Thursday, May 21, 2015

Why Do People Label Themselves?

I watched Baz Luhrman's Romeo and Juliet (excuse me, Romeo + Juliet) with one of my boys this week. Yes, I skipped the part where they frolicked in bed, but not before my son caught me with a "Dad, should I be watching this?" What a snot that kid is. I know my job.

Anyway, in the story the characters rail against the stars more than once. Because the stars came up in the movie, the boy and I were able to talk about astrology, and why people are into it. Waging hopeless war on destiny is a hoary and honorable and very pagan theme in tragedy, but opposing one's fated sea of troubles is only for the noblest among us. For the rest, the stars provide comfort, even in distress.

This same week I was driving with the elder daughter when she asked "Dad, do people still go to palm readers?" That "still" was an interesting choice of words, because I've tried hard over the years to crush any chronological snobbery the children might have, but such things are hard to escape.

Yes, daughter, people still go to palm readers.


I'll tell you why. For the same reason they're into astrology.

Also this week I stumbled across an online quiz. Well, a couple, actually. One said my brain was 80% female and 20% male. I think that's because I wouldn't choose an action flick if I had the guys over, and because after shopping for jeans, which the quiz made me do, I wouldn't just grab a slice of pizza, but would sit down at a cafe and take leisurely refreshment. I'm such a girl.

The other quiz is the one I want to tell you about. I stumbled across it via this Wall Street Journal article, which discussed HSPs, or Highly Sensitive People.
Meet the Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP—someone who responds more intensely to experiences than the average individual. Experts say HSPs process both positive and negative information more thoroughly, and so they can easily become overwhelmed by stimuli. They are acutely aware of sensations, whether of taste, touch, sound or smell. And they are particularly sensitive to emotions—their own and those of others. 
Research studies show that about 20% of the population fits into this category, and the trait is found in the same numbers in men and women.  
HSPs are currently having a moment: Last week, the First International Scientific Conference on High Sensitivity or Sensory Processing Sensitivity was held at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, with panels on sensory processing sensitivity in children and what we can learn from successful people who are highly sensitive. There is a documentary in the works titled “Sensitive.” (The trailer features Alanis Morissette, a self-proclaimed HSP.)
The article mentions a guy, a successful college professor who cries at sight or sound of anything patriotic, as an example of an HSP. And he's not just sensitive to patriotism. That good ol' religion gets him too.
Mr. Hassard first noticed he was highly sensitive in his early teens. Singing in his church choir, there were songs that he says he “had a hard time getting through” because they moved him so much.
Perhaps, if he does not believe, but cries at hymns anyway, he is indeed highly sensitive. But Mr. Hassard, I cry nearly every Sunday over at least one of the hymns. That's not to suggest that Christians should cry over hymns, but lots of Christians do cry over hymns. Because of Jesus and redemption and whatnot.

Still, as I read this article, I was intrigued. After all, I don't just cry at the foot of the cross. I cry when I read Felix Randal (o is he dead then?). I cry when credit card commercials show me how my children's dreams can come true if I just join the right bank and get the right card. I cry when the Mighty Ducks win. I cried through most of the new Cinderella movie. I write blog posts entitled 8 Things I Can't Do Without Crying. Yes, it's clear.

I'm a highly sensitive person. But am I a Highly Sensitive Person? The Wall Street Journal provided this link to a quiz designed in the 90s. I took it. And I include the quiz here in its entirety, all twenty-seven questions. Twenty-seven is a lot, so you know it's comprehensive.

Turns out I'm an insensitive lout who just happens to cry a lot, because only ten of these apply to me. I don't get to be an HSP. I don't get to use this label.

Now, knowing one's self is surely a virtue. If you or someone else decides you're an ENTJ or Anal or whatever other label, that might be helpful to you.

And many people suffer from maladies medical or psychological that can only be helped once diagnosed, and diagnosis requires labeling.

But why this cultural mania for self-labeling? Why do we want to put a name or an acronym on everything about ourselves? Why do we all want to know if we're introverts or extroverts, if we're Visionaries or Protectors?

Is it because we want to know ourselves?

No. We label ourselves for the same reasons we read horoscopes or go to palm-readers.

We do it because we want things to not be our fault. The fault must be in our stars, because the alternative is unthinkable: that we might be responsible for being the people we are.

Now certainly our environments and experiences shape us, and traumas almost inescapably scar and limit us (almost inescapably; more on that at the end). But let me suggest this: the impulse to label is as pagan as astrology. It takes away our responsibility, and it takes away our need to repent. I'm glad I'm a crier, but crying at credit card commercials is a weakness. And if I am so sensitive that I fall apart when I have myself and my family to look after, or if I am so insensitive that I fail to care about myself and my family, I am sinning. That requires repentance, and confession, and grace, and Jesus.

If we can escape sin by pretending it doesn't exist, or better yet, by spinning it into a virtue ("HSPs process both positive and negative information more thoroughly"), we're golden, and don't need Jesus. Thank God we were able to find that loophole!

As I close this article, I remind the dear reader that I am not attacking the naming of things. But consider the impulse, the motivation. Is it really something that needs to be named, to be made a thing? Or is it simply you? You will never escape the need to repent, not as long as you are in this body, this poor potsherd. Come to Jesus, just as you are. If you don't like to talk to people, or if you can't handle loud noises, fine. That's your broken self. That's who you are, and those are the burdens you bear. Don't let a label mediate between you and Jesus. He is your mediator before the Father. And that's all the buffer you need.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Joffre Takes An Online Quiz To See If He's An HSP (Highly Sensitive Person)

I started taking an online quiz designed to tell me if whether or not I'm a highly sensitive flower. As I started answering the questions, I realized that I wanted to share the moment with my YouTube viewers. This video is the first of two. The next will be about the labels that we apply to ourselves, and that we allow others to apply to us.

Monday, May 18, 2015

"We Exchanged Trenchant But Civil Remarks"

Carl Trueman is nearly fifty. He'd have to be old like that, because he recently had a public and passionate disagreement with another gray-hair at an academic conference and both were civil to each other the entire time. What is more, no one made him pay a social price for taking an unpopular stand. This is not the sort of thing people born after 1980 are capable of.

It was almost as if...

I can hardly say it...

People who disagree with each other can be honestly civil with each other.
I spent the first half of last week at a seminar at an Ivy League divinity school, where a friend and I gave a presentation on ministry and media. I had resolved before speaking that I would refer early on in my presentation to the fact that I belong to a denomination which does not ordain women. My discussion of ministry would be incomplete if I didn't mention this subject, though I knew my comment would draw fire at a seminar with ordained women present.  
Sure enough, one of the women ministers present challenged me with some vigor on my position. For a few minutes we exchanged trenchant but civil remarks on the subject.We each spoke our minds, neither persuaded the other, and then we moved on to the larger matter in hand: The use of modern media in the church. The matter of my opposition to women’s ordination never came up again in the remaining two days of the seminar.  
Later that evening, a young research student commented to me that it was amazing to see such a trenchant but respectful disagreement on an issue that typically arouses visceral passions. He added that he and those of his generation had “no idea” (his phrase, if I recall) how such things should be done. Later in the week, my youngest son confirmed that he too had never seen civil disagreement on a matter of importance in the university classroom.
You can read the rest of this fantasy from Trueman here.

You can read about the refusal, used as weapon, to understand or treat with dignity one's opponents here.

Why Slate Mag Is "Baffled" By Tsarnaev Jury & Anyone Not Like Them

How can you not be amazed? It's dominance-by-whining!
Just can't even is a weapon. It's an amazingly effective weapon, and I can't even be mad.

Seth Stevenson at Slate Magazine is baffled at the reasoning of the jury in the Boston bomber case, because they bafflingly decided in 14.5 hours that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should die. According to Stevenson's column, which is one big emotional appeal punctuated by petulant remarks efforting to be snarky, this is less time than it takes him to choose new pants online. Perhaps he would have been less baffled if the jury's decision had taken more than pants time. Pants time is, like, the threshold of human decency, come on you guys.

This "was a tragically misguided political statement from a 19-year-old idiot", and Stevenson opined that "Dzhokhar is three bong hits deep and playing Xbox this afternoon" if not for his older brother Tamerlan.

The people who have been busy establishing the current illiberal thought narrative have made such a virtue out of toeing the party line that they have lost the ability to empathize with or understand different ways of thinking. They look at the freaks on the other side of a gap they themselves have created, and just can't even. That's right. They just can't even.

Because those who disagree with the dominant mode are ridiculous and insane.

The inanity (note: not "insanity", "inanity") of this generation of illiberals is greater than the destructiveness of their grandparents. One of Stevenson's lines in particular stuck out as quintessentially This Generation: "That’s nuts. Tamerlan was clearly in the driver’s seat, in my view."

That's right. He starts off with an absolute declaration: that's crazy, y'all. You don't even know. These bitches be crazy. NUTS, y'all! And he ends the very next sentence, talking about the same thing, with as subjective and pussified a phrase as has ever existed: "in my view".

Id est, you people are insane, but that's just IMHO. But no seriously you're crazy.


The alienness Stevenson establishes is very important to the dominant mode of discourse. ("Discourse." Pshaw.) The alienness is a weapon.

Since most people in most places in most times have actually thought like people, more or less rigorously and more or less correctly, but always like the people they are, the dominant mode has had to create this bafflement artificially. And they have to be pretty violent about it, because most of the thinking they attack is the way their great-grandfathers thought, and is the way many of their countrymen think today.

This alienness is created through emotion. Anger, fear, contempt. All the classic alienation emotions are deployed is this propaganda campaign. We have met the enemy, and he is less than human.

This meme is about computer games.
Is it a conspiracy? Of course not. It's a bunch of people trying to rebel against God, a bunch of people who lack the balls of the Greeks or the ruthlessness of the East. For two hundred years they have abused the Christian mercy built into the fabric of Western civilization to, with gathering numbers and momentum, whine and emote their way to dominance. And make no mistake, dominant is what they are. Not in numbers, but in political and cultural power.

Every once in a while there's a hiccup in the narrative, like a New England jury sentencing someone to death. These are frustrating, and the response must be I just can't even.

But usually those who go against the illiberal narrative were already fit into the enemy box, and they behave as expected. These people are to be spit upon, mocked, and reviled. Only after the righteous expense of emotion, after the cathartic scapegoating, is the law deployed. And the law itself is now part of our emotional fabric. People are made to bake cakes, apologize for sermons, beg mercy of child services, and forced to pay fines.

The logic behind the death penalty in a society is not difficult to understand. In fact, it's about as easy to follow as anything that has ever existed among men. An eye for an eye. There are many reasons to disagree with it, but no reasons to not understand it.

Our society has lost the ability to disagree rationally. It is unacceptable to the dominant mode that their enemies display any logic. Gone is the liberal idea that two people could have logically consistent arguments yet one of them be wrong because his premises were wrong. Now anyone who disagrees with the dominant premise is insane, and there will be no argument.

Now the dominant mode is baffled, and this bafflement is a weapon with which to make the others Other. When alternative thoughts arise, the dominant mode will just can't even. There will be no understanding. There will be no mercy.

There will be no tolerance.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Watch USA Win Their First Rugby 7s Cup

USA Rugby has won its first rugby 7s tournament ever. They participate in the 7s World Series every year, which is a series of tournaments taking place through half the year in such diverse places as Dubai, Hong Kong, Brisbane, Las Vegas, and London.

7s isn't real rugby (which is what you'd expect me, a forward, to say), but you can be proud of your 'Mericans for having broken through on this. In 7s you have seven players a side, instead of the standard fifteen, playing on the same size pitch for seven-minute halves. Each tournament features several games, including pool play and finals. There are loser's brackets, and you can earn points for the season by winning plates or bowls from those brackets, but the overall winner of each tournament goes home with a cup.

Before today, the U.S. had never won a cup. They've had a good year, especially by their standards, and now they've finally broken through to win a tournament. The Americans are never short of speed or power, but usually lack enough uniform know-how and experience to win consistently.

Looks like that might be changing.

You can watch the U.S. win their first cup, against Australia in London earlier today. Finals have ten-minute halves.


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