Charlie's Blog: October 2015

10.31.2015

The Positive Power of Defensive Pessimism


Keep a light, hopeful heart. But ­expect the worst.
JOYCE CAROL OATES

People ask me if I am an optimist or a pessimist, and I have a hard time answering that question. This is because the answer depends on time horizons. In the long term of eternity, I am an optimist. In the short term of this temporal existence, I am a pessimist. In other words, I believe in heaven, but I think you have to go through hell to get there. A perfect world exists, but this world is not that perfect world.

People praise optimism because it makes you do things. Optimism makes you get out of the bed each morning with a zest for life and big plans and all that. Many of the great achievements in life have been accomplished by optimists too blinded by their positive thinking to ever contemplate failure. So, like the lucky winners of lotteries, they praise optimism because you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket. But the lucky winner is merely bait for the trap for the vast horde of losers who will be heartbroken and at least one dollar poorer at the end of it.

The world needs lucky fools. I am all for these gamblers. I doubt we would have reached the moon if Neil Armstrong and the rest of those guys ever stopped to contemplate that they were more likely to die than succeed. But the same optimism that fueled the moon landing is also the same optimism that makes people park their cash unquestioningly with a guy like Bernie Madoff. The problem with optimism is that while it makes you daring it also makes you stupid.


Pessimists have a firmer grip on reality. Pessimism makes you smarter. Pessimism is sobriety in a world of drunken optimism. The reality is that the world is fallen. Humanity is corrupted by original sin. You will always have to lock your car doors. Now, the worst does not always come to pass, but when it does, the pessimist is the only one prepared for it. This is because the pessimist saw it coming.

This foresight on the fallen nature of reality is what I think of when I hear the term "defensive pessimism." Defensive pessimism is a strategy for anticipating the worst and being prepared for it. For instance, if you keep bottled water and canned goods for the zombie apocalypse, you are a defensive pessimist. If you carry an umbrella even on a sunny day, you are a defensive pessimist.

Is there a downside to being a defensive pessimist? Yes, there is. It means never being a lottery winner. The upside is that you can spend your one dollar on a bag of chips and enjoy it. This is an important point to grasp, so don't let it slide by. The optimist lives a life of perpetual disappointment, but the pessimist is pleasantly surprised on a daily basis. The pessimist does take joy but in small things delivered on a regular basis. Pessimism leads to satisfaction. Pessimism makes things better. This is the paradox of pessimism.


I first discovered this paradox of pessimism with Ronald Reagan back in the eighties. People see Reagan as an optimist, but Reagan was a conservative which is a fundamentally pessimistic worldview. So, where did people get this idea that Ron was a sunny optimist? Well, that's simple. Reagan knew the liberalism of the sixties and the seventies would be a disaster, so he was the only one smiling when the rest of the country was disappointed. This is because optimism promises utopia and delivers hell. Pessimism preaches hell, and you find heaven when you avoid hell.

Now, you can't be a pessimist and also be an atheist. This is because a true atheist and a pessimist would be suicidal. The fact that some of these pessimistic atheists still keep drawing breath shows they must have some glimmer of hope in this world or at least the sneaking suspicion that the worst is yet to come in the afterlife they claim does not exist. The truly successful defensive pessimist accepts what the Bible teaches about fallen humanity, a world of misery, and the hope of Heaven and the beatific vision. This mix of hope and stark reality gives the defensive pessimist both a joyful heart and a hard realism at the same time. Life is a difficult road, but it is worth taking. You have to die to experience resurrection.

Good things come to those who suffer. The defensive pessimist knows this and accepts this. When the lights of optimism flicker out in the darkness of reality, it is then that you see the warm glow in the heart of the defensive pessimist. This is joy. This is the reassurance of knowing you are right. The defensive pessimist guards the most precious thing he has which is hope. Hope endures when it is based in reality. When hope is based on fantasy, it comes crashing down when reality hits. This is the foundation made of sand that comes from foolish optimism.

Be a defensive pessimist. Think the worst will come. And when it doesn't, you will have lost nothing but your delusions about life. This is the positive power of defensive pessimism. It is hope wedded to intelligence, prudence, and fortitude.

If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable:
think of it as a place for correction and it's not so bad. Imagine a set of people all living in the same
building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel 
might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was
really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become
pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.
C.S. LEWIS

10.27.2015

Big Dictator


100%
DONALD TRUMP
when asked if the world would be a better place if Hussein and Qaddafi were still in power.

I don't agree with everything Donald Trump says, but I do agree with him that the world would be better if we let evil dictators remain in power. Naturally, this statement demands a hefty amount of qualification, so here it is.

Saddam Hussein and Moamar Qaddafi were evil men. This cannot be disputed. They were terrible leaders who committed atrocities on the people they governed. They were nothing less than criminals. So, why allow men like this to remain in power? We should allow it because they are preferrable to the alternative which is chaos and atrocity on a massive scale. This would be the abomination known as ISIS.

Government has one overarching and supreme purpose. This purpose is to restrain evil. Government establishes and preserves order. Here are the words of St. Paul,
 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
ROMANS 13:1-7 NASB
Now, these words rub raw our democratic sensibilities. Power comes from the people and not from God. The problem is that democracy shows how utterly unfit the populace is to govern itself. Government is instituted by God for the good of the people. Now, this begs a question. What if the government is evil? My reply is to point out that St. Paul is expressly pointing to the imperial government of Rome. This is the same government that would chop off his head. This would be the emperor Nero who would crucify Christians and set their bodies aflame to illuminate the night. How do we reconcile what St. Paul writes with what governments do?

The key to understanding this is to come to terms with the concept of authority. God is authoritarian. He is the supreme ruler of the universe. We must all live under His authority. Now, we can do like Satan and rebel against this authority. But what happens? Satan brings chaos and hell. All revolutions result in this chaos, and the chaos is only cured when order returns. Government is the restraint on chaos.

When those in power abuse their power, they are not living and governing under the rule of God's authority. These are wicked servants, and God will deal with them severely in His time and place. But we are not supposed to compound the error with our rebellion. When government does right, we obey. When it does wrong, we resist. Resistance is not the same as revolution. Resistance is obeying God's higher authority over the lower authority.


Jesus acknowledges this authority when He tells Pilate that Pilate's authority was given to him by His Father in Heaven. David does not slay King Saul even when he has the chance. Likewise, Israel is commanded to be in obedience to their Babylonian conquerors. The Bible is very clear about this issue of governmental authority. It is also clear about ecclesiastical authority as all Christians are called to be in authority to the Roman Catholic Church which Christ established.

When people try to overthrow authority, they are practicing rebellion. All rebellion is ultimately against God. You can see the consequences as the rebellion leads to chaos and anarchy. The French Revolution gave us the Reign of Terror. The Russian Revolution ended up establishing communism which was more authoritarian than any czar. And the Protestant Rebellion has given us Joel Osteen. The end is worse than the beginning.

The depravity of a government is proportional to the depravity of the people. You can see this with the Roman Empire. Rome was a depraved empire with paganism, bloodshed, and the rest. But as it became more Christian, it became kinder. This is also why the American Revolution which began in Enlightenment thought ended up returning to its Christian sensibilities with the Constitution. Hamilton, Madison, and the others could see the post-war chaos coming, and they headed it off. As stated in The Federalist Papers, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." Because of original sin, government will always be here.

The Middle East is run by depraved men because Muslims are a depraved people. They are so depraved that men like Hussein and Qaddafi were moderates in that part of the world. Taking them out without something to replace them merely takes the lid off of a cauldron of extreme violence, mayhem, and atrocity. The only remedy to this madness is severe and extreme leadership. If the Middle East were to become Christian, benign leadership could emerge. When Christianity wanes or becomes non-existence, extreme leadership emerges. Liberty is the product of a people's virtue. Tyranny is the product of people's vice and depravity. In short, people get the government they deserve. If you want liberty, be a Christian nation.

The policy of the Bush administration was to take out dictators like Saddam Hussein. The policy of the Obama adminstration has been a continuation of the Bush policy with its efforts against Qaddafi and now, Assad. But Obama compounds the error by creating a vacuum where "democracy" would emerge. This is laughable. Every place this policy has been pursued has been unmitigated disaster. The neocon foreign policy of Bush was incredibly stupid, but the neocons did admit they would have to stay and fill the vacuum for decades. Obama just leaves so something worse can emerge like the Islamic State. Now, late in the game, Obama has decided to stick around in Afghanistan.

The best policy is to not intervene. Whatever government exists in a place is probably the best that place can do. If a government or tyrant must be taken out, there should be a plan to fill that vacuum with another government. Order must always be the objective. Freedom comes from order. Order does not come freedom. That is a libertarian and progressive myth ignorant of the reality of human nature. Donald Trump is right. We have to tolerate the lesser evil for the sake of preventing the greater evil. I may vote for his lesser evil to help prevent the greater evil of Hillary Clinton if it comes to that.

10.25.2015

The Choice


If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.
LUKE 9:23 NASB

Life is misery. Anyone who tells you differently is self-deluded or lying. Granted, there are some who fortune has blessed with a pleasant existence, but this pleasantness is nothing more than a mental escape from reality. At first, it begins with some shallow entertainment then moves to alcohol, drugs, and sex. Finally, there is the emptiness. We can understand why a starving orphan in the third world would conclude that life is misery, but it boggles the mind when some self-indulgent celebrity millionaire comes to the same conclusion and offs himself. When the fortunate in this world's goods conclude that life is not worth living, what does that say to the rest of us?

The reason life is so miserable for so many people is not the presence or absence of worldly goods or pleasures but the absence of God. Man truly does not live by bread alone. People need God. There is no substitute for God. The vain pursuit of worldly things is the futile quest in search of a substitute for God. The most vivid and potent example of this futility is the drug addict. Drugs are the best things this world offers because they bypass all the channels to stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain. It's much easier to buy some crack than a mansion. Yet, we consider the addict to be the most miserable of creatures.



The least miserable of creatures is the saint. The saint has God. The saint loves God with the purest of loves. Yet, they suffer the most in this life. Often, this suffering may be self-inflicted through practices of mortification or simply comes as a consequence of refusing to play by the world's rules. To be a saint is to suffer in this world. Yet, despite this suffering, they are the only ones we can say are truly happy.

Life gives us a choice. Option A is to have all the world offers except God. Option B is to have God and suffer whatever this world throws at you. This choice is stark. It is the choice Christ presents to us when He tells us to take up our crosses. Some Protestants may try and soften this teaching or even deny it altogether with their prosperity heresies and being "too blessed to be stressed." But they are preaching a false gospel. St. Paul blasts this in 1 Corinthians 1:23 when he states bluntly that he and the others "preach Christ crucified." There is no Option C where you have both God and the good things in this world. Even those who are blessed in this life are called to give up those things.

This choice between God and the world may seem like a raw deal, but it isn't. Jesus clearly states in John 10:10, " The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." This abundant life seems like a cruel joke when you are suffering hardship and persecution. But the life of the world is not the life of the soul. When the soul is sad, no pleasure in the world can ever satisfy it. The end is death, and we witness this every time some poor soul opts for suicide. Conversely, when the soul is happy, no calamity can ever disturb this happiness. We witness this when martyrs choose Christ over life itself.


For most of us, the martyrdom is a smaller but daily choice to suffer. The suffering of Job was so acute because he did not understand why he suffered. But in the light of the cross, we have what Job lacked. We understand what Job did not. Job didn't get it. Yet, he still trusted in God. If Job could do it without understanding, we should be able to do it with understanding.

When I was a Protestant, I couldn't understand it. Faced with suffering, I lost my faith. My faith rested on the sand of Protestant heresy, and the winds and the rains came down on it. And my faith fell with a mighty crash. Protestants don't get suffering. I remember reading the work of evangelical author Philip Yancey on the issue of suffering. His answers were the most hollow thing I ever encountered in my Protestant days. The reason for this hollowness is because suffering has no value in Protestant theology. Yet, suffering is essential in Catholic theology. To suffer is to cease to be Protestant.


I escaped Protestantism by becoming atheist. Atheists will offer many arguments as to why there is no God, but they are all demolished until you are left with the last argument. Why does an omnipotent and benevolent God allow evil and suffering to exist? The reasoning goes that God is either deficient in goodness or power. Or, He is simply not there.  The atheist chooses atheism because he cannot abide the heresy of an impotent or evil God. This is why I became an atheist. I chose atheism because it was more real than Protestantism. But atheism is not reality.

Becoming Catholic was to encounter a reality more real than my stark atheism. When Marx calls religion the opiate of the masses, I have to laugh at the absurdity. This is certainly true of Protestantism but fails when it comes to Catholicism. I thought atheism was as real as it gets. But my introduction to Catholicism was an encounter with something that I can only describe as more real than real. This was Christ crucified.


Suffering was an essential component of Christianity. Heaven is for those who suffer. That suffering will either be here or in the fire of purgatory. Atheism produces numbness in your soul such that you feel nothing. Protestantism makes you sensitive to suffering but turns you into a wimp. Catholicism turns up the pain, but it gives you the grace to endure it. This is that abundant life Jesus was talking about.

There are prelates in the Catholic Church today who think that they need to soften the message a bit. They need to make it less stark and painful. They call this softening "mercy." God is merciful because He forgives. But the cross remains. We are to carry it. We have to choose to suffer. For the person with same sex attraction, this means celibacy. For the person in a bad marriage, this means fidelity. For the person in an illicit second marriage, this is repentance and abstinence. To cease suffering is to become Protestant. Any prelate who teaches this false mercy and preaches Christ not crucified is a Protestant in Catholic garb. They have rejected the cross and now teach others the same rejection.

To love Christ is to suffer in this world. But to not have Christ is to suffer in your soul. The soul is more important than the body. To be a living sacrifice is to choose the soul over the body. The choice is to either live in order to die or to die in order to live. I hate the world. There is not a day that goes by that I am not filled with horror and disgust at what this world offers. At its best, this life is simply empty. At its worst, life snuffs out everything except the light that comes from God's grace. The only way out of this life of misery is through God.

When you make the choice to carry your cross, you learn that its burden is light. That is the paradox of it all. This is why many martyrs could happily go to their deaths even cracking jokes along the way. I suspect that they consider the absurdity of being murdered by people who are themselves going to die. Legend has it that Pontius Pilate killed himself in Gaul during the reign of Caligula between 37-41 AD. He may have died under different circumstances. The one thing that is certain is that Pilate is dead. The people that kill us jettison us from a life that is a hell. I can handle being tossed out of Hell and thrown into Heaven. This is martyrdom.

You should feel comfort at this point in the essay. That is the beauty and the paradox of the cross. As painful as it is, it brings sweet relief to the soul. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. That is life. The only places in this world that I find happiness and comfort are in the sanctuaries of my parish and my home. The rest of the world can go to Hell, and it will. I just don't care. I have had what the world offers, and it doesn't amount to anything. I have made my choice, and I hope that I have helped you make your choice.

10.18.2015

The Nudge From Hudge and Gudge


In the United States both plates and portions have increased dramatically over time. A really good nudge would be to make them smaller.
CASS SUNSTEIN

Microsoft desperately wants you to adopt Windows 10 on your devices. This desperation has made them pre-load Windows 10 on 7 and 8 machines, and now, it seems some people have Windows 10 forced on their machines without them asking. This was called a "mistake" by Microsoft, but I know better. They are pushing. They are like a desperate boy pawing some scared girl in his car on a Saturday night where the boundary between foreplay and rape becomes blurred. First, they try beer to loosen her up. Then, they start yanking on clothes. They are nice at first only to make it your fault when you refuse, and they force you down and push you into "compliance." Microsoft's next strategy will be to unlitaerally and immediately end all support for all previous versions of Windows. I can feel the "nudge" coming. Somehow, in all of this, I still have choice as a consumer.

Progressives will point to this latest action by Microsoft as just another example of corporate evil, and I agree. It is evil. Yet, this same bullying has reached a zenith in the USA under the administration of Barack Obama. Thanks to Obamacare and all the sneaky crap in there, some hospital workers must now comply with a mandatory flu shot. Basically, you get a worthless flu shot with its attendant hazards, or you get fired. This wouldn't be so bad as the despotism is clear to see, but no one wants to be seen as the bad guy and the enemy of freedom. So, the employee who refuses the flu shot is said to be "voluntarily terminating" their employment. This lets the hospital off the hook on their unemployment compensation insurance. That last part is what changes the shove of aggression to the "nudge" of what Cass Sunstein calls libertarian paternalism.

Libertarian paternalism is simply an oxymoron. It is coercion cloaked in a choice architecture where you are free to choose the right thing or suffer the consequences. It is essentially the same deal the mugger offers you when he says, "Your money or your life." The sane world knows this as a false choice, but the bizarro world of big government and big business sees it as the freedom to choose. As long as one option is better or even slightly better than the other one, this coercion is justified. Choice becomes meaningless and merely a pyschological prop for people too stupid to think for themselves. Ultimately, freedom is not a thing in itself but a semantic concept in much the same way that the old school communists labeled their governments "people's republics" when they were neither a republic nor for the people.

Libertarian paternalism is simply a polite form of totalitarianism. The poster boy for this polite totalitarianism is none other than our current sitting president, Barack Obama. Essentially, passive aggression has been elevated to a policy. Since statecraft is soulcraft, this mindset has flowed out into the wider world such that corporations and organizations have become pushy in all things. People are reduced to a herd, but this is OK as long as the cattle cars aren't headed to Auschwitz.


Words mean things. This may seem tautological and elemental, yet the world keeps forgetting it. We have Orwell to thank for pointing out how regimes try to change the meaning of words and language. In this case, the word "freedom" has been bastardized and distorted beyond any resemblance to its original meaning. Freedom is simply the ability to act, think, and speak without coercion, hindrance, or restraint. Libertarian paternalism is the removal of freedom because it coerces.

This libertarian paternalism has taken hold primarily because of the thought, writings, and efforts of Cass Sunstein. Sunstein is a lawyer who joined forces with the economist, Richard Thaler, to write the book known as Nudge. This book is essentially the bastard offspring of a pairing between a donkey and a snake. It is such a ludicrous concept that you can't even imagine what the beast would look like. Yet, we can grasp it if we consider the problem that Thaler and Sunstein were trying to solve. How do you make people choose wisely without taking away their freedom? The obvious and common sense answer would be that you can't. The freedom to choose implies the freedom to choose poorly. You can't have it both ways. But in law and economics, fools try to draw square circles anyway.


Sunstein would be just another academic idiot except that he became a mentor to Barack Obama. Bad ideas become real nightmares when the government embraces them, and Obama embraced this one. And why has this bad idea been tolerated? It is because the nudge toward the preferred end is justified by that preferred end. The end justifies the means. Now, most intelligent and humane people reject this Machiavellian dictum since many atrocities and crimes against humanity have been justified under this logic. What Sunstein provided was a new language to restate an old evil. Essentially, the date rape will become more enjoyable if you scream less.

The corporate world has embraced this libertarian paternalism in regards to their employees demanding "compliance" with a myriad of Byzantine rules and policies with many in conflict with others. As one manager told me once, "I don't fire people. They fire themselves." Now, these same evil idiots are extending this bizarro thinking to their customers. Basically, they want to churn their customer base for more sales by building choice architectures that nudge them into coughing up more dough. They can't make you buy the new product, but they can make it where you can't use the old product anymore. Durable goods become bread and milk.

For Hudge and Gudge, choice is the enemy. They know they can't beat you into compliance without being evil or trick you into compliance because you have gotten smart. So, they try a form of Jedi mind trick to convince you that you want they have. It's like a mugger begging you to not bludgeon yourself to death with his baseball bat. Ultimately, the only freedom they can't take away from you is the freedom to die. Choice architecture is not for you but for your overlords to overcome their own cognitive dissonance produced by their naked aggression and evil. As conscience becomes blunted, the evil will increase, and society as we know it will become politely nudged into a living hell.

10.12.2015

Ramble On


I drank what?!
SOCRATES

There's a ton of stuff rolling around in my brain right now, and I feel the compulsion to write. Unfortunately, none of what I wish to write about can be confined to a single topic, so I've decided to ramble in this and see where I end up.

My thoughts have been turning to the political lately not because there is someone I wish to support in the next election so much as there isn't. This has bothered me for awhile, and I have pondered the question a bit. In politics, I find myself in a wasteland. But when politics becomes a joke, I turn to political philosophy. This means Russell Kirk. As I read Kirk, I find his viewpoints convincing. As such, I consider myself a traditional conservative or "paleoconservative" now. Many of the Catholic writers I like are also paleoconservatives. Plus, I always crack up when Mark Shea talks about "the Thing That Used To Be Conservatism."

Basically, there are two paths you can go down when it comes to politics. The first path is to put Christianity as the cornerstone of ethics, government, and society. The second path is to embrace some utopian ideology. This comes in two varieties today--progressivism and libertarianism. I reject both because I do not think human nature can ever be perfected in this life. People are flawed, so this means embracing a politics of reality. This would be traditional conservatism.

Conservatism today is in bad shape. This is because the bright lights of Kirk and Buckley have left conservatism to the dim bulbs of Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Hannity, and Beck. Devoid of brains, the intellectual vacuum has been steadily filled by those from the ranks of the libertarians. The result is that the GOP looks more and more like a mob of Gadsden flag waving rednecks. I doubt any of them read books.

This brings me to the sad state of education in this country. It is atrocious. Recently, I was told that a child in school asked his parents to homeschool him because he was sick of recess. When I was a kid, recess meant kickball and touch football while the teachers got a smoke in the lounge. But this kid says they have to walk the track to meet a quota on a step counter before they are allowed to play. Naturally, recess has ended by the time those laps are done. UNBELIEVABLE. This is not recess but the heavy handed micromanagement of some technocrat. Is this what we have come to? Recess is now quantified like some Taylorist corporate crap? What ever happened to having fun?

That incident is a big reason why I have embraced paleoconservatism. Here is one of the ironies of life. The utopians always aim for freedom and prosperity. They promise some bright and glorious future where all policies are correct, and everything works out great. The result is that life today becomes a living hell. Meanwhile, conservatives are pessimistic and kinda gloomy because they see humanity and institutions as flawed and will remain so until the end of time. But when they are in charge, things get better. You experience more order, more freedom, and more prosperity. At the very least, kids get to play at recess.


I grew up during the eighties, and I remember Ronald Reagan. That man was not perfect and not everything turned out flawless during that decade. But this is only a problem for liberals to deal with. For conservatives, there is no surprise that the Reagan years were flawed. This is what conservatism teaches. But I can say that those years were better than what came before and what came after. Reagan and Thatcher will always be in my memory as leaders who made the world a better place.

The world turned bad when Clinton got elected. Clinton was the antithesis of Reagan. This is because a leader with debased morals will lead the country down a path of debased morality. When Bush took over, he was little better as his administration was devoted to neoconservatism. Bush was too stupid to ever lead the country to a better place. He left the USA in worse shape not better. Then, there is Obama who is a complete mockery to this nation. He is a decent guy pushing a corrupted political philosophy. He is an intellectual lightweight.

A good leader needs to combine good morals with high intelligence. This is because immorality and stupidity are bad things. It is sad that I have to state the obvious here, but this is where this country finds itself. America is now stupid and evil. It now culminates with a guy like Donald Trump riding high in the polls. Can this country select an even more debased and foolish person than this guy? I suspect that his tenure in the White House would also be turned into a reality TV program.

I've also given some thought to the debate about the environment. Unfortunately, the debate is overwhelmed by the likes of Greenpeace and the environmental pantheists who believe nature is superior to humanity. The converse are the libertarians who believe pollution is tolerable as long as it stays on your property which it never does. Between the liberals and the libertarians, you would be lead to believe that those were your only two options. Nature is either a mother or a slave. Yet, before the debate became this polarized, there was the common sense approach of the conservationists. These were the ones who followed Teddy Roosevelt instead of John Muir, the proto-enviromentalist, or the Gilded Age industrialists who represented the laissez faire approach championed by libertarians today. Roosevelt gave us all those wonderful national parks and federally protected lands. The cool thing is that you can actually go to those places and enjoy. Muir would have locked them away like Area 51.

Finally, I am disheartened and discouraged by the synod on the family which is looking more and more like a cabal of heretics with orthodox bishops and cardinals invited to watch and weep as church teaching is trashed. And where is Pope Francis in all of this? Stacking the deck in favor of the heretics. It just boggles the mind. All I can do is pray and cry.


10.04.2015

Minimize and Maximize


Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.
LEO BABAUTA

It has been awhile since I have written about minimalism. I don't consider myself a minimalist anymore though I do pursue a brand of simplicity that I label as "voluntary poverty." The difference between minimalism and voluntary poverty is the same as the difference between foolishness and common sense. This essay is about common sense.

My wife and I have a running joke. We say to each other at various moments to "go wash your bowl." This comes from the Zen Habits blog and its creator, Leo Babauta. Now, I like Leo, but my wife thinks he is just a bum with a blog. This is why the "wash your bowl" thing is so funny to us because it is the sort of thing you would hear from someone who doesn't have to work for a living. You have to admit that life is pretty sweet when all you have to do to earn a living is barely write a blog and take a picture of your iMac with your new iPhone. If this is making you angry, go wash your bowl.

The reason I like Leo is that his one trick pony of simplifying is still a pretty good trick. People should simplify their lives as much as possible. It reduces stress. It reduces clutter. It helps the environment. It helps you become humbler. It saves money. There is much to recommend for living a minimalist lifestyle. The problem is when minimalism becomes the end instead of the means to an end.

The problem with minimalism hits you square in the face the moment you actually achieve a minimalist state of being. Once you have eliminated every last thing you can live without, you realize that minimalism is boring and empty. This is not living.


When washing your bowl becomes living death, the temptation is to return to the McMansion lifestyle of maximalism and the acquisition of material things. This is what 90% of the rest of society is doing or wishing they could do. The sad thing is that this full life is as empty as washing your bowl.

If satisfaction is not found at the extremes, you might conclude that it must be in the middle of those extremes. You think Aristotle might have it right with that Golden Mean thing. Perhaps that Buddhist middle way is the ticket. So, you reduce your clutter by half, and your life is only half as boring and empty. Balance offers some hope of having the best of both worlds with none of the downsides, but it never works out that way.

I prefer a path that I call the Way of Syzygy. A syzygy is just a pair of opposites. For instance, a warm fire on a cold day would be a syzygy. A cold beer on a hot day is another syzygy. Pleasure and pain is a syzygy. Syzygies abound in life and nature. There is light and darkness. There is good and bad. There is life and death. There is Heaven and Hell.

Now, you might be tempted to think I have replaced a Zen mindset with a Taoist mindset, but I am no Taoist. I am a Catholic, and I think the syzygy is the essence of common sense though it seems paradoxical at first glance. A great example of a syzygy in the Catholic tradition is Fat Tuesday. Fat Tuesday is known as Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday, but it is the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the pentitential season of Lent when you fast and abstain from selected treats as you work on your soul. Before this season begins, you feast because you need to get rid of all that rich food that will be spoiled by the end of Lent. It's also great fun. The city of New Orleans is famous for its Mardi Gras celebration that came from its intensely Catholic roots. Of course, fornication and drunken debauchery are not good things, but they do get the spirit right. Catholicism is a religion of feasts and fasts.

With minimalism, the fast has no accompanying feast. Life is reduced to sitting in an empty space washing your bowl. The point of having that bowl is to eventually put something in it like a nice vegan chili or tomato soup. You should wash your bowl, but you should also dirty that bowl with the same frequency.


The way of syzygy is to embrace two extremes or opposites simultaneously. For instance, you should work very hard six days out of the week and not hit a lick on the seventh day. You should combine gluttony with fastidiousness by eating a lot of food but only plant based food. You should be a miser with saving money but also charitable to the unfortunate.

With material things, you should be as minimalist as possible. With time, you should fill your days with as much activity as you can cram into a day. You probably wonder who lives like this, and you need only look at the monks, nuns, and friars who belong to religious orders. They live in poverty and simplicity, yet their lives are full of worship, service, study, work, prayer, and love. They are always busy. In short, you should minimize some things in order to maximize other things.

For ordinary people, I would tell you to declutter your home, reduce your wardrobe. and eliminate as many non-essential material items as possible. Then, get a bookshelf and fill that thing up. Get a dayplanner and fill every hour with something to do other than washing your bowl. I believe God gives people the things they need, but He also expects us to do things with the time we have. Empty your home but fill your time. The best way to fill your time is to give it away to others. Pour your heart out into the world, and it will come back to you full each time.

Embrace the extremes of minimalism and maximalism. It sounds difficult, but it isn't. It's not walking a tightrope while juggling chainsaws. This would be that ridiculous feat of "balance." Just go to the extremes, and it will work out fine for you. Then, you will conclude that this way of syzygy is wisdom and common sense. And you will be happier for it.