Conservatism Conserves What?

When I was in junior high I learned about conservatives and liberals. What confused me most was that few of the ideas on either side seemed to have anything to do with the monikers ascribed to those who held them.
As I got older, I converted to Christianity and found several conservative political positions to line up with my emerging moral consciousness. But I also found several of them to abhorrent. I found pro-life positions to be based on sound philosophical reasoning. I also found prisons to seem counter care for your countrymen. And I found the non-coercion of the free market to make sense as well. Having fallen people tell other fallen people what they could or could not sell (or buy) just didn’t make sense. (those are my high school and early college reasonings).
As a kid I remembered feeling awkward around my more conservative friends because the punk-rock I listened to was really critical of the war in Iraq and I agreed with it. During Bush’s presidency, I remembered thinking that the privacy intrusions of the government and the reticence to do anything about abortion showed that conservatives meant neither to conserve human life nor the constitoooshun.
Lately,  I’ve realized how little conservatives care to conserve. I’ve even considered that republican rallying for the pro-life movement is merely a way to get elected. Edward Feser put it excellent about seven years ago here:
Stage 1: “Mark my words: if the extreme left had its way, they’d foist X upon us! These nutjobs must be opposed at all costs.”

Stage 2: “Omigosh, now even thoughtful, mainstream liberals favor X! Fortunately, it’s political suicide.”
Stage 3: “X now exists in 45 out of 50 states. Fellow conservatives, we need to learn how to adjust to this grim new reality.”
Stage 4: “X isn’t so bad, really, when you think about it. And you know, sometimes change is good. Consider slavery…”
Stage 5: “Hey, I was always in favor of X! You must have me confused with a [paleocon, theocon, Bible thumper, etc.]. But everyone knows that mainstream conservatism has nothing to do with those nutjobs…”

My own thought is that being conservative generally means conserving social credit by trying to get people to think you’re a moderate. Christians do this, too. “Those other Christians are bad, please like me now.” I think I used to do it, too. Seminary trains you to want approval from non-Christians. Seminary professors I know are especially like this. One of them is so condescending, even to people to whom he used to be a pastor, it’s difficult to imagine that he ever called himself a Christian. But all of it seems to be a way to get people to realize that he’s not like all those low iq rednecks.

Even when conservatives claim to be using logic rather than rhetoric to make arguments against this or that idea or candidate, the same logic is applicable against them. Heck, I’ve heard conservatives rail against the tendency of populist movements to appeal to the poor and if anybody appeals to the poor they should be ignored. But that’s precisely part of Jesus’ appeal in the ancient world. Conservatives, in their effort to get people to see them as “not like those other conservatives” will make up principles to which they’ve never held. One senator recently said that he didn’t think conservatives should look at wikileaks materials because it might happen to conservatives one day. In other words, “It’s bad for politicians to be forced into transparency.” No moral principle such as privacy was evoked, but merely interest in power. Elsewhere, on Twitter, I’ve observed allegedly “family values” folks ask Ann Coulter (who never claims to be Couth) disturbingly personal sex questions. Similarly, I’ve seen articles by conservatives about how people who live in flyover communities deserve to die (despite the fact that bad trade deals supported by conservatives sent their jobs overseas).

I’m not even sure my ideology has a name, but whatever I am, I’m not conservative by any widely accepted definition.

Wisdom Wedneday: Wisdom for Leadership from the Wisdom of Solomon

A lot of people want to be in leadership roles just like a lot of people want to be a body builder.

But the problem is that very few people want to put in the work necessary to be a good leader, nor the work necessary to be a big bodybuilder.

To be a good leader one needs to:

  1. Have a picture for how things can be better.

  2. Be good at following (treat others as you wish to be treated)

  3. Have wisdom for accomplishing the necessary tasks.

The author of the Wisdom of Solomon caught on to the fact that many people want to be leaders but do not want to put any of the work in that would make them fit for the task. And indeed, leaders, because they’re supposed to know these things are more accoutnable for these failures. And not only so, but Christian leaders are supposed to have plans that lead to the good as prescribed by God and discovered by reason.

Wis 6:1-6 (Brenton) Hear therefore, O ye kings, and understand; learn, ye that be judges of the ends of the earth. (2) Give ear, ye that rule the people, and glory in the multitude of nations. (3) For power is given you of the Lord, and sovereignty from the Highest, who shall try your works, and search out your counsels. (4) Because, being ministers of his kingdom, ye have not judged aright, nor kept the law, nor walked after the counsel of God; (5) Horribly and speedily shall he come upon you: for a sharp judgment shall be to them that be in high places. (6) For mercy will soon pardon the meanest: but mighty men shall be mightily tormented.

Later in the chapter, the author observes that those who want to be wise must set themselves to the task to honoring (treating as valuable) wisdom so that they might actually prolong their leadership.

Wis 6:21 (Brenton) If your delight be then in thrones and sceptres, O ye kings of the people, honour wisdom, that ye may reign for evermore.

But how are leaders to find wisdom? What does it mean for a leader to honor wisdom?

Wis 6:12-14 (Brenton) Wisdom is glorious, and never fadeth away: yea, she is easily seen of them that love her, and found of such as seek her. (13) She preventeth them that desire her, in making herself first known unto them. (14) Whoso seeketh her early shall have no great travail: for he shall find her sitting at his doors.

The idea here is this, for those who love wisdom, it’s easy to find. But it’s hard to find wisdom at first. But, if you do the difficult task of waking up early to study, meditate, pray, and plan then wisdom comes easily and as a matter of course.

I would say that any leader (teacher, parent, pastor, manager) should wake up early enough to grow in wisdom each day before setting about to work.

Tips for Rhetoric from Hypnosis

When I was in highschool, I found a little red book on hypnosis in my school library. I flipped through the pages, saw a section on inducing sleep states, and read it. When I was a kid I always struggled to sleep. The method in the book, though it was meant for trained psychiatrists to utilize on patients worked swimmingly. I used to have very few good nights of sleep. After reading those few short paragraphs, I found myself having few nights of bad sleep. The change was remarkable.

Anyway, I was at a used book store Monday night and happened upon the exact same book. Out of nostalgia I bought it. I actually read it this time. It’s a neat primer on the state of hypnosis in therapy and for public performance at the time of its writing.

One of the chapter titles is “Rules of Thought.” It’s a compelling chapter and remarkably similar to William James’ remarks on hypnosis in his magnum opus Principles of Psychology. Anyway, I think of hypnosis as just individualized rhetoric for therapy purposes so I thought I would show the “rules of thought” from the chapter and give brief thoughts on how they can be used to the art and science of persuasion:1

  1. Every thought or idea causes a physical reaction.

    On the face of it this is true as our brains do things when we think. Not only so, but our thoughts often come from sensations, all of which are physical in nature. Even further, though, if you think thoughts about previous experiences, emotions associated with them will often occur. With those emotions, the associated physical symptoms will happen. I can think of specific times I have felt great anger and my heartrate increases. This is important for rhetoric for several reasons, but mostly just that our anthropology typically functions as a data based system: I give people facts, they process them, then their minds make their bodies act accordingly. Aristotle knew this didn’t work. In reality, advertising is so effective precisely because advertisers know that, whether our minds are immaterial or not, our bodies are physical and the needs and experiences of the body typically determine human action.

  2. The expected sensation tends to be realized.

    When I was a Greek student, we were told that “the fog” would occur. This is some time period wherein everything is confusing and everybody is confused. I was only in the fog until I memorized my verb endings. But many people who did this felt confused about easy to understand concepts. Why? I think they were told to expect it. I’ve taught Greek to high school students using the same college text books. I never mention “the fog” and nobody ever complains of confusion beyond their own failure to study or coming across a particularly difficult sentence. Indeed, a friend who works as a draftsman learned Greek with no fog whatsoever.

  3. Imagination is more potent than knowledge when dealing with the mind of another; or: Imagination of the audience is more potent than his knowledge…Imagination is more powerful than reason.

    Jesus used loads of images to insult the Pharisee’s way of life. If he had just said, “they do bad things.” Nobody would have remembered and the Pharisees themselves would have just ignored him. The visceral reactions to Jesus’ teachings seemed to stem from not only their obvious truth but the imagery used to grip people.

  4. Only one idea can be entertained in the mind at the same time. Corollary: Conflicting ideas cannot be held at one and the same time.

    Moving from idea to idea in a speech before people grasp what was said can be very damaging to your persuasiveness. Also, people may become nervous and uncomfortable hearing things that don’t match up with their accepted worldview. We don’t “entertain” our worldview, so much as base our lives upon it. But when people try to entertain a new idea for the purpose of possibly believing it, great anxiety can occur if it conflicts with the beliefs upon which they base their lives or imagine they base their lives. Because of this, great gentleness is necessary in a speech or conversation when helping somebody see a truth which they have yet to grasp personally. This might be why scientific consensus seems to change as a previous generation of scientists dies.

  5. An idea, once accepted, tends to remain until replaced by another idea or is forgotten. And: Once an idea has been accepted, there is opposition to replacing it with a new idea.

    This is relatively similar to what came before.

  6. An imagined condition tends to become real if persisted in long enough. Or: A mental attitude tends to reflect itself in the body structure and the physical condition.

    The Greek fog above? This is it. But it goes further. I’m not sure if you can convince people to become well of physical problems. Although, John Sorno’s book on back pain uses psychotherpeutic methods to alleviate back pain and the book has a tremendously positive reception on Amazon. I’ve had power-lifters with physical back damage recommend it to me because they said after doing what it said, they stopped having back pain. The book of Psalms does mention a similar reality as well, “Psa 16:8-9 ESV I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. (9) Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.” The Psalmist’s personal experience is feeling physically well in response to practicing God’s presence. Obviously, “mind over matter” is not always true. Perhaps it isn’t ever true. But there is an element of persuasion that involves observing people’s outer posture and attitudes in order to see if a different form of verbiage is necessary to convince them of an idea due to their positive/negative frames of mind.

  7. A suggestion once followed tends to create less and less opposition to successive suggestions. (halo effect).

    In persuasion you build ethos/credibility with people after you persuade them of something. This is just true. I’ve heard it called, though I don’t remember where, the halo effect. This is dangerous for pastors or radio hosts because your research can get sloppy in direct response to the level of trust people put in you. I suppose it can also happen with parents. Authorty carries great responsibility, especially if that authority includes, of necessity, persuasion.



1  James T McBrayer, The Key to Hypnotism Simplified. (New York: Bell Pub. Co., 1956), 113-136

Reference Group Theory and Stupid Economic Inferences

In a NYT article examining the increasing death rates among white males, it was concluded that:

Reference group theory explains why people who have more may feel that they have less. What matters is to whom you are comparing yourself. It’s not that white workers are doing worse than African-Americans or Hispanics.

In the fourth quarter of 2015, the median weekly earnings of white men aged 25 to 54 were $950, well above the same figure for black men ($703) and Hispanic men ($701). But for some whites — perhaps the ones who account for the increasing death rate — that may be beside the point. Their main reference group is their parents’ generation, and by that standard they have little to look forward to and a lot to lament.

While there may be something to reference group theory (we feel depressed if we don’t measure up to our ideal…in this case our parents’ level of prosperity), the interesting thing is how easily the author treats people as aggregates. This is the same problem that occurs when using GDP as a measure of economic prosperity. Increased GDP may come along with massive decreases in individual wealth among 60-90% of a population. Similarly,  looking how the median earnings of white men doesn’t tell you what the modal earnings are, nor the earnings amongst the specific people who are dead or addicted to drugs.

I would observe that the “a lot to lament” comment, while likely true in the aggregate doesn’t necessarily work as a causal explanation for the increased deaths. For instance, BMI has increased in white populations, as has divorce, as have feelings of disconnectedness with their communities and political representative. Not only so, but the individuals who died may have had income significantly lower than the median income for white males in their age range. The fact of the matter is that unless you’re looking at the specific people who died or who are engaging in behaviours that contribute to likely deaths, there is simply nothing but a fuzzy correlation between median income and deaths.

I mean, the article compares the income rates of all while men (see above) to the death rates of white men with less education but with no reference to income:

The economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton reported in December that rates have been climbing since 1999 for non-Hispanic whites age 45 to 54, with the largest increase occurring among the least educated.

People think so much in terms of aggregates, that they don’t even look at the specific causes. “White people make plenty of money according to mean income…so these people must be dying early because they long for the income levels of their parents.” The article should have said, “reference group theory should be looked into as a cause for suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and other factors leading to increased early mortality based on this apparent correlation.”

Anyway, I think that the New York times is mostly read by people who want their friends to think they’re smart.

Science Fact of the Day: Good Charlotte was on to something

I haven’t done a science fact of the day lately. Work is time consuming. Don’t forget, science facts of the day are my thoughts on and descriptions of what scientists say. In other words, it’s a fact that some scientists have said it. What I write is not necessarily a fact of nature nor something I even take to be the case.

In an article at Big Think, an author describes this analysis of online dating data.

Here are some pieces of the original article:

We examine the impact of a user’s weight on his or her outcomes by means of the body mass index (BMI), which is a height adjusted measure of weight.18 Figure 5.5 shows that for both men and women there is an “ideal” BMI at which success peaks, but the level of the ideal BMI differs strongly across genders. The optimal BMI for men is about 27. According to the American Heart Association, a man with such a BMI is slightly overweight. For women, on the other hand, the optimal BMI is about 17, which is considered underweight and corresponds to the figure of a supermodel. A woman with such a BMI receives about 77% more first contact e-mails than a woman with a BMI of 25.

This is expected. Men with a slightly higher BMI probably have more muscle mass. And women whose BMI was so low in 2005 and prior (when the study was done) probably ran a lot.

Income strongly affects the success of men, as measured by the number of first contact e-mails received.

This makes sense. Dating with your self-interest in mind for women includes the well being of any children or potential children.  It would be stupid to not care about income and it’s not shallow for women to do so. A lot of people bristle at the fact that the silly song said “girls like cars and money” but the song writer was just observing facts. In a similarly “shallow” way, men prefered that women look attractive. But again, if the invisible hand of biology is operating, then men will probably be more interested in women they perceive (for good or bad reasons) to be fertile and potentially good mothers.

Anyway, the article interested me because I am asked by a lot of young men for dating advice. I usually tell them: seek first God’s kingdom (virtue is more important than marriage) but then make more money and get more muscles. The empirical data generally back up these observations. Another case in point would be the extremely annoying body builder at my old gym. Women would be repulsed by him at first (he’s too huge). But he’d mention, “My lambo” and suddenly the girl would end her work out and follow him around for his. My wife and I observed this well over a dozen times over the three years we went to the gym.* Now, I mentioned the “invisible hand of biology,” and this is real. But the fact is that relationships are more than biology, they just aren’t less than biology. Romance can transcend biology but you cannot subtract biology from it.

Here’s the song I mentioned:


*Incidentally, he tried flirting with her while she was doing deadlift. She simply said something terse like, “I’m working out.”


Interesting Reading

David Bentley Hart’s Reflections on the Early Christians
I don’t agree with everything he says here, but it does remind us of how powerful the rhetoric of the New Testament can be.

Amy Cuddy Reviews the Science of ‘Power Posing’ after unfair criticism
Cuddy’s research conclusions on endocrine and power posing seem like common sense to me. When I try to stand with better posture I feel more alert, less depressed, and more quick-witted.

Hypnosis and Health-Compromising Behaviours
This interesting review looks at the evidence for hypnosis techniques for weight-loss and overcoming nicotine addiction. If you’re interested in persuasion, weight loss, or clinical psychology I think you’ll appreciate it.

The Biblical Case for Limited Government
This is a cool little essay. The author, Yoram Hazony isn’t making the case that “on the authority of the Bible, we should adopt limited government.” Instead, he makes the case that the Bible is making a narrative philosophical case for the principles which lead to limited government. “The [Biblical] History wrestles with the question of whether there is a third option, which can secure a life of freedom for Israel, and for other nations as well. It teaches that there is such an option: A state that is not unlimited in principle, like the states of “all the nations” in the ancient Near East, but that seeks “the good and the right” by means of a system of dual legitimacy and a constitutional regime of restraint. This state must have rulers who understand that virtue emerges from limitation of the state’s borders, the size of its armies, its investment in foreign alliances, and its income. Only within these constraints will both the people and their king find a space in which the love of justice and of God that characterized the shepherds who were their forefathers can be rebuilt.”

Resistance Training is Medicine
This article by Wayne Westcott goes through the impressive evidence that strength training is, indeed, a panacea.


Bad News For Weight Gain: The Point of No Return

In report published last July researchers concluded that under the typical conditions of care for obese and overweight individuals that “current nonsurgical obesity treatment strategies are failing to achieve sustained weight loss for the majority of obese patients. For patients with a BMI of 30 or greater kilograms per meters squared, maintaining weight loss was rare and the probability of achieving normal weight was extremely low. Research to develop new and more effective approaches to obesity management is urgently required.(58)”

Thankfully the article isn’t purely deterministic. It ends on a more positive note, I recommend reading it. But the point is that once a certain threshold of weight gain is reached, it can be very difficult to reverse the process. Also, the data reveiwed was from the UK primary care databse. In other words, it doesn’t include people who see dieticians, personal trainers, or who take personal ownership of their own well-being through research and hard work. My doctor friends tell me that it is rare for patients to respond positively to non-surgical and non-prescription intervention recommendations. And there is some evidence that doctors often don’t tell patients that they are over-weight. The same article linked in the previous sentence indicates that many doctors to not feel compent to help patients lose weight and keep it off.

I typically reject deterministic points of view outright because of their tendency to force people to give up. The more positive note the article ends on is this, “the greatest opportunity for tackling the current obesity epidemic may be found outside primary care (58).”


Alison Fildes et al., “Probability of an Obese Person Attaining Normal Body Weight: Cohort Study Using Electronic Health Records,” American Journal of Public Health 105, no. 9 (July 16, 2015): 54–59.