No One Can Do the Work For You

People want to be told what to do. This is a fact, despite our protestations to the contrary. Many of us crave leadership, reassurance, a direction.

But when when we get this, we resent the fact that we still have to do the work to get where we want to be.

Otherwise, we resent that we’re being led by the nose and micromanaged.

We’re a fickle species, aren’t we? Especially when it comes to the King of All Topics to Be Avoided: religion.

Me, I’m not a very good listener.

I had an interesting conversation the other night with two co-workers, one who is a Catholic and the other who had actually studied and trained to be a Catholic priest, but ended up not taking his vows.

The discussion was far-ranging, covering things like the nature of belief, why rituals and rites are important, where morality comes from, and the vital role played by tradition and study versus personal interpretations of Scripture.

But what I started thinking about after this conversation really got my mind abuzz.

One attack used by opponents of religion (though their ire strangely always seems focused only on Christianity…) is the idea that, if God were real, why would He allow any suffering on Earth? “Show us a sign, losers!” they demand, as though God is a puppet to dispense blessings, or a slot-machine that just the right prayer worded just the right way can force to give a winning spin.

Such a deity would be a puppet master, treating humanity the way that lots of pagan gods, from the Greeks to the Norse to the Egyptians did.

He would be telling us what to do…and make us do it.

Instead, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph, of Jesus and John, Peter and Mary and Paul lets us figure things out on our own. He may give leadership and guidance, but instead of fastening us with a leash, He opens the door and let’s us make our own ways through the wilds of the world.

Why is that?

I think a lot about how our interactions with others mirror God’s interactions with his creation. Even the Deists viewed him as a “Watchmaker,” so to speak, setting the machine in motion and hiding behind the scenes.

Think of God as a Father: The way He relates to us, his “children,” if you will, is a model of how we should relate to our own children as parents. Particularly the example of Jesus (“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”)

A good parent isn’t one who coddles their children. This ensures that the child will grow up to be a fearful and risk-averse adult, always appealing to authority for help, unable to make anything resembling an adult decision.

But what about being a teacher? It sounds kind of similar, doesn’t it?

Continue reading “No One Can Do the Work For You”

The Comprehension Gap

The logo for the organization Reading Is Fundamental

I feel it is obligatory to write about the whole Google memo thing; it’s all everybody is talking about anyway, so why not chime in?

“Because enough is enough, Alex!”

Ah, but I think you’ll find my take to be slightly different than your average customers’.

(See what I did there? It’s called foreshadowing).

So the memo, what some are calling an “anti-diversity screed” and are characterizing as “arguing that women are not biologically fit for tech roles.”

Which begs the question: did these outlets even read the memo, or are they lying about it?

You see, I am not here to discuss the contents of the memo, or its now-fired author James Damore, or even discuss what this means to the future of the American workplace–if you want to read a good article about all that stuff, check out Lord Adeonistake on the whole controversy.

I’m not even here to talk about the media: I do not expect honesty from them, nor do I expect them to be particularly intelligent enough to grasp what the memo actually said, which can be boiled down thusly:

The gap in representation in STEM fields does not stem from sexism, but from the AVERAGE PREFERENCES women make when choosing an occupation, some of which are driven by biological differences between men and women, and Google’s strategy of using discrimination to promote women, and certain other groups in general, does more harm than good.

That’s it. The author wanted more women to be working in STEM fields generally, and at Google in particular–in fact, he sounds like a fan of diversity (this is where reading comprehension comes in: did people just skip that part, or ignore it?). The memo is not “anti-diversity”; it is more “anti-Google’s current diversity policies, which he claims are not producing the desired effect, and are in fact causing more harm than good.”

A picture of the outside of Google headquarters

That’s a bit more nuanced, right? It’s not as good for clickbait, though. And you’ll notice that I am neither attacking nor defending the contents of the memo . . . I’m just trying to set a baseline of understanding so we know what we are talking about. It’s like in a formal debate or an informal argument: both sides need to be sure that they are talking about the same thing. Remember when that used to be important?

And yet, people want him drawn and quartered. People are frothing-at-the-mouth mad. You may find the contents of the memo offensive or distasteful–and that’s fine–but I certainly hope you at least read and understood what it actually said.

More shocking, to me at least, is this:

So many people seem to lack both a basic understanding of statistics and of basic reading comprehension.

And many of these people went to college.

This is what disturbs me the most. Continue reading “The Comprehension Gap”

Experts At Distrust

Trust

There are misconceptions everywhere. You’d have to be willfully blind not to realize this. We don’t know as much as we think we do. But that’s not the danger. The danger is that very few like to admit that there are gaps in their knowledge and understanding. It makes us feel small, stupid, inadequate . . .

But such admissions also provide a healthy and much-needed dose of humility. But in a world where we carefully cultivate our images, such admissions are anathema.

And so we live in a time when everybody is an expert on everything, we are governed by our feelings (which, let’s be honest, has been the case for most of human history), and so few want to ask difficult questions or think difficult thoughts.

How did we get this way?

I don’t know. I suppose it’s some combination of classism on the part of the ruling elites, resentment on the part of the rest of us, the system being proven not to work as advertised, and nobody interested in bridging the gaps between us.

What’s that, you say? I’m being hyperbolic about the system?

Au contraire. If you look at the post-World War II neo-liberal world order, it is collapsing in spectacular fashion, and it really only took half a generation to do so.

But I digress. The problem as I see it is that there are thorny issues that need resolving, very careful resolving, but nobody trusts each other.
Continue reading “Experts At Distrust”

Make America Humble Again?

While neighborhood-scouting in the tony areas of Northern Virginia with my family, I saw a house proudly decorated with signs reading the following:

MAKE AMERICA HUMBLE AGAIN

I wasn’t able to get a picture since I was driving, but here’s how they looked: They weren’t homemade, so I know there’s some enterprising company wishing to express this sentiment (which only seems to arise when a Republican is president, but I digress), and there are obviously people who want to pay for this sentiment. 

The text was meant to simulate something, a name-card, maybe, reading “Make America ________ Again,” like a political mad-lob. The word “humble” was written in a cursive script in the blank space, and the whole thing was on a pinkish background. 

Not the sign, but the closest picture I could find.

The signs got me thinking about the concepts “America” and “humility,” which is a persuasion win on both the signmaker and the sign-hanger’s part. 

But given what I know about America specifically and geopolitics at large, was America ever humble?

It’s the same way people wonder if America was ever great (hint: It still is, but mostly in relation to most everywhere else). 

America began life as a gigantic “Eff You!” to the most powerful empire in the world. 

It prevailed against incredible odds, and somehow survived the difficult decades after, to emerge some two centuries later as the world’s only superpower.

It’s kind of hard to be humble with a history like that. 

Look, we all know it’s not going to last. All empires–because that’s what America is, like it or not–have their ups and downs. And they change forms. 

Look at England, for example. It’s not the same country it was in 1066, or even 1966.  And yet it persists. 

America isn’t even that old, and we already don’t exist as founded. We haven’t for a lot time. 

America as founded died a long time ago, and is now firmly in the “smells funny” phase.  Continue reading “Make America Humble Again?”

The People Dressed in Grey

What makes a leader? The ingredients of leadership are likely different depending on who you ask. But as this speech by William Deresiewicz, given to West Point’s 2009 graduating class suggests, solitude and the ability to be alone is a huge part of it. 

Solitude and leadership…a very interesting concept. 

It’s not exactly a recent speech, but it’s a powerful one. And it heavily references one of my favorite books, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

The references to Conrad’s masterpiece resonated the most with me, not just in the idea of solitude and the importance of being alone with one’s thoughts, concentrating on ideas, and thinking things through–a diminishing trait in this technological age, especially among the younger setnd it’s importance to leadership, but in how Conrad discusses what doesn’t make a good leader:

In between is the Central Station, where Marlow spends the most time, and where we get our best look at bureaucracy in action and the kind of people who succeed in it. This is Marlow’s description of the manager of the Central Station, the big boss:

He was commonplace in complexion, in features, in manners, and in voice. He was of middle size and of ordinary build. His eyes, of the usual blue, were perhaps remarkably cold. . . . Otherwise there was only an indefinable, faint expression of his lips, something stealthy—a smile—not a smile—I remember it, but I can’t explain. . . . He was a common trader, from his youth up employed in these parts—nothing more. He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. That was it! Uneasiness. Not a definite mistrust—just uneasiness—nothing more. You have no idea how effective such a . . . a . . . faculty can be. He had no genius for organizing, for initiative, or for order even. . . . He had no learning, and no intelligence. His position had come to him—why? . . . He originated nothing, he could keep the routine going—that’s all. But he was great. He was great by this little thing that it was impossible to tell what could control such a man. He never gave that secret away. Perhaps there was nothing within him. Such a suspicion made one pause.

Note the adjectives: commonplace, ordinary, usual, common. There is nothing distinguished about this person.

We all know this guy: The nobody who seems to do nothing yet tells everybody else what to do. The kiss-ass who somehow rises through the ranks. The boss you never want to let slip anything remotely contrary or controversial for fear it will reach the ear of the exact people you never want to hear it. 

In short, Bill Lumbergh from Office Space

Inspiring uneasiness…

Doesn’t it seem as though people like this run the world? Why? Continue reading “The People Dressed in Grey”

Get Them While They’re Young: Youth Obsession and Indoctrination

We are all born with small brains. But the good news is that brains grow.

We come into this world, quite frankly, ignorant in the truest sense of the world–some might say “stupid”–and spend the rest of our lives acquiring knowledge and wisdom in the hopes of, at the very least, mitigating this stupidity.

There is nothing wrong with being young. Yet here in America we have this weird obsession with youth.

I can be tough on Millennials, but I also have a fair bit of sympathy for them.

To be fair, I should say “us,” as according to most cut-offs, I am also a member of this generation, being born in 1981 (although some people who study this sort of thing put the cut-off at 1982).

The interesting thing about Millennials is that the exaltation and, indeed, worship of youth is relatively new in history.

Youth Over All

There is nothing wrong with being young. We were all young once, and it is fun to be energetic, vigorous, free from responsibility, dreaming big dreams and beholden to no one except maybe your parents. The young do see things differently, unconstrained by past precedents or logical fallacies that hold many of the rest of us back.

But this is in large part because of their relative ignorance and inexperience. These are not necessarily things that should be celebrated.

Youth should be spent trying to pave the way for adulthood, not remain in a perpetual state of adolescence.

I am 35. I know a hell of a lot more than I did when I was 15, or 20, or even 25. However, when I am 70, I will look back at my 35-year-old self and say, “what an idiot!”

I have a hypothesis about why this youth-obsession is so prevalent, so powerful: The young are easy to indoctrinate and manipulate.

And they are, as my friend Rawle Nyanzi puts ita captive audience.

A large part of this is the cynical desire to sell stuff to young and create lifelong customers who will induce their parents to spend money on their behalf until they are ready to spend their own.

But our youth-obsession goes beyond trying to make a buck. We tend to see everything “young” as “good” and “old” as “bad,” without thinking about the actual issues critically. What’s worse than adults doing this is the fact that the young do it themselves. Don’t believe me? Check out the reactions to two elections that occurred in 2016:

  1. Brexit. Our friends across the pond voted to leave the EU. The Remain vote was heavily concentrated in cities, the Leave vote in more rural areas. There was also a young-versus-old age gap.  How many hysterical did we see by the young for the “old people vote” to be nullified, or the “elderly”–that is, anyone over 35 or maybe 40–disenfranchised?
  2. The U.S. Presidential election. Here in the States, we’re being shown election maps of “what if only Millennials voted?” showing a unanimous Hillary Clinton victory. This has been coupled with bloodthirsty hopes that all old, and usually white, people will literally die (and some are trying their damndest to make this happen).

This is pretty genocidal, to say the least. But it goes to show that the indoctrination is working.

Indoctrination

Everyone is indoctrinated, and everybody advocates for indoctrination. Everyone.

When you educate somebody to have good manners, or to respect their family name, you are indoctrinating them. If you are religious, you are indoctrinating your children into a religious worldview. Patriotism, love of country, military service and respect for it, these are all things that are indoctrinated.

The idea all societies have, from the primitive to the highly advanced, is to indoctrinate children with things that are good for society, and to recognize those that are bad. Continue reading “Get Them While They’re Young: Youth Obsession and Indoctrination”

The College Post: What You Learn At University (and Whether It’s Worth the Price)

Graduating from College.jpg

I’ve spent ten years attending universities of one form or another. No, this is not bragging. But I think I have a pretty good perspective on what college can and cannot do for you.

For those who like to keep score, here are the expensive pieces of paper I with fancy writing that I have collected in my lifetime:

  • A Bachelor’s degree in history, with a focus on pre-Revolutionary and early American history up to and through the Civil War (4 years)
  • A Master’s degree in political science, with a focus on international relations (2 years)

  • A juris doctor (3 years)
  • A Master’s in business administration (1 year)

The title of this post says it all, and probably spoils the denouement. And many who talk about college these days, myself included, tend to concentrate on what a waste of time and money it is (it is). I’m going to do something a little different, though, and talk about the things that university can teach you. Here we go.

Time Management: This is true for all college, but I found it to especially be the case when I was in law school.

I honestly didn’t find college all that difficult in general, likely because I largely studied subjects firmly within the liberal arts and humanities and not science or engineering. But even so, the sheer amount of material that gets thrown at you in college can be staggering. It’s all about prioritizing, not just your work, but your life. I did learn how to juggle several different projects, meet deadlines, and handle a busy schedule while maintaining a personal life. These skills have helped me immensely in my professional career. I would break time management down into three phases

  • Priorities: Work big-to-small, and do the important stuff first. Sometimes what’s most important means what is due first. But keep in mind that importance is not always based on time.
  • Balance: If you burn yourself out, you will do nobody any favors. You also don’t want your personal relationships to suffer. Lastly, you still want to be well-rounded and “interesting,” not just for your own edification but, like it or not, most job interviews nowadays are more like personality tests than tests of raw skill and experience. Potential employers want to see if you pass the “canoe test”: “Would I want to be stuck in a canoe with this person?” How you look on paper is only a part of it. Cultivate your life. (Ed Latimore writes a lot of great stuff about personal development, so go read his entire blog.)
  • Focus: When you start something, finish it. Avoid needless distractions, and get your work done. This is an absolute necessity in almost every university program, whether it’s based in science, the arts, or the humanities. It’s so obvious, yet focus is a learned skill. Tuning out the world–and other assignments–to finish this one is not always an easy thing. How do you learn this? Through reps (necessity) and straight-up aversion (not wanting to waste time and money). You learn via practice to develop what Mike Cernovich calls “ruthless focus,” a useful skill no matter what you do. That said, you are focusing on meeting the specific requirements of your professor, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since in life, if you are working for someone else, either a boss or a client, you really are a slave to their requirements.

Dealing with Difficult People: The world is full of jerks. Many of them tend to congregate at American universities, both as students and as professors. And guess what: By and large, you have to learn how to deal with them. We all share the same real estate here on Earth, after all.

What I learned is the ability to pick my battlesThere were so many instances where I could have gotten into it with students and teachers, but wisely didn’t. The question to ask is, to use a sports metaphor: Does this conversation move the ball forward for me? If yes, do it. If no–whether if the ball stays doesn’t move at all or actually goes backwards–it’s not worth it, especially in today’s college environment where you can get disciplined for wrongthink.

pink-floyd-the-wall-teacher

Becoming an Autodidact: When you’re writing any kind of research paper, or a legal brief, you need to DOCUMENT AND SUPPORT ALL OF YOUR SOURCES WITH CREDIBLE AUTHORITY. In the law, this is through DULY ENACTED STATUTES AND LEGALLY BINDING PRECEDENT, though certain non-binding, extra-jurisdictional cases or articles and commentaries. And as with any kind of authority, PRIMARY SOURCES ARE BEST. Continue reading “The College Post: What You Learn At University (and Whether It’s Worth the Price)”