Tuesday, March 29, 2011

God's Work in All Its Forms

A recent survey showed some interesting outcomes which one could, on the surface, show some contradictory thinking, but it probably more emblematic of the reality many people, even those who count themselves as devout Christians or people of faith, have trouble rationalizing the reality of a God who is all powerful and sovereign yet along with the existence of tragedy, especially those which seem natural or uninitiated by the hands of humans, something that I addressed in my earlier post around the Japanese tsunami disaster.

Here are some of the survey results:

  • 38% believe that earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters are a sign from God
  • Roughly 30% believe that God sometimes punishes nations for the sins of some citizens
  • 56% percent of all respondents said they believe God is in control of everything that happens in the world
  • 70% Americans believe God is a person with whom a person can have a relationship
  • 58% said they attributed the increased severity of natural disasters to global warming
  • 44% said they attribute it to what the Bible sometimes refers to as the “end times"

What's interesting is that there clearly isn't a mutual exclusive belief that global warning caused the tsunami and the hand of God. There similarly isn't tension between the global warning attribution and the belief that God is in control of everything in this world. Both of these make sense. Clearly God can use any means - natural or supernatural - to accomplish His will.

It sort of reminds me of the the fable about the mice in the piano that is often used as an allegory of the existence of a God unseen:

There once was a family of mice who lived their entire lives inside a large piano. The mice lived in joy with the music of the instrument, which filled all the dark spaces with sound and harmony. In addition to enjoying the music, the mice drew comfort and wonder from the thought that there was Someone who actually made the music -- though invisible to them -- who "played" this piano. Then one day a couple of daring mice climbed up part of the piano and returned with a major discovery: they had at last found how the music was made. Wires were the secret; tightly stretched wires of graduated lengths which trembled and vibrated. As a result, many of them revised their old beliefs: none but the most conservative could any longer believe that the piano player existed. Instead they argued that the more rationale argument was this: Hammers were the origin of the music - a series of hammers dancing and leaping on tightly wound wires. The mice had seen this with his own eyes, and this became the prevailing belief of the reason for the music. The unseen pinaist came to be thought of as a myth. But the pianist continued to play.

In addition to reconciling the work of God and events put in place by man and nature, there's a question in terms of how this should be viewed theologically, especially in the context of the biblical interpretations of the apocalypse and end times. I think our pastor said it well (I'm paraphrasing) when he said from the pulpit that while the Bible does speak of tribulation and calamity in the end of the age, the prevailing imperative when you look at Scripture is that we should always be prepared for Jesus' return and live in a manner of worship which reflects that.

For thousands of years, there have been clusters of events which have caused people to think about Matthew 24, one passage which speaks of signs of the close of the age - but the day and the hour isn't known. It is up to us to live humbly and live worshipfully.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Power of Words

I recently listened to a fascinating podcast about the emergence of new editions of Mark Twain's American classics The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Mark Twain which have removed all instances of the racial epithet "nigger" and have replaced it with the word "slave".

This has not surprisingly led to a great debate about censorship, political correctness, race relations and the sanctity of literature. There are those who believe that the epithet is so odious and inflammatory that the word should be removed at all costs, and that given that the spirit of Mark Twain's narrative is essentially unaffected by the change, the revision is well worth it. Others counter that removing the language unfairly compromises the integrity and intention of the artist, and the redemptive relationship between Huck and the slave Jim is best told in the backdrop of the racially charged culture of the times.

The debate hasn't stopped there, and has evolved in some circles as a debate on the word itself. For example, why is it that black hip=hop artists can use the word as a casual greeting while that same word elicits anger and offense when said by someone not of that same race? Why is the word's offensiveness not only altered by context (which is true for many words), but from the speaker? My Asian friends don't call me 'chink', or 'my chink'. And hearing that wouldn't make me offended or warm and fuzzy. I'd just be terribly confused.

I'm sensitive that words have meaning and words the power to wound. I remain highly skeptical that to alter literature is the best way to deal with those sorts of issues. I understand that some teachers who have their classes read either The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Mark Twain smartly spend ample time with their classes discussing race relations and the cultural context of language and race even before touching Chapter 1. It seems to me that allowing students to engage in a deeper dive of understanding why words matter and why words are deemed racist and offensive would have a greater and lasting impact then never having the opportunity to discuss these matters - and if history has told us anything, it's that more civil discourse and engagement over difficult topics is better than less.

This is not like my denomination (rightfully, in my estimation) revising language in the doctrinal document such as the Westminster Confession of Faith around the Pope being the Antichrist (I also think that that we ought to revisit the 'papist' language in Chapter 24, but that's for another blog post). This is about a fictional work of literature which in of itself doesn't hold a moral imperative - it is an outpouring author's creative mind which people can read, interpret and discuss according to our own unique perspectives shaped by today's norms and principles.

I say we let Twain be Twain.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Our Overworked (or Lazy) Students

On occassion, I'll stumble upon two articles which will seem to be contradictory, but perhaps provide evidence of how complex and multi-layered the reality of a given situation or problem, reminding me that things are not always black and white, and that there are sometimes shades of gray which color perceptions.

For example, I had stumbled upon news of a teacher in Pennsylvania who was suspended for purportedly speaking the truth in 'tough love' on a personal blog, where she called out students (not by name) for being 'disengaged, lazy whiners'. The teacher, Natalie Munroe, was 'outed' by angry students and subsequently suspended, but has been elevated as a folk hero in some circles for being brave enough to speak the hard truth around many of today's kids - that kids today are pampered, rude, self-centered, lazy and have a sense of entitlement which is off the charts. This is not dissimilar from the whole "Tiger Mom thing" with Amy Chua, where Chua made waves around her premise that American parents largely were at fault with many kids failing to achieve academic success.

On the other hand, you have other articles which seem to suggest otherwise, that people are aggressively parenting to the point of alarm, taking the form of hiring tutors to help toddlers cram for exams which may allow them to gain admission to selective elementary schools in Chicago. Then again, stories like this and parents paying $1000 for "kindercramming" boot camps to get thier toddlers into exclusive schools in Manhattahn doesn't necessarily mean that kids are not lazy, per se - it just means that these children are forced to work. It's one thing to be diligent and hard-working, it's another thing to be coerced to memorize and drill.

The funny thing is that both sets of kids are similar in that they either believe or are being led to believe that education is simply a means to a goal, that the point of learning is "what it gets you", not "the process and the journey itself". The only difference is that the children who are cramming for kindergarten entrance exams are running the race with fervor. The disengaged, lazy whiner students in Pennylvania believe in the same race, but are pissed that they aren't simply given the trophy.

In the same vein, I wonder if the two stories are not at odds, after all. Maybe we've effectively screwed up education to the point that we've forgotten how to teach children how to be diligent learners - which is different than being good test-takers, grade-inflaters, or shortcut-masters. It's the difference between the "race" and a exploratory journey. Maybe it's possible that we've thrown out all the good that came along with Socratic learning and classical education that all we're left with is gaming the system to get good grades and apathy, because kids have never learned to enjoy or appreciate the art and discipline of learning in the first place. If this is true, we'll end up with a bunch of children in the next generation who are a combination of high achievers without any sort of creativity or zest for continuous learning, burned out former-high achievers who hate their parents and upbringing, and a unmotivated student "middle class" who stopped caring a long time ago.

And no, I don't have any tactical solutions. My prediction? I think education reform is going to make healthcare reform look easy.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mountains Crumble Into the Sea

Many of us have been watching the events in Japan unfold with great sadness and have offered up prayers and financial assistance (if you haven't given already, World Vision and Samaritan's Purse are two worthy relief agencies) to those who have been hit by a situation which, as I type this, seems to be getting worse. On top of the 10,000-plus people who are confirmed dead in the wake of the earthquake and resulting tsunami, the escalation of nuclear meltdown and contamination fears haunts those in northern Japan who have thusfar survived.

Of course, some have either joked or remarked about the tragedy in offensive ways, the offenders ranging from WNBA players to B-list commedians to UCLA students. Sad, but not unsurprising given my doctrinal understanding of the fallen nature of humans and my experiential understanding of the vulnerability towards stupidity that plagues many of them.

It's difficult to make sense of these natural disasters, and many of the same questions that arose when the Southeast Asia tsunami and Haiti earthquakes hit are being asked. From a theological question, the question around "How can a loving God permit such suffering?" is often tossed around. There are a lot of good books that touch on this, with the best treatment of this (not natural disaster specific) coming from John Piper's "A Sweet and Bitter Providence". Here's an excerpt which I found extremely thought-provoking, which emphasizes God's active sovereignity and purposes in the midst of tragedy:

That horrific tragedy serves God's purposes is not seen as a good news by many. Flesh-and-blood calamities, luke the tsunami of December 2004, are so devestating in the human agony that they cause that many Christians cannot ascribe them to the plan of God. For example, David Hart wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

When confronted by the sheer savage immensity of worldly suffering--when we see the entire littoral rim of the Indian Ocean strewn with tens of thousands of corpses, a third of them children's--no Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God's inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God's good ends.

These are strong words. And I strongly disagree with them. It is the message of the book of Ruth, as we will see, that all things mysteriously serve God's good ends. Thousands of Christians who have walked through fire and have seen horrors embrace God's conrol of things as the comfort and hope of their lives. It is not comforting or hopeful in their pain to tell them to God is not in control. Giving Satan the decisive control or ascribing pain to change is not true or helpful. When the world is crashing in, we need assurance that God reigns over it all.

I'm sure that Piper's difficult words won't resonate with everyone. And many may find that the Hart's words are much more aligned with thier own personal convictions and philosophy. But what Piper's words do, in a brutally intellectually honest and consistent way, is connect the dots around the question of a God who is sovereign and the reality of suffering on both a societal and personal level.

At the end of the day, my personal response is to love and show mercy to those who have been tragically afflicted as God commands me to, and to be reminded of my place in this world. All of us have been given great responsibilities by our Creator, but we should never mistake our calling and status - whether based on education, vocation, social stature, wealth, or citizenry - to hide the reality that we are not in control here, and that life should be treated with thanksgiving and respect, never taken for granted given its frailty and the illusion of our own personal indestructibility.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Productivity That Kills the Workers

Recent news reports have brought a little optimism that employment is somewhat improving, increasing prospects that we won't experience a completely jobless recovery as the economy picks up steam. That being said, the general consensus is that job growth will be slow, and given that the recovery is still tenuous at this point, we're not in a position to celebrate a robust new era in job creation.

My personal experience and observations are consistent with what I read about in the news. Most experts have noted that worker productivity in the past four years have soared as employees have been asked to do more with less, and employees have largely complied in fear of leaving their own jobs. Meanwhile, corporate revenues have steadily grown providing many companies with the double-win of increased revenue with a reduced employee cost base. Needless to say, most companies are not eager to stem the tide of these two trends. This has the results of higher productivity (good for companies), higher profits (good for companies and for employees insomuch these are being passed along through wage increases and profit-sharing) but placed a high burden of employees who are already stretched thin (unequivocally bad for employees).

It's not just the lack of hiring that's killing those "who should feel lucky they have a job". Another recent study from Human Rights Watch blasted American employers for weak and non-existent laws around parental leave, concluding that this deficiency isn't just counterproductive for businesses, but they also are endangering the very fabric of society. As a company which has scaled back a once generous policy of paid parental leave, I've seen this first hand. I've also witnessed the shrinking of other benefits revolving around medical and drug payments, which is also consistent with the broader labor market, which, if you haven't been paying attention, is getting better, but still isn't roaring.

On one hand, can you blame "the corporations"? Insomuch there's a prevailing wisdom that their chief and foremost responsibility is to the shareholders, isn't it the duty of the corporation to shrink costs (including benefits) if it leads to no resulting unwanted employee defections? I had written about this in a post two years ago, on how a recalibration of human capital markets could mean increasingly stingy behavior from HR leaders. This is just an extension of this.

If the Human Rights Watch report is correct, this might be emblematic of how too much of a good thing (worker productivity) could be a bad thing. In some ways, I can't help but see parallels with the Amy Chua-incited Asian parenting hub-bub - you can keep pushing and pushing but at some point the returns become negative with a significant amount of downside risk.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dancing With the Devil Without Armor

My buddy and I had a collaborative point-counterpoint blog session some time ago, and the topic at hand was Christians’ struggles in vocational areas whose cultures are antithetical to the faith they profess. We clearly agreed that the answer isn’t to avoid these fields a priori, but our respective positions had nuances in terms of what we felt was most prophetic at the moment. The Urban Christian seemed to stress the importance being supportive of Christians who enter these “difficult” fields, while my stronger point is that Christians need to be more brutally honest with themselves as they enter these fields in the first place.

I was reminded of this topic upon hearing about Billy Ray Cyrus’ (father of Miley Cyrus) interview with GQ Magazine, where he spoke sadly about how he had brought his family from what he sensed was a safe Christian environment in Tennessee (he got ‘em baptized at church before they went West!) to Hollywood to make “family building” entertainment together. What has happened since is a divorce resulting from his wife’s affair with another man and his daughter being two steps away from going Lohan/Sheen.

Billy Ray, is actually a bit of a celebrity in his own right (people in my generation remember him as the guy who did the “Achy-Breaky Heart” – not quite the dance floor phenomena as the “Electric Slide” or “Macarena”, but a pretty big deal nonetheless), so it’s surprising that he seems so blindsided with the trappings of fame and fortune, so it’s logical that his words elicit a combination of incredulousness and sympathy:

"I hate to say it, but yes, I do. Yeah. I'd take it back in a second, For my family to be here and just be everybody OK, safe and sound and happy and normal, would have been fantastic. Heck, yeah. I'd erase it all in a second if I could.""It's the way it is, There has always been a battle between good and evil. Always will be. You think, 'This is a chance to make family entertainment, bring families together...' and look what it's turned into."

I can’t help but make a couple of observations from this. First, no sacrament or ritual can protect a person from corruption. ‘Getting baptized before leaving Tennessee’ is nice and all, but this is not like the purported effect of garlic and holy water upon vampires. What would be more helpful is being immersed in a family life full of prayer, Scripture, fellowship, accountability and mutual encouragement in the Lord – I don’t know whether this was the case with Cyrus family, and even having that sort of family life is no guarantee, which leads to my next point.

Never underestimate the corrupting power of pride, and never overestimate your own ability (or your family’s ability to resist its allure and temptations. As “The Lord of Rings” depicted so well in allegory, we are so easily deceived by the trappings of power and fame and so quick to justify and rationalize the pursuit of it (‘'This is a chance to make family entertainment, bring families together’ a man once said.)

A cautionary tale, splashed on the pages of the National Enquirer and People magazine, but relevant in more subtle ways to everyday folks like me and you. Unless things like adultery-induced divorce and having your daughter smoke from a bong don't bother you, that is.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Didn't James Cameron Warn Us About This?

There was a quite a bit of buzz when the IBM supercomputer “Watson” faced off against former “Jeopardy!” champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter and won handily. Watson, which has been designed to solve complex logical problems at a dizzying rate of speed, is in many ways the epitome of what technology can do in support of society. Some have hypothesized that Watson, with its ability to analyze and solve for almost infinite amounts of variables, dependencies using copious amounts of data, could even develop solutions for problems such as health care policy and the Palestinian conflict.

But there are some who have misgivings of this next big step in technological advancement. What are some of the unintended consequences of developing technologies which will not simply answer questions at a speed much faster than humanly possible, but have the ability to determine the “right” question to be asked, and solve problems better that humans can. Will there be a point where we will outsource the adjudication of justice and the negotiations of diplomacy of a computer which will never be “tainted” with bias or emotion, armed only with cold and quantifiable logic and rationality?

And of course the fear lingers of a technology which ultimately becomes “intelligent” to the point of self-awareness, which comes to the realization that the best course of action is to not be controlled by the finite judgment of humans. This is akin to something eloquently articulated in that great philosophical flick, James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (movies such as “I, Robot” and “Eagle Eye” have also touched on this topic):

Terminator: The man directly responsible is Miles Bennett Dyson. In a few months, he will create a revolutionary type of microprocessor.

Sarah Connor: Go on. Then what?

Terminator: In three years, Cyberdyne will become the largest supplier of military computer systems. All stealth bombers are upgraded with Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned. Afterwards, they fly with a perfect operational record. The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes online on August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware 2:14 AM, Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

Sarah: Skynet fights back.

Terminator: Yes. It launches its missiles against their targets in Russia.

John: Why attack Russia? Aren't they our friends now?

Terminator: Because Skynet knows that the Russian counterattack will eliminate its enemies over here.

Sarah: Jesus.

But of course, we're not pulling the plug. We're a society addicted to our technology, as I type this on my laptop connected via broadband to a blog which includes an algorithm in a widget which uses predictive analytics to offer banner advertising based on keywords in my entries and the past surfing history of my viewer. We're not stopping the progress of our handheld devices which make our lives convenient by taking out all the work for us. Voice to text technology wil soon become thought to text technology, and before soon - the only thing we'll need to do is think - because technology will do all the rest of the work for us... until we come to the conclusion that our technology actually thinks more effectively than we do.

And if Earth becomes uninhabitable due to strategic military technology-induced nuclear holocaust, soon we'll find ourselves needing to colonize other planets and using avatars to make contact with unfriendly native inhabitants.

What? James Cameron made a movie about that too?

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black: The LeBron and Carmelo Edition

In the past six months, two of the biggest stars in the NBA have made decisions regarding their employment which have been scrutinized and criticized from pundits and fans alike. In both cases, their actions have been blasted as selfish, dishonorable, disloyal and narcissistic. But now that there’s been some time to digest their respective decisions and for the jilted cities to lick their wounds, maybe we can review more objectively whether NBA fandom has been fair in their criticisms, or more pointedly, would we hold ourselves to the same standard as these two basketball players?

In LeBron’s case, he made a decision to leave one employer to join a company where two of his friends were also planning to play. By the way, we all seem to forget that he actually took less guaranteed money in his contract to do so. Is that really worthy of our condemnation? Now most of the biggest LeBron haters will point to the most damning allegation, that at some point in the career-in-Cleveland-ending playoff series against Boston, he simply gave up and lost the will to win, influenced by the knowledge deep in his soul that he was leaving anyway. Okay, the whole “The Decision” thing on ESPN was bad and I’m not going to defend that.

To draw a parallel, let’s play this out from the perspective Bob, the middle manager of a telecommunications company. Bob’s doing pretty well, but he’s frustrated that his company doesn’t seem to be able to get over the hump and be the best, and bring his stock options above water. He has two college buddies who are also golfing buddies, Dan and Greg, who happen to work for a rival telecommunications company, a company which is on the rise. Bob deliberates joining Dan and Greg at their company, and during that deliberation, he gets hit with wave after wave of demoralizing financial news at his soon-to-be-former company, greatly diminishing his morale and colleague engagement. Ultimately, he decides to join Dan and Greg, and does so at a lower salary.

Now let’s take Carmelo Anthony. He wants to go to play for the Knicks in New York, which is the city of his and his wife’s birth. But the thing that apparently really makes him a bastard is (1) his insistence that he gets paid at the maximum allowable extension rate, instead of losing millions of dollar under the new collective bargaining rate and (2) his lack of concern that the Knicks have gutted the team to get him, by trading away a number of key players and draft picks as part of the deal. The hard-core Knicks fan (I have to admit that these thoughts passed my head) seem to think it’s unconscionable that Carmelo didn’t happily give up tens of millions of dollars so the Knicks could keep a bunch of other players for the good of the team.

So again, let’s play this out from the perspective of Doug, a senior executive of a mid-level pharmaceutical company. Doug is being recruited by the largest pharmaceutical company in the world which happens to be where he was born and raised, The recruiters tell him, “Doug, we’d really like you to take less significantly money than other similarly-talented and high-performing executives have taken. Why? We think it would be great if we can use the money we would save to put into research and development and maybe do some small acquisitions. Do it for the good of the company.” Doug politely declines, pointing out that his contributions will also greatly improve the company in the short and long term, and that he’s well worth his salary.

If you don’t condemn Bob and Doug, you also need to give LeBron and Carmelo and break. That being said, if the Knicks are saddled with two superstars and a bunch of D-League players for the supporting cast due to zero salary cap flexibility, I’m not going to be a happy Knicks fan.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The "Eat, Pray, Love" Paradox

With my wife and I being amateur "foodies", and my wife being an avid reader/writer, we figured that the movie 'Eat, Pray, Love' would be at least an entertaining way to spend two hours. I wasn't unaware about the Eastern mysticism and the New Age undertones, so it's not as if I was expecting a movie which would promote a Christian worldview, let alone a doctrinal allegory.

What I didn't expect was how disgusted my wife and I both found the movie - enough to the point that we turned it off halfway because we just found the movie sad. Not in a moving and redemptive way, but in a way which was depressing, sort of like watching someone fall deeper into a hole while the poor sod is convinced that they've reached the summit of the mountain.

The day after, I was able to grasp more coherently what bothered me about the film. For one, the main character of Elizabeth Gilbert (the author of the bestselling memoir) played by Julia Roberts wasn't at all a sympathetic character. Here's a woman who upon being jarred by with the news that her husband wants to be a teacher comes to grip with the reality that she's utterly unhappy with her marriage. Realizing this, she leaves her husband despite his desperate pleas for her to work together to save the marriage and when her fling with a young actor fails to satisfy her, she decides to blow out of the country armed with a huge advance of her to-be published book to "find herself": first stop Italy - with trips to India and Indonesia to follow. This is where "Eat, Pray, Love" comes in. Italy is where the sweet life is manifested through the culinary delights (Eat); India is where she comes face to face with her concept of a higher power (Pray) and Indonesia is where she apparently meets a charming Brazilian (Love).

No big spoilers here, by the way, and from what I understand, no large deviation from the bestselling book of the same name.

I think what was bothersome is that this protagonist is celebrated as heroic, strong and independent. She is courageous from throwing away the "chains" of her marriage and life and having the bravery to travel the world with a publisher's advance and find herself. And in real life, Elizabeth Gilbert has become a nice mini-celebrity, enjoying the praises of people like Oprah Winfrey, being the heroine of women (and men) to stop being boxed into their pathetic lives and to do whatever they want to do - it doesn't really matter how it affects others, because you need to make yourself happy first and be true to yourself. Define your happiness and define your spirituality and just go for it.

Yeah! You go girl! (Wow, I can see how it's so easy to get caught up in this.)

About ten years ago, I watched another movie, titled "House of Sand and Fog". In that movie, one of the characters, a probationary police officer named Lester (played effectively by Ron Eldard) encounters a woman named Kathy (played by a grungy Jennifer Connelly) during an eviction during a process which will turn the property over to an Iranian couple. The police officer Lester, who is smitten by Kathy, takes her out to coffee under the guise of sympathy, and then confides that he's married with two young daughters, but unhappy in his domestic life. Lester and Kathy proceed to a motel to have sex, at which point he resolves to leave his wife and kids to shack up with Kathy.

Now committed to his mistress, Lester proceeds to threaten the aforementioned Iranian couple with a false charge of deportation. When he goes to his station, Lester is tearfully begged by his wife and children to return home, which he declines to do. His infatuation with Kathy leads him to further terrorize the Iranian couple and eventually leads to their death and puts him in jail (I won't give away details here).

Maybe this is Hollywood special effects in action, but how was Elizabeth portrayed as such a heroine and Lester portrayed as such an ass? What we have here is two stories of people doing what feels right to them. One lady leaves her husband, and one man leaves his wife. What's the difference? If Lester didn't have kids and didn't abuse his power as a police officer, and we gave him a little cup of gelato in front of the Trevi fountain, would he be as lovable as Elizabeth? Is it a gender bias thing?

Let's also contrast with another New York Times Bestseller, Tucker Max's "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell", which details a self-focused hedonistic life of a self-described 'asshole'. Here is the product description from Amazon.com:
My name is Tucker Max, and I am an asshole. I get excessively drunk at inappropriate times, disregard social norms, indulge every whim, ignore the consequences of my actions, mock idiots and posers, sleep with more women than is safe or reasonable, and just generally act like a raging dickhead. But, I do contribute to humanity in one very important way: I share my adventures with the world. —from the Introduction Actual reader feedback:

"I am completely baffled as to how you can congratulate yourself for being a womanizer and a raging drunk, or think anyone cares about an idiot like you. Do you really think that exploiting the insecurities of others while getting wasted is a legitimate thing to offer?"

"Thank you, thank you, thank you—for sharing with us your wonderful tales of drunken revelry, for teaching me what it means to be a man, for just existing so I know that there is another option; I too can say ‘screw the system’ and be myself and have fun. My life truly began when I finished reading your stories. Now, when faced with a quandary about what course of action I should take, I just ask myself, ‘What Would Tucker Do?’—and I do it, and I am a better man for it."

"I find it truly appalling that there are people in the world like you. You are a disgusting, vile, repulsive, repugnant, foul creature. Because of you, I don’t believe in God anymore. No just God would allow someone like you to exist."

"I’ll stay with God as my lord, but you are my savior. I just finished reading your brilliant stories, and I laughed so hard I almost vomited. I want to bring that kind of joy to people. You’re an artist of the highest order and a true humanitarian to boot. I'm in both shock and awe at how much I want to be you."

"You are the coolest person I can even imagine existing. If you slept with my girlfriend, it'd make me love her more."
Now I ask you - what really is the difference between Tucker Max and Elizabeth Gilbert? Both have essentially decided to give the proverbial middle-finger to the world around them and do what suits their needs and happiness. They have placed worship of self above all things and have regaled the outside with their tales of their individualism and non-conformity. What, you think Elizabeth Gilbert gets a pass because she does her "ohms"? Prefers cappellini with prosciutto drizzled with olive oil instead of loaded potato skins? Can wax more poetically about dumping her husband than Taylor does about dumping women after one-night stands? The only difference is that Taylor correctly recognizes that he's a self-focused 'asshole'.

Put aside the hypocrisy for a second. What I find even more revolting about the 'Eat Pray Love' phenomenon is that they've managed to portray the epitome of self-worship as honorable. There's nothing valiant about a life which is lived to find and fulfill nothing except which feeds your basest desires. The active worship of the 'id' isn't just lazy, it's symbolic of all that's wrong in this world. In a society which is scarred because people have decided that their own happiness is paramount and supersedes the collective good of others and the concept of duty and responsibility, do we really need a reminder to "make yourself happy"? In a culture which places the greatest emphasis on social Darwinism and diminishes the dignity of others, are we seriously applauding narcissism in action?

If this is "finding yourself", methinks people need to get a better map. And if this is what passes for female role models, I'm glad that my daughters can look to my wife.