Category Archives: Social Commentary

Ahistorical Culture of Laziness

We are at spiritual war.  The adversary, Satan, seeks to destroy us.  He seeks to make us miserable.  One area the adversary is laboring dilligently regards our work ethic and related culture of gratitude and cultural awareness.  All three are related, and as the paths to destruction are many and varied, the adversary would be pleased with us taking one or more of these.

One of the marks of a declining civilization and sagging culture is an overall sense of laziness.  Each of us likely has countless tales of individuals in the workplace or classroom (or chapel) whose laziness and apathy knows no bounds: they seem unwilling to do much of anything, and unconcerned at the notion of accomplishing little or nothing.  If honest, most of us could recount instances where we ourselves manifested an unholy laziness, an idleness which does not breed the best in individuals or families spiritually, emotionally, socially, mentally, or temporally.

A recent co-worker was lamenting over the hardship of sitting in a relatively long (by our standards) meeting.  An hourly five minute break, he claimed, barely made the whole experience tolerable.  I was annoyed at this attitude.  After all, he was at work.  Was he getting paid for self-amusement or entertainment?  If only he could go back a few generations and see the sort of subsistent farming his ancestors (or mine) required to merely survive, laboring sixteen hours a day in cold, heat, etc., with no retirement plan or paid holidays.  How can sitting in an air conditioned room be considered any sort of hardship?

It is a sad indicator that few people understand where we have come from, and therefore lack any sort of significant appreciation for the good in our current circumstances.  There exists neither motive for improvement, nor gratitude for current blessings, nor awareness of the billions today who live literally in poverty, in the humblest of circumstances, living day-to-day and meal-to-meal.  This sort of ahistorical and myopic, self-centered view on life is emblematic of our entire culture.

And it is counter to teachings of Latter-day prophets.  For instance, the admonition in D&C 88:79 for all to seek knowledge:

Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home; things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations…and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.

We could consider other examples related to gratitude and charity, to name a few others. 

There are opposing forces to this over-arching laziness.  Redemption continues to be possible, not just for liars, thieves, and Sabbath-breakers, but for the lazy and ignorant as well.  If such poses a significant barrier to spiritual growth and progress, then we are assured that the Savior’s grace is indeed sufficient (i.e. Ether 12:27).  His power is able to save and redeem us from not only external enemies, but from internal constraints which inhibit spiritual growth and development.

Scripture is full of admonitions to shake off our laziness, to awake and arise, to gird up our loins, to shake off the dust or chains which bind us, etc.  Surely the Lord wants us to take this counsel to heart!

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GDP and a Culture of Consumption

Many have the misconception that a true advocate of the free market (a condition where individuals are free to exchange, invest, and economize without coercion) is necessarily an advocate of our consumer culture.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, as it is commonly known, measures three indicators: consumption, investment, and government spending.  GDP is the most commonly used indicator of economic strength among the mainstream.  As consumption is a presumed sign of economic strength, governments around the world perpetually create schemes and concoct incentives to try and boost consumption, for according to this measurement system (which I strongly disagree with), as consumption increases, so does the overall economic health of the nation.

Our culture of consumption is not a product of the unfettered free market, but is largely a result of state interventionism, including unholy alliances between governments and businesses of all stripes.  This is nothing new: the Austrian School of Economics has been preaching this for decades.  Economists of various flavors have been preaching this for centuries, if not millenia.

I clearly do not support increased government spending as a measure of economic strength.  Quite the opposite.  Investment alone (this would include what we call “saving”) is the prime indicator of economic health, in my mind.  As the government can do nothing constructive to assist this (except to protect individuals from acts of aggression), there is really no constructive purpose to measuring GDP.

One argument against measuring investment alone is that investment is bad for the economy in the short-term.  In a sense, this is true.  A consumption-oriented culture and economic system has a capital structure centered around perpetual consumption.  When that ceases, it is true that jobs are lost and companies go under as the capital structure is modified.

As opposed to consumption, investment is a long-term, rather than a short-term objective.  In the long-term, investment leads to stable growth.

Money saved now (and not consumed) will one day be invested in some capital expenditure of value and benefit to society: a car, a house, an education, etc.  Unfortunately, our consumption-oriented corporatist culture diverts resources from where they are most useful (i.e. investment) and puts them in an area where they have short-term gains at the cost of long-term rewards.  That money is diverted from its proper use to purchase some expendable and often non-essential good.  (When such purchases are made on credit, the consequences are even worse.)

Would consumption exist in a country with a small government and no measurement of GDP?  Of course: people still need to eat, shower, brush their teeth, and enjoy recreation.  But there would be less frequent frivolous purchases and more long-term planning and saving.

In short, capitalism gets a bad rap for our government-encouraged corporatist, consumer-driven culture.  My advice: stop measuring GDP, get government out of the business of business, and let the market go to work. In other words, stop interfering with every transaction between individuals: and let them economize and exchange freely, rather than being bound and fettered by onerous regulation, heavy taxation, and myopic incentives.

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Sunday Morning Thoughts on Nihilism and Transcendentalism, and Exaltation in Film

I recently have been persuading my four year-old to watch snippets of the Disney film Fantasia 2000 (one of my favorite all-time films) on youtube.  So far, he has been willing to do so.

I have a passion for classical music, and I find that the music featured on Fantasia 2000 (similar to the music featured on the original Fantasia) includes some of the greatest musical achievements of western civilization.  I have a desire to show my children that there is something valuable, something profound, something meaningful, something transcendent, and even something divine in these great orchestral works, and thus in life itself.

The stories told by the animators, too, are primal and transcendent.  Themes include pure romantic love, family love, the power of community, transcendent communal unity with the divine, individual strength, sacrifice, and timeless struggles of life vs. death and light vs. dark, among others.  Thus, the movie is moving, enjoyable, and profoundly meaningful.  I realize how far off the mainstream I am with this analysis: for instance, when watching this movie nine years ago with a friend and two siblings, I was the only one who thought the movie was better than a marginal “OK.”

And yet, when I compare these transcendent, timeless themes coupled with sublime music, I cannot help but compare this film presentation to that of the other extreme: nihilism, (or meaninglessness) as in The Dark Knight and The Fountain.

Discussing nihilism is pointless and contradictory: if everything is meaningless, then why put forth any effort to preach such a philosophy?  If there is meaning or purpose in preaching meaninglessness, then one does not truly believe in meaninglessness.

It does not take a brain surgeon to comprehend this: such is really the default philosophy of existence.  Just as failure is the default mode of success in life (if we do nothing, we fail to accomplish anything), so nihilism is the default mode of existence (if there is no meaning in anything we do, life must be meaningless).

Who is it that encourages us to adopt this philosophy, that life is dark and meaningless, that values bind us down, and that there is nothing else beyond this dark and dreary existence?  The answer is obvious: the adversary wants us to believe this.

In contrast, the Lord wants us to be happy and to find joy even in darkness and despair.  As we do so, we find the sublime fruits of progression, unity, love, and holiness.  Living the disciples’ life, we can find the good wherever we look and wherever we go, if we choose to do so, and use that knowledge and those experiences to our eternal benefit and our exaltation.

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Movie Review: Last Chance Harvey

I enjoyed “Last Chance Harvey.”  It’s a lightweight romantic film with some comedic elements.

The relationship is pretty virtuous: no sex and no super passionate kisses. No ridiculous compression of a healthy romantic relationship from months/years to hours.  Profanity is limited.  It’s a very lightweight PG-13 film.

It’s more of a drama about the power of human relationships than it is about romance.  Roughly thirty minutes into the film, the two main characters feel at rock bottom.  Both are incredibly lonely.  One tries to find solace in hard alcoholic beverages.  The other, in novels.  Neither of these routes result in fulfillment.  However, despite their disparate and isolated circumstances, these two forge a personal connection which results in a simple yet profound fulfillment, not crude and crass, nor transient and lustful.

In short, the film is a statement about the power of human relationships to heal, to change, to reconcile, and to bless.  At least that is how I see it through my own paleoconservative eyes.

Others may view it differently.

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Movie Review: Awakenings

I recently watched a film called “Awakenings.”  I enjoyed it.

As a film, it is quite clean.  There are perhaps a half-dozen profanities and some very mild violence (milder than, say, Wall-E or Toy Story).  There is no sexual innuendo I was aware of.

The film is about a doctor who is working to rehabilitate catatonic (nearly comatose) patients who became catatonic as a result of a brain disease called encephalitis.  He tries an experimental drug which works fabulously well, for a time, and then begins to manifest unpleasant side effects.

He finds during these experiences that in addition to drugs, there are other things that can rehabilitate patients, such as music and physical human contact.  One of the main ideas of the film is that there are some things that are most important from a universal human perspective: work, play, friends, and family.  There was a wonderful emphasis on living a simple life.

I found the message uplifting and optimistic, and the film wonderfully done.

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Responsibility Problems

We have a responsibility problem in this country.  It is everywhere, from the voters that voted for President Obama because he would pay their mortgage and utility bills for them (I do not recall him refuting this oft-repeated argument, by the way) to the auto bailouts to local and state governments clamoring for federal stimulus money.

I recently read this interesting and insightful statement in an article regarding record deficits and federal borrowing: “The deficits … are driven in large part by the economic crisis inherited by this administration,” budget director Peter Orszag wrote in a blog entry on Monday.

This follows the pattern: no responsibility.  The deficits are driven by government spending, pure and simple.  It may be true that such spending was seen as necessary by some.  However, to blame the economic crisis for irresponsible and reckless government spending is at least irresponsible and sounds nearly reckless.

Yesterday on the radio, I heard a story about how the Postal Service was needing to increase stamp rates (probably annually) to make up for lost revenue (over $1 billion this quarter alone).  At the end of the story, the reporter mentioned how that people who use email and make purchases online are largely to blame for this rate increase, but that such individuals will likely persist in their behavior.  Again, this sounds completely irresponsible.  Blame is shifted from who is truly responsible (the U.S. Postal Service for not providing a service whose costs are covered by individuals who will voluntarily pay) to those who are not (individuals acting freely, economizing to save money in hard times, or increase convenience in good times).

Lest you be concerned that I am pounding on democrats alone, I find that the GOP blame games which we have seen repeatedly over the years show a similar trend: the mainstream associated with both major parties shows major irresponsibility.

Contrast this with us, with you and I.  In a time of frozen credit and economic hardship, none of us can afford to make reckless personal economic decisions.  We can blame whoever we choose, but ultimately, it is our own individual responsibility to make sure that we are economically healthy.  None of us have the political clout and lobbying power to bend Washington to our will, nor should we.  Instead, we are to rely on tried and true principles of budgeting, economizing, and hopefully saving, consistent with provident living.

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President Obama on Science

President Obama has recently committed huge amounts of resources to science.  Is it bad to support science and scientific research?  Absolutely not.

However, the problem is that the funding mechanism for this scientific research is unconstitutional and unethical.  President Obama does not say to the American people, “You need to pay more for government-directed scientific research funding, and so we are at work now to determine the best way to take your money for this purpose; we will most likely increase our catastrophic indebtedness.”

He does not say this, and I do not think he means this, either.  President Obama, like most people, does not have a problem with a government of our size and cost.  In fact, he’d prefer it to be bigger.  Nor does he see taxation (including inflation) as inherently coercive and morally problematic, as I do, and as I believe our founding fathers did.

Another problem is that a false argument is constructed: you are either for us (our proposed government program) or opposed to scientific growth.

In reality, one can be opposed to the funding mechanism yet still highly supportive of voluntarily-funded (rather than coercively-funded) scientific research.

It is an unfortunate thing indeed for our allegedly post-partisan president to play such petty games.

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