Sunday, December 31, 2017

A simple formula for happiness in 2018


By George Templeton 
Rim Country Gazette Columnist
A New Year’s Wish
“If I do not want what you want, please try not to tell me that my want is wrong.  If I believe other than you, at least pause before you correct my view.  If my emotion is less than yours, or more, given the same circumstances, try not to ask me to feel more strongly or weakly.  If I act, or fail to act, in the manner of your design, let me be.” David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, Please Understand Me.
“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  Theodore Roosevelt
It is not what we think, but how we think.  The personal God, thought to direct everyone identically, speaks differently depending on each person’s situation.  Treating others as we would have them treat us requires empathy that is both situational and cultural.  To see clearly the speck in someone else’s eye requires removing the plank in our own eye.  It requires understanding one’s self while standing in the same judgment we apply to others.
Just Joking
How is it that Don Rickles could insult us and that it would be a joke?  Why does President Trump insult us when he tells a joke?
In the recent YouTube video, Dinner with Don, Billy Crystal asked Don Rickles, “Why were you not part of the Rat Pack?”  Don Replied, “Because I was too talented”.
It takes skill to turn insults into humor.  Don Rickles was the master of that.  Contrast that with President Trump.  He used a celebration to honor the famous WWII Navajo code talkers for his personal political objective.  He called his political nemesis, Elizabeth Warren, “Pocahontas”.  The Indians did not laugh.  Trump was using them.  It tarnished the entire occasion.
Respecting Humility
Is humility a sign of weakness and failure?  A great America doesn’t chant “USA”.  It doesn’t need to rate itself against others.  To disagree with us is not to disrespect us as Nicky Haley, our UN ambassador, suggested.  She threatened the 128 UN countries that voted for diplomacy instead of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  Trump is taking names.  He will remember those who do not understand that they are not allowed their opinion.
Irresponsible Taxing
We are quietly leading Medicaid to the guillotine, ignoring the exponentially rising costs of eldercare, because tomorrow never comes.
The Republicans had a love fest following the passage of their boat-floating bill, said by Vice President Pence to be a “middle-class miracle”.  Like Wittgenstein’s duck/rabbit it can be perceived as either but not simultaneously both.  But it’s true and factual that it’s not the Mona Lisa. 
Facts and Truth
We have our truths, but they are not shared by all.  People once perceived that the world was flat and the stars rotated about it.  They could see that cannon balls fall faster than feathers and that objects come to rest when there is no push, but their sensibility was seriously incomplete.
Facts are simple propositions that have been verified by others and can be falsified.  There are also logical and mathematical facts.  But the problem is that you cannot take humanity out of explanations.  There is a higher order of truth, a moral universe.  Myths reveal deep truths.  The truth of a work of art may not be intellectually correct.  But neither the unconstrained supernatural nor wishing can replace evidence.
St. Anselm (1033-1109) thought that logic could find truth.  He wrote that God is “something than which nothing greater can be thought.”  It is a self-referential circular definition, defining in terms of the indefinable.
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) wrote about the dilemma of living in relationship with other humans while being ultimately alone with one's self.  We get outside of our minds by our involvement with others, but that changes our nature.  What we become depends on our perception of the truth.  We are fallen, but only in the sense that we have not yet lived up to our potential.  Heidegger knew that empathy is more powerful than reason.
Old-time religion centers on Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden.  Death and suffering was God’s punishment for their disobedience.  It was delivered to all of mankind, but there would be a resurrection of believers with damnation to hell for all others.
Jesus’ life was about faith and empathy.  He taught rationally, in parables, not because he wanted to win, but because he knew he should not force his way down the throats of those who would of their own volition come to understand.
There’s Doubt about It
Because we can’t know everything about anything by looking only at a little bit, a statistical risk results.  There is a risk of accepting things that are wrong or denying what is right.
There are two kinds of probability in this world, heaven’s probability and the world’s statistics.  The former is sometimes called counting probability.  The probability of any outcome is equal to the number of ways a thing can happen divided by the number of ways it can’t plus the number of ways it can.  We know this intuitively.  But wait, there is a problem!  Each outcome has to be equally probable and no outcome should affect any other.  How do we know the dice are not loaded?  This is the beginning of the self-referential spin, underlying the canon of all thought.
The world’s probability calls us to roll the dice and see if the outcomes agree with how we counted them.  If they do, we could claim that we had verified our assertion and the dice were not loaded.  If they don’t, we might conclude that our claim was false.  But when others repeat this, some will not get exactly the same result.  There remains uncertainty.
The thing that unites heaven and the world is not a mathematical proof or logic.  It is the bell curve.  It is a consequence of nature aiming imperfectly at a target, but what target and why?
The bell curve’s peak is the most probable value.  Things that are not typical are called outliers.  They exist in the wings of the bell-curve.  Statistical thinking is a complex abstraction that does not represent the behavior of any individual.  Numbers are not humanitarian or ethical.  Exceptions to the rule are difficult to predict.  We need something different to measure them.  That requires a change of focus from triumphalism to failures.  Because the failures are a tiny minority, we require a very accurate yardstick to classify them.  A rubber ruler leads to delusion and bigotry.
Classifying Empathy
The Dec. 2017 edition of the Scientific American reduces empathy into different regions of the brain.  The Jan. 2018 issue of the National Geographic treats the same subject.  Scientists find that children less than one year old are empathetic.  Even dogs have empathy. 
Emotional Empathy
Do we have to think about what is right or wrong instead of feeling it?  Emotional empathy is the gut fear we feel when we watch mountain climbers who scale sheer cliffs without ropes.  It is the fear you feel when you see acts of terrorism.  It is a paranoid fear of immigrants that demonizes the many because of the actions of a few.
Cognitive Empathy
Cognitive empathy understands feelings.  It is at the root of the debate concerning abortion.  The mother, child, and State’s interests are at stake.  Justice, with her balance arbitrates, but families agonize over difficult decisions.  One size does not fit all.
Lawyers love personhood.  It is profitable if a person becomes created at the instant the sperm meets the egg.  A miscarriage could be murder.  Viability, the earliest time when a baby can survive out of the womb is a legal issue, but that changes with scientific progress. 
Neither science nor the law can make moral judgments.  Science cannot tell us when life begins or ends, but it has artificial means for prolonging life.  What are the chances?  Nobody knows what kind of life a disability could mean to the mother, child, and family.  How will a child deprived of love and parenting, grow up?
Planned Parenthood has reduced the number of abortions by education, providing birth control, and finding childcare options.  Why should we refuse women control over their motherhood when the father is not punished for failing to use contraception?
Compassionate Empathy
Empathetic concern desires to alleviate another’s suffering.  It is biblical love or the ancient Greek “agape”.  It is different from romantic love.
Chinese philosophy, depicted by the dynamic balance of the yin-yang symbol, is process (envy or gratitude) rather than object.  The starving homeless man, eating a fragment of a discarded sandwich, might not appreciate his poverty!
Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah has commented that people on welfare make more money than Trump’s forgotten man who is working three full-time jobs.  But Republicans claim that their tax law, that throws a bone to the middle class, has canceled envy.
Where have all the sociologists gone?  Perhaps the same place that the Trump administration would send the words “evidence based” or “science based”.  Their preferred wording would say “… recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”
Senator Hatch should realize that there are two kinds of welfare outliers; those who are getting more than they deserve and those who are not getting what they ought to.  Instead of focusing on the typical he should take those failures and see what went wrong.  Unfortunately pride, with its notion of superiority, promotes selfishness. 
Biblical Empathy
The focus so far is group identity, not the resolution of rivalries.  Biblical empathy is about altruism, humbly working together with one mind and purpose, bearing each other’s burdens, and being considerate of others.  It is not about winning and getting revenge.  It isn’t an unjust law that punishes instead of redeeming.  The bible teaches us not to fear (the 23 Psalm).   But this is not Republican politics.
Sociopathic Empathy
Can we learn from psychopaths?  “Their personalities.., a grandiose sense of self-worth, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse, and the manipulation of others … are often hallmarks of success.”  Kevin Dutton, The Wisdom of Psychopaths, Scientific American, Oct. 2012.
Empathy is bad for short-term business.  The person who is amoral, callous, confident, persuasive, egocentric, charismatic, and determined becomes successful.  The sociopath’s predatory instinct zeros in on the weakness in others.  He has fake emotion.  His group helps itself instead of others.
Republicans say that to balance the budget we have to cut entitlements.  Tax cuts are claimed inconsequential.  Social support cuts will go after the peak of the curve because that is where the money is.  One size fits all.
Our state will not talk to a lonely, broke person who is suffering from twenty years of disability caused by early onset dementia.  No one will accept what the state pays.  They will break their word the instant the money runs out.  Our Republican legislature is beholden to the closet industry they created.  Mandatory high priced lawyers assist people to game the system and cheat the taxpayer.  Is this a well-balanced society?
The November 2017 issue of the National Geographic discussed our search for happiness, and how we could learn from Costa Rica, Denmark, and Singapore, the most joyful places on the planet.  It is a simple formula:  People must feel secure, have a sense of purpose, and enjoy lives that minimize stress.  They have government supported education, health care, and a financial safety net.  They respect hard work and live in harmony with each other.  They live lives of involvement that provide time to socialize with family and friends.

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