It’s what you decide

After my adventure getting lost overnight last year at Brainard lake (, someone asked me what I learned from it.  They didn’t ask quite that way, but that was the gist of it.  I’ve never taken time to write this down, but I think there were two things.

The first is that sometimes you have to focus on what you can control.  A lot of us focus on the things we don’t control.  I’ve had numerous people tell me they would have panicked in that situation.  I think that happens because we focus on what is out of our control (I’m lost) and not on what we do control.  In my situation, once I was lost, being unlost was out of my hands, at least until the next day.  When I was going to get back was out of my control; it if was in my control, I’d have just zapped myself back to the car and driven home.  What I did control was whether I spent the night where I was, where there was dry ground, or whether I tried to get back and end  up spending the night in 18 or so inches of snow.  I controlled what preparations I made for the night.

It wasn’t that I learned to do those things in that situation, but the situation brought out the importance of them.  Often our worries are about what we don’t control, and I think that focus keeps us from concentrating on the things we do control.

The second thing I learned is that a lot of the time, what you decide is what is important.  I’ve often said that what you want or what you believe is less important than what you are willing to do about it.  This is that same concept from a little different angle.  When I was lost, I decided that I was going home the next day.  Period.

One of  the rescue searchers was a retired Air Force F15 pilot.  He, of course, had been through the AF survival school and he said that the mental element is one of the most important factors in survival.

Of course, if you get swept away in a mudslide or hit by a car at 75mph while jogging, the mental element is of little relevance.  You are at the mercy of events in a situation like that.  But, as I said in the article, in a lost-hiker situation, unless you are running from a predator or trying to stop massive bleeding, you usually have a little time to stop and think about the situation.

I wonder how often our fears about the things we don’t control – fear of what others think, fear of bad outcomes – keep us from improving our situation by focusing on the elements we have control over.  We focus on what we’re afraid of instead of what we can actually do.

I wonder how often we try to tell ourselves things, and convince ourselves of things and even try to believe things, when what we really need to do is just make a decision and then carry it through.

Is this reality?  What do you think?


Why Little Things Matter

The IRS targets conservative groups for special scrutiny during the 2012 election. Nobody goes to jail.

A group of climate scientists petition the U.S. Justice Department to use the anti-racketeering RICO statutes to criminalize criticism of global warming theories. They literally want to put people in jail for disagreeing with them.

Cities use red-light cameras to catch people running red lights at intersections. But they then reduce the yellow light time to increase revenue.

Cities and counties, in cooperation with Federal investigators, use asset forfeiture laws to pad their budgets. People who have done nothing wrong are financially ruined because their bank accounts and property can be seized with no criminal charges filed, and an onerous appeal process makes retrieval of their property difficult or impossible.

The FCC has decided that the Internet, which touches everyone’s life in this modern era, should be regulated as a utility. This gives the agency broad and arbitrary discretion over what products can be produced, what services can be offered, and who is bestowed with official favor.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created as part of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul. It is an independent agency, with no congressional oversight, that is charged with protecting consumer finances.  But with no accountability and broad powers, there are already charges that it is abusing its authority. Most importantly, the creation of a completely unaccountable Federal agency is an indicator of the disconnect between lawmakers and the people.

No single thing on this list tells us much. But all of them, together with dozens of other, similar things, tells us a lot. Even people who think conservatives and global-warming critics should be silenced, at some level, realize that these things indicate that the law is becoming increasingly meaningless.

People may not think about these things in the way I’ve described them here – they may not connect these disparate things in the same way – but at some level those with any intelligence at all recognize that government authority is decreasingly reliable as a source of legal stability.

When the law is arbitrary and when bureaucrats can make sweeping decisions with no accountability, then there is no law.

It’s not that the law has completely broken down. Traffic courts still issue fines and criminals, some of them anyway, still go to jail. But the attitude of government toward people has changed. As government has become decreasingly accountable and increasingly distant, they no longer see the people as people. They no longer see people as having a mix of rights and responsibilities. Instead they see people as a population to be controlled and ruled.

People don’t trust the police. Both houses of congress have some of the lowest approval ratings of any group you can name. Politicians in general have a bad name. Even people who want to use government to punish any disagreement are tacitly admitting that the law is increasing arbitrary and decreasingly dependable. They just want to abuse it for their own purposes.

The old Soviet Union controlled many aspects of the lives of its subjects. It was said that the laws were so numerous and so complex that it was impossible to live without being in violation of one, so anyone could be arrested at any time on some pretext. Laws were often vague and subject to whimsical interpretation, much like the recent laws that have been passed here in the U.S.. Many things were prohibited and considered criminal offenses, including criticism of the leadership. The situation produced some strange gallows humor such as the following:

A judge walks out of his chambers laughing uproariously. A colleague  approaches him and asks why he is laughing. “I just heard the funniest joke in the world!” “Well, go ahead, tell me!” says the other judge. “I can’t – I just gave someone ten years for it!”

People in the old Soviet Union were forced to obey the government, but nobody trusted the government. Even those who took advantage of the corrupt nature of the system were aware that it was completely corrupt and that the law really meant nothing.

Jesus said that if you can’t be trusted with little things, you shouldn’t expect to be trusted with anything that matters.

Little things are red flags. A boyfriend who lies casually or who uses you before marriage is likely to be an abuser or cheater after the wedding. There are red flags that employers look for in interviewing potential candidates for a job. Too many of those can disqualify the candidate because they point to larger issues.

A guy who frequently makes sarcastic comments about his wife is telling you something whether he knows it or not. A pattern of small but significant dishonesties indicates an overall lack of integrity. And a growing pattern of arbitrary abuse of authority by politicians and bureaucrats points to an increasing sense that they feel entitled to rule and that they have a disdain for the law – and scorn for the people.

It’s always risky to assume we know the motives of other people. And sometimes little things really are little. But little things can be a window into the bigger room. One or two little things may be an aberration. But a string of them should tell us something. We sometimes treat the little things as if they did not matter. But little things matter, if only because they tell us a lot about the big, important things.

Do We Really Have A God-shaped Hole Inside Us?

Blaise Pascal is supposed to have said that we all have a God-shaped hole inside us and that only God can fill it. What he actually said was more wordy and less specific than that, but the common paraphrase is close enough.

I wonder, though, if what we really have is a security-shaped hole. We want to believe that there is an entity that cares for us, watches over us, and most importantly, has our best interests in mind. An entity that has only good intentions toward us and who works exclusively for our good and welfare.

This sounds sort of like the description of God, right? We want God to be on our side and to care and to intervene and to always be good. We want God to always be on guard against evil and to always be intervening to make our lives better, healthier, happier, and safer, either now or in the hereafter.

This description isn’t limited to Christians and Christianity. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind of the Paris attacks on November 13, claimed that Allah helped him pass through border security so he could carry out his mass murders. This is just one example, but look how many terrorists bombings and shootings are attributed to the assistance of Allah.

So what’s wrong with all this? Aside from the fact that bad things happen even to good people, what I’ve said so far is a simplified version of what a lot of people believe.

The problem is that there are people who don’t believe it. There are people who don’t believe in God, or at least don’t believe in an interventionist God. What do they trust if they have a security-shaped hole?


If you think about it, the role of government in the lives of people who don’t believe in God, often matches the role that believers in God assign to God. Government is always watching out for our best interests, is nearly omnipotent, all but infallible, and wants only the best for us.

Government as individuals – bureaucrats, judges, elected officials – may be less than competent or may even be corrupt. But government as an entity provides us with that security. Maybe this is why so many on the political left can’t acknowledge any failings by government, at least as long as their guys have the reins of power. Admitting that government made a mistake, or that a government program is useless or that regulations, laws, and bureaucratic edicts are harmful to individuals or to the economy would equal saying that the government is fallible. Or even worse, that sometimes government is self-serving instead of always watching out for us.

You see this played out in the calls for a $15/hour minimum wage. Some of the proponents seem to believe that the government can perform a legislative “miracle” and raise the minimum wage with no consequences. They petition and protest (pray) for government to implement this miracle. Many of them seem to have more compassion or anger than they have a grasp of basic economics.

To pick on restaurants in particular, labor is typically about 30% to 35% of the expenses for a restaurant, and the average hourly wage is between $7 and $9 per hour. So a raise to $15 will approximately double this. That makes labor 60% of expenses, instead of around 30%. So the price of your Happy Meal is going to have to go up about 30%. Or more restaurants will increase their use of automation such as the Ziosk terminal that I’ve seen in more and more places. This lets them hire fewer servers. Or they will use cheaper ingredients in the food. Some will simply go out of business.

This isn’t just restaurants; I recently read an article about a clothing manufacturer in Los Angeles who is going to have to move or close; he can’t compete with those businesses that are just outside of Los Angeles and don’t have to pay the $15 minimum wage. So it isn’t just restaurants that will feel the impact, it is any low-skill job that will be affected. Jobs will move overseas or some will just disappear completely.  Any company employing low-wage workers that can’t move and wants to stay open will have to raise prices.

We might all want a $15 hour minimum wage, but we can’t assume that our neighbors will pay the increased prices that will result.  We all will.

The point isn’t to delve into the politics of an increased minimum wage, that’s just an example. The point is to demonstrate that on this topic, as with many others, people seem to assign to the government a power to dispense with economic realities, physical laws, and human nature. It is as if we believe that the government has the miraculous, God-like power to proclaim something to be so, and all the natural and mathematical laws must bend to its will.

I can’t say that blind devotion to something is unique to those who don’t believe in God. Galileo was persecuted by the church because he stated that the world wasn’t the center of the universe. The problem for the church wasn’t just that they said that the sun revolved around the earth; that was just a conclusion based on incomplete knowledge that was turned into a doctrine. The real problem for the church was that admitting the truth meant that they had been wrong and were therefore fallible. And the infallibility of the church was an important doctrine that couldn’t be challenged without a lot of other things changing. It was easier to “kill the messenger”.

Lest people claim it’s only the church that does this, look at the people who petitioned the government to use Federal RICO anti-racketeering statutes to prosecute anyone who publically opposed global warming theories.  They literally wanted to put people in jail for disagreeing with them.  Anyone else see any parallels here?

What do you think? Is government a substitute god for some people? Does this explain some of the seemingly irrational excuses that people make for failed government programs? Is a desire to be cared for and protected by a higher entity a driving force in the blind faith that some people have in government power?   Or have I oversimplified something much more complex?