Some thoughts on the Benedict Option

1. The mission of the mormon church is not related to the preservation or propogation of an ethnic group. The church attempts to preserve cultures when it is able to, but ultimately missionary work and temple work are core functions. (My view of culture is like that of Spengler (Goldman), cultures and peoples are mortal and all will die, except for the jews who are the Lazarus of peoples (among other things) – to demonstrate that God has all power over death. I’d add that just like individuals we try to preserve life and honor in memory those who have gone before.)

2. The core ethnic groups of the church is new englander, english, and scandinavian. All of these ethnicities “in the wild’ have embraced the project of radical individualism in a goverment frame that has lead to SSM, and is contrary to mormonism as we understand it. Any attempt to promote and preserve a mormon ethnicity will by istelf be self-defeating. Those ethnicities are weak reeds.

3. Given 1 and 2, the church will fail and corrupt if it is dependent on our children alone. Because the core mission will be lost-replaced with preservation of the ethnicity, and the church will be bent to accomodate the needs and desires of this ethnic group. And sooner or later bent to the point that it is broken.

4. The key question then becomes one centered around missionary work. How do we continue to do missionary work in the changing culture of the mainstream. Where will new converts come from? How will they be converted? What restrictions will be placed on missionary work? From this perspective what the bendict option offers is bases of refuge to recuperate and rearm between sallies into the unbelieving world.

5. I don’t think our wards can always be considered that base. As pointed out there are considerable  numbers of members who are not on the same page as the brethren with SSM. Wards vary of course, but I don’t think we can assume that the world is not with us when we are at church. Now if we pursued the jettboy option and tried to purge them I think this would not get them to where we would want them to be. The results of the purge would poison the goodwill and damage the community that still remains. It would also limit missionary work because some of the purgees will have been doing missionary work, also it would change us to be less accepting of converts who though sincere are often not orthoprax or orthodox. The risk also is that we get in an ratcheting escalator of purging and purity that can only end in the churchs destruction.

6. I would like to respond to the comment that missionary work outside of the US is little value becuase the culture don’t transmit and retention rates are poor. As for culture, as per point 2 our culture is not a source of salvation. If the culture is put in pre-eminent place we will fail because the culture will (is)corrupt. It is only as the members seek Christ and work with him in the vineyard that the culture is leavened. As for poor retention rates: don’t look at those rates, rather look at what percent active people who are attending a ward are converts. I was in a latin mission. Easily more than half of the active members were converts. Even in the US wards I have been in its a third or more. I’d guess  if you included children whose parents are converts it would easily exceed half.

7. I think T. Greer is closer to the truth. Wether to accept or reject the gospel as mostly in the person, not in his upbringing. We need to teach the gospel to our children, but we need to accept that we cannot gaurentee that it will take. We also need to teach the gospel to everybody so that those who are his sheep will hear his voice and believe. Again, as per the scriptures this is not, and will not be most people. But there are people even now in the world rejoicing at the triumph of SSM who will become disillusioned with it, will see it as at best hollow, and will start to seek something else, something more meaningful.

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The Ancient and Modern culture of Japan


I just finished reading Alan MacFarlanes Japan through the Looking Glass. He argues that Japan is unique in that it is an industrialized but not modern society. In this post I first collect my thoughts on what I believe to be the origins of the Japanese. Then I react to what I see as the message of his book – industrialized but not modern.

Origins of Japanese
Pre historical Japan was unusual in that it was home to sedentary hunter-gatherers(-fishers). Heavy rainfall led to a temperate rainforest and rich seafood meant that hunter-gatherers did not have to move to other places to get enough food. It is likely that these permanent villages diverged drastically from each other, 1st due to the great variation in climate and 2nd because they did not move, there was a lot less need to find and stick to common language and culture. So pre-historical Japan was probably a lot like New Guinea-thousands of languages not neccesarily having much in common. Thus the Ainu, who are the only one of these groups that survived into historical times, should not be expected to have much in common with these pre-Japanese, not in language nor in culture. Genetically they are probably not too different from the pre-japanese (the Jomon).
Then, a group of Korean farmers came to Japan. This was probably not a large group. It was probably a medium sized group or a trickle of Korean farmers over a period of time. These koreans spoke an archiac form of korean and not just an archaic form, but a dialect that went extinct and not the dialect that evolved into modern korean. Their language could be seen as the uncle of modern Korean.
These Korean farmers introduced rice agriculture and started a revolution of affairs in Japan. Genetic tests show modern Japanese are mostly descendants of these farmers, perhaps 80% ancesral korean and 20% pre-Japanese. This is not too surprising, as these farmers would have had agricultural adaptations and the natives would not have. They would have had a genetic predisposition to tolerate long repetitive work, plan far ahead, resist the diseases that came with increased population densities of agriculture, and to resist the malnutrition that comes with the switch from a varied hunter-gatherer diet to a monotonous agricultural diet. This is the typical result when farmers move into an area occupied by hunter-gatherers. Neither Koreans nor Japanese will be thrilled with this kinship but the genetic evidence is pretty clear. What is unusual about this case though is that the culture of the hunter-gatherers prevailed over the farmers. Linguistic analysis shows a very small contribution of the ancient Korean language to the Japanese language. A little less than 15% maybe. Other cultural markers also show a little but not much affinity to proto-Korean culture. Perhaps the Korean farmers were brought back to Japan as slaves. Perhaps after settling they were quickly vassalized. Or maybe the pre-Japanese culture was simply more dynamic. In any case it seems important that the pre-Japanese had a high population density. Normally in these cases the farmers overwhelm the hunter-gatherers through sheer numbers + disease, despite that man for man the HGs are much better warriors. In this case maybe the comparative density was not great enough to overcome the farmers limitations and they lost militarily and had to accept inferior status.
This finally takes us the the message of MacFarlanes book. The unusual culture of Japan that is not seperated into parts like modern cultures except on a superficial level. What he calls the axial age pre-suppositions that nature is seperate from the superanatural, that the economy is seperate from the religion, that art is seperate from the family and so forth. The Japanese culture, at heart descended from a hunter-gatherers, has a view that does not see the world as a collection of different things but rather sees the world as an interconnected web. That is they see relations, not things. As MacFarlane says their world is still one of enchantment, not modern disenchantment. But despite having a hunter-gatherer culture they have a farmer spectrum of personalities – able to tolerate the daily grind, and to submit to authority and conform. THis means they are very succesful at modern economies which requires massive specialisation (daily grind for most) and massive cooperation/scale (submissive and conformist). In fact the extremely labour intensive form that farming took in Japan in later centures means that they are probably more farmer adapted than any other people in the world. Litte wonder then their economy is so productive. Further reading if interested:

As a mormon I find the takeaway of the book very interesting. MacFarlance concludes the book by saying that the lesson of the unique Japanese way is that (post)modernism with its alienation, disenchantment and competitiveness is not the only way to enjoy the material abundance and scientific know-how of modernity. There are alternate ways. He does not hold the Japanese way as a model because it also has a number of negatives, but it does show other ways are possible. This is interesting because one of the features of mormonism is to look towards a society where there is no competition, neither economic or for status. The early attempts of mormonism to create this society generally failed, through a combination of lack of productivity and an inability of the people in these experiments to completely leave behind their competitive orientation of their societies of origin. These attempts, despite failing at their immediate goal, have fruitfully influenced mormonism since then. Reading this book, I think the key is going to be an attempt to see things instead of seperate entities as together i.e. “truth is one eternal round”. Also in raising children to get them to grow in a way that they see society as an extension of family instead of a focus of getting them ready to stand on their own two feet. One might interject that such children would not be sheltered in an accomodating society like Japanese kids are, but I am encouraged by an article I read recently that BYU graphic arts graduated were in high demand, not just because they were thoroughly trained in that field but because they were team players and did not expect that everything should give way to their artistic vision. The Mormon idea of “Zion” will always haunt my vision of what good society is. As follow up I think reading some of his source materials expecially in regards to Japanese child rearing practices. Clearly a lot of Japanese culture is incompatible with the gospel, such as their casual attititude towards marriage. We are definitely of the view that husband and wife need to be one and this relationship has priority over all others except our relationship with God. I’m also curious as to how Japanese Mormons view and do things. Perhaps i can find a japanese mormon blog somewhere? But first- nihongo wakaritai des.

As a final thought. One thing that is unusual about Japanese genetics is that they seem to have an unusual number of anti-alcoholism adaptations such as higher levels of alchol allergies, higher rate of alcohol metabolism etc. (collectively speaking, individuals of course are all over the map like everyone else). As pure speculation, maybe alcohol didn’t come to Japan with agriculture like everywhere else. Maybe being sedentary they could ferment large quantities of fruit? tubers? unlike hunter-gatheres/pastorilists who are limited by how many bags they’d be willing to carry around. So perhaps they started adapting to alcohol before farming, and some of these genes are among the 10% that survived from the pre-Japansese

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TOE: Let’s you and him fight part II

Part 1 is a discussion on social media site of Professor Jared Decker on members of the church subscribing to the theory of evolution. This was written soon afterwards but publishing was delayed.

My argument is that biology and TOE (Theory of Evolution) does not contain transcendant truths. Not every member needs to be a biologist or even familiar with biology. They can and do still live happy productive lives even if they think TOE is false. I’m also saying the reason they think and say TOE is wrong is often because they’ve been lead to believe that TOE discredits the christina religion beyond saying that Jesus was a wise teacher and the resurrection is an encouraging metaphor. If I thought the TOE and my faith were incompatible then I too would jettison TOE and not look book. My faith has blessed my life immeasurably – TOE and genetics is a hobby. Now one can clearly believe TOE and also believe Jesus is the literal Son of God and Monson is the prophet. You and I are living proofs of that. But at the same time, we have to acknowledge that TOE has shaken the faith of some and has been an obstacle to others. That person in Sunday School is not making the statement about TOE in a vacuum. It is in reaction to the difficulties some have with it, and in reaction to attempts that are made to use TOE to shake peoples faith (which does happen). What that person is saying is that if TOE disproves the gospel then TOE is wrong because I know, that the Gospel is true and altogether good.

If I may share a scenario so you can see what it would be like if the shoe was on the other foot. I am an electrical engineer. I’ve noticed that most people are shockingly ignorant of even the basics of electronics engineering such as the right hand rule, let alone understanding more important things like Maxwells equations. And you know what – I’m beginning to suspect they have pretty much zero interest in the field. Shocking, I know. Yet somehow they manage to live good lives, get saving ordinances done and increase in faith, wisdom and charity with charity being the most important thing we can attain in this life. Yes I imagine that as part of our eternal progression we will learn all things including electronics – we will become polymaths. But that isn’t the focus of this life. So let us suppose then that you are one of those people, ignorant of how electronics work. Let us say that to make a point about some gospel principle you make an analogy based on an incorrect understanding of how your smartphone works. Then let us suppose I jump all over you and thoroughly demonstrate how your understanding of electronics is stupid and foolish. Result: you and everyone else in the class will think (correctly) that I am using my superior knowledge in that field to bully you. They will continue to be ignorant of the principles upon which electronics are based. And I will have completely missed your point which had to do with a gospel principle and not that you suddenly decided that you needed to educated everyone on electronics.

The bottom line is that richard dawkins and the like claim that biology has a transendental truth (It can make definitive claims on things outside of the field) more specifically that the Theory of Evolution discredits christianity and pretty much all forms of theism where god(s) has any particular interst in us. I say it does not contain an ovarching truth that is applicable to life the universe and everything. Like other fields the truth are applicable within its field, and those of us outside of that field can benefit from it without needing to be knowledgeable in it. For biology – I can take medicine and eat food without understanding biochem, genetics, or how application of the breeders equation and old school genetic engineering techniques have increased crop yields tremendously. If we really do all need to be knowledgeable in all fields (because we are voters or something?), then we are screwed because we simply aren’t smart enough. I think the last time the sum of human knowledge was small enough that one person could claim to be knowledgeable in all fields (and for simplification lets limit ourselves to hard science and leave out law and history and sociology and such), I say the last time someone could expect to be knowleadgeable of all fields was probably over a hundred years ago and probably a lot farther back than that. It ain’t going to happen. Thousands of smart people are resarching thousands of different things. They aint enough time in life to learn them all. And there are other things we want to do with our life. Fortunately just as the body of christ can have its different parts working together to function well, I believe our society can have its specialists working in their spheres to meet societies needs and wants. Some will need to be biologists, some doctors, some farmers, and so forth. The bottom line is we need to stop looking to researchers and scientists for transcendental truth. Not in fashion nowadays but once upon a time people claimed that Ensteins theory of relativity disproved religion. Again what happened is that people had looked to Newtonian physics to construct a framework of meaning within their religion and support their understanding of gospel truths and Einsteins theory of relativity showed Newtonian physics to be small part of a much larger and different looking picture. Oops!

The arguement that TOE disproves gods existence is a reformulation of an argument first popularized during the enlightenment but much older than that. The arguement goes like this: We live in a world full of misery, where both good and bad suffer and eventually die. TOE of evolution can at best be used as supporting evidence that this world is imperfect, people by nature are selfish, and we will die. How could a perfect and good God have created such a world? But for us, believers, these additional observations about the world have little power. “Well, duh, this is a fallen world after all.” Dragging the theory of evolution into this old argument adds little to it for the imperfection of this world is obvious to all*, but for the fact that the churches of those days had once again gotten into a scientific controversy, and picked the wrong side.

(*Except to Leibniz apparently, which proves the old adage that some things are so dumb that only a genius could believe them. If you were ever requireded to read the dreadful Candide; it rebuttals Leibnizs rosy view ad nasuem until in the end you want to punch Liebniz, Voltaire and the phrase, “this is the best of all possible worlds” in the face.)

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Science Fiction Classic: Speaker for the Dead

This is OS Card’s best story.  Enders Game, the prequel, is easily his most popular so I’ll explain:

O.S. Card’s principal themes are power, community and sacrifice. Enders game is at heart a fantasy of power (I crush my enemies-always).  It is much more than that and a classic because it illustrates truths about power: loneliness, responsibility/guilt, leadership lessons and group dynamics.  But it is popular because of the easy immersion into the fantasy.

Speaker on the other hand focuses on the community/sacrifice from many different angles: The piggies life cycle, Novinha’s choices, Ender’s‘calling’, the monastic life, Ender shutting out Jane among others. It talks about power too, not with the giddy first taste of Enders game but with the more mature view where you live with your adversaries (usually) instead of wiping them off the map.  What ties these two stories together is the idea of true alieness and its mutual incomprehension.  Speaker explores this more than Game.

When I read this as an older teen, I identified with Ender.  This timeI identified with Marcao.  Not the abuser, but the ignored outcast, doing his share, who desperately wants in.  I just could not identify with the genius Ender this time.  Marcao’s speaking was very moving.

Speaker for the Dead got a little preachy at times – for example directly explaining why Miro and Ouanda were not sexually active.   This point is made in the story itself, and fitted into aphilosophical conversation so this was clunky overkill.

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The Heavy Grenade Launcher or The Grenade Launcher in the Anti Material Rifle Role

This post from Isegoria that got me thinking about this. The heavy grenade launcher could fire a full size 40 mm grenade out to 1500 meters using the same ammo as automatic grenade launchers. This has more recoil than the M32 which would be handled the same way an anti material rifle does – fire from a bipod and have a heavy muzzle brake.

I figure that since an automatic GL and a heavy machine gun both fire from a tripod and weigh about the same that a single shot HGL would require similar measures to an anti-materiel rifle. This gives the platoon long range firepower where its current grenade launchers can’t shoot further than its assualt rifles.

In the anti material role, it would use shaped charge ammuntion to give it a armor penetration superior to the 50 cal in most cases.

The heavy grenade launcher would have a similar weight to an anti material rifle (approx 30 pounds). This is because its high-low pressure system allows it to have a thinner barrel. Its ammunition would weigh about twice as much as a 50 cal cartridge.  In 25 mm with fire control to compensate for blast, the weight would be correspondingly less.

Update:  This website says that this is made by a philippinean company.  22 pounds.

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Scouts Out! by John H McGrath

He presents an exhaustive history of reconnaissance units focused on their TO&E, their doctrine and their actual use with a few examples.  His conclusion is that dedicated recon units are not needed as other formations can do this mission adequately.  When reconnaissance units were light, commanders would not use them for fear of casualties, and regular mobile units would perform reconnaissance.
If recon units were made heavy then they would be used more often for missions such as defense or mobile reserve.  Dedicated recon units, he says, are a legacy of cavalry.  Cavalry made sense for recon because they moved faster but had less combat power than infantry.  But mechanized combined arms formations do not give up combat power in exchange for their increased mobility; rather they pack a greater punch. 

This reminds me of Archer Jones Art of War in the Western World.  He divides all pre gunpowder units into four classes: foot or cavalry, and melee (heavy) or missiles (light) oriented.  These categories collapsed with gunpowder, with all cavalry becoming light cavalry, good for recon.  The motorized successor to light cavalry, he says, is not armored cars or light APCs but aircraft.  This book seems to mostly confirm that loose analogy as aircraft do recon since WWI and ‘lighter’ versions of mechanized combined arms teams seem to be able to do what the heavy ones can just not as well. 

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Stuka Pilot by Hans Rudel


This book was about him, a military flier, not about combat aviation.  He doesn’t give advice about combat but I gather it would be this–stick to the basics, this is safety and hope your number doesn’t come up. 

He drank milk instead of alcohol and had trouble fitting in because of that and his obsession with solo sports.  He also seems to be a slow learner.  I gather he is something of a pariah until he gets a commander who also loves sports.

When he gets his chance he flies more than anyone.  When he becomes a leader he insists on commanding from the front.  One paragraph has blood spattering from his stump from being rubbed by a hook that allows him to work the foot pedals.  He notes that the mechanics had to wipe the blood off the machinery between sorties.  This made me think of Darth Vader.

He’s generally respectful of his Nazi leaders but refused to obey their orders that would ground him for publicity or command reasons.  He does comment on Göring playing dress-up.

In interviews as a prisoner he derides American focus on speed.  He cites his success in the Stuka flying low and slow up till the end of the war.  This is the insight that made the A-10 so successful.  The other tactical point I got is don’t ‘dodge’ flak.  Get in and get out. 

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