Monday, June 30, 2014


There was an interesting post on LinkedIn late last week, entitled: "In a Free Agent Culture, Only Chumps are Loyal." It's an interesting analysis of the concept of loyalty as it pertains to the legal profession, and how it's been in decline over the past several years. The comments were interesting, most of them placing the blame squarely at the feet of businesses, who are accused of ruining what had been a good thing for everyone.

I think, because we tend to elevate Loyalty to the point of being a lofty virtue, we forget two of its characteristics.

  1. Loyalty has costs.
  2. Loyalty entails risks.
In an environment that is increasingly about driving both costs and risks to their lowest (immediately) profitable levels, it is no wonder that loyalty is on the decline. While it's also very true that loyalty also has both benefits and opportunities, it's worth keeping in mind that it's rare to have a detailed cost/benefit and risk/opportunity analysis show a perfectly even distribution.

Contrary to what we are often told as children, virtue is not its own reward. The fact that an action is virtuous does not automatically bring benefits and opportunities along with it, especially if you're operating on a relatively short time horizon. And most of us are not invested in having that come about. While we make choices about which people and institutions we want to do business with based on their perceived loyalty to ourselves, we rarely, if ever, evaluate based on how loyal we think that they are to others. We tend to be okay with the other guy being screwed over, as long as the savings are passed along to us. Businesses and individuals alike understand this.

Loyalty, rather than an aspiration, is seen as an investment. Right now, the perceived return on that investment is seen as slight to negative. Until that perception changes, loyalty is unlikely to be a widespread priority.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

It Says So Right Here

One thing that strikes me as interesting about religion (well, Christianity, really) in the United States is how expansive the boundaries of faith can become. Of course, for many religious people, faith touches on many areas of their lives - including the lives of other people. I had always somewhat annoyed when people that I'd never met before presumed to lecture me on what I believed. But with the realization that what I believe is just as much a tenet of their faith as, say, a belief in miracles, I've become more accepting of their confidence in their ability to know the minds of strangers, and my annoyance is shifting to curiosity.

Monday, June 23, 2014


I know personally, having lived in Oregon, that there are people who are hurt — grieved very much by a loved one who thought so little of their relationship that they ended their life.
Dr. Bill Toffler, quoted in: "How A Woman's Plan To Kill Herself Helped Her Family Grieve"
Although, to me, this smacks of: "If you loved me you would...", let me take Dr. Toffler at his word for a moment, and place myself in the position of a person who is contemplating suicide because of a conviction that my life is heading into a place that I an unable to change and unable to accept. Furthermore, I think very little of the relationships I have with the people who love me - in other words, I do not find those relationships, and the grief that their ending will cause those other people, as reason enough to accept the state that I am going to find myself in.

While I think I understand Dr. Toffler's viewpoint, I'm not sure that his conclusion - that how much a person values a relationship can be directly measured via their willingness to do whatever it takes to delay the onset of grieving process in the other person - is an objective one. The relationships between people are often much to complex to be boiled down to a single factor in this way, especially one so emotionally charged.

So let's imagine the person of Alex. Alex thinks quite a lot of our relationship. I, on the other hand, would not miss Alex if I never saw them again. If I choose remain alive, at the cost of entering the unpleasant place that I dreaded entering, and Alex is comforted, does that mean that I actually think more highly of Alex than I did before? Is the fact that I am still available for Alex to have a relationship with proof that I think highly of that relationship, in spite of my disregard for Alex? If not, what is the difference in the reverse?

Understanding that a long life for someone is something that we want for them, something that we want for ourselves or both is tricky because it become very easy to entangle the idea of death as a pathology from which we would like to rescue a person with the idea of death as loss from which we would like to rescue ourselves. This allows (although it does not demand) us to conflate our interests with those of another - and in doing so, avoid being subjected to the charge that I feel that Dr. Toffler is really making - that of selfishness.

But even selfishness is a subjective determination, driven by our individual standards of what is reasonable. And in the end, I think that's where things begin to break down. Issues around end-of-life become caught up in a tug-of-war between two parties over who has the greater claim. And we understand that at different points along the path, the balance shifts from one party to another. Where those points are vary for different people. For some people, a sick or dying individual's obligations to others go beyond the point of competence and lucidity. For others, our obligations to the sick and dying mean allowing them to choose while they are still able to do so. While we can search for a single standard that applies in all cases, we're unlikely to ever find one. While we may find a certain comfort in criticizing those who draw lines differently than we do, or who are not sufficiently willing to be who we are not, in the end, there are no bright lines, and declaring that we can determine a person's inner life based solely on a single action isn't enough to draw one.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

I'll Just Duck Through Here

I still remember an anecdote from one of [Karen DeCrow’s] speeches, meant to illustrate unthinking reliance on tradition. When she got married and started to cook, she would always chop off the ends of a meatloaf before putting it in the oven, as she’d seen her mother do. When her husband asked why, she was at a loss; she had simply assumed that was the proper way to bake meatloaf. Her mother didn’t know either: She had always seen her mother do it the same way. The grandmother’s explanation turned out to be very simple: “Because our oven was so small, that was the only way it could fit in!”

It was a very Karen DeCrow story, not only in its good-natured wit but in its view of traditional roles not as a malevolent system designed to oppress, but as something that had outlived its usefulness and needlessly hemmed people in.
Cathy Young, “The Feminist Leader Who Became a Men's-Rights Activist”
I have a more generous view of history than I had when I was younger, and as such, DeCrow’s view of tradition is now one that speaks to me. This is not to deny that there are oppressive systems and intentionally oppressive people in the world. But I think that a lot of the hostility to attempted changes in societies (especially when they are large-scale changes) is driven by a combination of fear and the belief (accurate or not) that one will lose out in favor of another, less deserving, person. This is likely exacerbated when there is a perceived scarcity of resources, and people are in competition.

Part of it is the primacy of the old saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The implication becomes that experimentation and innovation, meant to improve upon something that may already work pretty well, should be avoided, and thus, making changes is about fixing things that are broken. But when something works for someone, and works well, telling them that you’re going to “fix” it can often be understood to me that the fact that this system works for them is part of the problem. And when there is insistence on removing and replacing something that people find to be workable, it can be hard to convince them that this is being done for their benefit, rather than someone else’s, especially when people they don't have any sort of relationship with are the ones pushing for the change.

Humanity does not scale well, because the amount of time that it takes to understand people as individuals never really changes, regardless of how many individuals one meets. Sure, understanding people is a skill, and that skill can be honed and improved over time, but for any given skill level, understanding five people as individuals is always about five times as time consuming as understanding one person. And so the only way to make that process more efficient is to rely on stereotypes and hearsay, with all of the inaccuracies that entails - especially when dealing with people for whom there is otherwise no frame of reference. Altering these things tends to leave people feeling that they don't understand the world around them, and thus, uncomfortably incompetent at what we understand to be a basic human ability. None of this is to say that the expectation that a particular person today should behave in the way that they were understood to 30 years ago cannot ever be problematic. But I do think that it’s incorrect to say that such an expectation is correctly understood as an act of aggression, which can really be viewed as simply a shortcut of it’s own.

Friday, June 20, 2014

What's One More?

I, for my part, agree with the secular humanist idea that a workable ethical system can be derived without recourse to rules set down by a divinity. And have been called anything from blatantly deceitful to dangerously irrational because of it. But I've become okay with that, because, as I've grown older, I've come to realize that the idea that atheists have no grounds for a moral or ethical sense is rooted in faith, and it's never profitable to argue someone's faith with them.

1.  When atheists conceive a code of ethics, their code is very “elastic.” It is elastic because it is "self- made" and thus it is subject to change “based on convenience.”
2. Their code is also subject to "compromise" because the human mind, which is essentially selfish and proud, will compromise when it is convenient to the "self" and when the "human ego" gets involved.
3. The human mind is not only skillful at compromising; it is also skillful at rationalizing its compromises.
The Rationalizing, Obdurate Atheist: More Evidence of Atheist Ethical Insufficiency
When I've been in the unfortunate position of arguing matters of ethics and morality with someone who believes that only the Judeo-Christian god can derive a truly moral system, I'm already at a disadvantage, because as near as I'm able to tell, Christian morality serves divine purposes, whereas whatever ethical framework I'm going to create will serve human purposes. And if humanity is automatically incapable of being truly moral, without submitting itself to divine guidance, then I'm pretty much at a dead end as it is.

In a Skepchick piece: “Fellow Atheists: Quit Bragging About Our Prison Underrepresentation,” Heina Dadabnoy notes: “To address religious folks claiming that religion makes one morally superior, we atheists can cite examples of religious people behaving immorally, with or without theological justification, and of atheists acting in a moral fashion.” But I've never found it worthwhile to do this, because all that happens is a cataloging of sins from one side, and gatekeeping and attributing motives on the other. In other words, for me to cite examples of religious people behaving immorally, I have to research and catalog immoral acts on the part of Christians (technically, this could be any religion, but in all honestly, I've only ever have Christians care enough to argue this with me). Yeah, that's my idea of fun. And it typically leads to then having to argue whether or not the person(s) involved are or are not Christian - which is where the gatekeeping comes in. While some people are simply particular about only accepting people from their own sect as “truly” Christian, it's possible to take this further, to the idea that the very fact that someone has committed a certain act is proof that they are are not properly devout, and should not be considered a Christian. By the same token, pointing out atheists acting in a moral fashion tends to lead to claims of fear of punishment at best:
At the risk of labeling the atheist as self-centered, it does not serve the best interests of an atheist to murder and steal since it would not take long before he was imprisoned and/or killed for his actions.
Can atheists be ethical?
Or inconsistent with the “darwinist” beliefs that “all atheists must hold” at worst:
So please atheists, be consistent. Apply social darwinism. It makes sense doesn't it. No right or wrong, human rights or other notions that cannot be defended objectively by an atheist.
Social-Darwinism: A must for Atheists
Trust me, there are better ways to waste time. (Also note, that it's possible to reverse this - but it remains just as pointless.)

Arguments about whether or not an atheist can be considered as moral or ethical as a Christian that avoid social desirability bias are hard. It's difficult to not become caught up in wanting to defend the idea that one is a good person, despite not having faith in a particular deity or following a particular religious philosophy. But if you're faced with someone who understands that the only path to salvation is a personal relationship with the divine, you have already committed the one unpardonable sin - not asking to be pardoned. This is simply a matter of faith like all the others. And if you're going to reject (even if you respect) another's faith in the big questions, you may as well do the same for the small ones.

h/t: Michelle May

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

No Rest For the Weary

It's an interesting enough title: "Superpowers Don't Get to Retire." But it was the subtitle that really grabbed my attention: "What our tired country still owes the world." And I kept that in mind as I read Mr. Kagan's long piece about how the United States enforced a liberal world order, because it was the only nation that was capable of it, and how if that liberal world order was going to continue, then the United States needed to continue doing it. About how the United States played the world's policeman and help bring an end (or at least a reduction) to a constant global history of conflict by having a conception of its national interests that went beyond the pragmatic and deep into the idealistic. Throughout reading the entire piece, I kept that thought in the back of my head - "What our tired country still owes the world."

But one of the things that was missing was the idea that we owed the world enlightenment. A grand and selfless vision that would mean always acting for the good of others, and not just out of an "enlightened self-interest" that postulates that the actions we take so save the world will also redound to our own benefit.

Because without it, there is always a fundamental problem with thinking that one is indispensable to others - eventually, you come to the realization that if they can't survive without you, then you must always help yourself first, even when that comes at their expense, because since you are their only hope, whatever you allow to happen to them must, by definition, be better than the alternative.

One of my favorite sayings is that the problem with good shepherds is that even they are not above wearing wool and eating mutton. This is not because good shepherds are merely wolves in human guises, but because a shepherd that has frozen or starved to death may as well be entirely absent in the first place - and then what becomes of the sheep? And while linen and beef may be available, something must still be traded to obtain them, and what else does a shepherd have? Either way, no matter how idealistic a shepherd one finds, the sheep have simply traded one predator for another - one is simply less destructive and more apologetic about it. And I think that is the issue that we have. Mr. Kagan assumes, yet never sets out to prove, that we, as Americans, are so wealthy, so protected, so powerful and so just, that we can never be perceived as predators. And that's the problem that we have now. Kagan's very point that what drove the American public to support a global role in the world was not a sense of responsibility to spread liberalism but a constant fear of Communism makes this clear. What happens when the shepherds are no longer convinced that the threat of wolves is all it's been cracked up to be?

A nondischargeable responsibility to safeguard liberalism and democracy abroad must lead to illiberalism and a lack of democracy at home, because at some point, you are obliged to strip people of the ability to chose to ignore that responsibility. This is why no single nation, no matter how nobly it sees itself, can manage such a burden forever. Because the shepherd must become the wolf to forever war with wolves.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


[Senator Lindsey] Graham said he believes that nationally, Republicans will accept an "earned pathway to citizenship if you secure the border" and that the GOP should stop allowing 35 percent of voters dictate how the party should engage on the issue.
GOP chairman, senator at odds on how to reach Hispanic voters
In my not particularly humble opinion, anyone who says that "securing the border" needs to be part of any comprehensive overhaul of immigration into the United States is either woefully uninformed or laughably unserious. While I understand the concern, it's simply not a workable strategy.

Look at it this way. What "securing the border" tends to mean, when you ask people about it, is effectively turning Mexico and points south into a vast prison. Note that prisons do allow for the flow of people and goods in and out - what makes a prison a prison isn't the fact that you can't leave - it's the fact that you can only leave with the permission of certain authorities. The late and unlamented (here in the United States, anyway) Soviet Union attempted to create a vast prison for its many people, and was not shy about spending the resources it took to do so. They still wound up with a border that could be crossed without permission. It was difficult, and it was dangerous, but it was doable. North Korea is the same way. It's neither simple nor safe to get out of there, but it's possible - and much of what makes it difficult is it's hard to recruit allies when you don't know who might turn you in.

People attempting to cross the border from Latin America into the United States don't have this problem. Mexico is not invested in the idea of locking all of it's citizens in. And while the American government and certain political groups are invested in locking people out - there are enough people who aren't invested in that to scuttle the whole project.

"Why do people from Latin America cross the border" is not the same as "Why did the chicken cross the road." Simply getting to the other side isn't the point. Improving their lives is the point, and it's fairly clear that there's a lot of improvement to be had. When the United States plunged into "the Great Recession" many migrants went elsewhere looking for opportunities. That should be a clue. The reason it isn't is that while Republicans make noises about wanting to "protect American jobs" they want to protect American businesses more. And many of those businesses rely on the ability to access (very) inexpensive labor to keep costs down.

Although there is a lot of opposition to current Civil Asset Forfeiture laws in the United States (you know that you're onto something when both the Institute for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union think something's a bad law), they strike me as a way to quickly and effectively deal with the issue of illegal immigration into the country. No, the plan isn't that we'd go around confiscating whatever assets that people in the country illegally had. Instead, we'd simply allow for 18 U.S. Code § 981 to be invoked when a business or individual is found to be employing people who are not authorized to work in the United States. And we'll start with the the big companies. Jobs for people who couldn't prove that they were in the country legally would dry up overnight, either immediately after the law was passed, or after the first one or two reasonably large corporations to be busted were broken up and auctioned of by the Department of Justice. And since merely the suspicion of criminal activity is enough to allow for asset seizure...

I am, up to a point, being facetious. But only up to a point. Because if we REALLY only want people coming into the country once we've formally decided that they are to be allowed in, something has to be done about the incentives. And right now, everyone is ignoring that reality. Which leads me to believe that limiting immigration really isn't taken seriously. Or, at least, no more seriously than I should take the idea of placing half the hemisphere on lockdown.

Friday, June 13, 2014

It All Falls Down

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is busily grabbing anyplace that they come within arm's reach of, and pledging to take Baghdad. In response, soldiers in the Iraqi army are abandoning posts and deserting in order to escape. And here in the United States, the finger pointing is beginning in earnest, with congressional Republicans, smelling blood in the water, rushing to label the Obama Administration's decision to withdraw troops from Iraq as a "cut and run" strategy that presents the world a picture of American fecklessness and cowardice.

But, if this is true, it also presents to the world a picture of a nation that has learned to do the impossible.

I don't think that whether or not we (the United States) kept troops in Iraq is really the issue. Despite the constant fear-mongering about the Second Coming of al-Queda, this isn't about us - it's about whether or not the people currently in Iraq feel that what they have is worth fighting and dying for. If the army isn't willing to risk being killed, and the locals won't work with the police there, then what would American troops do? Force them into the fight at gunpoint? Yes, I understand that we want to deny extremists safe havens and whatnot, but that's only because we've been told be deathly afraid of these particular extremists. There are extremists of various stripes all over the planet. If we don't see them as our problem, we don't get involved.

Iraq needs of a government OF the Iraqi people BY the Iraqi people and FOR the Iraqi people. (If that's one government, awesome; but if it needs to be three governments - one for the Shi'a, one for the Sunni and one for the Kurds, then so be it.) But I don't think that the people of Iraq feel that they currently have that - and so they're not invested enough in what they do have to risk whatever they feel they have to lose for it. American boots on the ground aren't going to change that. We can't import patriotism, and we can't expect an Iraqi army to be willing to fight mainly to protect the interests of foreigners. After all, I don't recall Iraq being admitted to the Union when I wasn't looking, and the fight against Islamic extremism (at least as far as we consider that a strain of anti-Americanism) is more important to us than it is to them.

The idea that "standing up" an Iraqi army meant building a fighting force that would suppress its own population in order to allow Americans to sleep without fear of Islamist terrorism was never the right goal, because it was never an Iraqi goal. The path to a republic here in the United States has been long. You could make the case that even after 238 years, we still haven't managed to get it right. We have to major political parties, and between a third and a quarter of both them see the other party as active threats to the future of the nation. The idea that in less than 238 months we could airdrop a model democracy into a nation that hasn't had one in living memory is ludicrous.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


In the world of online arguments, this one is pretty tame. It centers around a basic question: Were government laws and regulations that supported racial segregation enacted over the active objections of a white population that, left to its own devices, would have preferred to be more welcoming and inclusive?

Hazel Bryan - typical American teenager or government stooge? You decide!
On the surface, it's about unity and the wickedness of government - the idea that what kept Americans apart was not a desire on the part of some to segregate themselves from others, but evil government bureaucrats who, power-mad, sought to drive a wedge between the segments of an unwilling, but hapless, populace for their own nefarious purposes.

At the deepest level, it's about the idea that a workable ethical order can emerge from an unregulated free-market society; the idea that morality is universal enough that no true moral wrong, such as segregation, can ever become popular enough to be a problem without someone actively violating the non-aggression principle.

But sandwiched in between them is the idea that all people are basically good - as we understand "good" today. It's a hard idea to swallow - Oprah Winfrey was so incredulous that Hazel Bryan and Elizabeth Eckford could actually have become friends after the events of 1957 (captured in the iconic photograph) that both women described her as rude; Eckford going so far as to say that Ms. Winfrey had gone out of her way to be hateful.
Reconciliation and redemption were usually Oprah’s things, but it soon became evident that here was one happy ending that was too much even for Oprah. Something about it, and them, seemed to offend her, and once on the air, she didn’t conceal her distaste for them. The famous picture flashed on the screen. “When we come back, how this shocking image of racism sparked a friendship, if you can believe that, 40 years later,” she teased.
Oprah Disses a Civil-Rights Icon
But if there is a group of people who feel that the whites of Little Rock, Arkansas, were hateful bigots then, and must still be hateful bigots now, there is also a group of people who feel that they were the innocent victims of unresponsive government, both then and now.

Both groups are resistant to the idea of change, the idea that people, when they learn new information or come to understand things differently, can alter the way they see the world around them and the way they interact with it. People are either good or bad, and that's the end of it.

In the particular (gentle) argument that I waded into, government is always bad, and "the people" always good. It's a simple, neat and tidy narrative that bolsters the argument that if we could just do away with "the State," then everything would automagically work itself out.

But the photograph becomes a stumbling block. Can you look at that, and really say that the segregation of Little Rock's schools had been forced on everyone there, against their wishes? If so, where were the protests when the policies were enacted? When did the police put down peaceful demonstrations in the name of making the nation safe for a hateful agenda that only those people in office wanted to see fulfilled?

TEA Party types and small-government crusaders feel maligned when it's pointed out that there is often a nostalgia among older male WASPs for the 1950s, when Whites' place of privilege and cultural dominance wasn't simply a social construct, it was often coded into law. And for non-Whites, women, non-Christians, gays, et cetera, it was NOT a good time to be an American. We look down on that time now, perhaps too much so. Our need to see the things that we've left behind as deliberate acts of Evil may have lead us to cast people of that time as more villainous than they really deserve. And the defensiveness that this creates leads to a whitewashing of history, the idea that the people who lived at that time who benefited from those policies were in no way responsible foe their enactment.

I don't know if it's realistic to expect that one day, they will be forgiven. After all, we still seem to enjoy kicking the ancient Romans for not being like us today, and are quick to attribute their actions to bloodlust, debauchery or whatever other vices come to mind. But if we can't talk about the past without moral baggage, that baggage will stay with us far into the future.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Logic Fail

Argumentum ab iniquum opes = Argument from "Well, you're a member of the 1%." Lit. "The argument of unfair means."

This logical fallacy, which has become increasingly common since the short-lived Occupy Wall Street movement, operates on the idea that the ideas of the (apparently) wealthy are suspect simply because the speaker has more wealth than "the common person," and thus is "out of touch" with reality as anyone who isn't wealthy experiences, when that isn't the topic actually under discussion.

Alice: People who favor user fees over taxes are actually attempting to gut public services to save themselves money.

Bob: As someone who pays $20,000 a year to send my children to private schools, I can assure you that it's more expensive - I only do so because there isn't a good public alternative.

Alice: Well, regular people can't afford to pay $20,000 for their children's education. So why should they listen to you?
Alice's response to Bob does not address his rebuttal of her original point - that people who use private goods over public ones are stingy, but instead seeks to undermine his credibility by using his (apparent) wealth to insinuate a lack of understanding of the problems of regular people who have no choice but to use taxpayer-funded schools. Which may be true, but that doesn't mean that he would rather not pay taxes to support those schools, or that he thinks that a system of ubiquitous private schools would be less expensive for him, personally.

Of course, "Argumentum ab iniquum opes" isn't really a new logical fallacy. It's just a variation on the Appeal to Poverty (argumentum ad lazarum) red herring fallacy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Whether it is more difficult to be accepting of ourselves when we are at our worst or to allow others their own acceptance at their worst, the fact remains that it is even harder to do one, but not the other.

Serenity is more work than it has any right to be. But, I suppose that this is why existence is suffering. The drive to control things outside of oneself that comes from desire is remarkably strong, and it has more tools at its disposal than seems reasonable.

Sunday, June 8, 2014


Six years into a Life After People...
During the housing boom of the 2000s, it was fashionable in the Seattle area (and, presumably, elsewhere) for real-estate developers to buy up lots, merge them, and then build as many vertically-oriented homes on them as would fit, resulting in compact neighborhoods of fairly pricey homes packed within a few feet of each other. The bottom fell out before all of the homes could be completed, and while some have been torn down (either to let the land lie or for someone else to re-develop the land) others have remained, unlivable, waiting to be reclaimed.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Promises, Promises

"Yet [Ta-Nehisi Coates’] mistake does not excuse anyone from contending with the reverberating question that haunts American life even as we approach the 150th anniversary of the Thirteenth Amendment: How will a country built on both freedom and slavery, on both human equality and racial subordination, make good on its promise of opportunity for all its people?"
David Frum "The Elusive Specificity of Reparations"
Even if we can somehow manage to reconcile the idea of a nation built on both "freedom and slavery" and "human equality and racial subordination," the expectation that the United States will ever manage to "make good on its promise of opportunity for all its people" is hopelessly naïve. Not because the United States is an evil place, or the citizenry is committed to not making it happen, but because of a simple fact - opportunity for all people in the United States is simply an unrealistic goal, and the United States, for all its desire to be seen as an exceptional nation, is not SO exceptional that it can manage to pull off the impossible.

Slavery and racial subordination were not the results of some malicious force that wormed its way into the people of the United States and corrupted them. Instead, they were the results of the simple fact that opportunities always come at a cost to someone. And unless that cost is universally negligible, people are going to look for ways to shift those costs onto other people, and that will result in reduced opportunities for the people who wind up bearing those costs. It's the issue that we currently have with affirmative action in education. Aggrieved whites feel that they are the ones bearing the costs of improved opportunities for non-whites, and that this results in unfair costs to them, as they deserve of those opportunities. It's the common mark of a culture of scarcity.

The hope that the United States will someday manage to do away with the culture of scarcity is an old one, but it's unlikely ever to be realized. While it's fashionable to blame advertising for people always wanting more than they have, the simple fact of the matter is that it's extraordinarily difficult for people to get themselves to a state where they truly feel that they have "enough," especially when they understand themselves to be in competition with others. And as long as there is a sense that there isn't "enough," people will begrudge one another the things that they have, and, therefore, they will balk at paying them the price that freedom and human equality demand.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Best Platitudes

Part of the reason why I've become wary of pithy sayings is that they can easily descend into faux-enlightening platitudes, which claim to distill wisdom down to its constituent parts. But often, the real effect is that people nod along with them, congratulating themselves on their own wisdom and uprightness at the expense of others who made a rational choice to do things differently.

Just because one has come a long way, this does not, in and of itself, make finishing the journey a worthwhile endeavor. Sometimes, walking away from the sunk costs is exactly the best option.
Sunk Costs are costs that have already been spent on a project. Do not consider these costs when making future project decisions.
What they teach you in Project Management class. (Emphasis in original.)
If you think of your life, and the goals you are attempting to achieve in it, as a series of projects; and someone comes along with advice that's the exact opposite of the best practices for managing a project, it's time to ask some questions.

And that's the problem with pithy sayings. Sure they're clever, and they get the point across, but they're difficult to question. Someone who posts life advice in less than 30 words because it resonates with them, or it boosts their ego - unless they themselves are the author - are going to be unlikely to be able to answer any questions that are raised.

Of course, I understand that I'm also arguing in favor of my own tendency for wordiness, even as I've been attempting to get away from being word. I am not a particularly good source of wisdom myself.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


Indifference, I've found, is no more merciful.

Monday, June 2, 2014

To Be a Friend

I think I'm getting the hang of reducing things to their essence.
This one took me a while to boil down. And I'm still not sure that it says it the way I want to communicate it. But it has a resonance for me, and perhaps, that's all that's required.