On not watching the news

I don’t watch the news. I don’t think that’s a secret.

Why? Well, that’s a bit of a rabbit hole. Lots of reasons, really, though at the end of the day it might just be about temperament: I just don’t enjoy it (especially cable news). It makes me feel gross. But not because of the content, primarily, but because of the tenor and tone of the presentation. I might listen to a podcast that attempts to present the same information or perspective in a different format.

That aside, when I say that I don’t watch the news, people tend to ask something along the lines of “how do you stay informed?”

My answer has always been that I follow highly focused trade publications where I can trust the authors have at least some technical understanding of the things they’re talking about.

But that’s an evasion, isn’t it? Dodging from one kind of news to another doesn’t solve the fundamental problem (that we’ll get to shortly). It just means that I follow a different kind of news.

The real answer to “how do you stay informed” is “how do I stay informed about… what?”

This is two questions, really. The first question is more about filtering. How do I select from the vast quantity of information available? How do I sip from the firehose?

But this is again a kind of dodge. It’s also (I guess) sort of technically interesting but not really theoretically interesting, at least to me. You can build an algorithm for this (or at least imagine one).

What I’m interested is whether or not we can ever be informed about anything at all, as it actually is.

This might seem like a strange or useless question. Of course we can be informed! What else is the news?

We’ve gotten to the point where we have to define our terms, sadly. What do you mean when you say “informed”? Do you mean simply that you have some information about something? Or that you have some accurate information about something? Or that you’ve built some kind of conceptual shortcuts to thinking about things?

But let’s put that aside for now. Let’s think about the media. Specifically, what does the media do? How does it work? What’s it for?

Maybe it’s helpful to think about what it does by looking at a time where there was (roughly) no media. Take, let’s say, 500 years ago. You live in a town. You’re a peasant. You don’t have the concept of “media” (you may not even have the concept of “information”!). All that you know about the world is either your direct experience of the world or experiences of the world that have been relayed to you by other people. You have either your lived experience or hearsay. Your world is small, necessarily.

You, the peasant, have a very small experience of the world. But at the same time you have a much less mediated experience of the world. Yes, it’s still mediated by your mind, and yes, your indirect experiences are mediated by other people, but still. You’re closer to some hypothetical “reality”.

Now introduce newspapers. Your sphere of awareness grows. But does it? What you read in a newspaper is more mediated experience. It’s literally written by other people who have different lived experience than you, who might not even live in the same physical sphere as you, who might not approach the world using the same intellectual tools you do. This is hearsay but on a grander level, with an artifice of “journalism” built up around it to reinforce its legitimacy (another category the peasant doesn’t have access to, by the way; a way to express this is that journalism is a social construct).

If you read something in the paper, how closely does that something resemble actual reality (assuming, again, that such a thing can be approached in any real way)? It may. It may not. You have no way, short of being there yourself when the thing happens, of knowing. Your experience, your knowledge, is completely mediated by the newspaper, by the writer, by the editors, by the owners, by the reporters… the chain of mediation is incredibly long and complex. By the time the paper gets to you, with these things in mind, would you be surprised that it is by and large not “accurate”?

That’s just a newspaper. It’s pretty easy to not read a newspaper in ye olden times. You had to go to a place and buy the thing and then sit down and read it. And even when you did read the paper it’s not like there were a million different papers written with your weird proclivities, inclination, or temperament in mind. There were, what… 3? 4?

Even if you imagine that each brand of paper has its own mediative approach (that is, they tend to mediate or warp reality in a particular direction), it’s still pretty simple to arrive on a common set of facts. 3 or 4 perspectives can talk amongst themselves.

Roll this forward. The innovations in media now encapsulate more and more sense data. We move from static text, to voices on the radio, to faces on the television. We invent more and more clever ways to essentially hack the attention spans of people. We move the media closer and closer to our own bodies. What you once had to go out and purchase is then delivered to your house, then to a box that lives inside your house, and then to a rectangle that lives in your pocket. (The next step must be some kind of live-streaming implant. I’m happy to be a grandpa about that: count me out.) We could give this a catchy name like, say, the axis of sensation.

Here we reach what I consider the two pinnacles of mediated reality: Cable news and social media (more on that later). Cable news operates at such a frenetic pitch and speed that it seems desperate to overwhelm, to occupy as much sense data as it can. Watching it feels like taking some kind of stimulant.

But at least when you’re watching cable news you have those same 3 or 4 channels to watch. At least you’re a mostly passive participant, other than changing the channel if you’re so inclined. Social media on the other hand (and I won’t dwell on this too much; enough people are screaming about this at the moment), allows me to participate in my own contextualization, to essentially select from a vast array of providers who will (initially) tailor my experience to my perspective and (eventually) optimize me by optimizing my attention (inevitably) to the extremes of that perspective. We could give this a name, too. Let’s call it the axis of choice.

We start out in prehistory very close to zero on both axes, sensation and choice. As we expand into societies we start (generally) to expand along the axis of sensation, but very slowly, since we’re talking, essentially about hearsay.

With the invention of modern media, we start expanding along the axis of sensation and choice (slowly at first, only a few newspapers that you have to read) and then more quickly (10 radio stations to listen to) and more quickly (20 TV channels to watch) and more quickly (120 channels + cable news) and finally arriving at the current moment where there are more “channels” than you could hope to count encapsulating every sort of sense data imaginable thanks to the internet. The speed at which we progress along these axes increases. We have less time to adjust. And as our realities become more self-selected but at the same time more mediated (or constructed, or, if you prefer, simulated), we are in very real danger of losing touch with any grounding in reality at all.

This is what I mean when I ask “informed about what”? If I listen to the media and I hear about some war, I don’t experience the war. I’ve never experienced a war. I don’t have any way of contextualizing the story I’m being told, no way to match it against lived experience, no way of understanding it in terms of lived experience. All I have to contextualize it is other stories of war that I’ve been told before. I can overlay this story with that story and see if the stories agree, but to what end? What is this other than comparing two fictions to eachother? And how could I know?

You know what this feels like. I know you do. This mediation of reality is laid bare when the media covers (badly) something you’re familiar with. My person domain has always been computers, formerly hardware, now software. But media accounts of computer-related happenings are usually either completely wrong or at least so glossed and simplified that they might as well be wrong.

Then you move along to the next thing and forget the lesson you’ve just learned. But how can this be? If they’re materially wrong about this thing, what’s to say they’re not materially wrong about that thing? So when my lived experience disagrees with the mediated reality presented to me, I choose my lived experience. This seems obvious (don’t @ me). But how should I approach subjects extending beyond my lived experience? I could crowdsource the lived experience, but what would that be but journalism (only worse)?

Thus, how can I assume I’m informed when I read or watch or listen? Can I really say that comparing a bunch of fictions to other previous fictions is better than never being subject to these fictions at all? Or am I supposed to be content with eking out what little drops of reality I can get? Is it even possible to compare and contrast all these competing worldviews to arrive at some Frankenstein’s monster of a composite thing all pasted together?

I don’t know the answer to these Big Questions. But I think they’re worth asking. I also genuinely think they’re worth answering! It seems like being accurately informed about the state of things as they actually are should help me vote, help me help others, help me organize resistance to unjust status quos. But without some kind of critical analysis of what exactly I’m consuming (my “media diet”), how can I even believe what I see? How can I set forth a set of facts that I think we should (or even can) agree on?

The answer to this central question is unclear. All the tools at our disposal have the same simulation problem. Some weakly, some strongly.

In the meantime… I don’t watch the news. Maybe you shouldn’t either.

Bullet points for a Monday morning

  • You think you’re most valuable as a programmer. But somehow you keep getting dragged back into crap work like figuring out how migrate data in and out of an accounting application. I don’t even have the luxury of pretending I’m bad at this crap.
  • I’ve blogged so little in the last few years I’m largely unfamiliar with this new WordPress interface. I certainly don’t find it very user friendly. Is there a “list” block I can use? (It turns out having the visual editor turned on is helpful here, and also yes, there is a list block).
  • Trudeau in brownface is kind of what I expected, I guess? I’ve never been a fan of this kind of dredge, unless it’s obvious that the figure in question is still a latent racist (and let’s be honest, there’s not no evidence of that with Trudeau). I look forward to all the folks who said it was no big deal for their guy to now say it’s no big deal for the other folk’s guy. Just locker room brownface, etc. (I fully expect zero non-hypocrites here.) Or hey, maybe this will end up being a real power move, really appealing to the sensibilities of boomers like who really seem to love racist (often orange) shitheads.
  • There’s a lot of folks in my life whose opinions I don’t really take very seriously. I’m not perfect, sometimes it’s just because I don’t like them. But usually it’s when they’ve shown a constant disregard for even attempting to find some kind of truth. So, if you’ve constantly gobbled down every dumb moral panic (P&G are satanists, Saturday morning cartoons are teaching New Age stuff, rampant sexual abuse in daycares), which could be at least excused for being pre-internet hoaxes, but if you’re into blaming cancer on epigenetics, or antivaxx, or global warming denier, or any of those class of mental defects, you’ll have to pardon me if I don’t take your stance on anything too seriously. In this day and age there’s no excuse to be ignorant.
  • We live in the postmodern era, like it or not. Everything is perspective. The internet enables a sort of fragmenting of consensus. It might just be the case that wide societal consensus is no longer even possible, and was only ever possible because of the stabilizing (read: repressive) race and gender based power structures, and the real physical inability of folks of different persuasions to find eachother, especially outside of cities. Public intellectuals who we can consider anti-postmodern (or conservative, or regressive), largely intuit that if we want to roll back perspectivism (and inclusion, and tolerance, and other interpolations), we should rebuild those power structures. This makes sense of why in the postmodern state, Jordan Peterson and white supremacists and incels sound largely alike. They’re just concentric circles around the same idea. Whether it’s that there are a certain number of genders (because science says so, lobster lobster), or white folk are genetically superior (because science, and don’t forget James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA with Crick, was a huge racist who believed stuff like this), or that women exist simply to be used (or any of the other… wide varieties of incel delusion), they’re all trying to do the same thing. And that same thing looks a lot like the 1940s and 1950s.
  • It’s not hard to see why JP/nazis/incels/Trump would appeal to Evangelicals especially. Evangelicals are (only technically these days, but still, it’s in the air) all about Biblical authority in a very expansive (read: impossible) way. The idea of language as a tool to interpolate different, contrasting, valid perspectives is brushed aside, since we have everything we need to know in the Bible. It just so happens that the “good old days” of the Evangelical imagination coincide with the good old days of the Petersons and Nazis of the world. Birds of a feather, where the feather is longing for a time that no longer exists and only ever did for a small slice of people.
  • It’s an odd marriage: Peterson in is trying (badly) to articulate gender roles in terms of a foundation (the science of lobsters) that disputes the Evangelical foundation of gender roles (the Bible). Note that Peterson find the Bible a source of useful myths but is not himself a Christian. I’d actually find it hilarious if what finally caused the downfall of creationism wasn’t the literal mountains of evidence to the contrary but a desire to keep genders “like they always were”. It’s important to remember that just because two different groups are looking for some kind of rational foundation upon which to build their constructs is not the same thing as having aligned goals. It’s possible to be smothered by your bedfellows. The church and state are a great (tangential) example: the state is always poison. The state church is a poisoned church. The Evangelical church is a poisoned church.
  • Of course the ability to look at the “truth” of the 1940s/50s/60s from other perspectives is actually a huge gift. We start to see that for a large swath of marginalized folk, those “good old days” are in fact anything but. They are (or at least can be) generators of intergenerational socio-political effects. We can, as a society attempt to address these effects with collective action.
  • But addressing these effects is of course a tacit admission that the traditional white male perspective isn’t the only one worth considering. Which is how the white male traditionalists manage to see fairly benign policies such as affirmative action and even immigration into tools of oppression. If you see yourself ideally embedded in a society that elevates your group, anything that threatens that feels like persecution. This despite white male traditionalist hegemony being largely intact in the West, only fraying slightly at the edges. The histrionics around minority representation are bonkers, at least from this angle; at this rate dismantling the patriarchy and posthumanity are going to happen at the same time.
  • I think this sketches out a framework for understanding why Evangelicals, Petersons, Nazis, incels, and their ilk all want to glom together. They can smell the same goals. But this is what makes Trump such a weird idol for them all (and they tend to looooove Trump). He’s probably the nadir of post-foundational truthiness. He makes vague promises about returning America to some former glory (which, as we can see above, is absolutely a dogwhistle), and spends his time persecuting widows, orphans, and foreigners, and a bunch more beside, but for all that is just virtue signalling. He hasn’t done what they all want because he can’t do what they all want. The cat is out of the bag.
  • This hasn’t been a very good Bullet Points. I’m sorry. But I need to go to work now, so…

Signals

Not knowing the difference between weather and climate isn’t disqualifying. Everyone has blind spots, lack of knowledge in particular areas, whatever.

But it is a signal.

You put enough signals together, you get a picture. The whole picture might disqualify.

Maybe someone refuses to learn the difference between weather and climate. That’s a stronger signal. Or maybe they display their ignorance like a badge of honour. An even stronger signal.

Yeah I still do this

It’s been a rough start to 2019 so I’m going to blog a bit.

2019 So Far: I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying

Take the good with the bad. We had a sort of great vacation in Parry Sound. No kids, thanks to our collective families for making that happen. But we were both sick. Good with bad.

I cracked a tooth over the holiday season. Perfect timing. Didn’t need that molar anyways. Couldn’t chew for a week though that’s probably a good thing considering my waistline. The tooth has been extracted (that was a whole thing) and I got to experience a bone graft for the first time. Not often I can say I got to experience something for the first time now that I’ve started my long (ish) descent to the grave. I’m nearer to 40 than I am 30. Weird to say that; I used to think I wouldn’t care but I guess I do, a little. I’m getting an implant, and I’m told they’re Tooth 2.0, improved on the original model.

There’s not a whole lot about my life I’d change, but if I could go back I’d take better care of my teeth. I know you’re thinking… but what about that time you did this thing or that thing. Well, yeah, sure, but I’d take better care of my teeth and maybe the rest would follow. Are teeth magic? Maybe.

The whole family got beat up by the end of December, beginning of January. Kids are in school so that’s our pipeline to every infectious disease this side of the plague. I thought I had a good immune system. Maybe I did. Now I don’t.

We just need to get healthy, that’s all. Big ask, but I’m asking.

Also the basement drain just backed up, so there’s that. Apparently there’s a building trap buried in our basement against all common decency so if you want to come dig that out, I’ll get out my chequebook.

Grey’s Anatomy

I used to own a bunch of high horses. Trashy TV was one of them. Dance music and electronic music was another.

A bunch of years has cured me. I listen to EDM while I work. I watch trashy TV to unwind. Grey’s Anatomy in particular. At least it’s not reality TV, amirite? (I do the sweet sweet blow, not that dirty meth stuff.)

That said, the whole falling in love with Denny Ducet’s ghost thing is the show at its nadir. Like, come on, I get that you have to drive the dramatic throughline of the show or whatever, but the GHOST of DENNY DUCET? The GHOST. Of DENNY. DUCET.

[muffled catawampus]

Oh and Meredith is so exactly my type, it’s not even funny. I’d be her McSweaty.

Do What You Love As Long As It’s Not Stabbing People

Oh hey, I don’t hate my job anymore because it turns out you might not hate your job if you’re doing something you love.

Should have turned to software development years ago. I might not be going as grey as I’m going.

Hell Is Other People

I swore on this very blog once. I used the word “hell” outside its proper brimstone context and got pulled into a church meeting about it. I respect that those folks were sincere in their beliefs and they genuinely wanted me to do the right thing, but how crazy bonkers is that?

Anyways. I have interviews tomorrow. There’s nothing I hate more than interviews. I don’t like meeting a bunch of new folks, I don’t like evaluating them, I don’t like talking about their futures, I don’t like being the one with all that responsibility, I just don’t like any of it. I want to build cool shit. But it turns out I can only do so much, so… Interviews.

I’ve spent most of today just researching interview techniques, questions to ask, exercises to do, and finding at the same time that if I wasn’t designing this interview myself I would absolutely BOMB it. Like, no question.

Also big O notation. See why it’s a thing. Hate its guts.

Just Some Random Opinions

Destination weddings: Hate them. Stupid waste of money. Except that I’m kind of jealous that some folks have that kind of money and that they just assume others have that kind of money. On the other hand if you pay for me to come to your destination wedding I love them and I probably love you. I have a Dutch soul.

Generations: Dumb concept. Also useful concept. It’s super handy to be able to refer to Baby Boomers. Mostly in the context of shitting all over the world and future generations. Boomer and Gen X hate for Millennials is getting out of hand. You made the world that Millennials inhabit you rabid potatoes.

Pronouns: Anything other than “he” or “she” stresses me out. But me being stressed out is not a great reason to start a social movement with its own Patreon. Think of “they” as a way to exercise that tiny bit of neuroplasticity you’ve got left. In a completely unrelated note, if you start an all-beef died you give me carte blanche to ignore everything you say; you are not a stable person. Ad hominem loses to fruit of the poisonous tree.

Italicising foreign phrases: I’m too lazy to do it.

The Ways My Life Could Have Gone

I’m not a huge fan of me. I internalised all that fundamentalist Protestant guilt, I guess. I hate that about myself, and you can see how that’s the sort of worm that doesn’t turn.

Anyways. I’m not going to go into what made me think this recently, but I’m so thankful for Laura. Not just for who she is (of course for that!) but for who she isn’t.

That doesn’t seem like it would be a very important thing in a spouse… but it is. And I’m not just talking in abstractions like “I’m so glad Laura doesn’t like stabbing people”, but concretions. I’m glad she’s not part of the flypaper. I’m glad we got out together.

That would be enough, but she’s a wonderful person, a fantastic mother, and last but not least (and she’ll kill me for this) she’s got a dynamite booty.

But she likes chocolate.

Nobody’s perfect.

That’s All Folks

I’ve been serious and earnest for too long. Has to stop. I need to get back to assembling the deck for tomorrow. Pray some luck my way.

Bullet Points For A Thursday Afternoon

I’ve not written anything in months. My excuse is I’m not a professional writer. But here we are, midday, and I’m between projects and facing one I frankly don’t want to work on. So I’ll procrastinate in the best possible way: a LIST OF OPINIONS.

– Cannabis has been legalised in Canada. I’m pretty sure this calls for a sermon series through the book of Judges or something. If you know what I’m talking about there, congrats, you’re one of like seven people. Anyways, it’s probably for the best, question mark? I dunno. We’ll have to see how it all shakes out. At least we’re not going to be putting folks in prison anymore for this stuff, so this is one less stick to beat the disenfranchised with.
– I put quantum computing and nuclear fusion in the same tech bucket. Doesn’t work right now, it might in the future, and if it does, it won’t be what they promised. And it will be horrifically complicated.
– We’ve long past the point where anyone can be expected to know about or hold reasonable opinions about anything. Doesn’t stop folks from trying, though. Gotta talk to the experts, and even then…
– The last game I really enjoyed was Prison Architect. Before that it was Minecraft. That said, PA is too shallow and Minecraft is now a bit too much.

Be Grateful

I have a long blob of text in me. Not for right now, but at some point. You know how these things are… They boil away on the back burner somewhere until the pot overflows and a blog post falls out and the metaphor stops working.

Anyways. I’m a huge whatever-the-opposite-of-a-fan is of Jordan Peterson but one thing he said got me thinking. Usually when this happens it’s an unproductive rabbit hole of “oh my goodness Jordan Peterson is either a moron or an evil genius”, but this one’s actually ok. I think. You tell me.

He was talking about gratefulness. Now, the context he used it in was this sort of trip-back-to-the-50s bullpuckey where people who try to make society better are ungrateful for what they already have (which… I mean… just think about that for a picosecond). It’s a fair point, though, we definitely should be grateful for what we’ve inherited in this society. The boat floats. It’s good.

But I don’t think we should set our aim on scary secret postmodern cabals in dusty back rooms of French universities who somehow improbably control the levers of an entire generation’s thought. I think we should aim at ourselves.

We’ve entered a really sort of toxic time in North America. Yeah, Trump, all that, but he’s a symptom. He’s just the discoloured surface of the abcess.

Has everyone forgotten that we all exist together? In a society? Part of a collective whole?

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat on a freshly built deck larger than my house that has an outdoor kitchen larger than my actual kitchen backing on to a private lake and had the people that own this wonderful place tell me they’re taxed to death.

Like… what?

(I can actually tell you how many times: It was once.)

I’ve heard this exact phrase so many times in the last few months: “Taxed to death”. You’re sitting on top of this massive pile of achievement and trying to say you want to give less back?

I say “give back” because that’s important.

Look, you worked hard. I get that. You’ve told me. I get that you’re in Cancun five times a year because you worked hard and you want to enjoy the fruit of your labour. But lots of people work hard, all around the world, and most of them get nowhere much. You’re a sample size of one.

You can’t trust your own gut on these things. Your gut wants to tell you that your success is because you worked hard, and your failures are because of bad situations or a thousand other things. You so desperately want to buy into that hero narrative that our culture (and by “our culture” I mean “the United States”) wants to sell you, and you haven’t thought about it long enough to realise that no, wait, it’s not just me.

You can’t be grateful for something you think you never got.

But you did.

The roads. The workers. The regulations. The healthcare. The police. The stability. The peace. All this stuff, and so, so much more. It doesn’t happen by accident. (And to Mr Peterson, respectfully, a lot of it build by the social reformers that you would have railed against were you born 75 years earlier.)

You worked hard. But you didn’t work hard in a vacuum. And you were lucky. Let’s just face facts. You were born in a time, in a place, had the right idea at the right time, and were able to execute the idea. Maybe you failed a bunch and eventually it paid off.

It’s find to want money to be spent wisely. It’s fine to want responsible governance. But what you don’t get to do is pretend your deserve to keep all your marbles and go home.

Be grateful.

Pay your damn taxes.

In The Beginning

I wish the Bible came with an introduction called “How To Read The Bible”. I really do. But it doesn’t. So we end up reading it a whole bunch of different ways, ways that we sometimes don’t even realise.

It’s important to remember that every act of reading the Bible is an act of interpretation. If you read a passage and say “God said it, I read it, it’s a science textbook”, you’re interpreting. You might feel like you’re taking the simplest possible approach, but it’s still interpretation.

When you read it, when you interpret it, you bring something to the table. You bring yourself, your worldview, your biases, your baggage, your affiliations, all that stuff. It’s a fish-in-water sort of thing. You don’t really feel it until you’re swimming upstream.

I’ve thought a lot about this. I mean, really thought. If you look at the posts on this blog (few as they are of late), a bunch of them are about scripture, about how to deal with the text.

Because we have to deal with the text. We have to deal with what it says and what our culture says. We have to deal with what is says and what science says. We have to deal with what it says and what our experience says. We have to deal with it because a simple (though I would argue not simple at all) reading of the text brings us up against some really hard stuff. We end up conflicted about reality.

Take the creation narrative.

Let’s touch that third rail for a minute.

The Bible starts with this (to our eyes) recounting of how the world was created. But do keep in mind that word “how”. I’ll come back to that later. Read it literally. God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. It’s not ambiguous. The timeline is a little confusing and some of it seems a bit out of order, but put that to the side for now. 6 days, 6 literal days. This is the simplest possible reading.

This brings us up against some facts about the world. The world is incredibly old. The fossil record, sediment records, rock, ice, all this stuff tells us the world is incredibly old. We see a history full of starts and stops in the story of life, blossomings and extinctions, all over the course of billions of years.

The story that science tells and and the story that Genesis tells us are in direct contradiction.

Here’s where you choose your side. Either you keep your Bible story or you keep your science story. You don’t get to do both. I mean, there have been lots of attempts to synthesise the two sides, but most of them fail the laugh test (a thousand years are like a day, anyone?).

This is an incredibly dangerous place to be. It’s a place of turning away. For many people, if you must–as the fundamentalist would say–accept the word of the Lord over the word of Men, the Bible ends up being the thing that goes. You go to university or simply get curious about the world and you find yourself swamped in evidence that the fundamentalist’s word of the Lord is in fact a bunch of fairy tales.

I’m sure some people can live in this tension. But most people don’t like to. I don’t like to.

For a long time I looked for a way out. I listened to a lot of stuff by hucksters like Ken Ham, people so desperate to reinterpret the world in light of their reading of the Bible, they will literally misrepresent the laws of thermodynamics.

I realise a lot of people will part ways with me here, but I felt that there was an intellectual dishonesty in denying the truth so I could accept the Truth of the Bible. I felt like all truth must be God’s truth.

And I thought about this for a long time.

I’m not in fundamentalist circles anymore. I’m not buffered by a group of like-minded people who can come alongside me and help me, tell me I’m part of the misunderstood minority who know the Truth, that the world is simply out to destroy God with their theories.

One day I started reading up on different approaches to Creation. Specifically the Roman Catholic approach. Now, being open to considering the Roman Catholic approach to anything was enough pretty crazy, considering I’m out of the Reformed church, which has a sort of Luke-Skywalker-in-the-dark-side-cave relationship with the RCC. That aside, it was incredibly refreshing to see an organization affirming (after some waffling, sure) that the truth we see in the world is God’s truth. That the story told in Genesis is not at odds with the story in the soil.

But how?

See, I was bringing so much of myself and my capital-M Modern worldview to the text. I wanted it to be true like a textbook should be true, not like a “true because it shows dragons can be beaten” true. I projected that desire onto the Bible.

And just to be very, very clear, this is not something Bible demands. The dichotomy between what I see and what I read is no dichotomy at all. This is a thing of my own making, a thing created by our collective desire to out-world the world, to out-fact the fact-finders. It is a constraint I put on the text, a dangerous and unnecessary constraint, I test of faith that no one should have to pass.

I’ve still got that inside of me, though. You grow up a certain way, you get conditioned a certain way, you can’t just think yourself out of. (I don’t like swearing on tv, but not because I feel some strong objection to it, but because part of me thinks “my mom would hate this”.) Reading the Bible a different way feels like a cheat, sometimes. I know it’s not. Trying to honour the text in what it was meant to be, in the context it was written, for the people it was written to, to take that and read it into my own life is a wonderful gift, a valuable thing.

But somewhere in the back of my head is that little fundamentalist golem who tut tuts while spinning fine guilt out of scriptural hay.

Anyways.

So how do I read the Bible? Well, I try to approach it by asking the text itself what it’s supposed to mean. Not to me. But to the people who it was written to. We’re talking a tribe or nation that didn’t have a scientific method, a group of people with a completely different cosmology–if you can call it that–and worldview, suffused as they were in the creation myths of other people. God chooses to speak into that context.

The word wasn’t written to me. For me, yes. But not to me. That’s a critical difference.

The text doesn’t describe how God created the world, not really. It doesn’t talk about processes. It says God speaks the world into existence, creating a world that he can dwell in, a sort of temple that he can inhabit. It’s not meant to describe process. It’s meant to describe purpose. What is the purpose of the world? As a resting place for the glory of God.

This isn’t an emptying of the text, some kind of liberal scholastic way of pouring out all the good stuff and filling it up with evolutionary nonsense. It’s a way to allow the spirit of God to use the text to move us thousands of years after the text was written, in our own unique context, as fish in our own kind of water. Because we need that; we are immersed in a world that only cares about process, drowning in its own materialism, unable to answer “why”. It’s all there in this magnificent prologue, the creation of a world to be a place inhabited by God.

We see that fulfilment of that in person and work of Jesus Christ, in the promise of reconciling to himself all things, of his victory over death and the grave, of his kingdom victorious.

This isn’t kicking out the bricks from under the rest of the Bible. The opposite: It brings forward a new dimension. It allows us to participate in the original intention of the text. The creation narrative stood in opposition to the creation myths of the surrounding nations at the time–you needed 10 gods to do this stuff, check out Yahweh–and it stands in opposition the spirit of our age as well. Your philosophy is nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s going to die, come watch TV? Have I got news for you!

You’re not doing God any favours by denying that he can use a process like evolution to achieve his purposes. I mean, think about the Bible. It was written and assembled by a bunch of scribes, anonymous authors, redactors, etc. And yet we have no issue saying that scripture is a product of inspiration, because of course God can guide those many people, God can inhabit that process of assembly. Or, more recently, think about how we arrived at the Bible as we know it now: A series of people sat in judgement of the various texts and tried to discern which ones were inspired. We don’t think about that too often, but there’s God again, inhabiting a process (which a sizeable portion of the church disagrees on, I might add).

I’m going to close this out by quoting William J. Webb: I might be wrong. I don’t think I am, but I’m human and I might just be wrong. I think I stand on the side of an emerging consensus seeking to free the Bible from the stranglehold of fundamentalism (and I don’t mean to be antagonistic if you see “fundamentalist” as a badge of honour) in the west. But, you know, I could be wrong.

Blindingly obvious

Assume there are infinite universes. You don’t actually have to believe this. Just… imagine. Infinite universes with infinite possibilities. We’ll call it the multiverse.

Let’s imagine we map all the moments in the history of our world to separate universes. So what happened five minutes ago? Different universe. And it might as well be, right? We can’t access the past in any real way other than looking at history and memories.

Take a universe from, say, 500 years ago. It’s not super important when, but a few hundred years seems good for illustrative purposes. It’s quite a bit different. Imagine being able to go from this universe to that universe and have a conversation with a someone. Anyone. Doesn’t matter who.

Think about all the things that are blindingly obvious to you. The earth goes around the sun. Stuff is made of smaller stuff. Time is relative. Democracy is the best form of government. Free speech is sacred. Whatever. Stuff you think is kind of axiomatic. Imagine explaining these things to that someone.

How might that go?

Well, probably not very well. Things aren’t blindingly obvious instantly. In fact they’re not even blindingly obvious from culture to culture in the here and now, especially when you move away from rigorously provable things like “the earth goes around the sun”.

Now imagine someone comes from a future universe to talk to you. They start telling you stuff that seems blindingly obvious to them.

How might that go?

Again, probably not well.

Why is that?

Dying is worse

It’s important to remember that solution to a lot of problems looks like enabling the problem. It’s OK to acknowledge this. It’s OK to be frustrated by this. But it’s important to not get locked into a “pure” morality—or, to put it another way, it’s critical to be flexible about solutions.

That’s not to say we can’t disagree about these things. Of course we can! But don’t disagree reflexively (don’t use the moral muscles you’re used to). Disagree reflectively. Think about whether or not there might be something else at play when talking about problems and their solutions. Is there a deeper problem? Can it be fixed or treated or dealt with in a way that seems unintuitive?

Take racism. Just for right now let’s put systemic racism aside and use the common “discriminating on the basis of race” definition.

We can all agree that discriminating on the basis of race is wrong. But then aren’t affirmative action programs racist?

We shouldn’t be afraid to say… yes. They are. They are absolutely discriminatory. Because we’re not trying to fix “discrimination on the basis of race” with affirmative action. That’s not the problem. The problem is something else, a deeper, more pervasive problem that has the effect of discriminating on the basis or race without seeming to actually do that.

We’re not trying to fix people; we’re trying to fix systems. The system is the deeply embedded discrimination built into our hiring practices, university selection processes, and so forth. Where qualified candidates are being denied opportunities because they’re a certain race. We do that by intentionally making space for these people. This has the local effect of discriminating against someone, but the system-wide effect of making a more just society for everyone. (And obviously this is just one thing that we do; there’s opportunity for lots more.)

Or take drugs. We can probably all agree that being addicted to drugs is bad.

So then aren’t safe injection sites just enabling addiction? Isn’t decriminalization just tacit approval?

I hope you can see where I’m going here. It’s important to say… yes. Safe injection sites do, on the face of it, enable addiction. But they do that in order to try to prevent worse things like disease and death. And decriminalization aims to treat addiction instead of punishing it. Both these initiative aim to create a path out of addiction. Dying is worse. Going to jail is worse.

These solutions aren’t super-intuitive.

But maybe that’s an indictment of our moral imagination. The idea that you can punish someone into not taking drugs, or that tut-tutting at racial slurs is going to fix racism… these shouldn’t be the first tools in our moral toolbelt. Sometimes it takes a deeper imagination (a more prophetic imagination) to seek answers to problems.

Words don’t have meanings

Seriously. Words don’t have meanings.

I mean, this sounds pretty silly. Of course words have meanings. You’re reading this blog post, it makes sense, you understand it, words have meanings.

So this is going to seem pretty pedantic, but let’s think about you think about when you think about “have”. I have an arm. The arm is part of me. What I call “I” contains this thing called “arm”. Think of any of a billion other examples (and probably some counterexamples) and it’s clear that to have something like a meaning, an arm, a temper, a wallet, is sort of to have that thing as an attribute, or to contain it, or to own it.

That’s what I think of when I think of “have”. You can probably find lots of other ways people use “have” but I’d argue my way is the first one that pops into your head.

Which is kind of the point. How can “have” have a meaning if there are multiple conflicting definitions. How can we disagree about the most common usage of “have” if it has this property of meaning?

You can probably see where I’m going with this. We give words meanings.

Or to put another way that will absolutely get some hackles up: The meaning of a word is a social construct. Just like… well… lots of things. Maybe everything.

We’re so used to words that we take them for granted. I forget that words aren’t blobs of meaning. I forget this every day. I forget that word are made up of letters (except right now, when I’m typing this; I’m acutely aware). I forget that letters are made up of curves and lines. I forget the words are arbitrary, the symbols are arbitrary, the construction is arbitrary. All that. Because frankly if I remembered it, I’d go a bit mad.

The important thing to remember is that words don’t have meaning. We give words meaning. We do. Not the dictionary, not grumpy old librarian, not your English teacher. There’s never been a time where proper English existed. There never will be.

Shakespeare used “generous” to mean well-bred. You don’t. It changes all the time and this is fine.

So anyways that’s why I call mean on a grill barbecue, and I call meat + peppers + tomatoes + beans chili.