Day Two

So I’m only at day two, and already I’m really feeling the change of diet at the physical level. Yesterday and today both I have felt my energy level decrease quite a bit. What is new today is in the late afternoon my brain started to get what I’d call… muddled. Definitely not thinking as well as normal at the moment.

I was thinking about it today and I’m guessing that in following this diet I am likely to be doing the whole “ketosis” thing, though that wasn’t a conscious choice… my carb intake is certainly going to be low enough that it’s going to happen. I’d also assume that’s probably what it is that I’m feeling right now – the “keto flu” as they call it. The internet tells me it can last about a week – hopefully it’s not any longer than that. I do have some keto strips I bought awhile back when I was about to take a stab at the keto diet, so, I’ll have to check after awhile to see if I do in fact achieve ketosis.

Tomorrow morning I will also be adding in bulletproof coffee to the mix, as when I was using that before I was finding that I felt a lot more energetic – so I’m hoping that will offset this lack of energy. I would have liked to have remembered to do that this morning.

That’s it for day two – we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Day One

So for probably about a month now I’ve been plotting some sort of diet plan to get back to where I need to be weight and health-wise. I toyed around with a few ideas, and listened through Penn Jillette’s book on his weight loss, in which he did crazy things like eat nothing but potatoes for 2 weeks. Crazy things kind of appeal to me, but, his book isn’t really a how-to, and also the guy who I guess guided him through the diet doesn’t seem to have put out a book with his diet plan in it yet, so, while I’m sure I could use Penn’s book and the internet to piece together what to do, it would be a lot of work. Combine that with the fact that it leaves you on a vegetarian diet, and it really stops appealing to me at all anyway. Also, it’s questionable if getting such low protein and losing muscle along with fat is really a good thing (FWIW, Penn claims the muscle comes back fast after you finish the weight loss phase of the diet).

I also was recently listening to Jordan Peterson discuss his carnivore diet with Joe Rogan recently. So he’s literally only been eating meat. So that’s kind of crazy too. I thought about it briefly, but, again, there’s not really any evidence regarding how this will affect a person (as of the podcast I believe he hadn’t yet had bloodwork done since starting that diet). So, I’m not going to go quite that crazy.

Anyone who has listened to Joe Rogan on a regular basis will know that he typically promotes just eating meat and vegetables, which seems to me to be a pretty good place to “reset” a diet to, and that’s the one thing that I sort of got out of Penn Jillette’s book… that I need to sort of hit reset on my diet and how I relate to food.

I’ve known for awhile now that I have a bit of an unhealthy relationship with food… If I get sad, or stressed out, or have a bad day, that is where I tend to turn. Eating a cheeseburger and fries, or a pizza, or a donut, etc, will surely make me feel better. And I mean, they kind of do, at least for a bit. But I’ve also recognized that it’s self-defeating, as doing that long term will lead toward feeling kind of crappy.

Of course there’s also what is the typical American bad relationship with food, which is just sort of… “Hey, want to hang out? Better get a lot of food. Maybe some dessert and snacks too.” Any time anything good happens, we tend to celebrate with food. So if you eat crappy food when you’re sad, and you also eat it when you’re happy, you’re pretty much eating crappy food all the time. And so that’s why I need a reset. I’d like to get myself where I start to think of food as nothing more than what it is… sort of a “fuel”. I thing I need to survive. Not something to make me feel better, not something that I have when I’m celebrating. It’s just food.

And so my plan is this – For the next 90 days, starting today:

I will eat only meat and vegetables. I will allow most seasonings, butter, and some sauces  – as long as they’re very low in calories (such as hot sauce). The carb heavy vegetables will be kept to a minimum.

I will drink only water, unsweetened tea, and coffee (w/o cream or sugar, which is how I mostly drink it anyway). So that will mean no cappuccinos, no soda, no beer, no wine, no liquor. Mostly the idea is “don’t drink calories”, but also I’m going to avoid all artificial sweeteners for the duration. That said, if I happen across a different drink that has no calories and no artificial sweeteners, it would theoretically be allowed.

The final bit of the diet is, I’m going to allow the option for a cheat day after every 30 days. If I use a cheat day, the cheat day doesn’t count for the next set of 30 days, and while I don’t have to use the cheat day on “day 31”, for the purposes of acquiring another cheat day, it will reset the counter whenever I use it. For my first 30 days, I will have a strong motivation to really not use the cheat day, because I know I will want to go to the fair, and due to the timing of starting this, using the cheat day would make the very last day of the fair the only day I could eat there. Or maybe by then I’ll no longer desire fair food. We shall see.

Oh yes, and I plan to post a little something here every day, with a subject line of what day it is, and… I dunno, probably something about how I’m feeling, maybe what I ate. I’ll certainly require myself to post about any screw ups, as that will help with motivation a bit.

So, here goes.

Two Weeks

At about this time, 2 weeks ago, I was preparing to drive with my mom up to McClure, PA to pick up a Shiba Inu puppy from a breeder. She was just 8 weeks old, and she had the most adorable picture posted on the online listing I found.

The breeder was calling her Molly, but I changed her name to Yuna.  The breed was an older Mennonite woman, and so when we drove up to their house it was a bit like entering another world.  We went inside and saw all the puppies, Yuna and her brothers and sisters.  We looked out the window into a fenced area and saw their mom.

As we were leaving, she started to cry.  I know that she was scared, but I knew that I was going to be really good to her.  We put the sock monkey toy someone (I’m still not sure who) had sent to her back with her and it seemed to help.  She slept for most of the drive.

We stopped at Super Pets to get her a harness and some padding for her crate.  We also got a bunch of toys.  The employees in the store loved her, especially the guy who was checking us out.

When we got home she spent a lot of the evening lying next to me as I sat on the couch.  I started taking her out for walks in my parents’ back yard that night, and she was already doing an amazing job of waiting to go outside to go to the bathroom.  I’d never seen another dog do as good as her.  That night when it was time to go to bed I put her in her crate and she started crying again.  I didn’t want her to cry and so I took her out and brought her into bed with me.  She pressed herself right up against me all night.  I didn’t sleep very well that night, but I know it made her feel safer.

As the days went on she came out of her shell more and started to be more independent and rambunctious and want to run around and play and get to places she wasn’t supposed to go.  She really liked to chew.  She wasn’t immediately all that interested in any toys or treats, but the bully sticks I had ordered for her were the first things that I found that she loved.  She’d chew through them really fast. Then she’d chew on anything else she could find… including my hands, arms, and feet.

We had pretty good routine down during the week.  I’d wake up, make my coffee and get dressed for work, then I’d take her outside to go to the bathroom and walk to my car.  One morning, we ran into a guy with a couple of dogs off leash and she played with them for a bit.  He asked to hold her and so I let him for a minute or so.  After we’d get to the car I’d drive her to my parents’ house where she’d spend her days so she didn’t have to be alone.

She continued to sleep in my bed with me the first few nights.  She was really good.  She started to sleep a little bit away from me instead of right up against me.  Sometimes she would wake up in the middle of the night and lick my neck and wake me up.  When I would wake up in the morning she would lick my face and paw and bite at my beard.

I took her for walks downtown, and even if it was a time when there weren’t many people out, it was hard to get her even around the block without at least one person stopping to comment on how cute she was or ask if they could pet her.  At a busy time I could take just a couple steps out my door and tons of people would stop to say hi to her.  Everyone loved her, she was a very popular puppy.  She was afraid of walking on the metal doors and grates on the ground.  I made her walk on them sometimes because I wanted her to see that it was ok and she didn’t have to be afraid.

She would try to play with Malcolm, my parents’ Alaskan Malamute, but most of the time he didn’t want to.  He was getting better at tolerating her, and they did play together in the snow.  She liked to bite at his hair, and his tail.  He liked to growl and bark at her, and then she liked to just keep doing what she was doing anyway.

I transitioned her from sleeping in the bed to sleeping in her crate, because I thought it would be better long term.   She did really good with it, I think she was starting to like it.  She would only cry in the morning when she realized I was awake.  So I’d try to get up as quickly as possible to let her out.  She was always really energetic and would jump up and lick at my face if I was low enough, just like she did when she was sleeping in the bed with me.

On St Patricks Day, I took her for a walk in Baker Park and her harness came loose and she got out.  I was really scared.  She started running and I had to chase her until she hid in a bush near the clock tower.  Later that night, after I took her for another walk, one of my neighbors came out with her visiting family while I was standing with Yuna outside.  As we went in, she invited us to come into her place for awhile.  I sat and talked with her and 2 of her (I think) cousins.  Yuna  and my neighbor’s bulldog interacted a bit, but unfortunately the bulldog was a little too aggressive with his approach so Yuna was scared and he had to be held back.  We were over there pretty late, and Yuna went to sleep underneath her couch, so I decided to take her home.

On Thursday she had her first appointment at the vet.  The receptionist and the other employees there all immediately fell in love with her.  When the vet examined her, he found that everything looked good.  He gave her a dewormer and a distemper vaccination.  Before I left, he told me that he believed Yuna would have a bright future.

After walking her from the car to the apartment, where she was still being fawned over by passersby and even some drivers, I could tell that she was feeling tired.  She laid on top of me while I watched TV for awhile and she slept off and on.  I eventually got up and put her in her crate so that she could sleep.  She cried a little bit because I went over to the other room, but then she was ok.  I thought about letting her sleep in the bed that night.  I wish that I would have.

We went through our routine that morning, a little rushed because I was running late for work.  I let her out and she followed me around as I got ready and made coffee that ended up spilling all over the counter.  I quickly got her away from it as it dripped and cleaned it up enough so it wouldn’t keep dripping onto the floor.  We went outside to walk to the car and it was much like any other morning.  She went to the bathroom on the way, and then we got in the car and I brought her into my parents’ house.  She was running along and biting at my Dad’s pant legs.  I left and went to work.

This is what was supposed to happen:  I was supposed to come to my parents’ house after work ended.  She was supposed to be jumping up at the gate that kept her in the kitchen, excited to see me.  I was supposed to pick her up and let her lick and bite at my face.  Then I’d put her down and watch her run around, and throw her ball for her a few times until she decided not to bring it back to me but instead just lay down and chew it.  Then I was supposed to take her home, and she was supposed to irritate the hell out of me chewing on everything.  And then I was supposed to play with her some more, and then lay on the couch with her watching TV, and then we were supposed to both go to bed, and then wake up this morning and start our third week together.

This is what did happen:  Yesterday around noon, Yuna died.  We aren’t 100% sure of the cause, but it appears she suffocated, either due to choking on a piece of her food that may have been drawn into her esophagus, or possibly due to a reaction to the distemper vaccination she had received the night before.  I don’t know what the latter scenario would look like, but my mom, who was there with Yuna when she died, and did everything she could to try to save her, believed that she was choking on food.  She was rushed to the vet, and they performed CPR, but there was nothing they could do to save her.

I missed my Mom’s phone call because I was on another phone call, but she sent me some texts after she tried to call that I saw immediately after I got off of the phone.  I hurried home as quickly as I could, never returning to work after my lunch break.  And then I sat with Yuna, petting her and holding my face up against her.  She was still so soft and fluffy, and looked so sweet and peaceful.  I held her in my arms and I didn’t ever want to put her down.  It’s strange the way the mind works, because I felt like if I put her down I would be losing her, but the truth is she was already lost.  But then the longer I held her, the more dead she seemed, and I knew I had to put her down.

I wrapped her in a towel, and I placed her out on the enclosed deck behind my parent’s house.  And that’s where she is right now, directly behind me, as I type this.  Soon I have to call to have her cremated.

Two weeks and a day ago I had nothing less than what I have now, but nonetheless it is a great loss.  All I can do is think about the things that I was supposed to do with her.

I was supposed to:

  • Enroll her in a puppy class, and teach her to sit, to lay down, to stay
  • Help her learn to stop mouthing people and biting up their hands and arms.
  • Teach her that it’s ok walk on those metal grates.
  • Help her learn to walk better (but she did pretty good for a puppy)
  • Set up her puppy pen that had just recently arrived
  • Feed her treats through the pet camera I got her while I was at work
  • Go on jogs and hikes with her as she got older
  • Have to take care of her for years and years

I don’t have that many pictures, because I was supposed to have a lot more time.  But I have a few pictures, and a few videos.  I don’t want to forget her.

I wanted someone who depended on me and who I had to take care of, someone to come home to after work and who would be happy to see me, and who would love me no matter what.

And for just under 2 weeks, I had that.  And then it was taken away.  No person is to blame… everyone did everything that they could have done, and what they were supposed to do.  Even if it was a reaction to the vaccine, we couldn’t have known that it would happen.

And so in just 2 short weeks I grew to love Yuna with all my heart and then she was taken away from me.  She wasn’t quite 10 weeks old.  And so today I have to say goodbye.  I miss her.

Doubt

“and if the things we believed as kids were true
could you believe it all for me
’cause i would believe it all for you”
-Derek Webb

“Red and orange
Or red and yellow
In which of these do you believe?
If you’re not sure right now, please take a moment
Cause I’ll need your signature before you leave”
-David Bazan

“Seeking to know is only too often learning to doubt.”
–Antionette du Liger de la Garde Deshoulieres

Tomorrow I will be attending a church for the first time in a while.  It’s probably been… a year?  Or close to it.  I guess probably the last time I was in any church was when I went with Jon and Kim to their church in FL… but that was with no intention of possibly continuing to go to said church, since it wasn’t local to me.  Even so, that would have been in April (I think), a solid 6 months ago.

Aside from just specific people (all of whom I met through the church), more than anything I miss since leaving Burbank is the church I was attending there.  I get the sense that it’s changed a bit since I left, but I’m sure I’d still feel I belonged there.  I’ll get a chance to visit it before too long and know for sure.  I can’t wait for December!

In any case, the church I will be attending tomorrow sounds like it aspires to be something that Central Avenue Church was.  And that is the main reason why I loved Central (again, aside from people).  A place where you can belong and seek God no matter what you believe.  I don’t know if they’ll live up to it… From visiting their website and watching some youtube videos, a lot of their language still feels very churchy and evangelical to me.  But they also strike me as genuinely wanting to just love people and have community.  If they can live up to what they say, then I just might find a spiritual community in which I feel I belong again.

For me, it is all about being free to doubt.  It’s about being free to disbelieve in things that, if I had to believe them, would cause me to abandon any connection to Christianity whatsoever.  If this is a place I can hope that God is real, and that he loves us and suffers with us, then I’ll be right at home.

Mindfulness

“To think in terms of either pessimism or optimism oversimplifies the truth. The problem is to see reality as it is.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

“Wisdom says we are nothing. Love says we are everything. Between these two our life flows.” –
Jack Kornfield

“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.” –
Pema Chödrön

I’ve been realizing more and more recently the need for me to begin practicing mindfulness in my day to day life.  I feel like at some point in my journey through life I realized who I wasn’t, but forgot to figure out who I actually am.  And so I hold on to aspects of a person that I thought I was .  Perhaps it’s because I am afraid of who I might be.  Or perhaps it’s simply that I haven’t been willing to do the work until now.  I know there are things that I have long said I believe that I am afraid perhaps I don’t believe.

What I do know is that I can’t continue to walk through life with only part of an identity.  Perhaps the things that I don’t like about myself are the things that aren’t really me.  And I definitely have my fair share of moments of self-loathing.

The past couple of weeks I have had some pretty big swings in terms or happiness and sadness, depending on how I happen to feel about something in a given moment.  That seems to me to be very unhealthy, and I think the root cause of it is perhaps that I am not grounded in my own identity.

I’ve also begun having trouble sleeping again, something that seemed like it was behind me for awhile.  The last time I was struggling with it, it seemed that taking 5-HTP helped, which may indicate the problem is a lack of serotonin, and well, that may contribute to my negative moods as well.

I’ve decided to take a break from the world… at least as much as is possible, to center in on my self and do some hard work on me.  I again deactivated Facebook – along with all my social media accounts – this time with no announcement to anyone beforehand.  I’m not only not looking for attention, but this time I am trying to actively avoid it as much as is possible.

Earlier tonight I listened through a guided meditation on mindfulness, and it’s rather amazing how much peace that 15 minutes brought me.  I plan on making that a big part of the forseeable future.

I don’t know how long I will continue with this withdrawing to look inward, but I can already feel some value coming from it, so I will continue for as long as I believe it to be a benefit.

Factual Deception

“I am firm, you are obstinate, he is a pig-headed fool.”

“I am righteously indignant, you are annoyed, he is making a fuss over nothing.”

“I have reconsidered the matter, you have changed your mind, he has gone back on his word.”
-Bertrand Russell

The above quotes were all examples that Bertrand Russell gave of what he called “Emotive Conjugation”, which has also come to be known as “Russell Conjugation” (clearly in his honor).  If you are unfamiliar with the term, allow me to try to explain.

Look at his first example above.  Firm, obstinate, and pig-headed are all synonyms.  That is to say, factually, they all mean the same thing.  However, they all have emotional connotations as well, and despite the shared meaning, the interpretation of the person who hears or reads it will undoubtedly be effected by the word chosen by originator.  That is to say, if I tell you that someone is being “pig-headed”, you would likely come away from that statement with a negative impression of the person…  but the negative interpretation is my own, and had you had a conversation with another person in the know, perhaps you would have come away thinking of them positively, that they were firm and steadfast in their actions.

Laying out all the words in direct succession illustrates the point rather well, because when you are looking at them all laid out next to each other, the emotive differences are readily apparent.

The choice of labeling the positive emotion with self and the negative with a completely removed person also seems meaningful.  We are of course almost always understanding of our own actions, and see ourselves in the most positive light. (Of course this isn’t always true, some of us have moments of self-loathing and well, then we might be more negative in our interpretations of ourselves than anyone else is).

Something I have noticed from time to time in my own life is that I will hear something on the news for the first time, and I will come away feeling a certain way about it.  I might even feel like I have a strong opinion about whatever it is at that point.  And then, I start to think about it more, and hear about it from more sources, and generally start to deconstruct the information.  When that’s all done, I’ve ended up on the other side of the issue, probably confounding anyone who I spoke to about it early on in my process.

Consider this clip about pollster Frank Luntz from Penn & Teller’s Bullshit (it’s an old clip, from around 2007 I believe):

As a pollster, he uses language and this emotive conjugation very carefully in order to shape the results of his polls, or as he puts it “get the right answer”.  If you word something properly, people are much more likely to agree (or disagree, depending on what you’re going for). He’s still doing it today, and it isn’t unique to Frank Luntz.  Polls simply aren’t reliable… except perhaps if you know precisely how the poll was conducted and are sure that there is no manipulative phrasing throughout the poll.

Think about some of the emotive political phrases that we have.  Illegal immigrant vs undocumented immigrant is a clear-cut example of opposite emotive phrasing.  Politics is full of emotive phrases, such as “common sense” (often applied to gun control or other regulations), or  pro-life/pro-choice, both of which have implications that the other side is anti-life/anti-choice.

As emotions are a core part of our being, it’s simply not possible for us to stop using this kind of language and speak in neutral language to each other at all times in our daily lives, but, I do think we need to learn to be cognizant of it.  When emotional language is being thrown around we should be careful to deconstruct it before forming concrete opinions.

We should be at our most alert when consuming the mainstream news media.  It has never been more apparent than now that they have failed at being a reliable and trustworthy news source.  It would not be too much to ask for these organizations to refrain from using highly emotive language, after all, they are supposed to be delivering the facts and letting us decide, but as soon as they start speaking in emotive language, they are delivering their opinion along with the facts… and they almost surely know that they’re doing it.

Facts/Feelings

“Facts don’t care about your feelings.”
– Ben Shapiro

“Upon occasion, every now and then, some people get a feeling that isn’t real. They may think that it’s real, it may feel very real, and they may truly believe it’s real, but it’s just a feeling. It is wise to remember that, as important as emotions are, feelings aren’t facts.”
-Barton Goldsmith, PhD

“Anyone who has ever kissed a married man or woman because of a strong “feeling” can tell you this: feelings are, at best, fifth in line to the throne — sultry, like a bearded Prince Harry. But they’re no Queen Elizabeth demanding Prince William stand the hell up during an RAF air display.”
-Lisa Fogarty

I’d assume most people who maintain any level of interest in politics are familiar with Ben Shapiro.  Regardless of your agreement or disagreement with his positions, it would seem hard to me for you to argue that he isn’t an intelligent and principled person.  Remember, it is very possible for two intelligent and principled people to arrive at very different conclusions.  One of the phrases I most associate with him is one he began saying in order to combat the SJW ideology that rapidly permeated through colleges and universities in the past few years, and even seeped a bit into the wider culture: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”  I have no idea if he was the first person to say this or not, but, I think it’s fair to say he popularized the saying.

At some point during my web browsing yesterday, I came upon an article that had a title that hurt my brain: “Debunking the Myth That “Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings”.”  If you want to fully understand the remainder of this post, you might want to take a few minutes to read through it.

Done?  Ok, let’s continue.

First, let’s get to that title.  It is, quite literally, saying that it is a MYTH to say that facts do not care about your feelings.  In this context, this title, taken at face value, is saying that the idea that facts don’t care about your feelings is a widely held but false beliefs.  The statement is absurd.  If facts cared about feelings, then facts would change based upon how we felt about them.  I would challenge anyone to provide a single example of where this is the case.  I’m going to go ahead and make the bold assertion that it cannot be done, and then I’m going to move on, because, if you read the article, you know that the article itself never really makes any arguments about this claim anyway.

He begins by seeming to completely misunderstand the meaning of the phrase “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”  He says: “It’s catchy, and a great play on words. But it’s wrong.”  Then he proceeds to illustrate its falsity by pointing out that Republicans, like Democrats (and really all human beings), still sometimes base their arguments on emotions rather than facts.  It’s not that he’s wrong when he says that, it’s that he fundamentally doesn’t understand the meaning of the phrase he is trying to argue against.

Ben Shapiro, and, to my knowledge, no other influential conservative political figure, has never argued that no Republican ever bases their arguments on emotions.  That isn’t what the statement means.  The statement is saying that facts are facts regardless of how you feel about them, and your feelings won’t change the facts.  It implies that facts have greater value than emotions.  It also proposes that arguments based on fact are better than arguments based on emotion.  In other words, ideally, all of one’s positions and arguments are based primarily on reasoned evidence and not emotional response.

Multiple times in the article, he makes the claim that humans are irrational, seemingly in the sense that humans are in fact incapable of rationality.  He includes an interesting quote about how when people are in an over-emotional state they will behave irrationally, or form irrational opinions, but otherwise doesn’t seem to attempt to back up his assertion.   I have no problem at all agreeing that when people are reacting to events that cause extreme emotional states they are prone to forming bad ideas and dangerous policies as a result.  A prime example of this is how congress responded to 9/11, by passing the PATRIOT act, which continues to abridge our freedoms.  Or take a look at the response to virtually any mass shooting (which are incredibly rare, unless you decide that any shooting in which 3 or more people are injured is a mass shooting.  This itself is a great example of forming one’s opinion based on emotions and then attempting to frame the facts to support that opinion).

Whether or not humans are capable of rational thought is very important.  If we aren’t, then by extension science is inherently flawed and anything that it has given to us is at best a happy accident.  That would extend to all of mathematics as well.  It would also mean that there is no such thing as rationality, except perhaps in an esoteric or figurative sense.  Given that it is extremely unlikely that science is fundamentally flawed in that way, given how much it has benefitted us, I feel comfortable using all of our scientific advancement as proof that humans are capable of being rational.

Of course he isn’t wrong that humans also behave irrationally.  It is fair to say that we are not purely rational beings.  We respond in both rational and emotional ways, and the degree to which we do each is largely based on the related circumstance.  Ideally, we are able to keep the emotional part in check.  The closer that we are to a situation, the more likely we are to respond emotionally, rather than rationally, to it.  The mother of a child who died from a drug overdose is unlikely to be capable of forming a rational opinion on the best way to deal with the issue of drug addiction.

During the most recent Presidential campaign, Libertarian candidates Gary Johnson & Bill Weld were on CNN for a town hall, and CNN trotted out such a person to ask them about their position on drug control.  For all his faults, Johnson campaigned on a very reasonable position, that legalizing marijuana would ensure that safe marijuana, not laced with any other drugs, would prevent deaths.  This mother was incapable of hearing anything other than “we will eliminate all drugs so no one can ever use them again”, which is, of course, impossible.

Emotions aren’t without purpose.  It is because we feel sympathy for those who are addicted to drugs that we try to come up with a means to help them.  But basing the entirety of our argument on that emotion accomplishes nothing.

He uses the example of arguments against admitting Syrian refugees to show an emotional argument from Republicans.  I don’t question that perhaps many Republicans arrive there in that way, but, he also sets up a straw man in his argument.  Here it is: “It’s what convinces you that Syrian Refugees are dangerous after reading a story of how the FBI captured one Syrian Refugee terrorist.”  It simply doesn’t follow that if you don’t think we should accept Syrian refugees, then you believe that all Syrian refugees are dangerous.”  People that believe they are all dangerous are certainly among the vast minority, even if you ask only conservatives.  Whether or not they have reached the correct conclusion is irrelevant, but it is possible to arrive at the conclusion that it is not worth the risk to allow Syrian refugees to come here from a rational perspective.

There is one part of the article that I actually like a lot… the section just before the conclusion, where he offers what I feel is quite sound advice regarding working to reduce your emotional level.  Ironically, it is completely in line with the meaning of the quote he is supposed to be arguing against.

Right after my favorite part of the article comes the part that hurts my brain more than the title of the article.  At the top of his conclusion, he writes: “Instead of this brash naïve statement that “Facts don’t care about your feelings,” let’s go with “Feelings don’t care about your facts.”  It’s more inline scientifically, wouldn’t you say?”

No, I would not say.  The statements are equally true and not mutually exclusive.  Facts and feelings very frequently have very little relation to each other.  I might feel that you did something just to spite me, but perhaps your motivation for taking whatever supposed action was completely unrelated to me.  In such a scenario, I feel hurt, but the fact is, you didn’t take said action to spite me.

The remainder of the conclusion is a continuation of his team-based mentality, essentially boiling down to “Nuh-uh, we democrats have the facts and we aren’t basing our arguments on emotion!”  Never mind the fact that he just made the basis of his entire argument that people aren’t capable of arriving at positions based on rationalism.  Obviously, there are intelligent and principled democrats.  There are people in both major parties (and also in minor parties) that hold views that I would argue are impossible to arrive at rationally.  But obviously, the inverse is also true.  Sometimes, a person might have rationally worked out almost all of their positions, but on just one they have allowed emotions to dictate their position.

There are definite differences in the ways that liberals and conservatives think (I don’t know if there are studies that explore other political opinions, such as libertarians, but I’d be interested to see them).  It doesn’t seem that there are any solid conclusions that can be drawn just yet, except to say that there are physical differences in the brain.  Whether it is causal or consequential is, so far as I am aware, still an unknown.

The takeaway is this: Learn to identify when you are responding emotionally to an issue.  Identify why the issue makes you feel that way, identify the perceived problem, and temper your emotions.  Critically and rationally consider the best way to resolve the problem.  Perhaps you will discover the problem is different than what you thought it was in the process.  Follow the facts to whatever the ideal resolution seems to be.  If the facts change, be willing to re-evaluate and change your mind.  If you do this, you will be a principled individual, capable of intelligent and productive discussion.  And then you can save the world from the over-emotional crybabies who try to shout down everyone they disagree with.

Desultory III

So I decided about a week ago that I would reactivate my Facebook account tomorrow.  I am writing this post prior to the reactivation because I don’t want to make any kind of “I’m back” announcement, or draw attention to it in any way, but, for my own records (I really do like to go back through old posts, chat logs, emails, etc…  so when I say I’m writing for me here, it’s completely accurate), I want to write this.

I am going forward with some rules for myself in regard to my Facebook use.  The main one is that I am not going to install the Facebook app on my phone.  I am unsure if I achieved all my goals with taking the break, but if I can be more intentional in my use of Facebook rather than just using it as a way to pass by time, than I think I will have achieved success.  While I didn’t post here as much as I intended to during this time, my posting has definitely increased from the almost never that I was doing so before, and so it was successful in that regard to.  I have also made some progress in writing a personal project that I had been meaning to get to for some time.

My plan going forward with this blog is to reduce the number of intended weekly posts to 2 for the time being, allowing one of those 2 posts to be one of these rambly aimless “desultory” posts about nothing.  The other I will require myself to put some thought into and have some substance.  Of course, I if I have 2 such posts that I want to write, both of the weekly posts may be substantial ones.  My limit will be what my former goal was, however, 2 substantial posts, 1 desultory one.  Should I want to write a 3rd substantial post in a week, I may write it, but I won’t publish it until the following week, when I may be struggling to find motivation for something to write about.  In the unlikely event I am struck with constant motivation, I may revise these rules for myself.

In any event, I’m interested to see what it’s like to get back to Facebook now that I’ve been gone for a little over a month.  We’ll see how long it lasts!

Empathy

Several days ago, I happened upon a video called “Against Empathy”, by Paul Bloom… it’s a promotional video for a book of the same name, which I would guess is probably an interesting read, but I have not read.  I am coming at this mostly as my intellectual response to what is in this video after letting it simmer for several days.

That said, I feel it is important for you to watch the video before proceeding, and so I am including it here:

 

After initially feeling that I simultaneously agreed with most of what he was saying but being a bit put off by the idea that empathy is altogether bad, I began to suspect that he’s not really saying the latter.  He is challenging the notion that empathy should be the highest good or our absolute guiding star.  I expect that in the book he probably more elaborately explains that… the video here is meant to be a bit more provocative.  That said, there is a lot worth addressing here.

The idea that putting yourself in the shoes of another, and acting on feeling their pain can blind you to the long-term consequences of your actions to better their situation is one that has gotten us into a number of quandaries in the political realm.  Not the least of which are the wars he mentions in the video.  But just look at what we got with Obamacare.  By any objective standard it has failed, but a lot of people will read that and respond emotionally saying “but more people have health insurance!”  True, but is the insurance worth a damn?  I’m not saying there are no individuals who are better off than they were before, but for the most part, people are paying more money than they should be for less care than they should be getting.  We have the system we have (and even what we had before Obamacare) because of empathy.  And it’s garbage.  (As an aside, we should have a system where insurance is fully optional, and most people would simply purchase catastrophic health insurance…  and pay for things like doctor visits and generic medications out-of-pocket.  When you get insurance companies out of the equation and doctors need to compete, watch how fast prices drop.)

I actually really like his example of the level of care we give to something like a baby trapped in a well vs something like climate change… and it brings to mind the quote: “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic,” which may or may not have been uttered by Stalin.  In terms of how the human mind processes it, there is truth there.  Small-scale, relatable issues, especially if they are close to home, are what we tend to feel the most empathic about.  This causes us to misdirect our efforts.  We spend all our resources trying to get a few babies out of the well rather than directing them toward things that are actually much more likely to effect us all.

Warm glow altruism is another major problem, not only as it relates to charity, but as it relates to politics.  People choose their activism based on what makes them feel good.  And so if they can find a person who claims to be oppressed, defending that people gives them that endorphin rush they’re looking for.  I’m not going to call out anything specific here, but the oppression olympics that is American politics needs to stop.

At one point in the video, he calls empathy “selfish moralizing”.  I can’t help but draw a parallel here to the Randian ideology of Objectivism.  To Rand, all people act out of selfishness, and even an act of love is one made out of self-interest.  (If you’re curious, I find objectivism fascinating and think there is often truth in it, but, I certainly don’t agree with Rand on all points).    I do think that is what is happening here.  It feels good to react to everything according to your emotions and simply let them be your guiding star.  However, what feels right is not always the best thing.  What feels right may be illogical.  What feels right may be harmful in the long-term.  Doing what is best for people may not feel as good as doing something that seems good but is unsustainable.

Empathy has a place in our mind.  In terms of day-to-day how we treat people, we should definitely still follow that golden rule.    However, empathy can’t be our highest standard.  We need to temper our empathy with logic and reason, and be cold-blooded when we need to be.  Sometimes the best thing for someone is to not give them what they want.  It can be hard, especially if it is someone close to you, but it’s worth it in the end.

Simplicity

Everything should be made as simple as possible … but not simpler.
-Albert Einstein

Simple style is like white light. It is complex, but its complexity is not obvious.
-Anatole France

All political movements are like this — we are in the right, everyone else is in the wrong. The people on our own side who disagree with us are heretics, and they start becoming enemies. With it comes an absolute conviction of your own moral superiority. There’s oversimplification in everything, and a terror of flexibility.
-Doris Lessing

One of the great detriments to our society is our tendency to over-simplify… well… everything.  It’s an understandable tendency, as simplicity is nice and easy.  When there’s a clear-cut right and wrong, you can be sure about something, and it feels good to be sure about something.

Simple is not always wrong, of course.  Some things are quite simple, and on those issues there tends to be very little diversity of opinion.  For instance, on the subject of murder, you would be hard pressed to find many who would consider it a moral good.  But, when you loosen it up a bit, diversity of opinion, and thereby complexity, will become manifest.  What about, not murder, but killing in self-defense?  In defense of others?  In war?  As punishment for murder?  There are many arguments for and against each of these.   Even with simple beginnings, complexity will arise.

In the current American political arena, I see the oversimplification of ideas on a nigh constant basis.  Presently, I mostly see it on the left, but, to be sure, the right has done so in the past, they will likely do so in the future, and there is probably some issue on which they are doing so now.

The most prominent example of political simplification that I can think of is the issue of illegal immigration, specifically as it relates to Donald Trump.  Ask a leftist why Trump wants to build a wall, and their answer should be obvious to you by now….  “Well, because he is a racist, of course.”  Ah, the height of oversimplification.

Now, I can’t prove that Trump isn’t a racist, though I would assert the burden of proof is on the person claiming that he is, but even if he were, this argument is a bit of a non sequitur.  There is no doubt that America has an immigration problem, and it needs to be resolved.  Will building a wall solve our immigration problem?  No.  That would be an oversimplification.  But (and I’m not saying I think the wall is practical or will be effective), perhaps it is a place to start.

Here is the complexity.  We have many, many laws related to immigration, and these laws are being broken every day.  In many cases, they are being broken by people who are otherwise obeying the law, and that probably most of us would consider to be “good people” if we were to come to know them personally.  However, a law that is unenforced effectively might as well not even be there.  Borders are only meaningful if they are enforced.  Well why should we have a border?  There’s a lot of social safety nets in our country that people could come and take advantage of without ever paying into the system.  It may sound humanitarian to help them, but it wouldn’t take long for the whole of the system to collapse under the weight of it.  You can’t divorce people from their beliefs and culture, and a concentrated flood of a group of people from one location to another would necessarily alter the culture of the destination.    That’s not to say that there is no argument to do away with borders.  Philosophically, I would agree that they are meaningless, just imaginary lines, and that people should be free to live where they choose.  But perhaps this is an idea whose time has not yet come.

Further complicating the issue, there are those who decide to be willfully obtuse, and say things like “people are not illegal” when someone comments on what should be done about illegal immigrants.  Of course people are not illegal, but no one is saying that, and you don’t really think they are, you’re just trying to be clever.  “Illegal immigrant” is obviously shorthand for “Person who entered the country without following immigration laws.”  Such a person is by definition a criminal.

Now, there are certainly circumstances under which a person who came here illegally perhaps should be allowed to stay, but probably in the vast majority of circumstances, they should not.  By the way, I mean this in terms of “going forward”, I think that we have ignored the issue for such a long time that anyone who is here now and is an otherwise law-abiding person should be allowed to stay, if for no other reason than that it would be impossible to deport that many people.  There are also of course an abundance of complexities as many have had children here, and have well-established lives here.

Do you see how it isn’t anywhere near so simple as “people are against immigration because they are racist”?  Hell, it’s not even as simple as “people are against immigration”.  Most everyone thinks that people should be allowed to immigrate here, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be done with no regard for law.  Anyone making these arguments that we are a country of immigrants is making the wrong argument.  No one disagrees with the words they are saying, but they do clearly disagree with what the person means to say.  If you want to abolish borders so that anyone can enter with no controls of any kind, well then, you should be making the argument to abolish borders, not to allow immigration.

These same principles can be applied to refugees and the “muslim ban”, and to things like gun control, healthcare, economics, and nigh any issue you can think of.  If the issue seems simple and without nuance to you, perhaps you have a fundamental misunderstanding of what those on the other side(s) of the issue really believe.

This extends beyond politics and culture and into religion and philosophy as well…  but this is already quite long…  I’ll save that for another time.