December 21, 2008

Economics, Part VII: Politics and the Economy


* * *

I'm loathe to discuss the political side of economics mostly because I abhore politics and politicians. But I have to say this.

There was an awful lot of bantering of the word "socialism" in this past election; the lefties wanted us to go socialist, to make a "better" America, where there's no poverty and everybody is healthy and well-educated, all because of our benevolent government's wonderful policies. Please. As if a bunch of laws could do that; "give all your money to the government (because you have to, or we'll just take all of it instead of just most of it) and they'll make sure everyone gets what's 'fair.'" As if a bunch of independently wealthy politicians are the ones to decide what's "fair" for the lower- and middle-class. The righties didn't help either. Instead of advocating socialism, the righties warned of the "dangers" of socialism, that our freedoms will supposely be ripped from our grasp, our way of life "destroyed." No offense guys, but ... what? It doesn't work that way either. First, even if Obama wanted to build the perfect socialist state, he's got 200 years of history and a bipartisan(ish) government against him (not to mention thousands of years of human nature). Second, he can only do so much as President; the Legislative branch (Congress and Senate) and the Judicial branch both are supposed to keep him accountable to the Constitution and other laws. Third, he'll be done in at most, eight years. That's not enough time to become socialist. If the American people don't like it (remember, we are still some semblence of a democracy), we'll just vote in the candidate who is AntiObama (the antiObama ... antibama? whatever), just like we just voted out George W. Bush. Fear mongering by both sides was the issue in this (and past) elections, each side pushing to prove that, while they're obviously not perfect, they're better than "the other guy."

Lastly, and this is my point, why would electing a new president cause our freedom to be "ripped" from our grasp? Some say that it's that we're "surrendering" our freedom, and I'll concede the possibility of that point, because the only way for our freedom to be taken away is for us to give it away (I'm getting ahead of myself here, that'll come in the next post). We, as both individuals and as a community of Americans, are responsible for the maintenance of our freedom. Sarah Palin (of all people) said it well, I think, when she talked about the mortguage crisis:
I think we need to band together and say 'never again.' Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars. ... Let's do what our parents told us before we probably even got that first credit card: don't live outside of our means. We need to make sure that as individuals we're taking personal responsibility through all of this. It's not the American people's fault that the economy is hurting like it is, but we have an opportunity to learn a heck of a lot of good lessons through this and say never again will we be taken advantage of.
Later, she mentioned that Americans had been convinced by the banks to buy a $300,000 house when all they could afford was a $100,000 house. This is what I'm talking about: think. Be skeptical and ask hard questions. Use your ability to choose, to make decisions based on information. Question the sources of that information; people are biased just like you, and will phrase their statements in such a way as to favor their opinions (can we say "mainstream media" here without being too accusatory?).

And this brings me to today's news. My friend Greg mentioned a piece of that caught my attention too: Ford has decided (chosen) not to take the Government's bailout money. Instead, they have decided to restructure, figure out how to do their business better. In other words, they are choosing to allow the capitalist system to determine their fate. The government, meanwhile, sees fit to hand out money to companies that obviously haven't produced a superior product (can you say "GM"?). This is not to say that Ford has no other motives; everybody seems to be driven by economics these days, especially large corporations. Ford, though they're "in the hole" compared to companies like Toyota and Honda, must figure that this will not only boost their image (showing their confidence in their product), But perhaps it was also a wake-up call to improve on their methods and means, to spend the time to research better technology and actually produce a car or truck that can compete with foreign companies. They have chosen not to simply accept the status quo, but to actively attempt to change their situation without using the tax dollars of the customers they are attempting to woo. In short, they are being "responsible."

(to be continued ...)

December 18, 2008

Employment Purgatory

It's the waiting that kills me.

I have never been the sort of person that enjoyed waiting. I can do it, but mostly through grudging acceptance rather than joyous celebration. The anticipation of something unknown coming drives me crazy. Even in stories, I want to flip to the back and find out how it ends; suspense movies make me want to fast-forward and just get on with it (but I don't, because I'd get yelled at by other viewers).

Oh come, oh come Emmanuel

But it's worst when the waiting is for a major change. Right now, I have no job. I graduated a week or two ago, and have been job hunting since April. So far, two churches nearly hired me (but didn't), one told me they'd like to but couldn't (they needed somebody with counseling skills or something), and forty-four others either rejected me outright or are still pending. I'm hopeful of two of them at the moment, but there's no guarantee of anything. No guarantees.

And ransom captive Israel

I have no assurance that God will provide the amazing job that I want, where I want it, or when it's convenient. If someone ever tells you that God guarantees good circumstances to his people, that person is either deluded or deliberately misleading you. Lots of people in scripture were not given ideal circumstances. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, Moses was cast from his place as the son of Pharaoh into the wilderness, Israel was forced into exile from its homeland, Jesus hung on a cross, Paul was beaten, imprisoned, and stoned, and Stephen was martyred. There are no guarantees. I've led a comfortable existence; I grew up in a good home with godly parents and enough to live a comfortable, middle-class life. I received the best education, have a wonderful wife, and haven't yet had to live in a place without heat or electricity. I've never been homeless, but have always had my needs - and many of my wants - taken care of without an overbearing workload.

That mourns in lonely exile here

And yet the waiting is killing me. The more I study scripture, the more I see that God works through those uncertainties, those fears and doubts. As Calvin's dad would say, "it builds character!" To wait is to undergo a trial that tests faith, and through that testing, to build it. The more often God comes through for me, the more I persevere in trusting that He'll pull through with something (even if it's not at all what I was expecting), the more I grow to trust that he'll come through again next time. Sure, He could just make it all better right now, but would that do me any good?

Until the Son of God appears

My assurance is not in prosperity or well-being, but in presence. But assurance is not knowing for sure. Assurance is built on trust, on relationship. It's a functional thing - because I've known Jesus as long a I have, I trust that He'll be there. His words - "I'll be with you always, even till the end of the age" - are only words until they're backed up by experience. I took a leap of faith once, and He came through. Because He's proven himself already, I can trust that He'll come through again.

Rejoice, rejoice; Emmanuel shall come to thee, oh Israel

And so I wait in anticipation, wondering at what new thing God's going to do next. It still doesn't really feel easier this time around, though.

December 13, 2008

The Elephant in the Room

I'll get to writing something a little more lengthy soon, but for now, I leave you with this. White elephant parties are the bane of the Christmas Season for me. Not only do they exemplify the consumerism that's taken over the holiday, but they are basically just a step in-between your junk drawer and the landfill. So why not have fun with it this year and mess with the lady in the reindeer sweater that decided it'd be a good idea?

Also, an alternative Christmas letter.

Yes. Yes you can.

November 24, 2008

Labels

I think it's funny that people like to label other people. Somebody called a friend of mine "intolerant" once. Another was called "closed-minded." And all because of their attention to another labeling issue: Marriage.

Because that's what marriage is, right? At least, in the eyes of the state, marriage is a label that says you and your partner have a certain set of rights. To the state, which is supposedly separate from religion (yet at the very least subscribes to the religion of politics), marriage is just another label. In other words, it uses the same word to refer to something totally different than what religions use it for. Christianity, for example, uses "marriage" to refer to a very specific set of practices between a very specific sort of people; two people - one guy, one girl - who have committed to live their lives together in (relative) harmony for the rest of their time on earth. So it only makes sense that the Christians and the rest of the world would get upset at each other over its definition at the legal level. It's a conflict that's been brewing since some girl decided another girl was worthy of her sexual attention, since one guy decided another was worthy of prolonged embrace.

What is it, exactly, that makes a couple want to call themselves "married"? Is it the committment to one another? Is it the financial benefits given by the state? Or is it the recognition by the government (and the people who vote for them) of the couple's legitimate, "not weird" status within society? I'd wager it's the third. People want to be accepted, and in the West, people want to be accepted no matter what choices they make. We Americans like to make a choice and have everyone tell us how amazing that choice was. We don't like it when somebody tells us "no, that's wrong," no matter what the choice is! It's just part of American DNA. We don't deal well with relational conflict; we can't take it when another person or group of people condemn us for being or acting in ways we believe are right. We want to do terrible things to those people like hit them or shoot them or call them names like "closed-minded" or "ignorant."

Two things to draw from this. First, for those of you that are gay/lesbian, please read this whole thing before you react - I'm trying very hard to be sensitive to you as I write this, but it's a hard subject to write on without insulting or offending people. I'd ask why you're insistant about the label - do you really need it? I understand wanting it for the rights to visit your partner in the hospital or get counted the same as a heterosexual couple would with their taxes, but ... why does the government telling you that you're "married" change anything about your relationship with one another? Speaking from my own personal experience, I don't really care about the marriage certificate I have from NY for Liz and me; what matters to me is the choice we made, the promises we gave each other in front of God that we would never leave or forsake each other. It's a very high standard, one that a LOT of Christians (and non-Christians, about the same number) these days are breaking, but a standard that no law or rule or declaration or piece of paper from a government - or lack thereof - will change. So why do you actually care that you get "married"? That's not supposed to be a dismissive question, it's supposed to provoke thought; so often we say we are doing things for one reason and never confront our deeper motivations, the ones that really drive everything. Forcing a law allowing marriage for gays and lesbians is just as much based on a belief in the same realm as that which forces a law prohibiting said marriage.

Please forgive all those Christians who are upset at you for wanting this; they don't honestly know any better. Most of them have been taught all their life that your lifestyle is a sin or evil, and whether or not that is true, they don't know how to separate your behavior from your personality, your sexuality from you as a person. In other words, they don't know what it means to love you despite your differences from them. Nobody has ever shown them how to do that. To be fair, it's really hard to do. We should all learn how that works, honestly. But if you think about it, most Christians who condemn homosexuality like this don't actually know any homosexuals. You can remedy this by getting to know the Christians! If you don't spend time getting to know the Christians that you condemn as "intolerant," then you are as much to blame for the disparity between the two groups as the Christians are! If you do not understand their perspective (and reading their articles isn't really the way to do this, sorry), how can you communicate with them in a way they will understand? I know it will be tough, but you should get to know a few Christians, if they'll have you.

Second, for those of you who are Christians, I'd suggest that getting up in arms about homosexual marriage is probably not helpful; you're not supposed to recognize the Government as the ultimate authority anyway - God's the one who legitimates "marriage" as a spiritual union, not the good 'ol USA. You believe that homosexuality is a sin - fine. You've a right to your belief, you may even be right. But that gives you no right
to treat gays and lesbians in a manner akin to enemies of the state. They're just like us, trying to make it through life as best they can; and for the record, God asks us to start wherever the people are. There is no "prerequisite" for a person to hear the good news and repent - the change part comes after they've met Jesus, and it's something that God will have to change in their lives. In the meantime, you're speaking two completely different languages; when you say "marriage," you're not saying the same thing as they are - they hear something very different. There's a difference between "state legitimated legal union" and "spiritual covenant," and it's up to you to know the difference and know who is saying what. Let's also remember that if homosexuality is a sin, it's no more a sin than, say, gluttony or lust or coveting.

And we all do those things on a regular basis.

I remember Jesus saying something about
specks and planks ... just be careful who you condemn and why, especially when your own life is far from perfect. And as I mentioned above, if you are a Christian who condemns them but you don't actually KNOW any homosexuals (and by "know" I mean "have gotten to know a homosexual in a personal way," like friends or colleagues), you have no right to condemn them, because you cannot possibly understand their perspective. And so you should go get to know some of them, however hard it might be for you. I will say this: homosexuals tend to be more accepting of your perspective than you are of theirs. While you may not accept their perspective, you still ought to understand it in a way that loves them. If you can't do that, maybe you shouldn't be writing articles in newspapers and blogs.

That goes for all of us: the question of "why" needs to be asked.

And honestly answered.

November 19, 2008

November 18, 2008

Economics, Part VI: Heuristics

An empire requires that human beings succumb to the illusion of dependence on the system. Without this illusion, the empire as such cannot exist. In a way, it is like this for every culture - the culture as a generalized whole has to buy into its own ideas, otherwise it wouldn't cohere. It is only by making processes unconscious that a culture or society can function; we call them "heuristics" in psychology.

The heuristic is a funny little idea noticed first in biopsychology. Somebody noticed that the human mind is capable of a whole lot of processing, but not enough to deal with every single stimulus that comes from the environment around us. Think about your perception for a moment; when you look at the world, what happens? You tend to focus on certain things, as opposed to others. For example, if you are sitting in class (as I am now), there are many options for your attention - you can focus on the professor, of course, but there are many other sights, sounds, and smells to notice. You can see and hear other students typing on their laptops (often in facebook, not powerpoint or onenote); you can focus on the sound of the air conditioning; you could focus on the feel of the chair beneath you; you could focus on the feel of your clothes sitting on your body; you could focus on the smell of the coffee of the guy a few rows down, or the sound of your laptop fan; you could focus on the constant shifting and sniffling of the guy behind you.

So why don't you focus on those things? Because you have heuristics - mental short-cuts - that tell you those things are not significant in the context of a classroom. Instead, you're supposed to focus on the professor, who is teaching. But ok, how do you know who the professor is? You have a heuristic for that too - it's the person who stands at the front of the classroom and tells you things from a notebook or a powerpoint. Usually the person is older than you, and usually the person is better dressed than you are. If this seems obvious to you, it's because your heuristics are working - they're those little unspoken assumptions that help you make your mental perception more accurate. Over time these heuristics become more and more unconscious, as the evidence in their favor mounts and the contradictions fade (as we get used to their use), and we become "set in our ways." They allow the mind the capacity to process higher functions, such as logic and emotions, because it doesn't need spend as many resources to process raw sensory information.

If heuristics are thus necessary to the human condition, it is their abuse that perpetuates Empire. When people take their heuristics for granted, when heuristics go unquestioned, they leave the heuristics open for someone else to take advantage of them. Heuristics are never perfect, and are meant to be dynamic rather than static; there are always "exceptions to the rule," as it were, but when someone does not allow those exceptions, he or she does not allow for the limited nature of perception in his or her tiny little corner of the world. However, if someone else were to convince a person that his or her heuristics were static (solidifying them into "stereotypes"), the person would then become trapped in an illusion of simplicity. For example, instead of allowing the category "professor" to include somebody wearing jeans and a sweater (which is less traditional), one might stubbornly maintain that professors ONLY wear suits and ties. It's too simple of a category that doesn't allow for diversity; "professors" (or whatever) become a closed system, incapable of change or addition. Amplify this to a large number of heuristics and add a dose of ethnocentrism ("our heuristics are better", as any human being does with his or her own perceptions, which is then amplified in community), and suddenly you are on the path towards Empire. When this large group of people believe the world to be starkly simple, they have given up their ability to critique themselves, and thus the ability to change for the better.

Since the heuristic element is an intrapersonal element, within the individual (although there are such things as "collective heuristics"), it is with individual heuristics that the problem of empire begins - and must end. Massive cultural shifts do not happen because of a movement that begins with the masses, with the collective, but rather at the level of the individual, with a few people that move beyond established traditions, heuristics, or cultural assumptions. Empire is thwarted primarily by individuals that then become a collective movement.

In other words, Empire is thwarted by choice.

(to be continued ...)

* * *

Attractive Girls Union

Ah, I am reminded of Junior High ...

November 13, 2008

Economics, Part V: Empire

It's been a little while since I posted to my economics series. But that's because it's a very hard series to write; the ideas are tough to wade through, the conclusions not easy to stomach. I'm going to keep working through this, and have a few more posts in mind already; here's the links back to the first few if you're just joining the conversation:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

* * *

We have seen that the inevitable result of both capitalist societies and socialized societies is the same thing: societies that, despite their philosophical differences, produce the same sort of fruit. Pure socialism, like pure capitalism, is impossible because of human nature; both evolve into a culture of oppression, created through the outworking of human greed in which some hoard the power, the wealth, and the resources. In both capitalist and socialist societies, poverty abounds, whether in its material form (lack of resources, the more common of the two) or in its social form. Social poverty is nothing to trifle with; the more disconnected a culture gets, when individuals gradually isolate themselves from one another (to maintain an illusion of independence), psychological and social tragedy is the result. If such a society is to maintain itself, it must isolate its constituents from one of two things: from the resources, or from each other.

If those few in power choose to isolate the many from material resources (which usually requires physical force, and thus requires a large military), the citizens tend to bond together out of necessity. In sociology we call this a "liminal state," where hard times (oppressive government, harsh environment, enemy tribes or nations, etc.) force a group of people to cooperate for their very survival. An interesting thing happens as a result, what Victor Turner calls "Communitas": communitas is a word that has an obvious relationship to "community" (a group of people cooperating towards a common goal), but it is far stronger than that. The community that results from this "liminality" is bonded for life. It's not that they happen to share common traits or feelings or hobbies, it's that they cannot easily undo the bond they share from overcoming an immense trauma or ordeal together. It is the thing they have in common - a shared experience upon which to base their relationships that will last through trial and tribulation.

Everyone has experienced liminality in some form. I have, several times. My wife and I moved to Australia for a while, a new place for us where we knew almost nobody, with which neither of us was familiar. The year we spent "confronting the odds" grew us together as a couple in a way that living in a place with which we were comfortable could never have done. We were far closer after a month in Australia than we were after a year and a half in New York. Another time, I went to India with some colleagues from the seminary. Every time I see them, we still laugh and joke over the experience - it happened nearly a year ago, and it was merely two short weeks, but great power for relational bonding was contained within those very difficult cross-cultural situations. This is one of the reasons that so many Americans who visit impoverished countries are amazed at the smiles on the faces of the poor; they are "happy" despite oppression. We must be careful not to mistake the amazement of the Westerner as unrelated to their own material wealth; he or she can afford to travel, which often indicates a dependence on material wealth for "happiness." Such people (myself often included) often equate material wealth (and good circumstances) with happiness, and its absence with misery; he or she cannot believe that one can be happy without material possessions or in the midst of hardship. Meanwhile, those in poverty are united by their suffering; but they still suffer. Communitas does not alleviate the material poverty, it provides an emotional and social outlet. Yet such societies take advantage of this as a justification for hoarding the wealth. The Socialized Empire decrees that it knows how to distribute the resources, who needs what, etc. Naturally, the government is "more equal" because they have the trying hardship of having to spend their time determining who gets what, so naturally they deserve a larger portion. Or something to that effect. Regardless, the government ends up keeping the collected resources for itself while allowing its people to remain "happy" in their suffering.

The (potentially) more dangerous of the two options happens when the society decides to isolate its "citizens" from one another. Now, I say "decides" (as if the society were its own entity apart from the people), but a society is both a cause of and a product of the culture - these are interrelated ideas. In some cultures (such as our own Western culture), individualism is a very strong value. The communitas of socially impoverished cultures does not come in a vacuum - these cultures are often communal in nature to begin with. Western cultures, however, are strongly individualistic. The individual is the endgame; he or she can handle things on his or her own.

The society can take advantage of this as well. By encouraging competition between the isolated units as a means of getting "better" ideas, technologies, products, etc. (and there is little doubt that competition DOES produce more enduring creative expressions), it can cause its constituents to self-motivate to work harder and harder. This works to the advantage of a priviledged few - those who have an initial edge or discover an edge in the course of their struggle - at the expense of the many. This, of course, is not really divisible into two groups, but rather is stratified into a continuum of advantage. However, the two largest groups are those who are considered in "material poverty" (those who work themselves "to the bone" to sustain themselves) and a lower-middle class that, though they have enough material wealth to live comfortably, STILL work themselve to the bone in order to achieve what the society begins to tell them is the society's dream - independence from financial burden.

And so the society is suddenly full of people working very hard to produce an awful lot, and yet none of them are a) happy, or b) helping one another. Instead, the competition gets increasingly more fierce. The few that can afford it go into politics (both Barack AND John are wealthy - don't think for a minute that either of them understand the concerns of the poor or even of the middle-class), and thus the leadership of the country becomes increasingly wealthy. What happens then? The same thing that happened in the socialist state - decisions are made based on the security of those in politics. [sidenote: yes, that goes for both parties - democrat and republican - who just approach it differently; the republicans supposedly give tax breaks to other wealthy power magnates and thus get elected by others in power, whereas the democrats make promises they can't keep to the poor, who elect them out of desperation]

Once again, how do the wealthy, now in power, maintain their lifestyle? By building up a defense network. This, of course, is where we get our military. The two parties in America rely on different means for this; the republicans want to maintain the right to bear arms, and so allow each citizen to defend his hunk of dirt (forgetting that the same armament is used to take said possessions by those in desperation or who don't adhere to societal rules), while the democrats want to ban armament (except from the hands of those they choose, which is suspiciously like a socialist military) so that nobody HAS to defend their stuff, it's just always safe (which is naiive as well; the criminals still keep the weapons - they didn't respect the law in the first place). The cycle thus circles around and around, the wealthy getting richer (now through legislation), the poor getting poorer. For sure, it does tend to take more time in this type of economy, but as we have seen, the inevitable result is a socialist state anyway, and thus as time progresses, the cycle begins to increase its speed.

This cycle of the maintenance of injustice has a name. Two flavors of society, both progressing forward in a cycle of dualism, end up in the same place: Empire. The poor are slowly pushed to the margins, and slowly made into the largest class, yet the most powerless; the wealthy, meanwhile, grow ever more wealthy at the expense of others. And nobody notices it happen until it's too late.

(to be continued ...)

Rainbow Politics

It's no secret that Howard Stern can be modestly troubling in his best of times, but this worried me for other reasons ... although I don't know that I can vouch for its legitimacy ...

November 8, 2008

The (Relatively) Magic Number

I'm not sure I understand the difference between these two numbers. Apparently, everything changes at 52% ...


November 6, 2008

The Parable of the House

Frank stepped off the ladder with a satisfied grunt. It had been a perfect day for painting; it was a balmy 72 degrees, the sun was up, and the occasional cloud made sure it didn't get too hot. Setting the paint can down on the ground and the paint brush atop, he folded his green-stained hands into his arms and admired his work. The house was beautiful, no doubt about it; he'd chosen a sober forest-green for the siding, while the window frames he'd painted a deep burgundy. It stood out from the many other houses along that street, many of which were an ordinary white or beige color. He shook his head and smirked.

"If only they'd invest and buy some paint for their houses," he thought, if only they'd put in a little elbow grease, then their houses could be as nice as mine!"

He sighed at the obvious absurdity of such thoughts. He often broached the subject with his neighbors (in fact, at every opportunity), but the opportunities seemed to be growing fewer as of late. Apparently, nobody had his superb taste in external décor, though a guy named Chin or Ching or something from a few streets over had come to him a few weeks ago asking for some advice. Frank had assured him that Navy blue was the latest style, trimmed with white. But times change, and Frank had realized that it wasn't blue, but forest green that was of better taste now. All his painting magazines said so. He'd mentioned this to his new acquaintance, whose eyes had gone wide at the thought of redoing his newly painted house. He said he'd think on it.

Moron. He just didn't have what it took to have the best house around.

Frank sighed and set about cleaning up. It was as he was putting away the ladder that he noticed the changing weather. Odd; the weather channel hadn't predicted rain today. Ah well, at least he could continue his painting indoors. He'd noticed that one room was getting out of sorts, and was time to paint again. He wasn't sure why he was painting so often lately, but to have a good house, one had to make sure it was kept in good shape. He even had a storage room full of paint cans just in case of a problem.

He went inside to the offending room, skirting around a spot in the floor he knew to make an irritable creaking sound, just as the first raindrops started to fall outside. Brush in one hand and paint can in the other, he walked into the dining room and took note of where he'd have to paint. Several long cracks had appeared in the wall, one which even ran from floor to ceiling.

"Must be those silly folks I bought this place from," he thought, "wallpaper, what were they thinking?!" The previous evening, when there was no more light left outside, he had spent several hours priming the wall bleach white. Now, he began generously applying the new paint, his brush making long strokes up and down the wall. Obviously the puce he'd originally used over top of the floral print wallpaper wasn't doing its job, so he had chosen instead to use a more dependable beige paint. But there was a knock on the door. He sighed, put down his paint, and wiped off his hands on his shirt, noting the moan from another floorboard. When he opened the door, it was none other than his friend from a few streets up.

"What a surprise!" he said, "do come in. It's Ching, right?"

"Kim, actually," said his friend, glancing suspiciously at Frank's work clothes. "Have you been painting?"

"Why yes," said Frank, "I was just starting on a room that needed some work. And before that, I painted the outside again – like I told you, Green is the new Blue!" Kim smiled, though Frank thought it seemed a bit forced. "Would you like to see?"

"Sure," said Kim, hesitantly.

"It's seen better days," said Frank, escorting him into the dining room. "I thought maybe a stronger color might do it some good." The surprised look on Kim's face told Frank more than he wanted to know. "You don't approve?"

"Well," said Kim, scratching his head as he stared at the cracks running through the wall, "it just seems to me that there's a bigger problem here than the color. Have you looked at the framing, or at least thought of replacing this drywall?" Frank was stunned. Kim had come to him numerous times for advice, why the sudden change of heart?

"Now Chan," said Frank, in a voice that hoped to impress upon him the vast experience he had with choosing paint, "I understand why you might think that, but this place really only needs a stronger color. It's always worked in the past."

Kim looked dubious. "Frank, I know you like to paint, but –"

"Like to paint?" interrupted Frank, "But I don't! I don't like to paint, but it simply must be done if I'm to have a good house!"

"But Frank, paint isn't going to fix those cracks!" Frank hesitated before replying.

"Jim ... what cracks? There are some black lines, certainly, but it's nothing a little paint can't fix."

Kim stared at him in amazement. Had he really not noticed the cracks spreading from floor to ceiling? A sudden thought hit him: did Frank do this with every household malady? Kim suddenly began looking around him at the walls and ceiling, then at the floor, half expecting his shifting weight to bring the whole place down on him at once.

"Are you sure ..." he began, then trailed off into silence again as Frank picked up his paintbrush and began painting the walls around the cracks.

"Ching, I appreciate your concern, but honestly, it's always worked before. Here, let me show you. Follow me." He put down his paint and headed for the front door. Kim followed nervously as Frank made his way around to the side of the house.

"Why, just this last week I repaired the siding with a good nice acrylic blue, and then again today with the green!" Kim looked to where he was pointing, and noticed a large ugly scar through the foundation of the house. "... sure it took some time," continued Frank, "but it was worth it in the end."

"How many coats of paint is that?" asked Kim, in shock.

"Oh, probably about fifteen or twenty, give or take a few."

It was worse than he'd thought. As Kim looked closer, he noticed that the green paint had begun wearing off in the cracks where the surface had dried, but the inside was still liquid. It gave the house the appearance it was bleeding. He brushed his wet hair out of his face before turning back to Frank.

"Frank ... can't you see that the cracks are still there?" Frank looked mortified.

"There are not, I already painted them!"

"Look, Frank, this is insane! How do you expect to make sure the house stays standing with only paint?!"

Frank glanced back and forth between Kim and the foundation. He could almost see what Kim was getting at, but then a new thought occurred to him; his eyes narrowed, and he turned on his heel and trudged back into the house. Kim followed him, worried.

"What did I say, Frank?" Frank whipped around in his face.

"You've been talking to somebody else, haven't you."

"What?"

"You have! I can see it written all over your face - you've been talking to somebody else about house maintenance! Don't lie to me – I detest lies."

Kim stared at him, speechless. He had talked to someone else when he’d noticed that Frank's paint strategy hadn't worked on the termites in his walls. He'd seen an ad for an exterminator in the yellow pages, whom he had hired for a very reasonable price. The termites hadn't yet returned. But how could he tell this to Frank without losing his friendship? His painting skills were legendary, and he was a genius with a color scheme.

"You know, Quan," said Frank, ignoring another creaking floorboard, "self-deception isn't healthy. I know you've talked to someone else, but they don't know what they're talking about. Paint is what solves house problems, pure and simple."

"But Frank, the exterminator I hired got rid of the termites! My house is still standing because of his help!"

"Ping, Ping, Ping. I too have had termites. They are a lovely shade of purple now, and it worked brilliantly. They even match the inside of the basement! Trust me – paint is the only way to go."

Kim had noticed the creaking floorboard as well, and it worried him, given this new information. It suddenly struck him that the number of creaks had been increasing since he'd arrived. He panicked.

"Frank, I think I'm going to get back home. We have some friends coming over for dinner tonight and the wife needs my help getting ready." Frank had stopped looking at him directly. "Maybe you should come with me," continued Kim, "why don't you grab some clean clothes and come over." Frank rolled his eyes. "We're having Lisa's stir fry, which …" Kim stopped as another creak, this time louder and perhaps even deeper, resonated through the house.

"Look, Song, I appreciate it, but I have painting to do. I don't know if I could eat dinner with people who don't think about paint the way I do, it would just seem wrong somehow. Besides, I don't have any clean clothes; they all have paint on them."

"That's ok Frank," said Kim, thinking about his new sofa, "just come over as you are, we don't mind!" He began backing towards the door. Frank had picked up his paintbrush again and was reaching for the can of paint when some dust from the ceiling began flaking into the paint.

"Oh, will you look at that, it's ruined! Now I have to paint the ceiling again too! I tell you, Quan, the work never stops. I'll follow you out as far as the shed so I can get another can." Kim didn't care, as long as he got him out of the house.

"Sure, Frank."

Kim had just gotten down the steps to the driveway when a sound, unlike any he'd heard before, resonated from the house and echoed across the hillside. He grabbed Frank, who had begun to turn around with a puzzled look on his face, and ran, the mud splashing his jeans as the rain fell harder than ever. As they reached the shed, the house collapsed in a cloud of drywall dust and a splash of green paint.

"My house!" exclaimed Frank, as several neighbors appeared on their white front porches and stared at the spectacle before them. He collapsed on his knees in the soggy lawn, green paint mingled with rain and drywall filling in the cracks around his knees. Kim put his hand on Frank's shoulder.

"Frank,” said Kim, “I think you’re going to need a lot more paint.”

November 4, 2008

Election Day 2008

I'm not sure that, thirty years from now, we'll all say "I remember where I was in the 2008 election." Whichever candidate wins, it's not a 9/11 sort of event. Just remember that in four years, if we dont' like him, we get to vote in somebody else. But you should all still go vote. Good luck choosing who to vote for, though; I spent hours agonizing over that question last night (as I stared at my absentee ballot, which arrived quite late on saturday), for this very reason:


Indeed.

November 1, 2008

Christian Agnosticism Series

I really wanted to put all of the links to my "Christian Agnostic" series onto one page for convenience. I've actually been thinking about turning it into a longer piece, maybe a book or something, since a friend of mine mentioned he'd like to hear more on the subject. It's been a dream for a while, to write a book, but so far I haven't had the time, with school and all. In any case, here they are, all six links (Part I had really nothing to do with the rest of it). I'd love to hear thoughts on these again, especially in light of the book project.

Christian Agnostic, Part II: Verb
Christian Agnostic, Part III: Scripture
Christian Agnostic, Part IV: Science and the Bible
Christian Agnostic, Part V: Forward
Christian Agnostic, Part VI: Doubt
Christian Agnostic, Part VII: Disciple

October 28, 2008

Intermission

This is about how I feel at the moment; my schoolwork is bending me rather than the other way around. The past week hasn't been the best. I've four papers due this week, and somehow Rori and I both caught something. Imagine biking to class in 35 degree weather with a fever ... Anyway, this is my way of begging your pardon for a lack of posting. But this series on economics is a hard one too, so figuring out the best way to move forward has been tricky. Hopefully after my papers are done on thursday and I get some rest, I'll find inspiration again. I beg the indulgence of your patience until then.

[The Management]

October 20, 2008

Economics, Part IV: The Definition of Poverty

"Hunters and gatherers have by force of circumstances an objectively low standard of living. but taken as their objective, and given their adequate means of production, all the people's material wants usually can easily be satisfied (a common understanding of 'affluence'). ... The world's most primitive people have few possessions, but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is an invention of civilization."

[Marshall Sahlins, in
Sharing Our Worlds]

So what do you think? Is poverty something our culture in particular imposes on others? Do we call Indians poor because they don't have refridgerators or microwaves? Is our standard of living an artificial construct that isn't necessarily what another culture might want or care about?

And more to the point, is it right to impose our view of poverty on others?

Discuss.

October 17, 2008

Economics, Part III: Revolution

Links to the first couple of posts:

Part I: Pros and Cons
Part II: Endgame

America began by a revolution, not of values, but of economics. Americans did not like being economically subject to the will of a superpower hundreds of miles away across a deep and very cold ocean. The freedom sought by the first Americans was not truly of personal freedoms of religion, morality, etc., but was of an economic and political nature - the two are deeply intertwined. The Boston Tea Party protested economic tarrifs and increasing prices; many initial skirmishes were fought over the way British soldiers were billetted without "choice" in American homes, the same soldiers who imposed the taxes and levies on American colonial businesses. America was not created to free the individual, but to free the economy from foreign domination. While individualist language may have been used to justify the revolution, economics played a disproportionately large role in the motivation behind it. The slaves did not rebel, nor did the Native Americans; it was the middle class and the gentry, those that had a stake, something to lose, that rebelled against British economic policy.

And so a new country was created, though one might claim that it's really an economic institution.

And institutions require support. To maintain the "freedoms" of a collective (we'll get to that), to keep others from violating their ability to maintain an open number of possible choices (and we Americans are obsessed with having a large number of choices), structure was needed, and a government was created. Nothing too intrusive, just enough to provide some discipline to those that didn't quite fall in line with the values of individual economic freedom; for example, if you tried to take from somebody else (stealing, a crime that requires the assumption of "personal" instead of "collective" property), you were violating their economic "rights" and thus forfeiting yours. You took something and so you went to "jail", assuming you were caught.

But as a country grows, it requires a larger infrastructure. Those "jails" I mentioned are part of that infrastructure; facilities become necessary to support business and commerce, such as government buildings, lavatories, fire and police services, and hospitals. Who is to pay for all of this? Ideally, the people who reap a benefit from its creation; thus, a system of taxes was created to allow everybody to contribute (never mind that taxes were one of the initial reasons for rebelling against the British in the first place). But again, the infrastructure needs governing so that everybody contributes their "fair" share; it is not voluntary because some might use the public facilities without having paid for them; we are, after all, inherently selfish, and so if we can get away with reaping a reward without having to make a sacrifice, we will. And so the government role was increased a bit more each time a new public system was created; a department of transportation, a department of the interior, etc. And this required funding, and so the department of the treasury was created to oversee taxes. The federal government was created with a modicum of internal accountability, "elected" by the people, to be replaced on a regular basis.

But over time, to be elected required a "campaign," which required money and time, both of which are commodities held by only the wealthy. A middle-class or low-class American has no money for campaigning, ours is a financial situation still intent on survival, if not a few luxuries. And so the wealthy, who are obviously not concerned about their own economic survival (that's a given), became concerned about their political survival, the increasing of their wealth and the maintenance of the power structure they had built for themselves. New laws were created to maintain the system, government was expanded, and a department of defense (homeland security) was created to preserve the growing economy from foreign and domestic enemies, those that might thwart our status quo.

The larger the institution, the harder and more expensive it is to maintain.

You see where this is going, of course. America as we know it is a far cry from where it began, yet it is the inevitable result of its origins. Far from the "ideal" capitalism of our country's youth, we are fast becoming a socialist state in which the wealthy form a ruling class to impose "equality" ("fairness") on everyone in the name of the maintenance of a standard of living. The historical end result of capitalism is inevitably a socialist state, specifically to maintain the notions of capitalism. It happens gradually, slowly, but as generations pass away, they accept the new status quo and then try to maintain it. Their maintenance, coupled with the entitlement we talked about before, only increases the drive towards socialism. Goods and services become standard, a "necessity" rather than a luxury. You can see this in the stereotype welfare citizen, watching tv from his satellite dish while avoiding looking for a job; take it away, and you've impinged upon his "rights." Likewise, try to tell the Wall Street venture capitalists that what they have is extravagant, and you'll get a lecture about how they have a "right" to what they have.

Where does it end? Ultimately, it will always end in revolution. The government will eventually become so large that no amount of money can maintain it and either it will be paired down or it will be torn down. Since no government ever voluntarily reduces itself (despite idealists like Sarah Palin), revolution - the tearing down of a government structure - results when the people can no longer legitimize the abuses. Alternatively, the government eventually gets so large it implodes upon itself in a fit of bureaucracy and a different sort of revolution breaks out in which somebody tries to pick up the pieces and fit them back together: the military, a foreign power, cartels, an internal faction, or perhaps the people. We saw this with Rome, with the Catholic Church, with many protestant churches, and ultimately, we will see this with America.

(to be continued ...)

October 16, 2008

Political Process Question

Does anybody know why it is that independent candidates (Independent, Green, etc.) are not allowed to debate the major-party candidates (Democrat/Republican)?

I'd like to know. It seems biased somehow.

October 14, 2008

Onion Humor

Onion videos worth watching ... this first one reminds me of being home in NY!

Economics, Part II: Endgame

Let it never be said that our theology posits that human beings are in control of initiating salvation - God already took the first step by extending Grace to us. Grace is so cool precisely because it means we don't, can't, work for our salvation; we couldn't earn it anyway, as many capitalists have begun to think we could. Grace means that salvation comes first, regardless of whether or not we think we deserve it, a "precursor" to all that follows (contingent upon our acceptence). But the trouble is that we still have to WORK. In a socialist state, we are not encouraged to work, we are encouraged to "mooch" off the state and produce as little as is absolutely necessary. In a capitalist state, we HAVE to work (work is thus a given) and are so surprised when all we need is offered to us at the right moments that we try to pay back what we think we owe. But once again, both have their issues.

In a socialist state, there is little encouragement to produce; the state takes over distribution of resources. In other words, the few take responsibility for the many. But who are those few? What human beings can possibly make the sort of decisions that will impact the many, without partisanship or flaw? (sidenote: the irony of this is that the more liberal democrats tend to swing socialist, yet this is exactly what they accuse Bush of doing with Iraq and Afghanistan; likewise, conservative republicans who accuse the democrats of socialist tendencies want to mandate-by-law who can "marry"). In a socialist state, the products we get are utter crap - they don't work well, they break easily, etc., because there is no motivation aside from either negative reinforcement (i.e. those guys with the clubs and the tasers watching you) or your own conscience - which, given that socialist states employ guys with clubs and tasers, is obviously not someting that happens. The few control the many in order to produce. Workers learn to work the system, because there is no reward for them if the produce a few more units. We see this in every socialist society: human beings are inherently lazy, and will get out of work they are told to do if they possibly can. The socialist state creates factories, assembly lines, for everything - everyone gets the same, everyone is valued the same (except the ruling class, who are "more equal"), and the workers do as little as possible to survive: in the end, the masses are treated like dirt.

But it goes both ways. In a capitalist state, we are encouraged, socially-pressured, to compete for the goods and services for the very reason that we value those goods and services. Capitalism works through competition, rather than cooperation; when cooperation happens, it's within a group that is competing with another group. It's no wonder that evolutionary theory came out of a capitalist framework, as the two are remarkably similar: survival of the fittest. What ends up happening is that there's always that one guy or girl in the midst of us that has a little more ambition, a little more time, maybe is just a little smarter, or has the luck to come across that one labor-saving device, and so the person ends up leaps and bounds ahead of us all. What happens then? In order to keep up, the rest of the society has to speed up too, at the cost of every other part of their lives (social, familial, leisure, etc.). The few end up controlling the many, in a very different way. It leads to a sense of entitlement, to a sense that "I deserve what I have" because "I earned it" and "I worked hard."

The irony is that often, as one generation succeeds another, "I" did NOT work hard because "I" inherited that wealth; "I" has an attitude of entitlement. Likewise, one can inherit poverty as well. The American dream is one of getting ahead, of acquiring more stuff and a comfortable life, but it is an unattainable dream because the world is not made of infinite resources; those that control the resources do so because way back in time, an ancestor made a few smart decisions that would help him and thus his succeeding generations become self-reliant. Sure, we'll occasionally find the one rich guy who falls from grace after squandering his wealth, but socially speaking, it's almost unheard of. There's a certain measure of protection built into the system to prevent this, "insurance" and other scams that prey on our fears but, occasionally, do pay off. Likewise, not everybody in poverty remains in poverty. Sometimes a kid learns to beat the system, or works really hard and "makes something" of himself or herself, and can secure relative security through extremely hard work. But generally speaking, the capitalist system is one of polarization: the rich become richer, as they invest and buy up those who can't get ahead, and the poor become poorer, as they lack the resources necessary to invest and build in the wake of the wealthy. But they too find an attitude of entitlement, because since the rich inherited their wealth, why can't they give some of it to us so it will be "fair"?

The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and neither feels they should have to work for it.

It is exactly the same in both socialism and capitalism - because people are inherently selfish, having been taught that way by their elders for generations (not necessarily in principle, but certainly by example), the system becomes ever-more polarized. In socialism, an elite ruling class develops to oversee everyone (and thus controls the wealth for themselves), and in capitalism, an elite wealthy class develops over generations and collects the wealth. The two systems have the same endgame through different methods but the same cause: human depravity, selfishness, and greed.

(to be continued ...)

October 8, 2008

Economics, Part I

On our way home from NY last summer, our friend Sally brought up an interesting question about gun control (she'd had some odd conversation with a Kansas airline pilot) which led back to a paper I wrote a little while ago for KCW. In my paper, I fumbled around trying to understand the differences between socialism and capitalism (and their connected political systems) and eventually concluded that neither work. But as my professor so helpfully pointed out, I mostly spent time on my own opinions and little on hard facts. I thought it was an opinion paper. Oh well, he still gave me a good grade (thanks prof!).

At any rate, it was an interesting conversation for about an hour. Sal, who comes from Australia (a somewhat socialist-ish country) wondered about the perceived American tendency to uphold our amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms (aka "you can have a gun and the government can't not let you"). In Australia, the laws are much stricter.

I worry about the tendency for socialist countries to impose ever-stricter laws upon their citizens. The main argument against such laws is that it denies freedoms, but the argument for them is that the law supposedly saves lives. In any case, no matter what guns are or are not on the market, those who wanted them enough could still get them, and then where would we be? You can't eliminate guns with the likes of the many illegal arms dealers perusing the streets (a result of the "innocent until proven guilty" philosophy). Clearly, the system is prone to manipulation. No matter which system you get, you still have those who would prefer just to do as they wish while the law-abiding citizens get screwed over for the n-th time with higher taxes (when do you think you’ll see the results of the latest $700 billion added to the national debt? Anytime soon?).

As an aside, it’s awful convenient for McCain and Obama to talk all about how Wall Street bears responsibility after the fact, but thank you Mrs. Palin, of all people, for pointing out that Americans still bear responsibility to think before they go get a loan they can’t afford … anyway, moving on …

The question between socialism and capitalism comes down to this: which is better, more freedom (thus more individual responsibility) that tends to lead to a lesser degree of justice (since the freedom is often abused), or less freedom (more laws, more enforcement) which supposedly results in fewer deaths and better justice? Which do you choose? Actually, the second option isn't even really an option; more laws doesn't actually result in better justice, they only provide more hoops to jump through for those that are law-abiding and thus aids the criminals who circumvent such hoops. Even if they were, the system can still be abused. That said, the question still stands: do you take freedom of choice, or a forced morality?

Socialist states tend towards an escalation of laws. Look towards the best-known socialist states such as China, Australia, and many south-American countries. Of the total, only one has a decently low rate of material poverty (Australia, which, incidentally, also has a capitalist flavor to its socialized economy), and the rest are hell-holes. The socialist experiment, practically speaking, seems to end in a dictatorship for one simple reason: who chooses the laws? Who unilaterally decides what is “good” or “lawful” and what is “bad” or “unlawful”? Will there ever be universal agreement on that?

Doubtful.

My professor remarked that a perfect, God-centered society would look more socialist than capitalist, but I disagree. I think that God's Economy is a fusion of the two, with the freedom to choose of capitalism and the mercy and justice of the socialist ideal. If God's the one making the laws (which are really more like principles because you're not forced to follow them, only to reap the consequences of your actions), then the laws will be just; only a perfect being could do that. Unfortunately, God's not the one governing China or Sudan or Venezuela - therein lays the province of men, and the men in charge don't seem to be doing much good for their people as God has charged them to do. God is the only one un-biased enough (another word with which I take issue, maybe I’ll write about it later) to create truly perfect laws.

And I abhor the word "fair" - the rain falls on the just AND the unjust.

Now, I see where he's coming from, and agree, to a modest extent. Capitalism too is problematic because it supposedly relies on greed to fuel its growth. Capitalism works by refusing to give people what they want or need, and making them work for themselves. In such a society, the best way to get ahead is to hoard what you manage to scrounge to yourself instead of sharing - the more you keep for yourself, the less the others have to compete with you. By the way, in my studies of anthropology, I've noticed that it's only in tribal societies that communal socialism works because a) it's a small group, b) to survive, the tribe HAS to work together, and c) the tribe ends up competing (i.e. capitalism) with other tribes. It’s like a fusion of the two. Anyway, the trouble is that capitalist values have evolved beyond mere survival; when capitalist societies become sufficiently advanced through their hard work (having generated the best ideas using a social form of Darwinian evolution), they suddenly discover they have leisure time, or a surplus of resources with which to trade. The values slowly shift away from the necessities and towards the luxuries; necessities are forgotten, the luxuries gradually become the necessities. And it is this competition that socialists tend to critique; competition inevitably leaves some behind, and nobody has incentive to take care of them, for they would simply get in the way of advancement. Survival of the fittest, and all that.

But the funny thing is, in the end, one look at the practical outcome of capitalism and one begins to see that it is essentially the same as of socialism. On the one hand, a society that kills off people to supposedly better others, and on the other, a society that kills of some to supposedly save others.

It's a conundrum - both have advantages, but both have overwhelming disadvantages as well.

(to be continued …)

September 26, 2008

Perpetually Connecting

Thanks to Kelly for pointing me to this video of Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld. Who knew, Bill can act!

September 19, 2008

Blue

When I was in high school, our district managed to scrape together the funds to build themselves a whole bunch of new stuff. We got a brand new high school tacked onto the old one, and the old one became the junior high. Now, some things were of apparent importance over others: we got a ton of new sports fields, state of the art, and a new gym and weight room, but no new auditorium (apparently the old one with no wings and eight feet of fly space was deemed "acceptable" by the board, who all loved football). In this new gym, of course, were the best of everything, including wall padding, retractable bleachers and hoops, and of course, the logo for the middle of the court. The logo, though, ended up being a bit of a controversy, because after it was painted, many of the area residents were appalled.

Now, the team at Victor was the "Blue Devils," and up until now had featured this little cartoon baby-looking devil with a pointy tail, naturally colored blue. But somebody had got it in their heads to hold a contest for the new gym floor, and had picked a winner. It looked real.

It was a scary logo; the horns almost glistened, the creases on his face were curved up in a wicked smile, and the shoulders looked like they were about to leap into action (there was no more, it was a head-shot). I can only imagine what the first home game would've been like for the visiting team, seeing that thing in mid-court at the toss; talk about home-court advantage, but it was truly hideous. And naturally, half the parents in the district called the superintendent or members of the board to have it repainted with something less ... offensive. Something less ...

Real.

I remember people kept saying "but it's so real! We can't expose our kids to that!" Reality can be very scary. We like to hide it, to deny it's there, to push it away so we don't have to think about it. I know that a devil with horns is as much a cultural image as any (I don't think the devil has actual horns, but maybe he does), but we Americans (maybe all human beings) like to push away things that don't make us comfortable. Like the poor. Like the homeless. Like people who smell funny. Like nerds or bullies. If you're poor, you push away the rich because they represent to you everything that is wrong in your life. If you're rich, you ignore the poor because you're better than they are. If you're in the middle class, you try really hard to get rich, and giving to the poor doesn't help that, so you ignore them too. The poor are uncomfortable to the rich, and the rich are uncomfortable for the poor. The middle class is confused, because they don't want to be poor, but any attempt to get rich might make them poor. Bullies push around the nerds because they are easy targets, and the nerds try to ignore or get back at the bullies because they make the nerds uncomfortable. It's a vicious cycle.

A bully I knew in high school died this week. He committed suicide, and it's making everybody uncomfortable, myself included. Because I'm a Christian now, and Christians are supposed to love our enemies, even the guys who pushed us around all through grade school. I didn't know what to do with myself when I found out, but I think I do now - pray for the family. Thinking back, I wonder if I'd treated him differently, if that might have helped him, if it might have changed his life to the point that at least he wouldn't think he was better off not sticking around. What if I'd not let my discomfort dictate my actions?

Rob Bell has a new book out. It's about this, sort of. I just finished reading it, and I recommend you go buy it and read too. But you'll have a choice when you finish: you can either push it aside or talk about how "wrong" it is (because it WILL make you uncomfortable), or you can choose to respond, to let it mess with your thinking and maybe change you a little. I think I'll have to read it again soon - I read it in two days - but for now, please go find a copy. It's called
Jesus Wants to Save Chrisitans. It's about reality, and how sometimes we don't notice the things right in front of us that maybe we should.

Trust me, just give it a shot.

September 15, 2008

Conflict of Reasoning

It's always the little things that get you. Something I read in one of my anthropology texts tonight suddenly illuminated a lot of my experiences in Australia. In a book called "American Cultural Patterns: A Cross-Cultural Perspective," the author writes that Americans tend to be inductive thinkers (whaddya know, I'm in "Inductive Bible Study" this semester), while Europeans (and by implication, Australians) tend to think deductively. For those of you who have no idea, here's how it is:

Inductive thinking is when you start with a bunch of information and then figure out how that information is related. You take "bare facts" that are (supposedly) free of bias, and then create a theory as to why they are related and how they fit together. It's all about the "why". You start out assuming you're wrong, and then look for the information that might disprove otherwise, often called the "null hypothesis."

Deductive thinking, on the other hand, is when you start with a theory, and then you go looking to figure out why you're right. You start with "this is how I think it is" (which is, I think, to a certain extent, based on subjective experience) and then find the information that proves it right. A theory is only ever wrong if you can prove it wrong - you have to be given the information contrary to your supporting evidence. You assume you're right, then someone else has to prove you wrong.

I wish I had known this when I was at
Urban Seed. Every moderately deep conversation (read "argument") I had there seems to have this running through its core - I'm an inductive thinker, asking for the facts to support the case that I obviously don't agree with, but they're sitting there assuming they're right and asking me to disprove it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Now, to be clear, neither of us could have actually proven right or wrong, because all the information we were all working with was subjective in nature. Nobody can prove anything - you can only make leaps of faith with limited support. But that's another post altogether.

This came to a most potent example when my good friend Sally came to visit us here in the States when my daughter was born. Sally is Australian, and I have a hunch tends to think more deductively (it would tend to fit her character). But Sally and I would often have long conversations about praxis, the "working out" of faith. We'd talk for days about one thing or another, but the one that really hooked our interest and passions was pacifism. I am not a pacifist, though I tend toward pacifist tendencies in my behavior. Sally, on the other hand, is a strong pacifist, and so this naturally led itself towards an argument. I spent a lot of time giving her information that proved my way of thinking, and saying that I could possibly be wrong, but here's why I think I'm right. But instead of agreeing with me, she kept going back to her theories on pacifism, and insisting that she was right, and that I hadn't yet proven her theory wrong. More than just a matter of facts, this was a disagreement in the way we were both approaching the problem. I wanted her to prove herself right, assuming she was wrong until convinced otherwise, but she wanted me to prove her wrong, assuming she was right until proven otherwise. It was a cross-cultural conflict that I think neither of us were prepared for after spending a year in close proximity.

I don't have much of a point other than that. When you get into an argument with somebody, try (though I know it's hard) to step back and look at not only what they're saying, but HOW they're saying it. Are they starting with facts or with questions? Then ask how you're talking, and compare the two. I tried to tell this to my wife tonight, and she told me I was crazy, and so naturally I proved my point at her telling me this - she was thinking like a classic American. But then I realized that so was I. I think we'll find that a lot of arguments fall back on the way we're approaching the problem, and not the information being debated. We all have different assumptions about reality, and a lot of those are substantiated by the way we go about acquiring and processing the reality presented to us through our senses.

Think about the next time somebody pisses you off.