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.

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.

 

References

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.

The Critical Mindset

One of the most powerful aspects of Christianity is how it provides an ideal: the character of Jesus Christ.

This provides individuals and communities with several opportunities:

  1. The opportunity to more fully apprehend this idea.
  2. The opportunity to compare oneself to the same ideal.
  3. The opportunity to take steps toward this idea through spiritual disciplines and acts of virtue.
  4. The opportunity to help others along the path to the ideal.

The danger is the development of the critical mindset. We can easily turn the sharp instrument of logic necessary for comparing ourselves to our understanding of Christ’s virtue into an instrument for apprehending the flaws of others.

The perception of the sinfulness of other people is a powerful asset in that it can keep us safe from wolves in sheep’s clothing. On the other hand it can lead to a disdain and distrust for those we perceive to fall too short, whether Christians or not.

My biggest moral failure, aside from a general idolatrous malaise, is my tendency to see the weakest and most shameful in somebody and instantly file it away as a weakness. I can think of dozens of circumstances in life wherein a disagreement lead to somebody insulting me, which allowed me to exploit said weakness in a vindictive and very hurtful way.

Some of you may know exactly what I’m talking about either because I’ve done it to you, you’ve seen me do it, or you or somebody you know does this. It’s an ugly way to live. I typically use this particular skill as a sour grapes thing. I’ve joked before when my friends move away (they inevitably do because I live in a town that is hated by most of its residents who find themselves unable to leave due to insufficient income and expensive housing costs) that I’ll “think of everything I can’t stand about them and then I won’t miss them.” This strategy actually works. I’ve done it. I’ve also used it to justify the end of a friendship whenever somebody hurts somebody I care about. I’ll just tell my wife the list of horrible things I’ve perceived about this person and say, “Yeah, we’d be better off not having them in our lives.”

Jesus says this:

Mat 7:1-5 ESV  “Judge not, that you be not judged. (2)  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (3)  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (4)  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? (5)  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Jesus’ brother puts it this way:

Jas 4:8-12 ESV Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (9) Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. (10) Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (11) Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. (12) There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

The critical mindset has to be turned inward before one ever judges a brother. And even then, when Jesus spoke of judging, he equated it with taking “the speck out of your brother’s eye.” For Jesus, judging without self-criticism is wrong. But more importantly, judging, to be rightly done, must be for the purposes of helping a brother not hurting them or condemning them.

Is Job by an “unreliable narrator”?

In church today we sang the song that repeats, “You give and take away.” And I suddently recalled that in the book of Job, right after Job says that the LORD gives and takes, the narrator says “Job did not…charge God with wrong.” Here is the passage:

Job 1:20-22 ESV Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. (21) And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (22) In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

And yet, when the LORD confronts Job toward the end of the book, the LORD says that Job did not sin, but he does accuse Job of charging him with wrong:

Job 40:1-2 ESV And the LORD said to Job: (2) “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Later in the story the LORD says that Job spoke rightly concerning him (Job 42:7).

The question, of course, is where? Where did Job do so? If the book of Job is in the genre of wisdom literature and it’s point is to, through story, make for philosophical discussion and to obliquely make a particular philosophical argument then it makes sense for the book to be like a riddle. Indeed, part of gaining wisdom is learning to understand the riddles of the wise (Proverbs 1:1-7). And the book of Job, it seems, fits into that category.

Anyway, I think that the book is trying to get the reader to decide between voices.

Evangelism and “The Neg”

When I worked at a coffee shop I observed a man in line make a rude comment and a woman who did not know him said, “There are ladies present.” He said, “Where?” She then spent the rest of her time in line explaining her lady-ness to him. Then she sat at his table. It blew my mind. I later learned from conversation with a co-worker to whom I explained this event that this is a flirting device known as “the neg.”

According to Dr. Jeremy Nicholson, there is a well known-mechanism for this guy’s success. Here’s his explanation of the research:

Walster (1965) investigated the influence of momentary self-esteem on receptivity to the romantic advances of a stranger. The researcher arranged for a group of female participants to interact with a male research assistant who flirted with them. The female participants were then given positive or negative personality test feedback. After their self-esteem was increased or decreased in that way, they were asked to rate their liking for the male research assistant.

The results of the study indicated that women who had their self-esteem temporarily lowered found the male research assistant significantly more attractive than the women with temporary high-self esteem. Walster (1965) theorized that this effect occurred for two reasons. First, individuals who feel “imperfect” themselves may demand less in a partner. Second, a person usually has an increased need for acceptance and affection when their self-esteem is low. Overall then, when an individual is made to feel “low”, they find potential romantic partners more attractive.

Research by Gudjonsson and Sigurdsson (2003) explored the relationship between self-esteem and compliance with requests. Both male and female participants were asked to complete various measures of self-esteem, compliance, and coping behaviors. The results of their analysis supported the hypothesis that individuals with lower self-esteem are more compliant and agreeable to the requests of others. Thus, lower self-esteem appears to lead to greater compliance with requests (or demands) as well.

Anyway, this reminds me of the version of evangelism which involves asking people this series of questions:

  1. Do you think you’re a good person?
  2. Have you ever lied?
  3. What do you call a liar?
  4. Have you ever coveted?
  5. Have you ever murdered? The Bible says that whoever hates his brother has committed murder.
  6. So you’re a lying covetous murder?
  7. Are you a good person?
  8. If God judged you on the last day, what would you have to say for yourself?

This puts the person experiencing this onslaught into a similar state of lowered self-esteem and may make them more willing to listen to the offer of mercy made by God on the cross.

I’m not opposed to using rhetoric to help people believe the gospel. Paul used it. The question is whether or not the rhetoric has substance behind it and whether or not it can help people come to believe the gospel is true rather than merely comply with the requests of a person who made them feel bad. I’m neither for nor against using this technique to evangelize. I just noticed the similarity when I was thinking about sweet and sour sauce today.

The Psychological Difficulty of 5-Point Calvinism

This isn’t an argument against Calvinism.

Nevertheless, a doctor friend once told me that the reason he couldn’t be a calvinist any more was that it stole his hope. He could, he reasoned, have no certainty that God wasn’t simply giving somebody the apparent gift of faith specifically in order to make them apostasize and have greater punishment in hell.

I think that the internal gymnatistic you have to go through in order to have positive hope as a Calvinist must be difficult. When I was still a Calvinist I just sort of puritanitcally thought, “Well, if God did that, I suppose it would be ok.”

But if you take things like Romans 9:10-29 as paradimatic:

Rom 9:10-29 ESV And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, (11) though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls– (12) she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” (13) As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (14) What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! (15) For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (16) So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (17) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (18) So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (19) You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (20) But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” (21) Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (22) What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, (23) in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory– (24) even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (25) As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.'” (26) “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.'” (27) And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, (28) for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” (29) And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.”

Then you’re forced to think, if you’re being consistent, “My faith very well may be fake.”

The reason for this can be found in Romans 11:16-25:

Rom 11:16-25 ESV If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. (17) But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, (18) do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. (19) Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” (20) That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. (21) For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. (22) Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (23) And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. (24) For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. (25) Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

But for the Calvinist the part above that says, “They were broken off because of their unbelief…” actually means “They had no faith because they were broken off…”

Your hope of receiving God’s grace comes not from “continuing in his kindness.” But rather from whether or not God secretly chose to make you do so.

I remember a sermon/podcast once wherein John Piper observed that highly analytical people gravitate toward Calvinism. But I would think that it’s more like to be people who either A) enjoy ambgiuity or B) have trouble detecting agency and therefore overcompensate by finding agency in every event.

There is research that indicates that individuals with high functioning autism tend toward atheism and the connection is made with their difficulty detecting agency. But as far as I know no research has been done connecting deterministic/free-will beliefs with autism.

Calvinist behavior online was, in the early days of the Internet, indistinguishable from Internet atheist behavior. And when 2009 rolled around and Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett made atheism cool again, it was remarkable how similarly the emboldened atheist behaviors were to Calvinists you’d run into at Christian retreats:

  1. Every discussion, no matter how unrelated, would turn into hostile proseltyzing.
  2. Any normal human concern no matter how sad, tragic, or recent would be brought up as evidence against God’s existence (atheists) or as something that “God did in order to show his glory to the select group of people in whose minds he already made his glory apparent.(Calvinists)”

Anyway, I think it’s best to let Romans 11 clarify what Romans 9 says rather than let Romans 9 be the background presupposition to Romans 11.

But there is also a difficulty for Arminians. For they may wonder, “What if I fall away at the last and my faith was for naught?” But Paul at least assumes this possibility and says, “So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.” But the point isn’t to say one of these positions is right or wrong here. But just to point out the personal difficulties that may occur in those who see Romans 9 as a paradigm for every individual person.