Posted here for September 10, 2018
The road back home
Do you think it's possible to formulate a theory that describes how each and every person all around the world makes each and every decision in his or her life? Sounds like a tall order. But maybe it isn't. I wonder what you think of this:
It seems to me that in general, people decide to do something based on an often unconscious evaluation of the benefits of all perceived options they're confronted with at any given moment in time. (Of course there are exceptions.) I believe people make their decisions -- all their decisions -- according to what they think will optimize their happiness. And that in a nutshell is my "What-Makes-Me-Happy" Theory.
A kid touches a hot stove. He quickly learns a lesson: If a burner is turned on, the stove surface may be hot enough to burn a finger -- or a whole hand. For most kids, follow-up instruction isn't necessary. If we decide things based on what we have learned will not make us happy, why shouldn't we conclude we decide things based on what will make us happy?
Why am I writing this now? I could be doing any one of a thousand other things. Why don't I read a book? Watch TV? Go to the store? Work on a project in the garage? I have reasons to do all of these other things. Why am I punching keys on my keyboard?
I'm punching keys because at this moment I perceive this activity gives me the most pleasure. If I felt I could derive more pleasure eating a sandwich, I'd eat a sandwich.
Why are you at this moment reading my words? Because you believe that in so doing, you'll be rewarded with some level of satisfaction (or happiness) that is greater than the satisfaction you'd achieve in any other activity. (Thank you for reading this!) You chose to read what I've written when you could be reading a book, watching TV, going to the store, working on a project in the garage, or eating a sandwich.
Why have you decided to continue reading? Because of the hope these next words will add to your satisfaction. Or at least that at some point my words will give you sufficient reward to justify your investment of time. At any moment, however, you could get a phone call and stop reading. Or you could hear your dog bark and you could go let him out. Or you could decide a trip to the bathroom right now has highest priority.
It's not simply one decision to read this article. Rather, it's just a decision to start. At any point -- after a paragraph, a sentence, even a single word -- you could decide: That's it, I'm done.
I think "What-Makes-Me-Happy" sometimes works incrementally. When I was looking for a house to buy in 2010, I came across the house I'm in now. I walked up the driveway -- nice pavers, I thought. Hmm, three-car garage -- I like that. I stepped up to the front porch -- I could put a couple of chairs here, I thought. I saw the front door -- double door, I've always wanted a double door. Inside -- nice crown molding! Etc., etc. All of a sudden, the decision to buy was made for me.
I believe we lead our lives by making hundreds, thousands, millions of value judgments and decisions. Every day. Some big, but most small, even minuscule. Will you have a second helping of pancakes? Oh yes, they taste so good. Real maple syrup. Yum. But you want to lose a few pounds. Yes, but a few more pancakes won't matter that much. Besides, they're so delicious. I'll go on a diet tomorrow. Please pass the butter.
When I wake up in the morning, the choices begin. I'm retired. I don't have to get up. Should I? Now? Or close my eyes for just a little longer? Or just lie there contemplating the day? Or do something else entirely?
As I type these words, I wonder how I can best say what I want to say. The options are endless. Yes, that's part of the challenge. That's part of the excitement and fun. That's part of why I choose to stay at my keyboard. I stay at my keyboard in hopes I'll find just the right words in just the right combination. I suppose it's like the golfer who plays time and again because that perfectly-hit ball, though so elusive, is so satisfying when actually achieved.
When we start out life, our choices are limited. I'm hungry; I want food. I'm thirsty; I want a drink. I'm uncomfortable; too warm, too cold, whatever. As years pass, we realize a much greater spectrum of choices. I could do my homework, or play baseball with the guys, or do some texting, or play video games, or . . .
Also: I could tease some kids. I could punch some kids. I could steal from some kids. I could get some knives. I could get some guns. I could kill some kids.
A kid isn't doing well in school. Other kids in his class tease him because he gets poor grades on his tests. That makes him sad. And angry. He wants to prove he's good at something. He wants respect. He wants attention. So he starts using foul language and his teachers criticise him. The other kids notice. He starts bullying. Other kids begin to show a form of respect.
He says he owns weapons. Kids become afraid of him. The kid sees this as respect. He's getting attention. He wants more. He actually gets some weapons and more attention comes his way. He says he'll shoot up a school. Kids, parents, teachers all become afraid. He thrives on this attention. It's not admiration, but for the kid, it's the next best thing. What is there left for him to do? He goes and shoots up a school.
So all the choices we make depend on a core set of attitudes, values, and beliefs. If noble attitudes, values, and beliefs are not in place, our choices will be in opposition to society "norms."
Kids who go to school with the single objective of killing other kids and teachers are kids who have worked their way through a series of choices. They are choices they've made to optimize their perceived happiness or satisfaction.
Yes, video games are influential. Shoot-'em-up TV programs and Hollywood productions are influential. Language in today's "music" is influential. Drugs they're taking to calm them down are influential. Gang members are influential.
But perhaps most influential of all are attitudes, values, and beliefs they've accumulated as they've grown up. If they haven't achieved a respect for others, haven't accepted and honored the "Golden Rule," haven't appreciated the value of life, and haven't developed any sense of shame, then they will make choices which will horrify and sicken Americans. Notice that most Americans aren't even thinking about this aspect of child behavior.
Why is TV so pleasurable? Because it's always available, it's endlessly entertaining, and it's non-threatening. It's in high-definition, spectacular color, presented on an enormous TV screen. It's no surprise, then, that it consumes dozens of hours each week, on average, for everyone in the country! Young, old, men, women, every demographic there is. We are all quick to choose to turn on the TV. It usually unfailingly boosts our happiness level. If one station doesn't, there are dozens of others to choose from.
Why are recreational drugs so attractive? Because they, albeit briefly, transport individuals from a reality of hardship, sadness, and difficulty, to a mind experience of peace and well-being, exhilaration, and increased confidence. As of a couple of years ago (2015), about ten percent of all persons in the U.S. aged 12 years and over used illicit recreational drugs in a single, one-month period. Drugs are an easy choice for many because mind-altering drugs elevate happiness chemically.
Why is texting so popular? Because sending and receiving texts give the texter a feeling of being connected. Also, a feeling of power. You can say things in texts you'd never say face-to-face with someone. These elements of happiness drive text rates crazy. The average adult, 18 to 24, sends 128 texts per day. And that doesn't included app-to-app texts. The number of monthly texts sent increased more than 7,700 percent over the last decade.
There certainly are exceptions to my theory. Habits lull a person into a routine where he lets certain actions choose themselves. When I drive to the supermarket, I don't need to choose each turn. Habit takes over, so I go the same route every time.
Some social contact also yields to habit. "How do you do!" "Nice to meet you." Many of our activities are simplified by habits. They save time and trouble.
Another exception is the influence of drugs. If alcohol has been flowing for a while, the conversation may contain comments that reasoned choice would have prevented. Obviously, other recreational drugs can override clear thought and choice as well.
Critics will quickly object to my theory on the grounds that people do nice things for others. Philanthropists donate great amounts of money they could use for their own personal satisfaction or happiness. Brave folks enter military service at the risk of making the ultimate sacrifice.
But the theory is not violated. People choose to do things for others and to make great sacrifices for others precisely to boost their own happiness. Doing these things gives them the sense, and properly so, of performing a great service, a great good. That aligns with their set of attitudes, values, and beliefs. That we applaud it, sometimes robustly, is a component of their reward.
It's clear the instilling of attitudes, values, and beliefs is key. So the question becomes: Who is doing the instilling? Also: What exactly is being instilled?
The answer seems to be: Schools are belching forth non-stop, far-left propaganda from kindergarten through college. Yes, video games, TV programs, Hollywood movies, and "music" lyrics all have an influence, but impressionable kids spend a whole lot of time seated in their classrooms listening to teachers. That's what they go to school to do. Parents tell their sons and daughters to pay close attention to what the teachers say. Parents assume the attitudes, values, and beliefs taught are consistent with traditional values of love of country, respect for the Constitution, belief in capitalism, and so on. More and more, however, this doesn't seem to be the case.
The leftist environmental agenda permeates the curriculum. (The entire leftist agenda is preached.) Students are taught, for example, global warming is a scientific fact. As a result, they believe ice is melting, lakes are warming, animals are changing migration patterns, polar bears are dying. (Source.) This seriously scares small kids and raises a generation of kids with no understanding whatsoever that there's thoughtful, believable disagreement.
Then, when it comes time for graduates to exercise choices, their choices about environmentalism have all been made for them. They are steeped in the faith and thus are led to quickly hate those who disagree with any leftist notion: global warming, open borders, abortion, higher taxes, more government control, etc.
They are comfortable concluding socialism is an effective political system. Close to half of American millennials (44 percent) would rather live in a socialist society than a capitalist one, according to a report from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. A Gallup survey found that a significant majority (57 percent) of all Democrats view socialism favorably. Only 47 percent view capitalism favorably. (About 71 percent of GOP voters view capitalism positively.) According to a Rasmussen survey, "Only 53 percent of all American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism."
Kids are taught Republicans and conservatives are not only wrong, they're evil. Republicans and conservatives are so evil, their thoughts and opinions are unacceptable. They are so evil, they have no right to freely express their opinions. They have no right to assemble. They have no right to any respect or tolerance from others. If this kind of perspective has been infused into the attitudes, values, and beliefs of kids for sixteen long years of classroom training, we all know what they will think when they grow up. Their attitudes, values, and beliefs will have been well baked into the cake.
It seems to me the struggle we're confronting right now is a fundamental struggle of attitudes, values, and beliefs. When the country finds itself with diametrically opposed attitudes, values, and beliefs, what happens? If a majority of citizens can over time be led to think a certain way, regardless of reality, then that thinking will win out, and people will choose it willingly.
I believe each of us is driven to make decisions based on what we each believe will give us the most happiness. But all these decisions are rooted in our fundamental attitudes, values, and beliefs.
If people have been taught to believe socialism is better than capitalism, then in a republic such as ours, socialism will triumph, regardless of its perfect record of death and destruction. If we believe deep down that killing an unborn child is proper and just, then abortion will thrive. If we believe deep down that males in society are fundamentally flawed, we'll decide issues based on the premise that masculinity is toxic. If we believe deep down we don't have a right to border security, we'll demand open borders for all. If we believe humanity is causing a catastrophic warming of the Earth, we'll approve legislation accordingly. If we believe every cop is racist, we'll be more willing to embrace anarchy. If we believe America is a wicked place, with a wicked past and present, we'll be happy to see it overthrown.
If we believe Republicans and conservatives are truly evil, then we'll accept and encourage their silencing, their persecution, indeed, their removal.
Don't believe me? Just ask Steve Scalise.