Another Week Ends

ONE. On Monday, Mallory Ortberg, founder of The Toast (, posted a video in which […]

CJ Green / 11.6.15

ONE. On Monday, Mallory Ortberg, founder of The Toast (, posted a video in which she discusses her experience founding a blog. It’s safe to say that we’ve become fans of The Toast here at Mockingbird, and Ortberg’s language in this video, and her transparency, explains why. She speaks in a direct, very honest (and extremely funny) way, reminding us that when we look at the true ridiculousness of everyday life we experience the freedom to laugh at ourselves.

She starts by calling out performancism, the anxiety that accompanies trying to live up to a standard, drawing on her own experience, saying, “Don’t go to an impressive school or have a good job. Work at Yelp for three weeks, embrace your death, and do your best. That’s what life is mostly all about, probably.” She continually reminds us of our mortality and seems to take freedom in that: “Being vulnerable is really nice! We’re all just doing our best, and we’ll all be dead in seventy years, so it doesn’t matter.”

As for the reason behind the blog, she explains: “The internet is where we all live.” (I’m pretty sure I’ve heard DZ say those exact same words!) We can turn up our noses at the internet, and we can tremble at its great-unknownness, but that doesn’t mean we won’t check our email five times a day and lean on our favorite blogs for some sort of emotional rejuvenation on a particularly gloomy Tuesday afternoon. Ortberg goes on to discuss the humor on the blog, and why it’s important: “There’s a lot of space on the Internet for people who want to make stupid jokes about art that’s in the public domain, and that’s really good news.”

TWO. This week, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, authors of one of our favorite books, were featured in Time’s Question Everything section. The question: “Why do we justify our mistakes?” The answer: “To preserve our belief that we are good people.” I had to do a double-take to make sure I wasn’t reading Mockingbird. They use the language of self-justification and -righteousness to explain the human fear of being wrong. They explain that it’s a ‘no-brainer’ that people will try to hide their mistakes from other people, but moreover,

Self-justification occurs when people lie to themselves to avoid the realization they did anything wrong in the first place….

The motivational mechanism that underlies the reluctance to be wrong, or to change our ways of doing things, is called cognitive dissonance: the discomfort we feel when two beliefs or actions contradict each other…. Dissonance is most painful when information crashes into our view of ourselves as being competent, kind, smart, and ethical—when we have to face the evidence that we have made a bad mistake. We have a choice: either admit the mistake and learn from it (“Yes, that was a foolish/ incompetent/ unethical thing to do” or “boy, was I ever wrong”) or justify the mistake and keep doing it (“Everyone cheats a little. Besides, that study was flawed. Besides, it was their fault”). Guess which course of action is most popular? […]

The implications of dissonance theory are immense, because they show how many problems arise not just from bad people who do bad things, but from good people who justify the bad things they do, in order to preserve their belief that they are good people.

World’s Biggest Fears (ht BJ)

THREE. In step with the Technology Issue (due out next week!), The Atlantic posted an article on internet addiction treatment facilities, and whether or not we should consider excessive use of the internet to be an ‘addiction’ in the first place–the medical field remains divided. The fact remains, however, that people are willing to pay $30,000 a year just to get unplugged (unhooked?). So, as with everything, it will probably come down to a case-by-case distinction. It would, for example, be hard to tell a computer science engineer (or a blogger) that he has an addiction to the internet when his passion and livelihood revolve around it, or even the kid who finds solace in hours of computer games. But if he wants to stop and cannot, that’s when things get a bit scary.

Mental-health experts who say that Internet addiction exists are quick to point out that simply counting up the hours spent online is not enough for a diagnosis. Instead, they say, Internet use must significantly and adversely affect daily life—causing relationships, work, or health to suffer—to qualify as an addiction. Griffin’s mother Noelle, 43, says that before he went to Outback [addiction treatment facility], he shunned friends and family and neglected school to play online video games for hours on end. Noelle says Griffin struggles with anxiety and depression, and believes her son turned to Internet gaming as a way to cope.

Mockingbird’s legendary Grace in Addiction explains,

AA would liken sin to sickness. R. C. Sproul voiced this sentiment when he wrote, ‘We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.’ We would happily extrapolate along those same lines: ‘we are not alcoholics because we drink uncontrollably; we drink uncontrollably because we are alcoholics'” (51).

We see a similar pattern here: we aren’t anxious and depressed because we are internet addicts; we are internet addicts because we are anxious and depressed. It’s probably unnecessary to resist the word ‘addiction’ in these circumstances. A lot of people, myself included, often view the internet with disdain, looking down on frequent users as something like internet zombies, as if those of us who don’t (seem to) have such an issue are somehow stronger than they are. More from GIA: “Every person lives a life rife with powerlessness. Whether or not they are reticent to face their own weaknesses in no way determines whether or not they have them…Like Swiss cheese, people are full of holes” (50).

FOUR. Lots of talk this week on those mortality rates for lesser-educated middle-aged white people increasing significantly since 1998. The Washington Post wrote:

“Drugs and alcohol, and suicide . . . are clearly the proximate cause,” said Angus Deaton, the 2015 Nobel laureate in economics, who co-authored the paper with his wife, Anne Case….

“Half a million people are dead who should not be dead,” he added. “About 40 times the Ebola stats. You’re getting up there with HIV-AIDS.”

“I think it has to have something to do [with] the pain underlying it, both physical and psychic,” [said David Weir, director of the health and retirement study at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan]. “That is the age when people have their midlife crisis . . . I think it has to do with that stage of life, and physical ailments do start to accumulate at that age.

The Atlantic theorizes that a lot of these middle-aged tragedies can be linked to lower employment rates for those with less education. Despite what the stats might say, people who go to college are not worth more than people who don’t. [I read a not-good-enough-to-link article yesterday about how college degrees are not good enough—for what remained unspecified. But it seems that for many people, degrees are just a baseline, on which a bunch of other credentials must be piled in order to achieve some sort of justification.] Here we see the human need to feel distinct and special and to that end to raise the standards to unapproachable heights. The Atlantic also suggested the mortality stats might be linked to the Boomers’ slamming disillusionment with the American Dream, which has always been misleading, even since Gatsby.

FIVE. Philip Yancey, who we interviewed for The Forgiveness Issue, wrote a challenging piece on unanswered prayers in the Bible, for Books and Culture. For me, one of the more moving unanswered prayers of the Bible is one of Jesus’ own. Yancey writes:

The third unanswered prayer appears in an intimate scene recorded by John, the disciples’ last supper with their master. Jesus expanded the scope of his prayer far beyond the walls of the Upper Room, to encompass even those of us who live today:

My prayer is not for them (the disciples) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.

Disunity virtually defines the history of the church. Pick at random any year of history—pick now, with 45,000 Christian denominations—and you will see how far short we fall of Jesus’ final request. The church, and the watching world, still await an answer.

Ultimately Yancey concludes with something along the line of God’s lack of response is a sign that we need to get going and change the world ourselves. That’s a hard sell for me, given our immense failure so far. What I take from Yancey’s moving article is more of a focus on God’s camaraderie/empathy: that even his own prayers go answered. He is a God who understands our frustration at the silence from above and the disobedience from below. And it’s through his grace that the gap is ultimately bridged.

SIX. Movie trailers. First, a new Japanese trailer for Star Wars, featuring some new footage. From AV Club:Director J.J. Abrams said upon the premiere of the third Force Awakens trailer that there would not be another one…[but] a new international trailer unceremoniously appeared on Disney’s Japanese Star Wars YouTube page this morning. The best part is, Star Wars fanatics didn’t have to sit through half of a football game to get to it.”


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