Saturday, February 17, 2018

Fixing Terrorism and Mass shootings

After this post, I will likely have a new “regrets” post to write. But as I have watched the conversation around mass shootings, I feel compelled to write.

First, let me explain to you why I feel I am qualified to have a voice on this topic (here comes the regret post). When I was around six or seven years old, one of my best friends tried to psychologically manipulate me into participating in anal intercourse with him. No, I new nothing about the birds and the bees at the time. Nor did I at age nine or ten when I was exposed to hard core pornography. Nor did I at the age of 12 when I was molested by a leader at a scout camp (I didn’t connect the dots until roughly ten years later, when I saw a new report of that individual being arrested for similar offenses).

I was… am… moderately socially incompetent. I am also an introvert, with a social anxiety disorder, and a predisposition to compulsion and addiction.
On my mission, I had a companion who was fostering a relationship with a young woman. Everyone else figured it out, I didn’t catch on until 3 days before I got called in and yelled at for not reporting it.

In my late twenties, my employer took all his employees to the lake one weekend. As we were unloading his personal water craft, a young woman came and very overtly came on to me. Everyone at the lake could tell. Except me. I got teased mercilessly for that. Later that year, the same employer took us to see a comedian in Las Vegas while at a technology convention. This comedian’s humor consisted mostly of picking on audience members (aka bullying). I was in the front row. Nearly his entire 1 hour on stage revolved around jokes about a nearly 30 year old computer nerd/virgin/loser from Utah. I went to my hotel room that night and cursed the window locks that prevented me from jumping.

Prior to that job, I was in college, relying on a scholarship to pay my way. Somehow, when trying to transition to off campus housing, I got trapped with two apartment contracts, one on-campus and one off-campus. I tried to get help resolving the situation, but… large bureaucratic organizations aren’t sympathetic to quiet, introverts who have neither the social nor financial connections to get the wheels turning. At the time I was struggling to keep myself fed. I had no idea how I would pay two contracts. I was shuffled around from one bureaucrat’s office to the next, listening to a steady drone about “policy and procedure…”. When I finally lost my mind and had a full-blown screaming meltdown in one office, they finally released the contract, and sent me on my way with a token for a free ice cream cone.

I tried to get additional scholarships after that. I spent a fair amount of time perusing an enormous book of scholarships, looking for some I could apply for. There were pages upon pages of scholarships with requirements I could not meet; African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Female (there was one specific scholarship restricted to women over 6 feet tall in fact)…
I finally had to drop out, of school due to illness brought on by stress. Every test was a trigger. Group critiques were even worse. Finances were always a matter of just getting by. I had found it necessary to take on school loans when the one scholarship I had ran out. So, I left the university – without a degree -  to a low paying job, with the burden of student loan debt, and a maxed-out credit card to cover medical costs.

A decade later, I managed to finish a degree by taking one class a semester, and thanks to a series of fortunate events which placed me with an employer who funded those courses. and with a manager who saw my intellectual and ethical value, in spite of my social incompetence and lack of degree.
Sadly, such things don’t last. The company was acquired by ever larger corporations, and once again I find myself a quiet, insecure, introvert in a boundless bureaucracy which rewards extroverts. And grinds my lot to dust.

I live In a world which continues to send the message that I am somehow inherently bad because I am white, male, straight, religious (it is funny how exclusionary the inclusivity rhetoric can feel)…
I live in a world that utterly disregards my struggles with addiction, deriding any who dare speak out about the proliferation of sensual media as prudish, and demanding their freedom of expression.
I live in a world that produces mountains of negative, contentious media which overloads my introverted anxiety-ridden mind. I live in a world where I am all to often alone in a crowded room, enduring levels of stimulation I cannot bear because it is “the norm”, and because I must, in order maintain my career, to feed my family.

I believe I am qualified to speak on this topic because I understand. I know the feeling of hopelessness, of Isolation. Of not fitting in. Of seeing no path forward through the morass of rules and regulations, policies and procedures, cliques and clans, social barriers…
More rules and regulations won’t fix this. They are in fact part of the problem…the frustrating, uncaring, bureaucracy they foster helps create the environment where isolation, hopelessness and anonymity wreak havoc on the tender mind.

The mental health conversation as it stands won’t help either. This group already feels like victims of discrimination. They are already isolated, already on the outside. Do you really believe further stigmatization, further restriction, further discrimination will help?

What will help? For starters, practice that “Inclusiveness” that you pretend to believe in. stop picking winners in the victim game. We are all victims in one way or another. Life is hard, bad stuff happens. Demonstrate a little tolerance and empathy. For everyone. Especially those individuals you don’t easily relate to.

Don’t demand that everyone conform to your standard of “normal”. We as a society spend millions to accommodate the hearing impaired, the blind. We construct modern buildings to accommodate those who are wheelchair bound. We have special schools for the autistic and for various mental handicaps to tailor the learning experience to their specific needs, we create work environments to accommodate their limitations, capitalize on their strengths and help them to be able to thrive as they are. Yet those who deal with attention deficit disorders, anxiety, even to a lesser degree introversion are expected to conform to the “norm”. and if they are unable to do so sufficiently on their own, then we medicate them to make them behave more “normally”.

I believe that to a considerable extent this country exists because of ADD. It would take a certain degree of dissatisfaction and disregard for personal safety in order to cause a person to leave the “civilized world”, cross a massive ocean on a little wooden boat, then attempt to carve out a livelihood in a new, untamed, unfamiliar land. Yet we now consider that trait which played such a key role in the creation of this nation as a blight, an undesirable trait that must be quashed. That is part of why I don’t think it is valid to compare Europe to the US. The US was created by those who could no longer tolerate the European way of doing things. They came here to get away from that. It is simply not in their DNA. I don’t in any way imply one is better than the other. They are simply different. If you are so fond of the European way, then perhaps you should move to Europe, and leave America for the “Crazy”, Anxious, ADD Americans.

Can we not find a way to accommodate their needs, and capitalize on their strengths, and help them to be able to thrive as they are? Must they be forced to deal with the cost and side effects of mind altering medications in order to fit in? Can they not also be included, accepted and celebrated for who they are?

Do you know what kept me from being one of the headlines? My Family, and my religion.
I love my family. I feel loved by them. The thought of causing them pain or sorrow has more than once brought me back from the precipice.

My religion gives me hope that at least some portion of what I think and feel is because I am “broken”, just as a person born without limbs, or eyes, or hearing, or with a malfunctioning heart… is broken. That it is not really - who I am. It gives me hope that someday - perhaps not until after my time on this earth is over, but someday – Through the atonement of Jesus Christ, I will be made whole. I will be repaired. I will be able to think and feel as I really am, without the limitations imposed on me by this imperfect, mortal body.

My religion gives me the book of Mormon and with it, stories of a few brief periods when groups of people on this earth managed to live “after the manner of happiness”. Periods when they treated each other with respect and kindness.  When they reached out to their neighbors and made sure that none were left without food, clothing, or shelter. When they spent their time looking for opportunities to serve and lift rather than working to get their government to make sure everyone conformed to their particular view of “fairness”, or compensate those who in their eyes suffered more. I cling desperately to the hope that someday, maybe I can experience that.

Of course this, will likely be ignored or “poo-pooed” by many because I am just another one of those  “uneducated backwoods folks, with his inherent privilege, clinging to his religion”. And because “statistics say blah blah…”. What you are failing to understand is the people you are talking about are part of the three, four, or even six sigma. They don’t fall within the standard deviation. They are the anomaly in your statistical analysis. Your way of viewing the world fails to account for their experience. Your intellectual superiority is really just blind arrogance, and lack of real empathy.
You really want to make a difference? Then YOU make a difference. Be kinder, be more tolerant, look for opportunities to encourage, serve and lift others.

Stop spreading negative memes and stories. The country has survived over a century of “bad presidents” who were going to be the “ruin of the nation”.  Some of those terrible presidents are even revered today. This president won’t be any different, nor will the next one, so long as “we the people” make kindness our watchword. And that starts with you. There have always been groups who were misunderstood, mistreated. Continuing to dredge up the past in order to lay blame, or claim reparations only perpetuates the problem. All the negative rhetoric does is contribute to the sense of hopelessness that threatens to engulf those who deal with anxiety and isolation. All it does is make us look down, rather than up. They become Self-fulfilling prophecies.

If everyone stops watching the negative news, then those who produce it will be forced to find more productive ways to earn money. It will dry up, and the cycle will stop.

You really want to make a difference. Make a sincere effort to see the world through the eyes of others. For example, you know those Victoria’s Secret posters and other sexy ads you feel are no big deal and are protected by free speech? Those yoga pants that show off those curves you’ve worked so hard to achieve, and deserve to show off? To those struggling with sex addiction, those are roughly the equivalent of a handful of cocaine blown into the face of a recovering drug addict. Imagine taking a super soaker full of bourbon and hosing down a struggling alcoholic. It’s kind of like that. I’m not suggesting passing restrictive laws. I am asking you to consider the millions of people around you every day, and make an effort – if not to make their lives a little better, then to at least not contribute to their personal hell.

You really want to make a difference? Then Serve. Love. Follow the Example of Jesus Christ. You don’t have to believe he is the Son of God to study his life – his example of kindness, healing, serving, humility, encouragement, mercy… – and emulate it. A staunch atheist can appreciate and emulate him as easily as a faithful devotee.

Of course I imagine none of what I have written matters. I remember a conversation I had with someone not long ago, somehow the subject of Marijuana came up. He said that "If there were any real medical benefit to be had from Marijuana, the big pharmaceutical companies would have already capitalized on it. Having worked in close proximity to Big Pharma, a Noted that Marijuana was a difficult play for them, because as a natural substance there was little opportunity for patents or other means to be able to recoup the inordinate cost to bring a product through the regulatory hurdles to market. Additionally, int he US at least, the legal classification of Marijuana makes it more difficult to work with than Heroin. Finally, I noted some studies which have shown efficacy relating to certain specific treatments. He stared at me blankly for a moment, then repeated the exact same comment as before, nearly word for word.

In other words. Nothing I have said will matter, because nobody will really listen. 

And with that, I will close this, and begin my cycle of regret for having written it in the first place.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Moore's Law, Hanlan, and Empathy

"Never attribute to malice, that which can be adequately explained by ignorance or incompetence"
                        -Hanlan's Razor

This is my closing thought on a series of three posts you can find the first one here, and the second one here.

In the prior two, I presented a model, based on the methodology of Moore's law, for fixing America's social and political problems. It is a well-documented methodology, known by many other names, including positive affirmations or law of attraction. You assume the desired state, and behave as though you are at (or very near) that state.

But what about those pesky outliers? What about the individuals who... "Don't play along", What do you do when you are running around acting like racism is a thing of the past, and someone makes a racist comment? How do you deal with a police officer who is flaunting his authority, while pretending that police are good guys?

The answer, it depends. There are two crucial tools you rely on: Hanlan's Razor (stated above), and empathy.

First, a word about Hanlan's Razor. It sounds very insulting; "Ignorance or incompetence". It really isn't. Ignorant means "Lacking knowledge or awareness". It can mean in general, but more practically - and for our purposes in means in particular. We are ignorant about some things. When it comes to cricket, corporate accounting, the saxophone, advanced biology or chemistry (probably remedial biology or chemistry as well), I am ignorant. I have very limited knowledge. In fact, I am relatively ignorant regarding most subjects.

Incompetence means "not having the necessary skills to do something successfully". In addition to being ignorant with respect to the saxophone, I am also incompetent.

It isn't necessarily bad. It can be inconvenient. It is problematic, because we are all fairly incompetent when it comes to gauging our level of incompetence. And it is also problematic because once we are competent, we tend to forget what it was like to be incompetent, and therefore assume everyone should be competent (and we are often impatient when they do not live up to our expectation of competency, based on our ignorant evaluation of our level of non-ignorance).

So make Hanlan's razor a mantra, and then apply a little empathy.

Some examples:

You are stopped by a policeman, you follow all the rules: hands on the steering wheel, fingers extended, driver's license on the dash in front of you. You smile and address him politely. And he responds curtly, unkindly he is rude.

Invoke Hanlan and your inner empath. What might be going on? Maybe he has had a bad day. Maybe he just learned this morning that his wife has cancer, and it is stressing him out. right now. Maybe he just heard about an officer who got shot during a routine stop, and he's having a hard time remembering the most people are good. You might be thinking "or maybe he is a pompous jerk." What makes our fantasy any more valid than mine? You already know (part 2) how this is going to go down if you assume the latter and react. What if you assume the former, and the latter is in fact true? It may not get better, but it is incredibly unlikely to get worse. And when the encounter is over, you can contact the police station, and (politely) provide feedback to his commanding officer

If you find that the officer is particularly polite, I would also recommend calling and giving feedback. I did this once. I was in an accident. It was my fault. The officer was very polite. He took all the information, and almost apologetically informed me that he would have to write me a citation. I called a few days and let his superior know how impressed and appreciative I was. His commanding officer in turn expressed appreciation to me for giving him a rare bit of positive feedback. It was great!)

What about something like this "What are your thoughts on intended insults and racism? You may not have the opportunity to take someone aside and say "when you called my son the n-word, that was hurtful and racist" or when someone shouts "go back to China chink!" From a car to someone walking."

Again, Hanlan's Razor and empathy are the mantras. Who made the insult?

Was it a grouchy old man? There are people alive still, who lived during periods of real institutional racism. That term has been misused a bit of late - watered down, but during world war two there was genuine institutional racism. People of Japanese descent and German descent were interred in camps (POW camps, for all practical purposes) throughout America. They were "the enemy." (Refer back to my comments in the second post about our natural tendency to categorize and gather the herd). And as the enemy, who we were at war with, we also applied a... let's call it a coping mechanism. In order to suppress that little voice (conscience, holy ghost, the light of Christ, the spirit...) that whispers that killing other people is wrong, we do things to dehumanize them. Terms like "jap", "nip", "jerry", "kraut" came into fashion. The media churned out all kinds of programs, including children's cartoons, which present them as dumb, vile, or both. After World war II came the cold war, and we switched to "ruskies", "chinks", "charlie", "commies"...

There are some for whom those habits are deeply ingrained you may not be able to do much other than show them kindness, feel pity for them (They are as addicted to their fear and hate, as an alcoholic is to his whiskey bottle, and they will quite likely die with that burden). Explain this to your children, so they can develop a better understanding of the horrible toll war takes on people. Be kind to them if you can (sometimes it works). That failing (avoid them if practical). Failing that, notify the authorities if absolutely necessary.

What if it is a youth, or a teen? Youth today have not experience real institutional racism. While it is possible the youth has learned and is evoking real racism, it is actually more likely what they are actually exhibiting is plain old-fashioned bullying. Race just happened to be a convenient target, which provided sufficient shock value. How do you deal with it? You treat it as what it is; bullying. Bullying is bad, it doesn't matter if the victim is black, Chinese, handicapped, female... or a white male. It is always wrong. It is always bad. Deal with it accordingly.

If you can have a (polite) conversation with that youth, or that youths parents, perhaps you will find that the behavior came as the result of said youth getting bad information from somewhere, and you may be able to correct that issue peacefully (refer to "My Experience With Religious Persecution" for an example). The key is to let go of your assumptions, your biases, and engage empathy and attempt to understand where the behavior is coming from, then (and only then) you can hope to respond appropriately (Another Mantra which you should commit to memory, which may help with this "People almost never do things TO others, they do thing FOR themselves").

If you run into the "It's just kids being kids" talk, repeat to yourself. "It used to be that way, but we are better than that now." (Another use of positive affirmation). It might be worth saying it out loud too.

What if that fails? Then take it to appropriate authorities. What if said authorities don't take it seriously (for instance if a boy is the victim of racial slurs and death threats, and the school officials decide a couple days suspension is sufficient)? Take it to the next level of authorities (This may be necessary at times, in a case like the a well meaning official who is a friend of the family, may fail to recuse himself, and may feel compelled to let the boy of easy so as not to "ruin his future" Hanlan's Razor is once again at work. Said official fails to understand that he is setting the bully up for future, and more damaging- failure.

It may seem from that last paragraph that we got to the same place with considerably more work on our part. But there is a very significant difference. We gave the offender every chance to make a course correction. We made it easier for them to make that correction by NOT feeding their desire for attention, or their potential misplaced fear, or their potential misconception that the world is out to get them. ( I wish I could find a Garfield comic I remember seeing as a teen to sick here. It shows Garfield standing behind Odie, thinking about all the means things Odie MIGHT do to him. It ends with Garfield clobbering poor, oblivious Odie and then proclaiming "I hit him back first!").

Will this complete fix every person in America? No, people are people (Depeche Mode reference). However, presently, Active, card caring white supremacists make up less than one one-hundredth of one percent of the population. They are irrelevant. One the other hand. Polls indicate that roughly 9% of Americans are... on the fence... (and that number represents a roughly 17% increase from 2014, according to some polls) leaning in favor of white supremacist views. Would you rather continue to have "Hard conversations", continue to berate them over their "privilege", continue to make them feel attacked, continue to drive them to "Circle the wagons", continue to push them form borderline to violent... Or would you rather show them a better way. Invite them to be part of a truly inclusive world? A world were the insignificant majority simply has no voice;  are no more than 'that crazy guy on the corner' that the world pities, but ultimately ignores, until they simply fade into the background.

Don't write this off as psycho-mumbo jumbo, or new-age, crystals and snake oil nonsense. There is a considerable body of psychological, and Neuroscience research to back the efficacy of affirmations (I will list a few below.

And I won't pretend this will be easy, we aren't at the baseline image I offered up in the second post, we have let the Natural man run the show for a while, we have a bit of ground to make up. But it is achievable. But it is your choice. Continue to focus on the future you fear, or begin to focus on the future you desire.

Self-Affirmations Can Boost Performance, Study Shows

Brain Scans Can Help Explain Why Self-Affirmation Works

The Psychology of Change: Self-Affirmation and Social Psychological Intervention

Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Moore's Law part 2: Whether You Want it or Not...

In my previous post, I proposed a methodology for solving America's social problems, based on the concept of Moore's Law.

The reality It will happen, whether you choose to actively, consciously try to apply it or not.

But it probably won't go the way you want it to. Let me try to explain with a few, poorly made diagrams (My prose isn't great, my artistry is considerably worse).

Let's use police violence as an example. First a baseline...

[This is really just two bell curves - one rating people, the other rating police - with respect to their relationship to one another. The upper (positive) end of the two has been removed as it is not relevant to the visualization. The people curve has been mirrored, and they have been linked at their intersection ("Basically Good").]

Now, there is an event- a police shooting. For one reason or another, it seems questionable. Maybe it was a sociopath who somehow managed to make it onto the force, maybe it was an officer with insufficient training who made a bad call, maybe it was a person who was committing suicide by cop, maybe it was a punk with an attitude who assaulted the officer.

It is difficult to tell, even by those closest to the event. Friends and family often tend to think the best of the individual question, and assume the other is to blame. Such events often happen so quickly, that everything is reaction, and the brain tries to piece together the "truth" after the fact.

In the absence of intentional control over our response, the natural response tends to go something like the image below. Those who are already predisposed to distrust or dislike the police will "Blow up the internet" with op-ed's, memes, angry rhetoric about those "jack-booted thugs". There may even be intimations of violence ("Pigs in a blanket! Fry 'em like bacon!"). The message will be generalized. In return, the police will respond naturally by "Circling the wagons". They will band together to protect each other. They will be wary, more distrusting.

There will be a migration, due to the divisive rhetoric.

There will be more events, more anger, more violence - both by, and against police.

And the cycle will continue, hollowing out the "basically good". This is the natural progression - the default behavior of "the natural man". It is the survival mechanism of the brain. We sense danger, we categorize (skin, color, religion, uniform, political party), we gather the herd...

But we humans are gifted with a greater capacity for reason. We have the capacity to ascend beyond basic instinctual thought. We can choose instead to say "This was a bad thing that happened. Let's work together to understand the truth of the events, and then respond appropriately". We have the ability to distinguish the individual from the race/religion. We have the ability to CHOOSE to apply a laser focus to an instance of bad behavior, and still respect, even embrace the "others".

We have to choose.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Moore's Law as a Model for Solving America's Social Problems

In 1965 Gordon Moore,, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel made a prediction regarding the exponential improvement of the microprocessor. He stated the number of transistors in an integrated circuit would double approximately every two years.

What was particularly interesting was that Moore had virtually no data from which to extrapolate this prediction. That law has held true for 50 years. But it wasn't because of some natural order on the universe. It wasn't some mere chance that Moore's prediction has held true.

Moore's law become a target which the industry strove to achieve. Brilliant minds worked at a feverish pace, constantly searching for new innovations which would allow them to MAKE Moore's law hold true. It was a sort of manifest destiny for the semiconductor industry.

And oh how we have benefited from that drive to fulfill Moore's prophecy! The amazing gadgetry, the advances in healthcare, travel, communication.... nearly every facet of our lives has been improved because the of ever more capable processors which were innovated to meet the demands of Moore's law.

This idea, this methodology is not unique to this one use case. The concept is known by many other names: Positive affirmations, The law of attraction, "Fake it 'till you make it"... self-fulfilling prophecy...

It works. It is one of the first concepts I wrote about when I started this blog (String Button Mind Magic).

So why don't we use it more often? Why don't we use the methodology to fix some of America's social challenges? Instead of constantly going on about "White Privilege", "Institutional racism", "Police brutality", "Illegal Immigrants".... (Which doing so, according the the above mentioned methodology, will tend to lead to increased racism, increased brutality...), focus instead on the goal?

"America is unified", "Police are generally excellent!", "People of religion x are good people!"

Say it. Believe it. Act it. Say "high" to a police officer every chance you get. Introduce yourself. Get to know them by name, and address them by name. Invite them to your neighborhoods. Invite them to neighborhood events. Talk with them about what you can do to help them do their job more safely and effectively.

When someone says something that could potentially be misconstrued as racial (remember the lawyer who said the California DMV was a black hole, and the black judge got offended because he thought the lawyer was making a racial slur?)., assume they did so innocently, ignorantly. Unless it absolutely needs to be corrected, let it go. If it simply must be corrected, do so privately, kindly.

Assume that most people are good at heart. frazzled perhaps, overwhelmed perhaps, afraid of change, and the unknown... But good at heart. Assume that you can talk rationally, keep your cool, listen to each other, understand one another's perspective, and then work to find an out of the box solution that works for both sides.Assume that you can find a way to co-exist. More than co-exist. Cooperate.

Sure, it will be hard at first. We have spent years practicing at hateful, unyielding, standing our ground, holding firm in our "righteous cause". Stick with it. It will get easier, we will get better at it, and given time, miracles will occur.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Mormon Misconceptions: Heaven

One day 3 dear friends passed peacefully from this life to the next., and found themselves standing before St. Peter at the pearly gates.

"Welcome to heaven! Are you ready for the grand tour?" he greeted them warmly. Then he directed them to a golf cart waiting nearby.

Once all were seated, St. Pete summoned an angel who took the driver's seat and off they went.

Up a beautiful, gold brick street they drove, winding their way among gentle hills covered with the greenest grass, the most beautiful flowers the friends had ever seen!

Around the next bend, they came to a large open field covered with picnic blankets and filled with happy people who were chatting, and children who were playing and laughing... They waved to the passengers of the golf cart and the passengers waved back.

"Those are the Baptists" the tour guide remarked.

Further down the road they came across another group, happily singing and dancing.

"The Pentecostals." The angel reported. Another exchange of greetings occurred.

Further still they found a large pavilion filled with people enjoying an afternoon meal together. They paused briefly from their pleasantries to greet the newcomers.

"That would be the Lutherans."

On they went, passing and exchanging greetings with the Methodists, the Catholics, The Seventh day Adventists.

Then quite suddenly the cart slowed to a crawl, and the guide motioned for silence. Ever so quietly, the group passed a large, well lit house from which emanated singing, talking and laughter, while the occupants of the cart hardly dared breath.

Finally, they passed the house and the cart zoomed ahead again. One of the passenger queried "What was that about?"

The angel replied, "Those are the Mormons. They think they are the only ones here."

I heard that joke while on my mission. From a Minister of a nondenominational Christian church. I didn't find it particularly humorous then. Sadly. It was not an entirely inaccurate description of my perception at the time.

I think Mormons often forget something rather crucial. Probably has something to do with all that talk about perfection, and then somehow, we merge that thought with secular schools and grading.

We start out on the right path - John 14:2, "In my Father's house are many mansions". But then we start thinking about school grades, and conclude that any grade lower than A+ is a failing grade.

I remember a good analogy I heard, and repeated, but somehow missed the point. Say you are a biker, you have an awesome Harley, you love to ride that bike. You love to work on that bike. Now, say you show up at a big shiny mansion, all gold and silver and glass. Everyone is dressed up in Tuxedos and ball gowns, eating little finger sandwiches and drinking from crystal goblets. And here you are in your Leathers, grease on your hands, maybe a spot or two of dirt and grease on your face... Would you feel comfortable? Probably not, you'd probably prefer to hop back on your bike, drive down the street to the local greasy spoon diner, and talk shop with the other bikers.

The analogy is actually excellent, you go where you are comfortable, where you are happy, but somehow, in our narrow, Darwinian model minds, we conclude that everyone wants to be at the palace, and the only reason you are going to the diner is you didn't qualify for the palace. Only A+ is a passing grade...

But, Doctrine and Covenants Section 76 tells us about those "many mansions", and in verse 89 it notes that even the lowest of those mansions, referred to as the telestial - final destination for liars, adulterers, murderers, who choose not to accept gospel of Jesus Christ (verse 82) - the glory of it "surpasses all understanding." It is still glorious! It is glorious beyond human comprehension!

So, in reality, the Mormon perspective on heaven is actually one of the most inclusive. You don't even have to accept Jesus Christ, you just have to not knowingly, willfully reject him.

So, just like in school B, C and D are also passing grades. Now, that doesn't mean you shouldn't give your best effort. It does however suggest you might want to make an effort to be kind to those people you are so smugly certain have a seat in the proverbial hand-basket. They just might be your neighbor... for... a very... very... long time...

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Greatest Threat to Mormonism

In February a visiting speaker to our Sacrament meeting told us of a tradition he has of reading the entire Book of Mormon in the month of March (He calls it 'March Madness', my wife renamed it March Holiness, because somehow Madness and the word of God just didn't seem sensible together.)

I typically read the Book of Mormon cover to cover every one to two years, I try to take my time and digest little bits. I was intrigued by his challenge, and decided to give it a go. There really is something about compressing the timeline - you see things differently. I guess it is sort of like the difference between walking through the trees and flying over the forest. A very different perspective allows you to see things in an entirely different light.

For me, the rapid read called greater attention to the infamous 'pride cycle'. I noticed several details I had not really caught before.

For those not familiar the pride cycle is a repeating pattern of behavior documented in the Book of Mormon. The people would be righteous for a time. God would bless them and they would become very prosperous. Then the people would become prideful, and would turn to sin, and Then there were wars, famines, pestilence, etc... This would cause the people to become humble, they would turn to God again, and would become righteous again, And then the cycle would repeat. righteous -> prosperous -> prideful -> wicked -> "cursed" -> repeat.

People tend to treat this as a purely religious thing, that God directly, actively blessed the people when they were attentive to God, and then he directly, actively cursed the people when they weren't attentive. This cycle does't really require a deity in order for it to hold. In Christianity we call it the "Law of the Harvest", or "you reap what you sow", Ironically, the secular world tends to favor the less pragmatic, more spiritually rooted term "Karma".  But the fact is, this cycle is quite natural. Plant corn seed and  you will get corn. Not apples, not peas, not oats... corn. It is so common sense. It works that way in human endeavor as well, though not quite so quickly, nor always so easily observed. But those who pay attention can see it.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
    - Martin Luther King Jr.

In other words, God doesn't have to be nearly as directly involved in the process as some suggest. It is simply the nature of the world. Why does this matter? It changes how we perceive God. He is not a meddler, he is not arbitrarily doling out blessings and punishments for our every act, like an overly diligent dog trainer. God is our Father. Our Father who loves us unconditionally, who wants us to be happy, who wants us to have blessings, who is eager to bless us, who has given us direction how to live "after the manner of happiness" (2 Nephi 5:27). And who then lets us live as we choose.

Okay hang onto those two framework ideas (pride cycle, nature of God's relation to people,). And pressing forward...

What really stood out to me with the rapid reading was the consistent thread which represented the starting point of the downfall of the Church.

The key elements which repeated every time were:
Focusing on the "fine things of the world"
Abandoning/neglecting the poor

Here are a few verses for reference...


2 Nephi 28

13 They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up.

Jacob 2

13 And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.

20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken unto you concerning pride; and those of you which have afflicted your neighbor, and persecuted him because ye were proud in your hearts, of the things which God hath given you, what say ye of it?

Alma 1

22 Nevertheless, there were many among them who began to be proud, and began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows; yea, they would smite one another with their fists.

Alma 5

55 Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?

Alma 60

16 Yea, had it not been for the war which broke out among ourselves; yea, were it not for these king-men, who caused so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, at the time we were contending among ourselves, if we had united our strength as we hitherto have done; yea, had it not been for the desire of power and authority which those king-men had over us; had they been true to the cause of our freedom, and united with us, and gone forth against our enemies, instead of taking up their swords against us, which was the cause of so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, if we had gone forth against them in the strength of the Lord, we should have dispersed our enemies, for it would have been done, according to the fulfilling of his word.

Helaman 4

12 And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites—

Helaman 6

39 And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God.

40 And thus we see that they were in an awful state, and ripening for an everlasting destruction.

3 Nephi 6
10 But it came to pass in the twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions;

11 For there were many merchants in the land, and also many lawyers, and many officers.

12 And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.

13 Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God.

14 And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up...

4 Nephi 1

24 And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.

25 And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.

26 And they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ.


Nonmembers weren't a significant threat to the periods of prosperity. 3 Nephi 28 speaks of the disciples - after Christ's visit to the Americas - baptizing people (clearly there were nonmembers to be baptized), and being thrown into pits and furnaces, clearly there were nonmembers who didn't like the church. Earlier there were cases where the wicked kingdoms attacked, were soundly defeated and then the people enjoyed years of peace.

The Gadianton robbers weren't a significant threat. For those who aren't Mormons this referred to criminal groups comparable to everything today from Drug cartels to Mafia to Illuminatii-esque groups who manipulated governments, assassinated political leaders, etc... The Gadianton robbers were only able to gain power when the people were prideful and contentious.

The times when the church was at risk, when prosperity was lost, always started with the members withholding help from the poor. Turing their back on those who needed help. Getting in verbally abusive arguments or physical fights with those who held different views. Excluding those who look different, dress different...

I direct this toward Mormonism because, well... I am drawing form the book of Mormon, but in reality this applies to any belief, any society actually (refer back to my framework comments).

The problem with pride.. it is so easy to miss it in ourselves. I find I can slip from self-reliant to selfish in the mere blink of an eye.

And it is so easy to look to Book of Mormon heroes like Captain Moroni, want  to emulate their stalwart, direct action against evil... And it is easy to forget Captain Moroni fought Invaders, not immigrants. He fought against usurpers who overthrew the government, not the government (and at a time when they were already fighting a war against an attacking force. It is also easy to forget hw never fought for longer or took more lives than was necessary, and was always ready to let go any who would throw down their weapons and promise never to attack again).  It is easy to get "caught up in the moment", not even realize you've taken a step sideways...

“Most of the bad guys in the real world don't know that they are bad guys. You don't get a flashing warning sign that you're about to damn yourself. It sneaks up on you when you aren't looking.” 
― Jim Butcher 

It is hard to consistently remember to look inward and ask "is it I?" (Matthew 26:22)

And yet, that is always where it starts...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

American Healthcare Reform?

The recent republican healthcare debacle has had me thinking about my views on healthcare - what it should look like, and how it should work.

As always. I think I am somewhere in the middle.

No child should have to go without basic healthcare.

That just seems basic, common sense to me. How could semi-civilized human being refuse basic care for a child, just because his parents decided to spend their money foolishly? Or abandoned said child altogether?

From an economic perspective, a few dollars of prevention now could save thousands of dollars later. So at least for children, universal healthcare seems like a no-brainer.

But what about  the rest of healthcare? Certainly it would seem there are some places for cost savings. imagine if victims of automobile accidents were covered by a universal plan. Considerable savings could be found in avoiding all the legal back and forth that goes on in our current system. We would pay for the cost of recovery from the accident, instead of that AND the salaries of the several lawyers involved AND the bevy of insurance claim handlers AND the extra "pain and suffering" damages that are frequently awarded AND...

What about terminal diseases? Or Chronic illness? Those are just plain expensive. Those are what insurance was really about, back on the 'good old days'. Everyone paid into a community chest, just in case. The money was then available for the poor unlucky soul (That is a lottery you really don't want to win). In theory one much larger pot would be more efficient and effective than lots of little ones, right?

But... What if someone gets emphysema as a result of chain-smoking in spite of all the health warnings? What if someone gets diabetes and a flood of related illness because he just flat-out refused to stop drinking 64 oz. of mountain dew and inhaling a box of Twinkies every day? Is it really fair to those who try to take care of themselves, that they have to pay in more than is actually necessary because of members of the population who don't take precautions?

I suppose you could try going all New York and ban every potentially harmful substance ($114 Billion annually for alcohol related accidents based on numbers from 2000. You ready to try prohibition again?)

What about coverage for abortion? Birth control? No matter where you draw that line you are going to make some group very unhappy, and infringe on someone's religious/civil rights.

What about cosmetic surgery? Breast implants, or I understand calf implants are the rage among men. No? What about in the case of breast cancer? What about those born with disfigurements? How "disfigured"?

What about ageing?

The problem with paying for healthcare, it can consume essentially as much money as you are willing to give it. It has an infinitely large appetite. And we are getting better and better and keeping a corpse mostly alive. Sooner or later, you have to start drawing lines - some of those lines people will draw for themselves, based on quality of life, some don't want to be a financial burden to their kids. Others, well.... Who do you want making that decision for you? Obama? Trump? Whoever the next guy happens to be?

I'm inclined to think there are some aspects of healthcare which are a easy yes for a universal system. Preventative care, Child healthcare. Emergency care (Though perhaps in the case of self inflicted due to crime or blatant stupidity, they would be required to reimburse).

Others are less clear, and perhaps would be better served by old fashioned insurance, or voluntary, charitable contributions.

But, even though I am inclined toward socialized care for some things, I still have one concern which gives me considerable hesitation.

That concern is the money. Specifically, who manages it? Consider for a moment our Social Security system.  It is meant to be a safety net for retirement. It is in trouble, in part because the old are living longer and the supply of young is slowing. It is also in trouble because the government keeps raiding those funds to use for... other projects.

Healthcare is a REALLY big number. A number from which literally millions of dollars a year could get lost as rounding errors (I have enough experience with large corporations to know that this is not an exaggeration). In 2011 I wrote a post titled "A Case For a King". I think it applies.  When I consider the kinds of things well meaning people have demonstrated they are willing to do for the sake of "The greater good"... (let me refer you to "The Lucifer Effect", "Edward Snowden", "MKUltra" as a bit of reading material.)

The problem with things like money and power, the more you give up, the harder it is to reclaim them. And sooner or later someone will end up in charge, that you don't want there....

That said. I am still on board with the idea of socializing certain aspects of healthcare. So long as it is a separate accounting book, fully exposed to the public, with crowdsourced/consensus management.

Then insurance can go back to covering the outlier issues, with different rates and solutions based on individual risk and  personal preferences and needs. With government regulation of this insurance limited to basic fair business practices and anti-monopolistic behaviors (possibly some reigning in of excessive litigiousness?). It seems to me that would help considerably with cost of basic care, while maintaining a relatively high degree of choice, flexibility, and freedom.