Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

If You Give a Moose a Muffin…

September 22, 2017

I couldn’t help but be reminded of this children’s book while after reading this blog post.  Apparently a news reporter interviewed a Nazi who was publicly assaulted, and the writer of the blog post was angry that they did so because it could make Nazism sympathetic and end up leading others to follow that ideology.  The alternative, the author insists, is that you never give a Nazi a platform.  Never allow their message to go out.

At first it makes sense.  I don’t like Nazism.  As a student of history I’m well acquainted with the evils perpetrated by that ideology.  I don’t want there to be more Nazis.

But the more I thought about it, I realized why this approach didn’t sit well with me.  It presumes that the hearers/viewers are helpless, passive, and incapable of understanding either the context of the interview or the ideology that the Nazi might espouse.  It presumes that viewers/hearers need to be protected less they fall under the sway of this virulent ideology.  It reminds of the way some conservative Christians choose to raise their children – by trying to shelter them from the junk in the world and never expose them to anything that hasn’t been thoroughly sanitized.

In both cases the result is the same.  By failing to prepare people for the ideologies they will encounter in our increasingly hyper-connected world, we make possible our worst fears.  The way to protect people against whatever charm Nazi ideology might utilize is to teach them about Nazism.  Teach them about history.  Teach them about the Holocaust.  At the same time teach them about democracy, and in particular teach them about the beauty and value of free speech.  Then, if they view or hear a Nazi who was the victim of a crime talking about their ideology, they will be able to distinguish the value of free speech and protection from assault from Nazism.  They’ll be able to say I disagree completely with what this person espouses, but at the same time they deserve protection under the law and the right to speak, because that is the democracy we live under.

Which is different from the censorship that the Nazis used to control what people thought, and which mirrors, ironically enough, what the blog author espouses.  In a democracy people should be educated so that they can make good decisions.  Not everyone can or will.  But it is better to risk that some should not make good decisions, than to deny everyone the freedom to make a decision.  An educated nation will be able to reject ideas and principles that are incorrect.  Maybe not immediately, but eventually.  Hopefully.  But that requires education.  It also happens to require a strong moral common ground, something that has been decimated by many folks who also argue that some groups shouldn’t be allowed to speak freely or aren’t entitled to the same rights that they themselves are.

Reject Nazism.  But don’t destroy democracy in the process.  Nobody is better off with an insulated, poorly educated population who relies on censorship to keep away things that they would prefer not to deal with.  Nobody is better off under such circumstances.  Other than those who happen to be championing them and insisting that their ideology is the one that should be implemented.

Advertisements

Vocationally Challenged

September 6, 2017

Talking with your kids and grandkids about what they want to be when they grow up is a cherished, necessary and important task of family.  These days, however, make sure that you’re providing them with some good perspective on what vocations are going to be challenging for them in the future.   The cultural landscape is shifting rapidly, and if you hope that your family member will remain firmly rooted in Christ, yet still be able to avail themselves of the career options that were once so open in our country, I have bad news for you.  At the very least, it’s sobering news that needs practical application.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein today criticized a nominee for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals because of her Catholic faith, something which Senator Feinstein basically stated was a stumbling block for conflicting with the ideologies of others.

Senator Feinstein criticized and questioned Amy Coney Barrett because of religious writings and lectures she produced as a Law Professor at Notre Dame.  Feinstein specifically questioned and challenged Barrett’s actual adherence to and defense of Roman Catholic theology that Feinstein correctly assesses to be at direct odds with the prevailing spirit of the day.

“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.” (And let’s ignore that large numbers of people have fought against some of these big issues.)

In other words, any dogma that challenges the status quo dogma is dangerous.  And to protect against any such outside dogmas, we’re going to pretend that dogma is not permissible to a judge.  Unless of course the dogma is in complete agreement with the spirit of the day.  So if you are against abortion on theological grounds, you shouldn’t be a judge because judges are supposed to support abortion because it’s been legal for almost 50 years.  Since we can’t legally – yet – prevent someone who disagrees with abortion from being a judge, we’re going to pretend that anyone with a strongly held belief is ipso ex facto inacceptable as a nominee.  Unless, of course, they happen to agree with abortion, in which case we’re totally fine with that because it’s not really a dogma.

So if your little darling wants to go into law, and hopes to one day be a judge, and may aspire to be an important judge, they may have to decide whether they would rather be an important judge or an actual follower of Jesus Christ.  Because if they’re going to practice what is preached to them, they might not be allowed to progress up the vocational ladder of judge-ness.

Isolated and unique situation, you say?

  • What about pharmacists?
  • What about if you believe that sexuality and gender confusion can be clarified and resolved through therapy?
  • What if you want to be a teacher?
  • How about a doctor?  Are you going to prescribe your patient enough medication so they can kill themselves if they choose to?  Doctor-“assisted”-suicide is legal in several states today.

The reality is that in more and more fields, being a committed Christian is being defined as a career liability.  And parents and grandparents and other key people need to be aware of this to help young people make sense of the rapidly shifting career landscape.  Especially before you take out $100,000 of student loan debt to achieve your goal, only to find you aren’t employable.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Gnostic America

September 1, 2017

Gnostic America: A Reading of Contemporary American Culture & Religion According to Christianity’s Oldest Heresy by Peter M. Burfeind.

This was a recommended text for a continuing education seminar I attended this summer.  I’ve been struggling to get through it ever since, and am finally throwing in the towel.

This is not an easy read.  The guy is all over the place in an impressive fashion as he ferrets out the connections that link the gnostic philosophy/religion of ancient Greece and early Christianity to American culture today.  Because he covers so much ground (literature, politics, music, etc.) I find it difficult to track him.  A good background in philosophy is helpful, but by no means necessarily enough to help you keep track of the various strands he weaves together!

You’ll definitely come away with a different way of viewing much of American culture, and this is a good thing.

Another Google Response

August 9, 2017

In the continuing saga of Google controversy over gender – or more specifically, over hiring and promotion practices aimed at promoting diversity – here is the latest salvo.

It tugs on the heart strings in all the right ways, but it fundamentally misses the point of the original memo.  The original memo was not questioning whether some women were just as capable as men in terms of performance in technology related fields as well as in ascending into the upper echelons of management.  The memo did indicate that overall, men and women seek out these sorts of jobs at different rates, and therefore that trying to force diversity and equal percentages of each gender might be fundamentally flawed.

While many people seem to read it as an attack on women, I didn’t see or hear that at all.  Nor did lots of other people undoubtedly smarter than I am.  However it was a stinging criticism of implicit bias’ towards certain ideological assumptions  and the corresponding discrimination against differing points of view which results in people being afraid to speak if they don’t hold with the dominant ideology.  It was a request for more study and data, and not simply a treatise about how women should stay home and not become programmers or CEOs.

But that’s how many people – including this woman – seem to have interpreted it.

I’ve known oodles of women who are way smarter than I am in math and science.  But that’s not what the original memo was trying to address, and it was not the question that this woman’s daughter asked her.  I don’t know how old her daughter is, but her question is a complex one that, when she’s old enough to understand the complexity, deserves a complex answer.

There are always prejudices and stereotypes that can be dangerous and damaging.  That doesn’t mean all stereotypes are, nor does it mean that some stereotypes may not have actual data behind them.  And it’s very unfortunate that this woman has had her abilities and commitment questioned simply because she’s a woman.  It’s unfortunate if she’s been excluded from industry events because of her gender (though, at the risk of beating a dead horse, y’all remember it’s now socially acceptable to discriminate against guys, right?).  Given her status, it’s obvious that she surmounted these challenges, or is continuing to surmount them.  That’s fantastic and a wonderful model to her daughter and other young women.  And young men, I hope.

I didn’t hear the original e-mail trying to discourage women from pursuing computer programming or upper management positions in technology companies. What it was doing was questioning attempts to force companies to have an even distribution of genders when there was credible research and evidence to show that such a goal might not actually be reasonable or sustainable.  What is the “negative stereotype” that Susan Wojicicki accuses James Damore of perpetuating, and who wins when both claim to have data and statistics to back up their perspectives?

In this case, Google and those who agree with Ms. Wojicicki win.  Which is the very environment Mr. Damore was attempting to describe.

I have a daughter as well.  My hopes for her are not specific to the tech industry or science.  Or music or art or literature.  I want her to figure out what makes her happy, what she enjoys doing and is good at.  I want her imagination to fire in directions of her own choosing (by and large).  My hopes and aspirations for her are that she will be happy and fulfilled in whatever vocation she chooses to pursue.  That she won’t be held back from a chosen career path because of the sexism of men around her if she chooses to  enter the workplace, and that she won’t be the object of sexist scorn by feminists is she chooses to commit her life to raising a family and running a household.

Perhaps if we focused a lot more on helping our kids figure out what they’d like to do and how to do it, we’d all be happier, instead of trying to use our children to vindicate our own experiences as adults.   This may require specialized programs and training in companies to ensure that people have equal opportunities.  But that’s a far cry from demanding absolute numerical parity between men and women across all levels and positions.  Maybe we need to quit quantifying equality in that way, and spend more time making sure that if a woman (or a man) wants to enter a particular vocation, they have the ability to do so and be successful at it.

How would I answer my daughter if she asked me the question Ms. Wojicicki’s daughter posed her?  I’d begin by asking her why she wanted to know.  Is she afraid?  Is she worried maybe she shouldn’t consider a future in technology because she’s not as good at it as a boy?  I’d encourage her to explore that for herself.  Not to worry about broad brush-stroke studies of men and women, but simply to see what she likes to do and what she’s good at.  If she’s good at and interested in science and technology or management, then I will encourage her to pursue those things, and find ways to put her skills to good work.  I’ll be honest that there may be people who try to stop her for any number of reasons.  Those will be her battles to fight – I can’t fight them for her. But I can prepare her to face them bravely and competently.

What I don’t want to do is tell her to pursue something in order to make a point, or just because Mom or I have done it (or haven’t done it).  And if necessary, I’ll acknowledge honestly that perhaps her question doesn’t have a simple answer and that it’s misleading to pretend that it does.  That we need to talk about a whole lot of things beyond whether she’s good at math or not.  It’s OK for the situation to be complex.  Maybe if we continued to honestly acknowledge this with one another as adults, we’d move further along in figuring out how to make workplaces safer and opportune places for both men and women.

Facts & Feelings

August 8, 2017

On the continuing saga of the fired Google exec who dared challenge prevailing opinions about gender and workplace policy and culture (which I mentioned already here and here), here is input from four apparently well-qualified academics.  Their conclusion is that the author of the memo lined up pretty well with actual research into the differences between men and women.

Unfortunately, that research and his conclusions from it are not very popular these days.

He’s already out of a job, so being right is of questionable consolation in this day and age when truth is determined too often by who screams the loudest and uses the most pejorative language.  His situation perfectly proves the very point he was trying to make.   Google couldn’t have proved and endorsed his critique any better than by firing him.

We struggle as a culture to come up with a framework for male/female interactions (as well as gender, sexuality, etc.).  Whatever is proposed inevitably ends up being offensive to someone and therefore is untenable.  But whether something is offensive or not is separate from whether it is true.  In the drive for equality, feminism and now pop culture at large has settled on the idea that in order to be equal, men and women have to be the same.  Physically, emotionally, intellectually – you name it.  Practically interchangeable.

The only problem with this is that it’s not true.  We know it anecdotally in our relationships, and those informal observations are backed up by an impressive amount of research.  Worse still, it is patently offensive to both men and women to insist that they are virtually identical except for some hormonal and physiological differences – both of which modern medicine and psychiatry are happy to tweak with until you think you’re happy.

I find it interesting that it is common to describe human beings as animals, emphasizing our similarity at a genetic level to the animal kingdom, we are far less interested in seeking comparisons on social issues.  It isn’t helpful to note, for instance, that in many animal species there are very clear roles for each gender, and that those roles differ, but both are important and necessary.  Perhaps such comparisons aren’t often drawn because it is an inconvenient truth, a truth we like to think we have moved beyond.

We are convinced that now that we understand (or think we understand) genetics and DNA and natural selection we have somehow surpassed these things and are in the position of redefining reality and truth to suit our purposes.  We are convinced that our alleged knowledge has made us masters of the things we think we know.  However if DNA and genetics and natural selection are the things we think they are, it seems rather unlikely to me that we have somehow gotten the drop on hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection.  As though we have reached a place where our genes no longer dictate to us, but rather we are free to dictate to our genes through genetic modification.

For now, and for all of time leading up to this moment, men and women have been different, and this has been the source – unfortunately – of inequality.  I have no idea how things will be going forward, now that we are editing and tinkering with DNA and our own genetic code, making changes that can be propagated to future generations.  C.S. Lewis warned about this stage of things in his very prescient book The Abolition of Man.  Unsatisfied with merely being able to rewrite history, we are now permanently rewriting our future as a species.  While some are optimistic about this, I am not.  Our rewriting of history has so often been disastrous that I can’t imagine our success in rewriting the future.

Perhaps it will be a future where the Google engineer is wrong and his detractors are right.  But that’s not the case here and now, and it would seem wise and desirable by all sides to recognize this and take this into account rather than simply pretending it isn’t true.

 

Tolerance for the Win!

August 7, 2017

After an internal memo generated controversy within Google and then was leaked online to further stir up emotions, Google has fired the person responsible for writing a challenge to alleged bias’ and harmful ideological leanings within Google.  Google fired James Damore for “perpetuating gender stereotypes”.  Damore has filed complaint over wrongful dismissal and is mulling possible legal action against Google.  I dare say that if a woman had written an internal memo critical of Google policies and prejudices towards men, the last thing she could expect would be termination.

Not that it’s any of my business, of course.

In other tolerance-related news, a movie chain that sponsored women-only screenings of the box office smash Wonder Woman says it is stunned to learn that such practices may have been discriminatory and illegal.  Really?  You mean the idea of a men-only screening of a movie would have sounded just as equal-opportunity?  Would the theater – and our culture at large – have so easily dismissed complaints by women against a male-only screening?  Would a mayor have written a “tongue-in-cheek” defense of an illegal practice if it had been an all-male screening?  And would women have been satisfied with a free DVD of the movie as compensation for their complaints?

Kinda hard to imagine these days, isn’t it?   Good thing we’ve traded that outdated notion of loving our neighbor for the modern idea of tolerance.

Fightin’ Words

August 5, 2017

A Google exec released an internal memo critiquing the company’s dominant ideological assumptions and is getting reamed for it.  The memo (allegedly) can be read here, while a sample of some of the responses it is generating can be found here.

I can understand why it would sound inflammatory to some people.  I suspect his basic assertions – that a particular ideological mindset are now entrenched and broach no challenge and engage in no dialogue – are accurate.  Some of the additional things he adds to the mix however make those basic assertions difficult to hear.  I don’t know if he attempted to substantiate his claims.  I hope that he did.  I would like to see his detractors substantiate some of theirs as well.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of statistics on both sides of the ideological divide, effectively clouding issues further.

Regardless of your point of view or ideological leanings on this, it’s disturbing once again to see where tolerance has gotten our culture and society.

 

The Idol of Busy-ness

August 2, 2017

I live in an affluent city on the West Coast.  We home school our children, which puts my wife (mostly) into contact with other families who have made a similar educational choice.  And the reality is that part of the ability to make such a choice depends on a certain level of financial freedom and certain types of financial choices.  Home schooling requires that one of the parents not work (or at least not work full-time), and the only way to do this is a never-ending series of financial choices about what is important.

We’ve met a variety of wonderful people and families in this home-schooling journey.  But the one refrain we’ve heard over and over again, the modern mantra, is the lament of busy-ness.  I’m so tired – we’ve just been running around all over the place!  Taking X to this class and Y to this camp and then music lessons and play dates and camping trips and movies and and and and and

The list never concludes.

A lot of people in this town have money.  Not everyone, but quite a few.  So conspicuous consumption is less about the material, tangible things – those are passé – and more about time.  The status symbol of the day has less to do with the car you drive or the house you live in because everything here is expensive.  So the packed schedule becomes what everyone talks about and strives for.  Multiple classes, camps, lessons, outings.  It’s the current understanding that this is the price we pay for our children’s success.  If we want them to get into Harvard (and everyone is getting into an Ivy League school, right?) then we have to start filling out their future application now, at a younger and younger age.

Everyone is exhausted, so it’s funny that we’re repeatedly asked what camps and outings we’re enrolling our children in this summer.  The pressure is that everyone should be this busy.  Don’t you want to be this busy?  Don’t you want to have to keep your smartphone or Day Planner with you at all times to make sure you’re on top of things?  Don’t you want to join the club and lament about how busy you are, and the financial success that apparently makes such a schedule possible?

Actually, no.

Partly because we can’t afford it.  We live on one income, and while generous, it isn’t enough to fund all the myriad activities that are offered for the comfortable or well-heeled in the area.  We aren’t willing to put ourselves in debt in order to fill our children’s schedule with things to do.  But even if we could afford it, we believe that children shouldn’t have that kind of schedule to begin with.  Not during summer break.  Not during the school year.  They have their activities that we’ve committed ourselves to but those are very limited by both necessity and choice.  We’d rather spend our time making dinner together and playing games together than coming up with another activity to pack the kids off to for an hour a day four times a week.

Our culture is rife with status symbols – fame, fortune, health, eating lifestyles.  Plenty of opportunities to judge and be judged, to conform or to be ruled irrelevant or uneducated or uncultured.  I suspect this is the same for every culture at every time.  There has never been a shortage of edicts or peer pressure trying to get people to bow to the preferred idol of the day.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3) faced coercion to literally bow down.  But earlier in Daniel 1, Daniel and his companions felt compelled to resist a more subtle form of persuasion and coercion, one that promised great rewards for compliance.  What was offered was the best of the best – food and drink from the king’s own table!  But Daniel and his companions realized that in partaking in this food, they would be trading part of who they were – as Hebrews, as children of God even – and decided that the trade wasn’t worth it.  Their steadfastness was rewarded, but oftentimes the rewards of steadfastness aren’t immediately discernible.

We worry like any parent does about the decisions we make for our children.  Are we preparing them well enough for the world they will need to participate in as well as resist?  Are we doing enough to help mold them spiritually and intellectually as well as making sure their bodies are strong and healthy?  The worry is always there – maybe we should be doing more, or doing different.  Everyone else is – how is it that we trust our own judgment over the majority?  Isn’t that foolhardy?  Reckless?

Perhaps.

We don’t think it’s reckless, though.  And we think that what we are doing in and for our and with our children’s lives is already bearing fruit in who they are as people, how they relate to one another and to us and to everyone they come into contact with.  If we refuse to bow to the idol of the overburdened schedule, or the idol of Ivy League education, we substitute it with an emphasis on time together as a family and knowing who we are together and individually in Christ.   It may not get our kids into Harvard, but we pray it will help ground them for the increasingly fragmented and fractured culture and society they’re entering into very soon.

 

Cause Celebré

July 31, 2017

My Facebook feed has been littered with people gloating over the recent conviction of former celebrity sheriff Joe Arpaio.  Of course, many of these people seem also to be of the mindset that thinks it totally appropriate to flaunt the Law of the Land when it suits their philosophical and social agendas.  Cities refusing to enforce Federal immigration laws?  Hey, no problem there!

It’s hard to be excited about one person being convicted for fighting against what he thought was an unjust law when others are explicitly encouraged to do the exact same thing, just in a different ideological direction.

Meanwhile, in California…

June 23, 2017

California continues to ban taxpayer funded state travel to a growing number of other states.  I’ve tried to determine if other states have a similar practice, but I can’t find any.  I’m not aware that these bans have ever been approved by the voters whose interests they claim to protect. I for one don’t agree with the philosophical basis for implementing these bans, and it seems yet another instance where a small group of people take it upon themselves to claim the representation of their constituency to do what *they* want to do, rather than what the voters actually tell them to do.