Things That Go Bump in the Mind

Things That Go Bump in the Mind
Look for a new post every Sunday morning.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ten Beliefs That Help Me Be Happy

     This past month I've written on several holiday themes including admiring Scrooge's iconic grumpiness and the rhetorical acrobatics of explaining Santa to a child. Just as an indoor cat will sneak up on a Christmas tree ornament, the end of the year now encroaches on our festive dispositions. Thinking about the year ahead creeps into the back of our heads upon stealthy feline paws that threatens to pounce on the serenity we allow ourselves once everything is unwrapped and we finally let go of the folderol that makes this particular holiday so fraught with the opportunities for disappointment. Once the true tranquility settles in on Christmas morning, it's easy to get nervous in that peaceful silence that follows if we start to wonder, “Okay, now what?”
     As a dose of prevention in keeping myself from getting wound back up just as the holidays are getting wound down, I thought I might take stock of the spiritual beliefs that help keep me centered when it feels as though the rest of the world is tilting and spinning, and the pull of inertia on my moral compass makes me question the location of all that is right and good. Below is a list of 10 of my core beliefs, and a brief explanation of why I believe them. If instead of internalizing my beliefs, you might take some time before the New Year to list out a few of your own core beliefs, you may find that having a list similar to this to be the salubrious tonic that will get you through the cold winter months ahead.

Ten Core Beliefs

1. Everyday life screws with our ability to apply our abstract principles of right and wrong. While discussing hypothetical situations, it is a lot easier to recognize how we want to react to moral dilemmas. But, everyday life isn't hypothetical. Real life is complicated. Real life has an amazing ability to come up with a bazillion intervening factors that have a sincere impact upon our ability to judge what's right and what's wrong. Every time we encounter a difficult moral decision, circumstance matters. There just is no easy way to fit the geography of real life onto the flat template of “never do this” or “we should always do that.” In theory, the shortest distance between two places is a straight line, but in real life, the shortest distance is sometimes to go around the mountain rather than to try to climb up it.

2. Some difficult ideas cannot be reduced to simple platitudes. Not everything in life can be reduced to a simple formula or a basic rule of thumb. It takes real intelligence, for example, to recognize a distinction between “what is real” and “what we know about it.” What is real is a question of existence; what we know about it is a question of interpretation. When people conflate their interpretations with their reality, problems arise in that they think what they know is real instead of mere belief. Most of humanity's self-inflicted tragedies have come from people who have hurt others while suffering from a madness that has convinced them their dangerous delusions carry the authority of an inescapable actuality.

3. If an idea can be misinterpreted, there will be people who will misinterpret it. This core belief is almost a correlate to Murphy's Law which says “If something can go wrong, it will go wrong.” The human brain is a pattern making machine; we see faces in electrical outlets merely because the three slots line up with two eyes and a mouth. Because our brains are able to make inferences and draw conclusions, then it is inevitable that from time to time, we will make the wrong inference or draw the wrong conclusion. As far as I can tell, there are some people who seem to have a knack for drawing the wrong conclusion from whatever evidence presents itself. There are few things in life more annoying that someone who will argue until they are blue in the face that their interpretation is “the correct one” when any variety of alternative interpretations can be considered just as probable.

4. In general, it is better to be kind than correct. How often in life have we found ourselves arguing with someone over something of little importance but somehow the argument itself takes on its own importance? While we may gain a brief jolt of self-satisfaction when we “win” those arguments, let's consider what we lose when we've forced another person into conceding. What we lose is our higher nature. Every time we bully someone into admitting they are wrong, we have taken another step in the direction of caring more about an ideal than someone else's feelings. Whenever we damage a relationship with someone out of some allegiance to an abstract principle, we've done nothing but demonstrated that an ideal is somehow more important than an actual human being. In the long run, what people will remember about you is how your “ideals” were reflected in how you've treated them, not in your stubborn dogmatism regarding some abstract principle.

5. Something is wrong whenever we value “stuff” over people. Everyone likes their stuff, and most of us would like more stuff. But, really, how much stuff do we need to survive? Everyone should have a warm, safe place to sleep; a decently-filled belly, and a place to take a shower. After that, stuff just gets piled on stuff, but many people are actually willing to hurt or kill others to keep them from taking the stuff they don't actually need to survive. The Bible says, “the love of money is the root of all evil” and that's because money is just a way of keeping track of how much stuff we can get without recognizing how much stuff we don't really need.

6. Anger and Fear can prevent us from thinking straight. Whether you believe in evolution or not, there's a reptilian part of your brains that is completely devoted to “getting ready to run or getting ready to rumble.” Whenever our lower emotions (anger and fear are just a couple of them; hatred and jealously are also on the list) take over the management of our consciousness, we become prisoners of our darker passions. There's something chemical in our brains that prevents us from reasoning well while we are in the midst of panicking. While there is nothing wrong with being passionate about our beliefs, we need to recognize whenever our temper or frustration has moved us from rational beings to snarling animals. It's best to stop in the midst of a heated argument to see if you can regain control of the thinking part of your brain rather than it is to keep charging ahead like a bull who can only focus on the red flag.

7. Whether life is getting better or getting worse is a matter of perspective. You want evidence that life is getting worse, it's there in abundance. Gravity and entropy are never going to go away. It takes no effort to focus on either what's wrong or what's missing if you want life to be different from that way it is. And, at the same time, if you want verification that things are getting better, all you have to do is look for justification because it is all around you. Good things are happening; hard work and dedication is paying off. Now, which perspective is going to make you a better person? Since neither perspective is necessarily incompatible with the other, how much of one are you willing to allow to either support or destroy the other outlook? It's not really about either being pessimistic or optimistic; it's about be aware that either perspective is a choice, and all choices have both their liabilities and their benefits.

8. The best religion is the one you follow, not the one you preach to others. If there is an Ultimate Truth out there, and you've found it, then do me a solid favor and show me the way rather than try to drag me to it. If there is a path to salvation, it must point in the direction of personal responsibility. How can anyone become responsible if they don't have the agency of finding the truth out for themselves?

9. You don't need to understand what someone was thinking in order to forgive them. Forgiveness means letting go of something you hold against someone else. You don't have to forget what has happened, you only need to allow it to be. If you think you need to wait to understand someone else's motivations for what they have done before you can let go of it, then you may end up holding on to those feelings forever. How often do we understanding why anyone else does anything? How many times in our own lives have we done something that we can't even explain to ourselves why we did it?
The secret to forgiveness is the acknowledgement that forgiveness lives within our own control and other people do not. We cannot change what other people have done in the past or will do in the future; we can only change how we decide to feel about it.

10. Forgives of others is a gift we give ourselves. The terrible truth about resentment is that it is an acid that burns from within; typically when we hold on to grudges and bitterness, those harsh feelings harm only ourselves. Sometimes people stay angry for years at what someone else has said or done, and they end up prolonging and exacerbating their own emotional damage because of it. Letting go of resentment is a gift we give ourselves because we victimize ourselves when hold on to anger, sadness, and frustration that may affect the other person not at all. When we learn to weed the garden of our hearts of old animosities, we make room to grow the fruits of our own contentment. If you are unconvinced that forgiveness can improve your life, then I offer this simple experiment: try it for a day. Plan on forgiving someone for 24 hours and see how it feels. You can always pack the anger back into your heart if really need it, but I suspect that once without it, you'll want to remain free of its burden.

     As always, I invite readers to respond in the comment section of this blog (below). I'm probably going to take next week off so I'll see you next year. Until then, keep thinking rhetorically.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Time and Tragedy

“Time is on my side. Space is around my belly.” – Woody Herb
“Time is different on a roller coaster than it is for the folks waiting in line at the DMV.” – Arlo Lizzard
“There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them.” – Jim Croce.
“Time heals all wounds and wounds all heals.” – Anonymous

     It's no secret that this blog is a rehearsal for a book I'm planning on working on next summer after I retire from teaching public school. If I should live that long, that is; after all – the world is supposed to end this coming weekend. Some of what shows up in these posts from week to week will reappear in the book; most of it will certainly disappear into the bleak dystopia of The Great Digital Purgatory. The Great Digital Purgatory is a vast wasteland where ideas – some good, some not so good – go to sit out eternity waiting to be found and reconsidered in some mythical future where truth matters more than lies and kindness motivates us to finally take care of one another.
     Years from now when I'm no longer withdrawing air from my breath account and I've not only ceased writing, but my body has ceased even in the act of decomposing, I expect that everything I've ever posted to the internet will in some sense still exist – that is to say, it will still be recorded within numerous redundant storage drives – but will be forgotten and lost, buried in the vast landfill of The Great Digital Purgatory. C'est la vie. It's not going to stop me from cranking this drivel out.
If I'm remembered at all, if any of my words pop up randomly in some galactic search engine of the future, I hope it's for saying that I loved every last one of you who ever gave me a spare moment of your attention. Only love is eternal. I think I can really die happy if the love I've expressed into the universe holds the potential for popping up, randomly and at unexpected times, on someone's screen in the far distant future. If you are reading this a thousand years from now, and you have no idea who I am, don't be surprised to find out that I love you. I always have.
     I expect very little from this particular post will make it into the book that is to come because this week I want to write about a national tragedy that occurred a few days ago, and by the time I get around to compiling the book, this tragedy – for the vast majority of Americans who are not personally invested in the lives of its victims – will have been replaced by the latest tragedy. By the time I get around to writing and publishing the book, whether it's next summer or a year from now, this week's particular tragedy in which some tragically mad young adult quickly and brutally ended the lives of 20 elementary schoolchildren and a half dozen of their teachers will have been mostly forgotten. In a few short months, this particular tragedy will be nothing more than a footnote because as tragic as this mass murder was, the shooter failed to achieve the all-important body count that would move him to #1 in the standings; the real horror of this weeks atrocity is that this particular abomination only comes in at #2 in total victims served (for school shootings that is) and as such will not be worthy of further reflection because, hey, who's going to want to remember #2? No, by the time my book on the intersection of rhetoric, politics, superstition, and reality comes to print, the national consciousness – as driven by the national news media – will have long forgotten what a terrible week this was in the light of the next terrible week that is to come.
     While we may be running out of fossil fuels and other natural resources, our supply of national tragedies flows from a source of never ending sorrows; we will never run out of tragically crazy people who want nothing more than to die with a brief acknowledge from the national media that they did indeed exist. If the price of their admission to the national consciousness is the cost of more innocent lives, more brutally slain schoolchildren, then that is the expense they are willing to pay because as far as they are concerned the price of the suffering they inflict upon others costs them nothing extra.          
     Tragically crazy people who kill others for the sake of notoriety are already so miserable that they are willing to die for their brief mention in the national media; the concept that the misery they can cause others through their victims' deaths or permanent injuries can somehow increase their own personally misery does not compute. When someone is at the very brink of despair and is looking for their own annihilation to put an end to whatever personal misery is motivating their self-destruction, the idea that anything – even the lives of babies – can increase their misery is meaningless because in those deep, dark caverns of despair, the concept that life holds any value has been lost to them. People who have lost the ability to recognize the value of their own existence are incapable of appreciating the value of the lives of others.
     By the time someone has crossed the bridge into the mental/spiritual/emotion landscape where their own personal existence has no meaning, the meaning of the existence of others is nothing more than a high score in a video game. I'm not suggesting, by the way, that video games (or violent lyrics or slasher movies or any other pop culture scapegoats that typically take the blame for causing people to go tragically mad) have anything to do with inspiring these people to take up weapons against their unsuspecting and vulnerable victims; I am arguing, however, that their final body count does matter to them in the same way that making it into Guinness World Book of Records matters to someone who in May of 1973 jumped 14,325 times on a pogo stick. Since 1973, it's never mattered whenever someone has jumped less than 14, 325 times on a pogo stick. The only time it's ever going to matter again is when someone jumps 14, 326 times.
     Earlier this week, before someone went into a elementary school and began their quest to die and get their name and pictured splashed on Fox News, someone else on the other side of America went into a shopping mall in Oregon (at Christmas time, it's Christmas time, remember?) and began shooting at random strangers. That person only managed two kill two people, a hospice nurse and a youth-soccer coach, before being assisted by the police in his suicide by notoriety. While the mall shoppers of Oregon's continue to seek out bargains to the increasingly creepiness of Silent Night playing in the background, the death of that particular shooter is quickly sinking into becoming a footnote of a footnote; his identity, which will not pop here, will only be linked to infamy by his chronological association with the bigger massacre that happened a few days later. What a loser; he only took out the lives of two very good people who were deeply loved by the others in their lives. He only destroyed the hearts of a handful of people whose lives were forever touched by the kindness of a hospice nurse and a fellow who gave his time to coach soccer.
     When you go into a doctor's office and the physician wants to test your reflexes, you get a small smack on the knee with a tiny rubber hammer. If all is well, your knee responds by flying upwards without any conscious thought of your brain. Every time someone in this country goes tragically mad and seeks out to end his life by attempting to set the new world's record for most innocent lives lost, the national knee is hit with the rubber hammer of awareness that perhaps, just perhaps, having more guns than human beings in this country may not be a good thing. Oddly, the knee jerk reaction doesn't come from the people who want to ban guns, but from the people who expect that others will want to ban their guns. This week the only people I've read who've said anything about gun control has come as a response to the people who immediately feel the need to defend their own possession of deadly weapons.
     I guess it's time now for my “rhetorical term of the week”; this week the term is “tautology.” A “tautology” is a statement of so blindly truth that it's utterance adds nothing to a debate. To the gun control debate that inevitably emerges whenever blameless, innocent babies are slaughtered while learning to read their ABCs or add whole numbers, I want to point out (once and for all) that the statement that “only criminals use guns to kill people” is tautological because, yep, once you kill someone with a gun, you're a criminal. The two people who went tragically mad this week, both the one in the shopping mall and the other in the elementary school, were both law abiding citizens right up until the moment they put their first bullet into someone. This is just as true for everyone else walking around with a gun right now.
     To those who carry around the means to causally end the lives of others, even my own, you have my love. Go ahead and shoot me; I won't like you, but I won't stop loving you. For whatever it's worth, if there is some box score that might reflect how my life is to be accounted for, I want to be held accountable for the number of people of whom I loved, not the number of people I have threatened. On this, I agree entirely with Gandhi, who died at the bullet of a stranger, who said there was lots of causes he was willing to die for, but not a single one he was willing to kill for.
     Merry Christmas; keep thinking rhetorically; and I may or may not be back next week (depending on that whole “end of the world” thingy).

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Rhetoric and Psychology of Grumpiness

"Before I draw nearer to that stone, tell me! Are these the shadows of things that must be, or are they the shadows of things that MIGHT be?" -- Ebenezer Scrooge
     Nietzsche famously said, “What doesn't kill me, makes me stronger.” Well, syphilis killed Nietzsche; it didn't make him stronger. This weekend I'm suffering from a head and chest cold; it's not killing me, but it also isn't making me any stronger. It's making me grumpy.
     Although there seems to be some kind of strength in grumpiness, it's all bravado and exterior. Whenever we find ourselves pushing others away with grumpiness on the outside, on the inside is the frightened, whiny voice of the inner child who is experiencing the dilemma of both wanting to be comforted while needing to be left alone. Grumpiness is the hard outer coating we use to disguise from others the empty fragility we are experiencing within.
     Grumpiness works in the short term to wall out minor, exterior, psychic nuisances while we focus on coping with some pressing inner turmoil. Thus, as a temporary method of isolating ourselves while we aim our awareness at some particular emotional concern, grumpiness is an effective tactic to block the outside world for a little bit so we can tend to an insistent, inner conflict. Grumpiness in the long term, however, will trap us in our own mental fortifications and make us prisoners of our own selfishness. While a shot of grumpiness can give us a brief resolve to keep moving onward, grumpiness, like whiskey, offers only a temporary jolt of willfulness and its chronic use leads to a miserable addiction to loneliness. Just as alcoholism destroys the body by hardening the liver, habitual grumpiness calcifies the soul.
     Nietzsche said what doesn't kill us makes us stronger; I say what feels good in the short term will eventually wipe us out. This is because unhappiness is a bus and cheerfulness is a bicycle. It is so easy to get on the unhappy bus and let life take us wherever it wants as long as we can just sit there passively, as passengers, and let the wheels go round and round. Looking out the window on the unhappy bus, we are not likely to admire the scenery, but we can still tell ourselves, “Hey, we're only passing through these blighted neighborhoods, we don't have to live here.” But no bus ride last forever; eventually, we are going to have to climb out of Jonah's whale and deal with the realities of our ultimate destinations. Fortunately, bus terminals are only terminal when we can think of no other place to go.
     Bicycles, especially bicycles of cheerfulness, will get us where we want to go, but we always have some hard peddling ahead of us to get them to take us there. Furthermore, when the hills of life are too steep, we have to get off and push. I don't know about you, but I always feel embarrassed and vulnerable whenever I'm riding a bike and I have to give up on a big hill and start walking the bike the rest of the way to the top. I'm embarrassed because I didn't have the stamina to keep working the machine, and anyone who drives by is clearly going to witness that I didn't have what it takes to make it up that particular hill without giving up first. I'm no telepath, but cries of “loser” echo in my head whenever cars pass silently drive by. Walking a bike up a hill feels vulnerable as well because someone who hasn't the strength to keep a bicycle rolling may not have the strength to defend himself. Cheerfulness is a breeze when we feel the pull of gravity on our side; on the other hand, a causal smile can turn into a disturbing grin when we feel ourselves being forced to be nicer than want to be whenever our stamina gives out on life's upslopes.
     Why is it, then, that short-term pleasures are so bad for us in the long run, and long-term benefits only come from ongoing struggles? That's the whole question of existence, isn't it? Why can't we just be grumpy and be happy in our grumpiness?
     The answer, of course, is our basic human anatomy and our essential spiritual core pulls us in two opposing directions. Our physical bodies require certain resources to survive and thrive while our spirits need entirely different resources. As long as we are stranded here within several dozen pounds of flesh, our bodies are going to want things that make it feel good. While our stomaches can be sated with a big meal, the sensation of satisfaction is never complete. No matter how much we eat, we will eventually get hungry again. Thus, what satisfies the body – frees it from desires of hunger, lust, sleep, and comfort – will always diminish over time. The soul hungers for completion as well, but finds its satisfaction in making connections outside itself. It is the purpose of the soul to reach out and connect; it is its reason for existence. Lifelong contentment then requires building the souls capacity to connect with others and this requires the work of peddling cheerfulness. Happiness takes an effort; if you want to be unhappy, then just get on the bus.
     Just as the physical body is never finally satisfied and will always perpetually return to a state of want, the soul, too, will never saturate its need for more and greater connections to the universe as long as it dwells within its skin-covered container. I remain optimistic about this. Although different religions tell the story in various ways, I suspect that when the body dies and finds its completion in the ground, the soul exists as a channel within the universe and continues to make connections long after its previous body has returned to dust. I can't imagine, however, that the soul – as a channel for inspiring truth and grace – will in the afterlife require or desire the paraphernalia of identity anymore than it would want the face that once distinguished its body. In other words, I believe when the body dies, identity goes with it, but whatever was kind and cheerful continues to radiate through the spirit that continues onward in some alternative existence. If there's an afterlife, I can't imagine I'll care anymore about the name I once had than the weight I once had. If, after I've given up the habit of inhaling, it turns out not to be true, and death is as complete for the spirit as it is for the body, then don't bother me with the details of how you've come to know this. Because, right now, I'm grumpy, and I don't want to hear it. If you have cookies, however, I might be willing to listen.
     Keep thinking rhetorically, and I'll be back next week.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Yes, Virginia, There is an Answer to Your Uncomfortable Question

     Francis Church and Virginia O'Hanion are two names that most contemporary Americans would not immediately recognize. In September of 1897, these two people had a brief conversation through their local newspaper that, at the time, went mostly unnoticed. But, not entirely unnoticed, since a few readers of the day found it worthy of saving, and they pasted it into their scrapbooks. Although the entirety of their conversation took up less than 500 words, and it's original location was buried on the newspaper's editorial page, crammed in the third of seven columns between a story about the value of new “chainless” bicycles and a story on how an independent candidate would serve the politics of Tammany Hall, over the next century this discussion would become the most reprinted newspaper article to ever run in any English language newspaper.
     Of course, while the names Francis Church and Virginia O'Hanion may not be generally recognized, their story – that of an 8-year-old girl writing the newspaper at the advice of her father to find out if there really is a Santa Claus – has become an annual fixture of American Christmas lore. In the years since it's initial publication, the story of a young girl's sincere letter to the editor and it's heartfelt response has undergone numerous transformation including a radio cantata, two animated TV specials, a made-for-television movie, and a broadway musical. After the original copy of the letter had been discovered in a scrapbook after being thought long lost by O'Hanion's descendents, one appraiser set the value of the authenticated artifact at somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000. While we are apparently able to set a price for a historical document with a meager 45 words written on it by a young girl who had been provoked by her friends to question the reality of the mythic supplier of her yule-time bounties, how do we put a price on the sentiment it evoked? Furthermore, how great a price do we place on “realistic” truth?
     Virginia O'Hanion's letter was short and to the point; she wrote, “DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.' Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” Rhetorically, O'Hanion's letter painted Francis Church (the newspaper's reporter who had been given the job of crafting their response) into the proverbial corner. The elementary schoolgirl had challenged the newspaper to give her the truth and had gambled the paper's reputation for trustworthiness on their response. On one hand, Church had the choice of affirming Santa's existence but risking the newspaper's reputation as a reliable source for factual information; some journalists consider publishing anything that cannot be verified through empirical observation as a violation of a nearly-sacred ethical obligation to print the truth. On the other hand, declaring that – based upon all available evidence – Santa Claus did not exist risked losing readership to people who felt newspapers have no right to decimate their children's cherished belief in a supernaturally jolly and generous gift-giver. The challenge Church faced was to craft a response that would satisfy both the journalists who would accuse Church of selling out to sentimentality if he wrote something he knew to be untrue and the intent of O'Hanion's letter which was to settle definitively the question of Santa's actual existence.
     Anyone with an interest in rhetoric can find much to admire in how Church met the challenge of answering the question of Santa's existence while keeping both his journalistic integrity and his compassion for a girl who demanded the truth but who was not, perhaps, entirely ready for it. What everyone seems to know is that Church responded, “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”; what few people seem to know is this particular line is neither the title of the response nor even the articles' opening remark. In formulating his response, Church begins by saying that O'Hanion's friends were wrong about Santa's existence because they were victims of a pervasive skeptical mentality that had gripped contemporary society. This skepticism, Church argues, is unable to recognize the limitations of its own reality by ignoring the vast intelligence that lies beyond what small minds are capable of understanding. Church writes: “All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.”
     In considering his response, Church is well aware that his correspondence is not with a singular, particular child, but with a broad spectrum of readers including those who would want to know how a newspaper can deal with the truth of an innocent question posed in a cynical world. Church, rather than run away from the implications of asserting a mythical being does exist, embraces the ramifications of those who would argue that Santa doesn't exist. Church's first move in defending a belief that cannot be empirically verified is to impugn the intelligence of anyone who argues that all knowledge should be empirically verified. What Church argues in his opening remarks is that imposing the limitations of common, ordinary existence upon a supernatural reality does not disprove the existence of the alternative reality, it merely demonstrates a sad inability of the skeptic to see beyond his own little world. In other words, from the beginning of Church's reply, he sets up nonbelievers as victims of a socially-constructed reality that trains its inhabitants to disrespect anyone who attempts to see beyond their own self-imposed templates of what they believe can exist. Thus, by saying O'Hanion's friends are wrong because they are too small-brained to contemplate the possibilities beyond their own existence, Church is challenging anyone who would object to his argument to first admit that they might themselves be too stupid to see beyond their own little worlds. Instead of being painted into a corner by what could be an embarrassing question for a newspaper reporter to answer, Church begins by painting his readers into the corner of small-mindedness if they would disagree with him.
     Church goes on to argue that human life without the magic of romantic interpretations is doomed to the sad, unfriendliness of drab realism. Church writes, “Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.” As a rhetorical theorist, I am of two minds regarding Church's argument here. It's hard to disagree that life without the magic of romantic whimsy is tedious and worrisome. Still, I always find arguments based upon the idea that it's better to live with happy fantasies rather than hard truths a bit dangerous. How much reality do we need to ignore to be happy? How much fantasy can we accept before our optimism gets in the way of future self-interests?
     Perhaps, the best we can strive for is to find the middle ground, as Church does when he concludes by saying that we all need a little Santa in our lives. Church writes, “No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.” The trick in believing something that is otherwise unbelievable, then, is to recognize that when our brains demand dominance over our hearts, our hearts need to resist just enough to show the brains how little it actually knows about how to live.
     Keep thinking rhetorically, and I'll be back next week.