Friday, May 22, 2009

"Have It Your Way"

I have discovered a new treat: the Orange Dream ICEE®. A few days ago, my Wonderful Wifeepooh passed by a Burger King®, which has recently added said treat to it's lineup. I was blessed with a tasty surprise.

While preparing to consume my Orange Dream ICEE®, I noticed that the straw from Burger King® was much larger than usual - over 1cm in diameter! Being an observant and curious fellow, I read the straw wrapper. I was facing the "BK Pipe (TM)", further described as "Have It Your Way® Technology". I was struck by their choice of terminology and actually showed the paper wrapper to several people.

What I call a fat straw, they called a pipe. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary says a "straw" is "a tube (as of paper, plastic, or glass) for sucking up a beverage", and a "pipe" is "a long tube or hollow body for conducting a liquid, gas, or finely divided solid or for structural purposes ". This appears to be a clever marketing ploy to evoke images of pipelines carrying vast quantities to important destinations. (To me, it seemed like an effective conveyance to expedite "brain freeze".) But why this need to redefine perfectly good words? In advertising, the goal is to create a perceived need. It is considered successful when that perception becomes reality, and the prospective consumer purchases the product.

In our society, we have a problem called "relativism", which means "a theory that knowledge is relative to the limited nature of the mind and the conditions of knowing" or "a view that ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them" (Merriam-Webster). You will see evidence of this sort of thinking in statements like "Well, that may be your truth, but it's not my truth," and "That's not what that word means to me." Notwithstanding the theory of parallel universes (with which we cannot interact except in science fiction), there is only one reality in which we live, and therefore only one possible set of truths, facts, and natural laws that govern it. Even those who choose to ignore the evidence for God cannot logically reject the singular nature of reality.

There are several sects and cults that practice relativism in one form or another. New-agers, Satanists, Buddhists, Taoists, goddess worshipers, Wiccans, neo-pagans, and others all have some sort of philosophy revolving around the concept that perception is reality. [Please note that by "Satanists", I mean the followers of the teachings of Anton Szandor LaVey, et al, NOT the self-styled devil-worshippers who steal and sacrifice neighborhood pets.] These ideas have begun to creep into our society, beginning in the late 1800's, then popularized with the influences of the Eastern Mysticism movements started in the 1960's. (Ron Rhodes, "New Age Movement", Zondervan Publishing House)

Relativism is one of Satan's simplest temptations. If we are dissatisfied with our lives, or dislike the rules, or don't wish to obey authority, we can simply escape into defining things based upon our personal feelings rather than upon observable, testable facts. Taken to extremes, this even leads to a denial of all objective reality. When her daughter's acting teacher was burned to death in a head-on collision, Shirley MacLaine remarked, "Why did she choose to die that way?" (Shirley MacLaine, "It's All in the Playing", Bantam Books) If we elect to fall into the trap of relativism, we will find ourselves unable to hold anybody accountable for their actions, no matter how negligent or heinous.

Campus Crusade for Christ has a great way of looking at this. It is the "fact-faith-feeling" train (I highly recommend you check out this link). Just as a caboose cannot pull a train, our feelings cannot guide reality. Consequently, we must let our faith be let by the facts, and our feelings will follow. If we put our feelings first, we'll get a train wreck.

Let me put it another way. If I am walking across a street, and a large motor vehicle designed to carry passengers is travelling at high velocity on a vector intersecting mine, I will be no less dead if I choose to believe "there is no bus" (Schrödinger's cat would tell me that the bus neither exists nor doesn't exist until I choose to observe it). For a while, you can "have it your way", but God's reality will at some point catch up. Ultimately, we all will have it His way.

For your own safety, I suggest you choose to believe in the bus.

Friday, May 15, 2009

What a "random" thing to say!

I was seriously considering talking about moral relativism, then I realized we need to set some foundation stones. Before we talk about those who redefine the universe according to their own personal, fleeting feelings, I want to talk about a strange and possibly dangerous trend.

Have you noticed how a lot of folks, especially teenagers and young adults, are saying things like, "Wow! That was a really random thing to say." or "I was on my way home and just randomly went to McDonald's."? I'm rather disturbed by this, and I think you should be, too.

Let's start with our basic definitions. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines "random" as "a haphazard course". This of course led me to look up "haphazard", which was defined as "chance". After finding "chance", we really get to the meat of the issue. This is what Merriam-Webster has to say about "chance": "something that happens unpredictably without discernible human intention or observable cause", "the assumed impersonal purposeless determiner of unaccountable happenings : luck", and "the fortuitous or incalculable element in existence : contingency". You will note several elements here.

First, I see it says "without ... human intention or ... cause". If a human says or does anything at all, it is, by definition, not random. Next, we see that it is "impersonal", which would preclude the actions of a person. If somebody is a somebody, they are hardly not a person. Lastly, it is "incalculable". Anybody who is gregarious can be calculated to speak soon. One who is hungry, or perchance lacking impulse control, can be calculated to stop for food. These are straightforward, simple facts.

So why would people say "random" about their actions or the actions of others? Well, basically, it is an excuse. I have coined the term, "exculpification" (based on the Latin culpa, meaning guilt), to describe these behaviors. People want to feel that it "just happened". (It is quite reminiscent of the oft-heard unplanned pregnancy discussion. Q: "How did you get pregnant?" A: "Well, it just happened." As if the voluntary act of sexual congress had nothing to do with the current condition.)

I am convinced, by observation, that people mean "spontaneous" ("arising from a momentary impulse", Merriam-Webster), but do not want to assume responsibility. We all make choices, and many of our choices are poorly made. If we say that we did something "randomly", we are taking our decision-making authority away from ourselves. In short, we are lowering ourselves to a near-animal state, claiming that we cannot control what we do and just bumble around by instinct.

Help me to stamp out the use of "random", unless we are talking about random number generation software, or possible statistical sampling methodology. Don't use it on people.