English Lesson: “Disinterested” vs. “Uninterested”

One of my concerns here in Fox and Hedgehog land is language.  Language matters, because language expresses and enables thought.  The right words used in the right way can help us express exactly what we want to express.  One of our occasional features here on the Hedgeblog will be about the proper use of words; I want to help you avoid the mistake of using one word when you ought to use another.  In our first installment, I’m talking about the words “uninterested” and “disinterested.”  What’s the difference?

 

Today, people often use the word “disinterested” when what they really mean is “uninterested.”  The two words should not be interchangeable: disinterest means something different than uninterest.  Disinterest does not mean a lack of interest or curiosity; rather, a disinterested party is one that is impartial, that has no stake or interest in the argument.

So, e.g., I am uninterested in the outcome of The Bachelorette: i.e., I don’t care and I don’t want to care.

To cite another example: a judge in a courtroom should be disinterested but not uninterested.

Make sense?

Hillary Clinton and James Comey

FBI Director James Comey was clearly not uninterested in Hillary Clinton’s emails; a better question: was Director Comey disinterested?

See why language matters?

 

P.S.

I’m not picking on the Democrats; I don’t know anything about indictments and security clearances and the like–the Clinton email example is just one picked from today’s headlines.

 

 

 

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“If You Can Keep It”

As Benjamin Franklin left the deliberations at the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a Mrs. Powell of Philadelphia stopped and asked the old man: “Well, doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”  To which Franklin replied, “A republic, madam–if you can keep it.”

 

This republic that Franklin and the other founders gave us isn’t inevitable: it is a precious gift that must be tended and cultivated, like a garden.  On this Fourth of July, I’m thinking about the gift I’ve received to be a citizen of this republic and the stewardship of the people who passed that gift on to me, and I’m thinking about my responsibility in turn to pass it on to the children who will come after me.

A sacred responsibility.

 

 

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The Somme Began 100 Years Ago Today

The Battle of the Somme began exactly 100 years ago today, July 1, 1916.  By day’s end, the British Army alone would suffer over 57,000 casualties, and 20,000 of His Majesty’s young soldiers lay dead in the filthy mud.  That obscenity is worth reflecting on today.

[A British Tommy rescuing his mate during the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916. ]

 

Progress is a Lie

We modern people are so arrogant.  We believe that because we can split the atom and transplant the kidney that we are more advanced than the people who came before us.  We believe in Progress.  In fact, we worship it.

But Progress is a lie.  The Somme is the result of Progress.

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, all the right sort of people–cultured and cosmopolitan–knew that man was progressing toward a glorious future, and that scientific knowledge would enable us to obtain greater and greater mastery over the physical world.  However, in their Promethean arrogance the smart set overlooked the stubborn fact that scientific knowledge might give us mastery over the physical world, but it does nothing to give us mastery over ourselves; splitting the atom and transplanting the kidney doesn’t make us wise.

Modernity Began at The Somme

The late literary critic (and decorated WWII combat veteran) Paul Fussell believed that modernity began on July 1, 1916.  That first day of slaughter at the Somme was the beginning of a century of slaughter.  Mass graves, pointless killing: that’s Progress, and that’s who we are.

The Somme, 100 Years Later

100 years later, we have the iPhone and the Global Positioning System and the defibrillator.  Today, all the right sort of people know that humankind is progressing toward a glorious future, and that death and disease will find their end in Silicon Valley.  The inconvenient history of the Somme, if we choose to acknowledge it at all, is just one more example of the pitiful ignorance of past generations.  Unlike them, however, we have Progress, and Progress will make us perfect.  Progress is our God.

So much for progress.

 

 

 

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Grammar Lesson: i.e. & e.g

“Be thankful you don’t have to read resumés everyday: it’s depressing.”  So said an HR professional to me today.  What she meant was that very few of the resumés she reads come without grammatical and spelling errors.  Our lack of grammatical precision bothers me because I don’t believe grammar is just a series of arbitrary rules; I believe grammar affects thought.  So here, in the first of what may very well be a long-running (and doubtless highly popular) segment in Fox and Hedgehog land, is a brief lesson on grammar and the proper use of i.e. & e.g.

 

Why Grammar Matters

One of my literary heroes is the stubborn English socialist writer George Orwell.  I admire Orwell because of his insistence that language matters, because, as he argues in his essay “Politics and the English Language,” language either obscures or provides clarity.  Insisting on precision in language and grammar is not just pedantry, and Orwell writes that he objects to the idea that “any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes.”  Rather, language shapes our thoughts so that

an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely.  A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.  It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language.  It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.  The point is that the process is reversible.  Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.  If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly…. [my emphasis]

from “Politics and the English Language,” by George Orwell

Grammar matters because grammar is about clarity.  It is important to say exactly what you want to say, and not to say what you don’t want to say.  Grammar helps us say what we want to say.

I.e., it matters that we get right the difference between i.e. and e.g.

The Slave Who Invented Abbreviation

Several of the grammatical abbreviations we use today were invented over 2,000 years ago by a brilliant Roman slave named Marcus Tullius Tiro. Tiro was born a slave in the household of the Roman statesman Marcus Tullis Cicero, and was Cicero’s close confidante and personal secretary until Cicero’s assassination in 43 B.C.  Cicero was a great orator, and Tiro would take notes of Cicero’s speeches in the Roman Forum so they could be published around the Roman Republic.  (In recognition of Tiro’s devotion and service, Cicero gave him his freedom in 53 B.C.)  To make note-taking easier, Tiro invented a shorthand method that was still used by European monks until the 18th century, and part of that method included the abbreviations that we still use today, e.g., i.e. and e.g., as well as an early version of the ampersand, &.

i.e.

i.e. is Latin for id est, “that is.”  When you see i.e. in a sentence, say “that is.”

e.g.

e.g. is Latin for exempli gratia, “for the sake of an example.”  When you see e.g. in a sentence, say “for example.”

i.e. vs. e.g

These 2 Latin abbreviations do not mean the same thing.  E.g.:

There are lots of ridiculous shows on television, e.g., The Bachelor.

means something different than

Last night I saw a commercial for the most ridiculous show on television, i.e., The Bachelor.

In the first example, The Bachelor is just one of the many ridiculous shows on television, whereas in the second example, I want to say that The Bachelor is the most ridiculous show on television.

See the difference?

 

 

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Social Media: Soda, Wine, Oxycodone, or Heroin?

The following is a guest post (my first ever) from my friend and fellow Mungarian Mike Pratt.  Mike and I have been having a friendly argument about social media: is it mainly helpful, harmful, or neutral?  I’m increasingly of the opinion that it does more harm than good, but Mike doesn’t agree.  Here’s what Mike thinks.

 

Andrew asked me to write a guest post on this blog in response to my taking issue with his argument. It’s not that I think his points in his first post and subsequent follow-up post are entirely wrong, but I’ll argue they have omissions and thus fail to convince. I will counter his argument and offer an alternative framework for viewing this thing called social media.

Before I start I’d like to make one side point: I also think Andrew’s statement:

“What has your attention is what has your worship.  What you think about in your free moments, the topics and places to which your thoughts tend to go, those are your gods.”

is gross generalization of the meaning. As Keller puts it

“What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…”

To simply have your attention is not necessarily bad or false worship. When it has all of your attention, in place of other, more important things (first and foremost, God) then it becomes an idol of worship. Thoughts can go to many things and not render those things worship. Thank God or my daydreaming is convicted!

Now to the Main Topic

This analogy is by no means perfect but I think it’s a decent framework to look at the issue. As you read each blurb on these four substances, ponder in your mind which one you think is most analogous to social media.

Soda

With a few exceptions, soda is viewed as a relatively benign substance to be enjoyed. In small quantities, it’s clearly harmless and even for regular users, there have been few, if any, documented cases of extreme adverse health consequences. It is accepted that soda is not even remotely hazardous like any of the other 3 substances in this analogy.

Wine

Given the alcohol contained in wine, it’s a step up from soda in that it can be abused and in extreme use cases, is addictive and can have serious health consequences. The Bible celebrates wine in measured doses (wedding at Cana) and also condemns its abuse (drunkenness.) Many people drink wine. Many choose not to.

Oxycodone

This seriously addictive and controlled substance is a ruiner of lives when abused. It is also extremely beneficial in tightly controlled use cases (post surgical pain relief) It is highly controlled because it is so addictive as well as misused (leading to abuse).

Heroin

There are no beneficial uses. Highly addictive. Bad bad bad.

 

So what is Facebook, then?

One man’s opinion:

It’s not soda. I think, to Andrew’s point, there are many people who are hooked on the stuff. “Hooked” in this case being defined as “they use it so much that it takes away from the lives they normally led in a detrimental way or at the expense of basic things”

It’s not Oxy. That implies a very limited, positive use case like Oxy which is just not true. A significant number of social media users engage on their platform(s) of choice in positive and beneficial ways. The government does not (nor should) control use of the platforms to prevent a possible mass wave of harmful addiction because with free use, the facts are that only a minor set of users qualify as “harmfully addictive.”

It’s not Heroin. That presumes there are NO beneficial uses of social media and while many do think that, those folks probably think all soda is a mind-control beverage that Pepsi uses in cahoots with the government.

It’s wine. There are plenty of beneficial, everyday uses of Facebook. Can it get out of hand? Sure. Can you “drink too much”? Sure. Should some people give up drinking? Definitely. The key is to look at what you “drink” and why. Does it rule your life? Are you grumpy without a “drink” or do you love a “glass” with a good meal or when out with friends? Andrew posted a picture of everyone in line at an airport on their phones (presuming that it was a “wrong” state of the world) Replace everyone in that picture with a paperback (Google search images and you will find plenty pre-Facebook!) The devices were simply being used as boredom elimination devices. I don’t think that picture was indicative of the eroded state of the world.

A Word on Facebook’s (or Coke’s) Intentions

Coke wants you to buy Coke Zero. Coke Zero is not medically addictive. You may think Coke wants to “addict” you but it doesn’t matter. They can’t. They will do everything they can to get you to buy it. They should. That’s their business. Blaming Facebook for “not caring about the consequences” is like blaming <insert your favorite brewery or winery> for not caring about the consequences of having a glass. They inform you to drink responsibly and it can be argued that Facebook should not need to place a warning label that you might spend too much time in their web app.

So, I’ll leave you with sage advice: Don’t drink and post!

The above was a guest post by Mike Pratt.  (Click here to subscribe to regular updates from this blog.)  Mike is:
  • A Mungarian!  (Member of Munger Place Church.)
  • The CEO of technology startup Panamplify
  • Founder & President of professional org Digital Dallas
  • A former soldier, wall street trader, marketing exec and non-believer
  • Check out Mike on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikepratt
  • Email Mike: mike@mikeratt.tv

The Limits of Tolerance

Is there a limit to tolerance?  A friend of mine put that question to me this afternoon, in response to last week’s post on tolerance.  My answer: No.  Here’s why.

 

The Roots of Tolerance

Tolerance is simply the social recognition of a fundamental truth: all people are completely free to choose to believe and do whatever they want to believe and do.  There are no exceptions to this principle.  This truth is not dependent on whether laws and governments recognize it; this truth is simply true.

Yes, governments and societies try to constrain the behavior of the people under their power, but they cannot actually remove free choice from their people–all they can do is make it more or less likely that people freely choose this or that action.

As I argued last week, tolerance has its roots in the character of God: God created us as free creatures and allows us to exercise that freedom, for good or ill.

I don’t think there is a limit to tolerance because I don’t think there is a time when God takes away our freedom to choose.

But Actions Have Consequences

We are all free to believe and do whatever we choose, but we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.  Actions have consequences.  I’m free to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, but I cannot avoid the consequences of my freely chosen actions.  Actions have consequences.

Doesn’t God’s Tolerance Have a Limit?

In the Bible, we read how God eventually allowed the Israelites to be conquered by their pagan neighbors as a consequence of their continued disobedience.  I don’t think this is an example of the limits of God’s tolerance, however.  Rather, I think God’s tolerance never wavered: he always allowed the Israelites to freely choose to accept or reject him.  But, although God’s forbearance (a synonym of tolerance) never ran out, the Israelites’ actions eventually caught up with them.  Their actions led to the Exile.  Certain actions lead to certain consequences, the way day inexorably follows night.

What About Human Law?

As humans, we seek to constrain certain behaviors precisely because we know that people are always free to choose.  When we lock up the serial murderer, we are not suddenly denying his freedom to choose, but acknowledging it: we know that if we do not lock him up, he may very likely continue to freely choose murder.  Actions have consequences and human societies impose various consequences on various behaviors, but those consequences do not change the fundamental fact on which the principle of tolerance rests, namely that people are always free to choose.

Our True Limit

God’s tolerance does not have a limit, but our lives are limited: we are limited by the choices of our actions, and we are limited by our mortality.  None of us can choose to be exempt from the consequences of his choices, and none of us can choose to be exempt from death.

Sooner or later, all our actions catch up to us.

P.S.  Why Does This Matter?

Tolerance recognizes that it’s never too late for anyone–all people can choose to turn towards God or away from God up until their last breath.  (And maybe beyond their last breath–who knows?)  Because I can’t take away someone’s free will–even by force–it means that the pressure is off: I can’t force anyone to believe what I believe.  I can’t make anyone believe anything, but I can persuade her through my words and actions to freely choose the Truth I’ve chosen.

Which is a sacred privilege, when you think about it.

 

 

 

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In Praise of “Deep Work”

As focused attention becomes rarer and rarer in our distracted culture, the people who cultivate focused attention will find themselves becoming more and more valuable.  In other words, you can’t afford NOT to be doing deep work.  This is the thesis of the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, a book that I cannot recommend highly enough.  Here’s why.

 

Deep Work: A Definition

Cal Newport, computer science professor at Georgetown University, defines deep work in this way:

Deep Work: professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

In contrast with deep work is shallow work:

Shallow Work: noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Most knowledge workers spend most of their time engaged in shallow work–email, anyone?–so that, though they may be busy, they are not productive.

The people who are writing the best-selling books, making the blockbuster movies, creating the irresistible advertising campaigns, winning the major tournaments, and leading the market-beating companies, these are the people who are doing deep work (whether they realize it or not).  Deep work makes a difference.

The Deep Work Hypothesis

The prevalence of shallow work in our culture leads to Newport’s deep work hypothesis.

The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy [and becoming valuable because it is becoming rare–AF]. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.

Newport also argues that deep work actually makes people happier.  As someone who has certainly spent a day being busy without being productive, I know that he’s right: I’m happier when I’m able to focus.

So, if you want to thrive in our knowledge work economy and if you want to be happier while doing it, you need to learn how to do deep work.

The Deep Work Rules

Newport has come up with what he calls The Rules of Deep Work.

  1. Work Deeply
  2. Embrace Boredom
  3. Quit Social Media
  4. Drain the Shallows

1. Work Deeply

Deep work is something we can learn how to do.  Focused attention is not something you can just turn on or off–it’s something that must be trained and cultivated, like a muscle.  Just as someone who spends his time sitting on the couch eating Doritos and watching television cannot overnight become a marathon champ, neither can someone who spends his time like that be immediately good at deep work.  Deep work requires practice and planning.

2. Embrace Boredom

Internet tools (social media, on-demand video, infotainment sites, etc.) have taught our minds to need constant stimulation, but deep work requires focused attention, and our need for shallow stimulation will undermine our ability to do deep work.  Therefore, we need to embrace boredom.  It’s good to resist the urge to pull out your smart phone when waiting in line at the post office: our minds need boredom.

3. Quit Social Media

You knew this was coming, right?  Newport makes the argument that people who are actually producing deep work (best-selling authors like Michael Lewis, e.g.) produce deep work because they do not allow themselves to be distracted by social media.  I know lots of people believe that social media is like alcohol–to be used and enjoyed in moderation.  I wonder, though, if social media is more like heroin: addictive and distracting for everyone.  (UPDATE: In conversation, I could say something provocative like that and you’d understand from my jocular tone what I was trying to convey, but I realize that, if you just read those words, they come across differently.  My church actively uses social media (and I use it, too) and I have many friends who work in social media marketing; if I really believed that social media was the same thing as heroin, I’d stop using it immediately.  I think social media marketing is necessary in our culture.  My point is just that I think all of us are much more easily distracted than we want to admit.)

4. Drain the Shallows

By “drain the shallows,” Newport means that we should aggressively eliminate the non-essential from our working lives.  For example, he gives practical tips on how to cut down on email, a major source of shallow work for most people.

Why I Need This Book

About 45 times a year, year after year, my professional responsibilities require me to create a brand-new, relevant, engaging, and faithful presentation and then deliver it in front of an average live audience of about 1,000 people, each one of whom is judging me savagely (even if they seem to be nice people!) on that presentation.  In addition to that, I also create multiple smaller presentations and essays through the year that also need to be original, relevant, helpful, and faithful.  In our distracted world, it seems as if everything but the truly important is screaming LOOK AT ME!  PAY ATTENTION TO ME!, and so I’ve come to the following conclusion:

if I don’t learn to do deep work, I’m not going to make it.

Deep Work is one of the most insightful, practical, and challenging books I’ve read about work and creativity…maybe ever.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

★★★★ excellent

 

 

 

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Is God Tolerant?

Tolerance is not just what we need to live peaceably together in an increasingly diverse society (though that’s true): tolerance is much more important than that.  In fact, I think it’s fair to say that life itself depends on tolerance, as does the fate of the entire world.

 

False Tolerance

Tolerance is not, despite how the word is often employed, a vague sense that all beliefs and all religions are basically the same.  This is a false idea, and this is a false definition of tolerance.  In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what tolerance actually implies.

True Tolerance

Tolerance is about recognizing that all beliefs and all religions are not basically the same.  In fact, tolerance recognizes that many beliefs and religions are inherently contradictory, and no amount of hand-holding and attendance at diversity seminars will make inherently contradictory beliefs the same.

Rather, tolerance is about making space for irreconcilable differences.  Tolerance is not about agreement, but about tolerating viewpoints with which you vehemently disagree.

Limits of Tolerance

It should be said that the one thing that we cannot tolerate is violence (which is not the same thing as speech, however ugly and hateful that speech might be), because violence makes tolerance itself impossible.  But, with the exception of violence, tolerance makes room for all other actions and choices and beliefs.

A Theology of Tolerance

One of the main expressions of tolerance in the American Constitution is in our First Amendment: our right to religious freedom.   (The First Amendment literally says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”)  But religious freedom is not just a nice idea, codified into law.  Rather, religious freedom is a principle built on the bedrock of reality, because it’s a principle that is obviously true: all people are free to believe whatever they want to believe.  You cannot force anyone to believe anything.  God created us as completely free creatures, and we can use that freedom in whatever way we want.  We are even free to believe ugly things and free to act in ugly ways, free even to reject God himself.  And God permits this freedom.

God, you might say, is tolerant.

In fact, I think that the Lord is far more tolerant than I would be, were I in his place: I’d never have allowed that evil man to massacre all those people in that Orlando nightclub.

But then again, neither would I have so loved the world that I would have given my only son for the world, knowing that the world (which I created) would reject and kill him.  God’s tolerance, you might say, made the Crucifixion possible.

Which means God’s tolerance also made the Resurrection possible.

Which means that tolerance is part of God’s plan to save the world.

 

 

 

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My Friend’s Orlando Thoughts

I haven’t yet come up with anything interesting or helpful to say about the murders in Orlando, so I haven’t written anything.  But I read something my friend Jacob Sahms wrote that struck me, and I share it below.

 

Reading and hearing the responses to the violence in Orlando, I’m struck by the outrage – and the way fingers start pointing at anyone but ourselves. If we’re going to be the peacemakers who are called the children of God, then the solutions all start with us.

Do we talk and act peacefully? (Yes, that includes driving.) Do we recognize that we’re all children of God, even the people we don’t agree with/like? Do our dollars and our votes endorse peace? Do we teach our children peace and love for all? We can pray all we want for peace, but if we’re not part of being peace, then “thy kingdom come” isn’t actually something we’re part of.

Jacob Sahms

He’s totally right: “the way fingers start pointing at anyone but ourselves.”  Certainly true about me, and I don’t like it.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace….