2038

unix2038

In many ways, I’m an extremely predictable person. I always get the same kind of ice cream. Each restaurant has a single item I pick every time I’m there. I wear T-shirts that I’ve had since middle school. There are a couple thoughts and activities that consistently make me happy, a few that always calm me down, and some that stress me out no matter how often they cross my path. Like most people, I’ve changed a great deal over the years. But with the exception of a handful of unexpectedly transformative life events, my internal changes have felt slow, purposeful, and comprehensible. I don’t like uncertainty, and I work as hard as I can to reduce it to a manageable level. But in areas where the limits of my knowledge and ability to study fall short, I feel frustrated, lost, and afraid. Maybe that’s why the future, which is so frequently a source of inspiration and anticipation for me, has also always filled me with a vague gnawing undercurrent of fear that won’t go away.

I’ve heard that hope is something of an antidote to fear. For me, it at least mitigates some of the symptoms. In light of the stormy times that seem (to me) to be looming on the near horizon, I thought it would be good medicine to write about some of the things I’m most hoping for by the time I turn 50.

  • Family
    • Celebrating my 23rd wedding anniversary with Martha. I hope we can enjoy a happy breakfast, get to spend some quality time outdoors, and still love watching the sun go down together. I hope we’re still making new memories faster than the old ones fade away.
    • Hanging out with my people. I hope Mom & Dad McClurg, and Mom & Dad Harrouff will be pleasantly settled into being Grandparents McClurg & Harrouff. I hope that Jedidiah, Anna, Moriah, Micah, Jake, Jemmie, Ben, and Kate are still pursuing their passion. I hope that we all still love just spending an afternoon with each other.
    • Watching my own kids find their feet and voice as adults. I hope each one of them deeply wants to leave the world better than they found it. I hope they’re working at that with a will, and are finding joy in that work.
    • Serving God by helping others in work and down time. I hope I still can help out at my church, but I’m especially hopeful that I’ll have improved the service-to-selfishness ratio in my job and recreation. I’m definitely not close to being there yet, but by the time I’m 50, I hope my actions have grown to speak the love of God to my friends & coworkers in a way that Sunday service can’t.
  • Country
    • Positive structural changes with the collapse of the two-party system. I hope that the current dissatisfaction with the two major U.S. political parties continues to grow and their monopoly on our government offices is broken. I hope new parties with orthogonal goals fill the void, and the government is forced to undergo the structural changes it needs to unite a country without homogenizing it.
    • Widespread reform in “fundamentalist” Christian circles. I hope that the blatant hypocrisy, hate-mongering, and short sightedness displayed by some formerly well-respected Christian groups will cause a mass exodus from the stagnant, insular social communities that have developed around some churches. I am looking forward to the day when fundamentalist Christians point their ire in the right direction, upturn the structures of hate and fear, and pour out God’s love with all the energy of a megaphone preacher.
    • Social change through decentralized media. I hope that the Internet becomes the primary source of news for most people in this country. More than that, I hope that Internet news aggregators and search engines continue to become more in tune with with people’s long-term desires. We’ve gone from terrible flashing online ads to tailored search suggestions that actually help us find what we’re looking for. By the time I’m 50, I hope we’ve moved from an Internet economy based on “time spent online” to “life satisfaction from online time.” With that, the news that gets the most hits is going to be the news that helps us live better — not news that sensationalizes things or divides us.
  • World
    • Better technology and more resilient economies. I hope that driving to work is no longer a risky behavior. I hope that people don’t have to wait for heart transplants or need dialysis machines to stay alive. I hope we can look back and feel good about our progress toward taking care of our planet. I hope I get to use technologies I never could have dreamed of. I hope that all the global technological changes makes our economies more resilient to change. I hope that powerful people start spending less time manipulating financial markets, and more time working toward long term human goals.
    • Coming closer together. I hope an awareness with what is going on in other places continues to grow. I hope people from different cultures continue to talk to each other, and hash out their differences. I hope that the increasing interdependencies among different countries and companies and people help us see past the things that don’t matter. I hope the world is better prepared to interact peacefully without agreeing.
    • Cultural reform and improved human rights. The history of ethics isn’t something I pretend to know a lot about, but it seems like the persistent work of people trying to do good over the centuries has helped us “grow up” a little as a species. War and slavery aren’t everyday norms for everyone. Some marginalized communities have more power than they ever have before. We’ve a long way to go, to be sure, but I hope I can look back on some global ethical progress by the time I’m 50.

Beauty

stupid

Before I start off, let me just say that for every dumb behavior that’s stereotypically female, there are probably two stupid practices that are stereotypically male. Also, I fully realize that I’m not the one who stops the buck about what’s smart and what’s not. Furthermore, there’s plenty of room for discussion about who is to blame for initiating this little pet peeve of mine. So, feel free to comment with all the vim and vigor that you desire.

That being said, there’s an idiotic phrase that I’ve overheard at one time or another from probably over half of the women and girls I know. Normally, I’d pass it off as simply an unimaginative insult. The trouble is that it’s almost invariably placed solemnly at the end of a long list of grievances against another person — as if it were a statement that carried some sort kind of courtroom-level gravity.

“Besides, he/she isn’t even cute/pretty!”

This, my friends, is some nonsense1)For those of you who don’t know me very well, that’s one of the strongest negative words in my day-to-day vocabulary..

From here on out, you’re probably expecting the standard “beauty isn’t skin deep” sermon that you’ve all heard before. While an ugly spirit is way more of a turn-off to me than physical form ever could be, that’s for another post to talk about. Whatever lies beneath it, the skin’s what you see first, and that’s all that I’m going to be talking about here, when I’m addressing the stupidity of the afore-mentioned insult.

Maybe it’s just that I’m an outlier myself, and so I’m one of a small number of people who genuinely doesn’t find the “Hollywood” facial features or body type all that attractive. Maybe it’s just me and a few other folks who don’t have some monolithic idea of the “ideal man/woman” in mind, when we think of physical beauty. Maybe there aren’t that many people other than myself who find their heart totally skipping a beat at some weird little hand gesture, an odd crinkle of the nose, or a smile that wasn’t constructed in an operating room. Like I said, maybe. However, I like to think that the typical mental activity behind what’s drop-dead-gorgeous and what’s not-so-much is a complicated enough process that it’s literally impossible for there to be a standard definition of beauty — even on a per-person basis, much less in general!

That’s why it’s so dumb to insult the way a person looks, as if there’s any kind of standard to compare it to. You may be the only person in the world who has that opinion. If you’re not, it’s still likely that there’s a large segment of the population that would disagree. Sure, there can be statistical means — but who are you to say that’s the right metric to compare someone to? In fact, I’d reckon that the celebrities are all considered attractive, not because they’re anyone’s actual paragon of pretty, but simply because they’re considered “not bad” by such a large number of people. No one is pretty to everyone, but I’d guess that almost everyone is absolutely stunning to someone. And, before you think I’m being sappy, remember that I mean this in a strictly physical sense — not even considering the profound effects of personality, etc.

So, all that to say, I’m formally asking womankind (or at least the subset of it that needs to) to stop banging the word beauty around like some kind of gavel. It’s a too-individually-varying concept to carry any real weight of judgment. I don’t mind if you really feel the need to bad-talk someone every once in a while. However, please please please end your diatribe with something stronger and smarter than whether or not you fancy the way that person looks.

Notes   [ + ]

Real talk

o-HOLDING-HANDS-570

“So… I met this girl.”

 

 

“Remember when that hilarious thing happened to us?”

“Did you hear about what happened to our mutual friend?”

“You’ll never believe what he said to me.”

“Can I get your advice on this situation?”

“I heard something about you. Can you tell me more about it?”

The types of conversations that might follow above statements always seem to work out really well for me. Of course, by “really well,” I mean that people’s eyes rarely roll back in their head, and I don’t hear many audible sighs. There’s usually a reasonable degree of back-and-forth between me and the other person, and I walk away thinking that they enjoyed talking to me. I’m not a conversationalist by any means, but I can at least mimic one with some degree of competency if the situation calls for it. Because I seem to interpret the world differently than most people, talking with people I don’t know well takes a tremendous amount of internal processing. Not only must I understand their particular way of looking at things and to translate my ideas into that worldview, but I also have to simultaneously gauge the level of interest and disinterest in any ideas that I might bring up.

To give you a flavor of this process, let me narrate an example of the types of internal discussion that underly “conversation starters” like the ones listed in this post.

“So… I met this girl.” (I sense a really close connection with you, and want to talk about something important but highly personal, in order to communicate that I really appreciate the trusting bond that we share. It would be too weird to just come right out and say something like that. So, let’s talk about the feelings I have for someone else. To reiterate, I’d really prefer not to discuss these feelings because I can sort them out much better on my own. But, I’m “letting you in” now because I trust you and want you to trust me with things that are near and dear to your heart.)

“Remember when that hilarious thing happened to us?” (I’m have a painfully vivid memory of the event in question. Rather than having to re-live the situation alone, let’s do it with a friend — and try to cast the story into a new, better memory so that future flashbacks aren’t quite so distressing.)

“Did you hear about what happened to our mutual friend?”/”You’ll never believe what he said to me.” (You really enjoy talking about things like this, and I want you to enjoy talking to me. Even though I really could not care less about the situation, I also understand that I don’t have that “normal” of a brain. As such, it’s probably more practical for me to practice saying the kind of “nonsense” that you enjoy talking about than it is for me to try to interest you in the kind of “nonsense” that I enjoy talking about.)

“Can I get your advice on this situation?” (I’ve spent a great deal of time evaluating a number of solutions to the problem, and have even made most of the steps toward resolution. I’m including you because I think you are an intelligent, capable person. I want to give you a compliment, while getting a sanity check on my thought process.)

“I heard something about you. Can you tell me more about it?” (I shouldn’t have to explain this one, because it’s actually the only one in the list that is not hiding any complicated abstractions. However, I feel like most people view this kind of question as code for “I want to get one step closer to understanding who you are as a person.” First, I really do not like the phrase of “understanding someone.” It’s almost offensively presumptuous and is not at all the way I interpret relationships. I like “getting to know someone” a lot better, because it connotes a privilege, and an ever-adapting bond. Second, I am a genuinely curious person. I care about your research. I care about your extensive knowledge of 19th century dinnerware. I care about how that job interview went, and how your week went. I love that good knowledge!)

So, as much as people might be right in saying that I’m a poor communicator, it still really ticks me off — especially since I tend to put a considerable amount of effort into “boiling down” my actual thoughts and feelings into the commonly-accepted lingo. If I’m willing to do (or at least make a best-effort attempt at) this for everyone most of the time, it seems fair that others — especially those closest to me — ought to be willing, on occasion, to sift through some of my unfiltered and not-immediately-interesting ramblings, and share some of the burden of translating my thoughts into something they can appreciate.

Cash Money

Cash-Money1

I think that some people have way more money than one person could ever possibly need, but I seriously doubt that anyone has enough to make indiscriminate redistribution worthwhile in a meaningful sense.

For example, if you were to liquidate the total net worth of all of the world’s rich folks ($46 trillion), and distribute it to everyone living in poverty (3 billion), each person would get a one-time payment of around $15k. That might instantaneously change millions of peoples lives, but it would eventually trickle up again into the coffers of the people who control the structures that our society runs on, and I’d guess that there would be at least another 3 billion poor in just a few generations. It’s those structures that need to change, not the financial standing of the people controlling them.

I say that the best way for global positive change is for the average person to stop viewing wealthy people as resources to be mined by the government for extra cash, and instead to start viewing them as the guardians of our way of life. That, my friend, is a really stressful job, and for some people, those millions are all the compensation they’ll ever get — having sacrificed health, happiness, friends, and family in order to reach their position of influence. If rich folks were to tank their companies, or stop skillfully managing their assets, it would put a lot more than 3 billion in the poor house. What needs to happen is not to punish people for working hard, and gaining power. Instead, I think we ought to start thinking about ways to leverage more of these hard-working, influential people to create widespread change.

More than ever before, business owners are positioned to radically change the world in ways that the slow-acting, lowest-common-denominator policies that are indicative of large governments simply won’t do. I often wonder if our world would operate more ethically if corporate leaders caught a little less flack for “being too rich,” got a little more more respect for the societal good they do provide, and received a little bit more positive encouragement from “the common man” on ways to willingly use their power and influence for positive social change.

Kings can be loved by their subjects, if both are wise, kind, and just. Let’s keep talking to our government leaders about the issues we care about, but I think it would be a good idea to also start talking to our boss’ boss’ bosses!

IMO

Science naturally divides itself into two main factions: Physical science, and theoretical science. By definition, applied science is based upon observations of the natural world – and is always potentially controvertible by additional observation. Established “laws” of nature are constantly being re-interpreted and re-formulated to best match the existing body of evidence. Unlike physical science, theoretical sciences, such as mathematics are much less open to re-evaluation – since these fields operate within extremely strict frameworks like formal logic. Many times, the two fields overlap, in that a particular theoretical model can give insight into a physical observation, or tangible evidence can lead to a new scientific theory.

However, the two fields are fundamentally distinct in that one field’s discoveries do not match the other’s definition of truth. Physical science defines truth as “agreement with the majority of reasonably-verifiable physical observations,” while theoretical science defines truth as “that which incontrovertibly follows from a set of initial axioms.” Observable science makes no claim regarding the finality of its results, and theoretical science does not address the validity of its initial axioms. Thus, the current scientific majority opinion cannot and should not be defended with the religious fervor that is attached to regarding science as absolute truth. Science is only one limited perspective from which interpret human experience – it makes no claim about the validity of alternate viewpoints.

In particular, where any set of beliefs (such as a religion) does not address physically observable information or formally provable statements, that set of beliefs is completely distinct from science. Science does not address the deeper meaning of the universe or human existence. It makes no prescriptions of morality – it does not speak of the spiritual world. In many religions, the most fundamental teachings, practices, and concepts reach beyond the scientific definitions of verifiable truth and therefore cannot be in agreement or disagreement with science.

Given the vastly distinct roles of science and religion, it is extremely unfortunate that the few instances in which science and religion overlap have generated so much conflict over the years. This is especially unfortunate, when one considers that it is often the interpretation of evidence, not the evidence itself that is the source of contention. For example, the relatively sparse nature of ancient historical data often necessitates a good deal more speculation within the scientific community than the average layperson tends to believe. Scientists rarely give “facts” about history the same weight of certainty as “facts” about the behavior of macroscopic objects under a gravitational field.

Consider, for instance, the Native American tradition of the Thunderbird. Within the scientific community, the Native American Thunderbird is currently considered to be a mythical creature. Traditionalistic Native Americans choose to interpret the oral history more literally. In this particular case, the majority scientific opinion does not have sufficient evidence to seriously question the validity of the contradicting perspective. So, while Native American religion and science might be said to hold different views, they cannot be said to contradict one another.

It is important for religious and non-religious people alike to understand that the vast majority of religious views are squarely outside of the realm of science. Moreover, most religions only overlap with science in a select few areas – and most of the conflicts stem from different interpretations of historical data. In areas where the existing evidence is open to some speculation, it is important for scientists and non-scientists alike to realize that there is value in seriously considering all perspectives even when those perspectives disagree with the current majority consensus. By recognizing the respective limitations of religion and science, modern scientists and religious leaders can avoid becoming embroiled in petty debates over differences in interpretation. Instead, the religious and scientific communities have much to gain from each other by offering different perspectives from which to experience the universe.