Cultural Traps, Part III

Observing your own culture with a detached eye helps one recognize the good, the bad, and the ridiculous. I’ve written about some of these traps before, those parts of American culture that we all take for granted but might not actually make sense.

In this third edition, I’m going to look at some things that might be emerging trends in America that are both really stupid and really dangerous, many culled from my own experiences and observations. 

Some of these might not be uniquely American. They may just be human nature. But when I see my countrymen and women (whatever the hell that means anymore) act like scary monsters, I can’t help but see these tendencies shaded in red, white, and blue. 

Opposing one thing automatically means liking the other.

Are you against the death penalty? Then you clearly want to open all the prisons and are super-soft on crime.  

…or maybe you’re just against the death penalty. 

Perhaps you oppose partial-birth abortion. You obviously want women at risk of death die from birth complications to die. 

…or maybe you’re just against partial-birth abortion. 

This might be more of a logical fallacy than a cognitive trap, but it is still (a) everywhere l, and (b) dumb.

Unintelligent people think like this, or liars. I’m sorry if that sounds mean, but it’s true. One is either incapable of seeing this trap, or is wielding it as a rhetorical club. 

If the former, you can learn. If the latter, its effective, sure, but it really doesn’t move the needle in any direction. It does something that could arguably be another entry on this list, which is assuming ill intent on the part of the other. Rhetorically, it’s a weapon. But it weakens your own position and makes you look silly. You risk losing credibility, which in a debate–akin to a trial–is the kiss of death.  

Disproportionality and overreaction, aka hysteria.

Debating is an art that requires practice and preparation. It also requires an understanding of the rules of a particular interaction, such as whether the relationship with your opponent will be ongoing, whether you’re trying to change the other’s mind, or whether you’re trying to illustrate a point to your observers. But either way, you want to make your points using reason, logic, and evidence.

Of course, what really changes hearts and minds is emotion. So use rhetoric where applicable. It’s very effective, and for some people, whether you call them midwits or IYIs (“intellectuals, yet idiots,” per Nassim Nicholas Taleb), that’s all they understand.

This trap dovetails nicely with the first, but it’s distinguished by what I call default nuclear. Continue reading “Cultural Traps, Part III”

Recalibration

You know, I had another post ready to go. But after I put the finishing touches on it, I decided not to publish it. 

For starters, it was very solipsistic. Nobody wants to read a diary. People read   blogs for interesting stories that teach something or provide some insight, not for dour lamentations and narcissistic howls into the digital wind. 

Let’s just say I’ve been feeling restive lately. Discontented. Or in the common parlance, down

And so the other day, as I’m wont to do when I get like this, I opened my Bible at random and read the first verse that caught my eye. It was so apropos I had to underline and highlight it. 

It might have just been a coincidence. It probably was. I don’t care. I’m running with it. 

It’s precisely because this world is how it is–oh-so “advanced,” you might say–that I need to trust in Him more than ever, desolate as I am. 

And it’s why I still enjoy the ancient rituals and elaborate services of church. 

My church has changed very little in 2,000 years. Orthodoxy is no feel-good sect that glosses over the so-called naughty bits of Scripture to appeal to a modern audience. Our liturgy was written in the 4th century and is performed in a dialect of Greek no one outside of the clergy speaks anymore. 

It’s the definition of old-school. And this is why I love it. In the face of a world that feels unnatural, all of that tradition feels more real. It’s like an escape to a time and place where things were more rooted. 

Many Christian services are attempts to recreate the kingdom of heaven here on Earth. And sometimes during a service in a Sunday, when I smell the incense and I hear the chanting and see the icons, I swear I can almost feel it. 

Regardless of your religion, chances are it’s centuries old, probably millennia. The fact that it’s still around is testament to the truth and purity of its ideas. 

There’s nothing incongruous about performing ancient rites in an era of high technology, fast travel, and instant communications, of unprecedented comfort, leisure, and ease. 

If anything, it reminds you of what being human is, that we don’t have all the answers, and that there is something to aspire to. It provides some recalibration in a society that’s hellbent on consuming you while. 

If I may get a little solipsistic here after all, please indulge me. I have been feeling so unfocused lately. My personal energy is at an all-time low, and I’m having difficulty figuring out what’s the point of anything it is I do, whether it’s my work or my writing or anything else, even having a family. If my offspring is condemned to have these same issues, then what’s the point of it all?

Focusing on the divine can at least provide some kind of purpose beyond the endless cycle of live-work-die. 

Maybe you don’t need that. That’s cool. As for me, I’ll be taking my regularly scheduled detours into the past so I’m better equipped to handle the future. 

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PS I still don’t even really know what the purpose of this blog is, either. Maybe I’ll figure this out one of these days too.