Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Ten Paradigm Shifts of the Past Ten Years

In celebration of the dawning of a new decade tomorrow, I detail significant changes to the lens through which I view the world from the past decade:

1) The way I'm oriented toward/view other people matters, and is independent of behavior. I can perform the same act with at least two different ways of being. For instance, I can walk across campus lost in my own thoughts (in which case all the people I see are objects to me), or I can walk across campus and when passing people, occasionally focus on one person, reminding myself of the humanity of that person: he or she has hopes and frustrations and disappointments and uniqueness just like me. This shift came from reading "Leadership and Self-Deception" by the Arbinger Institute and helped me realize when I'm "in the box" toward people or not. Similarly, I can give a compliment with the exact same words and intonation and body language and everything, yet view that person as an object (means to an end) knowing that humans usually respond positively to praise. Alternatively, I could give the compliment in the second case identical in all external ways, yet be oriented toward/view the person as a person, just like me, with private thoughts and stresses and dreams and a background and relationships.

2) Leadership has primarily two focii: A) accomplishing group tasks and B) developing followers. People expect leaders to get things done. However, if a leader stops at results, I think that leader stands to gain from a broader view of leadership- leadership like that Christ exhibited. Christ probably could have accomplished many tasks more effectively and efficiently than His followers (e.g. by assigning tasks to angels); yet, He instead delegated to and trained His apostles and other disciples. He knew that leadership is about training and helping followers to progress as much or more as it's about ensuring the trains get to the station on time.

3) Most tenets of contemporary evolutionary theory are quite sensible. This insight is a product of lots of thought, reading a ton (including the influential "Finding Darwin's God" by Kenneth Miller), earning a bachelor's degree in biology, and fasting/prayer.

4) When a person expresses a feeling, he or she usually wants one of two things: thing 1- to be heard, thing 2- problem-solving advice. One of the most common mistakes people (especially men) make is to respond with advice when what is wanted is to be heard. I got to the point after talking about this insight with my sister that when one of the us expresses a feeling, the other just asks straight out if person A wants listening or problem solving help. This practice has helped me refrain from my strong impulse to propose solutions when listening to her and other friends.

5) People's expectations are usually a result of their zeitgeist (culture of their place and time), and most cultural norms are more arbitrary than intelligently designed (else why the prevalence of deleterious norms and the staggering cultural diversity evident in the world today and historically?). Folks generally want their expectations to be met more than they want any given person to behave authentically. Our expectations of ourselves and others derive from the agreements we make with the scripts we are fed during childhood. Most of us are thoroughly domesticated. (see http://gigamaster.blogspot
.com/2009/03/domestication-and-dream-of-planet.html (read the part starting with "What you are seeing and hearing right now is nothing but a dream"))

6) I can raise my commitments kept/commitments made ratio far above the status quo by using my palm pilot.

7) The majority of human experience of love and attachment is biological (specifically, neurochemical). I don't find this reality offensive, since learning to manage a body is a primary purpose of mortality. This insight derives from my education in the disciplines of anatomy, nutrition, evolutionary biology, social psychology, marriage preparation, and a bunch of ancillary research (such as Fisher's "Why we love: the nature and chemistry of romantic love").

8) My testimony of the Restored gospel of Jesus Christ has matured from what it was as a child; though it is still based on my faith in Jesus Christ and constituted by revelation from the Holy Ghost, that revelation is customized to my understanding, which is vastly different now that it was when I was ten. My thinking is more sophisticated- and often the revelation, though simple, fits in that framework in a way understandable to me and accompanied by feelings of peace and assurance.

9) By receiving the Atonement, I can learn from my experiences without being condemned by them. A fuller discussion of this principle is found in Bruce Hafen's "Covenant Hearts." By uniting (at-one) with Christ and the Infinite Atonement, my imperfections are subsumed. E.g.- if I unite my 35 cent debt with a 10 trillion dollar surplus, I haven't affected the net balance much. If instead I unite my finite imperfections and sins and trials with the infinite strength and absolving power of Christ's atonement, my deficit can truly become zero, much as a function may be considered to equal zero at some point if it approaches zero quickly enough without necessarily touching the x axis (the function's limit- see and Tad Callister's "The Infinite Atonement"). Receiving the Atonement does more that compensate for faults or restore me to a guiltless state, however: it can also take me far above the impotent condition of an innocent babe to the level of an intentional, Christlike potentate like the prophets and men of God I admire.

10) #10 is a composite shift I entitle, "why we believe what we believe." First tenet: Rogerian persuasion is effective. I learned this method in a persuasive writing class I took. Instead of starting out by undermining your opponent's arguments, begin by affirming them. Make the opponent's strongest arguments first, make sure they're all out there on the table, and only then introduce your arguments. It's sort of a "yes, you have a good point that ____ and _____ - but have you considered..." approach. Because the person feels heard, he or she may be more open-minded about relevant factors not yet considered. This tenet leads into the second - tenet two: we exhibit a predilection to prematurely take positions on issues (i.e. weighing in before considering all relevant factors). Because we are 1) prone to overestimate our own certainty (ask me for a ten question quiz test you can take to see my point, 2) generally ill-informed, 3) subject to dirty tricks of persuasion and manipulation (start with page 22 of and research foot-in-the-door, camel's nose, low-ball, bait 'n switch, that's-not-all and door-in-the-face compliance gaining techniques) and 4) likely to be influenced by dozens of substantial cognitive biases (, people should as a rule take only tentative, rather than emphatic, positions on issues (e.g. the performance of President Bush or abortion or global warming or the effects of eating close to bedtime or the parenting skills of your mother). Instead, people choose to take sides, establish positions, and offer resolved opinions and unqualified criticisms in all areas of life, thereby creating a psychological need to seek evidence supporting the position (confirmation bias) rather than ensuring an environment conducive to conforming one's views the closest available approximation of truth. This shift has led me to conclude that folks are almost universally more confident in what they believe than is merited. This conclusion has yet to be seriously upset by subsequent insights.

11) Okay, so I pledged 10 and this is eleven. I just really wanted to include it.
I can do anything I want, any time I want! Though this statement is an exaggeration, the scope of my agency from moment to moment truly is gargantuan. Right now I could jump up from the keyboard and arrange a trip to Bolivia, for instance. Or send a mass text insulting all my cell phone contacts. Or go throw a DVD case repeatedly at the back window of the neighbor's. Also, most behavior is constrained not by physical limits, but by norms. Example: a missionary says he can't contact an investigator. However, if you offered that same missionary 10,000$ to find the investigator, she would probably find a way to contact the investigator. (If you or a friend says "I can't..." try applying this "10K rule" test). It's not that there doesn't exist some physical means: it's just not customary to take many of the means that actually exist. Example 2 (another missionary one): inviting 30 people to be baptized. The norm is only to invite taught investigators to be baptized, so it'd take a week or more to accomplish that task: yet, one can conceive of dozens of ways to accomplish this objective outside of normative behavioral bounds (like asking the question as a GQ, or broadcasting an invite, or handing cards to people with that invitation). Usually you can do in a day what it takes most people a week to do.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Covenant Hearts: Marriage and the Joy of Human Love

Big Ideas from Covenant Hearts (Brad's perception)

- Part of the reason we should marry is to experience misery. The instructive value of misery and deep affliction and severe personal challenge endemic to eternal marriage can't be easily substituted for. (Good luck buying that level of punishment on ebay!) It would be akin to seeking to perform an Olympic-quality marathon run (exaltation) without going through Olympic-caliber training (a mortal marriage experience). Where's Rocky without Clubber Lang and Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago and training in Russianarctica? It's hard, and that's a big part of the purpose- no misery => NO JOY. (2 Nephi 2- "having no joy, for they knew no misery...") Marriage is about increasing the pain in the "no pain, no gain" growth model. "Connected inevitably with the whole [marriage and family] process is much of pain- physical, mental, and emotional. There is much of stress and struggle, of fear and worry... there seems to never be enough money... sickness strikes periodically. Accidents happen..." -Gordon B. Hinckley

- Also, it's no coincidence that that very 2 Nephi passage begins with "would have had no children...". Deduction? No children => no misery => no joy. Childbearing is promised to be done in sorrow. Moses 4: "Unto the woman I, the Lord God, said: I will greatly multiply thy sorrow... in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children." If the imperfections and behavior of the spouse don't amount to multiplied sorrow, then hopefully the kids will add sufficient bitterness- otherwise an easy marriage means you were gypped. Plus you should share your spouse's trials whether or not other sources such as children provide sufficient opportunity to "taste the bitter" (Moses 6:55).

- Eternal marriage is much more than a contract. It's ideally not quid pro quo; instead, it's a covenant to seek the other's interest at any and all self-sacrifice. There shouldn't be score-keeping: it looks more like reckless abandon to benefit the partner. It's a 110% from each party, rather than a 50/50 like a standard agreement. The parties marry to give, not to receive, so because their object is not personal benefit or happiness, they don't walk away when dissatisfied since their own happiness is not what was bargained for. Unqualified commitment is foreign to a contractual arrangement. Also, unlike most private contracts, the community and children have a significant stake in the outcome of the marriage (not just the two parties to the agreement). This third party interest is evidenced by attendance at weddings- you don't see community and family and friends coming to the signing of a business merger.

- Christ's story is one of giving the Atonement; Adam and Eve's is one of receiving the Atonement. The story of Adam and Eve is incredibly relevant to us (more so even than Christ's in the sense that we need to receive rather than give the Atonement). Their story illustrates how marriage fits into the three act play of our existence (Act I premortal, Act 2 mortal, Act 3 post-mortal).

- Because Adam and Eve received the Atonement, they were able to learn from their experience without being condemned by it.
- Through marriage we learn what it means to be a good shepherd to our spouses like Christ was the Good Shepherd to us and the church. Sorry monks, celibacy is a tainted fruit of the apostasy: you also miss out on the glimpse of what it means to fill the role of parent- like our eternal Parent, Father in heaven. Plus, you're obligated to fight the ineluctable onslaught of wolves (anything that threatens the union), which one concludes is a valuable skill.

- Eternal marriage is the classic love story of a man and a woman, children of diety with a premortal existence, using mortality as a time to learn and grow, and then apotheosis (deification) through marriage: achieving Godhood as the highest possibility of human life. (think Hercules, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings) Living happily ever after is not about being comfortable from the Adamic Love Story- it's glancing backward at comfort (the garden) and together facing an uncertain future [with the exceptions of 1) the requirement of hard labor and 2) the presence of thorns: both are quite certain] with desires now oriented toward each other, children, and a mutual future. They ask "what's best for our marriage, our family?" rather than "what's best for me?"

- No-fault divorce, extremist individualism, gay marriage, children's liberation, and a divorce culture are bad news. It's better to keep marriage transaction costs super high- easy in, easy out is bad news for marriage because that idea damages the irreversible reckless abandon that's best to go in and stay in with. Divorce is like a hireling fleeing the sheep - even when your spouse makes the shepherd's life very tough, the shepherd keeps working whereas the hireling cancels the contract and skips town.

- God's married, and Satan is single. Whose example will you follow? God experiences fullness of joy, and Satan is miserable. Part of the reason Satan is miserable is that our nature includes a need to belong. It's the at-one-ment, not the alone-ment. Sure, people are annoying- but when it comes down to it, we'd rather be with them than eternally severed from them. Separation from God, for instance, sucks. We want to be together- and no bond offers that togetherness like eternal marriage.

- Your single life is like a seed: be ready to slay and abandon it. "whosoever will lose his {single} life shall find it {a superior married life}." The seed has to die for the family plant to grow: "except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." John 12:24

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Engagement Rings

There was a spicy facebook conversation going on about engagement rings, so I decided to hop on the train (detailed below). See the original conversation at
Or facebook Austin Baird, then click "Selfishness in engagements - to you girls" in his "Notes" section.

"Though the ineluctable tides of cultural norms will continue to lap happily on shores of social behavior despite the bulwark of well-reasoned, rationally based arguments like those Austin and others forward, for now, I think I'll hop on the bulwark! Considering how relatively isolated the expensive enagagement ring tradition is in the global and historical culture context (how frequent is the tradition's incidence over the thousands of cultures and last 6 millenia of human history?), the tradition should be viewed as little more than an arbitrary norm. Yes, the norm creates real expectations, the fulflillment or failure of which brings real sets of relational consequences, and yes, the expenditure and sacrifice can communicate commitment and love when both partners choose to perceive the gift of the ring as such. However, it would be equally valid for one or both partners to view compliance with the norm as a mere capitulation to the omnipotent zeitgeist that most of us elect to submit to in thousands of other contexts. (read the part starting with "What you are seeing and hearing right now is nothing but a dream")
From the perspective that doing the whole expensive engagement ring thing is just agreement with our own domestication ("if he doesn't ask me the 'right way'" is meaningless inasmuch as the "right way" is arbitrary), the evaluation of the norm then appropriately turns to a cost/benefit analysis of consequence bundles. In my view that's what Austin's original note began to do.
(Course of action A- do the expensive engagement ring thing. Course of action B- get engaged and married some other way)
Course of action A consequence bundleDisadvantages:Austin et alii point out that 1) normative obsession with the ring inappropriately removes focus from the foundation of the relationship, which is: the past shared experiences with, present feelings for, and future hopes and commitments of, the bride and groom to be. Certainly the attendent engagement ring expectations distract from the substance of a proposal and engagement: the relationship and the partners. They also identify the 2) deindividuation that results from the more limited scope of engagement rings as a means of marriage proposal when compared to the unlimited scope of creatively personalized means. Since love and marriage are so uniquely individual, it follows that the proposal appropriately departs from indiscriminate, tightly bracketed behavioral norms. Austin et al.'s 3) awareness of the negative fiscal impacts of financing a costly object of such pitiable inherent utility at a difficult financial stage for one or both partners highlights a third significant disadvantage. I would add that all three of these negative consequences adhere to both partners. Advantages: If the girl ranks gifts high on her love language list (, then the ring will prove a deposit in the relationship/love bank account. This advantage assumes she is part of the subset of gift love languagers that derives utility from at least the paid price of the gift itself rather than the a) intention of giver or the b) value of the present (i.e. a perfectly good ring the groom found on the side of the road brings her far less utiltiy than one he exchanged thousands of greenbacks for.)
Course of action B consequence bundleAdvantages/disdvantages:It depends on the proposal means he selects.
@Miichael Nascimento- I find your position about the "Lingo Effect" a strong one in that humans are naturally very needy in the self-esteem department and therefore accept all types of external validators (including the admittedly shallow possession of a certain type of small, hard, and shiny object) to serve as planks in the platform of their self-confidence. However, as Austin argues, that same person might choose to delude/substantiate oneself with other equally plausible planks, such as the words of the proposal itself or other tangible or intangible tokens from the partner. "

Subsequent post a couple weeks later:
Alcohol. Cocaine. Peacock tails. Expensive engagement rings. What do they all have in common? They all help females in the competitive business of sexual selection. Let me explain what I mean.

Poisonous, addictive drugs like alcohol and cocaine are similar to peacock tails and gazelle stotting in effect because they serve as an indicator of fitness. Imagine for a moment that you're a female peacock, and you want to pick only the most fit male to mate with to give your progeny the best possible chance of surviving in the resource-scarce, predator-rich environment they will inherit. Choosing from amongst adult males is a good place to start, since those male peacocks who lived to adulthood must have something going for them. Of course those are the only ones available (the ones that died in childhood make terrible mates), and if you don't choose from the cream of the crop, another female will and her offspring will have the advantage. So what do you look to? Maybe if he's a handsome peacock? That might set him apart, because not all peacocks are equally handsome- but handsomeness doesn't help your offspring survive. A pretty face doesn't help your baby peacocks find more food, overcome disease, or escape/avoid predators more. Plus, if you choose the handsome one, you create an incentive for cheating: those with poor genes will invest in a pretty face, making it just as likely to choose a cheater as the real deal. How about a snazzy, impressive song or dance? Same problem- the trait is an effective discriminator, but won't bequeath the genetic building blocks for a Rocky Balboa clutch because singing and dancing aren't that useful in the fight for survival. Isn't there some kind of "signal" of fitness you could look to as a guide?

There is! And many animals exhibit them. They're handicaps: counter-intuitive impediments to fitness, such as long peacock tail feathers or gazelle stotting. Gazelles will often slow down and jump up and down when a lion approaches (stotting). It would make more sense to run for your life when a lion approaches- but these gazelles don't. Stotting communicates "don't even try to catch me, I'm a super-fast gazelle. And to prove it, I'm not running like mad when you get close. Check out how spry I am." And the lion saves his effort for a slower gazelle. Similarly, extra long peacock tails impede the bird when it's fleeing from predators by its weight, not to mention the comparative disadvantage of growing and carrying the burdensome things around 24/7. These indicators all work BECAUSE OF, not in spite of, their handicapping effects. You can't cheat when you've got an obvious handicap. They signal "look at me- I'm so successful I can make it even with this handicap." Similarly, though smoking or taking alcohol or cocaine obviously reduces your ability to perform sexually or physically, it does send the message- "check it out, I'm so healthy I can regularly consume poison and still outcompete the next guy." You can't fake a handicap! It's an honest sign of fitness.

Similarly, the engagement ring is a very conspicuous indicator females use in sexual selection. Everyone knows how much it costs- you can't fake it! The ring says, "I'm so successful at amassing resources, I can drop G's on this inherently worthless, tiny object without batting an eye." Resource amassing is a useful to survival; thus, the utility and perpetuation of the indicator.

I credit Jared Diamond (irony in the last name, no?) for these ideas as articulated in chapter 11 of "The Third Chimpanzee.

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