I Now Blog for the National Institute for Civil Discourse

14 04 2013

I don’t have to tell you that I haven’t blogged much lately. Grad school is busy. You may have heard that before. Haha. But, I didn’t stop blogging completely, I just decided to try my hand at some more potentially important blogging. I volunteered my services to the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) here in Tucson (it was formed shortly after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords) and they told me they just had a grad student blogger leave and asked if I would be comfortable filling the spot. So, I’ve blogged for them (at the site Your Words Count, the community outreach arm of the NICD) about a half dozen times in the last couple of months – mostly simple pieces that describe some of my personal reflections on civil discourse and getting along. I’ve kept quiet about it because I’m a terrible self-promoter and I put more pressure on myself when it’s a much more public platform but a friend recently told me that the site’s goals are really worthwhile and, while my blog posts are just one small part of it, I should be promoting it a little more. So, I would love it if you checked out the Your Words Count blog sometime and let me know what you think. While you’re there, check out the rest of the site as well. The site is kind of a work in progress still but it’s got some great stuff. For a more academic take on civil discourse, visit the NICD website.


An Update

14 12 2012

I’ve been so bad at updating my blog lately that I won’t be surprised if no one checks it anymore. But for anyone that might still have me in their feed reader, this is for you. :)

I want to start blogging more frequently again. Here are some of the thoughts that renewed my blogging resolve:

  • I’ve been undergoing some major life changes recently and I find it refreshing and therapeutic to share my thoughts and feelings from time to time.
  • A private journal is good but not enough. I like the feeling of being accountable to someone for the things I say, even if it is just my humble readership of 2 or 3 people. It makes me think more carefully about what I write. And I like feedback. Feedback is good for personal development.
  • Facebook is definitely an inappropriate forum for the kind of things I would like to share. I want my readers to be reading what I have to say voluntarily, not because my post showed up on their feed.

Along with that explanation, I also offer a warning to my readers. When I said I’ve undergone some major life changes recently, I really mean it. Depending on who you are, how you know me and how you came across this blog, you might be a little surprised at the person I am now (I know this seems really cryptic but it would be awkward to try to explain all of what I mean in this post; an explanation is coming soon). That said, I also think you’ll be pleased at how much I’m still the same person. So, if you still read this blog or stumble across it somehow, I hope you enjoy what you read and I hope this blog helps you get to know me a little better.

P.S. If you’re someone who is still following my blog after all this time, give me a shout out! I’ll be impressed. :)

My First Dead Guy

2 09 2012

As many of you know, Maren and I recently returned from a trip to Central America where we spent time in Costa Rica and Guatemala. We saw and did lots of exciting things while we were there but one thing etched itself in my mind with more clarity than anything else – a dead guy.

I have seen embalmed and made-up dead bodies in caskets and I’ve come across the scenes of a couple of accidents where emergency personnel have laid tarps over what are, presumably, the bodies of people who didn’t fare very well in the accident, but until recently I had never seen a dead body in the state in which the person had died.

It was one of the many memorable things Maren and I saw in our trip to Central America. It may seem odd that I choose to write about the dead body I saw instead of the many other amazing things we did and saw but I would argue that this event was probably the thing that resulted in the most thought and self-reflection during our trip (with the possible exception of the staggering architecture and intelligence showcased at the ancient Mayan city of Tikal), hence it is the event that seems most interesting to write about.

***WARNING*** Fairly graphic description of a dead body below.

We were riding in a small, tourism bus from Antigua, Guatemala to a rural town named Chichicastenango. (On a related note, it seems to me that the Central American tourism minibus industry attracts some of the most aggressive drivers.) We were driving up a winding mountain road and suddenly slowed down. I looked up ahead and saw some vehicles pulled over on the opposite side of the road and I saw a backpack and a motorcycle helmet in the middle of the opposite lane. As we got closer, a body became visible lying near a motorcycle on the side of the road. I don’t remember many details about the position of the body and the motorcycle or of the surrounding area because my attention was nearly all focused on what I assume to be the fatal injury – a severely traumatic head wound that had resulted in his brains spilling out onto the road. Forgive my crassness, but the analogy that first came to my mind at the time and that still best approximates my perception of the injury is that of a partially smashed pumpkin with it’s innards spilling out.

Needless to say, it was quite a shocking image, one that remains quite vivid still. I’m not sure how other people react in the same situation and I’m sure emergency personnel and health care workers are a different story altogether but my thought process went as follows: 1. Holy crap! I just saw a dead guy and his brains. 2. Why are we still driving so fast? 3. Why are none of the motorcycle riders wearing helmets? 4. What if we get in an accident? 5. Do I feel more defensive of my worldview now? (A Terror Management Theory reference) 6. This will make a great story to tell. These thoughts cycled in my head until we reached our destination, at which point I got distracted by all of the colorful souvenirs and the pushy market vendors. Yet, even now it’s easy to recall the image of that man in the road. It’s interesting how we react to and relate to death.

One year down.

13 06 2012

I sure took my time getting around to writing this, and I don’t know if anyone still follows my blog anymore, but…

I have completed a year of graduate school! Objectively, I feel like that is something to be proud of. Subjectively, I don’t feel like I did enough or learned enough. I think I’m still suffering from impostor syndrome. In fact, I think I may suffer from impostor syndrome until I graduate. Haha. But I will graduate. One day…

So, this year was basically comprised of doing a lot of reading, a little coursework (some of it more useful than others), and almost getting a study off the ground. The year to come will be very similar except this time I will have several studies off the ground.

Now, during the summer, I’m doing more reading, preparing to teach Intro to Social Psych in July, and doing some writing with my adviser. And… I play Diablo 3 in my spare time. Perhaps more often than I should. But it’s awesome and it’s summer.

Maren is doing a summer program to become a speech and language pathology assistant (most people who read my blog probably already know this thru other channels) and she likes it a lot. She also teaches spin classes a couple times a week, which is cool. And she and I are doing our best to live with the heat here. ‘Cause it’s hot here.

And that’s the quick recap. Stay tuned… I might post again. :)

[Insert American politician’s name here] wants to destroy America!

23 02 2012

It’s not difficult to find examples of hyperbolic, character-maligning in US political culture. What is difficult is understanding why I, or anyone else, should vote for somebody who deliberately and irresponsibly misrepresents the thoughts and attitudes of their competitors. It is immature and entirely unhelpful.

Here are some examples from Newt Gingrich (I could have used quotes from nearly any politician in the current race) from a couple of days ago, just to give you a taste:

  • “President Obama is the most dangerous president in modern American history”
  • “The President wants to unilaterally weaken the United States.”
  • “Obama’s energy policy is anti-American.”

These are the kind of visceral, emotion-laden phrases that politicians often use to convince an electorate that they believe is either too stupid or too apathetic to need to know more.

They are ridiculous claims first and foremost – it would be a complex conspiracy, indeed, that involves an American citizen spending years of his life and vast resources climbing the political ladder to achieve the nation’s highest office, a position that will cost him even more time and effort, all because secretly, deep down, he despises America and everything it stands for and just wants to slowly destroy the country from within. Also, such claims are completely useless from the viewpoint of a critical news consumer because they cannot possibly be verified because WE CAN’T READ MINDS. Let me translate the phrases above into more useful, less mind-ready versions:

  • “I think President Obama’s policies are putting America in a vulnerable position relative to other countries and time periods.”
  • “The President has enacted policies that I think put America at risk, from a military and defense standpoint.”
  • “I think President Obama’s energy policy is inappropriate to create a beneficial economic environment for America.”

You see? Much more useful. The simple phrase “I think…,” besides indicating that the individual is using his or her brain, lets us know that what follows is something on which we can build an opinion about this candidate (an important quality around election time) and it lets us know that no mind-reading is going on (phew!). Besides being more useful for discerning news-goers, my little translations have another important quality: they are incredibly sterile and boring. Which is why politicians and news programs tend to prefer the other versions.

Nevertheless, I think my translations would be a much better way to do politics. I might disagree with Newt Gingrich’s politics but I don’t think he hates America. I think he loves America, probably very much. Others might disagree with Obama’s politics but, chances are, he loves America, too. Chances are, too, that you and I and most voters out there see right through politicians’ childish attempts to make us dislike their opponents. We should let them know that we don’t think it’s okay.

Why Tolerant Coexistence Is The Only Way Of Living That Makes Sense

9 01 2012

Follow me for a bit as I explore this line of thought. Disclaimer: I’m not an anthropologist or historian, these are just my thoughts.

Let’s start broadly. As worldviews go, there are many. Worldviews are often religious in nature but can be religion-free as well. Every person in the world, by default, thinks that their worldview is the best. This often implies that other worldviews are inferior and/or a threat to your own. There are a few courses of action that a person could take at this point. I’ll first discuss the two that have probably been most common throughout history – extermination and conversion.

Extermination – one simple way to deal with those who you consider inferior and threatening is to eliminate them. This has been a very common technique throughout history and several extreme branches of modern religions still believe this is the best way to deal with those of opposing worldviews. I believe most modern thinkers would realize that this strategy is neither practical (on a global scale) nor moral.

Conversion – another very common way to deal with opposing worldviews. I think this is the most common modern method of dealing with opposing worldviews. However, few people are any good at it and nobody in history has yet been able to convert everybody, and I don’t think that anyone will ever achieve universal conversion. So then, what to do with the unconverted? Often, in history, failures at conversion lead to extermination.

So, I think everyone reading this post would agree that extermination, as a means of dealing with opposing worldviews, is off the table. Which leaves conversion, which, I hope we can all admit, will never be successful to the degree that everyone hopes it will (i.e. complete conversion of everyone else). Which leaves the question, as mentioned above, what to do about the unconverted? I’ll now go into three possible approaches to this problem.

Isolation – you can simply ignore the unconverted. Groups of people like the Amish, Hutterites, and the FLDS, for example, use this strategy. They create small isolated colonies and maintain minimal contact with anyone outside of their communities. These communities, despite being fairly peaceful, have their flaws and I think most people today would argue that the benefits of intergroup contact far outweigh the benefits of isolation. Isolation might work (kind of) for a few, small groups but it would never work on a large scale, especially with today’s global community. Look at North Korea, for example. Near-complete isolation, utterly unsustainable. It’s only a matter of time until the country starves itself out of existence. (Although, you could also make the case that North Korea is most interested in exterminating everyone else but they prudently choose not to try, and opt for isolation instead).

Intolerant Coexistence – this strategy implies an underlying desire for extermination or complete conversion that is tempered by the begrudged acknowledgment that it is prudent, in today’s society, not to attempt to accomplish those goals. Basically, a person using this strategy is always wishing that opposing worldviews didn’t exist or that they would change to their own worldview. It encourages a whole bunch of negative behavior – for example, segregation, racism and other discrimination, hateful speech and behavior, institutionalized inequality and so on. They never achieve the kind of success they desire and, so, live in a state of perpetual frustration. The only way to be happy is for their worldview to have the upper hand. This strategy is a recipe for frustration, disappointment and anger and, unchecked, could easily devolve into extermination behavior.

Tolerant Coexistence – This would mean living with and among people of different worldviews with everyone allowing everyone else the privilege of living their worldview insofar as doing so does not infringe on the ability of anyone else to do the same. No one tries to kill anyone else because of their beliefs and if reasonable efforts at conversion fail, so be it, others are allowed not to convert. As the title of this post states, I find this to be the most preferable strategy but it would require a few things of us. It would require that we admit to ourselves that many opposing worldviews exist and they always will. People would have to lighten up on their beliefs about salvation hinging on how many people you convert or how many non-believers you kill (This would be a tough one for some groups, admittedly). It does not require that anyone believe that other worldviews are “right” or desirable, only that others have just as much right to think as they do as you do to think as you do.

I realize, that if a person truly believes that they have paradise waiting for them if they kill a few heathens then my appeal for tolerant coexistence will have little effect on them. My appeal is really intended for everyone who is less fanatical than that.

In conclusion, if extermination is morally wrong, complete conversion is unrealistic, isolation is ineffective and self-harming, and intolerant coexistence is just plain unpleasant, it seems logically to follow that the most people could be the most happy if we lighten up a little and mutually agree to tolerantly coexist.

Everybody look at me!!

24 04 2008

Well, here I go.  I’m hopping on the blog train.  Hopefully, this will turn out to be fun and interesting – for me and for everyone else.  I’m not really sure what I’ll write on here all the time, but I think I’ve got enough thoughts running around my head to keep things interesting.  Whether you want to keep up with the happenings in the fabulous life of attractive, young playboy Peter Leavitt, or if you just want a peek into the mysterious depths of Peter’s mind, this is the place to be.  So, grab a warm cup of Ovaltine, sit back, relax, and begin to read your way into Peter’s life.