Saturday, September 27, 2008

Third-party identification

D'y'know what I was only just thinking about? Charity and identification. Is it possible that through identification we have that Machiavellian justification for "loving [one's] neighbor as [one's] self?" This especially is the case in terms of that "outside perspective" that we talking about in Brian's class the other day; by identifying with some group, their success becomes your success in the eyes of the outside perspective. For example, if I'm thinking of myself primarily as Mormon (or, say, Catholic) I can justify voting for Mitt Romney (or JFK) exclusively because he's Mormon (Catholic). As the outsiders see Mitt as a successful and/or powerful and/or intelligent individual, the introductions to me as the Mormon become less derogatory. This is probably why all Mormons have "The List" of successful Mormons (Did you know that the Used are Mormon? Did you know Aaron Eckhart went to BYU?) to whip out to convince themselves, and their friends, that they aren't crazy polygamists.

[This is why I, personally, can wish all of you the best in your careers, suddenly, instead of feeling intense competition for those few PhD spots--if I can help you to be successful, especially in my own field, my academic credence with rise.]

But returning to my original quote. You'll notice that when Jesus gave the injunction to love one's neighbor, he was immediately asked to qualify that statement. The "in-group" was supposed to be Jews. In telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus was either intending on doing one of two things:

(1) including Samaritans into the "in-group" of people who should identify themselves with Jews and, implicitly, Jews into identifying themselves as Samaritans in order to suggest a more unified front against Roman occupation. (I think this is dubious--just because two groups were included in the story doesn't mean that the story couldn't have been repeated as the Good Roman. For narrative consistency, it could only include one jilted group into the circle of "love[d] as [one's own] self." Also, the relationship with the Romans was vastly unequal between Jews and Samaritans and a gain for Samaritans in this political identification would have been a loss for the Jews.--which is always why we are loath to acknowledge crazy and/or deviant Mormons in our List.) I think it's more likely that Jesus was

(2) creating a circle of identification among the "good." Because of the self-serving bias principle, the lawyer who had only just thought up a sneaky way to trick the Son of God had no problem identifying himself with the decent person in the story. In fact, very few people hearing this story identifying with one of the punks who left a dying man in the road; we'd like to think we're not that type. The grounds for identification then shift from race (just identifying with the Jews) to merit (identifying with the goodies). This new definition would help the Early Church Fathers in being able to spread the gospel to other, gentile nations because the unifying qualification has become moral principles of charity and compassion.

Which brings me far away from my initial assertion that in politics, people can wish for the best for those people whom a third party identifies as co-equivalents (my word, probably redundant) because any benefit for one benefits the other. What Jesus has suggested is that the merits of the group become the only distinction of identification. All the " black and white, bond and free, male and female, and [...] heathen" lose their bias towards their own type and unite together as the good (or, possibly, separate out as the morally reprehensible). This is the ideal of American identification politics: decent people voting for other decent people in the hope that we can all be more decent in the eyes of some third party (baddies in America or decent people in other countries, for example).

Unfortunately, this ideal is shaken not only because of the dirty-mean ad campaigns of most of the candidates (ain-McCay) but also because many Americans are comfortable with the mudslinging campaigns because they identify primarily not as goodies, but as members of a political party, for whom any amount of unpleasantness is acceptable as long as it is directed at the other guys. As long as voters see themselves in terms of political alignment (through some of the political expectations--eg all unionists are Democrats, or your example of all Mormons are Republican), they will only want the best for that party, as it justifies them to some third party. But then the question arises: what third party? Even independent parties align themselves in categories of Liberal or Conservative and most people aren't unaffiliated. As our society moves more towards homogeneity in political interactions (Studies show that liberals move into neighborhoods with other liberals and conservatives move into neighborhoods with other conservatives. There are entirely one-party neighborhoods in Maryland (D) and Virginia (R) surrounding D.C.) we are only congratulating ourselves on all being inside of our chosen identification circle instead of appealing to the third party. This means instead of the altruism within our circle (wishing Neil LaButte and Stephanie Myers and Harry Reid all the best), our "insider identification" casts suspicion on those on the fringes of our identification circles (is McCain conservative enough, or do we need Palin as a running mate to be a conservatives conservative? Does Obama have enough Democratic street cred or does he need a running mate who has the Irish-American and working class background and a 80% "liberal" record?). This "inside looking out" viewpoint, in other words, creates competition (who's the most TRULY liberal? Or, to be bipartisan, the candidate who REALLY loves his country more?) instead of the cooperation that the "concern for the third party" identification circle invokes (and this can come from both expanding the circle to include the successful who are marginally identified with your group--"Aaron Eckhart is still, technically, a Mormon"--as well as preaching the questionable success of those definitely in your group--"Yes, Orson Scott Card's most successful book was written years and years ago, but he still revolutionized the science fiction world.").

But, you may argue, where does one constantly find a third party? That, of course, returns me to the theological example. The best chance we have for "citizen of the earth" big circle identification of charity is to someone outside the spectrum. In, as they used to say, the eyes of God.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Semenza, of course, freaks me out.

If you have no idea who this man is, let me explain: Semenza has written a book about graduate studies that demands that you:

-take no more days off than either Christmas /or/ Yom Kippor. That's it.

-read 100 articles a week for each seminar

-publish 30-page articles every semester

-never see your family if possible. If this is impossible, make them visit you in the library. Between page-turning.

-create several folios and vitaes

if you don't want to end up homeless, addicted and, eventually, murdered in cold blood.

Hurrah for academia!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Things God Doesn't Care About

With all that talk about with how intimately involved God is in our lives, it is increasingly striking to me all of the things that God doesn't care about. They are myriad. We even had a family home evening about it and ran out of space for everything on our cardstock.

As Cecil O. said "some things such as meekness, humility duty, solid scholarship [this is a talk to BYU], and responsiveness to duly constituted priesthood authority are vitally important not only to self but to the kingdom. Other things like golf, bicycles, how specifically one earns a living, what one's major is, or what color blouse or tie to wear are of significant personal interest but of no permanent or transcendent value in the greater scheme of life" ("The Importance of Meekness in the Disciple-Scholar"). Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.

Some of my favorite inspirational moments have been when God says, "M. it doesn't matter. At all. Sheesh." (Some people have the still, small voice. I have the still, small, sometimes-sarcastic voice.) I got a sweet one of those this weekend decided who would be in Divine Comedy. It's our most important decision, we have precious little to go on for it and it can have effects for years. But once you find a gaggle of nice, smart, friendly, funny, hard-working people, you can kind of just throw a dart.

I'm not saying that sometimes God does care, and strongly, who we choose for the troupe or what we major in or what graduate school we attend or maybe even, on some rare occasions, what color shirt we wear. But these times are few and far between and if you're living in a pattern of prayerfulness and attention to the workings of the Spirit, you'll be told if there's anything particularly pressing about the details. We should be asked to be guided day-by-day, but we don't always need to agonize if it seems like we're not getting a clear answer for a smaller question. Or even a big question. God can't guide your feet if you don't start walking.

And why doesn't God care about all these things? In part, because we're in training for God-hood and, as Brigham Young once said, he wants to see if we'll be faithful in the dark, see if we can do it without being led by the hand and never make any decisions for ourselves. For some people, this is the Christian ideal, but bear in mind that our theology insists that being told precisely what to do all the time was the Deceiver's plan from the beginning. Part of it is so that we can learn to strip away our pride in these little things, football games and prom dates, baked alaska and straight A's and realize that the things God cares about are the things we ought to care about too. And those things are simple and sweet.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Freakin' Meekness

So. I'm reading these church talks about discipleship and it turns out that I need to be meek. Paul Woodruff has generally the same idea, but he expands it a bit and calls it reverence. (And he is totally not an apostle, even if he is a Thursday forum speaker.) But here's what Neal A. says:

Meekness does not mean tentativeness. But thoughfulness. Meekness makes room for others: (Philip. 2:3).


Among the meek there is usually more listening and less talking. [...] The meek think of more clever things to say than are said.

"Meekness--A Dimension of True Discipleship" 1983

So that's why I deleated a perfectly lovely and snarky post about Sarah Palin's children's names. Must...restrain...snarkiness. It's sometimes harder to let go of those lovely cruelties than it is to pay a hearty fast offering. Why am I generous with money and even compliments, but so willing to say all the clever things that I think? Learning to be self-censorous is a never-ended quest that started my freshman year of high school when my brothers first advised me to "keep [my] fool mouth shut."

That's not to say that I'm for keeping silent all the time, or not having opinions, even strong ones, but just sometimes you need to track the number of comments you make in a class, or the percentage of dinner conversation your voice makes, the degree to which you "make room for others."

Learning to speak was hard. Learning to shut up may be harder.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Called to Service

So I just got called to the service committee. Sweet. This is one of my coveted callings, along with FHE mom (opening prayer, lesson, activity, closing prayer, firebreathing). I know I'm just on the committee and not a chair, but this gives me all kinds of ideas of service goodness.

(1) Canned good scavenger hunt, which extra points for peanutbutter and tuna and random things.

(2) Halloween Party Blood Drive

(3) Working with Music Committee for a concert at the old folks' home

(4) Giving people a list of every-day service they can do. (I think we even have one of these around)

(5) Your idea here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008