Moral idiots and a liberal arts education

The paragraph below, from Alan Jacobs, is an important one to comprehend. The rest of his post helps frame some of the wider issues at hand, and points to other helpful works for those seeking to read more widely on these things.

I want to make a stronger argument: that the distinctive “occupational psychosis” of Silicon Valley is sociopathy – the kind of sociopathy embedded in the Oppenheimer Principle. The people in charge at Google and Meta and (outside Silicon Valley) Microsoft, and at the less well-known companies that are being used by the mega-companies, have been deformed by their profession in ways that prevent them from perceiving, acknowledging, and acting responsibly in relation to the consequences of their research. They have a trained incapacity to think morally. They are by virtue of their narrowly technical education and the strong incentives of their profession moral idiots.

While it is not the only point of the paragraph, I cannot help but revisit the final sentence (emphasis mine):

they are by virtue of their narrowly technical education … moral idiots.

Learning to lead, love, and serve our world does not require more technical training, either in K-12 or higher ed. It requires more humane teaching and learning.

Your eight year old can learn to code from an app whenever they need it, whether that is this summer or twenty summers from now. They cannot so easily learn what it means to be a human being who is a member of a human society, while also learning to master the art of letters and numbers.

One of the best things you can do now to prepare young children for the moral idiocracy of our age is to ground them in a rich education in the liberal arts.

The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. These are the three forces that aim to tear down the creatures of God. And in the Good Shepherd discourse, Jesus sets himself against the final of these forces: evil itself..

What an exciting turn of events it would be to see Wrexham promoted to League Two and Chelsea relegated to the Championship in the same season.

Not entirely likely, but certainly possible.

Being part of a Diocesan email listserv and serving as a parish priest both mean that I regularly read announcements of death. This also means that I regularly read about death in theologically rich language.

Our sister in Christ was born into the greater life. May she rest in peace, and rise in glory. Light perpetual shine upon her.

Letter to Students: On ChatGPT, for now

You happen to be a student at a fascinating moment in the history of information and technology. It is not unlike being a student in the years when the search engine, or the personal computer, or even the printing press were first popularized.

ChatGPT, and other instances of AI, offer a new way of interacting with information. Decades ago the search engine revolutionized research by giving all of us access to a seemingly endless number of sources. If we have a question about how to replace a radiator in our car, a search engine can point us to thousands of videos and websites that each claim to give us the right answer.

ChatGPT, on the other hand, will take information from those very sources and formulate an actual answer to your question.

Search engines can point you sources where you can find answers to your question; ChatGPT can answer your question itself. Or at least try to. Just as search engines cannot guarantee that the websites, videos, and documents they point you towards are actually good and true, and ChatGPT similarly cannot promise that the answers it gives to your questions are good and true, or even factual.

In our academic context, these AI tools can be used in at least three ways.

As a form of blatant plagiarism

As a shortcut for the hard work of critical thinking

As a potentially helpful tool for initial research

My recommendation in the short-term is this: for now, don’t use it at all for your academic work.

Way One: Blatant Plagiarism

The first way you can use it—as a form of blatant plagiarism—is not only easier to detect than you think, but a serious breach of your own academic integrity. Representing an AI bot’s answer as your own—even if you modified that answer significantly—is a clear form of academic dishonesty. You know this already, but I think it is worth sharing at this point.

Way Two: As a shortcut for the hard work of critical thinking

The second way to use it—as a shortcut—seems better than the first on the surface, but it actually has long-term affects that are just as bad, if not worse.

When new technologies emerge, it often takes some time for a society to recognized the unintended consequences of that new technology. Nuclear technology emerged relatively rapidly in the twentieth century. And it has led to the rise of both nuclear weapons and microwavable bacon. Put mildly, both are detrimental to human flourishing.

This is where we are with ChatGPT: we are impressed that it can do some things well, but we are not quite sure what the long term unintended consequences will be.

What will society look like a generation from now if most of today’s students shortcut the process of learning to think slowly and critically about things that matter most?

What will a church, or city, or family look like if it is made up of a large percentage of people with underdeveloped intellectual muscles, who lack the strength to think wisely on their own, and instead outsource their thinking to an algorithm? (One that, even according to its creators, does not actually think, but rather pieces together what others have thought.)

Using AI as a shortcut to critical thinking is wrong because it falls short of academic honesty, but it is especially wrong because in taking the shortcut you are missing out on developing a mental muscle that your friends, your parents, and your future spouses, children, fellow Christians, and co-workers all need you to have.

Way Three: As a potentially helpful tool for initial research

I do think there could be a way for this new technology to be used properly as a tool that helps you think more deeply about important academic questions you are facing. I have a hunch that when used as a research tool to discover excellent sources—not to answer important questions themselves—it may have something to offer students today and in the future.

But I don’t yet know how to pull this off myself, and therefore I am highly skeptical about your own ability to do so at this point.

We will have more to share about these things with you, your parents, and our wider school community as we prepare for next school year.

There is a lot you can do with ChatGPT and tools like it.

You can blatantly plagiarize, and get caught.

You can blatantly plagiarize, and not get caught.

You can use it as a shortcut to deep, critical thinking and get caught.

You can use it as a shortcut to deep, critical thinking and not get caught.

And in each of the scenarios above, you are doing yourself, your community, and your future self and future community a deep disservice.

So again, let me echo my recommendation in the short-term: leave it unused, for now, in all of your academic work.

Soccer is an icon of virtue ethics, and as such it is a form of leisure that points us to what it means to be a moral creature.

Remarks: An introduction to our Rhetoric Capstone Student Presentations

I am encouraged by many things this evening, but I would like to name two of them.

First, I am encouraged to know that this is a place where students are trained to think deeply, slowly, and theologically about things that matter a great deal.

Juniors, your presence here this evening and your work this year is a testament to the many ways you are growing in wisdom and virtue. Well done.

Second, I am grateful that this is a place where adults take time out of their busy weeks to hear students share some of what they have learned this year.

Parents, teachers, and friends of our school: your presence here this evening is a testament to your desire to contribute to a more wise and virtuous Christian witness in the public square.

Our students have selected challenging topics to explore this year, and their teacher has demanded that they read, think, and write wisely about them.

All while many of their peers are being trained to think by social media companies, politicians who want to be celebrities, and celebrities who are famous for being famous.

Though you may—in some cases—find yourself arriving at different conclusions than our presenters, I trust that you will appreciate, honor, and be encouraged by the way our students have thought through these things.

If It Be Your Will by Leonard Cohen is sung from the perspective of Jesus from his arrest and trial through the harrowing of hell, right?

Because of our sophisticated watches and our ability to schedule our days down to the minute with the push of a button, it is easy for us to misunderstand what time is and how it actually works.

Not all weeks are created equal. And this is no ordinary week.

To all those who love soccer, and to those who don’t but love someone who does.

The dedication page of Laurent Dubois’ The Language of the Game

On Leisure and Work (Josef Pieper)

One of Josef Pieper’s central claims in his 1948 Leisure: The Basis of Culture is this: we place too much value on hard work, and as a result our happiness, productivity, art, and ability to flourish as a human society is suffering.

Here are just a few nuggets from the book:

The inmost significance of the exaggerated value which is set upon hard work appears to be this: man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; he can only enjoy, with a good conscience, what he has acquired with toil and trouble; he refuses to have anything as a gift.

In other words: our over-emphasis on work has made us less capable of receiving life as a gift.

There is more:

Of course the world of work begins to become - threatens to become - our only world, to the exclusion of all else. The demands of the working world grow ever more total, grasping ever more completely the whole of human existence.

We tend to overwork as a means of self-escape, as a way of trying to justify our existence.

His recommendation for recovering a better approach to work is actually to recover a better approach to leisure.

Leisure is “an attitude of mind and a condition of the soul that fosters a capacity to perceive the reality of the world.”

When we overwork, we perceive the universe poorly, placing our own effort at the center. Good Leisure can help correct this poor vision.

What was before him appeared no longer a creature of corrupted will. It was corruption itself, to which will was only attached as an instrument. Ages ago it had been a person, but the ruins of personality now survived in it only as weapons at the disposal of a furious self-exiled negation.

Perelandra, C.S. Lewis, Chapter 12, during Ransom’s fight with the Unman.

GPT-4 scores well on a variety of common academic benchmarks, but I am most intrigued—though not surprised—by where it falls comparatively short:

AP Language and Composition (Rhetoric) and AP Literature and Composition.

These are the most humane benchmarks it has encountered.

A view from the Supporters Section after a late first-half equalizer this weekend. An early birthday + father’s day gift of FC Dallas season tickets being put to good use! FCD went on to beat LA Galaxy 3-1.

Lessons from Nicodemus this Lent: The problem with humanity is not a lack of information. You and I are not one New York Times opinion piece away from a changed life. Our first, second, and final step towards abundant life is to recognize, embrace, and (eventually) enjoy our dependence on God.

The eve of Ash Wednesday 2023 is a good time to remember that fasting is an exercise that leads to strength, not weakness.

The final chapters of Esther provide us with a reminder of why we have a liturgical calendar in the first place, and a framework for approaching these seasons of subsequent fasting and feasting.

Read more from my latest essay for Covenant.

A rediscovery of Moral Beauty?

Paul Vitz once said that in our age we will recover—or rather rediscover—many traditional beliefs and practices, and that we will do so primarily through science and the intellect.

Perhaps this is in that vein?

Dacher Keltner’s (UC Berkeley) forthcoming book Awe describes a study that sought to understand various ways people arrive at an experience of “being in the presence of something vast and mysterious that transcends your current understanding of the world.”

The participants were from 26 countries, including adherents to all major religions, as well as denizens of more secular cultures (e.g., Holland). Our participants varied in terms of their wealth and education. They lived within democratic and authoritarian political systems. They held egalitarian and patriarchal views of gender. They ranged in their cultural values from the more collectivist (e.g., China, Mexico) to the more individualistic (e.g., the United States).

Speakers of 20 languages at UC Berkeley translated the 2,600 narratives they produced. We were surprised to learn that these rich narratives from around the world could be classified into a taxonomy of awe, the eight wonders of life, from collective rituals to sudden intellectual epiphanies.

What most commonly led people to feel awe? Nature? Spiritual practice? Listening to music? In fact, it was other people’s courage, kindness, strength, or overcoming—actions of strangers, roommates, teachers, colleagues at work, people in the news, characters on podcasts, and our neighbors and family members.

Around the world, we are most likely to feel awe when moved by moral beauty: exceptional virtue, character, and ability, marked by a purity and goodness of intention and action

But the Turing test cuts both ways. You can’t tell if a machine has gotten smarter or if you’ve just lowered your own standards of intelligence to such a degree that the machine seems smart. If you can have a conversation with a simulated person presented by an AI program, can you tell how far you’ve let your sense of personhood degrade in order to make the illusion work for you?

Jaron Lanier, in a book published in 2011.

English soccer is worth watching in its own right, but it does not hurt that its commentators have quite the way with words.

Case in point: Peter Drury’s comments following Harry Kane’s 267th goal for Tottenham, surpassing the record previously held by Jimmy Greaves.

He sits on Tottenham’s loftiest perch, beyond even the great Greaves. Spurs’ most lavish scorer of all time. He has dared. And he has done.

Audeat est facere, indeed.