The Science of Adulthood

The Science of Adulthood

Meet_linus_bigAs I often seem to do these days, I have once again started a blog series, then found cause to interrupt it for a moment of introspection that only tangentially relates to science and religion. But in the spirit of inclusiveness evinced by my one‑time editor at Analog magazine (Stan Schmidt, who retired this past year), I will maintain that psychology and sociology are, too, science! And that what I’m about to say involves both faith and reason.

I want to consider adulthood.

In a culture where teenagers fight wars and the “mature audiences” warning label really means the content is probably the sort of sophomoric, elementary school bathroom humor that makes even my ten year old daughter cringe, what is adulthood?

There is a nineteen year old boy lying in a hospital bed in Boston right now, under arrest and heavy guard because of the havoc he and his older brother wrought, the death and hurt that they caused a major American city. All week, the authorities have referred to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a man. When I commented in a writer’s group that I didn’t consider a nineteen year old to be a man, a friend responded that when her son was nineteen, he hated being called a “boy” because guys younger than he were fighting and dying in wars.

The question that immediately struck me was: So, which situation needs changing—the idea that a nineteen year old is not yet an adult, or the idea that a nineteen year old should be called upon to fight and die as a matter of course for any cause?

There are days my ten year old insists she’s no longer a child. “I’m not a little girl, Mom,” she says, then moments later, is curled in my arms bewailing the fact that she’s growing up. She is comforted in that moment, by the realization that she still fits in my lap.

IMG_0014When I watch the moment of silence that NPR observes while showing photos of our war dead, my overriding thought is that these kids old should be home with their moms doing  college homework or helping in the kitchen (maybe even cooking dinner), or being nagged to practice the guitar, or debating whether the family will watch Dr. Who or Grimm or Castle tonight, not out dying in a war. Don’t even get me started about what happens to someone at that impressionable age who is repeatedly subjected to the atrocities of war and then is expected to come home and just glide back into what is now an alien reality. I have a dear friend who counsels vets and their families, and the wreckage is horrific.

In this culture, we force our children to grow up suddenly and with few, if any, coming‑of‑age milestones. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard parents say they can hardly wait for their kid to turn eighteen so they are no longer responsible for them and can kick them out of the house. Often it’s said jokingly, but the joke is thin. One author (whose name I have forgotten) wrote a book about how the recent recession has caused families to have to take their kids back in and how rotten that is for the parents who’ve spent all this time working to obtain freedom from their kids. A number of high‑profile magazines (such as Forbes) have run articles on the trend of adult kids moving back in with their parents. There’s even a TV show dedicated to this part of the “American Dream” that tends to view it more as a nightmare. We consider a man who lives at home after eighteen “odd”, weak or a failure, we make slacker jokes about these guys.

Other cultures don’t have this shared obsession about independence. My son (27) and his wife live with us, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, recession or no. As I write this, he sits across the room, doing his homework, having just returned from school where he’s studying to get a teaching credential. My daughter‑in‑law is studying to become a nurse. My middle child is off at college back east and lives with us when she’s off from school. We Skype almost daily and she is not shy about voicing the opinion that while being on her own is okay and all that, she’d rather be home with us. When she is home, she works as a personal assistant for a PR firm CEO. She is not dependent, neither is my son. They have activities and responsibilities outside the family that sometimes make juggling our schedules a challenge.

What they are is interdependent. All of us understand that this model of interdependence is one that works and is, in microcosm, what our communities, our nation, and our world could be in macrocosm if we were not so focused on the American model of independence. A model which seems, in many ways, to have backfired and created a society in which the government is trying to figure out how it can replace the frayed elements of our social structure that we have—for reasons too complex to go into here—severed.

IMG_0845Part of my skepticism about the American model of adulthood and coming‑of-age is that we seem to expect our children to be children until ping! the Coming‑of‑Age Fairy bops them with a high school diploma and confers upon them instant adulthood. There are few, if any, coming of age rituals in this culture and the ones that exist seem to speak to the most ephemeral aspects of growing up (one can drink, drive, and see “adult” movies (oh, baby!). That high school diploma, or a high school pregnancy, or having to get a job because your family can’t survive without it, seem to be the extent of our maturation rites.

From my observations and discussions with other parents, I think a large part of the problem is how casual we are about our children’s education. Oh, not about math or science or other things you can learn by reading or going to school, but about how to think, and behave, and feel like an adult. My ten year old is following in my footsteps by fancying herself a social activist. She has recently moved from chatting with kids her age and younger about characters for their role playing games, to discussing topics such as spirituality, religion, and social issues with kids 12 to 16. She is very happy to share with me everything everyone says and what she says in return—indeed, she even discusses the issues with me—so I’m not too concerned that she will get in over her head. She has a very strong sense of her own identity and that, I think, is something that parents must work at cultivating and, too often, do not.

I think this is why parents are so shocked to discover their child is attending drunken parties, or smoking, or doing drugs, or have committed a crime that they would have thought impossible. Having kids isn’t for the faint of heart, or the uncommitted, or the hedonistic, or the merely distracted. If you want your child to have values, if you want them to value cultivating virtues such as honesty, kindness, empathy, courage, patience, wisdom—in a word, if you want them to have a strong sense of self and personal goals that will serve them no matter what curveballs the material world lobs at them—I believe you have to consciously teach them those things. You cannot assume they will learn it by watching you, or by going to school, or by reading, or by osmosis.

Remember, you are part of a culture that does not believe kids absorb violence from violent entertainment, or sexism from pornography, so if kids aren’t going to pick up vices by osmosis, then why would you expect them to pick up virtues that way, let alone be strongly disposed to prize them? With all three of our kids, we made a concerted and open effort to teach them to be—to be aware of what’s going on inside and outside, to take responsibility for what’s going on inside, to have goals that are focused on what sort of person they want to be, not on what sort of things they wanted to have. We have had a bedtime ritual of reading (fiction and non‑fiction), discussion and prayer with each of our kids and I have been very blunt in letting them know that I was doing it because I wanted them to have the tools to make good decisions and set goals in later life and because it was my job to do this.

Alex monetIt’s a small thing, but we have a series of coming of age rites in our family, starting with the Coffee Ceremony. At age twelve, you get your first cup of real coffee and can thereafter partake of adult conversation (and, in my childhood family, play cut-throat pinocle with the grown‑ups). At fifteen, you get a party at Feast (the Baha’i worship gathering), a Baha’i ring or necklace, a welcome meeting with the Local Spiritual Assembly, and a welcome letter and official Baha’i card from the National Spiritual Assembly. You are now a mature youth. Congratulations. After that, high school graduation and college, learning to drive, getting to vote in your first elections, and possibly being elected to a Baha’i Local Spiritual Assembly are just part of the natural upward spiral. Somewhere in there—at least in our family—you have your first filk and your first filk concert at a convention.

Each of these steps includes more empowerment in the family and community and a new set of privileges and responsibilities. Through it all, the family is there so that, at no point, does the child feel alone in the world … or alone against the world. He or she does not fall through the cracks.

Our eighteen year old children suddenly being expected to be completely independent adults is in some ways uniquely American and of fairly recent vintage. The need for young, vigorous bodies to march into war necessitates viewing boys and girls this young as fully‑fledged adults.

This cultural “norm” has ramifications in other aspects of society that we may not connect to it. Consider, for example, the fact that women in developing countries are finding it easier to juggle motherhood and career than women here in the US. They are not penalized for motherhood as we are by having to make “tough choices” that necessitate putting off childrearing or losing career equity. The reason? In these less modernized countries, the extended family unit has not been shredded as it has here. Women in these countries have a built-in support network that women in the US have to purchase.


This, of course, cascades into the way we structure government-run programs geared to aid the children of working parents. It cascades into the choices that women and married couples have to make about having children as opposed to having careers. It cascades into the fate of the elders in our society and how well or how poorly we care for them and avail ourselves of their hard‑earned wisdom. In fact, I wonder if there is any aspect of society that does not feel the impact of our expectation that young adults—just coming out of the most chaotic years of their lives in terms of bodily and emotional change and disruption—should be ready to be alone in and against the world.

And this brings me back to a hospital room in Boston, where a 19 year old boy, who should be doing his homework and arguing about what movie to go to this weekend, is instead alone against the world and struggling with the reality that he contributed to the deaths of four innocent human beings.

Here is my prayer: that parents will be conscious of their children, and conscious of what they are teaching them every single day.


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17 thoughts on “The Science of Adulthood

  1. Excellent post.

    I think the thoughts and reflections here point toward a strong case for the rebuilding of the truly extended family — or clan, if you will. That can include adult children living in, or near, the parents’ home — so that the next generation of children is raised and supported not only by Mom and Dad, but also by and extensive support network of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins — and so forth.

    Furthermore, I think this model could save many marriages — because a Mom and Dad with an extended support network of relatives are far less likely to see their marriage implode from some of the usual stressors — troubles with children, financial burdens, no way to take a break for some “us” time, and so forth.

    I think the extended family or clan model is a much better, more supportive and much more successful model than what we here in this society have come to accept as a “normal” family.

    That being two “independent” (isolated) people, who only rarely visit family, meet some time in early to mid-adulthood and get along well enough to be married. They have children, raise them until they are 18 and — shoo the kids out of the house. All so the children can more or less disappear over the horizon — perhaps visiting a time or two every year during holidays — to begin their own isolated lives, and start the cycle all over again.

    Personally, I think the Baha’i Faith confirms and encourages the extended family or clan model, rather than the isolated “nuclear” family model — which I believe has over the past few decades aptly been proven a failure.

    Let us bear that in mind, when we discuss “family” issues.

  2. A excellent article on how families can be and should be, as the western method of family has become insular and fragmented and is crying out for some positive model. It would be positive to look at the family model in a Baha`i setting which can enhance the wider community. I really enjoyed reading the positive thoughts in this blog… Thank You

  3. Maya, there are various rites of passage.

    In various tribal societies, entry into an age grade—generally gender-separated—(unlike an age set) is marked by an initiation rite, which may be the crowning of a long and complex preparation, sometimes in retreat.
    Bar and Bat Mitzvah
    Coming of Age in Unitarian Universalism
    Débutante ball
    Driver’s license eligibility and issue
    First haircut, I have done this one when I was too young a child to remember
    First menstruation
    Seclusion of girls at puberty
    Sevapuneru or Turmeric ceremony in South India
    First sexual intercourse / loss of virginity
    First legal alcohol
    First legal smoke, I was 18 but in the year I became 19 due to having a late in they year birthday when this happened
    Graduation, I have done this one at several points in my life
    Jugendweihe in East Germany
    Okuyi in several West African nations
    Russ in Norway
    Scarification and various other physical endurances
    Secular coming of age ceremonies for non-religious youngsters who want a rite of passage comparable to the religious rituals like confirmation
    Suffrage, I was 18 and it was 2006 when I first voted
    Sweet Sixteen

    Maya, I have listed for coming of age rites of passage that I have underwent myself, but only recognize them as such in retrospect.

    1. To summarize,
      First haircut
      First legal smoke

      Those are the ones I have done.

      Driver’s license
      Loss of virginity
      First legal alcohol

      The ones I could have done, but have not.

    2. Stephen, you really LOVE lists, don’t you? This material really only speaks tangentially to the subject of the piece which is that many–if not most–of us glide through life half-conscious of what we are learning, teaching, how we are growing, what stages of growth we go through. Many parents, likewise, seem to be oblivious to the milestones in their children’s lives. They do not prepare their children for them, neither do the celebrate the positive ones.

      Menstruation, by the way, is not a “rite of passage”. It is a physiological stage of female development which, in this culture, is met haphazardly by most. Some girls are not even warned about what’s going to happen to them. And since it’s happening at an earlier age than it has historically, we have a lot of girls coming of age physically who are no where near “of age” emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually.

      The same goes for many of the other firsts–first drink, smoke, sex etc. In fact, these are the sort of events I noted that happen to us or that we undertake with little thought and sometimes little input. Your final comment–that you only recognized them in retrospect–is one of the points I was attempting to make.

      And among the “rites” you list, very few of them have associated changes in responsibility or privilege in this culture. The point of the piece was, in a word, awareness and consciousness when approaching these milestones in our lives. We are simply letting them happen to us in large part without preparation, without awareness, and without a real sense of what they mean or how they add to our sense of Self and our role in the world.

      As it stands, your lists offer no idea what you think about the content of the piece, just that it’s spurred you to write a list of “firsts”. I don’t know if you are arguing that there ARE rites of passage and so you disagree with my entire point of view, or that you agree and that you are, yourself, conscious of these milestones. You simply list without context, so alas, there’s really nothing here to discuss.

      Instead of leaping from a catch phrase (coming of age, or rites of passage) and sending a list of everything you can think of that goes in that “box”, it would be more edifying to both of us and to the other readers of the blog, if you could engage at a deeper level with the content and ideas in the post.

      Is that possible, do you think?

  4. I find the article points out a problem, lazy parents who think children will somehow magically become adults by magic or a certain amount of time passing. The rest of the article is you describing your family as if it were an ideal family everyone else should model theirs after.

    Also, the idea of gradually rather than suddenly attaining adulthood is another one of the ideas listed I would reccomend.

    You also start by saying you still consider 19 year olds to be children, but lack a defining age when people become adults.

    You also accentuate the negative when it comes to American and Western culture, and accentuate the positive when it comes to other cultures. This leads to your conclusion that America and the West should adopt other models of family, because you accentuated the evidence that way.

    Take for instance, the suffrage rite. I didn’t just vote out of the blue because I was 18. I had done lots of studying of politics and various political ideologies. So much so I would have been informed enough by the time I was either 14 or 16 to make the decision I ultimately made when I was 18. It was a mid term election, so I don’t remember the people who I voted for then. Back, in 2004, I was campaigning among my senior friends to vote for Michael Badnarik, Richard Champagna, and any one else on the ballot as well. It took alot of implied study for me to vote accurately and without second guessing whether I voted for the right person. Every election, I can say I voted without regrets or remorse. Also, I studied liberal democracy as a form of government, and found it to be best. Also, I studied the four types of liberalism and know how to distinguish them.

    All such rites of passage, have implied rather than explicit maturity put into them before hand. They imply that one has studied what the rite symbolizes beforehand. I could give in depth analysis of each and every rite listed, like I did for suffrage, but that would take too long, unless you specified any one in particular you wanted me to analyze.

    My study of Existentialism also helped me as well. It helped me realize all such rites are black gulfs of anxiety that people must pass through to become adults in various ways, shapes, and forms. Adulthood is taking responsibiltiy for one’s dreams, hopes, fears, aspirations, goals, life, etc. You seem to think America and the West, in the words of Sartre, “condmemn people to freedom”.

    I would reccomend various introductory books on Existentialism to fully understand this. The Complete Idiot’s Guide and For Dummies Series are best. I have several dozen books from those series on various topics like Buddhism, Freemasonry, Eastern Philiosohy, Hinduism, Vitamins, Astrology, Yoga, FairTax, Existentialism, etc.

    Now to focus on the Boston bombers, adulthood means making your own decisions, good or bad, and accepting the responsibility for them, whether in yourself or others, and them mutually respecting each other to do so as well.

    1. “I find the article points out a problem, lazy parents who think children will somehow magically become adults by magic or a certain amount of time passing. The rest of the article is you describing your family as if it were an ideal family everyone else should model theirs after.”

      Well, that’s one of the problems the article explores, though it is certainly not the only subject. And I discuss my family only because it is the model I’m most familiar with and it is a model that has proven (so far) successful. I in no way mean to imply that the way my parents or my husband’s parents or my husband and I handle child rearing is the only model, but I AM saying that whatever parents do, they need to do it consciously and deliberately because there is no more important task in this world than raising children to adulthood.

      I can’t set an age for adulthood. I think adulthood is a very individualized thing. I know 15 year olds who are wiser than most adults and I have close friends who are still children at 40. I suppose for the sake of legal issues, we must draw a line or perhaps lines between different stages of growth, but where they are set needs to also be done deliberately. Given that a teenager is, for physiological reasons, hampered with hormonal changes, a half-connected brain and a false sense of invincibility with its attendant inclination to risk taking, is that really the age at which a wise society grants them the power to drive, drink, vote, fight in wars, and make tremendous life decisions on their own without sufficient preparation>, intellectually, emotionally or spiritually?

      There are a great many people living on this planet who deny the existence of a spiritual component in the makeup of humans and who seek to define life and purpose in terms of biological determinism. Virtues and values are not on the radar. Even bearing and raising future generations of children has, for people in this culture, become a sort of “when I get around to it” pastime. So, we are in a unique age: our biological purpose (to propagate the species) is weakening at the same time our connection to a spiritual purpose is also waning. Like Billy Pilgrim, we have come unstuck in Time.

      Ultimately, my point is that mankind is a work in progress. We are evolving–coming of age as a species. And part of that is grappling with dogma, tradition, and behaviors that make that evolution more painful. We are terrified one moment, invincible the next. We take horrible risks. We walk out on slender limbs with our chests puffed out and are too arrogant to come back and admit a need for guidance.

      Hm. Sounds almost like a rebellious teenager, doesn’t it?

      1. You spend some part of this article calling a 19 year old a boy/child as opposed to a man/adult.

        Ben Shapiro in an In Depth interview linked above notes how people still tend to refer erroneously to say for example 26 year olds as children. The culture of the nanny state doesn’t like people exercising their maturity by perpetually delaying when people get referred to as adults. Maturity means being able to give informed consent to a course of action and it’s consequences, as opposed to making the choices others people think you should be making.

        Would for example if the Tsarnaev brothers been middle aged forty years olds would have made a difference in their terrorist acts?

        For example back to adults who serve in the armed forces, just because you disapprove of this choice and think they should be doing other things doesn’t showcase whether or not they have maturity, the ability to take responsibility for ones actions and accept both possible and eventual consequences of said actions.

        Maturity leads to all kinds of issues in various fields. Maturity means that an individual owns their lifestyle choices like profession, their self ownership, their option to sacrifice their life, etc. Besides, who really can judge whether or not individuals are really mature without knowing them in depth and personally? To make the blanket statement that (insert person or people) is/are to you to (insert choice here) is to make an uniformed assessment of a person the vast majority of the time.

        Age of majority varies across societies at 15-21. Note, sexual consent age, marriage age, school leaving age, drinking age, driving age, voting age, casino entry age, criminal responsibility age, etc may not be the same as majority age in any given society. To say that a 22 (or any other reasonable age) year old for example is too young to do something requires a burden of proof to actually prove such a statement rather than an emotional think of the (technically adults but viewed as) children appeal. Aside from overt and acute psychological disability,

        Maturity means being able to comprehend risk and choosing whether or not to take it rather than recklessly choosing risk without though or fearfully rejecting risk out of hand.

      2. On what basis have you assessed humanity as being collectively arrogant and guidance rejecting? Individuals humble themselves and ask for guidance all the time, both for good and ill. For example, the two Tsarnaev brothers got guidance for Islamic fundamentalist extremists which is one of the examples of this happening for ill. Actually extremely few people have no guidance that they follow. Everyone (or almost everyone) has a guide or guides that they follow. They just differ widely in who and what they go to for guidance.

        What criteria would humanity have to fulfill before it can be considered collectively humbled and guidance seeking? Back to teens, they reject guidance from their parents but eagerly accept guidance from peers. Teens like all people are a middle ground of selective guidance seeking as opposed to guidance seeking and rejecting.

  5. “On what basis have you assessed humanity as being collectively arrogant and guidance rejecting?”

    I think even a nodding acquaintance with the state of societies globally is ample answer to that question. I’m sure I don’t need to enumerate (nor could I) the problems facing humanity in this age–most, if not all, self-inflicted. Bertrand Russell, an atheist, understood that if most people lived by Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, the world would be transformed. In this He is fully in agreement with Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings. In a letter to the elected representatives of HIs time, Bahá’u’lláh wrote:

    O ye the elected representatives of the people in every land! Take ye counsel together, and let your concern be only for that which profiteth mankind, and bettereth the condition thereof, if ye be of them that scan heedfully. Regard the world as the human body which, though at its creation whole and perfect, hath been afflicted, through various causes, with grave disorders and maladies. Not for one day did it gain ease, nay its sickness waxed more severe, as it fell under the treatment of ignorant physicians, who gave full rein to their personal desires, and have erred grievously. And if, at one time, through the care of an able physician, a member of that body was healed, the rest remained afflicted as before. Thus informeth you the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.

    We behold it, in this day, at the mercy of rulers so drunk with pride that they cannot discern clearly their own best advantage, much less recognize a Revelation so bewildering and challenging as this. And whenever any one of them hath striven to improve its condition, his motive hath been his own gain, whether confessedly so or not; and the unworthiness of this motive hath limited his power to heal or cure.

    That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith. This can in no wise be achieved except through the power of a skilled, an all-powerful and inspired Physician. This, verily, is the truth, and all else naught but error. — Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 254-55

    Obviously what you say is true — there are always individuals, even entire groups of people who seek guidance. And at times in history, the fruits of that guidance has been apparent in the health of the society in which the guidance was applied. But it has never swept the planet and the Message taught with great risk and often great suffering by the Divine Teachers, is, over time, edited, diluted, rejected in favor of manmade dogma, and ignored.

    Most people probably do derive guidance from somewhere, even unconsciously, but, as you note, the quality of their contribution to society will depend on where they derive that guidance from. If they’re guided by the principles of Ayn Rand, the results are going to be different than if they’re guided by the principles of the “inspired Physician”–regardless of which name He wears.

    1. To reject guidance means to reject any and all guidance rather than to people not having one universal guidance that everyone agrees to use (like Bertrand Russel’s example of the Sermon on the Mount). Just because for example a person didn’t choose to use the Sermon on the Mount as guidance doesn’t mean they reject guidance.

      Also, you changed the goalposts in the last part of your response from guidance in general to guidance from a very limited list of people. I also should note that humans can only accept or reject guidance on an individual level and on a case by case basis as well. You changed to goalpost from wether or not humanity accepts guidance period to whether or not they accept guidance from specific sources.

      1. To be honest, Stephen, you’ve pulled in so many different definitions and permutations on the theme that I’ve lost track of the original thread. After this subject had been quiet for a while, you asked why I characterized human kind as being guidance avoiding. I think the state of the world is enough evidence that this is so. The principles that would guide us aright are all around us in the scriptures of the world—unregurgitated by secular sources.

        I’m not moving the goalposts. When I have used the word guidance, I’ve been talking about a very specific sort of guidance—spiritual, moral, ethical, intellectual guidance intended not just for the individual in his little bubble, but for a network of individuals who must live and work together.

        You wrote: “To reject guidance means to reject any and all guidance”.

        Says who? When (or if) I spoke about rejecting guidance, I was speaking of guidance of a very particular kind, but now that you mention it, there are periods in many people’s lives (the teen years) in which the guidance rejecting trope becomes common understanding, Mark Twain wrote to the effect that when he left home at 16, his father was the stupidest man in the world. When he returned at the age of 21, he was surprised at how much the old guy had learned.

        I never agreed to the standard that “to reject guidance means to reject any and all guidance.” That may be your definition, it’s not necessarily mine, and, as I said, there are, in every age, individuals who accept guidance in one way or another from a Divine Source. But there are many slips between the fount of knowledge and the application of the water to the thirsty world.
        For example, some people don’t believe that what guides them on Sunday should guide them in their business, or governance, or their relationships with other people. Yes, I should love my neighbor, but if he’s renting an apartment from me and I need to jack up the rent to make a greater profit—that’s just business. Yes, I should love my neighbor, but surely that doesn’t mean that gay guy in the next cubicle. Or, yes, I shouldn’t rush to that seat on the train before that little old lady with the cane gets to it, but…

        Nuff said.

        1. You keep using words as defined by you as opposed to words as defined by a dictionary. You said arrogance was the cause of guidance rejecting as opposed to other things. Also, to use a word without using a limiting or qualify adjective before it means you are refering to the whole big tent defintion of the word rather than just a particular subset.

          In this age of postmodernism and subjectivism, how is it logically for anyone to just assume some sources of guidance are better than any others much less a whole different class? You also didnt specify what principles aren’t regurgitated in secular sources or even prove that they aren’t other than you claim so.

          Also, you assume scripture is clear with regards to its application, actually any reader of scripture will realize scripture is pretty cryptic and arcane at times. Actually people who do that would say that what they do is in accord with what they read on Sunday. They would say being nice to homosexuals goes against the scriptural mandate to condemn such people. You also show yet again an ignorance of economics or at least the conservative/libertarian/capitalist/free-market view of economics (other than through a left wing view of the right wing view of it). Scriptures condemns aggressive behavior like fraud, violence, vandalism, assault, and threats. They don’t condemn actions that don’t do that like setting prices how you like or being competitive.

          1. Hi, Stephen Kent,

            Sorry to be so long in responding. Everyone else in my family is on vacation for the holidays, so I’ve been offline for a while. You asked about Keturah: the Biblical reference is this:

            The sons of Abraham: Isaac and Ishmael. […] The sons born to Keturah, Abraham’s concubine: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. The sons of Jokshan: Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Midian: Ephah, Epher, Hanok, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah.
            1 Chronicles 1:28,32-33

            You wrote: You keep using words as defined by you as opposed to words as defined by a dictionary. You said arrogance was the cause of guidance rejecting as opposed to other things. Also, to use a word without using a limiting or qualify adjective before it means you are refering to the whole big tent defintion of the word rather than just a particular subset.

            You’re going to have to be more specific. Can you give me an example of a word I’ve used in a proprietary or unusual way? Also, I did not say that arrogance, as opposed to other things, was the cause of guidance rejecting, and I’m sorry, but I feel that this discussion has descended into the realm of nit-picking semantics. I’ll happily spend as much time as required to answer your questions about the Bahá’í Faith or discuss real issues with you, but I don’t have time to haggle over the use of limiting or qualifying adjectives.

            You wrote: In this age of postmodernism and subjectivism, how is it logically (sic) for anyone to just assume some sources of guidance are better than any others much less a whole different class? You also didnt specify what principles aren’t regurgitated in secular sources or even prove that they aren’t other than you claim so.

            Honestly, postmodernism or subjectivism are handy labels but they are meaningless in the context of this discussion. Again, this is not an intellectual exercise to me, it is the substance of life. Some sources of guidance are going to produce better results than others, yes? That is something that can be witnessed and experienced. It is logical for someone who has put a lot of effort and time and thought into sources of guidance to conclude that some sources are better than others and that guidance isn’t all of equal importance or criticality. Guidance about how to arrange one’s finances or what car to buy or what to eat for one’s health is not on a par with guidance about how to treat other human beings, what life goals to set, and what it means to be human.

            You’re right, I didn’t specify which principles are regurgitated in secular sources; I thought perhaps you’d understand what I meant. But, since there’s some question, let me give an example: The Golden Rule (do to others as you would be done by). I, as a person of faith, take this commandment as a prescription for living—a life goal. I bend my will to living by it. I try to see how it applies to every facet of my life from how I pursue my career, to how I treat people who work for me or whom I work for, to how I think about global and local situations. This same concept is held by some very secular, even atheistic, thinkers as being a benchmark for human behavior … and by others as a quaint, but impractical piety. Christopher Hitchens, among others, proclaimed that the Golden Rule is in conflict with human nature and therefore impracticable. It is too high a bar for mere mammals to achieve, therefore we should not bother to try. But it is by trying, by reaching for ever-higher levels of behavior, that we grow and become more human.

            Hence, without the comprehension that a divine authority is behind it, even this widely acclaimed Golden Rule becomes mere opinion that can be dumped at any time when loving one’s enemy, or treating others with fairness or kindness becomes too great a burden.

            You wrote: Also, you assume scripture is clear with regards to its application, actually any reader of scripture will realize scripture is pretty cryptic and arcane at times.

            You may disagree with me, but you may not tell me how I feel, what I think, or what I know. Please don’t read any heat into that statement—there is none. I’m not rebuking you; I’m just stating a fact—you don’t know what I know or feel or think. So, repeatedly telling me you do is a peculiar way of communicating with me, don’t you think?

            The parts of scripture that prophesy future events may be cryptic or recognizable only in 20-20 hindsight, but the prescriptive parts are crystal clear. There are no exceptions to Christ’s statement of the Golden Rule, or the commandment to love one another, or to love our neighbors or to love even our enemies. There is no part of Christ’s teachings that tells us to mistreat or hate anyone—even those who seek to do us harm. The Bahá’í scriptures are even more clear and more detailed, stating that we should prefer the well being of others to our own, and that we should return honey when offered poison. This last is metaphorical, but Bahá’u’lláh gave a very literal example when He continued to protect and love the brother who was attempting to kill Him.

            You wrote: Actually people who do that would say that what they do is in accord with what they read on Sunday. They would say being nice to homosexuals goes against the scriptural mandate to condemn such people.

            The problem isn’t what they read, it’s what they don’t read. I’ve read any number of articles by Christian ministers bemoaning the fact that their congregants don’t actually read the Bible. Yet, I think that a preacher teaching hatred of gays, or other races, or members of “other” religions or whomever, would actually be chagrined if their flock suddenly started reading the words of Christ prescriptively for themselves and deciding that He really DID mean they should love everyone, not just other Christians who met their particular standards. Love is a constant scriptural mandate, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see Pope Francis reminding his flock of this.

            You wrote: You also show yet again an ignorance of economics or at least the conservative / libertarian/capitalist/ free-market view of economics (other than through a left wing view of the right wing view of it). Scriptures condemns aggressive behavior like fraud, violence, vandalism, assault, and threats. They don’t condemn actions that don’t do that like setting prices how you like or being competitive

            I’m not sure why you seem intent on insulting me, Stephen. I assume you’re trying to get a rise out of me. You wouldn’t be the first to do that. 🙂

            My understanding of what you refer to as the “conservative / libertarian / capitalist / free-market view” comes in large part from what I’ve read of the economic philosophy of Milton Friedman, the main tenets of which I strongly disagree. I think we see around us every day the wreckage of that model. It has proven not to be workable.

            I’m surprised that you would equate “setting prices how you like or being competitive” with price gouging after a natural disaster. I’m not arguing against business persons making a profit. What the scriptures universally condemn are actions that cause harm to others. Price gouging after a natural disaster unambiguously causes harm to people who are already suffering and in need. Scriptures tell us we are to care for those in need, not make their need greater. They also condemn actions motivated by greed, lust, hatred, and other base emotions. Price gouging is motivated by greed and shows an extreme lack of empathy for the very people who need the most help. I used the words “price gouging”. I’m not talking about asking a fair price that allows the vendor to make a profit–I’m talking about taking advantage of another person’s anguish and need to make a higher profit.

            You may be a proponent of Friedmanian economics and argue that business persons should never trouble themselves with the morality of what they do to make a profit, and you may believe Mr. Friedman offers a workable model. That is your prerogative. I would disagree with you, which is my prerogative. BUT you can’t argue that Friedman’s business model is not in conflict with the teachings of Christ or Muhammad or Bahá’u’lláh, for example, because that is a fact verifiable by the simple act of reading.

  6. Maya, several flawed premises are given in your last post here. I believe that the Golden Rule and the Non Agression Principle are the basis for ethics both inside and outside of business. Business person should be able to use all non aggressive means to make a profit, not all means. Actually, you assume your progressive as opposed to libertarian or conservaitve moral premises are given and don’t understand various premises that differ from your own which color how you read the Golden Rule and other teachings.

    The article shows the NAP as well as it’s criticism in the criticism section. You also use the phrase harming people for simply not helping them. If I steal from someone it harms them. If I give someone a gift, it helps them. If i don’t give someone anything despite how much they are in need, I don’t harm them. If I don’t steel from someone no matter how much they have, I don’t help them. I disagree with your allegations of causation where you mean only allowance of harm.

    Your reading is tainted by the concept of positive as opposed to negative rights only existing.

    1. Stephen, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to end this dialogue if you’re going to continue to tell me what I do or don’t assume or understand or think or feel. I’m not saying this in anger, but responding to your personal commentary on my emotional or mental state is simply a waste of time and a distraction.

      This, though, is a great illustration of where the Golden Rule (which is not the same as the NAP, by the way) could be effectively applied. I do not believe you would be very happy to continue a discussion with someone who refused to engage on the subject, but insisted instead on informing you about your thought processes as if they understood them better than you did. And perhaps that is the difference between us that makes this dialogue untenable and a waste of both of our efforts: You are interested in arguing over principles; I am interested in how they can be put into practice.

      Your assumptions about my assumptions are flawed. In fact, they are dead wrong. I do not hold “progressive as opposed to libertarian or conservative moral principles” because I do not think of the world at all in that way. Nor do I divide it into a tidy place where lists of facts take the place of knowledge and where the flavors available are limited to progressive, conservative and libertarian. Those are political positions which are identified to one degree or another with partisan groups. As a Bahá’í, I view reality in terms of spiritual, human and social issues not political ideologies.

      If you want to continue to discuss issues with me, please practice the Golden Rule instead of simply theorizing about it: stop trying to shove me into a neatly labeled pigeon hole. You would almost certainly be offended if I were to do that to you.

      Now, regarding business and ethics. You may believe that the Golden Rule ARE the basis for ethics in and outside of business. That’s laudable, and I agree. But not all business persons, nor economic theorists believe that. Friedman clearly did not believe it and his work informs a significant segment of our political and corporate players. He believed in an economic system in which business’ only job was to make a profit by whatever means possible and that it was the job of society to try to regulate that impulse. I reject that philosophy and it seems you do too.

      My position on the Golden Rule is simple and straight forward. I believe it is a divine principle. A law of physics that transcends the physical. It is, if you will, a spiritual extension or expression of Newton’s Third Law of Motion, although it goes much further than that.

      I also disagree with your assertion that not doing something for someone when they are in need does not harm them. That is simply not logical. Nor is it supported by spiritual principle. I think Christ makes that fairly clear in this little story from the Book of Matthew:

      Matthew 25: 31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.”

      In verses 34-40 the Lord speaks to those on His right hand and says: “I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’”

      Those on the right ask, “When did we do those things?” And the Lord replies: “‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”

      But He doesn’t leave it there. He goes on to say to those on His left: “‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’”

      They too, want to know “‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

      We are also judged by what we fail to do and by the negative impact our inaction has. Indeed, this was Krishna’s message to Arjuna. In the great battle between good and evil (animal and divine) that takes place in all of us, we cannot stand by and refuse to act, for even our inaction has consequences. Or, as the Canadian power trio Rush put it: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

      So, you cited flawed premises in my last post, then did not enumerate them. Nor did you answer my question about what terms I used in unusual non-standard ways. If you can discuss this without resorting to ad hominem commentary, I’m open, but I won’t respond if you insist on making personally insulting assumptions about my private thought processes.

      Please understand, I’m neither angry nor disturbed by this. But it is not conducive to meaningful dialogue and is a waste of effort on both our parts.

      1. Maya, you seems to see political ideologies and political parties as one and the same.

        While some parties have ideologies, not all people who have a party have an ideology and not all people who have an ideology have a party.

        “My understanding of what you refer to as the “conservative / libertarian / capitalist / free-market view” comes in large part from what I’ve read of the economic philosophy of Milton Friedman,” You don’t know any of the the other strands of free market views other than the Friedmanite/Chicago strain, I’ve never read any of the literature from that strain other than indirectly from the Misesian/Rothbardite/Austrian/Vienna/Hayekian strain. You assume that Milton Friedman represent all conservatives, libertarians, capitalists, and free marketers.

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