Why is losing weight so difficult?

I’m in the middle of changing my blog layout to facilitate ebook sales. People need a landing-page for incoming links to my books, and sadly my beloved dog-lion-whatever was a bit too much to scroll through.

While you’re waiting for the inevitable upgrades, my latest article on MercatorNet looks at…you guessed it: my new book on weight loss!

The Socratic principle that “to know the good is to do the good” means that the primary cause of our struggles and suffering in life is intellectual. In other words, the surest antidote to a problem like excessive body weight is to better understand the problem itself.

The corollary is that confusion and ignorance surrounding a problem like weight loss is central to the problem.

That’s why “willpower” is such a distraction in the weight-loss debate. From an intellectualist point of view the main problem is not the strength of our will, but the clarity of the intellect that informs it. It’s not that we aren’t trying hard enough to lose weight, it’s that we don’t really understand how or why or what we are actually trying to accomplish.

We think we want to lose weight. We think we understand why it is harmful to us. But if we really understood, then we wouldn’t have to struggle and suffer in confusion.

If we really understood we would just go ahead and do it. That’s why I call my approach an enlightened one. Instead of fumbling around in the dark, relying on diet fads and fashions and incomplete information, I decided once and for all to understand the problem, knowing that if I understood it I could at last resolve it as efficiently as possible.

https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/19846

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Your beliefs do shape your experience

Every experience tells a story. Every experience has something to teach you.

I’ve been turning these ideas over in my mind lately, and in the past day or two it’s become even more important to me.

An example I like to use is when my wife and a good friend were having a conversation and I suddenly felt left out and ignored. I waited, but they continued to ignore me, both in the conversation and in terms of their body language.

I ended up feeling put out by this, and later I brought it up with my wife and my friend separately.

My friend said “if you felt left out, why didn’t you join in?”

and my wife said “actually I was waiting for you to join in the conversation but you didn’t for some reason.”

So why hadn’t I just joined in?

The truth (though I had to search for it) was that I was too afraid to jump into the conversation in case they didn’t want me to be a part of it. I had read distance in their body language, and that made me anticipate a risk of failure if I came close and tried to take part.

But the irony is that I was already standing back from them from the moment the three of us met. My own body language was retreating from the engagement, leaving a vacuum that they filled with their own conversation.

The weren’t distancing themselves from me, they were responding to my own distance, which I had failed to acknowledge in myself.

How many times do we create the circumstances we fear?

Time and time again I’ve noticed in hindsight that I had produced, or imagined, the challenges and obstacles that shape my life for the worst. I have unwittingly created the very incidents and experiences that reinforce my pessimism, my hostility, my self-pity, and most of the time I haven’t even stopped to question the beliefs and assumptions behind those experiences.

In all aspects of life, my experiences are a reflection of my own beliefs about reality and about the way the world works.

My sense of what is possible and what is impossible. My sense of what is proper and improper. My attempts to ‘read’ other people’s attitudes to me….The truth is that we don’t know what is possible and impossible, and from that point every other assumption is thrown into doubt as well.

Every experience I have is reflecting something about my beliefs and my expectations within that context.

For instance, right now I’m brewing a beer. Brewing takes about four hours, and though it’s very much a worthwhile process, for me the experience feels like work. It’s a chore, and I fully expect to be tired and worn out by the end of it.

But why?

If I examine it more closely, there’s no reason I can’t relax and take it easy while still brewing. It’s not physically or mentally demanding, so long as you’re organised.

If you set a timer, you can forget about it until the timer reminds you. You don’t have to keep watching the clock.

You can worry about whether you’re doing the process correctly, but if you’ve already researched it then further worry is just a choice.

What is this experience telling me? It’s telling me that I view work as something burdensome and incompatible with a happy and relaxed frame of mind. Work is not enjoyable. Work is hard, monotonous, dull, and stressful.

There are aspects of brewing beer that are intrinsic to the process, but countless components of my personal brewing experience are entirely dependent on my choices, which are in turn dependent on my beliefs about life and reality.

Every instance, every experience is like this. I can’t fault or blame the experience or reality for being the way that it is. Or if I do, I am once again creating a situation that reflects my beliefs and expectations. If I want to feel helpless, then I need only believe that I am.

If I want to feel that life is difficult and challenging and ultimately disappointing, if I want to believe that all good things must fail, then I need only act accordingly.

You’d be amazed at how efficiently and unfailingly an individual can sabotage their own life so as to feel the disappointment and suffering they expect to find.

But what’s the alternative?

Well, I firmly believe (and so increasingly experience) that if we become aware of our own stake in these conflicts, our own role in creating them, we will gradually cease to create them this way.

When something good in your life looks like it’s coming to an end, must it really be so? Isn’t it reflecting back to you your own deepest expectations and beliefs about life?

I guarantee that if you look at it this way, if you ask yourself why you haven’t done things differently, why you accept the limitations, or why you feel powerless to change, you will arrive not at absolute obstacles but at your own self-imposed limits. You’ll discover that you’ve ruled out any alternative answers already, and so you’re not willing to try anything different.

Ignorance blinds us.

I didn’t know that I had distanced myself from my wife and my friend long before I felt excluded. Once I knew that I had done that, I could choose not to do it.

Maybe your mind works differently, but for me this is always the case.

I didn’t realise I had already decided that brewing must be onerous and time-consuming and must monopolise my attention for four hours. It doesn’t have to. There are steps where I have to pay attention, but there are also periods where I can ignore it. Likewise, if the time commitment really bothers me, I could buy equipment that would make heating and cooling much faster, or automate parts of the process. But that would touch on a whole slew of complicated beliefs about money!

The moral of the story is that our experiences are shaped far more than we realise by our own beliefs and expectations. Accordingly, our experiences can teach us a great deal about those beliefs and expectations.

We worry about external things, but our understanding of those external things – even our experience of them – is profoundly mediated by our beliefs and expectations.

We think we know how people will act and react to us. And so long as we act and react in the same old ways, we’re probably right. But the moment we change, everything changes.

Islam, terrorism, and the Westboro Baptists

I’ve been trying to steer clear of references to the Westboro Baptist Church because it does get dragged out as the half-baked Christian equivalent of “Islamic extremism”. But in replying to comments on my latest article at MercatorNet, I think the comparison is apt:

Why have Muslims not spoken out in criticism of terrorists who give Islam a bad name? That’s a very good question, and a very complicated question, because – as I’ve been suggesting – Islam is diverse and complicated.

I’m sure we can agree that some Muslims have criticised the terrorists. You don’t have to search far on the web to find examples. Why do these criticisms not seem sufficient? Perhaps because we do not understand the situation well enough? Perhaps we imagine that if all the Muslims stood up and protested against terrorism, it would end?

And I can appreciate your point, given that we have never seen worldwide protests by Muslims against the Jihadists. Hence the suspicion that they are secretly sympathetic to the Jihadists’ aims.

However, my suspicion is that for the majority of Muslims, Western perceptions of Islam are not as salient as they are for us. Let me offer an analogy: when the Westboro Baptist Church appears on the tv news in Australia, I find that people without much understanding of Christianity interpret it as merely the worst instance of fundamentalist Christian insanity in the US, and the onus is on other Christians to disavow them and their declarations of animosity toward homosexuality.

Actual Christians tend to respond differently – not with expressions of contempt and criticism for the WBC, but with criticism and contempt for the media, for presenting the WBC as though they are anything more than a bizarre little fringe group. In other words, they don’t blame the WBC for giving Christians a bad name, they blame the media for being so ignorant as to portray the WBC as Christians. They actually think the media reports of the WBC are indicative of deeper anti-Christian sentiment.

So when someone asks a Catholic, for example, “do you think ‘God hates fags'”? The answer is of course “no.” But then the follow-up question is something like “so you’re in favour of same-sex marriage then?” and the answer is “no” again; leaving some people with the impression that Catholics really do think that God hates homosexuals, they just don’t have the guts or the brazenness to admit it openly like the WBC and other such groups.

Very few people are willing or able to get involved in the more complex philosophical or theological discussion that goes to the heart of distinctions between different Christian denominations and their attitudes to homosexuality.

What I’m interested in is the detailed and complex discussions that take place within Islam; because I’m not content to persist with superficial dichotomies that don’t reward us with real understanding of the situation.

I suspect, but am yet to verify, that for many Muslims the equation of terrorism with Islam is primarily the preoccupation of Westerners who have from the outset only a dim understanding of Islam, and who view Jihadism as only the most extreme reflection of ubiquitous Islamic sentiments. We’re effectively saying “I think you’re all terrorists at heart; can you prove you’re not?”

The fact is that like the Catholic/WBC example, we may find the truth is not to our liking anyway. We probably don’t want to hear from various branches of Islam that: no, they do not support terrorism, but at the same time they do view our society as godless, decadent, and ultimately destined to convert or collapse. How well do you think that would go over?

Most Islamic nations have far bigger problems on their hands than bad press in the West. In that sense I’m not surprised that ordinary Muslims around the globe do not try harder to reassure us they do not support Salafi Jihadists.

Islam and violence: how stupid are we really?

My latest piece on MercatorNet is inspired by our collective ignorance of a religion that has, one might think, been of some significance to Western societies for the past decade or so. Our endless debates about Islam and terrorism are a little like debating the bellicosity of ‘Orientals’ at the turn of the 19th Century:

If only we took the time and the effort to get past our basic ignorance, we would find that the term ‘Islam’ does not refer to a single homogenous thing. ‘Islam’ refers to more than one thing, and our consternation and confusion arises from continuing to debate the matter without settling on a true definition.

http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/islam_and_violence_how_not_to_answer_a_question

If only my music were popular…

Throwcase has posted a passionate and entertaining condemnation of a set of cliches pertaining to the popularity of classical music.

Classical music has always been the music of the educated classes, but today, despite the much more equal distribution of education in first world society, it is seen by many as stuffy, irrelevant and unappealing

This is so offensively stupid I can hardly contain my rage. Saying that other people see it a certain way does not constitute an argument. It does not represent a truth. It is a useless, pointless, meaningless thing to say. If Clive thinks it is stuffy, he should say so, and not hide behind the views of others. If he thinks it is not really stuffy, he should say so, and help dispel a misconception. Quoting what he perceives to be an established view merely reinforces a worthless bit of gossip.


http://throwcase.com/2015/01/20/the-golden-shower-of-musicology/

I’ve been meaning to write something on the chant, and this piece by Throwcase has reminded me of similar debates that erupt in the context of liturgical music – a domain perhaps even more fraught than classical music, where misinformation and prejudice mean that an ancient and beautiful musical tradition has been simply abandoned in favour of typically inappropriate, often second-rate pop/folk music.

Evolution and the Catholic Church

Earlier I posted a lovely piece of satire: ‘The Pope on Evolution‘.

Amidst the media inanity TIME was one of the few outlets that saw through the haze of collective stupidity, with a story titled:
Sorry, But Media Coverage of Pope Francis is Papal Bull

But it’s not really good enough to have to rely on occasional media sanity – we should be able to see through the nonsense for ourselves.

It’s hard to seen through the nonsense if you don’t have any indication that it is nonsense, so it helps first of all to have enough general knowledge to know that something doesn’t add up. You might have to know, for example, that unlike the American Creationists who pushed Intelligent Design, the Catholic Church has a proud history of philosophical and scientific engagement. When it comes to ‘faith vs science’ the Catholic Church doesn’t believe in ‘versus’.

If you knew that, you would be immediately suspicious of the claim that Pope Francis’ comments to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences signaled some kind of revolutionary change in the Church’s attitude to evolution.

For more detail, the now outdated Catholic Encyclopedia is a great source of information on what the Church thought circa 1909. On ‘Catholics and Evolution’ the Encyclopedia states:

One of the most important questions for every educated Catholic of today is: What is to be thought of the theory of evolution? Is it to be rejected as unfounded and inimical to Christianity, or is it to be accepted as an established theory altogether compatible with the principles of a Christian conception of the universe?

We must carefully distinguish between the different meanings of the words theory of evolution in order to give a clear and correct answer to this question. We must distinguish (1) between the theory of evolution as a scientific hypothesis and as a philosophical speculation; (2) between the theory of evolution as based on theistic principles and as based on a materialistic and atheistic foundation; (3) between the theory of evolution and Darwinism; (4) between the theory of evolution as applied to the vegetable and animal kingdoms and as applied to man.

Unfortunately this is already too much detail for most media outlets, and perhaps most people generally. If you can’t for example, understand why the simple question of “Does the Church believe in Evolution” has suddenly branched off into a series of complicated distinctions and definitions, this path of inquiry might not be for you.

The Encyclopedia post is too big to reproduce in its entirety, but it notes along the way that

As early as 1877 Knabenbauer stated “that there is no objection, so far as faith is concerned, to assuming the descent of all plant and animal species from a few types”

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1859.

The Encyclopedia doesn’t show an unconditional acceptance of the theory, but rather an intelligent philosophical engagement with the varieties of evolutionary theory and the theological implications and ramifications, appropriate to a point in history that predated much of the supporting evidence and relevant biological discoveries such as DNA.

Read enough of this stuff and it becomes clear that whatever one might think of the Catholic Church and its teachings, it has historically exhibited a level of intellectual engagement that puts to shame our contemporary media outlets and our uncritical reliance on them.

Routine destruction of off-spec food

This is disgusting. The wastage; the pandering to an ignorant population, and the vicious circle that results:

“The staff are busy sorting out the saleable onions from the unsaleable and the thing that makes the crucial difference is the outer layer of brown. The inside is still fine and the onions are firm, heavy and not soft. However supermarkets will not accept onions unless they have the outer layer of skin on (which we usually remove when we cook with them).

…since Valencia oranges are the only ones that turn green as sunscreen many people assume that Valencies aren’t ripe unless they are orange.

…two semi trailer’s worth or 40 tonnes of melons are discarded a day – and this is just from one producer in one region!

…have you noticed that in the last few years, those long watermelons with the black pips from our childhood have disappeared and there are now only those round, seedless watermelons? That’s because the stores say that consumers don’t want watermelons with seeds anymore and the same goes for grapes. The long seeded watermelons still have to be grown because these are the male watermelons while the rounded ones are females. […] They can’t sell them and they are ready at an earlier time than the round seedless watermelons so they just stay in the field unpicked.

http://www.notquitenigella.com/2012/04/16/food-bank/