takes the apparent facts that it is confronted with, and formulates the best possible explanation of those facts. Yet, the conclusions that are actually reached are inextricably dependent on the apparent facts that are observed and pondered.

In many ways, the human mind is like any other tool. If you give a man a hammer, he will be quite puzzled how to use it, unless he is also equipped with and familiar with nails. A screwdriver is quite a useless and perplexing tool to one who hasn't seen a screw. Similarly, intelligence is only a practically useful tool to those who are properly trained in how to use it. There are proper ways of thinking and improper ways of thinking. There are correct applications of the mind and incorrect applications. If one uses thinking only to justify erroneous conclusions, then one may be using one's mind, but the justifications that are made are in opposition to reason. If one uses thinking only to prevent future thinking, then one is using intelligence merely to destroy intelligence. For this reason, it is imperative that a person of intelligence not only be intelligent, but also have the wisdom necessary to properly use such intelligence.

Additionally, even supposing that one does possess the needed skills to properly use their intelligence, it remains that there must be suitable material to ponder and reasonable premises with which sound conclusions may be formed. Much as a hammer isn't especially helpful when one only possesses bent nails, and a screwdriver is of no help when one only possesses sheared screws, so intelligence is of little benefit when one is only equipped with faulty premises. And this is precisely the modern plight!

After all, in any case of inquiry, it is certain that there is only one right explanation of a thing, while there are a vast array of wrong explanations. If we were to inquire into why apples fall off trees towards the earth, there are a near infinite number of possible explanations that could be given. Perhaps apples like to be nearer to tree trunks than to tree leaves. Perhaps, apples are overly warm from being in the sun and are drawn towards the cool of shadier places. Perhaps, apples are migratory creatures who seldom stay near their birthplace. Yet, despite the fact that there are a near infinite number of possible explanations, there is one only possible explanation that is both plausible and true. Hence, whenever explanations are offered, there are always infinitely more possible fallacious explanations than true ones. In practice, there are always more real faulty explanations than true ones.

Due to the rise of advanced civilization and the connecting of the globe, ideas have spread faster than at any time prior in human history. The past three hundred years, in fact, have given rise and voice to a variety of major ideas and have propagated them broadly among minds, both great and small. Unfortunately, as error is more plentiful than rightness and lies are more plentiful than truth, many of the ideas that have been broadly accepted are fallacious. More than just being fallacious, a good many of them have more than a quantum of insanity about them. The explanations of many things are, as far as they go, logical and consistent enough. However, that which some such theories (like materialism) leave unexplained is broad enough in scope to leave the explanatory power of such theories utterly deificient. Alternately, that which other theories (like macroevolution) explain is far more than can possibly be deduced from the evidence. Most popularly held modern ideologies possess one of those two flaws: either they explain far too little, or they explain far too much.

Logic dictates that when proper syllogisms are used in conjunction with valid premises, the conclusions that follow are similarly valid. However, logic also dictates that even when using proper syllogisms, if the premises are invalid, the conclusions that logically follow are also invalid. The problem with modern thought is that much of our collective body of conclusions rest upon foundational conclusions and premises that are faulty, and provably so. Once a few faulty conclusions were reached and accepted as valid, they then began to be utilized as foundational premises for the derivation of further conclusions. Now, we find ourselves with an entire cathedral of thought, marvelously constructed, with remarkable ornamention. Yet, the cathedral is built upon a foundation of sand. Nearly a century has passed since we passed beyond what Francis Schaeffer termed the Line of Despair, where the abandonment of reason began in earnest, and hopelessness in any quest for truth became prevalent. In F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, This Side of Paradise, published in 1920, he brilliantly captures the essence of his generation with this memorable quote:

Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a revery of long days and nights; destined finally to go out into that dirty gray turmoil to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken...
That philosophical foundation, which we now call modern thought or existentialism, is founded on precisely those tenets. All Gods are dead, all wars have been fought, all faiths in man have been shaken. There is no ultimate answer to anything. Instead, there exist only disconnected fragments to be discovered. So it has come to pass that the intelligent minds of our day have fed and feasted upon such tenets and the ideological developments that have been built upon those tenets. Yet, we have not stopped long enough to consider whether our presuppositions are true. For this reason, the apparent disconnect between religiousness and intelligence now exists. No one can be intelligent, accept the modern premises, and be religious. Simply stated, if the premises accepted by modern society are valid, then it is thoroughly irrational and unintelligent to be religious. The problem, however, is not one of religion or intelligence, but rather of the premises accepted by modern society. G.K. Chesteron aptly describes such a modern tendency towards blind acceptance of highly debatable tenets, in his book, The Everlasting Man:

...but this habit of a rapid hardening of a hypothesis into a theory and of a theory into an assumption has hardly yet gone out of fashion.

Statements are made so plainly and positively that men have hardly the moral courage to pause upon them and find that they are without support.
With each passing year, as those questionable inferences continue to be taken for granted, the pathways of intelligence and religiousness appear to grow even further apart. Yet, the conflict was never between religiousness and intelligence. The wedge that divdes the two is the great body of faulty assumptions that underlie the entire worldview of contemporary Western society. The intelligent but gullible mind of today is logical and rational enough, but since such a mind has a great many misconceptions which are perceived as facts, such a mind is also one that rejects religion prima facie. The intelligent but skeptical mind has either reached the conclusion that religion and mysticism are a necessary part of sane human existence, or yet remains in a state of intellectual limbo. There is no true disconnect between intelligence and religiousness. The apparent division between the two is merely an illusion, widely propagated by misplaced faith in tenets and principles which are highly debatable, at best, or provably false, at worst.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Custom Cocktails: Tangerine Dream

Normally, since I just mix various drinks for fun, I wouldn't even think of writing a blog about one. However, I was recently inspired by Ulysses' post, Saturday Cocktails, and decided that it would be fun to share my take on custom cocktails. Ever since I turned 21, I've enjoyed trying various sorts of alcohols and developing my own personal palette. As an insatiably creative sort of person, I rarely stick with the basics for long. Hence, for as long as I have been seriously into alcohol, I have been experimenting with various different ways to make drinks.

My philosophy on drinks is that the very best drinks not only taste amazing, but they also look quite stunning. In fact, that's my general philosophy on anything one eats or drinks. While food or drinks that taste good certainly aren't bad, there seems to be an exponential effect that enhances the sensual experience of something of that appeals to more than one sense. The presentation, then, is at least as important as the final flavor of a drink or dish. Of course, it often takes a little more effort to make something sparkle and shine, but that little bit of extra effort goes a long way. Whenever entertaining guests, having a lucky lady over for drinks or even just relaxing with a drink myself, I like to pull out the stops and craft a sensational experience.

A couple of weekends ago, I was in the mood to create a new cocktail. Without further ado, here is the recipe for my new cocktail:
Tangerine Dream

1 measure Vitali or Skyy Vodka
1 measure Triple Sec
1 1/2 measure Orange Soda
4 Ice Cubes
(optional) 3 fresh Blueberries

Pour the vodka and Triple Sec into a cocktail shaker and add the ice cubes. Shake thoroughly and then pour into a martini glass. Pour the orange soda into the martini glass. If desired, garnish with fresh blueberries.

Note: For a slightly crisper, sharper cocktail, use Vitali Vodka. For a smoother cocktail, use Skyy Vodka.

This last weekend, several friends came over for an afterparty at my place, and I quickly whipped up a few of these drinks. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed them. We sipped on our cocktails while enjoying an old black & white comedy classic. It's always hard to go wrong with cocktails that look as incredible as they taste. That's the way we do it at my villa!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Biblical Wisdom: Debt-Free Living

Some things are so deeply ingrained in my worldview, that I scarce can read about the way others handle things without a deep sense of puzzlement. That which seems to be common sense is so consistently and assiduously avoided by many of my contemporaries that sometimes I genuinely wonder whether people even rationally ponder the decisions they make. Today, as I was reading Talleyrand's post on Fairy Gold, I was struck with exactly such a feeling. Talleyrand discusses that which offers illusory temporary wealth at the expense of long-term happiness and financial well-being, and his post hits the nail right on the head. He writes:

Higher education is a form of fairy gold. When student loans started becoming the rage decades ago, the idea was to make higher education “accessible to everyone."

Another example of fairy gold is our governments deficit spending and the deficit spending of the American public, with credit cards and home loans and car loans, all making them feel wealthy on the belief that more money would always come.
While I am always subconsciously aware of the fact that numerous Americans do have large student loans and readily spend beyond their means, whenever I stop to actually think about the implications of such choices, it truly baffles me. Why would any intelligent person take on any personal debt, outside of a mortgage or a business venture? Yet, I know countless people who are overwhelmingly laden with debt. Student loan, in particular, seem to be a ridiculously unwise and burdensome choice, given that one is exchanging a significant part of one's future for an increasingly valueless piece of paper.

However, in thinking about it further, I realize that it is truly a blessing that I have such a strong aversion to debt. Quite obviously, not everyone has been blessed with a similar outlook. My father is to credit for my views on the subject. When I was growing up, in our daily Bible Time, we often would read through the book of Proverbs. As we would read through the chapter of the day, my father would often highlight certain verses and offer his own commentary or stories relating to them. One of the topics that he discussed frequently during our times in Proverbs was the topic of debt. There are plenty of verses on finances in the Bible, and a good number of them are in Proverbs.
Proverbs 22:7 - The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.

Proverbs 22:26-27 - Do not be one of those who shakes hands in a pledge, one of those who is surety for debts; if you have nothing with which to pay, why should he take away your bed from under you?

Proverbs 28:22 - A man with an evil eye hastens after riches, and does not consider that poverty will come upon him.

Proverbs 23:5 - Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.
My father had many stories to tell regarding how people handled their finances and how things did or did not work out for them. His stance on debt was not merely a theoretical one, or one that was merely adopted because of a few verses. Instead, he had extensive practical experience, and had conscientiously avoided debt throughtout his life. His teaching on financial matters, which he based on Biblical principles, has been very influential in my life by helping me to ponder how to manage my own finances as an adult.

Today, many people have large quantities of fairy gold. The wealth they think they have is merely illusory. For those who don't have a healthy opposition to debt, what they have had to exchange for that fairy gold is often more costly than they realize. Talleyrand describes the process and its end result:

Now here’s where to people have made a bargain they really haven’t realized they have made.

When they signed up for student loans, they were giving up their children. That was what they were really selling.
And, on a national scale, regarding people living beyond their means:

What was sold for all that debt? America will no longer be a superpower, the standard of living for people in this country is going to drop 30-50%.
Now that the time to pay the piper has come, many people will find that their fairy gold isn't as golden as it seemed. All this could be avoided by exercising a little Biblical wisdom, avoiding debt, working hard, and not pursuing the various get-rich schemes of today. Yet, we are a nation that has forsaken God, forsaken the clear teachings of the Bible, and forsaken wisdom. The only ones we harm by rejecting truth and wisdom are ourselves. God is not mocked. Though it initially puzzles me why people behave the way they do, it ultimately makes sense. My father wisely follows and teaches the Biblical principles pertaining to finances. In a nation of folly, a little wisdom goes a long way. I am greatly blessed to have received wise Biblical instruction in this area of life.

Friday, June 25, 2010

What Women Think They Want

Recently, I went out to dinner with some friends of mine. There were four of us. The first fellow, a stable middle-aged guy (SMG) is quite soundly in the beta provider category. He has a great place to live, is very responsible with his money, throws good parties and is pretty easy to get along with. The second fellow is a player extraordinaire (PE). He has loads of natural game, a well established reputation as a bad boy and a fun, completely comfortable persona. The last person, player extraordinaire's girlfriend, is a nice but fairly typical American woman (TAW).

SMG was extremely excited because he had a blind date set up for the next weekend. He was on his phone texting this girl and setting up a time and location for the date when we first arrived at the restaurant. This was a pretty big thing for him, since he's not very assertive towards women and hasn't been on a date in quite a long time. So, for the first while, he was telling us about this girl and how his friend set him up on a date with her. He was telling us that they're planning on going to a nice restaurant for lunch. Next, he asks this question.

SMG: "Do you think I should get her some flowers?"

TAW: "You should definitely get her some flowers."

Me: "Why in the world would you get a girl flowers on a first date?"

TAW looks at me quite taken aback. She says: "You don't have a girlfriend, do you?"

Me: "Nope. I broke up with her a few weeks ago. She wasn't quite cutting it."
Pointing to PE, I ask her, "Did he get you any flowers on your first date?"

PE, chiming in: "We didn't exactly have a first date."

Next he goes on to casually mention that even though they've been dating for about 7 or 8 months, he's never gotten her flowers, never taken her out for dinner, and typically gets her to pay for him for most things they do. TAW really doesn't say much about any of this, but goes back to the initial question and addresses SMG again.

TAW: "Girls love flowers. You should get her some."

PE: "Or you could get her one flower. A flower that is just beginning to blossom, whose petals are just starting to open up."

PE launches into a story about one girl that he brought flowers for, who ended up being deathly allergic to most types of flowers. She was also allergic to chocolate, so he was quite happy he didn't bring a box of those.

The whole evening was quite interesting, and we had a lot of other interesting interchanges. I am endlessly amused by the vast divergence between what women think that they want and what they actually desire. TAW clearly seemed to think that she liked flowers, romance and nice gestures. Yet, the clear evidence of her relationship shows that none of those things actually matter to her. Instead, she was utterly enchanted with a fellow who is the furthest from "nice" or "romantic" possible. Women swoon for desirable men who have an overabundance of psychosocial dominance. They always think they want romantic gestures, but they actually find a lack of romantic expression, from a fun and engaging man with options, to be far more irresistible.