Monday, December 24, 2012

Shooting coverage and Asperger Syndrome

With the recent shooting there has been a lot of spin put on demonizing the shooter.  Its easy to understand why, nobody likes a mass murderer.  But with the sensationalistic reporting and the focus on the shooter having psychological problems I've been bothered by attempts to gloss over who the guy was and present black and white ideas like "keep guns away from psycho people" and things like that as if that would have actually solved anything.  A lot of conclusions have been jumped to and a lot of bad reporting is happening.  I had a few thoughts.

There have been media reports that the shooter had "a personality disorder" or "undifferentiated mental problems" but the only specific information that seems to have come out yet is that he was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.  First, Asperger Syndrome is not a personality disorder.  I'm not going to go into defining it now (as if that were even relevant with the DSM-V coming out) but reporting it so many different ways was kind of dumb to begin with-probably just a consequence of the news trying to get out the information faster than they could verify it.  Apparently they haven't even verified the autism spectrum diagnosis, that's speculation based on publicly observed behavior which has no more verification to its reporting than early reports this his mother was a school teacher, that his brother was the shooter, or that he was dressed in a military style outfit, none of which apparently was true but got reported anyways.

Second, it has been emphasized in some reports that Asperger Syndrome is not correlated with violent crime and that the violent crime in question would be more likely to be done by someone with depression.  I'm happy that some media outlets have taken the time to mention that violence with weapons is not specifically common in Autistics, but the reporting on that end was about as simplistic in a good way as the reports slanted at making him sound "psycho" were simplistically bad.  First, in any large population you will find people with more or less violent tendencies.  Saying that Autism disorders are not correlated with gun violence is like saying that the average joe won't steal your lunch.  A few average joes will steal your lunch, most won't.  Second, saying that the shooting would be more likely done by someone with depression ignores the fact that the rate of depression among people with Asperger Syndrome is pretty high.  I haven't been able to find solid statistics on suicide but from what I've found the anecdotal evidence with Asperger Syndrome also shows a high suicide rate.  I even found one website that said the suicide rate was likely under reported because the adults with Asperger Syndrome are often undiagnosed and therefore not showing up in suicide statistics.

In the reports about his mothers gun collection one nuance is getting left out.  One of Tony Attwood's books recommended watching out for any obsessions with weapons because that could be a warning sign that the child is thinking about taking revenge on the bullies in his/her life.  Since the gun collecting was already a family hobby its possible that this warning sign wouldn't have functioned.  That isn't to say that she shouldn't have had a right to own a gun collection or that having a child with a mental disability should disqualify you from gun ownership, its just a nuance that is overlooked in the reporting.  Granted, at 20 something the shooter wasn't exactly looking for revenge against 1st grade bullies.  My guess is that the kid had a really horrible experience  going through elementary school and wanted to go destroy anybody he could find at the school as a way of expressing his anger at the school he grew up in.  Most people talk about how horrible their middle school years were, I wouldn't know because I was home schooled starting about half way through my last year of elementary school.  However, I can remember one of my favorite things about switching to homeschooling at first was that I had a chance to simply relax and let go of a lot of anger and hatred that had been building up towards my peers.  Since all of the people who had teased or ignored me or simply failed to be able to be my friend were no longer part of my life I could simply let go.  It was a long time before I realized that the bad experiences I had in elementary school were largely caused by my being unable to cope with the social environment rather than it being an environment that was toxic in general.

My experience in elementary school was bad enough that I had stopped hoping to find new friends and I had several incidents in a row where I tried to befriend someone based on the fact that they had not made fun of me in the past and they started making fun of me as a result-apparently to teach me to show my distance so that their social standing wouldn't be hurt by my attention.  I pretty much had come to the conclusion that no matter what new people I met I wouldn't find any more friends beyond the few I already had.  I won't say that homeschooling solved my life problems- homeschooling was hell in some other ways and I'm not sure which set of experiences would have been more emotionally damaging over time- staying in public school or homeschooling.  By the time I left home I struggled with believing that in certain specific ways I was a worthless human being and didn't deserve respect from other people.  And that was somewhat up from my mid teens when I frequently believed I was completely worthless and didn't deserve to live.  The last pieces of that feeling of worthlessness didn't fall away until maybe a year or two before getting married.

A lot of reports are talking as if the shooter was a thoroughly evil psychopath who should have been obvious to identify and therefore treated through better public mental programs or prevented from owning any guns (which ignores the fact that they were his moms guns, not his).  And while murdering tons of little kids is definitely and thoroughly evil, I have trouble seeing the man behind the shootings as pure evil.  I tend to see someone whose life had been hell.  Someone who one day snapped and lashed out at his mother who may have been an angelic caretaker or an infantalizing-you'll-never-achieve-anything-demon-hiding-in-mommy's-social-respectability.  Or maybe a little of both, humans are complicated.  Having murdered her I suspect he kind of said to himself that as long as he was that evil he might as well take out as many people as he could in a place he hated before he killed himself.  Probably if he hadn't snapped on that day he would have eventually found some firmer ground for himself, life would have gotten better in some ways eventually.  Perhaps he could have done about anything, it sounds like the guy was brilliant.  If he had held on for just a little bit longer... but he didn't and he went out in a way that will make it harder to tell stories of people like him without stigma following them.  I just don't see the pure evil that makes good news headlines.  I see someone who maybe was a little bit or even a lot like me-that failed to hold on and reacted violently.  Its true there is nothing about the Asperger syndrome that makes you inherently more violent than anyone else, but if its true he had it we can imagine his life had some pretty hard knocks involved in just getting through the normal world on a regular basis.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Can you love those you do not know?

Last week in Sunday School the teacher asked why people doubted the church.  One of the audience members appeared set on taking a hardline position on the subject in his comments, giving reasons as examples which called into question the person doubting instead of the situation in which the doubt arose.  For example, he remarked that people doubted the church to provide justification for their pursuit of a hedonistic lifestyle.  I had to chuckle at that, as my own periods of doubt have been characterized by gut wrenching soul searching, not so much hedonism.

It was another of those moments that I try to ignore because the teacher really has more power than I do to provide a welcoming or unwelcoming atmosphere for such comments and the question didn't seem worth investing in enough to try to come up with a bunch of alternate view comments.  What are my views?  Though this area is complicated and bigger than you can capture in just a few sentences, I think people doubt the church because the grey area between where the divine revelation stops and the imperfect culturally influenced crazy normal people begins is so fuzzy.  Where exactly the line is is not an area for black and white thinking, and reasonable people can disagree on whether there is any divine element at all.  We are, after all, human.  When we only provide lip service to the concept of the church being made up of imperfect people who are still people, then when their occasional lack of godliness becomes too obvious to ignore it can generate doubts.  When it comes down to it, some things deserve to be doubted.

I remember listening to these comments in Sunday School about how people doubt because of their personal failings and thinking that the man must never have had a heart to heart conversation with someone who was actually doubting or had given up faith.  Or if he had, his need to judge people whose views threatened his own overshadowed his ability to listen.  Perhaps its a form of "Confirmation Bias," where maybe he just tended to only associate with people or remember things about them that reinforce his own views because he is human, and as a result just doesn't know people who have serious doubts or perhaps ignores those doubts and as a result doesn't know the people as complete human beings.  When you allow yourself not to know someone, you remove the possibility of loving them in a concrete way that would actually matter as much to the person on the receiving end.  You could easily love them as abstractions whom you wish to have plenty of calories and shelter, but not the kind of love where the person feels you know who they are, what matters to them, and can sympathize with the personal goals and ideals they have that separate them as an individual from all of humanity.

Even though I tend to be somewhat terrified of establishing real human connections to the people around me on a daily basis, I value the small ways that I can find to give myself a human connection to people whose lives are hurt by the way the word exists.  So I can read a biography about a civil rights lawyer and start to imagine the inner mind set and priorities of people to whom the events of the civil rights movement weren't simply a mildly interesting past.  I can learn to identify how my own mind has been poisoned by a subconscious racism and start to question how that makes me relate to the class Teaching Assistant or to the man sitting next to me at the airport.  I've listened to how homosexuals can describe a quest for self actualization and acceptance using arguments that are exact mirrors of what I might use to describe a need for self actualization and acceptance for autistics and start to let go of fear and question just how concrete the barriers that supposedly divide us are.  Then, when coworkers start berating a bisexual employee who just came out of the closet at work, I can realize that that employee is doing a kind of reaching into darkness that I might do when I take a chance on letting someone know that I am on the autistic spectrum.  There are many kinds of closets to come out of, and people who have shared a sense of isolation and darkness can help each other out.

I can read accounts of women whose quests for self fulfillment have been hampered on so many sides by a society that historically has made a lot of choices for them to benefit someone else.  Then, when I hear someone say that perhaps the world needs to be changed to loosen things up a bit I can see and hear the idea with eyes and ears not just my own, but also of the people who have been hurt.  I can talk to friends and family members who have doubts or who have abandoned faith and cherish having a chance to know a little bit more of who they are, not just who the talks given by church leaders and members say they should be.

That isn't to say that I am particularly skilled at listening and loving.  I'm fully capable of being an ignorant oaf and am poor at regulating the perceptions I broadcast to other people.  I can count plenty of occasions when I've been trying to connect to people and what came out was more or less horrible.  But I feel if I don't try I won't simply be stumbling into the occasional serious social error, I actually will be horrible.

If we cut ourselves off from listening to those who we don't understand or don't lack overt differences with we fail to know them and instead know only the false images of them we create in our mind to provide for our own mental security.  We can never fully know another person just as we can never fully know ourselves.  But, to the extent that we are willfully ignorant of other people, we cannot love them.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Thoughts on the DSM 5

So its been announced finally that the DSM V will definitely merge the autism and Asperger syndrome diagnosis.  As someone who would never have been diagnosed without Asperger syndrome being split into its own grouping, I'm kind of sad to see the name go.  There were a lot of positive cultural things that happened around the Asperger syndrome label with people who wrote books or made movies or made websites showing how there were some people who are different and its not all a bad thing.  Sure, sometimes there is crazy negativity that goes along with anything like this, which for me including not being allowed to serve a mission, a deep sense of social isolation at church from being excluded from the social bonding of being able to share mission experiences, being afraid of ignorant judgmental people at church, and a family member who seemed convinced Asperger syndrome really meant some kind of blend between Frotteurism and antisocial personality disorder.  But the negatives for me were really outweighed by finally figuring out what was going on inside my head, gaining a vocabulary to explain myself to other people, and discovering a community of people for whom experiences like mine weren't unique.  It went from feeling like my life represented some kind of isolated freakshow to understanding that there were many people like me who had joined together to form ways to build self respect.

The passing of the label will have a minimal influence on me personally.  I rarely talk about it to anyone I know in person and I can on a surface level pass as normal most of the time.  When I do talk about it the extra work of defining Asperger syndrome typically outweighs the feeling of risk that no one will believe me if I said I was autistic.  I can typically get away with saying that I'm what it looks like when you have a case of autism that is mild enough that at this stage in life you'd have to know me well to tell it was there.  I can pass well enough as normal and can be am picky enough about who I disclose to I can afford that.  I can definitely sympathize with people whose symptom obviousness or the choices of their caretakers prevent them enjoying such control over who knows and who doesn't.

Hopefully society will stop demonizing the condition as a way to do fundraising for their organizations and people will start to realize that when you have met one autistic you really have only met one autistic.  Maybe the world will stop having so many biases against and constraints on the disabled so that the label will be less of a stigma.  The name change leaves plenty to be afraid of, assuming we don't make for ourselves a better world.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A right to refuse to cooperate?

There has been some conflict in recently times over how much people in society should have a right to refuse to cooperate with any health care or social service they disagree with.  For example whether insurance companies or employers can refuse to provide medical insurance for contraception or whether pharmacists can refuse to dispense the "morning after pill."  In a perfect world everyone would have so many options for their employment, doctors, and pharmacies that it would be easy to only form relationships with people you already agree with.  But its not a perfect world.  Sometimes because of work constraints there many only be one or two options in insurance companies you can deal with, only so many employers you can work for, and pharmacies you can visit.  So a right to refuse to cooperate can easily translate into a right to make it nearly impossible for someone else to receive what they believe is desirable for themselves.  For example, while a pharmacist who believes the morning after bill is infanticide might feel very uncomfortable or conflicted about dispensing it, a rape victim may only have a short period of time to find someone who will give it to them before the drugs effectiveness starts to fail.

So where does my perspective fall on all of this?  Its hard to talk about this much in detail because at my job its considered that they can fire you if you mention online all the details of your employment.  But lets just say I provide customer service and technical support for a company that is a household name, someplace that normal everyday people do business with because they have to in order to function in our modern society.  And occasionally my job involves helping people purchase or troubleshoot their ability to access pornography.

First off some might question whether this is awkward for me.  And the answer is it can be at many levels.  Including:
  • It can be heartbreaking to take a call for a mother or a wife who is desperately trying to find out if their spouse is secretly using porn when we were the company that is selling the stuff to their son or husband.  
  • Its a fine line to walk when they are certain their family members couldn't possibly have betrayed them that way and I have to break it to them that even if I don't know who was at the controls we have proof that it was ordered and I can't credit back the hundreds of dollars that were ran up.
  • Occasionally customers ask that I give recommendations on which porn they might enjoy or if I have any suggestions on what they should purchase.
  • I've had to explain to people that just because I'm here to help doesn't mean that I can help them figure out which titles will include lesbian vs heterosexual sex acts or possibly be produced by one porn company compared to another.  Other than reading through large numbers of titles (which is time prohibitive) and making educated guesses, I honestly don't even have that sort of information most of the time.
  • I even had an illiterate man call in once who explained that because he could not read he needed me to read him all the porn titles I had one by one until he found one that he liked so that I could place his order for him.
  • I seem to recall once even having a customer ask me something along the lines of whether we had any sex videos involving Asians and then proceed to ask me if I was Asian.  Just because I'm tolerating talking to you about your pornographic preferences doesn't mean I moonlight as a professional porn actor, thanks for asking.  Lets not even get into how they misjudged my accent and possibly my gender (somehow a male tenor voice comes across the phone call sounding like as female a good part of the time no matter how many times I tell them my name).
There are also some ways that this is not uncomfortable which might not occur to people imagining this situation for the first time, so I'll list those as well.
  • I am almost never exposed to the actual content other than in the title of the item in question.
  • Most customers are willing to make their purchase and move on without expecting me to have an extended conversation with them about it (couldn't say if my female coworkers have the same experience).
  • Many callers express that they are perfectly ok with their adult sons visiting them ordering this stuff as long as the son coughs up a contribution to the bill to make up for it.
  • Very few of my customer interactions center around this
  • Most people are o.k. with me not reading every porn title on their bill to them.  They don't mind just me mentioning what kind of movie it is if the title didn't make it obvious enough.
  • Most people self service their own purchases and often only need me to troubleshoot their ability to complete such purchases.
So how do I handle it?  Mostly by just doing whatever the customers ask me to do and doing it promptly and with courtesy.  When customers call for customer service they want a representative of a company to answer the phone, not a representative of a specific church or belief system.  And the company who pays my bills expects me to represent them, not my God, my priesthood leaders, or my own personal tastes or preferences.  Being a representative of the company and not myself actually answers most of the questions involved in handling the issues I described above.  It doesn't matter if I'm helping a customer watch Finding Nemo or the latest X rated video claiming to show teenagers doing who knows what, there are certain policies and expectations involved.  Since I represent the company and not myself I'm not obligated to express any opinion good or bad on the shows they ask about.  Since the security rules for accessing accounts controls whether the wife can find out I don't have to make a judgement call on which spouse I'll hold allegiance to.  Since the company only provides a bare minimum of information about the different shows and with almost no useful ability to sort them by anything beyond what is strictly needed to place an order (title, price, where to find it), I can reasonably refuse to assist people in finding the show that fits their fetish best.  Truthfully, trying to assist people any further would involve unauthorized internet browsing to porn provider websites that would quickly get me fired.  I'm just as prepared to assist a family in setting up parental controls as to help someone find out why an error message is showing on the screen instead of their favorite porn show.

So what do I think about a purported right to refuse to cooperate?  I don't think it would make my job any easier.  Even if it was technically legal for me to refuse to help people watch porn or R rated movies that I thought were too risque, I'd have to deal with a lot of angry customers whose lives would be made more difficult by having to call in that many more times just to get a customer service representative who would offer service instead of a sermon.  Can you imagine having to call through an automated system that asked you "to ensure the fewest transfers as possible, please take this survey so we can match your customer service need to an agent who is ideologically affiliated with you"?  Logistically it would blow up so fast that I probably wouldn't even be able to get the job unless I was willing to sign a document agreeing to service anyone no matter what they needed, just like many employers won't hire employees who refuse to work on Sundays.

Many might argue that medical professionals are more morally culpable for their involvement with a patients body than I am involved with what my customers do in their spare time.  And perhaps that isn't unfair in some cases, but that is why doctors and professionals are expected to select services they are willing to perform.  You can't be a pharmacist without the possibility of dispensing many different drugs.  A OB/GYN occasionally might have to perform an emergency abortion to save the life of the mother but normally has the option to avoid specializing in abortion procedures.  An insurance company can hardly expect to be able to only service people whose ideals match their CEO (anybody want an insurance company executive who belongs to Scientology or Seventh Day Adventist dictating what gets covered?).  And while employers might offer health insurance subsidization to attract employees, they shouldn't expect to be able to exercise financial leverage over their employees religious or medical choices.  As I said earlier, in a perfect world everything would be so flexible that you could immediately be perfectly served only by people who agreed with you.  That kind of perfection doesn't exist.  We live in a world where people are free to make up their own minds and part of dealing with that is not always agreeing.  Sure there is room for compromise and flexibility in how we all live together, but not much absolutism.

I am reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. where he said, “Whatever your life's work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”  When I go to a hospital I shouldn't have to worry if the nurse is worried about being fired if she puts my wife's life ahead of a pregnancy.  When I go to the pharmacy I should expect the pharmacist to represent that role, not his opinions about whether birth control is against the will of God.  If I have to constantly worry about which service provider might have which opinions so that I can be free to exercise my privilege to live as I choose in a free land, I'm not free, and the service providers aren't doing their job well.  Meantime, I'll keep processing orders for my customers porn with a polite smile on my face.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Exploring the conflict between Science and Religion

As an introduction to this post, most of what follows I actually wrote as a response to a discussion prompt for a class two semesters ago, as have several other blog posts I've done.  So if this seems kind of out of the blue it is.  I just really like what I wrote up so I figured I'd re use it.

The real point of incompatibility between science and religion is the type of logic used by each.  Since 1620 when Francis Bacon wrote Novum Organum science was reoriented to be based on inductive logic where (simply put) you take observations, make tentative assumptions based on observation, and then test the assumptions by more observations.  Previous scientists had made observations but the scientific method didn't really start to be worked out till Bacon.
Religion, on the other hand, is based more essentially on deductive logic as developed by Aristotle.  A series of spiritual experiences or beliefs are taken as assumptions and then conclusions are made based on those assumptions.  Occasionally the assumptions might be revised by a new spiritual experience or from some other cultural source of information but generally speaking the foundational assumptions are not supposed to change.  If anything is encountered which seems to contradict the assumptions then the typical doctrinal response is to ignore it as invalid on its face because it contradicts the assumptions, contradict it by interpreting the assumptions in a more complicated way, or to make more and more complicated interpretations of the assumptions to allow the apparent contradiction to disappear.
Science using inductive logic never assumes it has a completely true and exact assumption but by testing and revising the assumptions a lot over time they become useful or probably mostly true.  Religion using a more deductive style of logic assumes it has achieved at least some things that are completely true and exactly correct.  It is more or less assumed that given time that other truths can be discovered by exploring the complexities and consequences of those original assumptions.
At least as far as traditional biblical interpretation is concerned we have many cases where there is apparent contradiction between science and religion.  How individuals handle that can vary a lot.  I don't have any easy answers.  Over my life I've had a lot of people who tried to reassure me of my faith by telling me a folklore version of science that was easier to disbelieve or where the contradictions didn't exist.  Like claiming neanderthals and humans didn't overlap in time and that humans don't appear in the fossil record till the time that the bible says they should.  I think that's a practice that we should try to avoid.  It seems almost unavoidable that such folklore sciences will show up because as long as normal people try to figure out science they are bound to make mistakes or make stuff up to fill the gaps in their memory or understanding.  But as much as we can I think we should avoid putting words in scientists mouths to reassure ourselves.
There's no easy way to tell science and religion to make nice and stop fighting because a typical religious doctrine system has no inherent logical path to rapidly reform itself when new evidence shows up.  Science has no inherent logical mechanism to adapt to new religious ideas nor any way to judge which religion's ideas should be incorporated.  They are based on two completely different logic systems so it wouldn't really make sense for them to immediately cross fertilize each other.  If you aren't supposed to contradict the assumptions it takes a lot of time for the assumptions to disappear before you can ignore them.  It wasn't until 1822 (per wikipedia ) that the Catholic Church stopped the ban of printing "heliocentric books in Rome".  That's a grand delay of nearly 300 years after Copernicus published in 1543.  Granted its not always that slow, I think when I read one of Stephen Hawking's books (sorry I can't say which I read several) that he said the Catholic church almost immediately gave doctrinal support to his work on the Big Bang because they thought it was easy to reconcile the big bang with the idea of God having created the Universe.  Having already dismissed biblical literalism from their astronomy they were open to further change.  On other subjects literalism is still more or less the official interpretation (depending on which religion you adhere to).  Its always possible that science on any given subject will turn out to be partially or extremely wrong.  Science isn't supposed to give us absolute truth so we can never rule that out.  Its always possible that the range of subjects on which religions will judge their traditional beliefs to be unsupportable will expand and that in 100 years our descendents will look back on us and laugh with scorn about how crazy we were and how we just didn't realize that a few more parts of our belief systems were obviously expendable.  I think the best thing to do would be for each side to be tolerant of each other and pick their fights as respectfully and as humbly as possible.  Science is most certainly not representing absolute truth because its not meant to do so.  On the other hand, there is probably no belief system with a long history where we couldn't look at the early history and find beliefs contradicted by their later history.  Just take the Old Testament statements about what to do with people with contradictory beliefs and behavior and compare that to the time immediately following the Reformation (lots of religious wars-kill the heretic and force them to believe) and then again with modern practice of Christians.  Or look at New Testament statements about the spirituality and worth of women (1 Timothy 2:12-15 for example) and compare it with recent statements by LDS church leaders (I won't bother linking any, the statements that women are spiritually superior is so frequently repeated it doesn't bear citing).  No matter whether you think its good or bad, no true contradiction, or happened for valid reasons and that both were right in their times, some doctrines change.

"Family Life" education

A while back there was a bill proposed in Utah  that would have allowed school districts to opt out of teaching any sexual education and prohibit (if I recall) any mention of contraception.  After a great deal of controversy, it became clear via polls and public outcry that the plan did not have public support.  It was passed by the legislature, vetoed by the governor, and in the following election the man who introduced the bill lost his re election bid.

To put context on this, Utah law already bans encouraging contraception use (though not mentioning that it exists) and parents are allowed to opt their children out of sexual education as it exists.  The sexual education as it exists will depend on the school district, I believe my wife stated that the only sexual education done in her school district was a quick meeting where they told you to anticipate the development of secondary sex characteristics.  And that was it.  Not much to opt out of.

The debates on the subject of how much sexual education to put in school often seem to come back to the idea that we are afraid of "giving kids ideas."  The thing is, kids have dumb ideas all the time without any adult having to tell them about anything.  It reminds me of a job I had doing customer service for a cell phone company.  There were countless parents who called in shocked that there was an enormous charge on their bill showing that their child had been using text messaging.  They often tried to claim that their child didn't know how to text message because they hadn't taught them how.    My coworkers and I used to jokingly tell these parents that if their kids are in school, have friends, and have a phone they know how to text.  Nobody has to show them how for them to figure it out.  Similarly, teenagers have all the relevant anatomy, the correct hormones, and coed environments.  Even if nobody tells them "how" to go about getting pregnant reliably, teenagers inherently have all the ingredients necessary to have lots of clueless sexual interaction.  On top of that we live in a rather sexually obsessed and saturated culture.  Not talking about sex only makes it so that the doors of communication between the school or parents and the child on the subject are shut, it doesn't actually keep the child from receiving lots of sexual communication, much of it unhealthy and attached to negative social stereotypes and roles.

Certainly sex ed is awkward.  Even though I never attended it in public school myself (parental opt out), I had to deal with classmates who were trying to find a way to relate to all the new information that was dumped on them and in a poorly disciplined classroom this led to several awkward moments where students sat around discussing whether their bodies were mature enough to achieve ejaculation or drew pictures of penises (with smiley faces) on the blackboard.  The solution to awkwardness isn't to run away though, and in the situations in which I grew up, better discipline in the classroom could have solved most of the problems.

I tend to view sex ed for teenagers like drivers ed.  We expect children to grow up and probably use a car daily in navigating their world.  Learning to drive isn't automatic like learning to breathe, so we have drivers ed requirements where society does something to help make sure everybody knows the basics to help keep them safe.  Similarly we hope that children will grow up, form relationships, and have families (or shall we say it, we hope they will have sex) as part of a normal emotionally healthy life.  Overwhelmingly, the human goal in life isn't celibacy.  There is nothing automatic about learning to have healthy relationships with emotionally and physically satisfying sex in them.  There are plenty of parts the schools certainly can't help with, but plenty they can.  Just like we don't raise children with a goal in life that they should be unable to drive, we should stop talking about sex ed as if the goal for our children was for them to be celibate.  Sure there are limits on that.  We don't put toddlers in drivers ed and we don't include nascar driving or drag racing in the list of skills for teenagers to master for their drivers license.  Similarly, we can choose what information to give to teenagers in sex ed.  There is no reason we need or want teenagers to be able to recite the Kama Sutra or recite all the sex tips that were talked about in last weeks grocery store magazines.  But some basics are a good thing to help them form safe and healthy relationships that we expect some day will be sexually satisfying.  Since in our culture families and friends haven't been reliable sources of information (too scared, too embarrassed, too whatever it is) some teaching in schools can be a good thing. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Truth is hard to say

Watching General Conference has been a reminder of the humanity of the General Authorities.  Errors of emphasis routinely occur, doctrinal mishaps spring up in statements, and in general there are just things that are hard to say correctly.  By error of emphasis I mean statements that are largely true but by making them without a variety of correcting statements what comes out is a problematic overgeneralization.  Some doctrinal mishaps are about as important as spilled milk.  Remembering some from this last conference (Elder Perkins, Priesthood session) King David likely didn’t have an ‘eternal family’ that he lost because there is no scriptural indication that eternal family sealings were being performed at the time (especially since the Melchizedek priesthood was not held broadly or commonly, if at all) nor did King David “squander” his ‘priesthood’ because he wasn’t a priest.  Othertimes the mishaps may not be really meant, but taking statements as literally true could only drive one into bizzare doctrinal “off roading” like a previous conference where a man stated that he was the final arbiter and judge in his family of what right and wrong were.  All he meant to say was that he should have the right to read his children’s picture books the way he liked, but what came out was something having a lot more to do with cultural expectations of the past rather than LDS doctrine that would even stand a basic comparison with, say, the covenant structure of the temple.

Overall, truth is hard to say.  There is almost no basic practice or idea that doesn’t have some obvious counter example.  Take the church principle that one can only receive revelation for those under your stewardship.  This is a well established church principle whose effect is that not any person off the street can tell the church what to do and that personal revelation doesn’t give you power to undermine church power structures.  Seems well thought out, logical, even inevitable.  But to whom did Jesus first give the revelation of his ressurrected person?  To a woman not part of the priesthood power structure.  He told her to carry this revelation to the twelve.  They dismissed her and Christ had to reveal himself multiple times to get the point across, when the original revelation had come outside the power structure.  Knowing this counter example, there is no way we can say the principle of limited personal revelation is TRUTH in an absolute sense.  If it is TRUTH in an absolute sense, it comes along with a bunch of rules and intricate exceptions that just haven’t been revealed and honestly 99% of the time probably don’t matter.

Or take the example of the infallibility of the president of the church.  This doctrine came fairly early,  with the basic premise being that if the President of the church ever lead the church astray God would essentially kill the prophet to allow him to be replaced.  Seems logical, I mean there has to be somebody with whom the buck stops.  There is even a scriptural example to go along with it of a prophet who has received an injunction to not eat any food during a particular journey, but partakes anyways and is almost immediately killed, I think by lions.  However, that is not the only example.  Moses misleads the children of Isreal by misperforming the designated ritual to bring water to the people in the desert.  God doesn’t kill him, but ensures he does not enter the promised land.  It suggests that the whole do it perfect or drop dead rule has a lot of ins and outs and grey area.  Generally speaking we can accept the inspiration of the church leaders and trust what they say.  But, given the counter example it would be rediculous to consider every word of the President of the church as absolute TRUTH as if it has just falled from the lips of the God.  When it comes down to it, TRUTH is as hard to say completely as individuals are unique.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Why I think

The recent article on the LDS church's financial holdings was very interesting.  There are several reasons why I'd like the church to be a little more forthcoming on the subject of their finances.  It all boils down to eliminating a financial mythology of the church that seems to float around quite a lot.

Examples of the such mythology include the belief that the church has no professional clergy (many General Authorities have salaries from the church).  I actually attended a Stake Conference once where a speaker tried to claim that members of the church should strive for financial strength because General Authorities must have generally been able to retire early to be able to donate so much time to the church.  When you consider that they are actually paid employees whose job it is to minister God's word and administer his kingdom, that little myth falls to pieces.  Also, when one thinks about how many general authorities have salaries it really takes the wind out of some of the holier-than-thou-we-don't-have-priestcraft talk.

Another example of financial mythology is the idea that the church welfare program is somehow magically immune from overhead costs.  I've heard it claimed in various Sunday school meetings that since the church is obviously a volunteer only church that it must be impossible that any of our fast offerings or tithing money might be getting drained off to pay employees or to keep buildings running or build anything.  Sometimes this belief seems to be coupled with a belief that any non church run charity is somehow tainted by evil, typically in having operating costs that are so large that hardly any money is spent on doing good.  Sure you can find a fake charity anywhere you look if you try, but that doesn't mean the church doesn't have operating costs in its welfare program.  Every bishops store house in the world has to pay for its utilities, probably rent, and probably has at some level a core staff of paid individual who keep the place running.  Volunteers helping to reduce costs is wonderful and certainly a big part of the picture.  The trucks and planes that transport our charity goods are operated by paid individuals, their vehicles use gas, and have to be services by mechanics.  Those costs are not totally eliminated by donated time.  Or take LDS family services.  Their psychologists and counselors are paid professionals.  When you visit them (even to complete a church mandated missionary evaluation) you pay them money (unless the Bishop is footing the bill with the ward welfare money).  Sometimes the church even takes its welfare money and sends it as international aid channeled through other international charities based on which ones have the best access to an area.

There is also the mythology that church officials are above suspicion for the handling of church funds because a prophetic system of church governance would weed out any incompetent's before they could do any serious damage.  Early church history clearly shows a pattern of money not being handled well and priesthood designated channels for money being accepted or spent being occasionally unskilled or unscrupulous.  Elders would go abroad seeking donations for building the temple that often never made it to the temple building committee because the Elder in question would borrow it for his own use before it made it to the church.  I believe there was even an incident where the church proposed that little oversight needed to be exercised over a group of individuals handing church funds because they were men of good character.  Later in a General Conference they were brought up for trial before the church because they had allegedly mismanaged funds.  The charges were dropped on the basis that it turned out no malevolence was involved, the people in question just weren't skilled accountants who couldn't have kept the books right if they tried (the only skilled one having left to do something else and abandoning his calling).  This history makes it clear there isn't something heretical about questioning whether church funds are being put to the best use or wishing to know what the church does with the money it has.  A divine institution is still filled with normal people who often do the best they can.

Certainly there would be difficulties in having more disclosure and there would be limits and procedures in place to determine what should be disclosed.  But that is no different than any non profit organization that has to publish the basics of its finances because of tax laws.  Disclosure could even lead to its own set of mythologies as members of the church might start making purchasing and financial decisions based on the church's financial posture.  But disclosing the church finances in the proper tone could prevent the worst of such problems.  If Joseph Smith hadn't advertized with Kirtland Bank with scripture quotations it might not have been a big deal.  Similarly, if church financial enterprises are explained in a sober and low key manner in which it is clearly stated that the church's stock market holdings and trades shouldn't be considered as a prophecy it should prevent a lot of people assuming that the church's financial dealings are somehow doctrinally binding.

Some publicity might result in the church membership pondering whether certain industries and financial arrangements even make sense as part of the mission of the church.  This shouldn't be faith shattering to anyone if its handled right.  Instead of fighting to keep the church's financial dealings as private as possible, having to clearly explaining why a church enterprise fits into the mission of the church might help the church refine its focus away from things that might not matter.  The real faith quelshing problems aren't generally ones where church members might be hurt by the truth (unless someone in church administration has made mistakes that are made unmentionable by the unquestionable authority of priesthood power).  Generally its a lack of answers to questions that is faith shaking.  If making Salt Lake downtown more beautiful and culturally vibrant is financially more important (worth more of the church's money) than feeding the hungry in Africa, I'd like a good explanation why from church leaders I can trust.  A "trust us we're doctrinally authorized to do whatever we want" spurs more questions, not faith.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Natural Childbirth

So Bonnie Jean and I had been looking more seriously at natural childbirth.  Our first child had a very long wait between induction and the epidural being given because labor was progressing too slowly for the epidural to be given.  We had little training for the labor process and didn't know what we were doing.  It ended up being a lot of pain until they gave up and decided that even if she wasn't dialated to a 3 she should still get the epidural.  As soon as she had the epidural the pain went down, she relaxed, and the labor proceeded quickly.  She couldn't walk around or really do anything about the pain because they felt strongly that the moniters should be attached at all times unless she was going to the bathroom, she had an IV, and as a result was essentially tethered to the bed.

So we really wanted to know some options to allow us to work around the stuck phase before an epidural would be possible.  We did do some self study on the bradley method.  The basic concepts he talks about seemed nice, but the nicest parts of them seemed to have been incorporated into the other methods that are widely promoted.  The stats supporting the method seemed encouraging but lacking scientific rigor (like giving a high percentage success rate when only measuring the people who decided not to change and get an epidural half way through the process).  The supposed bad practices being railed against, as far as we could tell, had more to do with the past than the present.

Labor woke my wife up at somewhere between 3-4 AM.  She woke me up around 4:23 when contractions were about 8 minutes apart.  Before we could finish gathering up to go they were coming at 4 minutes apart.

When we got to the hospital they insisted on keeping her hooked up to the monitors during most of the intake and medical questionnaire process.  She wasn't feeling so great at that point.  Once they were done they let her walk around, which felt much better, but she still was feeling like she might probably want an epidural.  We thought we'd try the hospital hot tub next.  That was marvelous, the water helped take the pressure off her back, the heat relaxed her, and things went along swimmingly.  They insisted on checking her again with the monitors since no one had bothered hooking up the portable monitors they had available.  Then, frankly I think they forgot about us.  It was only supposed to be a quick stop for a short monitoring and then back to the tub.  Bonnie Jean was feeling so miserable I went and asked someone if they couldn't hurry up and let us back to the tub.  They checked her again and discovered the hot tub and worked so nicely that she had gone to an 8.  The OB/GYN had another surgery waiting on her so she wanted to break the water in hopes of causing the labor to finish up rapidly.  They moved her into a classic birthing table posture, and being stuck on the table on her back being unable to move around made things miserable, hard to relax, and progress kind of ground to a halt.  Because the anesthesiologist was in surgery, the epidural wasn't an option and narcotic painkillers have a history of making Bonnie Jean feel nauseated and loopy.  So with the exception of some local painkillers injected in anticipation of stitches etc we were pretty much a drug free childbirth.

She started to feel like she needed to push very badly, but was still only between an 8 and a 9, not really ready to give birth.  Eventually it got to a point where there was only one edge of the cervix on the side that hadn't gone anywhere.  They kept telling her to bear down a little bit so they could watch what happened to see how likely it was the baby could get past that little bit of swollen cervix that was left, which left neither Bonnie Jean or I certain whether we should be working on relaxing or pushing because we were being asked to do both more or less at once.  That part of labor was extremely painful because we essentially lost control of the relaxation.  Eventually, the doctor felt that she could just hold that part out of the way and the baby could come past it.  The final part of labor was again very painful, none of the "if you push hard enough you won't feel a thing except a mini orgasm as the baby's head clears" the natural birth promoters were promising.  The doctor injected a painkiller on the part of the cervix that was refusing to retract, which helped some, but it was still some of the worst pain I'd heard my wife go through.  Perhaps if she had been given a more realistic option to stand or move around during the final part of the labor process she wouldn't have been in so much pain, but who knows.  Encouraging her to bear down a little bit to see what would happen when they weren't really wanting her to bear down was NOT a good idea from a making sure the contractions actually accomplish something perspective.  They only stopped telling her to do that when they decided that keeping up their little experiment was going to tear her cervix.  If she had an epidural perhaps that method would have been fine because she would have been in less pain and better able to relax or bear down at will.  But when the relaxing has to happen against an extreme backdrop of pain the whole thing was making it harder for us to do anything useful.  And breaking the water might have been ok if Bonnie Jean could have moved around.  They were just hoping that labor would become so rapid at that point that they wanted to be ready to catch the baby.  Perhaps in most cases that would have worked.  In this case, because it involved having to hold still on the labor table it kind of backfired.

In general I'd say if you are considering natural birth go for it, but be ready to be forceful about not being forgotten about stuck to the monitors for any longer than necessary.  If you have a hot tub at your hospital definitely try it out, it was amazing for us.  Don't let anyone promise you a painless paradise of the baby gliding into sight.  If the pain is managed right and there aren't complications forcing you to do things that interfere with the techniques it can be much more comfortable than it might be.  But don't be surprised by or disappointed by a painful labor.

Since the contractions became less productive as soon as we were out it made us wonder about water birth.  We don't care at all about the theories that supposedly since a baby is in a water type environment before birth exiting into a water environment will be better.  We did like how being in a hot tub allowed Bonnie Jean to profoundly relax in a way that she wasn't achieving elsewhere.  The contractions were so effective in this state of relaxation that she moved from a 4 to an 8 in something around three and a half hours.  We don't know if this would be the case at any typical center offering water birth.  But that hot tub, combined with vigorous massage, verbal support, walking, and moving around was a good ticket to effective labor.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


They were 15 minutes apart she said, but gone now.  We hope they stay gone for another few days.  Work won't reimburse me for my classes if I take off work for my son being born.  Granted, given that we are about to add another human being to our household that almost seems like the least of the worries.  I try hard at work, but sometimes I worry about making it another month without being fired.  Getting sales involves a lot of person skills on the emotional level that I simply don't have, the product isn't really all that unique, the market is saying just about anything I'm touching is borderline obsolete, and they just doubled the official sales requirement.  After we stashed away the last tax return this is the first time since we've been married when the emergency savings fund was fully funded.  Would be nice to keep it that way, for a while at least.  Now we're about to have a baby with a HSA account making sure we pay up through the nose for anything they do.  Granted, the math seemed to say that once the coverage actually kicked in it would be so much better that we'd be better off in the long run.  Meantime, I guess I can kiss the emergency savings fund being fully funded goodbye for a while.  Maybe next year's tax return will fill it up again.  The government seems to think that if we are this poor we don't deserve to pay many taxes.  Maybe in a year or so I will have completed enough classes to get some kind of job that uses the skills I'm building with all these classes, and I can get away from customer service work.  Not that I mind helping customers, but sometimes I feel like I'm less helping them and more giving them a guided tour to a house of horrors.  Yes Mr. Customer I know you think its nothing to do with me personally but you hate our collective guts.  And if you could please hang up soon I'd appreciate it because whether I can put food on the table another day is partially dependent on being able to get you to go away quickly before my average call length goes through the roof.  Occasionally I simply know the answer to their problem off the tip of my tongue  and I can bask in the admiration of callers who enjoy having their problem solved fast.  But its equally likely that the solution is one that goes beyond their technical skill to implement and somehow that is our fault.  From a service perspective I can see why they'd feel that way when they don't have anyone else they can think of to turn to, but there is sometimes nothing I can do about that.  If only solving my life problems were as easy as claiming that it was all the fault or responsibility of the first group that came to mind.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How we do things

With the recent hullabaloo over how the finances of the LDS church are reported and dealt with, I thought it would be interesting to point out how much of this is a question of attitude, not actual behavior.

In the early history of the LDS church, there were problems with finances.  Elder's were assigned to collect money from church members for church projects, but there were rampant problems dealing with these Elder's not being reliable to get the money home where it belonged.  Sometimes they'd use it themselves or sometimes an associate would 'borrow' it from them.  Regardless of how or with how much intention of malice, the money was getting tangled in transactions it wasn't authorized for all along the supply chain to the church leadership.  So they had to change the rules and make certain all the church knew that only certain persons (I think it was the twelve) were authorized to receive money for these church projects.  There wasn't a good communication method so the message got repeated a lot at different church meetings as they were trying to get the message out so that unauthorized elder's couldn't collect from the faithful.

There was a scandal regarding the temple building committee in Nauvoo as well if I recall.  If my memory serves from when I read through that section in the history of the church, it was early on it was announced that since the members of the temple building committee were already designated as devout and good men that little effort needed to be spared to keep them honest.  Unfortunately there is a difference between honest and smart.  Eventually, some remaining member or members of this committee were called up before a public church court.  Strangely, a lot of early church court meetings were held during general conferences so we get a record of it from the history of the church. The good brother in question admitted to not knowing terribly much about book keeping and that he hadn't had the time to pay attention to it, so that there were most definitely mistakes in his record keeping that he wasn't afraid to admit.  More viperous steps were taken to protect the trustworthiness of the church funds in the temple building fund.

The essential point is that good men who were in their financially responsible roles as a result of church callings were capable of making mistakes, having their mistakes questioned, and submitting to public correction.  There was a degree of community participation in how this took place without anyone trying to necessarily question of whether Joseph Smith was a prophet.

Today the finances of the LDS church are pretty much hidden from public view.  A bishop might know what is in ward finances, but much beyond that everything is hidden.  The only glimpse of what is really happening is when the church gives its Conference auditing report, which in all honesty, is remarkably boring.  Or there are the glimpses from when a reporter tries to dig into the subject only to make a point.  Today, there appears to be a standard reaction that if we have a testimony of the Book of Mormon and there for of Joseph Smith all all his successors that there is a level of apostacy in calling for the church's money to be dealt with in any other way.  There is little functional difference between the members back in the early church triggered investigations and for a preference for  transparent book keeping today.  What is changed is the assumption of what attitude goes with the request.  There is nothing inherently doctrinally wrong with preferring that the church manage its finances in any particular way.  With little to no real information to work with Church members are left with a bad dichotomy of choices of supporting the bretheren and not questioning the finances or of questioning the finances and the bretheren together.  The history of bad financial skills and decisions being made by officially called individuals makes it clear these cultural behaviours don't have to match together, we just have made them do so in our minds.

Its kind of like women and the care of the physical needs of the family.  In the standard works there are plenty of references to women who participated in home projection.  I think in the Book of Mormon there are specific statements about gendered production of goods.  Women kept them from all being naked by spinning and making cloth I think is a typical example.  There is nothing questioned about how they might have been taking time away from their families to do so, it just exists.  Across many traditional world culture's women have participated in some degree in home production.  They may even arguably take time away from their families by arranging for communal child care or by aggressively swaddling the baby to make it so that they don't have to pay it any particular attention.  The roles are traditional and very gendered, so we don't jump to question it.  For explicit doctrine all we really have to go off of is a few scriptural versus where God gives Adam and Eve their gendered assignments and later quotes from Paul talking about how men who refuse to provide financial support are worse than infidels.  But that's it.

In our diversified economy, production has moved largely out of the home and into factories of varying types.  Women still participate in home labor and production, but the range upon which it might express itself is restrained by our specialization of labor.  Instead of having two producers who deal in non monetary commodities as part of farm life, we have the ideal family where the husband produces monetary value by exchange of labor and his wife... well... spends it and... ummmh... finds more and more creative ways of being creative within the confines of family needs.  Scrap booking as a highly developed social art form here we come and watch how cooking and cleaning can be made to take up as little or as much of our time as possible depending on resources available.  A meaningful female role in production in traditionally gendered relationships has declined.  But, since the two producer family arrangement has been undermined by our cultural application of the specialization of labor, two producer families can't exist without breaking down the highly gendered social roles we have carved for ourselves.  Not that there aren't social costs to women being out of the home.  Just like there are social costs to men being out of the home (although our traditional gendered interpretations of labor division only allow one of these to be voiced).

The point being, LDS culture has produced a grouping of assumptions that if women participate in production outside of the home they must be attacking the traditional gendered roles.  Even though the traditional gendered practice is for there to be two producers with limited child care devotion given, we can't acknowledge that tradition without appearing to attack the the grouping of social definitions we have in our mind.  Women in the work place=evil feminism and break down of society  blah blah blah.  The history of what kinds of production women participated in as part of agricultural home centered lifestyle shows that these groupings are in our minds, not inherent in reality.

We'd be better off flexibly allowing ourselves to examine what we really believe and what we really have simply practiced on accident.  They aren't always the same, but our desire to practice what we believe I think ends up with us believing what we practice.  We make doctrine out of accidents of history.  Not that you can easily take history apart and put society back together again.  They aren't the same things by that point.  But at least critical examination of the past can help us figure out what justifications should apply to our present.  The church would still be true with transparent financial records and women can still be nurturing and wonderful without being restricted to only social positions based entirely upon directing home consumption and raising children.  Presumably there's some good reasons you couldn't change it to be like that in either case without a lot of trouble, but that's not the same as black and white truth.

I wonder if the church's financial secrecy has been a way of avoid a Kirtland bank scenario where church leaders encouraged investments that turned out not to be sound and shook people's belief because they wanted to see God's hand in everything church leaders did.  Not that Joseph Smith adveritizing the bank with scripture quotes helped.  But by keeping the financial dealings more secret people can associate different kinds of impulsive belief with church expenditures.  It might not be any more true, but it will be less dangerous to their church membership.  Not that such scenarios couldn't be partially dealt with by selling off many business affairs that may only be tangentially related to church purposes.  Lots of other solutions could be found certainly.  But trying to make dogma out of practice will make it difficult to adapt to anything without someone mistaking a change in practice as a change in doctrine.  And that creates problems that shouldn't have existed in the first place.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Moses and Egypt

The story of Moses and Egypt is one that I'm not so certain about how we interpret it.  The traditional view of a massive slave population that is shepherded out of Egypt is one that I think even LDS orthodox sources (institute manuals or FARMS, can't remember which it was) limit with possible interpretations of how the large numbers of people could be reinterpreted as mistranslations of linguistically similar phrases.  There's one thing I feel fairly certain of.  Our view of the pre-exodus Israelites being wretched slaves is probably a bunch of ethnocentric bias.  Probably closer to the truth is that the Israelites were a local aristocracy that had their privileges taken away so that they had to pay a sort of "human labor" tax that was typical of Egyptian peasants.

Here's how the reasoning works:
Genesis 47:12 suggests that Jacob and his family were being fed by the gift of Joseph's rank and position- ie would probably be exempt from selling themselves and their possessions as described in 47:14-20 because they had Joseph giving them the food for free.  You end up with a unique political situation of 3 land owning classes, being Israelites, the Priests (47:22) and the Pharaoh himself (47:20).  So it seems inappropriate to interpret them as equals with the Egyptians and then were slaves, they are an aristocracy.  This seems supported by Exodus 1:9 which shows the Israelites as being a competing political center of power.  From the historical record we know that a large part of Pharaoh's social organizing power lay in conscripting normal peasants to work on public works projects when the land was not fit for farming.  Exodus 1:11 describes the Israelites getting conscripted or a public works project.  So when we think of the Israelites as slaves we are probably misreading the situation.  If the Israelites are still shepherds at this time the work season may have felt more oppressive to them since sheep and cows don't have seasons of the year where you can ignore them because the Nile is doing the wrong thing at the moment.  However from the perspective of Egyptian government they probably simply had their aristocratic privileges removed and are being made to work on public works projects like normal citizens.  These public works projects would expose them more directly to the Egyptian religion as many of the building projects I'm guessing had sacred contexts to them.  Being required to work on public buildings to the honor of a God-King and his pantheon you don't believe in could eventually pressure the Israelites to socially bond into the Egyptian religion.  This might increase the importance for the Isrealites to leave before they completely blended their culture in.

The really funny thing about this is that all the biblical archeologists who are looking for evidence of a massive slave class are probably never going to find anything because the condition of slavery as referred to biblically is probably just the hard labor life of a typical ancient Egyptian peasant- so it would be comparatively indistinguishable from the surrounding Egyptians who were working there.  There could be differences for certain, but not anywhere near as many especially since they would be living in worker camps (not their own permanent dwellings where they might make more dent on artwork or literature) along with typical Egyptians.  Even if the tale of Moses leading the tribes out of Egypt is in general outline correct and not a history/legend mix, the chances of any archeological Hebrew slave class being found in the Pi-Ramsees is pretty much nil.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Humans... old humans

Recently I can't stop bumping into information on scientific discoveries about early humanity.  First it was science websites talking about the earliest proved artifacts of deep sea fishing and bug repellant bedding arrangements.  Next it was my biology class ending with a section on human evolution.  Now, it looks like my general education humanities class begins with a discussion of cro-magnon culture and artifacts.  The introduction to the course spent an entire page warning me that I was going to have to deal with information that contradicted or failed to support the bible.

Believe it or not, I'm actually somewhat pleased that my human evolution studies are being followed almost immediately by a discussion of cro-magnon culture and ancient civilizations.  It will be almost like picking up where I left off on the subject.  The best sum up of what I've learned so far is that "anatomically modern humans" have been around for a long time as far as science can tell, probably 100,000 years or more.  Even early in that time they made stone tools, developed art work, and ritual behavior probably indicative of religion. 

There are two things that bother me the most upon encountering these subjects.  First is that the people who purported to teach me about these subjects before and propose rudimentary systems of synthesizing scientific and religious knowledge apparently either knew very little or they were rejecting scientific reality to replace it with their own.  One professor claimed that neanderthals disappearing and anatomically modern humans appearing lined up with the Book of Genesis time lines.  Apparently he never really bothered fact checking who ever told him that or he made it up.  Neanderthals disappear from the fossil record about 30,000 years ago and overlapped in time a lot with and hybridized a little with modern humans.  Another professor claimed that we should simply view any human fossil from more than 5-6 thousand years ago to simply be non human.  Again, there's no science to back that up, from all appearances he simply made that up because it was the easiest way for him to reconcile the subjects.  Speculation proposed as fact with no evidence isn't something I should have been wasting my time listening to.  This doesn't bother me as much as it might because I've come to suspect anything that I learned from that set of professors as highly suspect.  At George Wythe it is quiet possible to be an academic jack of all trades and a master of none.

The second thing that really bothers me is that there has been little evolution of LDS doctrine to constructively deal with new evidence.  The Articles of Faith explicitly describe that God will yet reveal many important things, the D&C describes a line upon line process of gaining knowledge, the D&C describes all knowledge as being the inheritance of the saints, and doctrinal practice as described across the ancient and modern scripture makes it clear that God is frequently willing to let us rest on the laurels of our own cultural misunderstandings if it isn't particularly urgent that we learn better.  That all being said I think we should anticipate that as new knowledge and discoveries are made that church doctrine will somehow constructively adapt to avoid dogmatizing what were probably misunderstandings to begin with.  I propose no synthesis of doctrines.  I'm just sharply disappointed that none has been forthcoming.

Instead of any attempt to show that the different points of view can or should be reconciled with science we get talks quoted in lesson manuals about how a supposedly more careful reading of Genesis will prove that no organisms were mortal or died before Adam partook of the fruit.  Given an extensive fossil record that shows that people and organisms died before the garden ever took place this claim is so weak that it doesn't deserve to be part of the teaching.  But it is still there.  Believing this doctrine requires us to come up with explanations about how all those buried fossils weren't actually dead but were simply in a suspended animation till Adam partook of the fruit at which point a whole bunch of stuff died rather quickly.  It's always 'possible' this or some other explanation could reconcile our approved Institute manuals with science but it hardly seems likely.  Rather than acknowledging scientific evidence and flexibly suggesting that reinterpretation is possible we seem to be stuck in a position of trying to pick fights with science.

Here is what I believe has happened to us.  The LDS church has made statements from time to time discouraging us from exploring science based on religious belief or religion based on science.  If you link the two together when the science turns out to be wrong or incomplete the religious ideas you attached to it go out the window along with it.  However, in practice this restriction only appears to apply forwards in time.  Nobody ever gets up and says that we should throw out our pre restoration of the church ideas about science and religion- only avoid making new ones.  From Plato and Aristotle down animals and plants were considered to be unchanging over time, if I remember my biology textbook said because it was believed the species represented divine platonic "forms".  The LDS church latches onto this idea when it describes animals and plants being physical manifestations of spiritual creations.  Darwin didn't publish his ideas confronting the "mutability of species" until after Joseph Smith's death.  Without exploring science and religion together in the ways discouraged by the church pre-Darwinian ideas about science and religion are therefore essentially locked into place because it was the default assumption to make.  Granted, trying to come up with something logically consistent that divorces LDS thought from Aristotle on the mutability of species would be very hard.  It gives me headaches to think about.  However, I'd rather have the church actively engaging with the possibility of doctrinal reinterpretation rather than teaching us to assume all new discoveries in archeology and biology are false.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Relaxed... and me

I once told a group of fellow students that they probably almost were never actually seeing me, that the real me was almost always hiding somewhere else.

I told a co worker recently that while I'm at work I tend to be really uptight and nervous.  She was confused, telling me that I was really loose and I tried to explain that when I'm just being myself and letting go I can be "really weird."  I really hated saying it that way, but there's no way to say "I'm intentionally suppressing my personality because being on the autistic spectrum isn't compatible with this work place."

Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself, where did the "me" go?

I have to actively suppress my detail orientedness to work with customers.  It's not because the customers particularly mind, I still tend to get great scores on customer satisfaction.  It's not because I'm not getting the job done per se- often being detail oriented can help me achieve better outcomes on things.  It's not because people can't understand it- I've developed quite the talent for finding analogies and other linguistic gymnastics to help people understand me (for instance I once achieved helping a very elderly lady understand why I couldn't promise her that her late fee date and service suspension date would stay the same-in context of actual company practice and policy).  It's because being detail oriented can be culprit number one in making the length of my calls longer- and short call time is king at this project.

I have to actively suppress my love of the silliness inherent in life at work.  It's not because everyone at work is straight faced serious all the time.  There can be quiet a lot of absurdity going on at any given time.  It's not because the people there hate me- most people are at least superficially quite friendly.  It's not because my way of finding joy in the little things in life is HR inappropriate-I've overheard way too many in depth workplace discussions of people's sex lives and preferences for it to be an issue with HR appropriateness.  It's because the silliness I like to engage in is so different than what people tend to tolerate well that I have to acclimatize them to it which requires a stable social group.  I don't have a stable social group at work.  And worse off, I'm a bad judge of the mood of corporate gate keepers of acceptable behavior so I'd be likely to get in trouble by continuing silliness past when it was power structure acceptable.

I have to actively suppress my core sense of intuitive integrity and rule following at work.  Besides calls being short the other all important requirement at work is making up-sales.  I've occasionally been told point blank by my immediate superiors to skip explaining what, if I looked into them, are probably some sort of "full disclosure" legally required details of the sales process.  And no lie about it, its easier to sell if you allow the momentum to build on hype even if the customer has obviously misjudged their own interests.  I've found myself pointing out to elderly customers that my introductory that they are suddenly excited about is actually about the same price as their current service because they aren't adding in the modem rental and tax fees.  Every time that happens I have to fight between my need to be loyal to my financial well being by keeping my job and my loyalty to myself and to other people as human beings.  I find a compromise that works, but generally not one that leaves my mind at rest.  Not that sales is an inherently evil trade to engage in, but to do it right when I'm not intuitively good at it is harder when the advice I'm most likely to receive to enable me to achieve more sales is to lie a little more.

So where did the "me" in all of this go?  Sometimes I pop out unexpectedly, like when a trainer was talking about whether he or his wife was the one to wear the pants and I surprised myself by impulsively voicing the obvious pun that we could all see that he was wearing pants at the moment.  When my internal strain levels drop dramatically- like right after finishing a semester- I find myself coming out to play more often.  If I've found a slightly more stable group to socialize with I can find myself becoming slightly more open, explaining more of who I am, showing people more of the emotional dynamic that makes up who I am.  Occasionally I've even rushed home in an almost craze because my fight flight response went wild in response to the terror I sometimes feel at expressing more of myself than I meant to.  If I put that much adrenaline behind a pair of bike pedals I go fast.  Sometimes if Bonnie Jean and I aren't too exhausted to properly enjoy each other's company we can spark up some of the openness and craziness that made us find life without each other unthinkable.  Between working full time at a job I sometimes find stifling and doing school work at a breakneck pace in the time left over by the job I sometimes have a chance to come out and look around.

If I try to remember back to when I felt the most me, the least squished into a box that I couldn't break out of without the shards of my socially improper exit lacerating me I go back to a canoe on some lonely lake in Canada- or any time when I can actually relax at home.

Canoeing over 100 miles in less than 2 weeks doesn't give much room for avoiding socially bonding.  It also created a structure of unified social purpose that was easy to fulfill.  I can remember laughing in ways I hadn't laughed for years-and stripping the varnish of social inhibitions in ways I almost have never enjoyed before or since.  It's probably why I've kept the name CrouchingOwl- it was how my troop honored me when they tried to express the me they met out in the woods.

At home, one of the easiest ways to make my wife smile is to just be myself.  When I see her smile and say "You, my love, are so weird" I know I've done what I could to light up her life for another moment in time.  Home is where the "me" comes out of its shelter to actually live, and how I know that I can survive pushing myself through more and more molds that don't really fit me, and still be me at the end.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What don't I know?

There are many cute ways parents explain where babies come from.  From mommy's tummy, from a stork, from the hospital, or even from Sears.  Past all the silliness is a basic message that you don't really want to know it wouldn't do you any good yet, give it some time and maybe I'll explain when I stop going into cold sweats at the thought your going to grow up some day.

I think God's word to us is a little like that at times-simplified to the point of incomprehensibility because reality is, to us, incomprehensible or at least undesirable that we should understand.  The most frustrating scripture in all the Holy Word to me is D&C 19:6-12.  On the one hand it is a beautiful scripture that cracks the light open on the LDS doctrine of a benevolent afterlife in which the torments of hell aren't a corporeal torture but an extreme disappointment in which you only have yourself to blame.  On the other hand, it is a clear indication that God sometimes allows himself to use plays on words that we can't expect to understand because it wouldn't be good for us to understand it yet.  This play on words, hinging on whether "endless punishment" and "punishment without end" mean different things, demonstrates that the whole continuing revelation doctrine isn't about just adding more information to what was good information.  It shows that sometimes in continuing revelation, we have a "stork moment" where God tells us to completely throw out what we thought we understood and replace it with something better.  And not just minor details, occasionally God completely revolutionizes a doctrine or a practice.  The New covenant following the Old, priesthood eligibility (think of all those supposedly almost as good as scripture talks given in General Conference before and after), and freedom of religion (change in practice from Old Testament to D&C) are all subjects where things sometimes change more than you would expect if you assumed all the information given was completely right and complete the first time.  That isn't to say that there is a contradiction in what was said at different times that couldn't be explained or synthasized in some way, but that the fundamental shifts can be of surprising magnitude that show everything we had assumed before to be false or "only for then, not for now"

I don't mind the get better information part.  Its the fact that when something doctrinally confuses me I don't know when to stop giving myself a headache and say to myself "I'll ask in the afterlife, this might be more "stork" information.

Just for example, I've been following several announcements recently of findings of human type behavior and artifacts occurring in an earth history timeline that simply doesn't make sense by the biblical account.  I'd looked around enough to find the explanation that the translation of "creating the earth in 7 days) may have alternate interpretations available to help avoid any problems, however when you start finding jewelry, fishhooks, and bedding mats showing a basic  mechanical prowess that we normally only associate with humans. happening tens of thousands in the past.   Does this disprove anything?  Not particularly unless you try to stick to a rigid interpretation of the entire 7000 years of earth's temporal existence statement from the D7C.  I could give myself a headache trying to put it all together, but I could also blow it off as potential stork material where I don't have to figure out anything because anything I figured out might be "continuing revelation" deleted by changes in the future.  The main thing for me is to maintain trust that it does have an explanation, even if I'm not entitled to one or capable of understanding now.