Friday, February 19, 2010

Intention, Faith, and Net Consequence Bundles

"So humans are not only prone to make biased predictions, we're also damnably overconfident about our predictions and slow to change them in the face of new evidence." -Ian Ayres, Super Crunchers

Warning: this post is somewhat long and unorganized and discursive.

People are notoriously poor at predicting consequences. (see the Super Crunchers book and #10 of my other post). Folks are more likely to fear guns than swimming pools, sharks/snakes/bears/hyenas/hippos/alligators than mosquitoes (more people die from vending machines per year than either bears or sharks), airplanes than automobiles, and driving drunk than walking drunk. All three are contraindicated fear disparities. People respond emotionally to the suffering on one person more than they do the suffering of tens of thousands (compassion fatigue).

But lambasting human predictive abilities and emotions isn't in harmony with the post title.

Therefore, gear-switch:

In or around the summer of 2008 I read a couple books which have contributed to a modest paradigm shift for me. (Rhonda Byrne's The Secret and Wayne Dyer's The Power of Intention). I think that intention/planning/faith all describe pretty much the same spectrum (much as rightness, morality, and ethics are all basically the same metric).

Faith is a hope in things which aren't seen which are true. I think learning/mastering the skill of faith is a primary purpose of mortality because most other lessons/skills could be learned/mastered in heaven/God's presence much more effectively than on earth. I think exercising faith is a pattern of spiritual creation. We practice the pattern of spiritual, then physical, creation like God did of the earth and of us. (consider the dual-creation moses account in reverse order). We intend something, then cause it to happen. Spiritual, then physical. Consider this pattern here, exemplified by our Exemplars the Gods:

Planning/intending "he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and bwe will make an earth whereon these may cdwell;" 22 And the Gods said: We will bless them, and cause them to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas or agreat waters; and cause the fowl to multiply in the earth.
• • •

28 And the Gods said: We will bless them. And the Gods said: We will cause them to be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and to have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Causing it to happen: voluntas reputatur pro facto "the will is taken for the deed" - 
"4 And they (the Gods) ... divided the light, or caused it to be divided, from the darkness.

14 And the Gods organized the alights in the expanse of the heaven, and caused them to divide the day from the night; and organized them... And the Gods set them in the expanse of the heavens, to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to cause to divide the light from the adarkness. And the Gods pronounced the dry land, Earth; and the gathering together of the waters, pronounced they, aGreat Waters; and the Gods saw that they were obeyed. and the Gods saw that they would be obeyed, and that their plan was good.
• • •

Caused is the follow-through; planning is the spiritual creation. This gospel pattern prescribes an intentional, planning-oriented lifestyle. This prescription is contraindicated by the fact that some people are naturally more, and some naturally less intentional-oriented. However, intentionality is like leadership- though some are more or less predisposed to the talent, intention, like leadership, is also a skill, which makes it accessible to almost everyone. Also, since we are charged to overcome our natures and the natural man (see fallacy of naturalism), I conclude that generally we should but away the childish thing of carefree/go-with-the-flowness and be responsible, forward-looking, risk-accounting, intentional adults (1 Corinthians 13:11).

Another application of this conclusion. Today I was discussing with some friends the policy discrimination where women can serve two LDS missions before age 30 but men are prohibited from so doing. Many cite the greater responsibility to get hitched resting on the man as justification. I countered by asserting that the multiply and replenish command is equally binding on men and women. I also argued that it would be strange for a worldwide church to reinforce a cultural disparity (men are more proximate causes of marriage than women) because the norm isn't particularly meritorious. My grounds for this claim: as concluded above, the gospel seems to point toward an obligation to (or at least the praiseworthiness of) planning/exercising faith/intending in order to practice the pattern of spiritual, then physical creation so vital to the success of mortal probation. Thus, if women are encouraged to be more passive as to envisioning/planning/exercising faith/intending and then causing their own marriage relationship, they forfeit a golden opportunity for practicing this most important skill. It seems unfair and unmerited to extend that privilege to men while denying it to women. Since I claim men and women are equal in their 1) need to practice this skill and 2) their capacity to do so, I would advocate a culture and a church policy which erases the disparity and places an equal privilege and responsibility on each gender to initiate and nourish relationships in pursuit of the marriage objective.

Also, intention prerequires thinking and projecting consequences, which is tough (see first two paragraphs of this post). There are many circumstances where ignorance is bliss (it pays to be stupid).

Somewhat related idea about foreseeing and intending - is there a morally relevant distinction between these two? (see page 124-128 of Biomedical Ethics by WALTER GLANNON)

I think gifts of the spirit are skills, and the way you develop them is by deliberate practice (i.e. the same way you "develop any other skill" - Gospel Principles, Faith in Jesus Christ chapter, page 104). I used to look at discernment, faith, knowledge, healing, love, etc. as gifts like Christmas presents that God hands you all wrapped up. Now I see them more as skills like playing piano, painting, woodcarving, and cooking. Though the skill acquisition in these areas is likely enhanced by prayer, gifts of the spirit skills could be developed in the absence of prayer and aren't as unique or windfall-like as I used to think.

Net consequence bundles is a good way to evaluate options when decision making. Most courses of action will have both pros and cons- go with the option that offers the greatest net benefit. E.g. a father has a duty to provide, but also to spend lots of time with his family. In a deontological framework, he should act in the direction and magnitude (to draw on the vector sum construct) indicated by the net duty. Similarly, in a virtue ethics framework, when virtues contradict, the net virtue vector is the prescription for action. I noticed this "net" idea in the "Doctrine of Double Effects" portion of Biomedical Ethics by Walter Glannon. (e.g. "In a war, it may be morally acceptable to bomb the enemy headquarters to end the war quickly, even if civilians on the streets around the headquarters might die. For, in such a case, the bad effect of civilian deaths is not disproportionate to the good effect of ending the war quickly, and the deaths of the civilians are side effect and not intended by the bombers, either as ends or as means.")

Another helpful construct for thinking: bell curves/normal distribution. Most realities can be fairly accurately captured by them (e.g. male and female compassion, or republicans' opinions on health care reform). Also, most realities in life are spectrums/gray areas subject to slippery slope counters (see slippery slope and plasticity of personhood posts). Worthiness, the right/wrongness of euthanasia, and the quality of the Democratic Party are three examples.

Now that most folks have stopped reading this discursive, loquacious beast of a post, I'm going to sneak in some more disorganized thoughts on trying to maximize righteous conduct! Ha.

Righteousness goals are sometimes somewhat futile (say, you have a habit of not performing your genealogy work and try to start the habit of doing it). Say Jiminy makes and seeks to follow through on righteousness goals to increase net righteousness by 1) reducing sin and 2) increasing time/energy for (and filling that time/energy with) righteous conduct. However, Jiminy wonders if A) time/energy isn't as scarce as he make it out to be and B) if the peace and happiness he seeks thereby is too elusive to merit the effort.

A) time is only measured unto man, not unto God, and in the grander scheme seems unlimited or at least abundant, which could lead to a conclusion of loosening up a bit and not being so uptight about his stewardship of the time Jiminy's given.
"Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

B) worthiness/rectitude levels must be a gradient rather than binary. Even in dispositive worthiness determinations such as exercising the priesthood or attending the temple, though one either does or does not, the line is placed upon a spectrum whose foundations change more gradually (see my post on slippery slopes). There is kind of a line in the sand as to temple worthiness and temple recommend question passage, but because some of the temple recommend questions, such as "are you honest in your dealings with your fellow men," are definitely not binary, the determination of temple worthiness is not binary either. To illustrate the gray area honesty question:

Honesty/full disclosure/integrity/truth-telling conceptions are definitely more nebulous than they are clear. When someone asks how you're doing, do you always tell them the truth, or rather presume they're just saying hello and respond "fine" to return the greeting? When you have a scheduling conflict, do you say "I can't go" instead of the truth, "I choose this other activity instead?" These two examples only evidence the lack of precision in language and the lack of truth telling. What about less than full disclosure? When you dislike something another does, must you to be honest immediately communicate that dislike? What about when you're asked a direct question but for a reason you remain silent? How about when a friend asks you to read his or her poem, asks you what you think, and you only tell the friend the positive thoughts instead of the critical evaluations as well? I could go on. The point is, even the seeming black-and-white of temple worthiness is gray.

Another example. Certainly no one must be perfect to merit the Holy Ghost's companionship, yet we are taught that the Holy Ghost is easily offended by misconduct. Does that mean none of us can enjoy his companionship since we are in every moment guilty of both sins of omission (have you fully discharged your kindness, family history, and missionary work obligations, for instance) and sins of commission?  Or perhaps is the Spirit offended more by wicked disposition?  Voluntas in delictis non exitus spectatur - "in offenses the intent not the result is looked at."  The constellation of related intention concepts (desires, affect, feelings, intentions, attributes, character traits, inclinations, intentions, attitudes, susceptibilities, motivations, disposition) overlap both with each other and the zones within and outside our direct agentic control.   For instance, in speaking of homosexuality, Elders Wickman and Oaks made a lot out of the difference between unchosen same-gender attractions and same-sex behavior.  "Yes, homosexual feelings are controllable. Perhaps there is an inclination or susceptibility to such feelings that is a reality for some and not a reality for others. But out of such susceptibilities come feelings, and feelings are controllable. If we cater to the feelings, they increase the power of the temptation. If we yield to the temptation, we have committed sinful behavior."  Later Elder Oaks notes how directly within agentic control behavior lies; feelings seem controllable as well (i.e. by volition/will you can change your feelings), but feelings seem less completely and directly controllable than behavior.  "Whether it is nature or nurture really begs the important question, and a preoccupation with nature or nurture can, it seems to me, lead someone astray from the principles that Elder Oaks has been describing here. Why somebody has a same-gender attraction… who can say? But what matters is the fact that we know we can control how we behave, and it is behavior which is important."  It doesn't seem like behavior is all that much more important or vital than disposition/desire/nature etc. which ultimately we must convert from their natural state into a godlike condition.  And we cannot do so independently it seems- or at least, in all scripture instances that immediately come to mind, the Spirit was the causative agent of dispositional change, e.g. Mosiah 5:2 "the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty achange in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do bevil, but to do good continually."

Physical attributes, such as being diabetic or short or having two arms, seem to be outside the scope of agentic control (which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature? [see my post for a tongue-in-cheek response]).  In between these brackets seem to be some partially controllable realities - e.g. the selfish, intemperate, impatient, appetite-driven natural man, which man must choose to "put off;" homosexual feelings, which Elder Oaks says are controllable (though, seemingly ironically, he later suggests that homosexually oriented folks can't control their "challenge" and ought not to marry heterosexually: "Persons who have this kind of challenge that they cannot control could not enter marriage in good faith" emphasis added); a disposition to anger or gossip, which dispositions are not present in a fully Christlike individual; one's way of being/orientation toward a person or act (such as viewing a person as a person or as an object when disciplining him or her, see Leadership and Self Deception by the Arbinger Institute; or the giver who chooses to give grudgingly out of an evil nature, resulting in his gift being accounted to him as though he hadn't given it " For behold, if a man being aevil giveth a gift, he doeth it bgrudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God;" the Pharisees, who looked beyond the mark, despite their high level of seeming compliance with the law of the Moses were nevertheless judged as hypocrites and deep sinners).  It seems clear, then, that the Lord requires more of us than just behavior (i.e. attitude, disposition, motivation, intention, desire, orientation, etc.)- yet the primary criteria of judgment seem to be fully and solely volitional (Mosiah 4:30 thoughts, words, acts, and frequent scriptures indicating that we'll be judged according to our deeds).

An inclination to commit grave sin seems to be either be a part of your nature or not, unlucky you I suppose if it is: "no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature." JSH 1:28

Charity, as an example "is not an act but a condition or state of being. Charity is attained through a succession of acts that result in a conversion. Charity is something one becomes." - Elder Oaks, The Challenge to Become.  Also from that talk: "many of his hearers cried out that the Spirit of the Lord 'has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually' (Mosiah 5:2). If we are losing our desire to do evil, we are progressing toward our heavenly goal. The Apostle Paul said that persons who have received the Spirit of God "have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16). I understand this to mean that persons who are proceeding toward the needed conversion are beginning to see things as our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, see them."  And, "the Master's reward in the Final Judgment will not be based on how long we have labored in the vineyard. We do not obtain our heavenly reward by punching a time clock. What is essential is that our labors in the workplace of the Lord have caused us to become something. For some of us, this requires a longer time than for others. What is important in the end is what we have become by our labors."  I haven't figured all this out- but it's a key concept to tease out since agency plays such an important role in the plan of salvation.

Okay, my point. Let's say Jiminy has been keeping some righteousness goals lately, but he is still often distressed and angry (because of the frustration of not engaging his familiar behavior) and guilty about other errors. His evil nature hasn't dissipated appreciably.  That state isn't too different from the distressed and angry and guilty state of not making/keeping the righteousness goals. So what's the net gain from keeping the righteousness goals? It seems to make more sense to carve out a little, but not a lot, of room for the sin in order to still keep net righteousness high but mitigate the angry and distressedness that results from crossing oneself. However, on the other hand, Elder Oaks teaches, "Don’t accommodate any degree of temptation. Prevent sin and avoid having to deal with its inevitable destruction. So, turn it off! Look away! Avoid it at all costs."  We should be glad that Adam didn't look away and avoid the temptation of the fruit at all costs. Commonly for wo/man, one cost of making no provision for sin or temptation is almost constant anger and frustration and distress.   That's a poor way to live when a slightly less stressed, frustrated, and angry lifestyle is so accessible. This places him in a position of choosing between a rock and a hard spot, the frying pan or the fire- if there is a difference, the margin doesn't seem to matter much when you get fully cooked either way. Since any degree of uncleanness will keep you out the kingdom, and since it's very easy to by intentional acts lose the Spirit but hard to by intentional acts gain it, it seems like an uphill battle with little value to consciously and intentionally seek righteous conduct. To do so is hypocritical anyway since your inner nature is an enemy to God, and Christ so conclusively denounced hypocricy: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. “Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Matt. 23:25–26; see also Alma 60:23). “Ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. “Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”

The most available examples of this conundrum I would posit are babies and sex. A woman has a significant natural (and not sinful) craving for her own baby; however, the gospel dictates that she deny herself that boon unless it is accompanied by marriage. Yet, desire for a baby alone is not a sufficient reason to get married. Similarly, a man has a significant natural (and not sinful) craving for sex; however, the gospel dictates that he deny himself that boon unless it is accompanied by marriage. Yet, desire for sex alone is not a sufficient reason to get married. The lack of the baby for the girl and sex for the boy results in distress and frustration for both, despite the rectitude of self-denial.  Yet the only alternative would be the disastrous (and presumably worse) spiritual consequences of fornication.  This seems at odds with the promise of peace for living the gospel: "But learn that he who doeth the works of arighteousness shall receive his breward, even cpeace in this world, and deternal life in the world to come."  (note the emphasis on doing works rather than becoming)

"He quoted men seeking to justify their viewing choices by comparisons such as “not as bad as” or “only one bad scene.” But the test of what is evil is not its degree but its effect." - Oaks. That is a teleological rather than deontological distinction, and is a measuring cap which doesn't fit well on the many heads of bright line, deontological evils church members are obligated to avoid, such as not paying a 10% tithe, wearing more than one set of earrings, drinking coffee, not attending church each week, and wearing flip flops to church. Rather than asserting that one has a duty to abstain from pornography, period, cadit quaestio (the matter admits of no further argument), the standard is whatever offends the Spirit is evil. That does seem a superior moral standard- but because conduct is much more measurable than the degree of presence or absence of the Spirit, deontological standards are more workable and useful to those with the onus of third party judgment.

The "spirit of the law" argument is teleological- the ends the rule was designed for. Example: ending a meeting on time. Purposes are to provide time for other worthwhile activities and provide a reliable expectation for decision makers as they plan. If the value of the extra five minutes exceeds the aggregated loss towards the two objectives for which the rule was made, then you should break the rule. "Letter of the law" is a deontological one- you have a duty to comply with the rule irrespective of net consequences.

Take a thirty minute window. A man seeks out and views pornography for sexual stimulation. Elder Oaks taught that "Patrons of pornography also lose the companionship of the Spirit." Twenty minutes later he's in a home teaching visit and to support the teaching of his companion he testifies of the verity of God's visit to Joseph Smith the prophet. Does this man have the companionship of the Spirit or does he not? (I acknowledge the argument here that the Spirit is a continuous, rather than discrete, reality). Is the Spirit more easy to offend than he is to invite? And why does the Spirit leave when "the going gets tough"? When people are involved in sin that's when they most need the Spirit to help them know they're sinning and how to repent! Knowledge that one is sinning and knowledge of how to repent are gifts of the Spirit and cannot be gained in the Holy Ghost's absence. That's a catch 22 for someone ensnared in Spirit-offending sin.

More on the knowing one is sinning idea. Let's say the Spirit helps you realize your duty to perform temple and family history work. It's not that the Spirit just imposed a duty on you to do FH work; that duty existed before ("The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead" - Joseph Smith). Instead, you realize that you should've been doing the work all along. An apt legal comparison is when a supreme court announces a new constitutional rule of law that become retroactively applicable. Example: a court decides that the right to counsel attaches to a sentencing hearing. It's not that all of the sudden a new constitutional right was created by the court (since the constitutional right implicated was in the constitutional text a century or so before), but rather that the court finally recognized a right that was there all along. Therefore, the court was wrong to fail to recognize that right in the previous century or so, which is a strong argument for making the newly discovered right retroactively applicable. Similarly, the Spirit's reminder doesn't create a duty, but instead highlights your preceding and current error in neglecting so great and conspicuous an obligation.

"Her husband had also served in important Church callings for many years while addicted to pornography." How could he do this if "The immediate spiritual consequences of such hypocrisy are devastating. Those who seek out and use pornography forfeit the power of their priesthood. The Lord declares: “When we undertake to cover our sins, … behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:37)." Can one serve in important church callings without the priesthood and/or the Spirit? It would seem so. What does that man's service count for towards his account? Is that service worthless? "8 For behold, if a man being aevil giveth a gift, he doeth it bgrudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God." " the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts--what we have done... It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account" -Elder Oaks. If so, it supports the Satanic conclusion that if you've messed up a little, you might as well sin a ton (e.g. by neglecting church and family duties).

Again, there seems to be an incentive here to not think too deeply about the implications of gospel principles. Those who are less aware of the teachings of the Brethren and the obligations imposed by the gospel are less culpable for failing to cause their conduct to comport with those obligations than those of lesser acumen, whose judgments on their own sinfulness will necessarily be more blunt. Maybe shallower thinking isn't bad, or maybe the deeper thinking I implicate is flawed.

Related blog on righteous conduct vs. spirituality vs. religiosity.

My blog about "it pays to be stupid/ignorant/naive"

1 comment:

  1. Should I thank you for your post, or lament that I ever read it?

    Having read and (I think!) understood at least some of what you write about, I am now more culpable than previously.

    You have hurt me by exposing your writings in a place where the naive reader may come across them.

    Thanks a lot!


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