33 years and 33 thoughts

Here are 33 thoughts for my 33rd birthday. These are some of the ideas that have been in my head over the past year. You could think of it as instructions to my younger self. But it’s not merely that, as a great deal of it is just what occupied my mind this past year. A great deal of it will come across as didactic, but my job is telling people how to find their best self and giving them steps to get to it, so I don’t care.

  1. Learn the difference between what you can control and what you cannot and meticulously curate your inner life around recognizing that distinction. I have years and years of bad habits of thought based around, not taking responsibility for things beyond my control, but feeling responsible for them. There is a difference. One can choose to maintain or repair a car (taking responsibility), one cannot choose when accidents or natural disasters occur (for which one might feel responsible and therefore sad, anxious, whatever).
  2. Every moment is a gift. I’ve never suffered the way some have suffered. But my life has had it’s share of intense physical anguish as well as long term constant, dull, depressing, and demotivating pain, interrupted by bouts of intense discomfort. The idea that some events are truly evil and ought not be is difficult to reconcile with every moment being a gift, but both are true and until you learn to see things this way, it’s easy to be miserable with your lot, especially the moments beyond your control.
  3. Read broadly and carefully. Sometimes I go through phases of rushing through books and skim reading. It’s such times that I’m reading too much and should slow down.
  4. But don’t read all the time. Sometimes you need to engage in actual thought, not guided by another, and consider an issue. As a young man I discovered the cosmological argument this way sitting in a parking lot by myself staring at the night sky from the back of a truck before I ever heard of Aquinas or Aristotle.
  5. Unless your goal is to be an academic who writes often, don’t read about everything that interests you. There is only so much time and the world needs doers, not just thinkers.
  6. If you’re a Christian who can read, there is no excuse to not read the Bible daily, especially the Psalms, Proverbs, and the Gospels.
  7. If you’re a Christian who is especially interested in studying the Bible at a young age, do not let a youth minister convince you that this is a good time to consider Bible college.
  8. With that in mind, one should never major in something the purpose of which is to automatically be “in charge” of others or an institution upon leaving college. Either go right to work or major in something that forces you to acquire concrete skills for helping others.
  9. Along the same lines, if you’re sure that you were called into the ministry, major in something definitely helpful to others (maybe even trade school) and take some Greek/Hebrew courses to help you understand the Bible. Then go to church for a few years as an adult rather than figuring Bible college taught you everything (which is didn’t) and that you have the best ideas (you don’t) with which to remake a church in your image. The same is true among secular people who major in activist fields. Ayaan Hirsi Ali said it best, “Many students comes to me full of wonderful intentions hoping to change the world; they plan to spend their time helping the poor and disadvantaged. I tell them first to graduate and make a lot of money, and only then figure out how best to help those in need. Too often students can’t meaningfully help the disadvantaged now, even if it makes them feel good for trying to. I have seen so many former students in their late 30s and 40s struggling to make ends meet. They spent their time in college doing good rather than building their careers and futures. I warn students today to be careful how they spend their precious time and to think carefully about when it is the right time to help. It’s a well-worn cliché, but you have to help yourself before you help others. This is too often lost on idealistic students.”
  10. Take care of your body when you’re young. I lifted weights, ran, and did martial arts but frequently ate food that was affordable rather than healthy. I’m still paying for doing that trade incorrectly even now, despite having a low body fat percentage and remaining strong.
  11. Don’t make drinking “your thing.” I never did this, but I observed and known many who did. I’ve seen folks post on online that they drank themselves into a stupor over a political election (see point one again).
  12. Don’t make politics “your thing.” Human are inherently tribal. How you vote has effects on your tribe. So be educated, but your tribe is your thing. The last thing you need to do is alienate yourself from people near to you (you can control this) because you’re concerned about events you cannot control. It’s okay to be involved in politics, but politics on the grand scale is not your family or your tribe. Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness. This means the wellbeing of the church around you (that’s what his kingdom is) and the highest standard of character you can imagine for yourself (based on God’s word, of course).
  13. Always have people in your life you can look to as teachers, examples, companions, and beneficiaries.
  14. On the other hand, be careful of having somebody become “your guy” that you go to for your thought. One can learn a lot from Jordan Peterson, but he’s wrong about a lot of things. One can learn a lot from Aristotle, but he’s wrong about a lot of things.
  15. If you want to avoid the deceitfulness of riches, spend a period of time seriously studying money, learning to save, manage accounts, and invest. By learning that money is a means that can be manipulated by choices, lost instantly, and has no intrinsic value can help you avoid making it a life goal, lifestyle, or a god.
  16. Build your career before you build your house. Pay for the lessons before the television, plant your crops before you paint the bedroom, and learn your craft before you buy your wine (Proverbs 24:27).
  17. Get your sense of offense under control. Like the poem says, “IF you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise…” People will do bad things do you, but it’s no reason to lose emotional or moral control.
  18. Don’t waste your time with toxic people. For some, especially Christians, this can feel judgmental. But if you’re not somebody’s pastor, counselor, or parent there’s very little you could realistically do by letting them waste your time. It “feels like” ministry or service to let folks like this waste your time, but it’s really a desire to not be known for hurting people’s feelings. You wouldn’t wear ugly clothes if they were lying around, you wouldn’t drink nasty water if it was in your favorite cup, you probably wouldn’t eat garbage food if you found it in your fridge. Why would you spend time with somebody who is corrosive to your character and goals?
  19. Write every day, but don’t make it public. Writing helps your thoughts get to a place where you can examine them. Make task lists. Write ideas. It’s worthwhile. I keep a pocket notebook and when I turn a page I write “Ideas” on the left page and “tasks” on the right with the date in the middle. This way I can write down anything that comes to mind or needs to be finished before I relax in the evening.
  20. It’s stupid not to believe in God. From a risk-assessment angle, this is obvious. But it’s also true from a Platonic point of view. But just as stupid as it is not to believe in God it is also stupid not to show gratitude (see above). The problem for many people is that they attempt to have gratitude for being, consciousness, and bliss but they cannot because they do not think of God as the giver of all three.
  21. Your perceptions are part of the whole of reality, but they may not reflect reality outside of your head. Judge them accordingly.
  22. Jesus retired by 30, started a second career as an itinerant preacher, theologian, philosopher, and folk healer. But by 30 he was a master of his religious traditions and apparently had resources aplenty for his mother, brothers, and sisters to be cared for. He also had a reputation for his craft as a he traveled about. There’s a lesson in this.
  23. God is the source of all discrete entities. God is also the unity between them. God is distinct from all discrete entities. All discrete entities obtain their existence by relying on God. By creating, the God in whom all things have their being becomes a being among beings. Nature not only implies the existence of God. Nature herself implies the fact of God’s incarnation.
  24. While I mentioned caring for your family and tribe above, it’s important to have a big vision (I know, that involves some politics). Think about the whole of civilization. Having a child makes you care more about your tribe and family but also the larger future. Caring about where you leave your shopping cart and whether you throw garbage on the road is a prerequisite to inventing the space program and modern medical science.
  25. Having a child makes it easier for you to be unexpectedly harsh with people or animals that may be a threat.
  26. Having a child makes it easier for you to show compassion to very unappealing people because you see the chain of cause and effect from bad parenting, circumstances, and genetics.
  27. When you get older you’re fine with apparent inconsistencies like this.
  28. Family devotions make life all the sweeter. It’s sad when I find out that people have never had such an experience.
  29. Having a weekly or bi-weekly marriage meeting is a powerful experience because it depersonalizes some of the challenges of marriage and creates an “official time/space” for problem solving and planning without fighting. It also creates a time to revisit specific moments for which you appreciate each other.
  30. Masculinity and femininity are real, even if expressed differently in different people. Learn these polarities in yourself and in your partner. Don’t let people treat you as though you’re what you aren’t. Don’t treat your wife like one of the guys. Don’t expect your husband to be a perfect lady.
  31. Starting without a plan is way better than never starting anything. My whole life I’ve liked to plan everything I do with minute detail. But for larger projects with many moving parts these detailed plans remain unfinished and the project remains unfinished or worse, never started. It also increases the cost of obstacles. When one plans too thoroughly, roadblocks become irrecoverable.
  32. The Internet is filled with pointless rabbit holes. If you love knowledge, you can find a reason to distract yourself from any computerized project. It’s important to use a timer when you get online. On the one hand, I learned to manage my arthritis, improved my Greek and Hebrew, cured my heartburn, and learned options trading using the Internet. On the other hand, I know too much trivia about favorite movies, old video games, dead programming languages, unusual conspiracy theories (a favorite hobby of mine), and meaningless intra-blogger drama.
  33. Time is limited but every moment can be redeemed. This is Paul’s testimony. It is also the wisdom of the Psalms. Jesus died at 33, taking responsibility for the moral and spiritual evils of the entire human race. And I think that subjective and objective meaning can be found in life to the degree that a man takes responsibility for things. That’s how we redeem the time. We take ownership of its passing and the events that float upon its surface into our sphere.

What I’ve Learned from Jordan Peterson

I’ve come to appreciate Jordan Peterson a lot. It’s rare for me to find a recent scholar from whom I learn more than one or two important things. Peterson is an exception. 

Here are some of the main lessons I’ve learned from him: 

Practically Speaking

  1. A key practice for good teaching is getting students to envision their future selves and the steps necessary to get there.
  2. There is a connection between my internal state and the orderliness of my immediate environment.
  3. Try to think of five good reasons to make any decision you make. I tried to do the opposite as well, try to find several good reasons reject an idea or not do something. As an aside, offering the most good arguments possible is not good rhetoric.
  4. Remember that you’re a loaded gun, especially around children. This makes you circumspect about your words and actions. Somebody who knows that “I’m the sort of creature who might shake a baby unless I take steps to not do that” is less likely to shake a baby.
  5. Say what you really think is true, and therefore think through what you say to see if you really think it’s true…or at least say it like it’s true so that it can be corrected and challenged. In other words, conversation can strengthen you or work as a hypothesis testing process. 
  6. In conflict with a partner (romantic, co-worker, etc), agree to say what you think the other person is saying to their satisfaction before you respond. This forces everybody to be clear and ensures everybody is on roughly the same page. 


  1. His paper on goal setting interventions helped me clarify the process I use to get my students to take ownership of their educations. I used to have them do a ‘diligence audit.’ I would ask them to look at their habits as though they were a third person advisor and describe where they will take them if they continue on the path they’re on. Then I would ask them to imagine who they would like to be by the end of a semester and to write the habits that would help them get there. Finally, I would have them write what they should do to gain those habits. Peterson’s paper showed me that this practice really has helped people and his self-authoring exercise helped me aim my questions more effectively. 
  2. His insistence on cleaning your room and sorting yourself out and their inextricable link has helped me see the centrality of the Cain and Abel narrative for the whole Bible. God’s instructions to Cain were to master his sin and to improve his lot. We can suppose that those were precisely the qualities that made Abel’s sacrifice preferable. Peterson regularly utilizes that story to remind people of the importance of cleaning their rooms and organizing their habits around the good instead of around their immediate desires, but even that way of saying things fits with the idea that Cain and Abel are archetype at the bottom of the whole Biblical narrative. Jewish writers like Yoram Hazony have made this point for years. 
  3. Peterson helped revive Jung for me, particularly the idea of the archetypes. This was significant because I needed to understand the relationships between the symbolic overlay that human beings use to interpret the world and the innate nature of the world itself. A combination of Jung, Husserl, and Aristotle helped me see that. But if it weren’t for a footnote where Dallas Willard mentioned Jung, I would have never listened to Peterson after I found that paper of his, because I was prejudiced against Jung. 
  4. In Eric Johnson’s Foundations for Soul Care: A Proposal for Christian Psychology, there’s a throw away line about the value of evo-psych for Christian counselors because of the information they provide about mating patterns. I didn’t dispute that and even read a lot of evo-psych over the last decade, but Peterson really helped me see how the Biblical material intersects with those claims. Whether his model of concordance is ultimately accurate is a question to consider, but it is definitely pragmatically accurate. 

How I Escape the Dungeon

Everybody finds themselves in the dungeon from time to time. It’s that place where you feel like progress is impossible or meaningless, like you’ve gone too far in a wrong direction, or that there’s no such thing as the right direction. It’s so weird, because it feels like the same place no matter where you are. Sometimes, just being a person gets you down. The stresses of parenthood, the anxiety of being single, the Sisyphean task of making/spending money, the frustrations of work, feeling stuck at a job you hate, feeling like important tasks are undone, and dealing with other people. All of these together can make you feel like just getting out of bed is a chore. How do I escape? Here’s my get out of the dungeon plan, in the form of questions, when everything comes together to make me feel staying in bed all day:

  1. Have I been to the gym more than twice in the past seven days?
    For men, being strong helps you feel engaged in the world and gives you a sense of personal dominance over nature in a way that does not contradict nature. The weight room is a place where a man gains Marcus Aurelius’ mindset: “Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events by accommodating itself to what it faces…what is thrown atop the flame is absorbed, consumed by it – and makes it burn still higher. (M. Aurelius 4.1)” Being stronger is obviously useful for women, too. 
  2. Do I engage in daily exercise (push-ups, squats, calf-raises, stretches, etc) upon waking?
    There are a minimum of three exercises I try to do in the mornings, when I’m planning my life well, the list is longer and includes stretches and joint mobility exercises that vastly improve my arthritis pain. If I’m feeling down, I almost certainly stopped doing them days ago.
  3. What am I eating lately?
    If I base my diet around meat, eggs, cheeses, and vegetables I’ll feel better. If I’m eating sweets, breads, and even too much fruit, I start to feel worse. My family tree has some diabetes, so I suspect that my body just isn’t meant for sweets more than one or two days a week.
  4. How am I managing my sleep?
    If I’m sleeping 6-9 hours a night I’m feeling great. If I sleep 9 hours too many nights in a row, I start feeling more sleepy all day. But if I sleep less than 6, then I’m a wreck. Chances are, if I’m feeling down, I’m not managing my sleep well.
  5. Am I thinking about the past?
    Sometimes I think a lot about elements of my past that went poorly and I just replay them over and over. This strategy literally does nothing to improve my lot. But when focus on improving the quality of my work, of my relationships, of my knowledge, and of my skill-base now, then I start to feel better. It’s funny how whether it’s inside or out, complaining does nobody any good unless we voice it in prayer.
  6. Am I obsessing over something I cannot change?
    Many fantasize about a job they wish they had but don’t. If it’s changeable, change it. On the other hand, many have children for whom provision is necessary. Such parents cannot change their job, yet. So, they shouldn’t fantasize all day about where they aren’t (if they wish to feel good). In my case, because of the nature of my job, I’ll think myself into a funk by thinking about my job. As a teacher I want my students to choose well. It’s difficult to watch some of them choose poorly. But what I can change is the quality of my teaching, the content of my courses, and whether I teach in a manner that is pleasant for my students and myself. Others may do this to themselves with politics, economics, sports teams, and so-on.
  7. Am I taking my religious duties seriously?
    When I’m regularly participating in leisure time centered around Bible study, actively putting Jesus’ words into practice at work, in my family life, and in how I spend my money, and when I’m participating in the life of the church I feel better. There is less moral incongruity. I feel connected to the foundation of reality.
  8. Am I keeping track of my blessings?
    The old song says, “count your blessings…see what God has done.” People might think it’s cheesy or stupid, but they probably live their lives miserably. In the morning and before bed, when I think of specific blessings for which I am thankful, I feel better in between. Another step might be to declare the steadfast love of the Lord in the morning. Wake up and say, “Jesus loves me and gave himself up for me” or “God so loved the world that he have his only begotten son.” If you’re not a Christian or not religious, are you filling that psychological gap with something?
  9. What are my priorities?
    When I make my main goals in life virtue, the well-being of my family, and my health, then I tend to function more joyfully. If I make my goals financial, task based, or too far into the future, then I get down.

Remembering: Part 2

Previously, I mentioned the bizarre timing. 

Two years ago, around the end of October, I ran into a friend at the bookstore. He was bandaged and seemed rather disheveled. He was wearing a hospital bracelet. A few days or weeks later (I can’t remember), his wife called to let me know that he had disappeared. I figured that he was as good as dead. And so for the past two years, I listen to some of the music he wrote in November and I think briefly about our friendship, what I learned, what I could do better in current friendships, and pray for his family, etc. 

Now, his disappearance could have meant anything. He possessed a powerful intellect. His desk in his home was always riddled with strange old electronic devices he would repair: oscilloscopes, out of production media players, decaying monosynths, disassembled miscellany, and disorganized sundries, etc. But he also had great facility with learning languages, very difficult mathematics, music history/theory, and a vast knowledge of philosophy, theology, the occult, and Jungian psychology. He knew chemistry and sometimes did impressive tricks. And he had a knack for surviving in the wild. His never-ending curiosity was unnerving. But certain desires that drive people can becoming so consuming that they destroy rather than enliven, his was for knowledge. As he would say, unchecked desire could dissolve rather than coagulate.

He always reminded me of Andy Kaufman. He loved the eccentric and would happily take a joke too far just because he enjoyed it. In high school, the song “The Great Beyond” would remind me of him as much as of Kaufman. Part of why I became friends with him guy was our similar sense of the absurd. We were in a band called ECP, the Exploding Chaos Parade. With the exception for four or five people whose opinion he really valued, he was immune to group norms. That immunity to the opinions of others is very freeing.

While I was writing the other post, I had this sudden hopeful thought: what if he came back…what a train wreck that would be, but he’d be alive, be there for his kids (in some capacity) and probably have some wild stories. My natural pessimism reminded me that this isn’t a movie. Anyway, his wife called me a week later, to the day, to tell me his remains had been found.

But what was weird about it all was the day I ran into him, prior to his disappearance, we talked about Carl Jung’s book Synchronicity and potential overlap with Rupert Sheldrake’s concept of morphic resonance. Synchronicity is Jung’s term for coincidences which are not causally related, yet are meaningfully connected. That’s what made the timing of the phone call, the text, and the delayed moment of remembrance of my other friend all so bizarre.

Here’s an example of his music: 


Here is an absurdist collage he made for reasons he didn’t even know:

I don’t mean to romanticize my friend. He was a broken man. Everybody is haunted by demons, may God give us the strength to face them. 

Remembering: Part 1

Every year, around the anniversary of his death, I sit and think about a friend. I’ve done this for several July’s in a row. This year I did not. My daughter had been born and I was utterly distracted from my normal habits. 

In high school he was an atheist. We often argued about God’s existence (despite being in debate class I found political debates boring). In college, he had a break from reality connected to several bad habits he’d developed in high school.

Before he graduated, classmates gave him a dose of real-talk about the probable results of his excessive drinking. He had been one of the brightest guys I’d ever met, and I tried to surround myself only with people I thought were very bright, he rose to the top. He excelled, especially, at music theory and debate. He was two years older than me. At this point we were not friends.

Anyway, out of the blue, he contacted me when I was in college. He claimed to have become a Christian as a result of his apparent breakdown. He wrote a bunch of music. He even offered to help my brother’s band produce an album, presumably as a kindness to me. His conversion experience seemed sincere, though some of our mutual friends told me that they weren’t sure he wasn’t pulling an elaborate prank.

We spent the weekend with my roommates and I. We attended some concerts, debated Scripture, and talked about stupid high school antics. From this point on, he would regularly call me. He eventually asked me to baptize him, so I did. This took place over about 2 years, with the baptism somewhere in the middle. I slept so little from 2003-2010 that anything within that time frame seems almost simultaneous. 

From 2008-2010, we stayed in touch, grabbed food a few times when he was in town. Sometimes, I ignored his phone calls. It was never personal and he knew he usually contacted me in what could only be described as hypermanic states.

In 2010, he died. Causes were never made public. I have my suspicions, but they don’t matter. Since then, I go to his MySpace music page and listen to the good songs once a year. I used to go to the funeral home webpage to reread his obituary, but two or three years ago, it went down. Eventually, the MySpace page will be gone. I checked it last week and none of his old songs would play. That’s a shame because my brother and I both lost his album. 

I don’t like being sad. I don’t reminisce to make myself sad. I accept the ancient belief that it’s important to remember the dead so that they remain active in history. I don’t mean animism, but that specifically remembering people brings their words and actions into history anew. That feels especially true to me if they never had children. There are men and women whose deaths go unremembered every day. Christ remembers them. But, it just seems intuitively right to try to hold those who were close to you in your heart if you can. And it’s not that I don’t believe in heaven or the resurrection from the dead. I do. I just believe that history matters and people are supposed to remain in it longer than 28 years or so.

I similarly call to memory two other friends. One died when I was in high school. My last words to him were when I was tutoring him in geometry and he was refusing to grasp the concept (we played soccer together so the harshness is playful): Don’t be such a f*cking idiot. Remembering him reminds me to be circumspect with my words. Going to a funeral for a Christian brother and soccer teammate while remembering that as your last conversation is sobering. 

The other isn’t known to have died, but he has disappeared. 

Now, I wrote this short reflection for personal reasons. I never meant to post it. But the months-off timing of my recollections was bizarre this year.



Reflections on Fatherhood

This is just a stream of consciousness about the experience of fatherhood:

  1. When the struggles with Avery and Margot began toward the end of the pregnancy, I had never felt so defeated, alone, or weak. I didn’t handle it well, and I suspect I’m still recovering from that. 
  2. That’s not a complaint, it’s just a shift in perspective. Before fatherhood, I easily recovered from sorrow due to death or the fear thereof. Other things got me down. But rarely the near death or sickness of people I knew.(not sure why, I was just wired that way)
  3. The stresses of parenthood are like those of every life change. The passions of the body and soul find new ways to tempt you to sin.
  4. I’ve never been big on sleep, but my sleep is so shallow these days it’s finally catching up to me.
  5. I’ve always been very protective of children and been very aggressive to bullies. But with my own daughter that instinct has multiplied so vastly. When I read ancient literature, the insane lengths of revenge for hurt family suddenly makes sense to me (not that I endorse that). But I have rethought several aspects of my politics and ethics. 
  6. I do more fully understand wha Jesus meant when he said you couldn’t follow him without hating your family. Here’s how: if I had to choose between the whole world and my daughter, she wins every time. I’d build a space ship, turn the moon into the Death Star, and blow up the sun if it would keep her safe. Anyway, Jesus seems to be saying to put that sort of devotion beneath your devotion to him and adherence to his teachings.
  7. I find watching somebody sleep is now a deep joy.
  8. Few processes are more fun than watching somebody learn to be a person from scratch. 
  9. When Jordan Peterson says, “you have to know that you’re a loaded gun, especially around children, or you’ll harm them irreparably” is good counsel. It’s weird how you can suddenly and accidentally get mad at a person who doesn’t even have a will yet.
  10. I make up songs all day now. That’s weird.
  11. Since discovering the pregnancy, I’ve read so many parenting books and so much psychology and evo-psych literature that I’m actually forgetting author names (never done that before…could be sleep deprivation).
  12. Having a child wakens you, profoundly, to the value of a dollar and the beauty of nice neighborhoods. 
  13. Few moments are so heartbreaking as watching my daughter’s pristine worldview get shattered by bumping her head or suddenly getting hungry.
  14. She recently started emulating “I love you.” She makes a weird three syllable sound with her tongue floppping about. It’s the best.
  15. Unless you’re a terrible person who would definitely be a bad parent, you should get your life together and have kids in order to experience meaning in life.

Conservatism Conserves What?

This is an edit of a post from October 21st, 2016
When I was in junior high I learned about conservatives and liberals.
I was really confused about the fact that liberals wanted more rules for business owners and that conservatives wanted to spend more money on war.
A couple of years later, I converted to Christianity and found several conservative political positions to line up with my emerging moral consciousness. But, I also found several of them to abhorrent.
  1. Pro-life made sense. Abortion is the most insane inversion of the order nature I could and can imagine.
  2. I thought prison sentences for most crimes made no sense.
  3. Keeping the government mostly out of the market made sense (though I was skeptical of conservative opposition to minimum wage increases and I thought tariffs made sense)
  4. I also thought that going to war all of the time seemed to be a “liberal” use of money.

My Skepticism Rose

During Bush the Younger’s presidency, I remembered thinking that the privacy intrusions of the intelligence agencies, the quickness with which we went to war with Iraq over 9/11? WMDs? oil? (how and why was that wise?) and the reticence to do anything about abortion showed that conservatives meant [based on observing their actions] neither to conserve human life in general, American lives, nor the constitution.
Now that I’ve realized how little conservatives care to conserve. I tend to think that Republicans don’t actually want to win the pro-life argument at the legal level because then they couldn’t use the platform to get elected.

The Five Stages of Conservative

Ed Feser expertly mocked the conservative way of being in the world here:
  1. Stage 1: “Mark my words: if the extreme left had its way, they’d foist X upon us! These nutjobs must be opposed at all costs.”
  2. Stage 2: “Omigosh, now even thoughtful, mainstream liberals favor X! Fortunately, it’s political suicide.”
  3. Stage 3: “X now exists in 45 out of 50 states. Fellow conservatives, we need to learn how to adjust to this grim new reality.”
  4. Stage 4: “X isn’t so bad, really, when you think about it. And you know, sometimes change is good. Consider slavery…”
  5. Stage 5: “Hey, I was always in favor of X! You must have me confused with a [paleocon, theocon, Bible thumper, etc.]. But everyone knows that mainstream conservatism has nothing to do with those nutjobs…

Stage five describes contemporary conservatives thoroughly.

Christians do this, too.

“Those other Christians are bad, please like me now.”

I think I used to do it, too. Seminary trains you to want approval from non-Christians. Several professors I know are like this.

One of them is so condescending, even to people to whom he used to be a pastor, it’s difficult to imagine that he ever called himself a Christian. Usually hating Christians is the wine of atheists. But his main point is to signal to his academic friends that he’s not like all those low IQ rednecks he used to pastor.

No “Conservative Principles”

Even when conservatives claim to be using logic rather than rhetoric to make arguments against this or that idea or candidate, the same logic is applicable against them. Heck, I’ve heard conservatives rail against the tendency of populist movements to appeal to the poor and if anybody appeals to the poor they should be ignored. But that’s precisely part of Jesus’ appeal in the ancient world. Conservatives, in their effort to get people to see them as “not like those other conservatives” will make up principles they’ve never adopted before. This reminds me of when Publius Decius Mus opined that many of conservatives deep “principled concerns” aren’t even principles:

What, specifically, is good in a political context varies with the times and with circumstance, as does how best to achieve the good in a given context. The good is not tax rates or free trade. Those aren’t even principles. In the American political context, the good is the well-being of the physical America and its people, well-being defined (in terms that reflect both Aristotle and the American Founding) as their “safety and happiness.” That’s what conservatism should be working to conserve.


Mark Rubio said that he didn’t think conservatives should look at wikileaks materials because it might happen to conservatives one day. In other words, “It’s bad for politicians to be forced into transparency.” No moral principle such as privacy was evoked, but merely interest in power. Heck, it wasn’t even a, “Do unto others…” thing.

Elsewhere, on the Tweeter, Rick Wilson (a goober in love with family values rhetoric) asked Ann Coulter (who never claims to be polite) personal sex questions of a deeply disturbing nature.

In the National Review, Kevin Williamson exuberantly rhapsodized about how people who live in flyover communities deserve to die for no other reason except a “conservative” form of social darwinism which implies that politicians have no obligations toward the well being of their voters. No mention, of course, that it was bad trade deals supported by conservatives which sent their jobs overseas.

I’m Not Conservative

I’m not conservative by any respectably accepted definition. Conservatives, at least public pundits, are not interested in conserving principles, traditions, people, the economy, or the rule of law. They’re more interested in being the irenic but losing opposition to any of the forces bent on dissolving Western Civilization. The idea that sacrificing your view of the truth in response to social pressure is noble is unacceptable to me.

Sting and the unbearable lightness of sorrow

I was born in the 80s. This means that I listened to a lot of the best music of the previous century as a child. But as you grow older, some music acquires new meaning, either because of your experiences or because you just finally became conscious enough to listen to the lyrics. When I was in junior high, I realized how creepy or sad his Sting’s lyrics were. Without fail, every song is filled with shades of the dark triad traits or utter remorse at unrequited love.

But what is so weird about Sting is that his songs sound so upbeat, pleasant, and even energizing that it’s difficult to associate them with negative emotions or immoral pursuits! He can sing about wanting to die, being the king of pain, having an affair, stalking a woman who ignores him, or being a creepy teacher with the same exuberant tone!

That being said, two songs from the current decade reminded me of the Police’s Can’t Stand Losing You (below). The first is Somebody that I Used to Know by Gotye and Kimbra.

Here are the most obvious lyrics, though both songs are about the same experience:

Gotye Sting
You didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened
And that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger
And that feels so rough…
You didn’t have to stoop so low,
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number…
I see youve sent my letters back
And my lp records and theyre all scratched
I cant see the point in another day
When nobody listens to a word I say
You can call it lack of confidence
But to carry on living doesnt make no sense

If you listen to them both, they Gotye sounds deeply troubled and sorrowful about getting his records back. Sting sounds overjoyed even though they’ve been destroyed and he’s contemplating suicide!

The next is Chalk Outline by Three Days Grace:

Three Days Grace Guy Sting
You’ll be sorry baby, someday
When you reach across the bed
Where my body used to lay
You left me here like a chalk outline, etc


I guess this is our last goodbye
And you dont care, so I wont cry
But youll be sorry when Im dead
And all this guilt will be on your head
I guess youd call it suicide
But I’m too full to swallow my pride

The similarities are striking. Both are using the spectre (as it hasn’t occurred) of their impending suicide to make the other feel sorry/guilty. The chief difference is, again, the character in the Three Days Grace song sounds angry and sorrowful, perhaps willing to end his life and just letting her know it’s connected to her. It’s a crappy thing to do, but obviously a call to help.

Sting sounds cheerful and pleasant like Moriarty or the Joker. [spoiler] In the Sherlock television show and in one of my favorite Batman comics of the 80s the villains commit suicide specifically to cause trauma to the protagonist (legal, emotional, existential, it doesn’t matter).[/spoiler] I think Sting’s character in the song above really would do it out of a sadistic need for revenge and a narcissistic desire to be a permanent fixture in the thought space of the other. In other words, the character in many of Stings songs is a villain on the level of Satan, the Joker, or Hannibal Lecter. And it is the case that the dark triad traits correlate with short term sexual success and those same traits correlate very highly with sadism. Now, I find the Police and Sting’s songs catchy and fun. On the other hand either Sting or the character he plays as he writes his music (he has a background in literature) is a dark triad expert, as this biography linked indicates he was a bad teacher.

Conclusions, no arguments.

I had titled this post, ‘random thoughts.’ But many of these are things I’ve thought a lot about. They aren’t random, they’re just topics I’d like to write about/discuss with folks but probably won’t write about for fear of wasting my time (only about two of my posts here have comments).

  1. Matthew’s gospel really was written first.
  2. Sex differences are real, down to the molecular level.
  3. With respect to #2, sex differences should be considered a first principle when it comes to raising children.
  4. The Beatles are overrated, the Stones and even Fleetwood Mac are better.
  5. Other than occasionally being motivating on a hormonal level or linguistically intriguing, rap music is pointless.
  6. The typical Protestant/Evangelical articulation of justification by faith alone and ‘once saved always saved’ are incorrect and potentially dangerous to peoples’ souls.
  7. Capitalism, insofar as it means, ‘non-coercive commerce’ is not workable in nations where Christianity is not the publicly preferred religion and practiced with sincerity by a large visible minority.
  8. In connection with this, free trade agreements are a mistake.
  9. The average humanities degree in the modern university is pointless economically and intellectually empty.
  10. The New Testament simultaneously makes room for women as prophets in the church while maintaining the existence of some form of hierarchy in the household.
  11. Attempts at analogies for the trinity are bad most of the time.
  12. Fiction can be truer than history.
  13. The Old Testament has a lot more information about demons are fallen powers than Old Testament scholars tend to acknowledge.
  14. While deontological ethics (right and wrong are right and wrong regardless of consequences) is correct with respect to knowing morality, consequentialist reasoning is best for getting people to behave morally.
  15. The distinction between law and morality is important for interpreting Scripture.
  16. There are multiple true senses to Scripture, particularly the passages of poetry and the archetypal stories prior Abraham.
  17. In line with #16, many Biblical stories appear to be designed to promote inquiry from several angles rather than to promote a specific point of view.
  18. Dante’s Inferno is as much psychology as it is theology and poetry.
  19. The average school, if studied without presupposition, would appear to be designed to promote listlessness, ignorance, and inattention.
  20. Aristotle’s metaphysic is, at least with regard to actuality/potentiality, and therefore causality and the soul.
  21. Evolutionary theory contains several logical leaps, provides many satisfactory explanations of the life on planet earth, has no business in a high school biology class, and poses no threat to Christianity.
  22. Genetic differences between human groups are selected for environments over thousands or millions of years. (my apparently Scottish self has no business in south Texas, stepping outside is asking for a heat rash, sun burn, or worse).

Hedonism, Love, and Goodness

The things that shape who we are and how we think are pluriform and sometimes mysterious. This is especially so in the age of the internet stuff that may disappear forever after you read it. Every once in away, the Internet sends it back to you.

Around 2008-2009, I was quite depressed. And while I was still known for being a social butterfly at work and school, and many people even called me for advice (I remember distinctly two women with doctorates in psychology contacting me for relationship advice), I was languishing. There are probably three main reasons for this:

  1. Many of my friends had moved away, gotten married, or achieved opportunities I had never managed.
  2. I worked between 3-5 part time jobs to pay for grad school at any moment and so I got very little exercise or sun light. My academic nature and lack of sleep made it easy to substitute books for exercise. I also couldn’t afford a gym membership anywhere except a giant mega-gym that operated like a night club and prohibited squats, chalk, and grunting.
  3. I was lovelorn. During this time period, I fell in love, really hard, with two women. And because of that I felt like I had lost every ounce of the charm that had helped me make friends and ask girls on dates effortlessly before that. It was like I developed a speech impediment or a sudden physical handicap when I communicated with either of these women.

Essentially, because of certain failures of courage, mindset management, and personal care I found myself ignored by women right during the stage of my life in which I had, apparently, subconsciously decided to get married.*

Now, during this time, I had gotten really into reading Hans Balthasar, and I read his book Love Alone is Credible.

I searched online for any commentary on the book and found a quote on a blog [utterly devoid of theological interest in the academic sense], lost to the sands of time, “Never compromise on love. It’s the only thing that isn’t bullshit.” I’ve since found the blog through a retweet of the quote with a link to the 2008 post. It’s a great quote (the other material from the post varies in quality), and while the author clearly means erotic love, the point still stands. But, as any depressed person would do, I read other another post from the blog. The other post I read was about the author’s personal philosophy. That was relevant, since I was a seminary student working at a corporate coffee shop and therefore talking to atheistic armchair philosophers all the time. The author advocated a godless hedonism:


Imagine you had incontrovertible proof that there was no afterlife. No supernatural entities. No heaven or hell. No otherworld. No reincarnation. No forevermore.

No second chances.

Imagine there was no moral accounting after death of your actions on earth. No supreme being to judge your soul’s worth on the scale of divine justice. No reward or punishment. No appeal to omniscient authority in matters of good and evil.

There was only the endless black void at the moment death. The infinite silence. A complete surrender of your consciousness as the last pinprick of light extinguishes. All your thoughts, your feelings, your sensation, your memories… you… wiped away clean to merge with the great nothing.

How would you live? Given this proof of the finality of death, and of the expectation of nothing once dead, what is your personal philosophy?  

His answer to the thought experiment is this:

My answer to the philosophical question I posed above is hedonism. It is the only rational conclusion one can draw faced with the premises I presented. When there is no second life or higher power to appease; when our lives are machines — complex misunderstood machines cunningly designed to conceal the gears and pulleys behind a facade of self-delusional sublimation, but machines nonetheless — grinding and belching the choking gritty smoke of status-whoring displays in service to our microscopic puppetmasters… well, there can be only one reasonable response to it all. It makes no sense to behave any other way unless you never questioned the lies.

My own answer to the thought experiment is that if I try to imagine the world without meaning he described (advocated?), I come up blank. Why? If love isn’t bullshit, then there is meaning beyond the chemical soup and system of mechanical pulleys and levers he imagines us to be.

Indeed, if love bears the marks of a single aspect of live that isn’t bullshit, isn’t a lie, and is worth pursuing, then the matter of meaningless matter must be questioned. Is life actually meaningless or is this feeling of melancholy a salve for my own conscience? Perhaps the lie is that we’re just machines of no consequence in a heartless universe. If love isn’t bullshit, it’s implied that love is true and if there is truth, then perhaps beauty and goodness are real, too. This is an important implication, for if truth, goodness, and beauty are real, then it is perhaps the case that pleasures beyond the reach of mere pleasure seeking exist. Pleasure is a good, but what happens when the intellect attains to contemplation of goods beyond the mere stimulation of dopamine and serotonin? And what of beauty? Love entails beauty. If there is transcendent beauty, enjoying it may require that we move beyond the mere act of feeling pleasure in the moment.

Ultimately, if it’s true that love really isn’t bullshit, then the meaningless universe is opened to the possibility that there is meaning in the universe rather than artificially imposed upon it by our illusory consciousness (if you’re conscious of your consciousness being illusory, what is what of what?).

Love isn’t bullshit, but on the evidence of that, it appears that neither is the cosmos.

*Note: After I went through a fairly rigorous period of trying to improve myself, I did end up getting married and love, indeed, is not bullshit.