freeing neighborhoods and nations from the virus of poverty pt 2 Single Parents

May 3, 2020    By: Matt W. @ 1:29 pm   Category: Life

Single Parent Families with Children under 18 have a markedly higher rate of poverty. 26.6% of single parent families (41.4 % in the US (, 2nd only to Ireland’s 45.8%) are below the relative poverty line. This is 3.5X the rate of dual parent or childless homes (which are similar, 7.6% and 8.9% below the poverty line). The number one cause of single parent families is still Separation or Divorce, followed by unwed pregnancy. (56% of childless homes from divorce per pew research for the US, and more dramatic in other nations like Japan, with 96%+ from divorce). While there are some indications that unwed single parents are financially worse off (30% of median 2 parent income vs 49% for divorced), there isn’t a good source I have yet found which breaks out single parents in poverty by these two cohorts and by the definition of relative poverty in the prior post, both would be below the relative poverty line. (more…)

freeing neighborhoods and nations from the virus of poverty pt 1 Introduction

April 27, 2020    By: Matt W. @ 10:43 am   Category: Life

Jeffrey Holland at one point said, speaking of the current pandemic: “We pray for those who have lost loved ones in this modern plague, as well as for those currently infected or at risk. We certainly pray for those who are giving such magnificent healthcare. When we have conquered it—and we will—may we be equally committed to freeing the world from the virus of hunger and freeing neighborhoods and nations from the virus of poverty. May we hope for schools where students are taught—not terrified they will be shot—and for the gift of personal dignity for every child of God, unmarred by any form of racial, ethnic, or religious prejudice.”

This is an amazing call to action from an Apostle of Jesus Christ: to end hunger, end poverty, increase education, increase safety, and end prejudice.

It’s also really big and complicated, and there are a lot of opinions about what does and does not work in this space. Many of these items are inter-related and have causal relationships one with another. Hunger is caused by Poverty. Poverty is impacted by lack of education, education is impacted by prejudice.

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20 years up and running

October 11, 2018    By: Matt W. @ 8:53 am   Category: Life

20 Years ago today, I was baptised.

20 years on, I still believe.

 

 

Insulting Utes on Twitter

October 9, 2017    By: Geoff J @ 5:07 pm   Category: Evolutionary psychology,Life

Hey look! I just noticed I still own this blog… nice.

Ok, I knew I still owned NCT. I just haven’t posted here in more than three years. These days I mostly get my online fix by talking BYU sports on Twitter. (See @GeoffJbyu) The thing about rooting for BYU on Twitter is it means I get to argue with Utah Utes fans a lot. Of course arguments in the 140 character format of Twitter mostly consists of taunting and insulting. I get a lot of Ute challengers appearing in my Twitter mentions these days because I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for being highly optimistic about BYU (which infuriates and frustrates many of them to no end) and for being somewhat pugilistic in my responses to Ute antagonists who come after me. My go-to insult with most Ute fans is to call them imbeciles in one form or another. Some variations on that theme have included: moron, dimwit, stupid, dumber than a box of rocks, illiterate, fool, dullard, ignoramus, simpleton, pea brain, numbskull, and knucklehead. Such insults tend to get under their skins, which of course is my goal.

Not sure if I should feel bad about all the online arguing and insulting or not. I normally don’t. Although sometimes I get the feeling the rough-housing has gotten too heated and sort of feel bad when that happens.

Anyhow, in some ways the whole Twitter fighting process is kind of cathartic. I have long been a bit of a fan of evolutionary psychology theories that posit that we have all sorts of instincts that we’re born with as a result of the evolutionary history of humans. (And yes, I do think human evolution can square with a Mormon cosmology just fine with the right assumptions). So I kind of suspect this sort of raw tribal fighting is coded into all of our DNA. It sure seems to come naturally to us all.

If that’s the case, seems to me that the low stakes, almost ritualized sparring associated with this literal Team Blue vs Team Red serves as a useful and largely harmless outlet. It is undoubtedly a lower stakes fight than the ugly political fighting we see between Team Red (conservatives) and Team Blue (liberals) so many other places these days. Likewise, the religious fighting I used to do with anti-Mormons here and elsewhere online seemed to have higher stakes (even if that was just my impression).

I recently saw someone make a prediction for the future of humanity that went something like this: “Unrelenting Tribalism”. I tend to agree. I think tribalism is probably in our DNA. So I’m hoping that getting my tribal warfare fix via low stakes sports team rivalries is actually a useful pressure release valve rather than just an excuse for me to be rude to a bunch of anonymous Ute fans online.

If unrelenting tribalism is in our blood and inevitable, maybe finding a low stakes outlet like a sports team rivalry for it would be good for all of us. Especially if we could then let cooler heads prevail when it comes to higher stakes issues in society.

Moving to Seattle

April 11, 2017    By: Matt W. @ 6:12 am   Category: Life

This Summer, My Family will be moving to Seattle.

Questions I have:

What is church like there?

Why isn’t there a website that helps you find the right ward? (Reviews of YW programs and choirs would be nice)

Is it morally wrong to ward shop?

Rent or Buy? Is the AirB&B thing going to cause a housing price decline?

Utah election results

November 13, 2016    By: Matt W. @ 8:43 am   Category: Life

Alot of people are bothered that Trump won Utah. A couple things to keep an eye on.

In 2012, Romney won Utah with 740k votes. In 2016, Trump won with 375k. In 2012, a million people voted, in 2016, only 700k did.

So the reality is that trump did 50% worse than Romney,  and the top drop in support came from disenfranchised voters who didn’t vote for anyone.

If we estimate Utah voting population growth for the past 4 years at 2% a year (which per the census would be very conservative)  This would mean almost 400k people who would have voted, based on 2012 rates, didn’t. This is more votes than trump received.

So the Utah reality is that Trump won for a number of factors, but none of those factors was massive Mormon support for him.

The Mormon Ross Perot Moment

October 22, 2016    By: Matt W. @ 10:14 am   Category: Life

Ross Perot was the anti-establishment candidate in 1992, who rose to prominence for taking 19% of the Vote in the presidential election. The vacuum that created his success was a very unpopular incumbent president, who’s party was disenfranchised with him due to broken campaign promises about taxes, failing to eliminate Saddam Hussein, and a poor economy. The vacuum was also created due to lukewarm response to the democratic candidate, who was freshly coming off a scandal where he had an affair with Gennifer Flowers. This created a space for a 3rd party candidate to give people somewhere they could vote as a protest to the other two candidates. There is often talk that George Bush would have won without Ross Perot taking the votes, but polling data and exit surveys clearly paint that Bush was always lagging behind Clinton and Ross took votes equally from both candidates.

I think this parallels well the situation in Utah today with candidate Evan McMullin. McMullin is a relative unknown with virtually no history, but the one main power he has is that he is neither Trump no Clinton. He gives people who do not feel comfortable with either establishment candidate a space where they can register their dissent. This is why the latest polls show McMullin with a 14-25% chance of winning Utah (and thusly a .00001% chance of becoming president through a very unlikely scenario that the house negotiates with him after a very unlikely Clinton/Trump tie)   (more…)

From Civic to Liberal Republicanism: John Locke and the Dutch

September 29, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 1:19 pm   Category: Calvinism,Ethics,Happiness,Life,Money and getting gain,Politics

This is the 4th part in my series whereby I roughly follow Jerry Muller’s Thinking About Capitalism, in order to bring socio-economic and intellectual history to Jonathan Haidt’s political taxonomy.  Here is the political spectrum that I have been working with:

spectrum-and-legend

Last post I discussed how Machiavelli, Hobbes and various religious thinkers contributed to the transvaluation of Civic Republican virtue into the modern “virtue” of self-interest.  This post will discuss the ways in which the 17th Century Dutch experience in general and – even though Muller strangely ignores him – John Locke in particular transformed the aristocratic Civic Republicanism into the middle-class Liberal Republicanism that would later form the very heart of the American constitution. (more…)

A Genealogy of Self-Interest: Machiavelli and Hobbes

This is the third post in my series where I appropriate Jerry Muller’s lecture series “Thinking About Capitalism” to bring socioeconomics and intellectual history to Jonathan Haidt’s social-psychological account of political differences. Briefly, on the right is a very rough, graphical depiction of Haidt’s tripartite political taxonomy. On the left is my taxonomy which is (with huge caveats that I won’t elaborate upon here) the vertical mirror image of Haidt’s:

my-spectrumhaidt-spectrum

Paternalism = Theocratic Chiefdom (Traditional Segmentation)
Abs. = Absolute Monarchy
Const. = Constitutional Monarchy
Individualism = Libertarianism (Classical Liberalism)
Welf. = Welfare State Liberalism
Soc. = Socialism
Fraternalism = Anarchism (“Utopian” Communism)
Mult. = Multi-Cultural Humanism
Civ. = Civic Republicanism (Aristocratic Humanism)
Nat. = Nationalism

To be sure, no 2-dimensional political spectrum could ever include every nuance or exception to every rule.  As such, these circles and boundaries are suggestive, high-level generalizations intended to function as entry points and primers rather than the definitive, last word on any such position. (more…)

Greek/Christian Condemnations of Profit/Usury

September 12, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 4:29 pm   Category: Ethics,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Politics

(This is the second in a series of posts dedicated to the relationship between Mormonism and capitalism.)

Last post I proposed to frame the history of capitalism around the tensions between self-interested exchange and reciprocal charity – two very different and mutually incompatible ways of organizing social relations.  This tension is best illustrated by a father who will not provide for his family unless somebody can answer the question: “What’s in it for me?”  To be sure, some classical liberals have sought to actually answer this question, but I think most of us think the very act of asking the question (let alone trying to answer it) is, at best, morally problematic.

The question that capitalism forces upon us is the extent to which we want to model social relations on familial reciprocity or on contractual exchange?  Which is the rule and which is the exception, and when is it the exception?  Muller’s second lecture, “The Greek and Christian Traditions,” is aimed at describing how medieval society insisted that we organize economic relations around household relations as both the Civic Republican and Christian traditions dictated. It is against this moral background that the modern advocacy of capitalism and the radical trans-valuation of morals that it entailed should be understood.  The questions which we Mormons ought to ask ourselves are: 1) To what extent do our scriptures and revelations presuppose the traditional condemnations of profit and usury? and 2) To what extent do our scriptures and revelations support the radical trans-valuation by which these condemnations were overthrown?  (more…)

Capitalism and the United Order – Pt. 1

September 8, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 5:45 pm   Category: Ethics,Happiness,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Politics

This will be a new series of relatively short posts that will center around Jerry Z. Muller’s lecture series “Thinking About Capitalism” (follow the link for transcripts of the first 18 lectures).   In previous posts, I have strongly recommended his “The Mind and the Market“, and I wish to reiterate that recommendation.  While there is a lot of overlap between the lecture series and the book, I will stick to the former since 1) it breaks things down into manageable, 4,000 word chunks and 2) it doesn’t require anybody to go out and buy a book.  For these and other reasons, I strongly suggest that people read the lectures that I have linked above.

First, a little overview of what to expect.  Muller is an intellectual historian who has a clear but guarded preference for free-market capitalism.  He knows that capitalism is not perfect and is fraught with several dangers and moral costs, but thinks that its benefits justify those costs.  Like most liberals (I will insist upon the European sense of this term while reserving “socialist” for left-wing despisers of the free market), he has a tendency to draw strong connections and parallels between right and left-wing critics of free market liberalism.  While we should be on guard for this, his approach does provide a lot of historical context and continuity to various left-wing criticisms of capitalism.  Now, moving on…. (more…)

The Meaning and Morals of Marriage

August 29, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 12:48 pm   Category: Ethics,Evolutionary psychology,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Politics

Terrence Deacon’s classic work, The Symbolic Species, is a very interesting synthesis of 1) Peircean semiotics, 2) a socio-anthropological account of morals and 3) a very traditional understanding of marriage.  It is thus quite surprising to me that this confluence of symbols, morals and marriage within a text as widely cited as Deacon’s has gone almost entirely unnoticed within the LDS community.  Starkly put, if ever there was a naturalistic and historical argument to be made for the sanctity of marriage, this is it.

Since my goal is primarily to explicate rather than appropriate Deacon’s ideas, the quote-to-exposition ratio in this post will be quite high. Before getting to those quotes, however, let me first summarize Deacon’s account, if only to provide a roadmap for what is to come:

All and only humans have been able to combine 1) cooperative hunting, 2) male provision of offspring and 3) sexual exclusivity.  The means by which this unstable combination is maintained is marriage.  Marriage is a uniquely human practice that is totally different in kind from the pair-bonding found in other species.  By way of analogy, pair-bonding is to associative thought as marriage is to symbolic thought: While the former are concerned with the regularities that an individual can predict to hold between two objects (smoke and fire), the latter involve a collective assignment of meaning or prescription of status upon both A) an object with respect to many other objects and B) those many objects with respect to it.

Thus, while pair-bonding can be understood as a negotiation of child-rearing responsibilities between the male and female (and them alone), marriage involves the collective ascription by an entire community of not only these roles and responsibilities but also those toward an entire social network that crosses kinship lines.  Stated differently, in the same way that a change in the symbolic meaning of one sign also changes the symbolic meaning of and between 20 other signs, so too a change in the moral/marriage status of one person also changes the moral status of and relations between 20 other people. Deacon’s theory, to summarize, is not merely that symbolic thought closely parallels marriage relations; rather, it is the much stronger claim that the latter was the evolutionary origin and cause of the former. (more…)

The Word of Wisdom as a Boycott of the Free Market

August 23, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 8:34 am   Category: Ethics,Happiness,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices

A Word of Wisdom … showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days… In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days… And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make. (D&C 89)

Market demand is not the same as moral evaluation – and the production and consumption habits of the saints should conform to the latter rather than the former.

Up until the turn of the 19th century, the Chinese held a significant trade balance against the British.  Chinese tea had become extraordinarily popular within the British Isles, but the Chinese refused to trade anything other than silver for their tea.  The British, however, eventually solved their trade deficit with China by providing them with an even more addictive combination of American tobacco and Indian opium.  By 1804 the trade deficit had reverse direction in favor of the British as opium addiction spread widely (50% of men and 25% of women) throughout China.  This trade deficit along with the social effects of widespread addiction together led to a Chinese prohibition on the substance and, eventually, to the opium wars against the British (1839).

It is in this light, I suggest, that we ought to understand the importance of the Word of Wisdom (WoW). While we currently focus on the social effects of addictive stimulants, I would like to argue that the economic effects are at least as relevant.  The British addiction to tea had given the Chinese so much economic power over them that the only way in which the British could reverse this power relation was through an even more addictive stimulant.  Understood this way, the WoW can (and perhaps should) be understood as an economic boycott, and as such being much more pro-active in its moral intent than the passive “abstaining” from consuming various substances. (more…)

The Mediocrity of Modern Morality: A Faithful Nietzsche II

April 22, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 5:08 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Happiness,Life,orthodox,Politics,Truth

(Edit: Like Abraham of old, we are sometimes required by the Lord or His messengers to do utterly immoral things. In other words, sometimes we have an obligation to act immorally. This post is aimed at explaining why this sounds like a contradiction in terms to our modern ears.)

Democracy is horrible and Aristocracy is fantastic. While there is much to disagree with in this claim of Nietzsche’s (he has nothing but condemnation to say regarding all forms of inter-personal obligations and authority), there is also a great deal of truth that we Mormons would do well to address. After all, the secular world clearly exalts the values and morality of the former while the church is quite obviously an Aristocracy (of sorts) that repeatedly insists that it is not a democracy in which “the people” rule. What are the tensions between these two moralities and to what extent to these tension manifest themselves within the modern, Mormon mind?

Nietzsche sees stratification as a normal and health aspect of life which Democrats, Moderns, Utilitarians, Kantians, Socialists, Classical Liberals, Capitalists, Proletariats, Materialists, Christians and a whole slew of others conspire against. Whereas Kierkegaard objected to the ways in which these various movements where making faith cheap, easy and weak, Nietzsche rejects them since they make life itself cheap, easy and weak. Both of these men had nothing but contempt for “the world” and it just so happened that “the world” at their time was largely Christian. When framed in these terms, that Mormons might also harbor a similar contempt for the now less-Christian world that we see around us. (more…)

Feast and Famine and a sacrament meeting talk

March 12, 2016    By: Matt W. @ 9:55 pm   Category: Life

I am speaking in church tomorrow. Special thanks to Joe Spencer for many of the ideas here.

I have been asked to speak about “feasting upon the words of Christ”. This snippet of scripture comes from 2 Nephi 31 verse 20. Since we are discussing “feasting upon the words of Christ”, here are some of my favorite words of Christ.

“the”, “fox”, “business”

And I say these words in the name of…

Just like it doesn’t make much sense to cherry pick a single word from the scriptures out of context, We cannot appreciate the imperative to “Feast upon the words of Christ” without context.

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