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.