Posts Tagged ‘ choice ’

A Tyranny of Choice

In his most recent column, Sam Guzman talks about this age of choice. One of his topic headings is “The Religion of Choice.”  My instant gut-reaction was, “it’s more like the tyranny of choice” (with apologies to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his “Tyranny of Relativism” – which may not be all that different, come to think of it).

Now, I am just ornery enough to look at society in this day and age and immediately dismiss it.  Basically, if “everyone” wants it, I don’t.  Yeah, sounds an awful lot like our two-year olds.  But, I see so much crap these days that it seems like an automatic response to just turn around and walk away.

While we don’t watch commercial tv at home, my job requires that I am aware of the latest breaking news world-wide.  Consequently, I see more tv at work than I can stand.  And, since I work at night, it is “late night tv” – the very worst of a genre.  If anything is worse than most of what is on the internet, it is late night tv – was life so terrible 40 years ago when the few tv stations “signed off” at night?  But, I digress.

I am reminded of a book I read in high school: “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor,” by Jerry della Femina.  I see our consumer society divided into parts like: (1) those who create new products, (2) those that market new products, and (3) those that buy new products.  Whatever the merits of that system, my point is that anyone of the three groups does have a choice.  Put another way, just because you see it on late night tv and you can get two of ‘em for $19.95 (operators are standing by), it doesn’t mean you are being forced to buy it.

But, for some reason, we apparently feel we don’t have a choice (thus, the “tyranny”).  I see religion as a matter of choice (don’t throw stones just yet); not choice as a matter of religion.  So, I depart from Sam in characterizing choice as a religion.  I realize he is making the case that true, honest-to-GOD religion (i.e., belief in GOD) has been largely replaced by a “smorgasbord, a veritably unlimited menu of options.”  However, while it does seem that most of the people I know are making largely unconscious decisions in the “vast mall of choices,” I certainly do not.

Yeah, I am prone to agonizing – spending lots of time – over decisions.  I have been thinking about buying a new computer.  But, while I have reviewed a few (most recently a comparison between a Windows-based laptop and an Apple Mac), I just can’t force myself to spend the money to buy what would be essentially a toy.  The fact is, I don’t actually need a new computer.  So, the first hurdle is “want” versus “need.”

The second hurdle for me is “Where was it made?”  I frankly don’t care where the executives of a particular company live; what I do care about is where the workers live.  Although my parents are “white-collar,” their parents were not.  So, my wife and I drive two Toyotas – both “made” (i.e., assembled) right here in the Good Ol’ U.S. of A.  That said, I don’t believe a single computer is assembled here, and certainly none of the parts are made here.  (Yes, I do own a cell phone, but that comes under the “need” category.)  When it comes to clothing, if it is made in China, I walk away.  Needing (yes, needing) a battery-powered drill (screwdriver), I recently bought a pair from DeWalt; even though they were considerably more expensive than the variously colored competition on the shelf/on-line.  Last year, I bought a toolbox for my pickup truck; I went with “Weathergard.”  Again, because of where they were made.  Conscious, deliberate decisions.

And now that I have two Munchkins under foot, I ask myself what I will be leaving them.  Do I want to buy cheap now, knowing it won’t last; or do I want to bequeath something of value?  In the world of values, what do I want to teach them (and, GOD willing, what will they learn)?  Do I want to impress upon them the attitude of, whatever it is, it can be easily discarded and replaced?  In fact, I do see value in commitment, in staying the course, loyalty (the hardest concepts for me to learn).

Sadly, I was seduced years ago by the view that it was better for the kids to divorce than it was for warring parents to try to raise them.  Knowing what I know now, my first marriage would likely have ended in divorce eventually; but at the time, I had not looked very closely at my options – I simply did not perform the “due diligence” I now feel I should have.  Part of that process (which should have included reading Venerable Archbishop Sheen’s “Three to Get Married”) should have entertained the possibility that divorce would forever rupture my relationship with my daughter (other than cashing the checks I send her for her birthday and Christmas, she will have nothing to do with me).

While the parallels between being a consumer of stuff and a consumer of relationships (more specifically, marriage) seem very close, they are galaxies apart.  It really doesn’t matter if I buy a screwdriver that won’t and I reduce it to a pry-bar or chisel (shudder); but it really does matter if I do everything I can (and more) to stay married.  It matters to my wife, it matters to our kids and it matters most of all to GOD.  And, I guess, ultimately, it matters to me: my salvation absolutely depends on my relationship to GOD.

Stay the course.  Run the race.  Keep the faith.

Oh, the above comment, “I see religion as a matter of choice,” I meant just as a literary device.  To be perfectly honest (and clear), I am convinced that Faith is a gift we are given – it’s not something we make an intellectual decision about.

“A Vow of Stability: A Call to Commitment in an Age of Choice,” Sam Guzman on “The Catholic Gentleman”

Perspective

A friend has taken off the kid gloves and put her foot down: there will be no further discussion (presumably with her) on the subject of homosexuality. With little or no study, she has concluded that it is genetic. I applaud her unequivocal resolution. May I suggest two movies that treat the subject admirably: “Philadelphia,” with Tom Hanks (love that guy) and Denzel Washington; and “The Family Stone,” with Craig T. Nelson and Diane Keaton.

Even though I disagree with her, I think some thoughtful reflection on the state of affairs of human beings around the world, not just the rich, vocal, European and American glitterati – the small numbers of those who CHOOSE to be identified primarily, or only, by their sexual preference, and not, say, by their contributions to the arts, or sciences, or the progress of the human race – and ignore:

The 21 million mostly poor, poorly-educated, non-white people with very few choices who are victims of trafficking. This would include sexual exploitation, forced labor, illegal organ removal, forced marriages and illegal adoption. 60% are women and children. (Zenit.org)

The nearly 800 million that simply don’t have access to clean water, which kills approximately 3.4 million people a year from diseases related to water. (water.org)

The estimated 219 million cases of malaria that killed approximately 660,000 people in 2010 – nearly all in Africa (cdc.gov)

Well, you know where I’m going with this: there are much, much bigger fish to fry than to have “sexual orientation” thrown in my face every time I look for news on the internet. Do I care about bigotry and prejudice? Sure I care. But, I care a lot more – a lot more – about the standard of living of those who don’t have even their most basic needs fulfilled, or the barest minimum of dignity granted to them by those who, by some accident of birth happen, at the moment, to have more physical power.

Well, what about DNA? I’m left-handed. I’m the only left-handed person in either my father’s or my mother’s family. People have noticed my “handed-ness” (i.e., commented on it; along the lines of ‘isn’t it difficult?’); and I notice others who prefer their left hand to their right hand (but, I long ago stopped saying anything). It has always been no big deal; I have been able to teach myself to use right-handed scissors. But, seriously folks, how about skin color? In the history of humankind, and all over the world today, skin color plays an extremely important role in a person’s life. How about gender (the biological gender we are all born with – not the gender that happens to be fashionable at the moment)? If you’re a female banker in Scandinavia, too bad: your pay is about one-third of what your male counterparts make (bloomberg.com).

So, what if I couldn’t teach myself to use right-handed scissors? Why in the world would I make it a point to ensure that everyone around me knew? Why would I make my “condition,” or “situation” their business? Why would I throw it in their face every day? If I raised roses, maybe I would join a rose club. If I defined myself by the wheels under me, whether two or four, I might join a car/motorcycle/bicycle club. But, why would I want people to think of me first, last and always as a _____? As Joe Miller (Denzel Washington in “Philadelphia”) might put it: “Now, explain it to me like I’m a four-year old.”

I am moved to wonder about the nature of things:

Things of this world are not bad. Things of this world are good; they are good because GOD made them. But, things of this world are not what we are made for; although we, too, are good. Things of this world exist to give us a choice. For, without options, without different things to choose from, we could not have any choice at all (by definition), let alone free will.

GOD gave us the intelligence and the possibilities so that we would have the freedom to choose. But, the freedom to choose comes at a cost: responsibility. We have the obligation to choose and the responsibility to be held accountable for our choices.

And the first, last and daily choice we cannot escape is the choice between GOD and the things of this world.

Two Goods.

GOD is good, things of this world are good. How about some of each? After all, it’s ALL good, isn’t it? Yasureyoubetcha.

However, while these mortal, flesh-n-bone bodies need things of this world to survive and even thrive, theses bodies will cease to function one day, and the things of this world will too (just ask the dinosaurs). I guess we are the ultimate house of cards on shifting sand. And, if all you see is a mortal, temporal, temporary, this-is-all-there-is existence, then your life just got really, really simple, and really, really pointless. At least I am unable to convince myself that all of the heartache and body aches all thru my short, miserable life were meant to enable me to eat this pepperoni pizza.

Actually, I would not call five score years a “short” life, but the heartaches I have lost count of, and the body aches I have never counted are real enough.

So, where does that leave us? I mean, if we can’t depend on the things of this world to bring us satisfaction and even joy, then what is there? I mean, what point is life after you have the iPhone and the 60 inch flat screen tv and you can tell your co-workers you’re flying to Lexington, Kentucky for the weekend, just to watch some horses run around a dirt track (and, only once, at that). At least the Indianapolis 500 takes all day, not just two minutes. (No, I’ve never seen either race, even though I grew up in Indiana.)

Maybe the things we can touch and smell and hear are not all there is? Maybe we do have a choice between things of this world and, um, I guess it would be “things not of this world.” If we have free will, then I guess we do have that choice. If we don’t have that choice, then we don’t have free will. Which would you want, if you (wait for it) had the choice?

Me? Both, thank you very much.

Catch-not-22

In fact, things of this world were made for us human beings; and we human beings were made for the things of this world. Pretty clever, huh? Kinda like, fish need water and birds need air, and presto (as if by magic) there is water for fish and air for birds. Who woulda thought? We human beings eat more different kinds of foods than any other creature (if you ever had balut or natoo, you know what I mean by “different”); we can live in more different climates than any other creature (if you live east of the Rocky Mountains, you can attest to what “different” means when it comes to winters, esp recently). When it comes to living in this world and doing things in this world, humans can do more different things (to varying degrees of success) than any other creature. I guess that house of cards is made up of jacks? (That would be “jack of all trades” for those of you that haven’t had you first double shot espresso of the day.)

In summary, human beings were made to go almost anywhere and do almost anything; there is very little about this physical world that is not accessible to human beings. Such versatility. Why? So that our choices could be very nearly limitless. So that our egos and abilities and talents could be given free reign. We are not big fish in a little pond. We are small fish in a unfathomable cosmos, and we want to explore it. We need to. We have to. We are made to.

So, what’s the catch? The catch is, damn it, we are responsible for our choices. Or, to quote someone who used to be a very important person in my life: “choices have consequences.”

Tilting at windmills

The fact of the matter is, there are worldly things that are good to have and other-worldly things that are good to have. Stands to reason.  You know: some of this, some of that; a little bit more of this, a little bit less of that. For some, it seems like 100% here-n-now; if it feels good, do it; the person who dies with the most toys wins; and 0% whatever else there might be “out there”. Certainly our culture pounds this mentality into us: get as much as you can, while you can, and absolutely nothing – and no one – else matters.  Whew!  No wonder we’re tired all the time: running day and night after the latest and greatest novelty.  And people think Don Quixote was a fool.

But this brings us to what it is you put in your old kit bag.  First, there is more than enough in the world for most of us.  Most people who have the resources to be reading this are sufficiently wealthy and live in sufficiently free societies to have a veritable cornucopia at their fingertips (if you are not one of these, please advise: I really don’t have very good grasp of who my audience might be).  What you pick and put into your lives is just a small fraction of what you could.  Everyday, we chase after more and more, fall into bed exhausted and join the same rat race again the next day.  There is no danger of running out of stuff; either stuff to do, or stuff to stuff into our garages and our rented storage containers.

And, while we are gathering stuff to stuff ourselves with, where is GOD?  Where is our preparation to meet Him?  Oh yeah, “Tomorrow – I’ll love ya tomorrow.”  Maybe not.

In the first place, why are you convinced you’ll have tomorrow?  All you really have is today.  Yesterday is just a memory, and tomorrow is just a dream.  In the second place, if you’ve spent all your earthly time pursuing things of this world and haven’t given your life after this one much thought, then how will you recognize it when death hits you in the face like a cold, wet fish?

Besides, hope is not really a strategy.

+++

While this essay really doesn’t end here; too much has happened in my little corner of the world recently to keep on this particular track.  Rest assured: I’ll come back to it  (as some of you know, with me there is no such thing as a short answer).  In the meantime, mosey on over to BernardGaynor.com.au   I am a very proud United States Marine (no longer on active duty), and I just can’t imagine going through what has recently happened to Major Gaynor.  Sadly, I don’t think the Red, White and Blue is far behind.

Get out of Jail Free

Dunno why – tho I can certainly speculate – but the world has gotten to the point where it’s obsessed with “I want it all, and I want it now.” Of course, in this mad rush to accumulate toys, there is no time to consider the consequences, the cost. If there is any threat of accountability, then Flip Wilson’s classic “the devil made me do it” leaps to mind (if that is too, um, flip, then you can always go for John Belushi’s apology to Carrie Fisher in “The Blues Brothers,” as theatrical as it was insincere). A life of no payback and no pay-it-forward. A life of no stubbed-toes, skinned knees or bloody noses. The narcissists wouldn’t be so intolerable if they didn’t expect others to pay for their self-aggrandizement.

But, completely convinced that everything good is because of my efforts, and everything bad is the result of your screw-ups, we press on regardless. Until cut-down, or slowed-down, by some unfair quirk of fate, when we reach into our (or their) hip pocket and pull out the sacred “Get Out of Jail Free” card. And then life is not forever changed, and we go right back to the same hedonistic existence we have come to love, and expect. Infants are supposed to be all about themselves; aren’t adults supposed to be more than just large infants? What am I missing?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

Even if you don’t believe in Jesus the Nazorean as the Son of GOD, there is still the purely historical account of the purely human preacher who was no less than a member of a long line of rabble-rousers (aka prophets). And, as well documented as anything else was in those days, the Romans were not impressed, and summarily executed Him. And, within another generation, razed Jerusalem (as if to say, “We’ll show those pain-in-the-ass Jews”). Those penniless preachers who made the moneyed elite squirm paid for their beliefs with their lives (voluntarily, as opposed to someone like Julius Caesar who probably did not throw himself on Brutus’ sword).

So, is Jesus my “Get Out of Jail Free” card? If He saved me, “once for all,” then I can pretty much do anything I damn-well please, and Bob’s your uncle (or something else equally non-sensical), right? Some would say, yeahsureyoubetcha (no, that’s not Yiddish, it’s Yooper). There’s a whole mess of folks who point at the empty cross…and pray, “I’m saved, I can do no wrong; and the rest of you are going to Hell.”

Really? Jesus died for me so I could avoid all unpleasantness? His only possession was the cloak on his back, so that I could accumulate so much stuff that my three-car garage doesn’t have enough room in it for my cars? (see George Carlin’s treatise on “Stuff” – it’s on YouTube, like most everything else). Maybe so; but I don’t buy it. Call it my old-fashioned, middle class and mid-west upbringing. The alphabet I was taught began with the letter “a” which stood for accountability – not accounts.

To me, the empty cross is hope; but I can’t allow myself to skip the Crucifix. I can’t allow myself to expect that this world owes me “the car and the dream vacation.” I’ll never believe that He suffered so that I wouldn’t have to. His whole point rather, was choice; and He showed me that free will is a two-edged sword. Christ offered salvation to me, He did not guarantee it. He’s knocking on the door, but I have to open it. I have to pick up my pallet and walk. I have to do something.

There’s the story of the guy who gets down on his knees, day after day, to pray to GOD for help. “Dear Lord, please just let me win the lottery. Please Lord. Somebody’s gonna win, let it be me.” Finally, more out of exasperation than anything else, a voice comes out of the heavens, “For pity’s sake, man. Meet me half way: buy a ticket.”

Yes, Jesus is my “Get Out of Hell Free” card; but I’ll be damned if I’m going to get to the Pearly Gates and have Him wave the card in front of my face and ask, “What have you done for me?”

Choice

I could see the next step when I wrote my posting, “Appetite,” but I couldn’t quite make the leap.  Then, my good friend Ben Sirach reminded me that we human beings have the ability – far more than any of our animal colleagues (or avocados) – to make choices.  We have the ABILITY to choose.  All that we lack, most times, is the DESIRE.

We are all familiar w the old (tired and tedious) story of the frog that is placed in a pot on a stove.  If the water is cool and is warmed up gradually, our poor froggy will stay put and let himself be boiled.  If the pot contains boiling water when he’s dropped into it, he will leap out immediately.  There have been several refutations, all of which seem plausible; where the truth lies, I know not (and I will not sacrifice a frog on whimsy).  But, I dare say we humans are that frog in the lukewarm, comfortable water.  I further say that the temp is rising.

No, I don’t mean global warming.  If you live east of the Rocky Mountains, you would be hard pressed to give any credence at all to the notion that temperatures are rising.  I just read an article that the Great Lakes – all of ‘em – are very nearly frozen shore-to-shore; something most people can’t remember ever happening before.  Record cold and snowfall do not seem to be what Al Gore had in mind with his inconvenient truth (at least I don’t see him w a snow shovel).

What I do mean by “the temperature is rising” is more along the lines of “it’s later than you think.”  I am no Paul Revere: I do not much care about trying to wake the populace (I am, of course, referring to the myth we were taught in school, not the reality).  Oh, I do wish values, decision and discipline, rather than gluttony, sloth and debauchery were rampant.  But, I am reminded of Horace Walpole, and would rather laugh than cry (“This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.”).  I do pity the frog in the pot, for he doesn’t know any better; but what am I to think about my fellow, sometimes sentient, beings?

Not much, evidently.

I understand that the number of abortions performed in this country is slowly declining; is that good news to Planned Parenthood, or Big Pharm?  Maybe people are finally beginning to understand that abortion is murder and that babies are precious?  You mean we can choose love, and we can choose life?  Won’t find that on the front page of the NYT.  The current Administration (faithful readers will note that it is anathema to me to actually use the name of the current resident of the White House who has the conceit to call himself my president) has deported roughly 2 million illegal immigrants, far more than his predecessor, and at a rate roughly nine times that of 20 years ago.  Wow, now THAT is something to be proud of.

I haven’t yet seen that the UN has sent “peacekeeping troops” to Rome to protect the indigenous peoples from the horrors of the Roman Catholic Church; unlike the countless other countries that are murdering their peoples at a horrific rate (yes, Syria leaps to mind).  Let’s see: the UN pushes abortion on the “developing” countries (mostly Africa, because, well, whites have a very long history of imposing their will on Africa), and then condemns the biggest, oldest church that hasn’t yet morphed itself into pop culture for what, condemning abortion?  Excusify me.

“Real love is an act of the will; a sustained choice that proves itself not just by what we say or feel, but by what we do for the good of others.”

 

Thanks to:

Sirach 15:15-20

“Barak Obama, deporter in chief,” The Economist, 2014 Feb 8

“Deported Mexicans, bordering on cruelty,” The Economist, 2014 Feb 8

“Excusify me, but is ‘refugeed’ a verb?”  By Jeffrey Shaffer   from the September 23, 2005 edition – http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0923/p09s03-cojs.html

“A City Upon a Hill: Augustine, John Winthrop and the Soul of the American Experiment Today,” Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/a-city-upon-a-hill-augustine-john-winthrop-and-the-soul-of-the-american-experiment-today

Revelation 3:15-20

Appetite

Dunno about inanimate objects, like rocks, but it seems to me that living things had better have an appetite to stay that way.  I mean, without a desire to seek food, neither the individual, nor the species will stay animate very long.  And the desire to consume food is just one appetite; with a little thought, you can come up with many other appetites.

So, what makes us human beings different from, say, avocados?  Other than the lovely green color, of course.  Human beings have appetites, just like Antoni van Leeuwenhoek’s “wretched beasties” (bacteria), flora and fauna (and I don’t mean two of the three good fairies in Sleeping Beauty), and Felix (The Cat?) and Fido.  Every living thing has appetites – gee, I guess that’s how we know they are living?  Fine, but are humans different?  And if so, how?

The purely secular answer (to a point, anyway), is that human beings, of all creatures, have the ability to control their appetites.  Not that you would know this from the likes of Miley Cyrus or Justin Beiber.  But, if you look at the much more typical John and Jane Doe, you would have to quickly see that some degree of self-control exists.  Or not, I suppose:

A recent article in The Economist points out that “In 1980 no state had an obesity rate higher than 15%, with obesity defined as a body-mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher, 203 pounds for a 5’9” man.  Now every state has an obesity rate above 20% and 13 have rates of 30% or higher.”  So much for self-control, eh?

A talk on TED speaks of “set points” or “ranges” of weight.  That it was NATURE not nurture that was responsible!  The message I got was that there was nothing we could do about it – our obesity was beyond our control! But even at that, Sandra Aamodt’s thesis that the brain controls our weight only proves my point: what we desire comes from our brain, doesn’t it?  “You can use life-style choices to move up and down within that range, but it’s much, much harder to stay outside of it.”  While I am not a neuroscientist (I can barely spell the word), I will not abdicate choice to the reptilian brain.  Last time I checked anyway, I wasn’t aware that very many crocodiles could type.

The most obvious, slap-you-in-the-face-with-a-fish example of lack of control – of being human –  is the obesity that confronts us everywhere, everyday.  I’ve heard it said that cats will eat only until they’re full, which is only one reason why you can leave them in the house while you are gone for the weekend.  And dogs, God bless ‘em, will empty and lick the bowl before you’re completely backed out of the driveway.  So, which are you: a dog or a cat?  Or, which would you rather be, capable of exercising some control over your appetites, over your life?  Or, eat it all, eat it now, and let tomorrow take care of itself?

As little use as I have for cats (the feeling is mutual), I’d rather be the captain of my own ship than be subject to purely animal – reptilian level – instincts.  Every day we make choices.  Every minute of every day.  Even avoiding choices is a choice.  That free-will thing is a two-edged sword (if that metaphor is too much of an anachronism for some, I still won’t apologize for not being an advocate of the nanny-state).  Choice, or free-will is what makes us human – at least to the secularists out there.

In other words, it’s pretty much pay-me-now, or-pay-me-later.  Your choices now do have ramifications.  Your desire to have another slice of lemon meringue pie, on top of the Biggie Size Fries you had yesterday adds up to someone who is trading today’s indulgence for tomorrow’s sorrow.  Your desire to “Let George Do it” instead of standing up on your hind legs and doing something as simple as voting, is a choice.  Doing as little as possible, rather than doing as much as you can, is a choice.

It is often said that it takes only 21 days to make some new behavior a habit.  Imagine, in less than a month, you can “program” your brain to decide that exercise is a completely wonderful and pleasant – let alone healthy – experience.  Or, maybe that you don’t need a triple-shot latte to get every day started (calories, health benefits, cost).  Or, you can be civil to others (“remember: children are watching you”).  Don’t cheat the red-lights, don’t drink and drive.  Et cetera.  Et cetera.

Or, you can be an avocado and just do whatever is easiest.  You can choose to be a slave to your basic, reptilian appetites.  Or, you can choose to be human.  The choice is yours.  Duh.