Thursday, January 1, 2009

Discussion with an old friend

[Redacted for the blog, but I've saved the interesting bits]


Oh wow, there are so many things I want to respond to in your letter--you're an interesting person to talk to. Let's start with polygraphs. My understanding is that the real utility of polygraphs is in interrogations. "Did you kill Bob?" and then just checking the polygraph is the dumb way to do things--you should use it to elicit information which is actionable. A good interrogator will ask questions like these: "We know you killed Bob. Did you bury the body near your house? What constitutes 'near'? Less than a mile? I see the river is about a mile away from your house. Did you bury it near the river?" Etc. It's more like playing 20 questions, and the ultimate goal is to find the body and be able to prove that the suspect led you to it. My understanding is that a major objection to polygraphs, and the reason they're inadmissible in court, is that this technique *works* and people are uncomfortable with how much it is able to reveal: Americans like their privacy. (Imagine it being used in a custody hearing instead of a murder trial, for instance. All kinds of embarrassing secrets could come out.)

I don't necessarily know that we disagree per se about the lying-to-Nazis question, and I didn't say it shows poor character--I did say it means you're untrustworthy (generic "you" here), but I agree with you that "the person is doing the best with what they've got." It's just that actions do have consequences. As people grow in capabilities ("It takes more brain power and creativity to skirt around the questions in a way that would reflect the same result as someone else's lie.") those who desire to will become more trustworthy. You ask why my siblings gave a different answer: honestly, I think it's just because I'm older and I've thought it through more. I think a lot of people will eventually come to the same conclusion, because it's a true principle and therefore cannot be avoided. :) That's pretty arrogant, huh? The alternative is that I'm the one who's wrong, in which case I will eventually and inevitably change my mind.

S.'s contact info:


Out of curiosity: you didn't know I was Mormon--I presume though that you knew that S. is too? We probably would not have been such good friends if we had only interacted at school and stuff, but she was one of the four girls in my age group in Sunday School, so she was pretty special to me, kind of a quasi-sister although not exactly. I haven't met her kids--haven't seen her in person since leaving Washington--but now that I'm back in Seattle I may get the chance, next time I'm down in the Portland area.

I haven't been back to the Philippines since my mission (I got back in 2001), although now I'm done with school and therefore no longer poor :) I am considering a recreational visit next year (2010) with a buddy of mine who will be finishing his Ph.D then. (My goal would be to gain some perspective on history and technology, to satisfy my curiosity about how fast the Philippines is industrializing, to visit some old friends, and to remember some things I've forgotten and brush up on the language.) That mission relates, of course, to your question about how did I become a priest and what does it mean. Firstly you should know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints purports to be the same church that Jesus organized before the world was and established in Jerusalem during his mortal life, now restored to Earth in the last days. One implication is that there are a lot of Christian traditions that you will see in Christian churches from the 2nd through 21st century that we don't have. Thus. We have no full-time, professional clergy at the local level (although the church as a worldwide organization does employ e.g. auditors and computer programmers and such, and I think the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles receives a living stipend, although they're generally all old enough that I expect they have retired from their professions as nuclear engineers and lawyers and teachers and whatnot) and all young men are expected to prepare themselves to serve as ordained representatives of God wherever it becomes necessary (and eventually to become "kings and priests unto God and His Father," per Rev. 1:6). The story for young women is a little harder to explain so I'll leave that aside for now. Anyway, the practical effect on a day-to-day basis is that I am expected to and can bless the bread and water for the Sacrament on Sunday, participate in or perform certain ordinances for the dead in the temple (proxy baptism, eternal marriages), and hop to it when we decide something else needs doing like digging out blackberry bushes for an old lady. Maybe this reflects on my earlier response to the Nazi question, after all--I've pledged to live up to a higher standard.

You say, "I don't believe you need to actually be in a church building to pray or be a good servant." True principle, that. I agree.

Perhaps it's a slight tangent, and this may sound a little bit odd, especially in light of the preceding paragraphs, but I've never really thought of myself as a particularly religious person by nature. I participate in organized religion (the Church) because my understanding about the nature of reality indicates it as the best way to get things done, as well as it being a fulfillment of commitments I have made--but the personal understanding comes first. In other words, I see my life as organized around facts, not religion. Yes, I'm a weird kid. Always have been. :)

Going back to your earlier point about intentions, "If a man who works everyday in the best job he can find but still can't make enough money to feed his family steals milk to feed his child is it wrong?" There's no simple answer to that question. The simple answer would be, "Yes." He's been forced into a situation where every answer within his power is wrong. Welcome to mortality, kiddo. That's why Jesus' Atonement was necessary, actually. It's also why the Lord warned Adam not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge--once you hit mortality, unless you happen to be as capable as Jesus was, which you're not, you will inevitably do wrong things and die, spiritually as well as physically. But at the same time there's no way to learn good from evil without having that very opportunity to make mistakes, so God arranged a way for Jesus to pay the balance for our mistakes on our behalf--to satisfy Mercy without robbing Justice--so that he could still send us down here into this terrible, messy, mortal situation without it permanently destroying us. That's how it looks to me, anyway. But anyway, for the moment, yes, you do the best you can.

I agree that it would be fun to take a polygraph, just to see if I could beat it. This is one reason I love games like /Scruples/. It doesn't count as lying if you've announced in advance to everyone that, for the duration of the game, you will be lying like rugs. It's the only chance I have to see if I can do it without getting caught--aside from acting I guess, but I haven't done any plays recently.


P.S. Last night? I stayed up until 12:04 a.m., called a friend to wish her happy New Year's, and then since I hadn't slept all year went straight to bed.

"The presentation or 'gift' of the Holy Ghost simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment." --Joseph F. Smith (manual, p. 69)

"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

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