Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Taming of the Shrewd

At the 2012 semiannual general conference on Oct 6, LDS corporate CEO Thomas Monson announced that effective immediately, young men may begin their full-time Mormon missionary service following their graduation from high school, even if they are only 18 at the time. And young women, who have not been eligible for full-time missionary service until age 21, may now begin their service at age 19.

The announcement was met among LDS members mostly with enthusiasm and glee.  No more waiting around for a year after high school, piddling with a job or at college.  It is expected to have a profound influence on college life across Utah, whose universities bid a temporary farewell each year to thousands of students answering the call of their church, coming at a time when Utah’s public universities are ramping up their efforts to retain students and improve graduation rates. 

The effect could divide the state’s youth into haves and have nots.  By have, I mean secular knowledge.  Many ex-mormons and some active members see the move as a way to plug the seepage that occurs with young adults after high school.  Grant Palmer recently told attendees at the ex-mormon foundation conference that along the Wasatch Front of Utah, only about 50% of worthy, eligible young LDS men go on a mission, presumably because many of them fall away the year after high school.  Lowering the age by a year (or two for young women) helps keep them from entering the world and learning secularism on campus before they can be fully indoctrinated on a mission.

Will going on a mission really stop the seepage or will it just delay it a few years when the missionaries return and go to college?  To understand what kind of special indoctrination missionaries receive,  I revisited the current manual for missionary training & discussions.  The following comes from the LDS Missionary manual, which is found at this LDS.ORG link (pdf) (or this html version).

The manual is definitely chock-a-block filled with typical Ra Ra sales force psychology.  Do as your told, follow the recipe we give you, always be committing, don’t lose the spirit by not working hard, pray-obey-don’t-be-gay.  The manual is about taming young (at times wild) men.  But beyond the psychological conditioning of the missionaries themselves, the manual is also about training them into shrewd salesmen.  Okay, maybe not shrewd, but skilled in certain techniques.

What I found were instructions on how to manipulate others into joining.  Not just encouragement to teach or help persuade, but technique on emotional manipulation.

In the section titled, "Helping Others Make Commitments: The Door to Faith and Repentance" is this quote:
"Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught: “The first thing you will do when an investigator tells you he or she had not read and prayed about the Book of Mormon is be devastated! . . . Much of the time we are just too casual about all of this. This is eternal life. This is the salvation of the children of God. Eternity hangs in the balance. . . . It is the most important path this investigator will ever walk. But if he or she doesn't know that, at least you do! . . . So take control of this situation. Teach with power and authority, and then be devastated if the first steps toward commandment-keeping and covenant-keeping have not been successfully begun” (“Making and Keeping Covenants,” missionary satellite broadcast, Apr. 1997). "

I want to emphasize: "...and then be devastated if the first steps toward commandment-keeping and covenant-keeping have not been successfully begun."  

Then in the "Follow Up" section is this quote:
 "Make frequent contact, daily if possible, to find out how people are progressing with their commitments... strengthen the spiritual feelings they felt as you taught them...This sustaining influence of the Spirit is vital...remind and encourage them to keep a commitment. Help investigators identify the blessings they have received as they have kept their commitments. Especially help them describe their feelings as the Spirit has testified of the truthfulness of the message. Compliment and encourage people who are succeeding in keeping commitments...Express concern and disappointment when people fail to keep their commitments and thus fail to experience the blessings. "

I emphasize: “Especially help them describe their feelings as the Spirit has testified of the truthfulness of the message.”
Help them describe their feelings as what you were asking them to test for themselves.  Then “Express concern and disappointment when people fail to keep their commitments. . .

Do you see the pattern?  Tell them whatever positive feeling they have is a witness of what you’re selling.  If they have a negative feeling about what you’re selling, express concern and disappointment and be devastated, and show them that devastation by taking control of the situation in power and authority.

Now, according to the manual, once you get them hooked, committed and baptized, some of the new-members will fall away back into old habits.  Some go back to drinking coffee, alcohol or even taking drugs.  Is that a good time to express disappointment?  Nope, they tell the missionary.

In the  "A Plan for Overcoming Addictive Behavior" Section  the church actually discourages manipulation.  Missionaries are told they “should not be shocked or discouraged” by the bad behavior.  In fact, missionaries are instructed: They should show confidence in the individual and not be judgmental if the person yields to an old craving. They should treat it as a temporary and understandable setback.”  Because “condemning. . .a new convert is never helpful and will likely lead to discouragement, failure, and inactivity.

See the pattern? Act devastated if the investigator doesn't do what you say before being baptized. After baptism, don't act devastated, be all understanding! 

Additionally, missionaries are continually told to seek the spirit, but not to discuss too many specifics.  Just seek it generally, point it out whenever the investigator has a positive experience or feeling.  But don’t share specific spiritual experiences.  In the section "A Word of Caution" missionaries are told:
“Revelation and spiritual experiences are sacred. They should be kept private and discussed only in appropriate situations. As a missionary, you may be more aware of spiritual experiences than you have been earlier in your life. Resist the temptation to talk freely about these experiences.”

Why would they want missionaries not to talk freely about these experiences when they all but start out discussion One with Joseph Smith’s first vision of God?  What they’re saying is, if you talk about all the religious craziness that happens in your head, people will be less likely to keep their commitments--we only accept a certain level of crazy; follow the prescribed plan.

The haves who go to college instead will be way ahead and can avoid being manipulated and learning to manipulate others through emotional trickery.  That’s not what the LDS corporation wants; they desire a 50,000 strong sales-force that is virtually cost-free labor.  

The Campus Life.  (Ann Arbor, 2006)


The brainwashed life.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Life is a test, only a test...

"We [the gods] will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them." (Abraham 3:24-25).

The above is one of the quintessential scriptures for Mormons on the meaning of this life.  Another is:

"[A]fter this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed." (Alma 34:33).

Particularly poignant is that "For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—Eternal punishment is God’s punishment. Endless punishment is God’s punishment." (D&C 19:10-12).  In some kind of trick-wording, God is saying that punishment is to last forever in the way God (by his name) lasts forever.  

To Mormons, this life--from birth to resurrection & judgment--is primarily about proving our faith through obedience, and secondarily about learning/growing closer to God to become like him.  The reason most people fail (i.e., aren't mormons) is because they choose evil over righteousness.  And when they commit a finite crime of choosing momentary evil, they just might receive endless punishment, if it weren't for God's stepping in. Does eternal punishment for a finite 'crime' make sense?  This is an elaborate scheme for when we purposely choose evil.

But do we?  Does anyone actually willingly choose what they believe is outright evil?  Most of you have seen studies indicating that brain damage can coincide with onset of violent behavior, in what was a normal, passive, loving person prior to the damage.  Is biology the only source of violence?

LDS teachings hold that we have a thing called agency which allows each of us to choose between right and wrong. LDS doctrine on agency is fundamental to everything.  Without agency & choice, the entire plan of God would be frustrated (2 Nephi 2:11-13).  In fact, without the opposition that allows choice through agency, God would even cease to be God (2 Ne 2:13 & Alma 42:22-25). (It's not explained how God was God before there existed Satan.) 

However, as is discussed (sometimes argued) in other sects of Christianity, while we are free to act, are we really free in our choice?  Do you have free will? 

At this point you probably "phht!" me and sigh in frustration.  How could anyone question whether we are free to choose?  We feel it deeply, deeper than our bones; that we are authoring most of our life.

But I didn't say free to choose.  I said free in our choice.  I am not talking about freedom of choice.  There is a subtle difference that I think many people don't make. 

A robot can be programmed to choose when it reaches a fork in its path.  Its choice is conditional and the parameters are based on its programming.  The robot makes a choice.    Unless a subroutine blocks other code, we can say it is free to make a choice when it comes to a fork.  It doesn't create the fork.  It doesn't even create its own internal conditions ("desires" that push it one direction over another).  If its programming blocks that choice under certain circumstances or if its programming does not have the conditions or information needed to make a choice, it will hover and pace at the fork not knowing what to do until conditions change or it flips a virtual coin (assuming its programming includes the option of random choice whenever no other conditions are met).

Where did the robot obtain the ability to choose?  Duh!  From its programmers!

Where did humans get the ability to choose?  We have will--the freedom of choice. But can we will our will?  Can we create the desires, conditions and programming behind our choices? Where do those come from, if not the brain, genetics and environment?   Mormon teaching by some prophets explain the fundamental will to choose--agency--is a co-eternal property of children of God, something we have in common with him and always will have.

But is this agency different than a robot's programming to choose?  Free will is more than the ability to choose (that's called "freedom" here).  Free will is the independent source of choice, free of external (divine or other) influencers.  Without that independence, could there be a true test of God's children?

Think about it this way, if you could rewind the universe and re-watch it play, would an intelligent person choose differently, given everything material (brain, environment, etc) is equivalent? If so, what is it that would be choosing differently since it wouldn't be the brain or different conditions? Remember, you didn't choose the structure of your brain at birth, the genetics you received or the environment you were born into.

Many will argue that the difference between a robot with programming to choose and us is our consciousness.  We feel we make choices. The robot is not conscious.  True.  If we are just moist robots, our programming sure makes us feel special anyway. Could we be confusing warm fuzzy special feelings with something more magical?

What is consciousness?  Does it make the choice?  In fact, there are data showing strong evidence that conscious choice is an illusion [1-3 footnotes].  That choice happens, according to readings from EEG & fMRI sensors, 100s of milliseconds to seconds before we are conscious of it. It happens first in the subconscious mind even before the conscious mind is aware a choice is made.  In other words, the choice happens first and then you are aware of it, only to think that your awareness mean you chose.  Is our conscious self the one deciding or is it coming from an uncontrollable subconscious program?  According to latest evidence, it is subconsciously primed and actuated.

Mormons believe that there is a part of us that is pre-ordinate to our genes and birth/earth environment. They call this "intelligences", and this is the agent that has free will (even eternal and separate from God).  But one has to wonder how the intelligence agent chooses when everything else that influences choice--genetics, environment, the intelligence (or lack thereof) of others around us, God, Satan--all the other factors beyond our control cannot truly choose.  We cannot change our genetics, we cannot change God or Satan or really even forcibly alter the mind of others (not without really good pharmaceutics or waterboarding).  Nor did we choose the environment in which we were born.  And every decision you've made from that moment is dependent on the environmentally evolving brain, step-by-step ad-naseum until you are what you are, where you are, and how you are today.  What in all of that did you really choose that is independent of all those steps over which you truly had no control?

"Our intelligence/soul," you may answer.  An agent such as a soul or the Mormon intelligence that is proposed to act will by necessity follow rules (or be undetermined & random).  Where did those rules (programming) come from?  Did you choose to be a particular flavor of intelligence?  No.  If it exists, it is still something that either is what it is or it was organized by God into a soul for you. Every other factor that made the conditions of what you are is outside of your control.  And neither are you in control of the very core of yourself that might be "co-eternal".

Let me be more specific, the Mormon intelligences argument moves the mystery-miracle to a more abstract level that is harder to see unless you examine it more carefully. In the end, it has the same problems as the genes+environment causation. An irreducible intelligence agent must, by definition, follow rules, otherwise it is randomness and meaningless. Those rules are not self-imposed because either the agent is immortal (and rules are eternal from God) or they are emergent (and dependent on intial conditions (like "spirit genes") and environment). Therefore, the rules just exit or just emerge, and do not convey any individual responisbilty of choice outside of existence (spirit genes) or emergence (environment). According to Mormonism, all other attributes added to the intelligence agent were given by God through organization into a spirit, placed in a body with god-allocated physical genetics and birth environment, and all emergence thereafter based upon these factors outside of the intelligence agent's control. 

But the choices you make are based on this (hypothetical) core soul, the genetics, your birth environment and the subsequent infinitely complex evolving interaction of your genetics/brain with the changing environment. 

A summary of the initiating forces behind choice are:

1. Genetic Endowment

2. Pre-natal chemical environment

3. Post-natal chemical environment

4. Pavlovian Conditioning-stimulus-stimulus-response

5. Skinnerian Conditioning-stimulus-response-consequence

6. Traumatic factors

Behavior is determined by an evolutionary history, environmental history and the current situation, including conditioning in the Pavlovian and Skinnerian senses, as well as sudden traumatic factors.  Perhaps dreams can come under a minor influence too.

I didn't include "soul" or "intelligences" in my list. I've stated above, the intelligence/soul follows rules which make it not idependent from a structure beyond itself and thus is essentially the same as genetics or environment. Besides, according to Mormonism, God said in LDS scripture, "Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning." (D&C 93:38).

So if you in fact also started with a clean slate, then there were no differences between each of us before we arrived on mother earth. If that is true doctrine, then what is the test?  To see if we will execute the wetware inside our moist robotic brains?  What is God really judging us for?  Our most base/core level programming (intelligences) is not our doing.  The organization of our spirit bodies was God's act.  Our genetics were just dumped on us. We were born whereever we were born and we get whatever family we get.

The only real test seems to be: did God organize the intelligences into spirits and match them with the right genetics and environment?  The test is on God, not us.  That is, if you believe in LDS scripture and place a little thought into it.

This life is a test.  How would you grade God so far?

Don't put the cart before the horse on Free Will or Free to act. Which is which?

[1] I. Fried, R. Mukamel, & G. Kreiman, 2011. Internally generated preactivation of single neurons in human medial frontal cortex predicts volition. Neuron, 69: 548– 562

[2] J. D. Haynes, 2011. Decoding and predicting intentions. Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 1224(1): 9–21.

[3] P. Haggard, 2011. Decision time for free will. Neuron, 69: 404–406.