Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

The great Jane Austin read-through continues with her final published work, Persuasion, which hit the public in 1817 some six months after Austen’s death.

Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of a minor baronet Sir Walter. Sir Walter is a widower who doesn’t care much for Anne at all, devoting most of his time and attention to his eldest daughter Elizabeth. But the handsome and vain Sir Walter, more concerned with appearances and being thought of as a member of high society, is also a bit of a spendthrift. In addition to shunting off his parenting duties to Lady Russell, his late wife’s friend and Anne’s godmother, he’s burned through the family fortune.

But Lady Russell has a solution: The Elliots should rent out their estate, Kellynch Hall and retire to more modest lodgings in Bath until their debt is paid off. Like Northanger Abbey, the city of Bath is one of Persuasion‘s main settings–in fact, the two books were originally published together. And like Northanger Abbey, and pretty much every single Jane Austen book, marriage is a central theme.

I understand it: in early 19th century England marriage was one of the few ways in which a young woman could improve her lot in life. Every single work of Austen’s is a variation on this theme. That said, she does such a good job with the characterizations and in setting up her problems and resolutions that these stories never get stale. Continue reading “Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen”

The Center

No one wants to be “extreme.”

It feels icky and will get you disinvited from all the cool kids’ parties. Besides, these days reasonable conversation about important issues seems impossible.

One of the biggest problems is the logical fallacy that supporting X’s right to do something equals support for X and opposition to Y.

 

This is how unintelligent people see things. Unintelligent people, or dishonest ones.

You can see the left/right polarities in politics, philosophy, economics, and in many, many other field–even the arts.

Reaction against constant politicization is completely rational. Jamming politics down everyone’s throats is tiring and it prevents any meaningful solutions from being formed.

Someone has to be right, right? Someone has proposals that’ll work better than others, don’t they?

Enter the centrists.

A new trend is to describe oneself as centrist, meaning–according to what I call the nü-centrists–“one who looks at things from both sides.”

“Centrism is NOT agreement with parts of both sides!” I’ve been told.

“Centrism isn’t being a moderate!” they say.

Except…it kind of is.

You see, as with most things, it doesn’t matter what YOU wish a word meant, it matters what the word actually means and how the society views the term.

In other words, the term “centrist” is horrible branding. It has way too much baggage and means in the majority of people’s minds exactly the opposite of what the nü-centrists want it to mean. Continue reading “The Center”

The Master Persuader

Why are we here? What’s the meaning of life? Humanity has been seeking answers to these questions forever. Sometimes our thoughts, as we try to distract ourselves from our inevitable ends with family and technology and other less-wholesome diversions, don’t seriously turn towards until we’re in the presence of death

Death has a funny way of putting the important questions into sharp relief. 


My mother-in-law died recently at the age of 56, thanks to that bastard we call cancer. It’s been tough for all of us, but obviously my wife, brother-in-law, and father-in-law the most. And like all families when a loved one passes, we cling tighter to each other. Family is all that matters, right?

But something our priest said at the funeral struck a chord with me. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of it was that life wasn’t about happiness, or family, or friends. Instead, getting to Heaven–whatever that’s like–and returning to constant communion with God was the purpose of life: Not love, not happiness, and not family, but a seat in “heaven’s unearthly estate.”

That’s interesting, right? And how do you get there? All key issues for every religion.

This also speaks to what a lot of the anti-theists criticize religion for. “Why are you doing stuff for an afterlife when all that matters is here on earth,” “That’s just cruel on God’s part,” and so on. If you believe that this is the only life there is and there’s nothing when you die, more power to you. But for those of us who have a future-orientation directed at eternity, what happens when you die does matter.

This ties into another common anti-theist argument that religion–specifically Christianity, since that’s the one that gets attacked 99% of the time*–is that it’s just a hoax devised to brainwash people. Let’s take this as fact for the sake of argument.

If religion is a hoax, then why would it be invented in the first place? Continue reading “The Master Persuader”

The Danger of Double Standards

Of course I have to offer the obligatory and, sadly now, regular prayers for the victims of yesterday’s terror attack in Nice, the victims’ families, the survivors, and the rest of this crazy world.

So what next?

I’ve already made my point about how civilized people of all stripes should deal with evil  monsters who want to kill everybody not just like them–containment–whether they be ISIS or al Qaeda so I won’t belabor the point except to say two things:

  1. Some ways of life are incompatible; and
  2. Refusing to admit or name the problem doesn’t make the problem magically go away.

But this refusal by many in power to say that Islam–or, depending on who you ask, some perversion thereof–is the cause of this terrorism got me thinking about the root behind this refusal. It’s something that will get us all killed eventually.

Double standards.

Broadly speaking, double standards are killing us, as a nation and as a species which likes to think of itself as civilized.  Continue reading “The Danger of Double Standards”

Nine Lessons from the Law You Can Apply to Your Life

I make fun of the legal profession a lot here, because let’s face it, it’s so easy.

In fact, I have a hypothesis about lawyers you that I’ll expand upon in a future post, but I’ll share it with you now. It’s called the LAWYERS RUIN EVERYTHING HYPOTHESIS OF CURRENT EVENTS, and it goes like this:

If something in American society seems so stupid, so counter-intuitive, so messed-up, and so unfair, the chances are incredibly high that at some point in time, lawyers were involved in making the decision.

Lessons from The Law

But I have not come to bury the legal profession, but to praise it.

That’s right! There are actually certain lessons one learns in law school and in the legal profession that can be transferred to your everyday life. Now, they’re not quite as bad-ass as Ed Latimore’s “Important Lessons From Fighting You Can Apply To Your Life,” but that’s why Ed’s Ed and I’m me.

While I don’t litigate anymore, trial practice taught me some skills that have helped me in all areas of my life.

So without further ado, here are Nine Lessons from the Law You Can Apply to Your Life: Continue reading “Nine Lessons from the Law You Can Apply to Your Life”

Everyone Must Be Right: Why You’ll Never Change Minds

Lately I’ve been fascinated with why people so rarely ever change their minds.

First, the undeniable truth is that if you want to change the world, go into entertainment. 

That said, since most of us won’t, we’re stuck with arguing over the Internet or at a bar. 

When it comes to things like religion, political affiliation, or even who’s the best basketball player ever, we all think we’re right. This is obvious; if we didn’t, why ever hold any opinion?

But suppose everything is not subjective. Suppose there is discoverable, proveable fact and reality.

Let’s define “truth” simply as something that undeniably is. Gravity, for example, and not something being true just because a judge says it is

If you’re presented with undeniable evidence to the contrary of what you believe, wouldn’t you change your mind?
The answer, of course, is no.

Let me rephrase that: the answer, of course, is hell no! 

But why? This is what’s been bugging me lately. 

We so seldom can change other people’s minds, no matter how good we are at persuasion. Now, we have to make a distinction between different conclusions based on the same facts, and situations where the facts only point in one direction.

If someone has a gun pointed at you and says, “I want to kill you,” you reach a different conclusion at your own peril. Yet even impending death isn’t enough to change minds, as we see again and again. 

We all know America is divided; it’s a boring cliché at this point. But surely we could agree on existential threats and how to keep ourselves safe from them?

Again, say it with me now: hell no!

The recent mass murder in Orlando at the Pulse gay club, perpetrated by at least one militant Islamic barbarian, really got to me. It bothered me more than other terror attacks. After some contemplation, I think I know why: 15 years on, and with all of the warning signs, people literally shouting from the mountaintops that they want to kill us, and our leaders still can’t keep us safe.

Even more distressing, about half the country thinks said leadership is doing a wonderful job! These monsters want to throw gays off of buildings and many Americans are arguing in favor of throwing our borders open even wider.

How? Why? How can rational, good, decent people think this way? Are they simply not rational, good, or decent people? Or is their sense of self-worth really that bound up in their politics? If you’re wrong, you’re wrong, right? What’s the big deal?

It can’t be that easy. But I can only conclude that there are only two types of people:

  1. Those who have some objective standard against which they measure their behavior in reality.
  2. Those who think that they create their own objective standard.
  3. Continue reading “Everyone Must Be Right: Why You’ll Never Change Minds”

Book Review: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

I never “got” Dilbert until I started working an office job. And then it all started to make sense.

Dilbert comic strip
Copyright Scott Adams. Used without permission. If Mr. Adams wants me to take this down, I will do so without hesitation.

In just a few panels, creator Scott Adams is able to get to the heart of the workplace absurdity in corporate America. Adams brings this same clarity of thought to his political analysis, being one of the few people to accurately predict the course of the 2016 presidential election.

Whether it’s because of his persuasion and hypnosis training or just an inborn way of looking at the world, Adams provides a fresh perspective and a clarity of thought to everything he writes about.

Oh, and in 2013 he also published one of the best “self-help” books you’ll ever read.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life is, by Adams’s own admission, “not an advice book,” cartoonists being notoriously unreliable role-models. Instead, Adams catalogs all of his life’s failures and explains the lessons he learned from them, suggesting that the reader “compare[s] my story with the stories of other people who found success and see if you notice any patterns.” (p. 1)

This sounds funny, and it is. Adams has a way with words. But aside from making you laugh, you’ll be blown away by the insights and just how practical Adams’s advice is. Here’s a big piece, for you:

Systems are where it’s at. Goals are for losers.

There. Now you don’t have to read the book. I saved you $10.00. You’re welcome.

Dilbert creator Scott Adams
Scott Adams

That was a joke. I highly recommend you give Adams your money in exchange for his book. But I’ve made my point: Although he illustrates his lessons through the use of stories, Adams doesn’t play games and he doesn’t hide the ball. His descriptions of things that have worked for him in his life are direct and incisive, and he provides practical tips on how to incorporate these lessons into your life. Even better, he uses his persuasion techniques to plant the seeds in your head in a memorable way so that, months after you finish the last page and put the book down, the lessons still percolate in your head. Continue reading “Book Review: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams”