Friday, October 20, 2006

Musings of the Common Man – Part 1

You’ll have to excuse the corny title. I don’t know why I worded it that way. I haven’t listened to Copeland for weeks.

I often wonder about the way things are in the world. The things I wonder about are wide-ranging, including biology, physics, finance, society, religion, etc. Some of the questions are interesting enough that I make the time to research the issue and become informed on the subject. For most of my wonderings, however, I simply don’t have to time to become knowledgeable about all the things that I wonder about. Even if I made an extra effort to learn more things every day I couldn’t keep up because that process often leads me to new questions.
I think many of us are in the same boat. We live life with a sizeable portfolio of half-baked thoughts and misconceptions based on the holes in the information we have about the world. Eventually, we kind of get used to this idea and forget that the things we think are based on incomplete information; or maybe we just give up on the ideal of understanding the world.
An example of the frustration for me is that when the news has “experts” on whatever topic they are discussing I generally understand what they are saying but often I don’t understand why it is true. I wish I could call the show and ask the expert to justify his conclusions to a broader audience – perhaps to the level of a moderately-informed regular person. Hence the title of the post.
I don’t want to give up. I want to be a person who is continually learning about the world, even though I will never arrive at the point where I know it all.
With that said I want to bounce some of the things I’ve been thinking about off of you guys. Perhaps a little discussion on some of my musings (some of them rather old and dusty) will spur me to actually make the effort to answer my own questions. I apologize for the long post, but each subject didn’t merit its own post, you know, because my thoughts on them are so half-baked. Katie and I have already discussed many of these, but you know what they say: “Twelve heads are better than two.”*
Please feel free to challenge my logic, my assumptions, and my premises. In fact I encourage it. How else will I know if I’m wrong?

-On the stratospheric salaries of athletes and CEOs:
It seems like:
Athletes are not to blame. Don’t tell me any of you wouldn’t consider making a few million a year just for playing a game. People who are sports fans don’t have anyone to blame but themselves for high salaries of athletes. People who aren’t sports fans shouldn’t blame the athletes; they should blame the sports fans. Millions of people spend hundreds of dollars a year on tickets to professional sports games, apparel, and overpriced hot-dogs. That’s not even counting the time they spend in front of the TV subjecting themselves to advertisements where companies pay athletes to tell you to buy stuff. In short if you do any of the following things, you are contributing to the bank accounts of those athletes.
-Buy a ticket to a professional sporting event.
-Spend money at the concessions stand there.
-Buy sponsored apparel.
-Buy anything endorsed by athletes.
High executive pay happens for similar reasons. We shouldn’t wonder why the CEO of GE gets paid so much when we have a GE washer, dryer, dishwasher, and microwave. Every gallon of gas you pump from an Exxon station helps out Exxon-Mobil’s employees, including the CEO. Of course there are instances where the pay is too high, but that’s an issue for the owners (stockholders) of each company. The most effective way to complain is to speak the only language the shareholders understand: don’t buy their product.
Unanswered questions:
Why do people act like it's a mystery?
Why do people think it's unfair?

On the lack of interest in politics among our youth:
It seems like:
Similarly to the previous topic… I don’t think the youth are exclusively to blame. Politicians have a tendency to do the following things that contribute to the problem.
1. Be old.
2. Do unrespectable things.
3. Bring up lots of old dirt and try to pin it to their opponents.
4. Blather, blow hot-air, and use calculated rhetoric to distract from a lack of substance in their speeches.
5. Be boring.

Say what you will about Generation Y-ers, but one thing we can do is spot phonies. Maybe that is because we all had to read “Catcher in the Rye” in high school. I think that a lot of us see politics as a big game of Calvinball. The only thing keeping us from completely ignoring it is the fact that it actually has a real effect on us. I also think that a contributing factor is that our generation, now that many of us are living on our own and have to support ourselves, has a tendency toward disillusionment. We were told we should shoot for the stars, but we have had to find out that propelling projectiles heavenward doesn’t put food on the table or pay the electricity bill. Now we question we were taught, for better or for worse. (“Do what you love? Bah! Civic responsibility? Bah! Rotate your tires? Bah! Care about baseball? Bah!”)
Unanswered Questions:
Why do people act like it's a mystery?
Do people really act like it's a mystery, or is it just me?

On the council in heaven:
This is how I think it was. Tell me where I’m inconsistent with revealed doctrine.
God presented his plan. He asked for a sustaining vote. We were not required to sustain the plan right at that time, or perhaps time didn’t work the same way at um, that time.
Lucifer rebelled. His “plan” wasn’t really a viable plan - it would not have accomplished one of the purposes of sending us to earth, namely, to try us to see if we would obey God when given the choice and opportunity to disobey. Lucifer’s plan was really just a cover for his rebellion, or perhaps he was so in love with the potential for personal glory that he really did believe that he could convince Heavenly Father it was a good plan. The war in heaven ensued, where the rebels (comprised of the power hungry and fearful of the possibility of failure inherent in Heavenly Father’s Plan, I imagine) tried to recruit more spirits and the um, loyalists tried to convince rebels that the consequences of rebelling against God were bad. Perhaps some of the rebels were under the impression that Heavenly Father would change his mind if enough people spoke out against the Plan, as if it were a democratic process. (an erroneous understanding the principle of common-consent that is still made in the church in these latter days.) At some point the division bell rang, the final sustaining vote was recorded, and those that rebelled were cast out along with Lucifer.
Unanswered questions:
Did Lucifer realize he would be cast out in the end? If so, why did he rebel? Simple Megalomania?
Lucifer went on to play a role in the plan by tempting Adam and Eve. Was that part of the original Plan? How does that work? That would imply that part of the plan was that Lucifer would rebel.

Let me know what you guys think. If any of these turn out to be particularly interesting, maybe I’ll start a new post.

*See the post “Musings of the Common Man” on the web log “Salsa Night” (I’ve always wanted to do a circular reference.)


erin said...

Very interesting, Jon. I must admit that there have been many times I have growled at the injustice lolling about between my salaries and pro athletes...and I think the athletes themselves must have a little to do with it, though I think that we as a society have created our monsters by what you've described, so ultimately I guess the blame does end with us. (Was that all one sentence?) Things like the baseball strike back when are my only real support of that comment.

I think you've got a great point about the lack of interest in politics. I know I get so disgusted with the partisan mud-fights that go on in congress instead of dealing with real issues, sometimes I feel like taking bag and baggage up to Canada...and then I usually put in a call to my senator or representative that just puts me ever deeper on their do-not-like-list. I think part of the aversion to politics comes from the confusion of what any real issues are and what our politicians are doing to solve real problems in a responsible way. There are tons of good things going on and a lot of progress being made, but it seems that precious little of it occurs in Washington. That's not a fair comment, of course, but I'm going to leave it in. It is so frustrating (and frightening) to feel that more decisions are made based on R or D rather wrong and right.

As far as the war in heaven, I think this is so interesting. I think it's interesting to see how persuasive Lucifer can (and could) be. After all, his proposal was not just unwise--it was impossible. There is no way that we could have had our agency taken away. That is something that is as inherent as being an inteligence, I think. Nor was it possible to have us live the eat, drink, and merrious life without having the coordinating consequences. There is no way that could have happened. There are eternal laws that God himself cannot change, and I believe that inherent choice and cause/effect are part of that. Even so, there were plenty who followed Satan. And here's my little opinion about those who followed: I don't believe that it ever says that 1/3 followed Satan and were cast out--I think it always says "a third part." This is what I think (don't worry--I'd never bring this up in Sunday School): I think that these three parts are categories rather than percentages. I think, judgeing by human nature, there were those who were the stalwart followers and defenders of Heavenly Father and his plan, there were those who were right with Satan and his rebellion, and that there were probably a lot of lukewarm people who weren't ready to be martyrs (however that would work) but weren't ready to go AWOL either. Usually when God is really handing it out to sinners on earth, it's the ones who know exactly what they're doing and are openly rebelling who get it, but God is pretty merciful if there's a chance of change. I've come to see this third part who gets cast out as the bunch who were firm in their rebellion. I'd be willing to bet money that even the wavering ones were let to stay...but I guess we'll find that out another day. Hoo-weee! That was a long comment! Let me know if I'm out of line on any of these.

Jenny said...

Jon, I like posts like this for many reasons that I would list but it would take too long and Lu is about to wake up ...

Regarding athletes: grrrrr. I think you make a good point about the consumers supporting the athletic economy, but it doesn't make me happy that as a culture we think it's ok to spend that kind of money on games (anybody ever read Borges's "The Lottery in Babylon"?) I mean, if I have $150 laying around that I have no need of and my choices are 1) go to a pro sporting event, 2) give the money to some charity (for example, that amount would cover over half of an operation for a child with cleft palate in a developing country) and I consistently pick the sport over the charity, I think that's indicative of a fundamental problem in society's concept of entitlement.

I think the larger problem is that we're such an entertainment-oriented soceity. I mean, if I calculate what I have spent on books, dvds, and cds in my life, I'm sure it's equivalent to attending a lot of games—the caveat being that at least some of those books, movies, and songs have helped me to become more aware of the world around me and to think critically. But a lot of them were purely for mindless entertainment. I think growing up has curbed that trend somewhat in my resource use, but it bothers me when I find myself thinking "I deserve" rather than "I would like."

Back to atheletics: I'm just not convinced the structure of pro sports really contributes anything positive to society. And while there are the athletes who donate a lot of their time and money to good causes, they are the exception rather than the rule. I mean, when you derive your income and self-worth from your ability to perform physically, it seems like the other aspects of your identity might become a bit skewed ...

Ok, I'm going to stop now, but I'll be back :)

Nick said...

I could rant about any one of these, but I'll just choose one.

Youth and politics. Have youth EVER been interested in politics? I mean there was that whole 60's anomaly, but seriously, when have youth ever been interested in politics en masse? (theres my quota of french words) Talking to my mom who was in her twenties in the 60's, she went to a lot of rallies, but she says she never knew what they were for, just that it was the cool thing to do and all her friends were doing it. It was like going to a party, so with that one data point in hand, I don't think political activism among youth back then was as widespread as its been made out to be.

I echo Jon. Why is this a mystery to anyone? Though I don't think I agree with all the reasons. I think his reasons 4 and 5 are right on. Lets face it. Youth are mostly shallow airheads who think life revolves around them and if it doesn't involve texting all their 5000 friends on their cell phones, or involve some form of high inducing chemicals, or whos going out with who, etc etc, then they are not interested. I suppose it has gotten worse in the last several decades, but I don't see that kids have changed too much.

What has changed is the length of the teenage years. For most of my high school friends, the teenage years don't end until.... well, the jury is still out, but we're running on age 29 now.

So I guess what I'm saying is involvement in politics is more dependent on the maturity level of the individual more than anything else. We'll always have old, crusty, corrupt politicians, but if someone has a career, or at least has life goals, or have a spouse and kids, then they are more apt to be involved in politics (ie, vote).

JonnyF said...

On Sports:

I agree, Jenny. I think we have become an entertainment seeking society, and that it's a problem. In fact that's something that I'm still trying to grow out of as a young adult. Of course we need recreation. Participating in, attending, or watching sporting events isn't a bad thing in moderation. The problem is in spending too much time on it or becoming a fanatic. (Note that this is not the same as being a fan. For some reason the definitions have diverged over the years.) Fanaticism is, of course, a bad thing in any form (and not to be confused with zeal). Life requires balance.

On Youth’s disinterest in politics:

Nick, you focused on the attributes of youth that make them disinterested. I mostly focused on the things about the nature of politics in the U.S. that make young people disinterested. I think I may agree with you more, though I’ll tell you why I included #3 on my list.
In Michigan Dick DeVos (R, Grand Rapids) is running for governor against incumbent Jennifer Granholm (D, Lansing). Dick DeVos is the son of Amway co-founder Rich DeVos and was CEO of the company (now called Alticor) for several years in the 90s. He is very wealthy and has spared no expense campaigning. The Democratic party has spent almost as much money on ads attacking him for spending so much money among other things, including the opening of an Alticor factory in China while DeVos was running the company. DeVos defended the action, saying that factory was to produce goods sold in China, and so the company wasn’t making things in China to be sold in America. (Which would have constituted outsourcing Michigan jobs, which is a big no-no if you’re running for governor of Michigan, I guess.)
Anyway, the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party called a press conference to reveal that he had, right here in his hand, a package of facial tissues sold by Amway that said “Made in China”. Upon further investigation, it was discovered to be from before the factory in question was even built, before Dick DeVos was running the company, and it was produced by an outside contractor anyway. I guess the party chair expected a “gotcha” moment or something, but instead he ended up looking foolish. When I heard this I thought “Lame!” and turned off my radio.
When I was in college, I had only a passive interest in politics. After I got married and especially after I got a real job, bought a house and had a baby I found my interest in local and national political issues increasing. But over the last few months, I have found my interest waning, in part due to events like the one I described above. I think I can see myself having a rather cyclical interest in politics (perhaps reaching my peaks in non-election years). So I guess in citing the reasons I thought young people are disinterested in politics, I was projecting my own complaints onto others in my generation. I also really wanted to say “propelling projectiles.”

On the Council in Heaven:

I grew up in the church, and I remember occasionally having lessons where we talked about the premortal existence and about the council in heaven and the war in heaven. I think that until after my mission, my understanding went something like this:
1. God called a Council.
2. God asked for plans to make his children more like him.
3. Jehovah gave a plan.
4. Lucifer gave a plan too.
5. We all decided which one we liked better.
6. After careful consideration, God chose Jehovah’s plan.
7. Lucifer and those that chose his plan started making trouble and were cast out.
After my mission, my views changed into more of what I wrote in the post by a combination of study, religion classes, Sunday School, and probably discussions with my roommates, though I don’t remember any specific discussions. I kind of figured that there was a reasonable amount of consensus among members of the church who had tried to understand the issue that the council in heaven happened more or less how I described it.
In January, one of the Sunday School lessons was on the book of Abraham, specifically Chapter 3 which discusses the premortal life. A member of the ward whom I respect both spiritually and intellectually speculated about how wonderful Satan’s plan would have been, and gave the impression like, “For some reason that I don’t quite understand, Heavenly Father didn’t choose Lucifer’s plan.” I was mortified. Because his comment took so long, I didn’t have a chance to raise my hand and rebut with, you know, scriptures. Like Erin said, I don’t think God could have taken away our agency and remained God. The Sunday School teacher made, in my opinion, an inadequate attempt to discount the comment as speculation and quickly closed the meeting.
Anyway, you see why I think this topic is worth discussing. Come to think of it, I should probably reresearch it and write down all the references. It would make me feel better.

Whoa, talk about long winded. Okay, I promise I’m done for a little while.

Cabeza said...

1) On sports: I agree with what you say, Jon. And I don't know why people act like it's a mystery. People act like it's unfair because they make non-germain comparisons to teachers and firefighters who make significantly less and yet contribute more to society, or whatever. Honestly, I don't want teachers making too much more than they do now. If teaching were a profession that attracted people because of money, we'd have a whole lot of people we don't want teaching trying to get into the field. But that's another rant. On the other hand (back to sports salaries), I DO find it ridiculous when ball players go on strike to have their salaries raised even higher (Erin referrenced this). That one we can blame on the athletes.

I'd also like to tangentially comment on Jenny's tangential comment. I don't think that spending money on sports, books, or movies is necessarily wasteful. I agree that we are overly entertainment-oriented as a society, but there is definitely inherent value in these things. I don't need to convince you why literature, music, and art are important (and yes, I definitely think film is art (the right kind of film, cutting out and leaving behind the Fast and the Furious series, among others)). In addition, I think that the spectacle of athletic achievement does something important for society. It's sort of humanistic (that's bad), but there is something inspiring about seeing what the human body is capable of, stretching its limits, and inspiring others to reach for a higher form (that's good). I know that this isn't really the central focus of most sports today, but this noble thought still exists somewhere at the core of athletics. It does for Joe what art does for Algernon.

2) On politics and youth: People act like it's a mystery because people are dumb. I'm convinced that a lot of the problems that arise out of parent-child relationships and disaffected youth in communities find their root in the fact that people don't remember what it was like to be a kid. They either view childhood and youth through rose-colored glasses ("I was politically active when I was a child!") or they think that youth is some alien concept that they never experienced. The fact of the matter (in my opinion) is that: yes--political apathy among youth is a problem. However, you're not going to do anything to change it. But you can sow the seeds of political activism early on so that they'll care eventually. That's why we have civics classes in junior high and high school. That's why the Scouts do flag ceremonies and (supposedly) why kids do the pledge of allegiance in elementary school. The only reason that the voting age is 18 is because a lot of people think it's wrong that a lad can die for his country, yet not elect the leaders who sent him to his death. That's a good principle, but it doesn't mean that 18-year-olds will care about the elections. Fine. If they don't care, I don't want them voting. Everyone should eventually care (ideally, if we want representative democracy to be everything it's supposed to be), but we can't force it on anyone. Especially not the youth.

3) On why Satan is stupid: I once was taught this by a CES employee, and I feel good about it. It's not necessarily hard doctrine, but I don't think there's really much hard doctrine to turn to on your questions. Satan didn't just one day decide that he was going to rebel against the Plan and get himself kicked out of heaven. Satan's fall was the result of many choices that he made, leading him to the point where he openly rebelled against God. It makes sense to me that if we were in the premortal life for, well, eternity (how else do you define the amount of time we were there?), we made more choices than just "Do you sustain Our Heavenly Father's Plan?" An infinite number of days near Kolob suggests an infinite number of decisions leading up to the War in Heaven. This is what causes some intelligences to be greater than others: the making of correct choices. And that explains why Jesus is the greatest intelligence of all: he made ONLY right choices, even in the premortal life. Satan, the Son of the Morning, was also once a bright intelligence. But it only makes sense to me that he fell from glory as a result of many bad choices in the pre-earth life, not just one big bad one. From there, the rest of the answer to your first question is rather simple: Lucifer almost certainly knew he would be cast out of heaven for rebellion. But by this point he was a slave to sin and his poor choices. There are so many people in the world that know what they're doing is wrong and make bad choices in spite of obvious consequences. But they continue in their paths because they're slaves to their habits and addicted to sin. That's the way I figure it, anyway.

As to whether it was part of the plan for Lucifer to rebel, that's a bit tougher. It raises the old foreordination/predestination/question of agency debate. Again, here's my personal take: Lehi taught us that there must be opposition in all things. I don't think this is a requirement for God to set up a scenario a certain way; I believe that this is natural law. There will always be an opposing force, a dissenting opinion, an adversary. I don't believe that God chose one of his children and set him and another "third part" aside to be the tempters. I think He just knew that it would happen, because that's human nature (intelligence nature? spirit nature?). So, yeah. Opposition was part of the plan, but not because that's what would cause the requirement of the Savior. The Savior is part of the plan because there was naturally going to be opposition. Our current Lucifer happened to be the one who made the poor choices that led up to his playing that part of the plan.

And, as a final remark to this already unwieldy response, I'd like to point out that you just wanted to say "division bell" so that you could reference Pink Floyd.