Modern, First World problems

From a commercial I’ve seen many times on TV lately:

[A young woman in a job interview, with regard to her problem-solving skills:] “I got through high school without a car, a phone, or a computer.”

I too got through high school without any of those things. In all likelihood, the grey-haired man interviewing her also lacked a phone and a computer in high school. The same could be said of virtually everyone born in the United States before 1970 or so (not even mentioning those from countries less fortunate).


Expertise and fallacy

The knowledge possessed by a medical doctor is fine as far as it goes, but is not much good without the ability to draw valid inferences. This is why you need to be involved in your own healthcare and not just do whatever the doctors say. Sometimes they don’t listen to you or hear what you have to say, and other times they draw conclusions that aren’t warranted, or fail to draw ones that are.

It’s a good illustration of why proponents of liberal education say that a non-expert in a particular field can judge the findings of experts if he is educated in the liberal arts, because he is capable of detecting invalid inferences; and also why being educated in a scientific or technical field exclusively is an incomplete education. And why we should not trust experts to rule society merely on the ground of their expertise in a narrow field of knowledge.

Why I don’t watch the news

I have been abstaining from watching any news coverage (except as related to college football — go Trojans!) for several months now. I don’t know if this is the right thing for everyone, but I find that my life is better this way. I worry less and am less angry.

I read once that there’s a problem with news in the modern world, which is that it makes you concerned with statewide, nationwide and even worldwide issues, in the same way that people used to concern themselves with neighborhood problems or village problems. In other words, at one time the widest exposure one had to news was to local news, and this was news that one would have had a natural and personal interest in: A neighbor who was harmed or suffering in some way would naturally call forth our concern and willingness to help in a direct and personal manner.

We might also hear news from neighboring villages through gossip from those who had gone visiting or had business there. That kind of news could hold some interest, and we might feel some obligation to be concerned and obliged to help, but less so than we would towards our immediate neighbors; on the assumption that the neighbors of that locale would be helping, and would request additional assistance from us if needed. (I’m more or less making up these scenarios in an effort to convey the idea of the article I read, of which I can no longer identify the author or title.)

More rarely we might hear news of more distant towns or villages, since the more distant the location, the more seldom would we encounter travelers from that area; and even less would we feel any obligation to feel personally concerned or obliged to help.

But in our time, it seems like we hear news from more distant locations faster than local news. When you turn on the TV or radio, or go on the internet, it’s world or national news that immediately grabs your attention, whether political news or some major catastrophe in a distant state or nation; whereas you must go hunting for news that specifically relates to your own town or neighborhood (unless some major news, such as a natural or manmade disaster, happens to be occurring where you are).

As a result, we may feel obliged to help people we’ve neither met nor previously heard of, on almost a daily basis — at least the more sensitive or scrupulous among us. A hurricane in Louisiana, a mass shooting in Virginia, a proposed law in Washington, not to mention a famine in Africa or a tidal wave in Japan, all make calls upon us to help, to send money, to pray, to sign a petition or write our congressman — to be concerned. Have you no sympathy for the less fortunate? Are you not praying for this or that group of people, for the President, for our troops, for the Pope? Won’t you send money? After all, for the price of a cup of coffee …

(As an illustration, while writing this I received an email with the subject line, “ALERT: Save California!!” Alas, I’m only a man ….)

But we’re not equipped to deal with this level of disaster, all the time. In the old days our actual neighbors might have required our help once in a while — once in a great while for major catastrophes or illnesses, but most of the time for routine tasks. Someone might be chronically ill or aged, so we might work a weekly visit into our schedule, taking turns with others to get the person’s cows milked, clothes washed, or what have you. But not every day a hurricane, an explosion, a mass killing, crying out for our sympathy and assistance. We might worry about local politics, like who would be on the town council and how that might affect when the new schoolhouse gets built. But we wouldn’t have been expected to deal mentally and emotionally with major, society-wide issues like systemic and institutional racism, the effect of Federal Reserve Board policy on interest rates on the national economy, foreign policy towards Russia and North Korea, and so forth.

The idea of a republic is to elect people whose job it is to handle these things for us, leaving us free to handle the day-to-day tasks of living our lives. If we must spend all our free time monitoring the issues to make sure our representatives are doing what we want, then aren’t we basically doing their job for them, figuring out what should be done and demanding that they do it?

But the point is that most of us were not made to process the massive amounts of information, and still less the massive doses of catastrophe and disaster, and political concerns with national and global implications, which present themselves to us daily via the mass media. We’re naturally equipped to deal with what concerns us locally: Our families primarily, and then our neighbors, with only an occasional and relatively vague awareness of people and events in distant places. Some people may feel a need or an interest in keeping up with national and worldwide affairs, and that may be fine as a hobby. But I think we should recognize that we only have so much intellectual and emotional capacity, and not try to take it all in and process it as if it concerns us personally. It doesn’t, because it can’t.

“LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.” Ps. 131:1.

More on self-sacrifice and renouncing self-will

Self-will is the inclination to do our own will. On account of the corruption of human nature self-will is usually opposed to the will of God and is defined as such by spiritual writers. As heaven is the reward for doing God’s will, detachment is necessary for all. Children must renounce their will to obey their parents; citizens, to abide by the law of the land; and Christians, to become worthy brethren of Christ. Those, however, who seek perfection, must make the holy will of God their own in all things before they can say with Christ, “I do always the things that please him” (John viii.29). In fact, in proportion as we do God’s will we work for heaven, and in proportion as we do our own will we have our reward in its gratification. “Why have we fasted, and thou hast not regarded; why have we humbled our souls, and thou hast not taken notice? Behold, in the day of your fast your own will is found” (Is. iviii.3).

Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way: A Brief, Clear, Systematical Exposition of the Spiritual Life for the Laity, and a Practical Guide Book to Christian Perfection for All of Good Will (New York: Benziger, 1914).

(H/T to Saintly Sages.)

Natural law, family and society

In what natural law theory regards as a rightly ordered society, most people marry, and marriage typically results in children, and lots of them.  This in turn creates a large social network of people known personally to one – lots of brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, and so on – on whom individuals can fall back in times of need.  Divorce is stigmatized, so that children generally have stable homes and discipline, and they and their mothers generally have a reliable provider.  Elder family members are looked after by the new generation, just as they looked after that generation when it was in its infancy.  Elder members also find ongoing purpose in helping to raise their grandchildren.  In general, the good of the family takes precedence over the desires of the individual member.  And this subordination of self-interest to the common good of the family makes people more sober and realistic in their expectations, less selfish, and better able to achieve a contentment that is deep and lasting even if not as titillating as running off to begin a second or third marriage.

Contrast that with the contemporary mentality, which regards sex and romance as primarily a matter of self-fulfillment, rather than having self-sacrifice for the sake of children and family as its natural end.  Whereas the traditional arrangements commended by natural law subordinated the short-term interests of the individual to the long-term health of the family, the modern mentality subordinates the long-term health of the family to the short-term interests of the individual.  Naturally, solidarity is weakened [and this weakened solidarity extends to the society as a whole].

Edward Feser, “Liberty, equality, fraternity?“, Edward Feser blog, October 10, 2017.

And again, who are the fascists?

I’m not taking this blog totally political, but I wanted to help this story get circulated. Not in defense of Trump or white sumpremacists (as the story itself makes clear), but because people risk being beaten for nothing but appearing in public, and on the thinnest of grounds, and there’s not nearly enough outrage over it. I consider this fascistic terrorism since the goal is to make people afraid to air certain views publicly. You may think it’s a grand idea when these tactics are used against those you disagree with, but what happens when they disagree with you?

H/T to Junior Ganymede.