Ah, the narcissist who interprets his evolving personal cycle o’ life preferences as revolutionary discoveries.
At age 16 he proposes a sexual revolution. No more patriarchal repression of the sexual liberty of women! Why shouldn’t lesbians marry? And upload wedding-night videos to Facebook! Woo hoo!
At age 19 he pens an essay in writing class about how only the most short-sighted of nations haven’t come into the modern age and decided to make college free for all through taxing rich corporations. And weed should be legalized! What business is it of society’s if consenting adults want to get high in their dorm rooms?
At age 25 he agrees enthusiastically with OWS protesters who find outrageous the gap in pay between the corner office and the cubicle farmer. Taxes should be highly progressive, of course. Why does anyone need more than 2x his income?
At age 32, newly married, he writes about how society should rediscover some of the virtues of old-fashioned chastity (particularly in females), and also how important it is for national policy to ease home-buying and put generous deductions for child care in the tax code. Why are we so anti-family?
At age 47, with his oldest son entering 7th grade and starting to lock the bathroom door, he suggests the drug warriors, while of course heavy-handed and stupid, kind of have a point, at least with respect to dealers. He’s less concerned about the pay gap between the cubicle farm and the office with a window, but still thinks dividend income should be taxed at wage income rates. He’s not clear on why we need to spend so much tax money supporting Film Studies majors. Let them borrow the money if they think it’s worthwhile.
At age 58 he thinks it’s time to reconsider how unfairly maligned are the earnings of the corner office, who takes on so much responsibility and leadership, and supports so many, both at home and through brutally unfair taxes, particularly on capital gains. Why tax the job-creators? He’s once again in favor of sexual liberation for young women, but thinks alimony is a medieval institution. College financial aid, particularly to parents, should be much greater. And why do we spend so freaking much on health care in the last 6 months of a person’s life?
At age 68 he’s back in favor of progressive taxes, but not of course on interest and dividend income. Why punish a lifetime of thrift? And why are we so contemptuous of our senior citizens? These death panels that would toss someone on the garbage heap just because they think he’s got less than 6 months to live…!
Maybe this is one of the principal evils of the atomization of the family: with less personal exposure we are less aware that society is, even more than a compact among differing cultures or races, a compact between the differing perspectives of generations, of those who are 20 an 40 and 60 years old.
Suburbs may not be perfect, but they beat everything else on offer. Erick Erickson demolishes the latest pseudo-Christian fad of hating on suburbs in Idols of Awesome:
You don’t have to give up everything in life and march through gang land to find Jesus or be awesome. Being a great husband and father works. Being the best burger flipper at McDonalds or the best insurance salesman or the best carpenter or the best tax collector works too. We have made an idol of the Awesome that demands we constantly quest for it instead of building our own community. In so doing, we start constructing shibboleths to define our community in a way that excludes others. I know more than one evangelical who has gotten into the radical faith movement and decided that those who are not doing it that way are somehow not as pure a Christian.
Millennials have all been told they will do great things, be awesome people, and contribute mightily in great ways to humanity. Too many of them are, therefore, seeking out that life and burning out. The truth is that sometimes the great things we are meant to do is get our kids to school on time, get them fed, sit at our desk doing our job, and being good neighbors.
Even Rod Dreher has now given Christians permission to live in suburbs:
While I still believe there are serious objections to the way our suburbs are designed, and ways to design them to be more aesthetically pleasing and human-scaled, I appreciate very much Keith Miller’s critique, and how he urges us to think about whether we are not simply baptizing and moralizing aesthetic preferences.
Those of you who are of a certain age may be glad to know that kids these days are still watching Homeward Bound. For those who haven’t heard of it, it is basically Disney’s rip-off of the far superior Milo and Otis. TLDR; Two dogs and a cat make a trek through the wilderness in order to be reunited with their owners.
At the end, the oldest dog falls into a hole and hurts his leg. Unable to go further, he lies down in defeat, and the screen fades to black. We then cut to their human owners the next morning. One of the little boys hears a noise, and behold! His missing dog comes bounding over the hill and into his arms. The family is overjoyed, and all the more so when the little girl sees her missing cat come over the same hill. What was lost is now found!
And then nothing happens. They all hold their breath waiting for the last dog to appear, and he doesn’t. The last son finally gives up and starts coming up with reasons why it would never happen (“He was too old”) and everybody’s heart falls. And then, just as they give in to despair, the last dog comes limping over the horizon, everybody is reunited joyfully, and the credits roll.
But think back on that next-to-last moment. The pinnacle of the movie consists of emotionally torturing a child. Picture a Dawkins inside that universe. What would he say to the unjust gods of Disney who chose not only to create world where such things could happen, but actually make it central part of their universe? Would you even be able to answer him? Can we, the gods of Homeward Bound, really claim that it is legitimate to crush a little boy’s hopes in order to increase our own pleasure, and indeed that our pleasure would not be properly complete without the boy’s suffering?
I have no answer for HB Dawkins. His argument seems sound enough, except for the tiny little fact that none of us actually seem to believe it. This ending is not only not unique, it’s cliched. We do not seek out peace and joyfulness in the worlds we create. For a good story, we want to see evil brought on the just. We want to see struggle and death, and watch our heroes brought low. And then we turn from the worlds we have created, see the same in our own, and shake our fists at the sky.
There are many, many things I hope to teach you as you grow. But just in case I die before then, here are the highlights. If you learn these things the easy way (by listening to me) instead of the hard way (by ignoring me and letting life teach you) you will save yourself a lot of grief, and have a big head-start on those suckers who think they are your peers.
At the time of this writing, you are about a year and a half old. I reserve the right to alter this list without warning or notification as you get older. I’ll probably need to; judging from how wise I find 20-year-old Me, I assume 40-year-old Me will have a lot to say to Present Me. But just in case I die before then, here you are:
- Nobody cares about you but your mother and I
Okay, also your grandparents, but they won’t be around for most of your life, and sooner or later your mother and I will shuffle off as well. Everybody else is only interested in what they can get from you. This includes your future husband, who may very well lay his life down for you, but will also most certainly become very cross with you over the long haul of your marriage if he feels you’re not meeting his needs.
Don’t get all indignant about this; you treat everybody else the same way.
- Seek truth. Seek God. Nothing else matters.
I would go so far as to say that these two things are identical. I take John 14:6 very literally. Hopefully, I have managed to instill in you a love of truth above all else. And to really seek the truth, you must read the classics. Before you head off for college, I will expect you to have read and understood the following: The Bible, Plato’s Republic, Confucius’ Analects, The Tao Te Ching, The Bhagavad Gita, The Federalist Papers, Augustine’s Confessions, Screwtape Letters, Consolation of Philosophy, The Gulag Archipelago, Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, The Last Days of Socrates, something by Aquinas.
This is not an exhaustive list, and is subject to expansion at any moment and without warning. There is always more to learn. Seek out wisdom. Love the truth. Never shrink from it. Never settle for the more comfortable half-truth.
This is extraordinarily difficult, even dangerous, to do. When you stare into the abyss, it really does stare back at you. But there is so much on the other side. God is Truth, and we were made for God.
Speaking of God and the abyss…
- God will forsake you
At some point in your life, you will experience what is called the Dark Night of the Soul. This is a universal experience for all who pursue God. Even Jesus did not avoid it. It will seem like He has abandoned you entirely; where you once felt Him there will be only absence and darkness. This is highly traumatic; even so, stick with God. This will be a vital turning point in your life. This too shall pass, and you will be better off for it.
- Just showing up and doing what you’re told puts you ahead of half the people out there
It has amazed me throughout my career how much credit I have often gotten for doing the bare minimum. Back in school, just turning in all your assignments was usually enough for a B. Praise is lavished for simply showing up to things on time. But the fact of the matter is that most people can’t even clear this low bar; indeed, many college degrees provide little value beyond signalling that a person can show up on time and do what they’re told. If you can do that, you can carve out a comfortable existence.
- Just showing up, doing what you’re told and following the rules will never give you wild success
The co-founder and money man behind my current company (as well as several other companies) was kicked out of three schools in his young teens. He’s been stopped for speeding more than 50 times. And he’s made way more money than any of us are likely to. I am sure that these three things all flow from the same core traits.
- Rules mean nothing; only the enforcers matter. Usually there aren’t any.
Corollary: it is easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission.
This is related to the former point. Bureaucrats can make all the rules they want, but in the end, it is up to somebody to implement them. But people don’t like to read, so usually what they actually do only bears a passing resemblance to the rules handed down from on high.
This can work to your advantage and disadvantage. Never assume that there is a system in place taking care of things behind the scenes. Just because you turned in your resume doesn’t mean anybody saw it. and if they did it may well have been in a pile of 50 others after a very long day. Just because you submitted something on the website doesn’t mean it actually goes to anybody; nobody is assigned to make sure that particular form keeps working, which it stopped doing after the latest network upgrade. These aren’t imaginary situations; I’ve seen and perpetrated them myself.
But once you realize that it’s people all the way down, you can exploit that. Don’t rely on anything working itself out for you. Know the right people and the rules will bend for you. Don’t be held back by a few “Keep out” signs. Fortune favors the bold.
More than once I have been mystified by how hard it can be to get some people to take my money. They will talk about how they are having financial difficulties, and then we will approach them with some job for them to do, and then they never follow up. They probably figured that some sort of magic process was kicked off at our initial contact that would naturally lead to us getting in contact with them on how they could have our money. But while I would have been glad to help them if they’d met me half way, it wasn’t my top priority. Follow up.
- Nobody knows what they’re doing. Everybody is faking it and muddling their way through. You’re smarter than 90% of the population, so you should be able to fake it even better.
Fake it til you make it
(This was the same advice I gave to your aunt when she graduated. She found it strangely comforting.) When I was very young, I used to regard the production of goods as a very mysterious magic beyond the ken of mere mortals. These days I’m involved in the production of numerous devices both physical and virtual. There is no magic, just elbow grease. If you need a thing, just go ahead and make it. Isaac Newton designed and constructed his own scientific instruments. Those who are willing to do for themselves will always rule over those who wait for somebody else to do it for them.
- $5 of donuts is more effective than $50 of bribes
People skills über alles
I gained a lot of technical skills in college; there were no classes in people skills. Sadly it is the latter category which doesn’t come naturally to me, and this is also the category that matters most. The great conquerors in history did not rule nations because they were the best at swinging swords; they ruled by getting thousands of other people to swing swords for them.
You may have an incredible gift when it comes to designing whatsits. Your boss possesses this exact same gift, by virtue of being able to tell you to use yours. He also possesses whatever skills your other coworkers have. Engineering skills are lucrative, but there are plenty of engineers out there. What’s really rare is the ability to get all of those people to coordinate and channel their talents in a useful direction.
Even if you never aim to rise through the ranks of management, people skills still matter. Your raises and other promotions will be as reliant on your ability to make a good impression as they will be on your actual abilities. People skills will also help you cut through the red tape that would otherwise ensnare you.
- Have kids young. Marry younger.
This will be a tricky one, since it goes against the grain of our current culture, but it is better to fight the culture than to fight biology. We were designed to have children in our twenties, and our early twenties at that. Babies cost a lot of sleep; this is much easier to endure in your 20s. More importantly, female fertility starts to shut down after 30, and pregnancies after the age of 35 are classified as “geriatric.” Plan accordingly.Yes, this does entail sacrifices and trade-offs. All of life does. You will get to travel less and you will probably not make as much money. But nothing in this world that you will do is going to matter more or be more fulfilling than having children. So have a lot, and start early. Don’t put that stuff off until your 30s, because this may very well be the same as deciding not to have kids at all.
Never date a guy who you do not consider marriage material. This will merely give you a taste for bad boys which will serve you poorly in life. I do not claim that it is easy to find a good mate, but that’s all the more reason to take it seriously from the start. This is, after all, the biggest decision you will make in your life, and it is one that cannot be undone.
- Everybody is selling something
Critically examine everything; hold on to the good
You will be constantly barraged by people trying to get you accept their ideas as their own. The most dangerous of these are the subtle appeals, the ones who couch their pitches in something other than rational argument, because these can often slip through your defenses without you even realizing it. You must carefully sift through everything.
This goes for me too. Even if I didn’t lie to you, I still don’t know everything, so I end up getting plenty of things wrong. But I did lie to you. One of the things in this very post is a lie. Critically examine everything.
Whenever you hear somebody proudly declare that they find [viewpoint opposite theirs] so absurd that they don’t even understand how anybody could think otherwise, big warning signs should go off in your head. For any given issue on which more than a quarter of the population disagrees with you, if you are unable to defend the opposition’s position in terms they would accept, then you know nothing about that issue. You are so ignorant you don’t even know what you don’t know, which is far more dangerous than just the regular kind of ignorance. As C.S. Lewis once put it, if your mind is closed to opposing views, then let your mouth be as well. And in the meantime, don’t vote.
It is this more than anything else that makes the reading of Great Books so important. If you want to really expand your mind, you need to look at the world from as many different viewpoints as you can. It is not enough to simply read writings by both modern conservatives and modern liberals (though again, if your news sources are filled with only one or the other you are not merely uninformed, you are self-brainwashing). To really get a fresh perspective, you need to break out of the modern era altogether, and look at the world through a lens that stretches back millenniums.
I cannot emphasize enough what a turning point in my life reading Plato’s Republic was. I came away with two important lessons: 1. The works of the greats actually make for pretty easy reading, instead of the long difficult slog I had been expecting. 2. I enjoyed reading this kind of stuff.
This was very close to a conversion experience for me. I actually felt (and still feel) a little anger at not being introduced to this sooner. This treasury of wisdom that has been accumulated through the ages is one of our greatest inheritances, and it was stolen from us by our poor excuse for an education system. I rediscovered it, but most people have not been so fortunate. After that I gobbled up all the classics I could. I started with other Socratic dialogues but soon branched out into Aristotle, then Aquinas, then the writings of Eastern religions, then back to the old Church Fathers, and basically any philosophical tome of at least a few hundred years old. My reading has slowed down since I had a kid, but the craving remains.
Now, the classics are not great because they were right all the time. You cannot step back even a single century without encountering some very strange notions. Go further and you’re in alien territory. Plato thought atoms were made of geometric shapes (on the other hand, the fact that he realized there were atoms at all is amazing). In Copernicus’ day, the empirical evidence supporting a geocentric universe was genuinely stronger. Aristotle, the greatest polymath in history, defended slavery as the natural order of things. Keynes, post-Nazi atrocities, considered eugenics the “most important branch of sociology.” This is clearly all crazy talk, but this is not a bug, it’s a feature.
Watching the greats stumble constantly is a pretty good way of learning humility. You are not smarter than Aristotle. If he, with all his careful and in-depth thought, got so many things wrong, how much more have you missed?1 It can be very easy to build a cocoon2 around ourselves of only like-minded individuals, and Great Books strip that away nicely. Besides, the Greats actually managed to be right about a lot of things, too, and these are very often things we are wrong about now. Merely managing to survive for a thousand years probably means they hit on some important truths. If you want to be a seeker after truth, you have to go through the Greats.
1 Don’t say “well now we have Science.” That just shows you need to read more of the great scientists. Scientific consensus has been consistently wrong about most things through the ages; do you really believe we are so unique? We can’t even count the planets right.
If you want the history, go here. If you want to hear some bad analogies for the Trinity instead (and who doesn’t?), watch this:
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Or just choose your own pope, game show style:
As you progress through life, you find yourself not just making new friends, but new types of friends. When you’re a kid, friending is simple: if the two of you get along, you’re friends. In college you upgrade to roommates, which is basically the same as a friend except they’re around more often. Adding women into the mix complicates matters, because once you get married, it’s time for you to find some couple friends. Finding these is very often a re-hash of the dating game you thought you’d left behind, but with twice as many people. You’ll go on “first dates” with a prospective couple and feel each other out. If the men get along with each other well enough, and the women get along with each other well enough, then maybe there will be a second date. If you reach a third date you’re probably in the clear; you’re not looking for a life partner anymore, so you can pretty much coast. Once you have children, the process repeats anew, but this time you need to find couples with kids around the age of your kids, and line up compatibilities for them as well. It can get tricky.
I say all of that because I observed something while out with a couple+kids friends of ours. The children were climbing up on some couch like they always do. The mothers rushed over to pull them back down, because after all, the children might hurt fall and hurt themselves!
We fathers stood back and simply shrugged, for what turned out to be fairly similar reasons. Allow me to explain:
The world is a dangerous place. For example, it provides many high places from which one can fall and bump one’s head. A parent has two options:
- Hover over the child constantly, shielding them from any missteps they may take, so that they can climb all over the couch blissfully unaware of the danger they are constantly putting themselves in. Don’t ever turn your back, because babies love to use that moment to make a beeline straight for wherever it is you most don’t want them to be.
- Let them fall down, so that they learn to be more careful next time.
This is one of those instances where the more heartless option may be more loving in the long run. You can’t always be there for your child, even when she’s just a baby. Therefore, you cannot guard her fully from even basic dangers like falling down. Therefore, it is much safer and more effective to teach the child to guard herself, and the only way to get that lesson across is the pain of failure. Besides, if she falls while you’re watching, you can provide comfort and make sure no real damage is done. If her mistaken belief that the world is safe causes her to harm herself when you’re not around, then what?
(None of this is to say that I don’t die a little inside when I see my daughter hurt herself and start crying. But being willing to die for your children is an essential part of being a parent.)
The world is a dangerous place, and it does no good teaching our children that their actions cannot have bad consequences. I suspect this is one of those things that fathers are designed to teach their children, and why children without fathers are much more likely to engage in destructive behaviors like promiscuity, drug use, suicide, and voting Democratic.
All of which is to say: let your kid fall down. S/he’ll end up both safer and wiser than if you don’t.
Also, he might turn into Batman: