Blank Stares in the Real World

Blank StaresAs I write this, it is the day before Christmas. So I’m looking forward to how Christmas will go. What I know is that in as much as a talk about anything of substance, no communication will go on. I will get a lot of blank stares. This is one of the reasons that I do my best to stay busy cooking on holidays. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten to the point where I find very few people are able to understand what I have to say when I am talking about anything that matters to me.

I’ve heard this about this blog. “I checked out Frank’s blog, but I really couldn’t understand what he was talking about” — virtual blank stares. And the first time I heard that, I was shocked. Frankly Curious is hardly filled with deep subject matter. And I go out of my way to write in a simple style. But over time, I’ve come to understand it. And it concerns me greatly, because it isn’t just about me.

I’ve long held that intelligence is a kind of myth. Indeed, my major takeaway from the Flynn effect is that IQ scores tell us about the way people think — not their absolute abilities. So “intelligence” is more a function of how we were raised to think about thinking than anything else.

The Intellectual Blueprint

But it still scares the hell out of me. To most people, I must be an unbelievably boring person. I’m very interested in ideas — maybe because they are the only things I feel I can control. But if I think about something enough, I can get to the point where I have a kind of intellectual blueprint — a map of what there is to know, what I feel fairly certain I do know, and what is foggy or worse.

I seem to live in a world of people who are only vaguely aware that such blueprints exist. Instead, they have intellectual index cards — and even the space on them seems to be daunting. My father has been reading articles about people who were exonerated after being on death row. And he seems to be trying to change his mind to be against the death penalty, after being for it for almost 84 years.

He keeps approaching me on the subject, and I’ll admit: I’m not very nice about it. I’ve reached a point in my life where I don’t have the patience to teach remedial moral philosophy to adults. I’m pleased that he’s struggling with the issue, but I don’t think we are even involved in the same kind of intellectual endeavor.

The Intellectual Index Card for the Death Penalty

My father’s thinking on it (and like I said: he is really struggling in an admirable way) goes like this:

  1. An eye-for-an-eye is common sense
  2. But so much evidence shows it doesn’t work
  3. Polly Klaas.

In other words, it’s just a muddle placed on top of his “common sense” that the right response to murder is murder. It’s probably this effort to find a practical reason to be against the death penalty that makes it hard for me to be helpful. Yes, just from a practical standpoint, the death penalty is wrong. But that is not why I’m against it. And it is not the reason that I want anyone to be against it.

Intellectual Canvas Size

But the broader issue is the size of the intellectual canvas that any of us are going to work on. I always thrill to the experience of seeing a problem in a larger context. Currently, I mostly see the death penalty in the context of free will — or rather the lack of it. That’s not to say that I have found the ultimate context. But it’s a context that easily includes the other issues that people talk about the death penalty.

So yes, I can have a conversation with people about our flawed criminal justice system — and our racist society. And I can have a conversation about two wrongs not canceling each other. I can have a conversation (Gladly!) about mercy. But if we are talking about the death penalty, I will eventually get to free will. And that means blank stares in most cases. And when not, I get misunderstandings about nature versus nurture.

No Blank Stares at Frankly Curious

I don’t mean to flatter my readers, but one big reason I continue to write this blog is that the regulars around here don’t give me blank stares. We constitute a group that can communicate. And I say that knowing full well that we don’t communicate at a particularly high level. But each of our intellectual cutting edges are compatible.

Around here I neither need to put on airs nor talk about things at a level I don’t care about. Too bad it isn’t that way in the real world. Of course, the truth is that I don’t change in the real world. That’s why I get all those blank stares.

No Country for Jewish Liberals

No Country for Jewish LiberalsPolitically, the city is somewhat more liberal than Israel at large; over the years local voters have given pluralities to centrist parties — Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert’s Kadima, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, and Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union — ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud. This is in line with the residents’ high educational level and general middle-class prosperity as well as their secular bent. But liberal is a relative term; based on the parties and politicians they vote for and the news media they absorb, the people of Modi’in sit very comfortably within the Israeli “security hawk” consensus: unhappy with the “isolated, ideological” West Bank settlements, but untroubled by the expansion of the large “settlement blocs” closer to Israel proper, not to mention the Jewish neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem. The majority of Modi’in residents are theoretically in favor of the two-state solution, but suspicious, at best, of even the most moderate Palestinians and resentful of foreign pressure on any Israeli government.

–Larry Derfner
No Country for Jewish Liberals