TikTok dance videos

Jaron Lanier: It’s hard to criticize someone who’s having fun dancing on TikTok, and yet it is part of this thing. I hate to say this, but it does remind me a little bit of the Cultural Revolution, (which) as an engineered youth movement had them dancing, you know, and they’d go on these little dance trips visiting villages and doing their dances. It’s a little like TikTok. It’s a little engineered. It’s not exactly the same. There’s nobody at a desk at TikTok engineering the dance . . .

Bari Weiss: But isn’t there to some extent? Isn’t the Chinese Communist Party scraping everyone’s data on TikTok?” ~Was the Internet a Horrible Mistake, Honestly with Bari Weiss

And young people, whose memories stretch back as far as a goldfish’s, can’t remember that millions of people died during the Cultural Revolution.

Alcohol and sin

I’m no theologian, but I believe a sin is anything that redirects love away from God and toward worldly things: people, money, consumer items, etc., and I don’t know about you, but when I’ve had a decent amount of alcohol I’m not contemplating God; I’m contemplating Squid Game, Fortnite, and women.

One drink can unleash a torrent of creativity that can glorify God, as Christians say. Five drinks only leads to Hell, or, as the Buddhists would say, the wheel of Samsara. Early forms of beer and wine had low alcohol content–11% would have been outrageously intoxicating. Have you walked into a liquor store today?

I wish universities would take a stand on alcohol. Instead they throw up their hands: “None of my business.”

Pride

I’m told that in a monastery, if an abbot notices a monk beginning to take pride in his work he must reassign the monk to different work. Pride is a sign that the monk is putting himself before God, what one writer calls “cosmic arrogance.”

Think what you will about God, but I find the anecdote insightful.

The cult of happiness

It’s written right into the Constitution: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Founders changed John Locke’s original purpose of government, which was the right to life, liberty, and property. Happiness was an unusual revision, but one suited to a society already steeped in a healthy morality. John Adams said as much in a letter to soldiers in 1798:

We had no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

The pursuit of happiness made sense in an age when people had a sense of their place in the world, when people had a sense of what their lives were for. People don’t have that today. Today we take eighteen-year-olds or twenty-two-year-olds and tell them, “As long as you do this and this, and memorize facts A, B, and C, and do everything I tell you, we’ll give you a cap and gown and some human capital in the job market.” We tell them little about what their lives are actually for. We tell them nothing about sacrifice, suffering, sacredness, or virtue–at most we give them a spiel about fighting through adversity in the hopes that it makes them happy. And to top it off we tell them that “Kindness is everything.”

But, as it turns out, after you’re really, really kind to everyone, and you’re really, really happy, you find that life still has no meaning.

Your dreams will not come true

A woman told her therapist, “I just feel like I’m destined to do something great.”

The therapist chuckled: “Of course you do. You’re an American. Every American feels like she’s destined to do something great.”

Every American can’t be great, by definition.

(Most of) your dreams will not come true, no matter how much you believe in yourself, no matter how high your expectations, no matter how hard you squint your eyes when you “manifest your reality,” and no matter how many “stretch goals” you set for yourself.

I’m grateful for Martin Luther King Jr’s dream, but I thank God that your dreams will not come true, because your dreams are selfish, unenlightened, downright stupid hogwash.

Achieving greatness

“This generation is more confident, more assertive, more entitled–and more miserable.” ~Jean Twenge, on Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s, in her book Generation Me.

Every young person who wants to succeed will probably succeed. Then they’ll be miserable.

Dante Alighieri, who in middle age achieved fame as a poet in Italy, then wrote the Divine Comedy in which he described himself: “In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost.” Achieving greatness also left him confused, alone, and afraid.

From Rod Dreher’s How Dante Can Save Your Life:

A young pastor friend in Washington, D.C., tells me that that the biggest problem he faces in dealing with this congregation of young, highly educated, high-achieving professionals is an overwhelming sense of dread and anxiety about their own worth and direction in life. He said that they really want to be good, but what this culture has taught them about what it means to be good–achieve, achieve, achieve!–is leading them into a dark wood.

Quitters hang out with quitters

I remember, years ago, I worked with a sports team that had a terrible season. Most of the team quit, but three of them stuck around for the next four years. Those three were remarkable young men.

I don’t know if you’ve been on a college campus lately, but there aren’t a lot of remarkable young men walking around–the kind of men that make you weep for how lucky you are to be teaching them. Those men are rare, and it can’t be a coincidence that the committed were also remarkable.

I wonder: if a quitter gets a job, is he more likely to get fired from that job?

I wonder: if two quitters get married, are they more likely to get divorced?

I wonder: if a quitter has children, is he more likely to be estranged from them as adults?

There are lots of good reasons to quit, but it seems an unshakeable truth that character and commitment are related.

Hell

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” ~Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Canto III. 1-7. (said to be inscribed on the gate of Hell).

If not for the weird looks I’d put this quote above the weight room door, perhaps in its original Italian: “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.”

Students don’t believe me when I tell them that one small misdeed can, if unattended, lead to larger future misdeeds. I suspect they’re unaware that Dante, in his Divine Comedy–the Commedia being one of the greatest works of literature–described nine circles of Hell, each one deeper and more severe than the last.

Sometimes I’ll say, half-jokingly, that if you’re willing to cheat on a test now it might be a matter of time before you’re willing to cheat on your spouse. Of course I get laughs and eye-rolls, even though surveys show that between 15-25% of marriages report infidelity, accounting for anywhere between 20-40% of divorces. Fifty-year-old alcoholics don’t become that way overnight; it starts in high school.

And “Lust” is only Dante’s second circle of Hell. Way down in the ninth are Hitler and Satan, the “Treacherous”.