Friday, May 04, 2012

Roy Baumeister on the temptations to evil

In his 1999 book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty psychologist Roy Baumeister undertook what some might consider an exploration of the obvious, why and how do people embrace what would be considered evil? If a philosopher of ethics or a theologian were to consider a central flaw in the premise and executive of the book a failure to adequately define evil that was not really the scope of the book. Baumeister set for at the beginning that his goal was to examine human aggression and cruelty not from the perspective of philosophy or theology but from a sociological and psychological perspective.

Part of the reason for doing this was practical, he was working on the subject from his professional background as a scholar. Another reason for his approach was a point of principle, that violence and aggression always show up in every human society and understanding the social and mental/emotional mechanisms leading to it was warranted. To the extent that Baumeister took up a philosophical point it would be in stating that most discussion of evil in traditional religious thought and popular culture tended to fixate on evil in terms of what he called the "myth of pure evil". He outlined several traits of this myth.

1. intention infliction of harm on others
2. evil is actively pursued because it is pleasurable for evildoers to do so
3. the victim is innocent and good
4. evil resides in the other, the enemy or the outsider
5. evil is static, which is to say the evildoer has always been evil
6. evil represents the opposite of order, peace and stability
7. evildoers are characterized by pride and egotism
8. evildoers have difficulty with self-control at an emotional and volitional level

Baumeister states that of the 8 traits of the myth of pure evil the last two are least central to the depiction but arguably most realistic about actual aggressive and violent people.

Now here I would stop to suggest Baumeister's understanding of traditional religious thought must be substantially truncated. In Western Christianity the doctrine of Original Sin spells out that a person may commit evil acts while thinking those acts to be good. Christianity across the world and across history has no problem at all affirming that sin (i.e. evil) is a temptation from inside ourselves due to weakness in the flesh or from evil in an environment. Christians have discussed for millenia how the temptation toward evil comes both from within the heart that is not practiced in self-restratin and from culturally accepted cruelty since its inception.  After all, wasn't it Jesus himself who said that it is from the heart that evil desires and impurity spring forth?  Still, it may be understandable Baumeister has not had enough grounding in what he calls traditional religious thought to know these things.

Baumeister considered (I would say wrongly) that traditional religious thought propagates his points about the myth of pure evil.  Baumeister does, however, say that traditional religious teaching heavily emphasizes points 7 and 8 in daily life.  This is significant because while traditional religious thought has often been frowned upon by modern Western secular societies the traditional teaching that a propensity for cruelty and aggression comes from high self-esteem or pride fits the growing research in criminology and psychology.  Back in 1999 when Baumeister wrote that no criminals or abusive spouses could be said to have low self-esteem in any provable way that might have been controversial.  It shouldn't have been.  Baumeister's case that the fastest path to cruelty in sociological terms and psychological terms is to have a very high but malleable self-esteem. The person most likely to be evil, most likely to be an abuser is going to be a person who thinks he or she is wonderful but can't prove to others they product matches the hype.  Threatened ego /self-esteem is one of the fastest ways for a person to turn evil.

There are, of course, other motives and Baumeister outlines them broadly.
1. lust, greed and ambition (instrumental evil)
2. threatened egotism or revenge (evil in defense of self-esteem)
3. idealism in a group (arguably evil in the service of a group's self-esteem, which leads to demonizing others)
4. enjoyment of cruelty, i.e. sadism

Baumeister notes that genuine sadism, that is evil performed by those who find it pleasurable to harm others, is exceptionally rare.  Most people avoid harming others and this not necessarily because of the abstractly moral objections to cruelty but usually due to sheer physical discomfort and revulsion at the consequences of cruelty. This may seem counterintuitive but killing is distasteful and gross and that's why so many people are loathe to kill.  You might think it would be because of a sturdier philosophical reasoning, and in some cases that's true, but for many soldiers who could not bring themselves to shoot the enemy even in World War II there was a visceral aversion to taking the life of another human being.

As Baumeister winds his way through studies and case histories he lays out the reasons why people are tempted to evil.  Again, though Baumeister does not really define evil let's bear in mind that this need not be the point of the book given the deliberately narrow constraints the author set for himself. He makes a persuasive case that one of the greatest problems in exploring and discussing evil is the magnitude gap between the victim's perception of an evil act and the perpetrators perception of something that may have been unpleasant but was ultimately necessary.

Now by the end of the book Baumeister asks a question a traditional theologian would find highly relevant. The question Baumeister asks, given the half dozen ways a person could be swayed by and embrace evil, is not "Why is there so much evil in the human race?" The question is "Why isn't there more?" The motives to evil are actually all too easy to understand.  Low level criminals often display a lack of impulse control and may be stuck in low-level thought.  Paradoxically Baumeister's observations about petty crime lead him to some statements that might be summed up, and I joke quite a bit here, as "Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot."  Maybe not literally cowardly and superstitious but certainly operating at a low level of thought and with a low level of self-control.  As Ducard would tell Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, the mind and motives of a criminal are really not that hard to understand.

But the ideologically motivated evil person (do I need to say it?) obviously displays a great deal of self-control.  Even serial killers have a great deal of self-control.  FBI serial killer expert John Douglas, Baumeister shares with us, remarked that no serial killer ever killed someone in the presence of a uniformed police officer (in real life here, not in some Batman comic book).  No serial killer can be considered insane or driven by irresistable impulses.  Baumeister states flatly that in American culture too many people act and think as though many of our impulses are beyond our control.  If someone goes on an eating binge they still select the food, consider what flavors they want to experience, and operate from that.  Truly irresistable biological urges are very few.  You can avoid eating food or avoid drinking water but you breath automatically.  Baumeister's case for what few bodily urges are irresistable is bluntly scatalogical, no amount of human willpower will keep your body from urinating or defecating forever.  The body will eliminate the waste. Apart from that what most people describe as an impulse that can't be resisted is an impulse they give themselves over to.

So what, then, holds people back from doing evil things?  If, as Baumeister so plainly proposes, everyone can and will be tempted to do or say something evil at some point and harm someone, why isn't there more evil?  If evil is defined as emotional, verbal, and physical cruelty what restrains us?  Baumeister states that the two things that most restrain evil have been the two things that are exceptionally unpopular in contemporary American culture.  The first big disincentive is the cultivation of self-control. Baumeister goes so far as to say that the beginning of violence is not a question of motive but of a casting off of self-restraint. The costs and benefits inside a person's mind may tip the scale toward doing something wrong as the faster and easier way to get what one wants.

But the second disincentive to evil is bigger, guilt. Baumeister proposed in his book that Americans need to stop focusing on self-esteem as a good in itself. He pointed out that despite the emphasis on self-esteem violent crime has increased in the previous half century rather than decreased. As our culture has tended to discuss guilt and shame as bad things violence has also escalated.  Baumeister offers what could be the controversial proposal that guilt does more to pre-emptively curb violence and aggression than possibly any other emotional or psychological process. Those who embrace violence may do so in part because they do something cruel and the anticipated terrible consequences simply do not arrive at that moment.  From there, well, the rest is a matter of flow, you might say.

Rather than focus on considering how great you are you may be healthier considering yourself an ordinary shmuck without any special achievements or abilities.  Baumeister may not have realized that this fits with Paul's instruction that no one think of himself more highly than he ought. As for guilt, there are plenty of places in traditional thought (like the Bible) where people are warned in advance, "Don't do X or the Y consequences will make you miserable when they catch up with you." Don't lie to make things easier for yourself because should you be caught in that lie, and when you get caught in that lie, you'll have ruined so much of what you worked for. Baumeister's proposal that guilt is not just important AFTER evil has been committed but that in many cases realization of guilt pre-empts a cruel act is something that just about any traditional religious thinker, let alone a Christian, would say makes sense.  This fits what we've been taught and have shared as a common value for millenia.  Of course a big disincentive from doing or saying evil is a fear of future judgment!

Particularly memorable in Baumeister's book is his discussion of abusive husbands. Those that have traditional gender expectations and who also "marry up" are vastly more likely to be abusive in every way.  Why?  Baumeister proposes that this would be because the self-worth of the man is threatened by the intellectual, social, or monetary discrepancy between his status and that of his wife.  He hasn't or can't live up to what he think the man's role in the house should be and compensates by physical force and aggression to level the playing field, as he perceives it. In other words, Baumeister puts it, a husband with an offended sense of status entitlement is far more likely to be an abuser than a husband who may have a bad education or background who by luck becomes a millionaire and marries a woman richer and smarter than him in terms of her background.  A guy like that is just too busy being grateful for how lucky he is and is six times less likely to hit his wife than the man who is bitter that he hasn't gotten what he believes is his proper destiny and is married to a woman who has more earning power, social status, and intellect than he does.
Pride may come before a fall but wounded pride will generally come before a beating is unleashed on a wife, too, it seems.

Baumeister remarks that across every culture and time the perpetrators of violence are pretty much the same, mainly young males from the age of puberty to the peak years of sexual potency. It's not that women are never violent or cruel, in fact in Baumeister's lecture "Are Men Necessary?" in response to Maureen Dowd he observed that in the last twenty years domestic violence perpetrated by women has skyrocketed and that the victims are usually the mothers' own children.  However, historically the trend is fixed, young horny dudes have lots of testosterone and are jonesing for a fight.  As a certain megachurch pastor has liked to put it men are born for combat.  Combat for what?  Oh, well, we can discuss that later.  As this connects to Baumeister's observations young men in their sexual prime are absolutely the most violent people around. The higher their self-esteem and sense of entitlement the more violent they get whenever that sense of self is threatened.

Baumeister, at the end of his book, notes flatly that shifting familial authority from fathers to mothers has done nothing to stem violence in young sexually potent males. If anything precisely the opposite has happened and young males in America have grown far more violent.  Yet curiously violence in media seems to have had no really observable correlation that would suggest causation.  People who play violent video games may not, in fact, become more violent.  A culture that sanctions violence or a suspension of self-control can easily exist without a particularly violent TV show or video game.  To pick a specific example, it's not like William Wallace II needed video games to be verbally violent toward people he disagreed with. It wouldn't even be a case that he was somehow influenced by the movie Braveheart.  Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, right? The sentiment "I never beat up anyone who didn't deserve" could be taken as an illuminating self-defense of an evil person.  After all, Baumeister spells out at length, it's a universal axiom among abusive husbands to say that the wife provoked him and needed to be put in her place.

I could write quite a bit more about the content of the book but will wrap things up.  It's no surprise that by the end of his book Baumeister observes that it's impossible to chalk up evil to just nature or just nurture and that the relationship between the two is too complex to ever imagine we'll be able to make significant progress against the synergistic ways in which human nature and human nurture can spawn evil. We can attempt to reduce risk variables and keep in mind that the quest for higher self-esteem has made things worse rather than better, and we can bear in mind that American society has probably undervalued guilt for its capacity to pre-empt evil, but human nature is simply not as pliable as many idealists have thought.  For an author who spent so much time explaining the problems in traditional religious ideas about evil at the start of his book Baumeister ends up affirming some of these most traditional foundations of traditional Christian ethical teaching.  A Christian's proper understanding of the impact of sin and the Golden Rule can still be a deterrent to cruelty, which is hardly to say that there aren't other ways of refraining from cruelty. It's not as though no one in Jewish or Christian writings ever warned about the weakness of the flesh or that there is a way that seems easy but it's end is destruction.

You Are Not So Smart; Ego Depletion

After something of a hiatus You Are Not So Smart is back in action. Ego depletion was the subject taken up a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Get Religion posts "How to Cover a Complex Religion Story"

I trust these links will completely explain themselves.

Slate links to Cracked on five ways to spot a bogus story

5. The headline contains the word "gaffe."
4. The headline ends in a question mark.
3. The headline contains the word "blasts" (or lashes, etc, and etc).
2. The Headline Is About a "Lawmaker" Saying Something Stupid
1. The headline contains the phrase "blow to."
Point number 4 is a keeper and it is not merely a great way to filter out stupid articles and editorials on politics, it is also a reliable tip-off to me that some article in Spinoff online was written by Graeme McMillan and therefore not worth reading by definition.  I feel no remorse saying that because every single time I have taken the time to read a piece by Graeme McMillan I came to the end of things asking myself what I gained from it.  Alas, nothing. I don't begrudge a person gainful employment, least of all these days, but life is too long and has too many opportunities for one of them to now be me reading something by McMillan. 

Of course I imagine every writer must be this kind of writer to someone. Even now there may be someone who comes to this blog, reads for a few minutes, heaves a sigh, and wonders "Why did I bother?" Yep, that's the internet. It wouldn't be what it is if everything you clicked on made you glad you did so.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Michael Horton on "Muscular Christianity"

The back story on all of this is the rise of the "masculine Christianity movement" in Victorian England, especially with Charles Kingsley's fictional stories in Two Years Ago (1857). D. L. Moody popularized the movement in the United States and baseball-player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday preached it as he pretended to hit a home run against the devil. For those of us raised on testimonies from recently converted football players in youth group, Tim Tebow is hardly a new phenomenon. Reacting against the safe deity, John Eldredge's Wild at Heart (2001) offered a God who is wild and unpredictable. Neither image is grounded adequately in Scripture. With good intentions, the Promise Keepers movement apparently did not have a significant lasting impact. Nor, I predict, will the call of New Calvinists to a Jesus with "callused hands and big biceps," "the Ultimate Fighting Jesus."

A quest for a more robust, "masculine" Christianity has been around for a while. Nearly a century ago in the United Kingdom there was a chaplain who became famous for espousing a masculine approach to the faith. He got some respect and visitors to his chapels because he didn't live separately from the troops he was assigned to be chaplain to. Taken in a different way the emphasis on a masculine Christianity in that kind of context was not necessarily strictly "masculine" but a point about, say, being willing to associate with lowly people and not think of yourself as better than others.

Was it really decades ago that John Bloom (aka Joe Bob Briggs) wrote about the problem of celebrity-recent-convert stories? He explained that the story behind a compelling conversion of a celebrity inspires Christians to get that person on the testimony and speaking circuit.  This was, Bloom (aka Briggs) wrote, a disastrous policy.  Too many Christians wanted to shove a celebrity into the spotlight before that new convert to the faith had even really figured out what the Christian faith and life was.  Not too surprisingly, for those of you who read that article, Briggs landed at the end of his article by saying he was glad to share he'd come to the Christian faith but that he wasn't going to write too much and wanted to avoid getting pushed into the testimony and speaking circuit.  Whether or not he succeeded I can't really verify but in a sense the fact that I have no idea what he's up to means that, whatever his Christian life has been in the last twenty years he's kept it low key.  That could be considered a relevant point in and of itself regardless of other considerations.

Perhaps masculine Christianity could be summed up as not being showy about it or making a point about it. Of course any flavor of Christian piety runs a risk of being done for show but not all flavors are equally in vogue at the same time.  These days, again, it may be that for some people a "masculine" Christianity is just another flavor of public piety that is better off dispensed with if, somehow, it was ever taken up to begin with.

Pat Robertson on Charles Taylor in 2009: I know not the man

Richard Bartholomew notes a flip flop from Pat Robertson on the subject of Charles Taylor. Bartholomew includes a few excerpts from different articles.


So we’re undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country. And how dare the president of the United States say to the duly elected president of another country, ‘You’ve got to step down.’

In terms of Liberia, I was accused of being an associate of Charles Taylor. I never met Charles Taylor in my life. I’ve never met him once. I spoke to him once on the telephone, but he called me, but I’ve never seen him in my life. So be it the Washington Post indicated that I had some business dealings with Charles Taylor, but it just wasn’t true. It is my feeling that the best help you can give to people is to enable them to have economic progress, not just handouts, but to have industry that will give jobs.

Robertson’s critics noted his financial interest in Liberia; at the time, Robertson had a four-year-old, $8 million agreement with Taylor to mine gold in the country. Robertson told the Washington Post that the mining operation, called Freedom Gold, was meant to fund humanitarian and evangelical efforts in Liberia.

I'm including a somewhat longer excerpt.

Taylor was elected president of Liberia in 1997 after a peace agreement ended a brutal civil war started by an uprising from the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, which Taylor led. By 1999, anti-government fighting had resumed in Liberia, and other neighboring countries, including Ghana and Nigeria, accused Taylor of backing rebels in Sierra Leone.

In 2003, international pressure forced Taylor to step down as president, and he went into exile in Nigeria. That year, Pat Robertson stirred up controversy for supporting Taylor on his show The 700 Club after President Bush and other U.S. officials called for Taylor’s resignation.
“We're undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country,” he said. “And how dare the president of the United States say to the duly elected president of another country, ‘You've got to step down.’”

Robertson’s critics noted his financial interest in Liberia; at the time, Robertson had a four-year-old, $8 million agreement with Taylor to mine gold in the country. Robertson told the Washington Post that the mining operation, called Freedom Gold, was meant to fund humanitarian and evangelical efforts in Liberia.

Remnant of Giants: The Earliest Non-Angelic Interpretation of Gen 6:1-4

Years ago I heard a certain preacher (won't say which one because that's unnecessary) opine that the idea that Genesis 6:1-4 taught that angelic beings copulated with humans and begat monsters was a crazy "seed of Chucky" theory.  This was way back around 2004 or so.  Well, since Jude quotes from 1 Enoch which practically stands as the granddaddy of glosses on Genesis 6 advocating for this "seed of Chucky" it might be good to keep in mind.  In fact exegeting Jude makes more sense of the "strange flesh" parallelism in Jude's argument if there is a mirroring effect in the sequence.  Just as angelic beings did not keep their station but lusted after human women and were judged by God for it, so the men of Sodom lusted after the strange flesh of angelic beings and were judged in kind as well.

Now there's room for discussion and debate about how swiftly the non-angelic interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 developed.  Anyone can go dig up how by the time of Augustine none other than Augustine himself explained that the angelic interpretation used to be widely embraced and had been rejected. 1 Enoch was regarded as important and Jude's reference to it as including prophecy made it popular but also problematic.  If you want a useful overview of the related issues I heartily endorse Richard Bauckham's commentary on Jude and 2 Peter as at least a starting point.

Footnote, don't go rummaging around too much on Remnants of Giants without the warning that there's a lot of very off-color humor by an author who is not a practicing Christian and visits some sites you won't want to linger on.  This is probably the only bit from the blog I would even link to.

one event, different headlines: the vandalism of Mars Hill Portland in the news

It is axiomatic that news coverage is seen as slanted depending on who writes what headline and who reads it.  Of course. Almost a week ago news broke about vandalism at Mars Hill Portland. The following are just a sampling of linked articles with just their headlines. Peruse these at your leisure.

Notice some of the patterns. The Post, for instance, describes the Portland church as Driscoll's.  In the sense that the executive elders have the legal right and power to make property purchases and Driscoll has been the one constant on the executive elder board that potentially lazy shorthand on the part of the Washington Post may in advertantly have a kernal of truth to it. In terms of who is actually down there Tim Smith gets mentioned in the body of most articles.

Notice the second headline where no form of quotation marks get used when describing homosexual vandalism or the Mars Hill church in Portland.  This is not a minor distinction in a headline and it's telling that the Post headline puts the phrase "angry queers" in some kind of quotational offset.  The police investigation isn't done and the actual perpetrators have not been identified.

For the KGW and KMTR the headline doesn't even mention Mars Hill or Driscoll.  Instead KGW leads with the vandalism being against a historic church building in southeat Portland.  It's less important to lead with who is occupying the church now than that the building is considered to be a historically important or valued building in Portland.

Koin leads with a headline highlighting the email (which suggests this is a secondary story).

PQ Monthly reproduces what appears to be the email itself. All the links and headlines are below.
‘Angry Queers’ damage Driscoll’s Portland church
Homosexual Vandals Attack Mars Hill Church In Portland
Vandals damage historic church in SE Portland
Vandals break windows at Portland church
Email: Gay-rights group behind church vandalism
“Angry Queers” Email: Mars Hill is Anti-Gay, Q Center Doesn’t Represent Us

Now for this small story it's instructive to consider that you can say that each of these stories may have a bias. People have biases. I'm reading a book on cognitive biases right now and anyone who seriously studies anything realizes that biases are part of who were are. To dismiss a perspective as biased is itself nothing more than just another bias.  However, it is possible for multiple perspectives to come to drastically different interpretations of an event based on dispositions.  All these articles, you could say, reflect biases and interests of some sort. 

The local coverage that emphasizes the historic significance of the vandalized church building is expressing a bias away from the significance of the church getting vandalized because it is currently occupied by Mars Hill Church.  Coverage that highlights the homosexuality of the group that claimed credit for the vandalism will highlight Mars Hill teaching on homosexuality or perhaps even highlight that not all homosexuals agree on how to respond to or react to Mars Hill and what they believe Mars Hill symbolizes. Some articles lead with a description of how the group taking credit for the vandalism identifies itself in quotes.  This could be read as either expressing doubt about the veracity and legitimacy of the identity of the self-described perpetrators (as in some have expressed doubt whether the vandals were either angry or queer) or about the reliability of any connection between the self-described perpetrators and the actual vandalism (because it's not unheard of for one group to take credit for actions that were actually done by another group).

Anyway, because I have an evidently unhealthy interest in looking at how differently mutliple people can cover a single event that in some way connects to Mars Hill I have blogged thusly.

Winslow Wheeler: The Jet that Ate the Pentagon,1

For those who might be attentive to defense contracts the STOVL fighter that began to be proposed in the later Reagan/Bush years is finally getting to the ... well ... it's still not quite fully acquired I guess.
It's almost axiomatic that whatever is cutting edge currently deployed military gear is actually going to be the apotheosis of whatever was cutting edge twenty years ago.

In discussing the F-35 with aviation and acquisition experts -- some responsiblefor highly successful aircraft such as the F-16 and the A-10, and others with decades of experienceinside the Pentagon and years of direct observation of the F-35's early history -- I learned that the F-35's problems are built into its very DNA.

The design was born in the late 1980s in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon agency that has earned an undeserved reputation for astute innovation. It emerged as a proposal for a very short takeoff and vertical-landing aircraft (known as "STOVL") that would also be supersonic. This required an airframe design that -- simultaneously -- wanted to be short, even stumpy, and single-engine (STOVL), and also sleek, long, and with lots of excess power, usually with twin engines.

That wouldn't have been the first time mutually contradictory goals were shoehorned into the requirements of a single defense department proposal, just go dig up everything you can on the F-111.  In my Cold War naive teenage self I thought any jet fighter was a cool idea.  Twenty years later and with a tiny bit more military history and military procurement history under my belt and I have different thoughts. 

Wheeler does not mention something that is spelled out succinctly in Bill Gunston's old book on the history of the A-10, which is to say that the A-10 is arguably one of those cases where pork barrel politics was exactly what was needed to get the right plane built at the right time for the right tactical and strategic situations.  If you have ever wondered why pork barrel politics gets ripped apart by pundit after pundit and politician after politician yet so little seems to be done you may want to do yourself the favor of looking into the A-10 to understand that the reason pork barrel sticks around is because, like it or not, it has been shown to be good for some things.  It's bad when a senator can impose massive purchases of aircraft carriers the Navy doesn't even really want, to be sure, but let's bear in mind that pork barrel can use some nuance.

President Bill Clinton's Pentagon bogged down the already compromised design concept further by adding the requirement that it should be a multirole aircraft -- both an air-to-air fighter and a bomber. This required more difficult tradeoffs between agility and low weight, and the characteristics of an airframe optimized to carry heavy loads. Clinton-era officials also layered on "stealth," imposing additional aerodynamic shape requirements and maintenance-intensive skin coatings to reduce radar reflections. They also added two separate weapons bays, which increase permanent weight and drag, to hide onboard missiles and bombs from radars. On top of all that, they made it multiservice, requiring still more tradeoffs to accommodate more differing, but exacting, needs of the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy.

Again, the problematic precedent of the F-111 seems like an instructive comparison point here.  Had this joint strike fighter been left firmly in the domain of dedicated air superiority the boondoggle might have been avoided, maybe. In the 1990s stealth may have turned out to be for the DoD what the swing wing was in the 1960s and 1970s, an idea that became too popular because it was interpolated into functions for which the point of stealth would not be apprpriate.

This mediocrity is not overcome by the F-35's "fifth-generation" characteristics, the most prominent of which is its "stealth." Despite what many believe, "stealth" is not invisibility to radar; it is limited-detection ranges against some radar types at some angles. Put another way, certain radars, some of them quite antiquated, can see "stealthy" aircraft at quite long ranges, and even the susceptible radars can see the F-35 at certain angles. The ultimate demonstration of this shortcoming occurred in the 1999 Kosovo war, when 1960s vintage Soviet radar and missile equipmentshot down a "stealthy" F-117 bomber and severely damaged a second.

Now for a bomber (tactical or strategic) or surveillance aircraft stealth is important. You have a plane that will have offensive capability but lacks defensive performance and armament. It makes sense to design a spy plane or a plane that pounds the ground with ordinance to be as hard to detect as possible.  Applying this basic philosophy of combat to close air support where you'll be diving into the hottest of hot zones makes little sense.  The sheer likelihood of being taken out by ground fire in those settings would be too high.  If an F-117 were running hundreds of hours of low altitude, ground-hugging tactical bombing missions the odds of a shoot-down incident would approach 1.  It's just the nature of high risk and dumb luck.  As fighter pilots have said for generations, I'd rather be lucky than good any day.

Now of course Wheeler's whole pespective might be considered biased but everyone has a bias.  What I can say, admitting up front that I thought of enlisting at one point and have never really been anti-defense, is that Wheeler presents arguments that I think are worth passing along.  He may not lay out quite as thorough a historical case for why he believes the F-35 was doomed to failure at the outset.  Arguably one of the big red flags was that it was conceived as a joint strike fighter.  All three of those words could have been construed as red flags in that combination.  It's been tough to find gear that even two, let alone three branches of the military will agree on.  It's never worked out too wonderfully for any variation of strike fighter. The F-15 would be the exception that proves the rule once you realize what a collosal thrust to weight ratio that plane has.   But I'm not meaning to digress into all those details. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Batman as the ideal of "the one percent" in Batman: the animated series

Something that becomes evident if you watch all the episodes of Batman: the animated series is that Bruce Wayne is very rich, and obviously rich.  But as pop icons and American pop mythology goes Batman doesn't stop being a relatable character despite being extravagantly wealthy.  To take up the polemical point about the wealthiest of the wealthy Bruce Wayne would be in the "one percent". Yet though Bruce Wayne can come off as (and actually be) aloof, cold, callous, elitist, insular, and disconnected from the concerns of ordinary people he manages, despite all this to be a very sympathetic character.  Why?

Well, the answer may be as simple as proposing that Bruce Wayne, and by extension Batman, is the ideal "one percent".  He may be obscenely wealthy but, particularly in Batman: the animated series, he uses his wealth to fund and support pioneering technology.  Let's not forget, for instance, that Jervis Tetch was able to invent his mind-controlling technology while he was not really creating the human performance enhancement technology that Bruce Wayne was funding him to invent.  Though it may be as the Caped Crusader most of the time Bruce wayne takes a genuine interest in the rehabilitation and restoration of Arnold Wesker.  I'm saving most of my thoughts on Batman and the Ventriloquist for future installments at Mockingbird.  There's a spoiler right there and I'll even contrive an excuse to highlight two different Arnolds in the Timm-verse as examples of synergistic and monergistic redemption.  One of the joys of swimming around in the Timm/Dini-verse is the sheer complexity of the portraits of numerous characters.

Central to that world is Bruce Wayne and the wealthiest of the wealthy who has not become so immersed in being the big man around Gotham either as Bruce Wayne or as Batman that he has no thought for the little guy or for people who can get overlooked.  In the episode "Mean Seasons" Batman's attempts to apprehend Calendar Girl confronts Bruce Wayne about some of his ignorance of age discrimination not only in the fashion industry (i.e. what inspired Calendar Girl's vendetta) but also age discrimination that is institutionally endemic even in Wayne Enterprises.  When Bruce realizes that one of his best, most loyal, and reliable managers will get forced into retirement due to an age ceiling Bruce Wayne sees to it this policy in Wayne Enterprises is changed so that qualified employees can work for as long as they can do the work. 

In the premiere episode of the Riddler Bruce Wayne is negotiating a deal with Daniel Mockridge that will bring new jobs to Gotham City.  What makes Bruce Wayne/Batman such a relatable and likeable character in the landmark series is that he is doing everything he can to make Gotham a better and safer place to live, not only as Batman but as a billionaire industrials as well. 

That other wealthy industrialists in Gotham do not take Bruce Wayne's position on being willing to help the least as well as the greatest is highlighted in the episode "The Terrible Trio". Once Batman has adduced their identities he remarks contemptuously that scoundrels like these are worse than the Joker, who at least has madness as an excuse for his cruelty.  Bruce Wayne is not aware that the members of the Terrible Trio are actually fellow wealthy socialites within Gotham.  As they are out on a game of shooting clay pigeons one declares that Wayne is too chatty and familiar with the hired help. He says "You'd probably thank your garbage man for picking up the trash."  Bruce Wayne pauses a moment and replies, "If I happened to see him, I yes, I would."

By the end of the episode the cruellest and most self-assured of the Terrible Trio, Fox, tries to bribe Batman into letting him escape.  Batman contemptuously replies, "Your money's no good here." The final member of the trio declares that he will bribe whatever judge he has to and that there's no way Batman can keep him in prison.  The episode ends with the self-assured elitist criminal sharing a roach-infested cell with a very strong and brutish prisoner who looks at him with a predatory gaze and growls. We're not told what's about to happen to the humiliated criminal but since this is a show for kids adults can "do the math" on just how much further a criminal who looked down on the lowly and ordinary is going to get degraded and debased.

With the third and final Batman film coming up this year Christopher Nolan has not, as yet, explored what ways Bruce Wayne has attempted to combat injustice and misfortune in Gotham City.  This is a Batman who is discovering who he is and what his mission is, whereas in Batman: the animated series Kevin Conroy's Batman is obviously a very seasoned, experience crime-fighter and an established industrialist. It remains to be seen what sort of Batman Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne will become but the legend is supposed to end in the third film. 

By the start of the landmark animated series Bruce Wayne is already, essentially, the ideal one percent, the kind of super-wealthy person that, if he or she must exist in American society, is the kind that we, as Americans, would like to have.  That Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's Bruce Wayne is already the most altruistic and helpful of the one percent twenty years before anyone started using that catchphrase may be instructive as to some directions Christopher Nolan has planned on taking his Batman trilogy.

Reboot Christianity: Dunbar's number and the organization of the local church

... Dunbar's Number, as it has come to be called, has been demonstrated time and time again by anthropologists, psychologists, and social scientists. It seems that one can only feel a sense of community and connectedness within a group of about 150 people.

I cannot help but think of the local church in relation to Dunbar's Number. In my life as a Christian, I have attended churches of all different sizes: first I attended a church with several thousand members in college; then my wife's home church (700); then a fast-growing evangelical church which began at 75 members and was over 350 when we left; and now I attend a church with perhaps 125-150 people on Sunday morning, including children.

What I have found is that Dunbar's Number holds just as true in churches as in any organization. I believe that this has some very practical influences on our Christian faith.

And the observations include the following:

The modern American church, however, is focused almost exclusively on expanding and building huge churches: the biggest argument among most evangelical leaders is whether their tens of thousands of church members should gather in a huge sports arena each Sunday morning, or have multiple services, or form multiple campuses. Rarely (if ever) will you hear a modern pastor say that he wants a maximum of 150 people and, if we have more, then we need to plant a new church! (The last church I attended got close: they recognized that around 150-200 was the most that they could handle; however, this was approached at their church not through church planting with independent staff, but instead through multiple services and campuses.)

Michael Belote adds a few other observations but I'll still with citing these paragraphs.
Something that could be discussed is whether or not Belote's arguments from Dunbar's number constitutes a kind of argument from natural law and whether or not that is necessarily considered a legitimate basis of argument for smaller churches. Obviously someone already committed to a megachurch will be likely to disagree for pragmatic reasons. Having been in a church where a stated committment to the Dunbar number principle was provided as a reason to not let services get too big transformed unceremoniously over time into a rationalization of multisite and something called videology princples and rationales can definitely change over time.

Some organizations have the goal of gaining as many numbers through conversion and/or assimilation as quickly as possible and for entities like that the Dunbar number and line of argument will be relatively meaningless.  Small group participation could be considered more crucial for churches regardless of size.  I am not sure that small group participation really solidifies any local community except in two broad cases, where real and mutual affinity develops and where sheer committment in advance to the ideology and collective identity of the social unit trumps an obvious lack of mutual affinity or social cohesion.  I've seen both kinds of small group in my life within the church and it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out which group is more fun. You might say that "fun" is not the goal but I wonder if a "Christian hedonist" would be able to follow that line of argument to its reductio ad absurdum conclusion. Granted, I wouldn't categorize myself as a Christian hedonist but even I don't presume to say that a person should go to a small group just to be in a small group. There are other ways of obtaining Christian fellowship and accountability, after all.

What a group joined by affinity and convenience may lack in authenticity in the eys of some will be through what others consider a lack of pedantic and perfunctory attempts to manufacture community on the other. Of course in neither case will the resulting community be in any necessary way authentic (or think "authentic", for the sake of that point) but community whether it may be consider authentic or inauthentic, involves a lot of work.