Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Simplifying Sexual Dynamics

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine (LB) who was having some girl troubles. A certain girl had been perplexing him and he was having trouble figuring out how she really perceived things. This, of course, was unsurprising to me, since I know that women are rarely ever direct or perfectly forthcoming about their emotions, especially concerning romantic possibilities. LB was trying to make sense of what had transpired and was very confused about the whole ordeal. Like most women, both her actions and her words conveyed a broad array of mixed signals. He recounted for me specific things that she had done and said and then tried to offer his interpretations of what she meant. Soon, he describing his attempts to figure out whether she was just sexually attracted to him, or whether she just liked him as a friend, or whether she wanted a relationship with him, or whether she was confused and flip-flopping constantly--it sounded like a complicated jumble!

I used to having troubles reading women and figuring out how to determine their perspectives and intentions. But, once you understand one simple fact, it all becomes quite simple. I told LB, "You're overthinking things. It's much simpler than all that." Fundamentally, there is only one thing you have to determine to know where you stand with a girl. Most women quickly and subconsciously assess the sexual value and relationship value of a guy upon meeting him. Generally, within the first 30 seconds to five minutes, she puts a guy in one of two categories:

Category 1 - Alpha - He is an attractive guy

Category 2 - Beta - He is not an attractive guy

When you're an alpha, a woman will do just about anything for you. You are in control of the relationship and can take things in whatever direction you want. You want to date her? You got it. You want to marry her? Piece of cake. You want to sleep with her and leave her? No problem. You aren't interested in her and just want to be friends? She's up for it. Want to bring her along for social proof or to buy you drinks? No sweat. While the pacing might be somewhat different, depending on the sort of girl, as long as you are an alpha, the ball is completely in your court and she's happy to follow your lead.

When you're a beta, the girl is in control of the interactions. She is in control of the relationship and will allow exactly what she wants to happen, but nothing more. Generally this results in either no contact or the dreaded "friend-zone." With some girls, particularly ones who are more promiscuous, they may even have no qualms about kissing you or sleeping with you, but that still doesn't change the sexual dynamic. In other cases, they may string you along and get you to buy them drinks, dinner and gifts, while knowing that nothing with ever materialize from it.

Now, while it is possible to change categories, the main directional flow is downward. There are things that an alpha can do to diminish his attractiveness in a woman's eyes. Enough of this sort of behavior and he will eventually become a beta, in her eyes. It is also theoretically possible for a beta to be viewed as an alpha, but such a thing is rare enough that it is very nearly a miracle. Fundamentally, whatever category you are first placed in is the one you remain in for the duration of the relationship. Understanding and interpreting sexual dynamics is as simple as figuring out which category you are in. You can understand the entire drift of a relationship by simply figuring out whether a girl perceives a guy as an alpha or as a beta. There doesn't need to be a lot of analysis and thinking about the whole thing. Either attraction is there or it isn't. It's as simple as that.

In the case of LB, he was confused because the girl said that she wasn't interested in a relationship with him, and yet she offered to sleep with him. Such mixed signals are extremely confusing for anyone who doesn't understand the simple principle of female attraction--but it all becomes quite clear when you understand sexual dynamics. I told him that even though she had no qualms about making out with him or sleeping with him, she viewed him merely as a category 2 guy, and therefore no lasting relationship would be possible. A day later, after LB had talked with the girl, he called me up and told me that I had been right. The only reason she had offered to sleep with him was out of pity. It would have been a pity fuck. Sexual dynamics are always simpler than they seem. Social awareness and an understanding of what attracts men and women is a vital and indispensible ally in successfully navigating the dating world. It's a simple thing, but there's a bit of a learning curve.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Rational Case For Christianity - Morality

Previously, in my introduction to The Rational Case for Christianity, I established the criteria that we will use to determine if Christianity is a true and practically viable worldview. For it to be valid, it must be able to account for any aspect of reality or life and leave no contradictions. In the realm of morality, we are confronted with philosophical questions regarding the existence and nature of good and evil. These questions have been pondered for centuries, and are inescapably critical in considering human existence and human interactions. While morality is a fairly broad subject, it is certainly a narrower field than epistemology or metaphysics. As such, it is not especially hard to look at the basic questions and the various possible answers to each. We will examine the basic questions of morality and ascertain which answers are the most rational, logical and consistent with our experience of reality.

The first question we must ask concerning morality is whether good and evil actually exist. At this point, we will not concern ourselves with what is meant by "good" and "evil," only with whether they, by any definition, exist. There are two possible answers to this question:

1 - Good and evil do not truly exist
2 - Good and evil do truly exist

In considering the first answer, we find that such an answer, while theoretically possible, is not consistent with the human experience of the reality. Every human being, from time immemorium, has always firmly believed that certain things are reasonable courses of action and that there are also evils to be opposed, decryed or resisted. Whether expressed through conventional expressions of morality such as laws and social contracts against murder and thievery, whether expressed as mourning over natural evils, such as disasters which exact their toll on human life, or whether expressed in terms of values, all people in all times have firmly believed that certain things are good and certain things or actions are evil. Even philosophers who border on denying the existence of evil, such as Nietzsche, firmly advocate certain things as desirable and oppose certain things (in Nietzsche's case, conventional morality) as evil and restrictive. So long as it is agreed that certain actions and states of being are desirable and other actions or states of being are undesirable, there is universal human consensus that good and evil, in some form, are not non-existent.

A possible objection to this might arise from those who claim, on the basis of metaphysics, that both good and evil are illusory--they are false constructs. There are several major worldviews which might proffer such as answer. Materialism, denying the existence of all thing non-physical, would suggest that there is only an "is" and no "ought." Since the natural world is silent on matters such as murder, lying, adultery and death, it might be reasoned that good and evil don't truly exist, except as empty terms to express human approval. Pantheistic religions offer the answer that all diversity is ultimately illusory. Their conception of good and evil is well depicted by the symbol of the yin-yang, which represents the truth that ultimately good and evil are just different aspect of the the same thing, and that there is no real difference between the two. For that reason, enlightened ones in such religions seek to equally avoid both good and evil, in order to achieve zero karma. While these might seem to be pertinent objections, it yet remains that from time immemorium, even those who claim that good and evil don't exist live their lives as if they do. They still proclaim certain actions and states as desirable and others as undesirable. Clearly, those who deny the existence of good and evil are in denial of their own thoughts and feelings on the matter. As such, any worldview that denies the existence of good and evil is practically incompatible with human experience. Since these sorts of answers deny a clear and obvious aspect of reality, they are irrational.

The second answer to our question, that good and evil, in some form, do exist, is the only rational, logical answer that is consistent with the human experience of reality. As such, the next moral question we must address is, what form do good and evil take? There are two possible categories of answers to such a question:

1 - Good and evil are subjectively defined
2 - Good and evil are objectively defined

Answer number 1 is the general consensus of our day. Modern humanistic morality espouses the idea that morals are a function of social groups. According to the humanistic myths, morals emerged as groups of people began to form, and agreements were reached concerning what behaviors were socially acceptable and which were not. The social construct theory of morality essentially postulates that whatever actions are viewed as socially unacceptable by a societal majority are labeled as "wrong" or "evil," and whatever actions are socially approved and endorsed are labeled as "right" or "good." While this approach does clearly delineate and define morals, it also serves to trivialize them. If morals are subjectively defined, then they only represent the opinions of those who define them. The social construct theory takes a democratic approach to defining morality. Nietzsche would advocate a meritocratic approach to defining morality, wherein the enlightened philosophers are established as the societal lawgivers who create their own values and then impose such restrictions upon the dependent masses. There are numerous other arrangements for defining morality, but they all share the same intrinsic weakness.

With any form of subjectively morality, right and wrong become trivialized and bear no more significance than culinary preferences. I will explain. When good and evil are defined by any person or group of people, it is their moral motions that become the overriding force. Yet, what exactly is a moral motion? It is nothing more than a personal preference for certain actions, things and states of affairs and against other acctions, things and states of affairs. As such, when it is said that murder is "wrong," nothing more is meant than the person or group defining morality has a distaste for murder. If the declaration that murder is "wrong" means that murder is merely distasteful to a person or group, then it is akin to a person's or group's taste for broccoli or asparagus. If moral motions are merely personal preferences, then the declaration that stealing is evil carries equal weight to the declaration that one strongly dislikes garlic. As human experience quite easily shows, people have widely divergent tastes in food. Some people enjoy foods which others loathe. Some people have no strong feelings about any sort of dish or herb. Some people love garlic, others tolerate it and still others won't come within a mile of it. Now, if some people enjoy garlic, is it at all reasonable for a person or group to deny them such a priviliege? Similarly, if there are a number of people who especially enjoy adultery or stealing, is it at all reasonable for a person or group to deny them such a pleasure? This is the weakness of any form of subjective morality: unless a certain moral motion is universally held, the very definitions of good and evil are unreasonably restrictive and oppressive. Even a cursory glance at humanity will instantly reveal that no moral motion or culinary preference is universally held.

The other major problem with subjective morality is that it is inconsistent with the human existence. Any person who truly subscribes to subjective morality must willfully conform to the prevailing code of morality as established by the defining person or group. As such, it is unreasonable to cast any sort of moral judgment that opposes the socially-established morality or to cast a moral judgment on a group that conforms to a different code of morality. If morality is subjectively defined, then it stands that no action is objectively right or wrong. The rightness or wrongness of any given action is solely subject to the localized code of ethics that governs it. This means that so long as the moral authority of a social group or nation endorses certain actions, they must be considered moral by all people at all times as morally good. If Hitler's Germany declares the Jews to be evil and endorses killing Jews, then so long as morals are subjectively defined, we in modern America have no place to declare that the Holocaust was wrong or evil. If an action is subjectively good within its own moral context, then given that fact that there is no objective moral standards, there is no room for anyone to cast a judgment of their own. To do so is akin to declaring to the garlic-lover, "Because I dislike garlic, your love for garlic is evil and reprehensible!" Such a statement is ridiculous and presumptious!

It is this very sentiment that renders subjective morality inconsistent with human existence. Each person firmly believes that certain actions and states of being are undesirable, not only for himself, but for all others. We truly feel that genocide is something which is evil and unconscionable, regardless of who endorses mass killings. We truly believe that stealing is objectively wrong, even if we claim that morals are subjectively defined. The moral motions of each person are so strong that no person will accept subjective morality, unless they themselves are in the defining group and are free to inflict their will upon others. Subjective morality declares that each person's taste in actions is equally valid (although the moral authority's opinion on the matter is a little more equal than everyone else's), and this contradicts every moral fiber of a person's being. Subjective morality declares that people's actions are of no more import than steamed brussel sprouts, while human beings strongly believe that actions are not trivial and do matter very much. It is quite clear, then, that no person truly believes in subjective morality. This answer is one that, while logical, is utterly unlivable and inconsistent with the day to day living of any human being, living or dead.

Answer number 2, by necessity, is the only answer that establishes any real basis for human morality, and it is the only one that can be consistent with human living. For good and evil to exist and have any real meaning or practical applicability, morality must be objectively defined. Morality must be something that is transcendent and universal, else it lacks any strength or usefulness of any sort. If we say that murder is evil, we must mean that it is objectively wrong for all people, at all times, in all places, else we are saying nothing at all. If we say that adultery is evil, we must mean that it is a objectively reprehensible action, regardless of one's ability to avoid getting caught, one's social status or one's present life circumstances. Morality must be objective to be a meaningful concept. If it is anything less then objective, then morality is just a semantic game, lacking any real authority or practical application. The only logical, rational conclusion that can be reached is that humans have real moral motions and feelings because good and evil exist and are objectively defined.

Given that good and evil exist, by some definition, and that good and evil must be objectively defined to be concepts of any merit or usefulness, this leads us to our third question. By what standard or standards are good and evil objectively defined?

1. Good and evil are defined by the universe itself
2. Good and evil are self-defined
3. Good and evil are defined by a transcendent, infinite, personal being

Answer number 1, while an interesting conjecture, leaves us with a poor and utterly incomplete definition of both good and evil. Some may suggest that morals can be derived from the physical universe and its attributes alone. Many people who subscribe to empirical philosophies believe that through a thorough and proper study of our physical universe and material existence humans can arrive at a solid set of moral precepts which set appropriate limits on human behavior. Contention with this point of view clearly arises in modern philosophy. Immanuel Kant clearly illustrated the problem with deriving morals from nature itself by revealing the simple truth that one can never derive an "ought" from an "is". More simply put, while observations of nature can reveal a good number of things about a given state of affairs, one can find no judgments made by nature concerning such a state. When a mouse is eaten by a quick and cunning cat, nature says no more than that the cat has eaten the mouse and that the mouse is now dead. It says nothing about whether it is good that the mouse has been eaten or whether it is good that the cat has had a satisfying supper. The universe is perfectly silent over whether lying, murder, deception, torture, stealing, fornication, or rape are desirable or undesirable actions. As such, nature is an insufficient basis for objective morality. Nature is completely silent concerning all moral issues.

Answer number 2, if true, would lead to moral standards that are incommunicable. Since communication of any sort necessitates a comminucator, good and evil as mere concepts, cannot be both self-defined and communicable. As such, while there is the hypothetical possibility that trascendent concepts of good and evil exist independently of all else (including any divine beings), such self-defined concepts would also be functionally useless, given that no beings would know the definitions of good and evil. Additionally, there is the epistemic problem of any non-infinite independent concept. For any concept or piece of knowledge to be reliable or intelligible, it is necessary for it to be explained by a infinite reference point. If good and evil exist as independent and self-defined concepts, then they do not exist within the framework of an infinite reference point, and since the concepts of morality are implicitly non-infinite themselves, there is no possible way to understand such concepts, since they are floating conceptions without any means of being explained. In my next essay on epistemology, I will explain this concept in fuller detail. As a small example of this concept, how does one know what is meant when I say "The sky is blue," unless there is a reference point which explains what is meant by the words, "the," "sky," "is," and "blue." Without the higher concept of the English language and common linguistic definitions, there is no way to determine what is meant by a certain array of colored dots on a screen or printed ink blots on a page. In a similar way, without a infinite concept to explain what is meant by good and evil, even if they are self-existent concepts, they bear no more significance or meaning that a cacophony of sounds, a jumble of letters or a smattering of random colors. This answer, while theoretically possible, would means that morality is unintelligible and incommunicable. Since such concepts are incompatible with practical living and human existence, it is clear that such an answer is a wholly unsatisfactory one, even neglecting the fact that there is an utter absence of evidence in support of it.

Answer number 3, then is the only possible answer which leaves us with a foundation upon which morals exist objectively, are intelligible, and bear real moral meaning. It is necessary not merely that good and evil truly exist, but that they have objective meaning in the light of an infinite point of reference and that they are communicable. There are a few religions that postulate the existence of a transcendent, infinite, personal being who sets the moral standards for human behavior--namely those of the Abrahamic religions. There is little need to going into much detail on the various moral differences between Judaism, Islam and Christianity, since our findings in the realms of metaphysics preclude Islam from being a sufficient explanation, even if it provides a satisying moral foundation (which it doesn't), and because Judaic and Christian morality are essentially identical.

Christianity, unlike any other worldview, provides a full and clear disclosure on morality. It testifies that the real God who exists has ordained certain limits on human behavior, which are not merely suggestions, but are real moral laws. It speaks to the nature of humans, who are real, free-willed moral agents, capable of both great good and horrific evils. The Bible very specifically spells out moral laws for humans, including an organizational hierarchy of which moral laws are most important and which are less important. God transparently delineates the consequences for failing to abide by His moral precepts. In the doctrine of Original Sin, a clear picture of the present moral state of mankind is painted for us: though humans were created sinless in the image of God, as a species we have chosen to violate God's real moral laws and therefore bear real moral guilt before the God who exists and who judges all human actions. Because of the fall of man, every human being is born into the world with a sinful nature, which is, a propensity to choose evil and to rejects God's ways and God's truth. Christianity also sets forth a solution to the moral dilemma of man in the propitiary sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. From start to finish, Christianity explains why all people have strong moral sentiments, and testifies that morals are not merely social constructions, personal preferences or sociological averages, but are a reflection of God's divine precepts, written on the hearts of every living person and communication through the Holy Bible.

On such a basis alone is it possible to declare that certain actions are righteous and other actions are evil. Apart from the existence of the objective morality preached by Christianity, it is impossible to decry the murder of innocents, the exploitation of the weak, the evils of corruption, the injustices of tyranny or the wickedness of pride. If man's moral motions are merely random remnants of genetic mutations, then they are meaningless illusions meant to muddle our minds. If morals are relative and differ from individual to individual, then there is no adequate basis for judging human action or legislating codes of ethics. The universal human belief in desirable and undesirable states of being is not simply the product of accidental neural collisions in the synapses of our brains--instead, it is the reflection of the transcendent truth of the existence of real moral standards as created and communicated by God. Only if good and evil truly exist and are objectively defined, universal, knowable concepts does the commandment, "Thou shalt not murder," have any power or authority. If it is merely the preference of a few odd conglomerations of atoms, then it is a relative truth which doesn't actually apply to any atoms at all. But, if "Thou shalt not murder" is the moral precept of an infinite God, then it is powerful and profound.

As stated in my introductory essay, any worldview that declares to be the truth must perfectly match all the evidence of reality. The existence of the moral motions universally felt by humans is a part of reality that must be explained. The Eastern religions ultimately deny the reality of morality, because the deny the reality of human life. Denial of plain truths is irrational. Similarly, attempts to deny the existence of morals contradict everything that is known about human experience. Alternately, attempts to explain morals as relative concepts fall on their face, since they are impractical, exceptionally weak and unable to be consistently held. Consequently, the only logical, rational explanation for the moral motions universally held by human beings is that there truly exist both good and evil, as defined by an objective standard. The Judeo-Christian tradition is the only worldview that offers an objective and communicable basis for morality, as it is the only worldview that attests to an infinite-personal being that exists, is intrinsically relational, speaks truly, and has established a specific set of moral precepts which are binding and authoritative. All other worldviews either deny the validity of the human conceptions of good and evil or contradict the obvious experience of every living person. As such, the only logical, rational conclusion to reach, concerning morality, is that Christianity has the best explanation for the moral motions of humans, since it fully explains the reason for the existence of morals, the objective moral standards that exist, and man's moral dilemma, while simultaneously contradicting none of the evidence of reality.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Revolutions Start Small

Today, Joseph Stack's actions have been plastered all over the news. His anger and indignation at the corruption of the present American political system, the freedom that has been lost, and the injustices perpetuated by our government led him to crash his little airplane into an IRS building in Texas. Fifteen years ago, when Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah Federal Building to decry the wrongful tyranny of the Federal Government and the injustice tax system, most people viewed him simply as a radical. He was merely a political outlier with some crazy ideas. Today, however, there is a much different attitude towards the American system of government. The sentiments expressed by Joseph Stack in his final letter are not merely the rantings of a radical. People are awakening to the truth. Many of the sentiments he expressed today are ones that increasing numbers of people are coming to agree with wholeheartedly.

Here are some excerpts from his letter:

We are all taught as children that without laws there would be no society, only anarchy. Sadly, starting at early ages we in this country have been brainwashed to believe that, in return for our dedication and service, our government stands for justice for all. We are further brainwashed to believe that there is freedom in this place, and that we should be ready to lay our lives down for the noble principals represented by its founding fathers. Remember? One of these was “no taxation without representation”. I have spent the total years of my adulthood unlearning that crap from only a few years of my childhood. These days anyone who really stands up for that principal is promptly labeled a “crackpot”, traitor and worse.

While very few working people would say they haven’t had their fair share of taxes (as can I), in my lifetime I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind. Nor, for that matter, are they the least bit interested in me or anything I have to say.
This is a pivotal truth. While our government is supposed to truly provide liberty and justice for all, it certainly doesn't provide that. It provides a "more equal" justice for some people than for others. Joseph insightfully raises the point that representation isn't the same as merely being able to cast a vote every year or two. Properly understood, representation means that someone in a place of political power is actually acting on behalf of its constituents. One isn't being represented unless their best interests are being acted upon and protected by the governing body. When legislative politicians pass laws that actively harm a large percentage of the people they supposedly represent, this is not "representation," it is tyrannical oppression.

And justice? You’ve got to be kidding!

How can any rational individual explain that white elephant conundrum in the middle of our tax system and, indeed, our entire legal system? Here we have a system that is, by far, too complicated for the brightest of the master scholars to understand. Yet, it mercilessly “holds accountable” its victims, claiming that they’re responsible for fully complying with laws not even the experts understand. The law “requires” a signature on the bottom of a tax filing; yet no one can say truthfully that they understand what they are signing; if that’s not “duress” than what is. If this is not the measure of a totalitarian regime, nothing is.
Not only is the current tax code utterly indecipherable by even the brightest of the master scholars, but every taxpayer is required to contractually bind themselves to validity of their tax returns. Even minor tax issues can cause major complications, which are extremely difficult to rectify, even when the mistake is made by the IRS and not by the taxpayer. Last year my dad had some major difficulties with the IRS because of the mangled ways they handle personal and business income. Every time they called him, some new person, unfamiliar with his case, would follow up to try to amend his tax return properly. My dad spent countless needless hours justifying his return and re-explaining the situation, simply because of the ridiculously complex tax laws, the ineffectivity of the IRS, and the clerical errors made on their end.

During 1987, I spent close to $5000 of my ‘pocket change’, and at least 1000 hours of my time writing, printing, and mailing to any senator, congressman, governor, or slug that might listen; none did, and they universally treated me as if I was wasting their time. I spent countless hours on the L.A. freeways driving to meetings and any and all of the disorganized professional groups who were attempting to mount a campaign against this atrocity. This, only to discover that our efforts were being easily derailed by a few moles from the brokers who were just beginning to enjoy the windfall from the new declaration of their “freedom”. Oh, and don’t forget, for all of the time I was spending on this, I was loosing income that I couldn’t bill clients.

After months of struggling it had clearly gotten to be a futile exercise. The best we could get for all of our trouble is a pronouncement from an IRS mouthpiece that they weren’t going to enforce that provision (read harass engineers and scientists). This immediately proved to be a lie, and the mere existence of the regulation began to have its impact on my bottom line; this, of course, was the intended effect.
Often, when a person voices a complaint about the way the government is handling things, well-meaning people reply, "If you really care about the issue, then you should get involved." As Joseph Stack quickly discovered, even getting involved and being vocal about an important issue rarely yields any real results. While I certainly haven't invested as much of my time and money as he did, I certainly have written quite a number of letters to my Senators and Representatives. Every single time I have done so, I have always received a short, generic response, before my politicians quickly go and vote in opposition to my will. I have send letters protesting the economic bailout programs, protesting hate crimes legislation, protesting the Healthcare Reform bill, as well as other various pieces of tyrannical legislation. The government is primarily concerned with gaining more power and stealing more money from its citizens. The Federal Government continues to take more from its citizens while giving less and less in return. This directly affects us.

I remember reading about the stock market crash before the “great” depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual”. Now when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes… isn’t that a clever, tidy solution.
Presently, the system serves to redistribute wealth in an injust and unequal manner. Unlike Robin Hood, who at least had the decency to steal for a somewhat reasonable cause, the Federal Government steals from the middle class to give to the rich (and to throw a few rotting remnants to the poor to keep them dependent) and to fund their own problematic plethora of programs. When ordinary people are financially irresponsible, they must reap what they sow, but when large corporations and banks are fiscally irresponsible, the government is quick to step in and give them free money... our money. Irresponsibility and greed are encouraged and incentivized. Stealing is actively encouraged, so long as you are a government official, a government agency or a large corporation. Justice? I think not!

I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand. It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants. I know there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after. But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change. I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough.

I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt; it will take nothing less. I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are. Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.
Here's a man who is willing to take a stand for what he believes in. Here is someone who values liberty and justice, and was willing to sacrifice his life for his ideal. Regardless of your position on his actions, it is clear that his courage and resolve are admirable. Perhaps he was misguided, and perhaps his actions were foolish, but he truly took a stand for what he believed in. No one can rightfully call him ignorant, and no one can rightfully call him cowardly. When systemic solutions and political involvement ceases to make a difference, people's anger provokes them to violence.

Today's events are but a harbinger of what lies ahead. Having forsaken that end and those principles which were original set forth as the aims of the American experiment, there is a spirit of unrest in the air that is palpable. Revolution is not yet upon us, but perhaps it is not nearly as distant as some might think. Already I know of many who discuss their desire for anarchy rather than the present form of government. Some friends of mine are beginning to purchase weapons and train themselves in the use thereof. Another friend of mine, a philosopher, often asks how different people in our social circle would respond to revolution. As Thomas Jefferson prophetically declared: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." On this day we see that one man has spilt his blood for the sake of liberty. The yearning for freedom is something that is reawakening in the hearts of many, and there is little doubt that unless the government lessens its tyrannical grip on its citizens, there will be blood. We have nearly completed a full circuit in returning to many of the opinions and ideals espoused by the Founding Fathers at the birth of our nation. Either America must be politically cleansed and reborn, or it shall fall and be replaced. There is no other alternative.

The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy.
Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790)

If, from the more wretched parts of the old world, we look at those which are in an advanced stage of improvement, we still find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and grasping the spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised, to furnish new pretenses for revenues and taxation. It watches prosperity as its prey and permits none to escape without tribute.
Thomas Paine (1737 - 1809)

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.
Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826)

A revolution of government is the strongest proof that can be given by a people of their virtue and good sense.
John Adams (1735 – 1826)

Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined. - Patrick Henry (1736 - 1799)

I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. - James Madison (1751 - 1836)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Thoughts About Valentine's Day

Ever since I was a child, I have always had a certain fondness for Valentine's Day. My sentiments don't seem much shared by modern people. In fact, as a nation, we underappreciate nearly all of our holidays. Some are too trivial. Some carry no personal significance. Some are too religious. Some are too sappy and whimsical. I think that modern attitudes about our holidays are a more accurate reflection of us as a people than a proper critique of the holidays themselves. Presently, we are a people who lack appreciation for what ought to be appreciated. We do not see the magic of our world, and therefore we do not see what is worth celebrating. There is a similar sentiment oft expressed concerning Valentine's day. Some disdainfully refer to it as "singles awareness day," while others complain that it is the prime example of a "hallmark holiday." While holidays are set aside as days of celebration for the rejoicing in that which is most human, some refuse to see anything but the negative side of things. If they take joy and pleasure in the drudgery of celebration, then I will do nothing to interfere with their upside-down days of gloomy rejoicing, but I also shall take part in such a pitiable perspective.

Personally, I think that if anything is to be done, it ought to be done out of joy with a childlike jubilee. Especially holidays! Valentine's Day, while not presently my favorite holiday, is definitely one that I greatly appreciate and thoroughly enjoy. I have enjoyed it when I've been single, and I have enjoyed it when I haven't been. It's a holiday that is about much more than just oneself. It is a celebration of love, closeness, connection, relationships and the glorious and surprising differences between men and women. It is a celebration of that which most matters in life, and of that which is capable of bringing some of the highest human pleasures. While it certainly is about no less than romantic relationships and love affairs, it is definitely not limited to the sphere of romance.

Ironically, Valentine's gifts I've received from girls or activities I've done with girls don't come close in comparison with what has made me feel the most loved on Valentine's day. The most meaningful and satisfying Valentine's days have been ones where my father gave candy to my siblings and me. I've written in the past about my favorite memories of my father. This is another memory that I very much treasure and value. For the most part, my father is not a very expressive man. He rarely talks about his emotions or feelings and he rarely shares his heart with people. During my teenage years, however, every Valentine's day for several consecutive years, my father would always surprise us with a box of delicious chocolate-covered cherry coridals. He never said more than "Happy Valentine's Day," but the very fact the he went out of his way to do anything at all spoke volumes more than his words or even his gifts could convey. They say that it's the thought that counts most, behind a gift. Never have I found a truer and more practical example of that little epigram than in the gifts my father gave us on Valentine's day. Those gifts showed me that he does have a deep fondness for me, despite his general lack of expression concerning such affection. His gifts were sincere, genuine, meaningful and unpretentious.

Indeed, I think that the best way to celebrate Valentine's day, if it is to be celebrated at all, is exactly in that sort of manner. Whatever is done or given should be sincere, genuine, meaningful and unpretentious. Rather than doing something cliché and stereotypical out of duty, if there are to be any expressions of love and appreciation they should be done from the heart. As an artist, I have always thought that buying any sort of store-bought card is quite impersonal. Such a card takes a negligible amount of thought and creativity, and expresses very little of personal significance. When I do give cards for Valentines day, I always prefer to create them myself, either by hand or digitally, depending on my present mood and the complexity of my idea. In such manner, when I do give a card, it is something that is heartfelt and specifically crafted for its recipient. Poems and letters also have a personal touch and significance that far outweigh flowers or chocolates. Simple things are often more meaningful than elaborate gestures, since they always have a purity about them that overblown efforts more frequently lack.

Yet, the most important thing on Valentine's day is never what is done or given, but the specific person or relationship being celebrated. It is easy to lose sight of this in our materialistic age, and it is easy to allow expectations to prevent a person (giver or receiver) from fully enjoying the day. When one sets expectations for what is to be done or given, the emphasis is no longer on what truly matters (love, the person, and the relationship), but instead is on the token of expression. A giver who buys flowers and chocolates out of duty is worse than one who does nothing, because he misses the whole point of the day. Similarly, a receiver who expects to receive certain things also misses the point of the whole day and arbitrarily limits their enjoyment and delight. Chesterton offers a brilliant insight into the blissfulness that accompanies having no expectations:

The man who said, "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed," put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth is, "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised."
Because I enjoy celebrating that which is joyous and wonderful, and because I thoroughly embrace everything that Valentine's day represents and stands for, I am quite excited about the upcoming holiday. I am quite glad that personality exists, that personal relationships are real, that romance is not merely a fantasy, and that love is one of the truest and greatest parts of life! I am completely delighted by the shocking fact that there are two very different sexes, each glorious in its own way! I am extremely thankful for the wonderful people in my life, and especially for those who are the closest to me: my family, my best friend, and my girlfriend! Why should I hesitate to express myself in a way that is slightly more tangible than ordinary expression, when I express myself in so many ways in the ordinary course of things? Valentine's day is gift from God, and I shall rejoice in His love, which is the deepest of all, and in expressing my own love for others.

Of course, that isn't the only reason I celebrate--for some deep and mysterious reason, I have always found these surprisingly delicious and delightful:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Christianity and Moral Authority

The strength of an appeal to moral authority (as with any other appeal to authority) lies in the validity of the claims of the authority. Since a logical argument is as strong it is presuppositions, an appeal to authority is as strong as the authority is.

The moral authority of a person or organization does depend on their foundational morality. In the case of the Church or Christians, their moral authority is not intrinsic and self-derived, but is derived from God’s moral authority.

The Christian presuppositions then are:
1. The God declared by Christianity exists
2. God has communicated to humanity truly

The conclusion is:
3. All humans are morally bound to follow God’s mandates

Concerning any particular moral claim made by an individual or organization, the only real question is: “Is this person or organization correctly declaring what God has spoken?” If such an entity correctly declares God’s truth, then their appeal to moral authority is valid. If such an entity perverts, denies, confuses or misrepresents God’s position, then their appeal to authority is invalid.

Christianity itself does encourage questioning what is taught and going to the source (the Bible) rather than blindly accepting the teachings of pastors, priests and preachers. Acts 17:11 says, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” The principle expressed is that while whatever God says is definitely true, it is crucial to ensure that no entity is misrepresenting God’s position on a matter.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Projections of an Immoral Cynic

Today, Talleyrand posted a rather harsh response to a Catholic article on men and marriage. While I thoroughly support dismantling the pretty lies foisted upon us by various blind and agenda-driven organizations and individuals, when I read Talleyrand's response, I couldn't help but be struck by the shocking amount of logical fallcies and reactiveness in his post. While I am not a strong supporter of the Catholic church (for various reasons), I do highly value the fact that the Catholic Church has a noble vision for what marriage should be, and actively advocates it. In this particular instance, I think that the article in question is quite a reasonable one. Let's break down Talleyrand's response to it and see whether his criticisms are valid, or whether they are merely projections of a cynic.

I bring this up because of the Catholic’s church “new” (read conservative) stance it is starting to take. I headed over to read one of the blogs that supposedly represents this sea change in the catholic church and I found this article on men and marriage. (Hat tip: Butterfly Squash)

I have said it before, and I will say it again, conservatives, liberals, and feminists are no friends of men because they refuse to accept the nature of women.
It may or may not be true that conservatives, liberals, and feminists refuse to accept the nature of women. However, in this particular case, such a complaint is unrelated to the article in question, which specifically states: "It is true that women have a role in all these matters. But this article is directed to men." Given that the article in question says nothing at all about the nature of women, this critism has zero applicability to the present article.

Lets get to dissecting the article.
Among the measures of mature manhood that God Himself sets forth is faithful, stable, committed marriage. After observing, It is not good for the man to be alone (Gen 2:18) God says ….A man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two of them shall become one flesh. Thus God indicates an essential description of manhood. This is what a MAN does.
Right from the get go we have shaming language. (Code Green: Peter Pan, Code Lavender: Masculinity). They posit the convenient interpretation of scripture that to be fully a man, you must get married.
Shaming language? Perhaps my reading comprehension is sadly deficient, but nowhere in that excerpt do I see any shaming occuring. Nowhere is Charles Pope saying that marriage is the only criteria for being fully a man--hence his use of the word "among." He is sharing his vision, based on Scripture, that marriage is a good thing, and that a mature, stable, committed marriage does indicate maturity in a man.

However, the advocation of a certain course of action cannot be accurately conflated with disparaging the abdication of such a recourse. That the author advocates marriage does not mean that he is shaming those who don't choose to get married. This is a blatant misreading or misinterpretation of the author's words.

The article’s next point is:
A mature man recognizes that it is not good, not healthy, for him to remain alone and unattached.
Right back to the shaming language. I am almost embarrassed for them. They can’t move on, they can’t even come up with new tactics, just the same old, same old. (Code White: Mental health). The writer does not say how it is unhealthy for the man to do this. He makes no explanation for the health benefits for marriage at all.
The writer isn't presenting any new thoughts or ideas. Instead, he is postulating the age-old Scriptural claim that was quoted in earlier in the article. If God Himself doesn't say how it is unhealthy for a man to be alone, why complain that the writer doesn't? It is sufficient to state the true nature of things. Whether an idea is new or old has no bearing on its veracity.

He fills a very long paragraph with more shaming language: You’re a boy, not a man if you don’t get married. (Code Green . . . again).
Rather than simply take your word for it, let's quote the article itself:
But a man, if he is a man, prepares himself for marriage, or perhaps for the priesthood or religious life. He is serious and steadfast about it. This may mean finishing college and embarking on the beginnings of a career but in the end he will accept the truth that it is not good for him to remain alone and unattached. In the recent past dating was usually understood as a time wherein one searched for a spouse. Today many see it “just for fun.” Marriage is postponed indefinitely. Many young men are not serious in searching for a spouse. Instead they “play the field” and use women sexually. They avoid commitment and drift from relationship to relationship. Some “father” children and still do not accept responsibility. They are not men, they are boys. For boys play. “Boys will be boys,” after all. Sadly many women allow and facilitate this immature and immoral behavior. But God is clear, a man (rather than a boy) accepts that it is not good for him to remain single and unattached and he respectfully seeks a wife.
Here, there is very specific shaming language. It is not, however, directed at those who choose to abstain from marriage, nor is it directed at those who are "serious and steadfast" in their aims towards marriage or towards a life calling that does not include marriage. It is directed at those who, "use women sexually," "avoid commitment," and "drift from relationship to relationship." It does not surprise me that Talleyrand is bothered by such a moral judgement, since his very lifestyle is exactly the one condemned by the author as boyish and irresponsible. While I much appreciate his honesty and openness about who he is and how he lives, the fact of the matter is that he is one who uses women sexually, avoids commitment and drifts from relationship to relationship. Since we do live in a world of objective morality, which is codified by God Himself, such behavior is destructive and deplorable. The author's shaming language isn't nearly strong enough. Not only is it sad that "many women allow and facilitate this immature and immoral behavior," I would say that it is digusting that men allow and facilitate this immature and immoral behavior. Something Talleyrand wrote yesterday resonated deeply with me:

We should be as good fathers to each other. What does a good father do? He teaches his son all the skills that he can, shows him the pitfalls, and he lets his children live their lives, make their own way, make their mistakes and suffer the consequences as well as the triumphs.
If we are to be good fathers to each other, we must not only instruct one another, but also correct one another. Discipline is an inescapable component of proper fatherhood. Scripture says, "For what son is there whom a father does not chasten?" (Hebrews 12:6) If we are to be good fathers to each other, then we must exhort one another to live righteously and pursue virture. We must hold each other accountable for immoral and irresponsible behavior and admonish one another to live justly, to show mercy and to walk humbly before God.

Scripture also insightfully says, "Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. (Proverbs 9:8) Indeed, a litmus test of a man's character is how he receives correction. A wise man accepts correction and discipline with humility and graciousness. A fool rages against all sound judgment and hates those who offer reproof, since his pride and self-righteousness conflict with wisdom. One who does not receive correction is a fool.

Next point:
Having properly sought a wife he marries her and leaves his parents to establish a home.
Leaving aside the inherent shaming language of this statement, the paragraph encourages marriage but again it does so with shaming language. It does not go into why this is important, only that you must do it. Because God says so, is a nice way to fall back on moral authority, but since the catholic church has allowed itself to become girlie, it needs to do better than that.
Shaming language inherent in this statement? I don't see any. To declare how a mature man of purpose pursues marriage says nothing about those who don't.

Regarding the idea itself, Talleyrand commits the infamous genetic fallacy by rejecting the idea of marriage because "the catholic church has allowed itself to become girlie," rather than discussing the importance of marriage on its own merits. For those who accept God's truth, "Because God said so," is sufficient epistemological grounding. God's words are directly mentioned in the verse quoted in the article, "A man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two of them shall become one flesh." The author is quoting Scripture and affirming Scripture directly.

He actually commits his whole life to his wife

Bad Advice. Horrible advice. Advice that will get a man divorced in today’s day and age.

Good advice: A man makes his mission, not his woman, his priority.
To commit to something is not the same as making something the top priority. This is an equivocation fallacy. A man can commit to a woman, or a job, or a lease, or a bet, without it become the center of his world. In fact, in all these instances, it is best for a man to have a higher purpose behind his commitment. Christians are called to be committed to God above all else.

Too many men are passive husbands. Too often it is really the wife who works hardest to preserve the marriage.
O.k., the first part of this is true, but unfortunately not the way this priest believes. The second part is not true, unless you believe constant tests and undermining the man are in fact efforts to preserve the marriage. This guy is so unbelievably dense about human relationships that it makes me weep with frustration. That he is so arrogant to give men advice like this is proof that being a man of orders does not protect you from that deadly of sins: PRIDE.
It is presumption to jump too quickly to finger-pointing in either direction. While there are many women who actively destroy their relationships and marriages through constant tests and undermining, it is also true that too many men are passive husbands. To deny or fail to consider one's own sins or the sins of one's gender is also a clear manifestation of that deadly sin, pride. Not all men are passive, and not all women test and undermine. The author is stressing the importance of manly assertiveness, nothing more. These is nothing dense or arrogant about that.

This is what God says a real man does.
I challenge anyone to find where God uses the term “real man.”
In the Bible, God just uses the term "man." Implied in such a term is the reality of being masculine. The fact that the word "real" has to be appended is a sad reflection of contemporary cultural conditions.

A man doesn’t whine and say, “But what about the wife?!” He just does what he is supposed to do and does not point fingers. He accepts his own responsibility. Yes, there are men who have worked hard to preserve their marriage and the wife still walked away.
Remember this fool was advocating counseling earlier in his missive? Remember that? Think about what counseling is like with someone with the above attitude. You cannot complain, you cannot whine, you cannot point out wrongs, because that is not what a man does. He just sits and takes whatever shit sandwich is fed to him and he likes it.

When someone is making these statements, what he is really saying that as a man you need to take it like a slave.

You have no right to complain, you have no where to air your grievances in the catholic church, because “real” men don’t do this.
The author is advocating responsbility and assertive action. Whining accomplishes nothing, and is pathetic and wimpy. Nowhere is the author saying that a man shouldn't point out wrongs or hold others accountable. Before a man holds others accountable for their actions, he must first take responsibility for his own. Jumping to point fingers or remaining passive while waiting for others to change is a weak way to approach life.

In his reponse to the article, Talleyrand has constantly resorted to using fallacious arguments of numerous sorts. Much of what he protests isn't even being advocated by the author of the article. With a couple of minor exceptions, nearly all of the supposed instances of "shaming language" are nonexistent. In the one instance where the author is actually using shaming language, it is directed at precisely the sort of behavior Talleyrand regularly engages in. His defensiveness and reactionary perspective are thoroughly evident in his response, and are clearly being projected onto the author of the original article, whose intent is entirely different than Talleyrand appears to think it is.

While the author does make a few minor points that I would quibble with, his major points are all quite reasonable:
1. A stable, commited, faithful marriage is the calling of most men
2. A man should pursue his calling (either to marriage or to abstinence) in a serious and steadfast manner
3. Marriage should be pursued according to God's prescribed method, as outlined by Scripture
4. A man takes leadership in his family and manfully addresses any threats to marital unity
5. A man should take responsiblity for his own actions and live righteously, regardless of how others behave

Of course, as someone who lives in a contrary manner to all of these points, it is no surprise that Talleyrand would be driven by his emotions to attack such teaching. Talleyrand views marriage as something that is undesirable, and instead dedicates substantial energy to the hedonic pursuit of promiscuity with numerous women. He neither pursues marriage nor abstinence. He rejects God's authority and Scriptural teaching. He adopts an individualistic approach towards relationships, and is not concerned with marital unity or even with relational unity in romantic affairs at all. He does not live righteously and pursue virtue. Instead, bitterness, unbridled pessism and defensiveness surface in his attempt to dissuade others from valuing marriage, living righteously, and standing against the tide of social decay that unarguably surrounds modern men and women. His critisms of the Catholic article seem more to be a reflection of himself than a proper logical refuttal of any of the major points made. Rather than being a reasoned response, all he offers us is the projections of an immoral cynic.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Vision is Vital

In talking with a friend last week, in thinking about the difference in various peoples' approaches to the cultural degradation of the day, in reading some comments that various people have made recently, and in writing my previous blog, I have been struck with the necessity of having a vision. Holding up an ideal, both as an individual and as a society, is a necessary prerequisite to effecting positive change. In many ways, a visionary is an artist whose medium is the world. Rather than expressing himself through music, painting, drawing, or writing, the visionary seeks to use the world as his medium and to shape it to match his artistic vision. Such a man has a clear model for how the world should be, and sets himself upon the task of changing the world to match his vision. The flipside of such a truth is that the man or society without a vision is powerless to make substantial positive change of any sort. Instead, without vision, entropy prevails.

This is a theme has been presented in various ways throughout time. One of my favorite illustrations of the necessity of direction is concisely conveyed in the brilliant writings of Lewis Carroll. From Alice in Wonderland:

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
From the pages of Scripture:
Where there is no vision, the people perish. - Proverbs 29:18
From a recent post by Talleyrand:
Want to know the single. easiest way to figure out if a culture is dying?

Answer this question: Does the culture as a whole have a united vision of the future?

If the answer is no, the culture is doomed.
I could cite numerous other examples of this theme from various pages of ancient tomes and literary masterpieces. The point is quite simple. Given that we live an entropic world, where things naturally trend towards worse states of being, and where decay and degradation is the natural direction of things, intervention is necessary either for the betterment of things or even to maintain the status quo. If you wish to keep your lawn looking nice, you must be sure to water it regularly and cut it habitually. If you wish your house to be clean, you must put effort into it by occasionally tidying up, vacuuming, scrubbing, and dusting. To simply leave things alone is the ensure atrophy. Maintenance requires effort.

Improvement requires even more effort. In order to better anything, one must not only be willing to put effort into its betterment, but must also have a clear and fixed vision of what sort of betterment ought to be pursued. If I say that I wish to improve society, my statement is quite vacuous unless I can explain how I wish to improve society. Any vision that is worth its salt must be fixed, attainable, desirable, conceivable and actionable. I must be able to conceptualize the desired end of my aims. I must be able to take practical steps towards the realization of my vision. I must desire the attainment of my vision enough to put my heart into my efforts. If a vision is desirable but not practical it is mere idealism. If a vision is attainable but not desirable, it is too weak. If a vision is desirable but not conceivable or attainable, then it is impractical. If a vision is not fixed, then it will be as elusive as the horizon. All five element are necessary in a vision.

Yet our society has no such vision. We are a divided nation with various goals, none of which hold enough sway to inspire or unite our generation. We have a national leader who, despite his use of mimetic language, is much like Alice; though he knows what programs he wishes to support, he has no true conception of where America should go and no comprehension of how to lead us there. Our lack of societal vision stems from the lack of vision at the familial and personal levels. Individually, we have embraced resignation and apathy. As a majority of people no longer hold a vision for how the world should be, they no longer seek to mold it to fit their image. We lack strong leaders. We lack inspirational visionaries. The individualism and relativism of today leave us all wandering aimlessly in various directions, rather than united in pursuit of a common goal. For many, they have accepted the decline of Western civilization as inevitable and seek to take advantage of the moral and societal collaspe ensuing all around us. For others, they lack the self-efficacy or motivation to strive for change, even though they desire it.

If there is to be societal redemption, it will come through individuals and communities that hold a strong vision and are firmly committed to making their vision a reality. Neither individuals nor societies are beyond redemption. Cynics, skeptics and passive pessimists, for all their ranting, do not lift a finger to solve the problems of the day. Indeed, the social inertia they add compounds the problem. Contrarily, men and women who tirelessly work to remake the world according to their vision are the ones who write history and leave their mark on the canvas of time. In fact, many of those who have made a difference in the world testify to the very necessity of a visionary mindset.

To accomplish great things, we must dream as well as act.
Anatole France (1844 - 1924)

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858 - 1919)

There is nothing like dream to create the future. Utopia to-day, flesh and blood tomorrow.
Victor Hugo (1802 - 1885)

The person who makes a success of living is the one who see his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication.
Cecil B. DeMille (1881 - 1959)

History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.
Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)

One person with a belief is equal to a force of 99 who have only interests.
John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873)

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world. You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.
Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924)

The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.
Thucydides (471 BC - 400 BC)
The future belongs to those who seize it. They seize it who want it the most and who pursue their vision most passionately. If there is any desire in the citizens of a nation to reach for utopia or to make a nation a more perfect place, they must have vision, both as individuals and collectively. When our nation was birthed, it had precisely such a vision, which is what inspired the preamble of our United States Constitution. Additionally, if there is any desire in the members of a society to attain betterment, they must expend their efforts to make it so. We truly must dream, as well as act, if we wish to make a difference.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Solipsism of Individualism

There is an interesting strain of hypocrisy that I have noted in the blogs of some writers whom I follow. There are many who attest to the truths of modern men and women, especially in regard to their mindsets concerning relationships. They rightfully decry the social decay and entropy that has gripped our culture. Yet, I have seen something that, though unsurprising, does strike me as blind and hypocritical. Many of them correctly recognize that typical American women are solipsististic--that is, they are extremely narcissistic, self-seeking and self-absorbed. Very few American women truly value the men in their lives. Very few of them are willing to be sacrificial or offer genuine love or support. Indeed, rampant individualism permeates the worldview of most modern Americans. We are self-seeking creatures, who are consumed with getting the best for ourselves, while remaining unconcerned with the feelings and well-being of others. This is a cultural disease that does not merely affect the women.

Fundamentally, there are two different approaches to relationship. The first is an individualistic perspective. Individualism is defined as: "the pursuit of individual rather than common or collective interests; egoism." Our culture indoctrinates people with this attitude from the time they are young. Through our experiences, through our families and through media and entertainment we are implicitly taught that since no one else has your best interests in mind, you must seek your own good and ensure your well-being at all costs. You must think of yourself before others. Your interests come before anyone else's. As such, in every area of life you must be on guard against those who would use you for their own gain, and ensure that your own well-being comes first. This consumeristic mindset is even taken into relationships. Whether in marriages, in dating relationships, or in one-night stands, this is the predominant attitude of the people in our culture. Each person is seeking their own interests, above that of their partner. The critical questions are, "What am I getting out of this relationship?" "Am I happy?" "Is this relationship working for me?" If the answers ever seem dissatisfactory, then the relationship quickly dissolves, and both partners continue seeking their own best interests in other relationships. Their first priority is personal gain, and the metric of that is primarily happiness. This is a solipsistic and selfish approach to relationships.

The second approach to relationship is a collectivistic approach. In this mindset, a person is not solely concerned with their own interests and well-being, but is simultaneously concerned with the well-being and interests of their partner. This mindset is radically different since it leads each person to care about other people. While it doesn't neglect self-interest, a collectivistic mindset is primarily others-centric. Through deference and mutual submission each person choses to seek the benefit of the other. This is a strongly counter-cultural attitude. It requires self-sacrifice, genuine commitment and trust from both partners in order to work at all. Such an attitude is the one preached by Christianity. In the words of Paul, "Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." (Phillipians 2:4) Jesus, too, preaches about the centrality of self-sacrificial love towards both God and other people. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34) That is a high calling! As witnessed in Jesus' own life, His love was what compelled Him to sacrifice His life that the world might be saved. Jesus commands His followers to live with a similar love for others. Paul extends this command to romantic relationships when he writes, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her." (Ephesians 5:25) Here, Paul commands all men to have a self-sacrificial love for their wives. A collectivistic approach to relationships, in which both partners view themselves not solely as individuals, but as part of a unified whole, demands that both husbands and wives love each other, and that wives are to submit to their husbands. When this rare attitude does exist bilaterally in a relationship there is a remarkable and beautiful unity which is evident. As both partners primarily seek joint happiness and mutual benefit, they are able to support each other, encourage each other and grow together. The archaic adage of a chain being as strong as its weakest link accurately describes such a union. To the degree that there is mutual love, respect and sacrifice, the two are stronger together. To the degree that such an attitude is lacking from either partner, the union, and both people individually, are that much weaker. A team-minded approach towards relationships is the attitude that God desires all people to have. It is the cure to the social disease of individualism that plagues our generation.

The lack of a self-sacrificial and submissive love is what is decried by many of my fellow bloggers. My criticism is that there are many such men who behave exactly like the women whom they judge. It might be true that today's women are the more solipsistic sex. Yet, when men embrace the same mindset in their approach to relationships, they do not see the cognitive dissonance between their words and their actions. Many of the men who complain that women are too self-centered, self-seeking and self-absorbed proceed to develop the very same traits in themselves. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the philandering lifestyles of several major practitioners of Game. They sleep with one woman after another, and quickly leave them in pursuit of hotter women, more excitement or for the thrill of the chase. Rather than seeking to find a woman of character who is selfless and committed and rather than standing against the current social tide, such men have hopped into the river and become one with the polluted paradigmatic currents.

To those who recognize the social maladies of individualism and the consumeristic mindset towards relationships and actively oppose such thinking by speaking out against it and living a life that is an example of the self-sacrificial love which cures such an affliction, I strongly support and heartily endorse your efforts. To those who recognize the flawed thinking of our age but stand aside and do nothing, I urge you to question your motives and your resolve. If our world is to be changed, we must believe that change is possible, hold a clear vision for what can be, and boldly take action to remake the world according to such a vision. To those who decry the solipsism and individualism of the opposite gender, whilst living with a self-absorbed and solely self-interested mindset, I am disgusted by your hypocrisy. The solipsism of modern women neither justifies nor excuses such behavior in men. Similarly, the selfishness of modern men does not justify or excuse such behavior in women. Beware lest you become like those you judge!

As for me, I have a vision for the way the world should be. Jesus' words and teachings describe the sort of world I seek to create, and the sort of behavior I seek to model and encourage. Even if all around me are utterly consumed in self-absorption, yet will I uphold the model of collectivism, which cannot be accurately conflated with either altruism or individualism. Rather than being solely self-seeking, or living solely for the good of others, I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ who preached loving one's neighbor while loving oneself. Collectivism seeks mutual benefit in relationship. This requires humility, graciousness, patience and a self-sacrificial, committed love. It also requires self-respect, independence and assertiveness. I will not be a timid pessimist who believes that victory is unattainable and therefore unworth pursuing. Resignation is not befitting a man of courage. Nor will I be a blind optimist, who lives in denial of the pervasive cultural degradation. A clear vision of both and the problem and the solution are necessary for real reform to occur. I take my stand against selfishness, individualism, and the hedonic pursuits of those who set forth their own happiness as the highest aim in life. Edmund Burke wisely noted, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing." Come alongside me and fight against the social entropy by embracing my vision and working towards it!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Challenges and the Masculine Soul

One thing that I have consistently noticed about most of the men I admire is their enjoyment of challenges. There is something intrinsically enjoyable for a man in testing his own strength in various ways. For that reason, manly men frequently seek out opportunities for competition, push themselves to their limits, and enjoy the feelings that arise whenever they are confronted with risk or danger. Indeed, even experiences that are especially painful become something to brag about once the crisis has been overcome. It seems that masculinity, in many ways, thrives off of challenges. Women may derive some enjoyment from challenges, competition or crises, but it seems to be more the exception, rather than the rule. They rarely seek out difficult tasks and conflict in the the way that men do.

I noticed this partly in my interactions with my brothers. We have two mantras that we frequently vocalize:

- Everything is more exciting with an element of danger.
- Everything is more exciting if you bet on it.

I don't remember exactly how these two mantras emerged, but both of them are deeply held by nearly all of my brothers. We often speak of them and just as frequently we seek out opportunities to place bets or add more danger and adventure to whatever we are doing. We have a shared delight in competition. For that reason, we are always looking for new ways to compete with each other. In most of our holiday celebrations, we play a family game of some sort. Most of them are quite brutal and militant. We typically play some variant of Risk, wherein we happily assault each other with massive armies in a relentless battle for world domination. Likewise, I have one brother who is extremely smart for his age. I often find myself going to poker nights and competing in various tournaments alongside him. As much as we enjoy competition amongst ourselves, there is a supreme pleasure in unleashing our prowess upon others. Whenever we are competing against others, we primarily adopt an "us against them" stance. After sharpening our skills against each other, it's fun to test our mettle against other worthy adversaries. My brother and I are currently preparing ourselves for an upcoming tournament by considering every possible opposing strategy that we may have to face. The very process of competing or preparing for competition is exciting and invigorating!

Similarly, even within my own life, I have noticed that as I have grown in manliness, I have gained an increased appetite for challenges. I savor new opportunities and relish stepping out of my comfort zone. A couple of nights ago I was lying awake in bed pondering the course of my life. In my heart I felt this question looming up: "Are you able to take on the many challenges of life?" At first, I was filled with uncertainty. "I hope so," I said to myself. Then, I spent some time in prayer, and God spoke to me. He asked, "Have you been able to handle the challenges you've faced up until now?" As I began to think back on the many challenges I've overcome in the past couple of years, I realized that I have grown much stronger than I used to be. I left my old job to begin a new one and was immediately confronted with an array of tasks that I was not fully equipped to handle. Yet, through persistence and dedication I managed to handle every project that was thrown at me. I persevered through the tedious task of finishing college and prevailed. I've lived on my own for a year and managed not merely to survive, but to consummately thrive. I've been robbed twice, and am none the worse for it. Stepping out more seriously into the dating world, I've learned to be bold and assertive and gone on dates with quite a number of women. As I began to think through all the different challenges I've faced, I realized that none of them have bested me. My answer to the question bothering me was no longer, "I hope so." Instead, I felt my soul affirming the truth that God was seeking to open my eyes to: "With God's help, I am strong enough to handle whatever life throws at me."

Even the development of strength does not happen by accident. No man becomes stronger through apathy or lethargy. Instead, a man builds his strength in any area of life by living with passion and continually seizing new challenges. Physically, a man strengthens himself by regular exercise and a good diet. His muscles grow stronger as he pushes himself to his limits. He is healthier and more energetic when he is disciplined about eating well and limiting his intake of harmful foods. Mentally, a man strengthens himself by thinking, talking and writing about important concepts. He spends time with people who will expose him to new ideas. He reads books to broaden his world and increase his knowledge. He engages in debates for the sharpening of his logical faculties. Spiritually, a man strengthens himself by continually seeking God and by cultivating spiritual disciplines. He spends time in silence and in prayer. He attunes his spirit to listen to God and to rely on God's strength and wisdom, rather than his own. Financially, a man strengthens himself by finding ways to maximize his value and by increasing his skillset. He takes jobs that challenge and inspire him, rather than settling for a boring and stable career. Artistically, a man strengthens himself by working at his craft and perfecting it. He seeks to deepen his artistic vision. He works on the technical aspects of his art through practice and ever-expanding theoretical knowledge. Relationally, a man strengthens himself by developing new relationships and by cultivating deeper relationships. He spends quality time with his family and lives life alongside them. He practices making new friends and intentionally seeks to meet new people regularly. He deepens his close relationships by making them a priority and sharing himself with those whom he loves.

Those men who live life with passion, urgency and boldness find their strength growing steadily and their satisfaction with life increasing, regardless of life's circumstances. Those men who shrink from that which their soul desires soon find that they are becoming stagnant in many areas and that accompanied with the stagnation is a numbness in their soul. The only cure to that is to renew the life of the heart by embracing challenges, rejoicing in trials, engaging in competition and pushing oneself to excel. On those things, the masculine soul thrives! Nothing gives a man more satisfaction than to overcome a challenge, to complete an impossible task, to win a tough competition, to prevail in the face of danger or to transcend a crisis. Nothing feels better to a man than knowing that he has become stronger!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Creative Energies and the Artist

Recently, my sister and I were discussing what it means to be an artist, and what it's like to have an artistic perspective of the world. Following our talk, she wrote a great blog on the subject. As I was thinking more about some things that make an artist unique, I stumbled across another fascinating realization. While some artists are extremely focused and narrow in their forms of artistic expression, some artists use various mediums to express themselves. There are advantages and disadvantages of both sorts of artists. Multi-media artists, who have several means of creative expression, often have a broader creative vision and sometime have broader-scope insights into life, as well as having added flexibility in how they choose to express themselves at a given time or to a specific audience. Single-media artists, who express themselves primarily through one form of creative expression, generally do not have as much breadth of insight, but their focus on one form of expression often results in greater mastery of their preferred method of art. Their dedication can lead them to excel at their preferred form of art. Most artists that I know, however, do not solely fit one category or the other. Instead, there is typically some sort of balance between the two, with a bit of an emphasis on breadth or an emphasis on dedication.

As an aspiring renaissance man, I am definitely a multi-media artist with several major interests and artistic outlets. In seeking to develop my various faculties and talents, I often have to prioritize my uses of energy. As much as it might be desirable to have a never-ending source of creative energy, the simple truth of the matter is that there is a limit to how much creative energy a person has, and how much time can be spent pursuing art. All artists recognize this truth. Sometimes you have seemingly limitless ideas, yet there is simply never quite enough time to bring all of them to fruition. Other times, you have the desire to do something creative, and the time needed to do it, but lack the necessary energy. The first part seems quite intuitive to me, yet the second part struck me especially strongly last Friday. Last week, I spend a lot of time in the studio, producing and recording a new song that I wrote a few weeks ago. While finishing the song and releasing it was quite a fulfilling process, I also felt that I had significantly less creative energy remaining to engage in other creative endeavors. Writing is another creative outlet that I much enjoy. However, when Friday came around and I sat down to write, I found that though I had the desire to write, and though I had a couple of topics that I felt inspired to write about, I was completely lacking in creative energy. I could tell that even trying to write for 3 or 4 hours would hardly be sufficient for me to write even a mediocre post about any of the things I wanted to write about. The energy to write a post bursting with inspiration and creativity simply wasn't there. Since mediocrity is something that I never settle for, I didn't bother writing anything at all.

This brought me to a simple realization: just as human beings have a limited amount of physical energy to expend during a day, we also have a limited amount of creative energy. The second, a more profound realization, is an expansion on the first: multi-media artists are more likely to hit their energy limits than single-media artists, since multi-media artists typically have more ideas that they seek to realize. For this reason, proper priorization is vital for multi-media artists. While lost or wasted energy for a single-media artist only affects one discipline, lost or wasted energy for a multi-media artists affects all of their artistic disciplines. This fact presents one more insight to be gleaned: the importance of proper prioritization and efficiency rises proportionally with the number of artistic outlets an artist has.

Multi-media artists, because of their multiple artistic disciplines, are capable of higher overall creative output, because they typically have more active sources of inspiration, and because they are more likely to utilize their creative energies to the fullest. Single-media artists are capable of higher-quality output, and higher quantities of output in their primary artistic field, although their overall artistic output will generally be somewhat lower than the multi-media artist, due to having fewer active sources of inspiration, and less incentive to fully utilize all of their creative energy. This offers artists an interesting choice of which method to pursue. Both types methods have their own advantages and disadvantages. There are the Ludwig Beethovens of the world, who are renowned for their lifelong pursuit of one creative field, and there are the Leonardo Da Vincis of the world, who are known for their sublime contributions to numerous fields of life. There are the Adam Smiths of the world, who completely revolutionize a single field, and the Isaac Newtons of the world, who make notable strides forward in several fields of study.

What is your natural artistic tendency? Do have one favorite form of creative expression that dwarfs all others? Or, do you have several means of creative output, accompanied by the desire to hone your skills in each artistic discipline?