Wednesday, December 12, 2018
1. I say “sufficiently safe” about the demolished playgrounds because when playgrounds are made too safe, kids either stop playing in them or start playing in unintended ways. Kids need playgrounds dangerous enough to remain challenging. People, including children (who are people too, after all) don’t seek to minimize risk. They seek to optimize it. They drive and walk and love and play so that they achieve what they desire, but they push themselves a bit at the same time, too, so they continue to develop. Thus, if things are made too safe, people (including children) start to figure out ways to make them dangerous again.
- Share examples from your past where attitudes toward risk vs. safety have shifted dramatically.
2. Boys are suffering, in the modern world. They are more disobedient— negatively— or more independent— positively— than girls, and they suffer for this, throughout their pre-university educational career. They are less agreeable (agreeableness being a personality trait associated with compassion, empathy and avoidance of conflict) and less susceptible to anxiety and depression, at least after both sexes hit puberty. Boys’ interests tilt towards things; girls’ interests tilt towards people.Strikingly, these differences, strongly influenced by biological factors, are most pronounced in the Scandinavian societies where gender-equality has been pushed hardest: this is the opposite of what would be expected by those who insist, ever more loudly, that gender is a social construct. It isn’t. This isn’t a debate. The data are in.
- What are your observations of the distinctions between boys/girls?
3. The increasingly short supply of university-educated men poses a problem of increasing severity for women who want to marry, as well as date. First, women have a strong proclivity to marry across or up the economic dominance hierarchy. They prefer a partner of equal or greater status. This holds true cross-culturally. The same does not hold, by the way, for men, who are perfectly willing to marry across or down (as the Pew data indicate), although they show a preference for somewhat younger mates. The recent trend towards the hollowing-out of the middle class has also been increasing as resource-rich women tend more and more to partner with resource-rich men. Because of this, and because of the decline in high-paying manufacturing jobs for men (one of six men of employable age is currently without work in the US), marriage is now something increasingly reserved for the rich. I can’t help finding that amusing, in a blackly ironic manner. The oppressive patriarchal institution of marriage has now become a luxury. Why would the rich tyrannize themselves?
- Where have you noticed this shift among family & friends?
4. Here’s an alternative theory: throughout history, men and women both struggled terribly for freedom from the overwhelming horrors of privation and necessity. Women were often at a disadvantage during that struggle, as they had all the vulnerabilities of men, with the extra reproductive burden, and less physical strength. In addition to the filth, misery, disease, starvation, cruelty and ignorance that characterized the lives of both sexes, back before the twentieth century (when even people in the Western world typically existed on less than a dollar a day in today’s money) women also had to put up with the serious practical inconvenience of menstruation, the high probability of unwanted pregnancy, the chance of death or serious damage during childbirth, and the burden of too many young children. Perhaps that is sufficient reason for the different legal and practical treatment of men and women that characterized most societies prior to the recent technological revolutions, including the invention of the birth control pill. At least such things might be taken into account, before the assumption that men tyrannized women is accepted as a truism.
- How did your known ancestors survive in their time and place?
5. You must also know clearly what you want out of the situation, and be prepared to clearly articulate your desire. It’s a good idea to tell the person you are confronting exactly what you would like them to do instead of what they have done or currently are doing. You might think, “if they loved me, they would know what to do.” That’s the voice of resentment. Assume ignorance before malevolence. No one has a direct pipeline to your wants and needs— not even you. If you try to determine exactly what you want, you might find that it is more difficult than you think. The person oppressing you is likely no wiser than you, especially about you. Tell them directly what would be preferable, instead, after you have sorted it out. Make your request as small and reasonable as possible— but ensure that its fulfillment would satisfy you. In that manner, you come to the discussion with a solution, instead of just a problem.
- Great advice. What complications are involved with implementation?
6. Men enforce a code of behaviour on each other, when working together. Do your work. Pull your weight. Stay awake and pay attention. Don’t whine or be touchy. Stand up for your friends. Don’t suck up and don’t snitch. Don’t be a slave to stupid rules. Don’t, in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, be a girlie man. Don’t be dependent. At all. Ever. Period. The harassment that is part of acceptance on a working crew is a test: are you tough, entertaining, competent and reliable? If not, go away. Simple as that. We don’t need to feel sorry for you. We don’t want to put up with your narcissism, and we don’t want to do your work.
- Where have you seen this behavior displayed by men (or women)?
7. Men have to toughen up. Men demand it, and women want it, even though they may not approve of the harsh and contemptuous attitude that is part and parcel of the socially demanding process that fosters and then enforces that toughness. Some women don’t like losing their baby boys, so they keep them forever. Some women don’t like men, and would rather have a submissive mate, even if he is useless. This also provides them with plenty to feel sorry for themselves about, as well. The pleasures of such self-pity should not be underestimated.
- What kind of “toughness” are men & women seeking today?
8. If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with; someone to grapple with. If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter. They desire someone who brings to the table something they can’t already provide. This often makes it hard for tough, smart, attractive women to find mates: there just aren’t that many men around who can outclass them enough to be considered desirable (who are higher, as one research publication put it, in “income, education, self-confidence, intelligence, dominance and social position”). The spirit that interferes when boys are trying to become men is, therefore, no more friend to woman than it is to man. It will object, just as vociferously and self-righteously (“you can’t do it, it’s too dangerous”) when little girls try to stand on their own two feet. It negates consciousness. It’s antihuman, desirous of failure, jealous, resentful and destructive. No one truly on the side of humanity would ally him or herself with such a thing. No one aiming at moving up would allow him or herself to become possessed by such a thing. And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.
Leave children alone when they are skateboarding.
- Is this really what women want from men? Explain.
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
1. When we look at the world, we perceive only what is enough for our plans and actions to work and for us to get by. What we inhabit, then, is this “enough.” That is a radical, functional, unconscious simplification of the world— and it’s almost impossible for us not to mistake it for the world itself. But the objects we see are not simply there, in the world, for our simple, direct perceiving. They exist in a complex, multi-dimensional relationship to one another, not as self-evidently separate, bounded, independent objects. We perceive not them, but their functional utility and, in doing so, we make them sufficiently simple for sufficient understanding. It is for this reason that we must be precise in our aim. Absent that, we drown in the complexity of the world.
- How do your perceptions align or deviate from this description?
2. When things collapse around us our perception disappears, and we act. Ancient reflexive responses, rendered automatic and efficient over hundreds of millions of years, protect us in those dire moments when not only thought but perception itself fails. Under such circumstances, our bodies ready themselves for all possible eventualities. First, we freeze. The reflexes of the body then shade into emotion, the next stage of perception. Is this something scary? Something useful? Something that must be fought? Something that can be ignored? How will we determine this— and when? We don’t know. Now we are in a costly and demanding state of readiness. Our bodies are flooded with cortisol and adrenaline. Our hearts beat faster. Our breath quickens. We realize, painfully, that our sense of competence and completeness is gone; it was just a dream. We draw on physical and psychological resources saved carefully for just this moment. We prepare for the worst— or the best. We push the gas pedal furiously to the floor, and slam on the brakes at the same time. We scream or laugh. We look disgusted, or terrified. We cry. And then we begin to parse apart the chaos.
- Please describe a time when your perception of something was shattered.
3. Chaos emerges in a household, bit by bit. Mutual unhappiness and resentment pile up. Everything untidy is swept under the rug, where the dragon feasts on the crumbs. But no one says anything, as the shared society and negotiated order of the household reveals itself as inadequate, or disintegrates, in the face of the unexpected and threatening. Everybody whistles in the dark, instead. Communication would require admission of terrible emotions: resentment, terror, loneliness, despair, jealousy, frustration, hatred, boredom. Moment by moment, it’s easier to keep the peace. But in the background, the dragon grows. One day it bursts forth, in a form that no one can ignore. It lifts the very household from its foundations. Every one of the three hundred thousand unrevealed issues, which have been lied about, avoided, rationalized away, hidden like an army of skeletons in some great horrific closet, bursts forth like Noah’s flood, drowning everything. There’s no ark…even though everyone felt the storm gathering.
- How does this portrayal of chaos ring true in your life?
4. Why refuse to specify, when specifying the problem would enable its solution? Because to specify the problem is to admit that it exists. Because to specify the problem is to allow yourself to know what you want, say, from friend or lover— and then you will know, precisely and cleanly, when you don’t get it, and that will hurt, sharply and specifically. But you will learn something from that and use what you learn in the future— and the alternative to that single sharp pain is the dull ache of continued hopelessness and vague failure and the sense that time, precious time, is slipping by.
- Where have you been most successful and unsuccessful at specifying?
5. Be careful with what you tell yourself and others about what you have done, what you are doing, and where you are going. Search for the correct words. Organize those words into the correct sentences, and those sentences into the correct paragraphs. The past can be redeemed, when reduced by precise language to its essence. The present can flow by without robbing the future if its realities are spoken out clearly. With careful thought and language, the singular, stellar destiny that justifies existence can be extracted from the multitude of murky and unpleasant futures that are far more likely to manifest themselves of their own accord. This is how the Eye and the Word make habitable order.
- Where are “careful thought and language” most needed in your life?
6. Say what you mean, so that you can find out what you mean. Act out what you say, so you can find out what happens. Then pay attention. Note your errors. Articulate them. Strive to correct them. That is how you discover the meaning of your life. That will protect you from the tragedy of your life. How could it be otherwise? Confront the chaos of Being. Take aim against a sea of troubles. Specify your destination and chart your course. Admit to what you want. Tell those around you who you are. Narrow, and gaze attentively, and move forward, forthrightly. Be precise in your speech.
- Great strategy! How’s it working out for you so far?
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
1. PSYCHOTHERAPY IS NOT ADVICE. Psychotherapy is genuine conversation. Genuine conversation is exploration, articulation and strategizing. When you’re involved in a genuine conversation, you’re listening, and talking— but mostly listening. Listening is paying attention. It’s amazing what people will tell you if you listen.
- What’s the difference between advice and conversation?
- Which do you tend to receive the most from others?
2. When you are remembering the past, as well, you remember some parts of it and forget others. You have clear memories of some things that happened, but not others, of potentially equal import— just as in the present you are aware of some aspects of your surroundings and unconscious of others. You categorize your experience, grouping some elements together, and separating them from the rest. There is a mysterious arbitrariness about all of this. You don’t form a comprehensive, objective record. You can’t. You just don’t know enough. You just can’t perceive enough. You’re not objective, either. You’re alive. You’re subjective. You have vested interests— at least in yourself, at least usually.
- How would you describe the limits & subjective-ness of your memories?
3. The people I listen to need to talk, because that’s how people think. People need to think. Otherwise they wander blindly into pits. When people think, they simulate the world, and plan how to act in it. If they do a good job of simulating, they can figure out what stupid things they shouldn’t do. Then they can not do them. Then they don’t have to suffer the consequences. That’s the purpose of thinking. But we can’t do it alone. We simulate the world, and plan our actions in it.
- How does talking with another person help order your thoughts & actions?
4. True thinking is complex and demanding. It requires you to be an articulate speaker and careful, judicious listener, at the same time. It involves conflict. So, you have to tolerate conflict. Conflict involves negotiation and compromise. So, you have to learn to give and take and to modify your premises and adjust your thoughts— even your perceptions of the world. In consequence, thinking is emotionally painful, as well as physiologically demanding; more so than anything else— except not thinking. But you have to be very articulate and sophisticated to have all of this occur inside your own head. What are you to do, then, if you aren’t very good at thinking, at being two people at one time? That’s easy. You talk. But you need someone to listen. A listening person is your collaborator and your opponent.
- Where do you typically accomplish your best thinking...in your own head or by talking to a “listening person?” How do you account for this pattern?
5. Carl Rogers, one of the twentieth century’s great psychotherapists, knew something about listening. He wrote, “The great majority of us cannot listen; we find ourselves compelled to evaluate, because listening is too dangerous. The first requirement is courage, and we do not always have it.” He knew that listening could transform people. If you really understand a person in this way, if you are willing to enter his private world and see the way life appears to him, you run the risk of being changed yourself. You might see it his way, you might find yourself influenced in your attitudes or personality. This risk of being changed is one of the most frightening prospects most of us can face.” More salutary words have rarely been written.
- How does this explanation of poor listening play out in our personal, professional, political, and cultural lives? Please examine each.
6. Not all talking is thinking. Nor does all listening foster transformation. There are other motives for both, some of which produce much less valuable, counterproductive and even dangerous outcomes. There is the conversation, for example, where one participant is speaking merely to establish or confirm his place in the dominance hierarchy. There is another, closely allied form of conversation, where neither speaker is listening in the least to the other. Instead, each is using the time occupied by the current speaker to conjure up what he or she will say next, which will often be something off-topic, because the person anxiously waiting to speak has not been listening. Then there is the conversationwhere one participant is trying to attain victory for his point of view. This is yet another variant of the dominance-hierarchy conversation. During such a conversation, which often tends toward the ideological, the speaker endeavours to (1) denigrate or ridicule the viewpoint of anyone holding a contrary position, (2) use selective evidence while doing so and, finally, (3) impress the listeners...with the validity of his assertions. The goal is to gain support for a comprehensive, unitary, oversimplified world-view. Thus, the purpose of the conversation is to make the case that notthinkingis the correct tack.
- What is your experience with each of these, both as talker and listener?
7. These conversations are very different from the listening type. When a genuine listening conversation is taking place, one person at a time has the floor, and everyone else is listening. The person speaking is granted the opportunity to seriously discuss some event, usually unhappy or even tragic. Everyone else responds sympathetically. These conversations are important because the speaker is organizing the troublesome event in his or her mind, while recounting the story. The fact is important enough to bear repeating: people organize their brains with conversation. If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds. Like hoarders, they cannot unclutter themselves. The input of the community is required for the integrity of the individual psyche. Put another way: It takes a village to organize a mind.
- Does our Panera group practice “genuine listening conversation?”
- Where might this type of listening occur elsewhere for you?
8. The final type of conversation, akin to listening, is a form of mutual exploration. It requires true reciprocity on the part of those listening and speaking. It allows all participants to express and organize their thoughts. A conversation of mutual exploration has a topic, generally complex, of genuine interest to the participants. Everyone participating is trying to solve a problem, instead of insisting on the a priorivalidity of their own positions. All are acting on the premise that they have something to learn. This kind of conversation constitutes active philosophy, the highest form of thought, and the best preparation for proper living. Other conversational types— except for the listening type— all attempt to buttress some existing order. The conversation of mutual exploration, by contrast, requires people who have decided that the unknown makes a better friend than the known.
- Where do you find such mutual conversation possible or available?
9. You already know what you know, after all— and, unless your life is perfect, what you know is not enough. You remain threatened by disease, and self-deception, and unhappiness, and malevolence, and betrayal, and corruption, and pain, and limitation. You are subject to all these things, in the final analysis, because you are just too ignorant to protect yourself. If you just knew enough, you could be healthier and more honest. You would suffer less. You could recognize, resist and even triumph over malevolence and evil. You would neither betray a friend, nor deal falsely and deceitfully in business, politics or love. However, your current knowledge has neither made you perfect nor kept you safe. So, it is insufficient, by definition— radically, fatally insufficient.
You must accept this before you can converse philosophically, instead of convincing, oppressing, dominating or even amusing. You must accept this before you can tolerate a conversation where the Word that eternally mediates between order and chaos is operating, psychologically speaking. To have this kind of conversation, it is necessary to respect the personal experience of your conversational partners. You must assume that they have reached careful, thoughtful, genuine conclusions. You must meditate, too, instead of strategizing towards victory. If you fail, or refuse, to do so, then you merely and automatically repeat what you already believe, seeking its validation and insisting on its rightness. But if you are meditating as you converse, then you listen to the other person, and say the new and original things that can rise from deep within of their own accord.
- What role does respect play in achieving such levels of listening?
10. It’s as if you are listening to yourself during such a conversation, just as you are listening to the other person. You are describing how you are responding to the new information imparted by the speaker. You are reporting what that information has done to you— what new things it made appear within you, how it has changed your presuppositions, how it has made you think of new questions. You tell the speaker these things, directly. Then they have the same effect on him. In this manner, you both move towards somewhere newer and broader and better. You both change as you let your old presuppositions die— as you shed your skins and emerge renewed.
A conversation such as this is one where it is the desire for truth itself— on the part of both participants— that is truly listening and speaking. That’s why it’s engaging, vital, interesting and meaningful. That sense of meaning is a signal from the deep, ancient parts of your Being. You’re where you should be, with one foot in order, and the other tentatively extended into chaos and the unknown. You’re immersed in the Tao, following the great Way of Life. There, you’re stable enough to be secure, but flexible enough to transform. There, you’re allowing new information to inform you— to permeate your stability, to repair and improve its structure, and expand its domain. There the constituent elements of your Being can find their more elegant formation. A conversation like that places you in the same place that listening to great music places you, and for much the same reason. A conversation like that puts you in the realm where souls connect, and that’s a real place. It leaves you thinking, “That was really worthwhile. We really got to know each other.” The masks came off, and the searchers were revealed.
- Recall and share a conversation where such results became evident.
Tuesday, November 13, 2018
1. I began paying much closer attention to what I was doing - and saying. The experience was disconcerting, to say the least. I soon divided myself into two parts: one that spoke, and one, more detached, that paid attention and judged. I soon came to realize that almost everything I said was untrue. I had motives for saying these things: I wanted to win arguments and gain status and impress people and get what I wanted. I was using language to bend and twist the world into delivering what I thought was necessary. But I was a fake. Realizing this, I started to practice only saying things that the internal voice would not object to. I started to practice telling the truth - or, at least, not lying. I soon learned that such a skill came in very handy when I didn’t know what to do. What should you do, when you don’t know what to do? Tell the truth.
- How does Peterson’s experience relate to your practice of truth-telling?
2. Taking the easy way out or telling the truth - those are not merely two different choices. They are different pathways through life. They are utterly different ways of existing.
- When has the pathway of “taking the easy way out” failed you?
3. You can use words to manipulate the world into delivering what you want. This is what it means to “act politically.” This is spin. Someone living a life-lie is attempting to manipulate reality with perception, thought and action, so that only some narrowly desired and pre-defined outcome is allowed to exist. A life lived in this manner is based, consciously or unconsciously, on two premises. The firstis that current knowledge is sufficient to define what is good, unquestioningly, far into the future. The secondis that reality would be unbearable if left to its own devices. The first presumption is philosophically unjustifiable. What you are currently aiming at might not be worth attaining, just as what you are currently doing might be - an error. The second is even worse. It is valid only if reality is intrinsically intolerable and, simultaneously, something that can be successfully manipulated and distorted. Such speaking and thinking requires the arrogance and certainty that the English poet John Milton’s genius identified with Satan, God’s highest angel gone most spectacularly wrong. The faculty of rationality inclines dangerously to pride: all I know is all that needs to be known. Pride falls in love with its own creations, and tries to make them absolute.
- Where do you witness such distorted thinking/behavior today?
- What becomes of such people and of those who believe them?
4. If you will not reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself. That does not only mean that you suppress who you are, although it also means that. It means that so much of what you could be will never be forced by necessity to come forward. This is a biological truth, as well as a conceptual truth. When you explore boldly, when you voluntarily confront the unknown, you gather information and build your renewed self out of that information. That is the conceptual element. However, researchers have recently discovered that new genes in the central nervous system turn themselves on when an organism is placed (or places itself) in a new situation. These genes code for new proteins. These proteins are the building blocks for new structures in the brain. This means that a lot of you is still nascent, in the most physical of senses, and will not be called forth by stasis. You have to say something, go somewhere and do things to get turned on. And, if not… you remain incomplete, and life is too hard for anyone incomplete.
- Where have you struggled and succeeded in “exploring boldly?”
5. The capacity of the rational mind to deceive, manipulate, scheme, trick, falsify, minimize, mislead, betray, prevaricate, deny, omit, rationalize, bias, exaggerate and obscure is so endless, so remarkable, that centuries of pre-scientific thought, concentrating on clarifying the nature of moral endeavor, regarded it as positively demonic. This is not because of rationality itself, as a process. That process can produce clarity and progress. It is because rationality is subject to the single worst temptation - to raise what it knows now to the status of an absolute.
- What does it mean to “rationalize” in such a way?
6. To say it again: it is the greatest temptation of the rational faculty to glorify its own capacity and its own productions and to claim that in the face of its theories nothing transcendent or outside its domain need exist. This means that all important facts have been discovered. This means that nothing important remains unknown. But most importantly, it means denial of the necessity for courageous individual confrontation with Being. What is going to save you? The totalitarian says, in essence, “You must rely on faith in what you already know.” But that is not what saves. What saves is the willingness to learn from what you don’t know. That is faith in the possibility of human transformation. That is faith in the sacrifice of the current self for the self that could be. The totalitarian denies the necessity for the individual to take ultimate responsibility for Being.
- What is most compelling about Jordan’s analysis here?
7. It is our responsibility to see what is before our eyes, courageously, and to learn from it, even if it seems horrible - even if the horror of seeing it damages our consciousness, and half-blinds us. The act of seeing is particularly important when it challenges what we know and rely on, upsetting and destabilizing us. It is the act of seeing that informs the individual and updates the state. It was for this reason that Nietzsche said that a man’s worth was determined by how much truth he could tolerate. You are by no means only what you already know. You are also all that which you could know, if you only would. Thus, you should never sacrifice what you could be for what you are. You should never give up the better that resides within for the security you already have - and certainly not when you have already caught a glimpse, an undeniable glimpse, of something beyond.
- What glimpse or vision of your future self can you see?
8. In the Christian tradition, Christ is identified with the Logos. The Logos is the Word of God. That Word transformed chaos into order at the beginning of time. In His human form, Christ sacrificed himself voluntarily to the truth, to the good, to God. In consequence, He died and was reborn. The Word that produces order from Chaos sacrifices everything, even itself, to God. That single sentence, wise beyond comprehension, sums up Christianity. Every bit of learning is a little death. Every bit of new information challenges a previous conception, forcing it to dissolve into chaos before it can be reborn as something better. Sometimes such deaths virtually destroy us. In such cases, we might never recover or, if we do, we change a lot.
- Where have you experienced such deaths and rebirths?
9. If you bend everything totally, blindly and willfully towards the attainment of a goal, and only that goal, you will never be able to discover if another goal would serve you, and the world, better. It is this that you sacrifice if you do not tell the truth. If, instead, you tell the truth, your values transform as you progress. If you allow yourself to be informed by the reality manifesting itself, as you struggle forward, your notions of what is important will change. You will reorient yourself, sometimes gradually, and sometimes suddenly and radically.
- How has truth-telling transformed your values over the years?
10. Perhaps it is better to conceptualize it this way: Everyone needs a concrete, specific goal - an ambition, and a purpose - to limit chaos and make intelligible sense of his or her life. But all such concrete goals can and should be subordinated to what might be considered a meta-goal, which is a way of approaching and formulating goals themselves. The meta-goal could be “live in truth.” This means, “Act diligently towards some well-articulated, defined and temporary end. Make your criteria for failure and success timely and clear, at least for yourself (and even better if others can understand what you are doing and evaluate it with you). While doing so, however, allow the world and your spirit to unfold as they will, while you act out and articulate the truth.” This is both pragmatic ambition and the most courageous of faiths.
- How would you describe your “meta-goal” as it relates to truth?
11. Truth will not come in the guise of opinions shared by others, as the truth is neither a collection of slogans nor an ideology. It will instead be personal. Your truth is something only you can tell, based as it is on the unique circumstances of your life. Apprehend your personal truth. Communicate it carefully, in an articulate manner, to yourself and others.This will ensure your security and your life more abundantly now, while you inhabit the structure of your current beliefs. This will ensure the benevolence of the future, diverging as it might from the certainties of the past.
- In what ways do you communicate your “personal truth?”
Tuesday, November 6, 2018
1. The pleasure of expediency may be fleeting, but it’s pleasure, nonetheless, and that’s something to stack up against the terror and pain of existence. Every man for himself, and the devil takes the hindmost, as the old proverb has it. Why not simply take everything you can get, whenever the opportunity arises? Why not determine to live in that manner? Or is there an alternative, more powerful and more compelling? Our ancestors worked out very sophisticated answers to such questions, but we still don’t understand them very well. This is because they are in large part still implicit— manifest primarily in ritual and myth and, as of yet, incompletely articulated. We act them out and represent them in stories, but we’re not yet wise enough to formulate them explicitly. The Biblical narrative of Paradise and the Fall is one such story, fabricated by our collective imagination, working over the centuries. It provides a profound account of the nature of Being, and points the way to a mode of conceptualization and action well-matched to that nature.
- What insights does this account give you regarding your own nature?
2. People watched the successful succeed and the unsuccessful fail for thousands and thousands of years. We thought it over, and drew a conclusion: The successful among us delay gratification. The successful among us bargain with the future. A great idea begins to emerge, taking ever-more-clearly-articulated form, in ever more-clearly-articulated stories: What’s the difference between the successful and the unsuccessful? The successful sacrifice. Things get better, as the successful practice their sacrifices. The questions become increasingly precise and, simultaneously, broader: What is the greatest possible sacrifice? For the greatest possible good? And the answers become increasingly deeper and profound.
- What are the greatest possible sacrifice and good for you now?
3. Life is indeed “nasty, brutish and short,” as the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes so memorably remarked. But man’s capacity for evil makes it worse. This means that the central problem of life— the dealing with its brute facts— is not merely what and how to sacrifice to diminish suffering, but what and how to sacrifice to diminish suffering and evil— the conscious and voluntary and vengeful source of the worst suffering.
- How do you distinguish between mere suffering and evil?
4. In the desert, Christ encounters Satan (see Luke 4: 1– 13 and Matthew 4: 1– 11). This story has a clear psychological meaning— a metaphorical meaning— in addition to whatever else material and metaphysical alike it might signify. It means that Christ is forever He who determines to take personal responsibility for the full depth of human depravity. It means that Christ is eternally He who is willing to confront and deeply consider and risk the temptations posed by the most malevolent elements of human nature. It means that Christ is always he who is willing to confront evil— consciously, fully and voluntarily— in the form that dwelt simultaneously within Him and in the world. This is nothing merely abstract (although it is abstract); nothing to be brushed over. It’s no merely intellectual matter.
- How does Peterson present Jesus’ responses to the 3 temptations?
5. Dogmatic belief in the central axioms of Christianity (that Christ’s crucifixion redeemed the world; that salvation was reserved for the hereafter; that salvation could not be achieved through works) had three mutually reinforcing consequences: First, devaluation of the significance of earthly life, as only the hereafter mattered. This also meant that it had become acceptable to overlook and shirk responsibility for the suffering that existed in the here-and-now; Second, passive acceptance of the status quo, because salvation could not be earned in any case through effort in this life(a consequence that Marx also derided, with his proposition that religion was the opiate of the masses); and, finally,third, the right of the believer to reject any real moral burden (outside of the stated belief in salvation through Christ), because the Son of God had already done all the important work. It was for such reasons that Dostoevsky, who was a great influence on Nietzsche, also criticized institutional Christianity (although he arguably managed it in a more ambiguous but also more sophisticated manner).
- How are these 3 consequences viewed by our Church today?
6. What can I not doubt? The reality of suffering. It brooks no arguments. Nihilists cannot undermine it with skepticism. Totalitarians cannot banish it. Cynics cannot escape from its reality. Suffering is real, and the artful infliction of suffering on another, for its own sake, is wrong. That became the cornerstone of my belief. Searching through the lowest reaches of human thought and action, understanding my own capacity to act like a Nazi prison guard or a gulag archipelago trustee or a torturer of children in a dungeon, I grasped what it meant to “take the sins of the world onto oneself.” Each human being has an immense capacity for evil. Each human being understands, a priori, perhaps not what is good, but certainly what is not. And if there is something that is not good, then there is something that is good. If the worst sin is the torment of others, merely for the sake of the suffering produced— then the good is whatever is diametrically opposed to that. The good is whatever stops such things from happening.
- How has the reality of suffering shaped your seeking the good?
7. Consider then that the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering is a good. Make that an axiom: to the best of my ability I will act in a manner that leads to the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering. You have now placed at the pinnacle of your moral hierarchy a set of presuppositions and actions aimed at the betterment of Being. Why? Because we know the alternative. The alternative was the twentieth century. The alternative was so close to Hell that the difference is not worth discussing. And the opposite of Hell is Heaven. To place the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering at the pinnacle of your hierarchy of value is to work to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth. That’s a state, and a state of mind, at the same time.
- How is our church (and you) working to enact this axiom?
8. Meaning is the ultimate balance between, on the one hand, the chaos of transformation and possibility and on the other, the discipline of pristine order, whose purpose is to produce out of the attendant chaos a new order that will be even more immaculate, and capable of bringing forth a still more balanced and productive chaos and order. Meaning is the Way, the path of life more abundant, the place you live when you are guided by Love and speaking Truth and when nothing you want or could possibly want takes any precedence over precisely that. Do what is meaningful, not what is expedient.
- How might you assess the balance of meaning in your life today?
Monday, October 22, 2018
1. Life is in truth very hard. Everyone is destined for pain and slated for destruction. Sometimes suffering is clearly the result of a personal fault such as willful blindness, poor decision-making or malevolence. In such cases, when it appears to be self-inflicted, it may even seem just. People get what they deserve, you might contend. That’s cold comfort, however, even when true. Sometimes, if those who are suffering changed their behaviour, then their lives would unfold less tragically. But human control is limited. Susceptibility to despair, disease, aging and death is universal. In the final analysis, we do not appear to be the architects of our own fragility.
- “Whose fault is it, then?”
2. At the height of his fame, influence and creative power, the towering Leo Tolstoy himself began to question the value of human existence. Try as he might, Tolstoy could identify only four means of escaping from such thoughts. One was retreating into childlike ignorance of the problem. Another was pursuing mindless pleasure. The third was “continuing to drag out a life that is evil and meaningless, knowing beforehand that nothing can come of it.” He identified that particular form of escape with weakness: “The people in this category know that death is better than life, but they do not have the strength to act rationally and quickly put an end to the delusion by killing themselves.” Only the fourth and final mode of escape involved “strength and energy. It consists of destroying life, once one has realized that life is evil and meaningless.”
- Where have you witnessed each of these attempted means of escape?
3. Panzram’s response was (and this is what was so terrible) perfectly understandable. The details of his autobiography reveal that he was one of Tolstoy’s strong and logically consistent people. He was a powerful, consistent, fearless actor. He had the courage of his convictions. How could someone like him be expected to forgive and forget, given what had happened to him? Truly terrible things happen to people. It’s no wonder they’re out for revenge. Under such conditions, vengeance seems a moral necessity. How can it be distinguished from the demand for justice? After the experience of terrible atrocity, isn’t forgiveness just cowardice, or lack of willpower? Such questions torment me. But people emerge from terrible pasts to do good, and not evil, although such an accomplishment can seem superhuman. I have met people who managed to do it.
- What people in our lives have managed such remarkable change?
4. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had every reason to question the structure of existence when he was imprisoned in a Soviet labour camp, in the middle of the terrible twentieth century. But the great writer, the profound, spirited defender of truth, did not allow his mind to turn towards vengeance and destruction. He opened his eyes, instead. Solzhenitsyn pored over the details of his life, with a fine-toothed comb. He asked himself a second question, and a third. Can I stop making such mistakes, now? Can I repair the damage done by my past failures, now? He learned to watch and to listen. He found people he admired; who were honest, despite everything. He took himself apart, piece by piece, let what was unnecessary and harmful die, and resurrected himself. Then he wrote The Gulag Archipelago, a history of the Soviet prison camp system. One man’s decision to change his life, instead of cursing fate, shook the whole pathological system of communist tyranny to its core. It crumbled entirely, not so many years later, and Solzhenitsyn’s courage was not the least of the reasons why.
- How might this historical example of courage inspire us today?
5. This is life. We build structures to live in. We build families, and states, and countries. We abstract the principles upon which those structures are founded and formulate systems of belief. At first we inhabit those structures and beliefs like Adam and Eve in Paradise. But success makes us complacent. We forget to pay attention. We take what we have for granted. We turn a blind eye. We fail to notice that things are changing, or that corruption is taking root. And everything falls apart.
- “Is that the fault of reality - of God? Or do things fall apart because we have not paid sufficient attention?”
6. Consider your circumstances. Start small. Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to you? Are you working hard on your career, or even your job, or are you letting bitterness and resentment hold you back and drag you down? Have you made peace with your brother? Are you treating your spouse and your children with dignity and respect? Do you have habits that are destroying your health and well-being? Are you truly shouldering your responsibilities? Have you said what you need to say to your friends and family members? Are there things that you could do, that you know you could do, that would make things around you better?
- “Have you cleaned up your life?”
7. Perhaps you will discover that your now less-corrupted soul, much stronger than it might otherwise have been, is now able to bear those remaining, necessary, minimal, inescapable tragedies. Perhaps you will even learn to encounter them so that they stay tragic— merely tragic— instead of degenerating into outright hellishness. Maybe your anxiety, and hopelessness, and resentment, and anger— however murderous, initially— will recede. Perhaps your uncorrupted soul will then see its existence as a genuine good, as something to celebrate, even in the face of your own vulnerability. Perhaps you will become an ever-more-powerful force for peace and whatever is good. Perhaps you will then see that if all people did this, in their own lives, the world might stop being an evil place. After that, with continued effort, perhaps it could even stop being a tragic place. Who knows what existence might be like if we all decided to strive for the best? Who knows what eternal heavens might be established by our spirits, purified by truth, aiming skyward, right here on the fallen Earth? Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.
- What role does your Christian faith play in transforming tragedies?
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
1. Preferential treatment awarded a son during development might even help produce an attractive, well-rounded, confident man. This happened in the case of the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, by his own account: “A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of success that often induces real success.” Fair enough. But “feeling of a conqueror” can all too easily become “actual conqueror.”
- What did you find surprising about this opening section?
2. Even more problematic is the insistence logically stemming from this presumption of social corruption that all individual problems, no matter how rare, must be solved by cultural restructuring, no matter how radical. Our society faces the increasing call to deconstruct its stabilizing traditions to include smaller and smaller numbers of people who do not or will not fit into the categories upon which even our perceptions are based. This is not a good thing. Each person’s private trouble cannot be solved by a social revolution, because revolutions are destabilizing and dangerous.
- Where have you witnessed this struggle of parents?
3. Because children, like other human beings, are not only good, they cannot simply be left to their own devices, untouched by society, and bloom into perfection. Even dogs must be socialized if they are to become acceptable members of the pack— and children are much more complex than dogs. This means that they are much more likely to go complexly astray if they are not trained, disciplined and properly encouraged. This means that it is not just wrong to attribute all the violent tendencies of human beings to the pathologies of social structure. It’s wrong enough to be virtually backward. The vital process of socialization prevents much harm and fosters much good. Children must be shaped and informed, or they cannot thrive. This fact is reflected starkly in their behavior: kids are utterly desperate for attention from both peers and adults because such attention, which renders them effective and sophisticated communal players, is vitally necessary.
- What role has socialization played in your personal development?
4. The neglect and mistreatment that is part and parcel of poorly structured or even entirely absent disciplinary approaches can be deliberate— motivated by explicit, conscious (if misguided) parental motives. But more often than not, modern parents are simply paralyzed by the fear that they will no longer be liked or even loved by their children if they chastise them for any reason. They want their children’s friendship above all, and are willing to sacrifice respect to get it. This is not good. A child will have many friends, but only two parents— if that— and parents are more, not less, than friends. Friends have very limited authority to correct. Every parent therefore needs to learn to tolerate the momentary anger or even hatred directed towards them by their children, after necessary corrective action has been taken, as the capacity of children to perceive or care about long-term consequences is very limited. Parents are the arbiters of society. They teach children how to behave so that other people will be able to interact meaningfully and productively with them.
- How was your life affected by such parenting (or lack of it)?
5. Modern parents are terrified of two frequently juxtaposed words: discipline and punish. They evoke images of prisons, soldiers and jackboots. The distance between disciplinarian and tyrant or punishment and torture is, indeed, easily traversed. Discipline and punish must be handled with care. The fear is unsurprising. But both are necessary. They can be applied unconsciously or consciously, badly or well, but there is no escaping their use.
- Where have discipline/punishment shaped your adulthood?
6. A single brilliantly practical principle can be used to generate all these incrementally more severe reactions: that of minimum necessary force. So now we have two general principles of discipline. The first: limit the rules. The second: use the least force necessary to enforce those rules.
- How does Peterson encourage the use of both?
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
1. We might start by considering the all-too-black-and-white words themselves: “success” or “failure.” You are either a success, a comprehensive, singular, over-all good thing, or its opposite, a failure, a comprehensive, singular, irredeemably bad thing. The words imply no alternative and no middle ground. However, in a world as complex as ours, such generalizations (really, such failure to differentiate) are a sign of naive, unsophisticated or even malevolent analysis. There are vital degrees and gradations of value obliterated by this binary system, and the consequences are not good.
- How have you defined success and failure for yourself? Have you defined it differently for others?
2. The future is like the past. But there’s a crucial difference. The past is fixed, but the future— it could be better. It could be better, some precise amount— the amount that can be achieved, perhaps, in a day, with some minimal engagement. The present is eternally flawed. But where you start might not be as important as the direction you are heading. Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak. Much of happiness is hope, no matter how deep the underworld in which that hope was conceived.
- How is happiness connected to both direction and hope?
3. The Bible is, for better or worse, the foundational document of Western civilization (of Western values, Western morality, and Western conceptions of good and evil). It’s the product of processes that remain fundamentally beyond our comprehension. The Bible is a library composed of many books, each written and edited by many people. It’s a truly emergent document— a selected, sequenced and finally coherent story written by no one and everyone over many thousands of years. The Bible has been thrown up, out of the deep, by the collective human imagination, which is itself a product of unimaginable forces operating over unfathomable spans of time. Its careful, respectful study can reveal things to us about what we believe and how we do and should act that can be discovered in almost no other manner.
- Given all this, what value do you place on the Bible?
4. In other words, you decide to act as if existence might be justified by its goodness— if only you behaved properly. And it is that decision, that declaration of existential faith, that allows you to overcome nihilism, and resentment, and arrogance. It is that declaration of faith that keeps hatred of Being, with all its attendant evils, at bay. And, as for such faith: it is not at all the will to believe things that you know perfectly well to be false. Faith is not the childish belief in magic. That is ignorance or even willful blindness. It is instead the realization that the tragic irrationalities of life must be counterbalanced by an equally irrational commitment to the essential goodness of Being. It is simultaneously the will to dare set your sights at the unachievable, and to sacrifice everything, including (and most importantly) your life. You realize that you have, literally, nothing better to do.
- Where has faith propelled you forward in such fashion?
5. The Sermon on the Mount outlines the true nature of man, and the proper aim of mankind: concentrate on the day, so that you can live in the present, and attend completely and properly to what is right in front of you— but do that only after you have decided to let what is within shine forth, so that it can justify Being and illuminate the world. Do that only after you have determined to sacrifice whatever it is that must be sacrificed so that you can pursue the highest good.
- What “highest good” is calling forth your full attention?
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
1. Briefly describe the hometown(s) where you were raised, including location, size, and makeup.
2. What types of people constituted your peers and friends growing up? Why did you choose to spend time with them?
3. What changed for you after high school regarding friends and other persons of influence?
4. People choose friends who aren’t good for them for other reasons, too. Sometimes it’s because they want to rescue someone. This is more typical of young people, although the impetus still exists among older folks who are too agreeable or have remained naive or who are willfully blind.
- Over your lifetime, whom have you sought to “rescue?”
5. Maybe you are saving someone because you’re a strong, generous, well-put-together person who wants to do the right thing. But it’s also possible— and, perhaps, more likely— that you just want to draw attention to your inexhaustible reserves of compassion and good-will. Or maybe you’re saving someone because you want to convince yourself that the strength of your character is more than just a side effect of your luck and birthplace. Or maybe it’s because it’s easier to look virtuous whenstanding alongside someone utterlyirresponsible. Assume first that you are doing the easiest thing, and not the most difficult.
- When has this reality played out for you?
6. I am not saying that there is no hope of redemption. But it is much harder to extract someone from a chasm than to lift him from a ditch. And some chasms are very deep. And there’s not much left of the body at the bottom. Maybe I should at least wait, to help you, until it’s clear that you want to be helped. Carl Rogers, the famous humanistic psychologist, believed it was impossible to start a therapeutic relationship if the person seeking help did not want to improve. Rogers believed it was impossible to convince someone to change for the better. The desire to improve was, instead, the precondition for progress.
- What examples of this can you share?
7. Here’s something to consider: If you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father, or your son, why would you have such a friend for yourself? You might say: out of loyalty. Well, loyalty is not identical to stupidity. Loyalty must be negotiated, fairly and honestly. Friendship is a reciprocal arrangement. You are not morally obliged to support someone who is making the world a worse place. Quite the opposite. You should choose people who want things to be better, not worse. It’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you. It’s appropriate and praiseworthy to associate with people whose lives would be improved if they saw your life improve. Use your judgment, and protect yourself from too-uncritical compassion and pity. Make friends with people who want the best for you.
- Has this been your history of choosing friends?
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
1. Scientific truths were made explicit a mere five hundred years ago, with the work of Francis Bacon, René Descartes and Isaac Newton. In whatever manner our forebears viewed the world prior to that, it was not through a scientific lens. Because we are so scientific now— and so determinedly materialistic— it is very difficult for us even to understand that other ways of seeing can and do exist. But those who existed during the distant time in which the foundational epics of our culture emerged were much more concerned with the actions that dictated survival than with anything approximating what we now understand as objective truth.
- Where do you see such distinctions between past/present?
2. Chaosis the domain of ignorance itself. It’s unexplored territory. Chaos is what extends, eternally and without limit, beyond the boundaries of all states, all ideas, and all disciplines. Order, by contrast, is explored territory. That’s the hundreds-of-millions-of-years-old hierarchy of place, position and authority. That’s the structure of society. It’s the structure provided by biology, too— particularly insofar as you are adapted, as you are, to the structure of society.
- How does Peterson further describe chao & order?
3. We eternally inhabit order, surrounded by chaos. We eternally occupy known territory, surrounded by the unknown. We experience meaningful engagement when we mediate appropriately between them. We are adapted, in the deepest Darwinian sense, not to the world of objects, but to the meta-realities of order and chaos, yang and yin. Chaos and order make up the eternal, transcendent environment of the living. To straddle that fundamental duality is to be balanced: to have one foot firmly planted in order and security, and the other in chaos, possibility, growth and adventure.
- What example from your life illustrates this truth?
4. And even if we had defeated all the snakes that beset us from without, reptilian and human alike, we would still not have been safe. Nor are we now. We have seen the enemy, after all, and he is us. The snake inhabits each of our souls. This is the reason, as far as I can tell, for the strange Christian insistence, made most explicit by John Milton, that the snake in the Garden of Eden was also Satan, the Spirit of Evil itself. The importance of this symbolic identification— its staggering brilliance— can hardly be overstated. It is through such millennia-long exercise of the imagination that the idea of abstracted moral concepts themselves, with all they entail, developed. Work beyond comprehension was invested into the idea of Good and Evil, and its surrounding, dream-like metaphor. The worst of all possible snakes is the eternal human proclivity for evil. The worst of all possible snakes is psychological, spiritual, personal, internal. No walls, however tall, will keep that out. Even if the fortress were thick enough, in principle, to keep everything bad whatsoever outside, it would immediately appear again within. As the great Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn insisted, the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
- How does this provide insight into the nature of sin?
5. And so we return to our original query: Why would someone buy prescription medication for his dog, and then so carefully administer it, when he would not do the same for himself? Now you have the answer, derived from one of the foundational texts of mankind. Why should anyone take care of anything as naked, ugly, ashamed, frightened, worthless, cowardly, resentful, defensive and accusatory as a descendant of Adam? Even if that thing, that being, is himself? And I do not mean at all to exclude women with this phrasing. All the reasons we have discussed so far for taking a dim view of humanity are applicable to others, as much as to the self. They’re generalizations about human nature; nothing more specific.
- Where do your choices & actions in life reflect this ancient view?
6. Human beings have a great capacity for wrongdoing. It’s an attribute that is unique in the world of life. We can and do make things worse, voluntarily, with full knowledge of what we are doing (as well as accidentally, and carelessly, and in a manner that is willfully blind). Given that terrible capacity, that proclivity for malevolent actions, is it any wonder we have a hard time taking care of ourselves, or others— or even that we doubt the value of the entire human enterprise? And we’ve suspected ourselves, for good reason, for a very long time. Thousands of years ago, the ancient Mesopotamians believed, for example, that mankind itself was made from the blood of Kingu, the single most terrible monster that the great Goddess of Chaos could produce, in her most vengeful and destructive moments. After drawing conclusions such as that, how could we not question the value of our being, and even of Being itself? Who then could be faced with illness, in himself or another, without doubting the moral utility of prescribing a healing medicament? And no one understands the darkness of the individual better than the individual himself. Who, then, when ill, is going to be fully committed to his own care?
- How does this contribute to your own awareness of good & evil?
7. The entire Bible is structured so that everything after the Fall— the history of Israel, the prophets, the coming of Christ— is presented as a remedy for that Fall, a way out of evil. The beginning of conscious history, the rise of the state and all its pathologies of pride and rigidity, the emergence of great moral figures who try to set things right, culminating in the Messiah Himself— that is all part of humanity’s attempt, God willing, to set itself right. And what would that mean? And this is an amazing thing: the answer is already implicit in Genesis 1: to embody the Image of God— to speak out of chaos the Being that is Good— but to do so consciously, of our own free choice. Backis the way forward— as T. S. Eliot so rightly insisted— but back as awake beings, exercising the proper choice of awake beings, instead of back to sleep.
- What does it mean to live as “awake beings” today?
8. You need to consider the future and think, “What might my life look like if I were caring for myself properly? What career would challenge me and render me productive and helpful, so that I could shoulder my share of the load, and enjoy the consequences? What should I be doing, when I have some freedom, to improve my health, expand my knowledge, and strengthen my body?” You need to know where you are, so you can start to chart your course. You need to know who you are, so that you understand your armament and bolster yourself in respect to your limitations. You need to know where you are going, so that you can limit the extent of chaos in your life, restructure order, and bring the divine force of Hope to bear on the world. You must determine where you are going, so that you can bargain for yourself, so that you don’t end up resentful, vengeful and cruel. You have to articulate your own principles, so that you can defend yourself against others’ taking inappropriate advantage of you, and so that you are secure and safe while you work and play. You must discipline yourself carefully. You must keep the promises you make to yourself, and reward yourself, so that you can trust and motivate yourself. You need to determine how to act toward yourself so that you are most likely to become and to stay a good person.
- Why are these questions vital to your present and your future?