Christmas Letter 2018

So … here is the problem:  do you take the Christmas letters I put out (I do these annually, but this is the first on my website … so deal with it) as real or fake news?  Ah, the challenges that question poses – real or fake, and how is it possible, what are the procedures, what sources do you consult, to actually make that determination?  And, how does that question relate to Christmas?

Christmas as a holiday event is unquestionably real … in this day and age … in certain parts of the world … as observed by specific cultures … in a variety of forms … spanning various time periods… well, okay, “real” is always subject to interpretation, but most people do recognize its salient characteristics.  However, Christmas sub stories are suspect to varying degrees, ranging from totally discounted as frivolous myth based on pagan practices, through a pleasant diversion from day-to-day routines, to an awe inspiring celebration of God appearing on earth in human form.

Whatever your take on Christmas, at some point you had to make a decision regarding how you personally were going to deal with its practice, and that decision was schooled by family, friends, faith, culture, and even things like finances, relationships, politics … and many other factors.

Fake or real?  Knowing there are falsehoods, even blatant lies, about certain aspects of Christmas, do you nevertheless embrace it because it is focused on supporting positive behaviors?  If you see that lies and deliberate misrepresentations engender expressions of love, fellowship, charity, happiness – does that make those lies and falsehoods okay?  That question and your answer is very much more important than some kind of simplistic intellectual exercise – it invokes that old high school quandary of determining whether or not the ends justify the means used to acquire them, and your feelings on the matter determine your behavior in ways that can result in life or death for others … and perhaps even yourself.

Yeah, I know.  Christmas is not supposed to be a time for dealing with heavy philosophical questions … or real world circumstances/politics … or even thinking.  Christmas is all about happiness, joy, and good feelings.  Christmas lets the positive emotions out.  That is a good thing, right?  And it therefore is okay to be “creative” in how we interpret and explain and practice Christmas, right?

To be clear, my personal opinion is somewhat convoluted.  I am all in favor of myth, magic, and fairy tales so long as they are understood to be myth, magic, and fairy tales.  There is a process called “maturation” – a growing into maturity – that at certain stages benefits from belief in things that cannot be proven.  Creativity is all about imagining, about the wonder and awe to be found in fantasy.  So much of what we have today was founded in fantastic wondering and discovery of that which could only be seen in the mind’s eye.  Fiction is often about uncovering mysteries, and occasionally those mysteries lead us to travel paths previously unknown, and to uncover truths previously thought impossible.

I am also of the opinion that maturity is a never ending process, and to discount the fantastic is to unreasonably limit the scale and scope of our progress.  This in no way rejects the lessons of experience, the findings of experimentation and science, the process of reasoning and logic, and the role of “facts” in guiding our travels through life.  However, this also means the answer to the ends/means question is clearly “it depends.”

Unfortunately, the “it depends” answer requires explicating exactly what “it depends” depends upon given explicitly identified ends, which almost always leads to discussions about values, and consequently morality.  My sole statement regarding our current political climate in this Christmas letter is to note we are presently enmeshed in an increasingly foggy (I would prefer “smoggy”) state of trying to unravel the deliberate, tortuous, intermixing of fact and fallacy by those whose expressed purpose is personal gain, and this seriously violates my personal values and beliefs in the very sentiments that should be foundational to both the Christmas season as well as guiding my daily life throughout the year.  In this case the ends are at best suspect, illogical if not irrational, poorly justified, and therefore the means cannot be defended as either necessary nor sufficient … nor ethical, nor moral, nor even legal.

YMMV, as always.

So … Here I Am

How can one person impact others on a scale beyond that person’s immediate vicinity?

In one sense your mere presence impacts the entire world – an aspect of chaos theory enables the idea that you occupy space which therefore cannot be occupied by anything else, with the consequence necessarily rippling out to affect the entire universe (known as “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”).  I bet you did not know you were that influential!

In more practical terms, your impact or influence on others is a consequence of you taking some sort of action, such as touching, talking, writing, or otherwise making others consciously aware of your presence.  Of course, this presumes you are interested in being noticed in some way … positively, I would hope.

Why would anyone not wish to be noticed?  On the one hand, mostly out of fear – fear of failure, fear of making a mistake, fear of offending someone, fear of criticism whether justified or not, and so on.

On the other hand, why would anyone wish to be noticed?  At one extreme we have pathological narcissists.  Excluding those disturbed and warped souls, a desire to be noticed often boils down to one of two fundamental reasons.  The first rather common reason is possessing a set of values that one believes should be evangelized, if not universally then at least to a broader range of people than one might otherwise be able to reach.

The second less common reason is found in those who are reasonably good at inductive reasoning – the ability to figure out general principles, given specific instances.  Inductive reasoning in turn confers on the person so skilled, a better than average ability to predict outcomes, since outcomes are frequently sensitive to and dependent on initial conditions – i.e., those experiences one is subjected to in the “real” world.

In my particular case it turns out I seem to have a somewhat better than average ability to reason inductively, which has resulted in the development of a set of values that I do believe ought to be promoted more broadly.

So there we are, and here I am.