Abba Joseph, Beetle Kings, and Jesus

This little piece from the desert Fathers helpfully illustrates Matthew 5:14-16:

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my Little Office. I fast a little. I pray. I meditate. I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else am I to do?” “What else,” Abba Lot says, “can I do?” Then the old man stood up, stretched his hands towards heaven and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Jesus, in the passage mentioned, challenges his disciples to be the light of the world. Abba Joseph above tells Abba Lot, “If you will [desire to be a light], you can become all flame.”

But to will the destruction of our most cherished unnatural impulses can be hard.

I want comfort. I want my way. I want my space to myself, my time to myself, my feelings to myself, my whatever.

But Jesus is already the light of the world. So, why not become all flame? Aaron Weiss from mewithoutYou asks that question in his song, “The King Beetle on the Coconut Estate.

Thomas Sowell and Our Ridiculous Culture

Aside

Thomas Sowell observes:

The real war — which is being waged in our schools, in the media, and among the intelligentsia — is the war on achievement. When President Obama told business owners, “You didn’t build that!” this was just one passing skirmish in the war on achievement.

The very word “achievement” has been replaced by the word “privilege” in many writings of our times. Individuals or groups that have achieved more than others are called “privileged” individuals or groups, who are to be resented rather than emulated.

The length to which this kind of thinking — or lack of thinking — can be carried was shown in a report on various ethnic groups in Toronto. It said that people of Japanese ancestry in that city were the most “privileged” group there, because they had the highest average income.

What made this claim of “privilege” grotesque was a history of anti-Japanese discrimination in Canada, climaxed by people of Japanese ancestry being interned during World War II longer than Japanese Americans.

If the concept of achievement threatens the prevailing ideology, then real achievement in the face of obstacles is a deadly threat. That is why the achievements of Asians in general — and of people like the young black man with no arms — make those on the left uneasy. And why the achievements of people who created their own businesses have to be undermined by the President of the United States.

 

Rod Dreher is a White Supremacist

When Rod Dreher, whom I typically think of as a fairly intelligent fellow of the male-librarian sort, saw this:

he wrote the following in response to this horrible discrimination on the part of the DNC against white heterosexualmales :

Got that? They do not want white heterosexual males to apply (unless you’re a transgendered male). Note the “they/them/theirs” at the bottom.

Doesn’t matter if you have the tech skills to help the Democrats win elections. If you’re a cisgendered straight white male, your application goes to the bottom of the pile. Brilliant, just brilliant.

The thing that just slays me about liberals like this is that they have no clue whatsoever that this kind of discrimination is immoral and offensive. This stuff is not new. I was told in 1997 by a newspaper that initially welcomed my job application that my CV was put in limbo because the publisher decided that he didn’t want a white male in that job, unless they couldn’t find anybody as qualified as me. After a national job search that lasted several months, their search was fruitless, and they said they would now like to bring me in for a job interview. By then, I had just taken a job in NYC, and was on my way to a different life.

I’m glad things worked out the way they did for me, but man, did that experience ever stay with me. It impressed upon me the injustice of the days when prejudice kept women and minorities for being considered fairly for jobs. That was unjust. But you don’t make up for one injustice by perpetrating another. That’s what the (white, male) liberal publisher of that newspaper was trying to do. And I’m sure he thought of himself as a virtuous man.

This mentality exemplified by Madeleine Leader has a lot to do with why, at the end of the day, I’ll end up voting Republican out of pure self-protection, and to protect the job prospects of my children, especially my sons. Good job, Democrats.  You are telling straight white people that they are second-class citizens who don’t deserve fairness. You’ll continue to find self-hating liberal whites who are willing to accept this garbage, but many more aren’t falling for it — and know what kind of world Democrats are preparing for them when and if they take power again.

Note Dreher’s use of the phrase, “protect the prospects of my children, especially my sons.” This is reminiscent of the alt-right’s fourteen-words, a slogan which could only be agreed with by psychopaths, racists, or Nazis: We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children. 

We’ve been assured by sociology professor Jessie Daniels that the preservation of the white, hetero-normative families is itself a form of privilege and white supremacy (seriously, see the tweet screenshots below). Now, I’m not going to question experts. She is obviously correct. And if she is correct that voting, using money, distributing property, saving money, getting married, having sex, and reproducing in the interests of your family is racist, is Rod Dreher going to repent? Will he renounce, disavow, and reject his wife and children in the name of the one true virtue: diversity?

Note:

Satire?

Appendix

How to pass any exam

I’ve told my students this exact advice so many times:

Here are some posts I’ve written about serious study strategies:

  1. Lecture to the wall
  2. Thomas Aquinas on Memory
  3. Study Space
  4. The Bible’s Study Pattern

But wait, what’s a 4chan?

How-To Even

Previously, in the formerly current year, many people expressed their inability to even.

Here are two examples pulled from a quick twitter search for the phrase:

In this tweet, we read about a woman who is having an eye-brow problem and cannot even because of it.

 

In this tweet, an anonymous wo/man, who appears to protest ‘man-spreading’, ‘can’t even’ at the prospect of a Trump presidency. It’s hard to imagine the hysterics this individual is currently experiencing.

But I submit to you that you can. You can even. And here’s how:

  1. Stop publicly emoting about your inability to even. Simply note the emotion and ask, “How can I even solve this problem?”
  2. Write down what you will even do fifteen times a day, “I, so and so, will even do ‘X’.”
  3. Actually, start to even do the thing.

In three easy steps even you can even.

All sarcasm aside, it is certainly the case that saying “I can’t even” does affect how you think and act by effecting in you a static mindset or an ‘entity identity’. With your mindset so enslaved to that identity, your perceptions are aligned to reality in a fashion that no longer allows you to change.

 

Book Review: Poor Richard’s Retirement

Aaron Clarey, Poor Richard’s Retirement: Retirement for Everyday Americans

Aaron Clarey is a consultant and unaffiliated economist who writes books that are meant to help young men and women make wiser financial choices. His approach is no nonsense, gruff, and often cynical. But despite seeming like a complete jerk, his advice which is free on his blog or youtube channel clearly comes from a big heart (for sensitive users or those who may listen w/children around, he does curse a lot). This is evident when he, for instance, criticizes parents who don’t spend a great deal of time with their children (this is a common thread in his books and podcasts and I only listen to them a couple of times a year).

I disagree with a great deal of his material, but it’s because he’s not religious and I’m a Christian. But his grasp of markets, how they work, and what personal steps are necessary for success are second to none.

That being said, if you’re a millennial, especially one who graduated college between 2007-2010, you’ve probably wondered how in the heck you could ever retire. Clarey’s has what all books of this sort have. It contains a helpful explanation of steps one can take in order to get ready for retirement, but does something a great many similar books don’t do. He reframes what it means to live a life of meaning with a personal sense of significance. The book amounts to a sort of secular explanation of Jesus’ saying that we should “…take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

I think the argument he makes, though it veers toward Clarey’s not infrequent cynicism is worth reading in full because of its rhetorical effect. So I won’t explain it.

The practical tips he gives are excellent. His solution to the problem of retirement is ultimately satisfying (more on that below). And he does run some of the numbers comparing costs in previous generations of those of ye olde current year in a way that is helpful and potentially guilt inducing.

Worthwhile quotes:

Understand this and understand this clearly. Most two-income families are: Outsourcing the upbringing of their own children To complete strangers Passing up on seeing their children grow up So BOTH parents can work jobs they don’t like While suffering commutes that keep them from their families AND stressing themselves out in the process. (47)

We engage in the rat race, pursuing pointless educations, for taxing careers, life-wasting commutes, just to buy stuff, pointless material things, while abandoning anything and anybody that really matters in life.  It’s the cause of the majority of divorces in the country, the majority of unvisited parents in nursing homes, and is ultimately responsible for all the country’s financial problems.  And to throw the burden of saving for retirement on top of Americans’ inability to just keep it together, only makes an already-miserable situation impossible to bear. (48-49)

It is a full – time job to go and seek out new and interesting people who are going to make your life worth living. (134)

Conclusion

Ultimately, Clarey’s essay on retirement is an admirable little book in that it accomplishes three things:

  1. Instructs you not to retire.
  2. Tells you how to retire.
  3. Subverts the present day value system.

With respect to number three, I’ll wax philosophical. One of the reasons that a capitalist style economy can work is if Adam Smith’s moral sentiments are assumed. Capitalism helps provide a wide degree of freedom to people who pursue a sort of Aristotelian/Christian/Stoic vision of the good life wherein virtue is paramount, social trust is assumed, and while the particulars of an individual’s pursuit of wealth and greatness may vary, they typically revolve around family, invention, adventure, and philanthropy. Such a system of values simply is not broadly assumed in Western Civilization, and so capital itself is perceived as the highest and total good for man.

Clarey, an irreligious capitalist, sees this problem as a source of poverty and unhappiness and attempts to solve it by reorienting the value system of his audience. For this the book is worth ten times the price. Buy it for graduating seniors, read it if you’re in college, use it to get out of debt. It’s a good book.

Six cool tricks for sounding smart

People are always telling me, “Geoff, you’re such a smart guy.”

Lot’s of people think I’m a smart guy. It’s an empty compliment, but I enjoy it. Sherlock Holmes was the same way:

“I shall never do that,” I [Watson] answered; “you have brought detection as near an exact science as it ever will be brought in this world.” My companion flushed up with pleasure at my words, and the earnest way in which I uttered them. I had already observed that he was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty.

But the main reason to be smart, of course, is that it makes it easier to help people because they trust you. If you’re actually competent, then you’re smart persona is a net benefit to society.

How to do it:

I use these six steps to trick people into thinking I’m smart:

  1. First, pick a constellation of useful skills you can use to make money by helping others: lock smithing, cooking, computer programming, small engine repair, etc.
  2. Pick a few subjects interesting to you that seem important for understanding the world. A list might look like this: American History, Logic, Evolutionary Psychology, Exercise Science, and Economics.
  3. Read the most important books you can find about them and consult living experts to test your knowledge. Twitter, blogs, and email make this possible.
  4. Then, start bringing up the most important facts in conversation and discussing the ideas and difficulties in those fields with interested people.
  5. Use the most powerful ideas to improve your life, craft your destiny, and assist those around you.
  6. Finally, learn another language. I made the mistake of learning ancient languages. Learn modern ones first.

Once you do this, people will think you’re brilliant. Smile. You’ve got them fooled. All you did was read a bunch of books.

It’s Everybody’s Job

I try to stay off Twitter except for brief times I’ll allow myself to play on it a few days in a row. The temptation to troll is too great for me and the medium has become less fun as people only tend to interact with you if you’re famous or to humiliate you. But I do follw a few feeds as a part of my morning reading. Geoffrey Miller, author of Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior and The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature is an entertaining and informative part of that ritual. A few days weeks back he produced this tweet:

Monday morning, and we all go back to work. We do different jobs, but they’re all really the same job: protect and nurture Civilization. pic.twitter.com/kWVXZOaVBF

— Geoffrey Miller (@primalpoly) May 15, 2017

Over all I agree with this. The bigger question is whether or not our minds are tailored to think on such a grand scale. I think we’re probably not, but if we think on a local, interpersonal scale, we consequently build civilization. Also, from the intellectual framework Miller uses, it’s hard to say why one value (civilization vs individual hedonic pursuit) is objectively better than another. Suicide bombers and Elon Musk are both behaving, as one might put it, as they’ve been selected to. From the point of view of most people, the version of civilization without suicide bombers is best. And indeed, from the point of view of the suicide bombers, so is their vision of civilization (a world in which they’ve been atomized is the world they’ve chosen). Both visions seems self-evident to those who choose them. What then?

From a Christian point of view, seeking the good of civilization, even as an outsider is an imperative:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:5-7 ESV)

In other words, the imperatives of Genesis 1-2 apply not only to one’s personal pursuit of the good life, but also to the pursuit of civilization over barbarism. While one’s own welfare might be the ultimate goal (the Israelite’s own welfare is the rhetorical hook in the passage), the penultimate goal is the maintenance of civilization itself, even if one finds elements of that culture objectionable.

Evolution and Its Uses in Education

 

Too long won’t read:
In my experience, evolutionary theory holds a weird pride of place as the litmus test of a good education in common conversation. When one is discovered to be religious, they are often asked, “but you believe in evolution…don’t you?” Darwinian theory and its modern permutations have their uses, but those uses are not practical for young people. On the other hand, learning basic home economics, learning about nutrition, gardening, andexercise in biology, how to read, basic civics, and logic.

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Source

Actual thing:
When it comes to the theory of evolution by natural selection I find myself in a weird place. As far as the technical aspects of the theory goes, it explains things. On the other hand, it is a theory that is so reflexively considered to be the height of contemporary education that people go into conniption fits if somebody thinks it is false or claims to not understand it.

The problem I have with this is that the theory really is quite complicated and deals with such a high level of abstract reasoning about so many high non-abstract fields of empirical inquiry that it really is very difficult for almost anybody to understand who has not spent a tremendous amount of time in the field.

I say this based on conversations with biologist friends as well as based on email correspondence with a professor of evolutionary psychiatry. Some of these people have also pointed out to me the relative unimportance of evolutionary theory for the process of gathering and interpreting data about organisms and trends in ecosystems.

One microbiologist told me that most biologists he knows seem to misunderstand what evolution by natural selection actually entails. So, then, here’s my beef with the current state of play regarding the theory: a great deal of people graduate from high school without the ability to read proficiently. What’s the point of teaching an advanced scientific theory that is, by any metric, harder to understand than basic reading (seriously, read this post using basic game theory to explore the evolution of compassion)?

There is very little obsessive push, that I’m aware of as an educator make sure that misunderstandings about the ancient world or the Medieval and Renaissance are corrected. Yet, in high school I was taught that the ancients believed in a flat earth until the time of Columbus despite the fact that every cosmological discussion from that era (religious or not) assumed or explicitly required a round earth.

The point being that simply because something is true is not typically considered a good enough reason to demand that everybody knows it when they graduate. We don’t do that with Optics, Economics, the Canons of Rhetoric, how to use a soldering gun, exercise science, etc. Yet, when a highly technical meta-theory that requires input from game theory, physics, statistics, economics (of resources), chemistry, genetics, paleontology, cellular biology, and advanced skills in inductive and deductive logic comes along…that is just like totally necessary for people to learn.

Personal experience
The only time knowing about evolutionary theory and the authors who write about it and the finer points of the theory has every helped me is when people who found out I was a Christian wanted to make fun of me for believing the earth was 6000 years old (which I don’t). So the greatest benefit I’ve received is rhetorical one against a group of people who saw me as a place holder for an ideology with which they disagreed. In almost every case, btw, I’ve discovered that my reading about the topic is deeper and broader than the person (whom I’ve usually barely known) attempting to make fun of me when they find out I attend church Sunday morning. I suppose another benefit might be the rich experience of learning for learning’s sake.

I question the value of accruing facts for human flourishing. Evolutionary theory helps my biologist and agricultural engineer friends to do their work, but it is doubtful that having a hamfisted and outdated understanding of Darwinian theory does anything helpful for the average person outside of the intelligentsia (seriously, do we make people understand assembly language so that they can use computers?).

It seems like the better method is to say, “the state of play in biology when this text book came out was x, y, z because of evidence a, b, and c. As new evidence comes along or new ways of interpreting that evidence are produced, you can expect that our understanding will change. Now on to taxonomy, cellular processes, dissections, human anatomy, and applications to basic health and self-care.” The kind of help that a biology class could provide if basic data on human nutrition, exercise, and well-being were provided as well as tools for further research would be so useful. Learning what scientists said about Darwinian theory when an eight year old text book was being written is so much less useful.

 

Book Review: Stuart Ritchie’s Intelligence: All that matters

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Stuart Ritchie, Intelligence. (Hodder & Stoughton, Kindle Edition 2016).

I try to study human performance in sports and cognitive tasks on a regular basis. It’s very helpful for my role as an educator and leader.

Dr. Ritchie is a post-doc researcher at the University of Edinburgh where he is researching the development/decline of intelligence across the life span.

The point of the book is essentially to clarify the facts of the case with reference to intelligence:

“The research shows that intelligence test scores are meaningful and useful; that they relate to education, occupation and even health; that they are genetically influenced; and that they are linked to aspects of the brain. (44-45)”

Through the book Ritchie deftly explains the research with reference to each of these issues. For me to go through how he shows this would make the book superfluous. But some of the most interesting points are:

  1. The differences between male and female intelligence are not in terms of the average, but in terms of the outliers. The mean IQ of men and women is roughly 100. But men skew more toward very low IQs and very high IQs. More men are significantly below average and more men are significantly above average (1226).
  2. While eugenicists were interested in early IQ research, the earliest intelligence scientists were interested in helping the less intelligent to succeed. Not only so, but just like the Nazi discovery of a connection between smoking and cancer, the findings of the early eugenicist IQ researchers have been supported by later research (1192).
  3. Multiple intelligences theory isn’t backed by current scientific research (355).
  4. “Nevertheless, we’re lucky that the tools for raising intelligence – which might partly have caused the Flynn Effect – seem to be staring us in the face, in the form of education.” (1168-70)

The take away of the book is basically this: Intelligence, which can be measured by IQ, matters. The books that claim that hard work is more important than IQ are likely mistaken. Also, education appears to actually increase people’s IQ. This part is really important and while Ritchie never mentions him, it goes nicely with Arthur Whimbey’s research on training people in sequential problem solving and slowly improving their processing speed.

If you’re an educator, psychologist, parent, or political science major, I recommend that you read this book.