Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Future of My Career

Sorry I'm so flaky on posting. I doubt I have any "regular" readers, so I doubt anyone actually missed my entries, but I apologize nonetheless. I have made some career plans recently that may be taking me in a totally different direction than I thought I'd go for a LONG time.

First, a little background. If you know me in person or have followed me on social media or this blog for a long time you'll know that I'm currently serving as a linguist in the US Air Force (USAF). Technically the name for my job is "Airborne Cryptologic Language Analyst" but that's a mouthful. Linguist is simpler ... though technically incorrect as I'm not really a student of language as the term "linguist" means. Regardless, I digress. I've been an enlisted military linguist for going on eleven and a half years at the time of this writing. I've often joked that I would have signed a twenty-year contract when I first enlisted. At the time I was certain that I wanted to be a linguist and that I wanted to retire from the military. However, I've recently completely changed my mind. I've thought about this before. I've looked into various commissioned officer programs. I first tried to just get my bachelor's degree so I could apply for Officer Training School. When deploying to the Middle East derailed my educational goals, I sought for another option. I tried to get in an application for the Airman Education and Commissioning Program (AECP) (formerly called the "bootstrap" program). This route to commissioning, at first, wasn't available to me. I am a Korean linguist and as such the AECP wasn't open to me. Chinese was on the language degree lists when I first looked into the AECP, but it wasn't until I was nearing the age cutoff that Korean was added to the list. I never completed my application because the bureaucratic nonsense that is commissioning programs got in the way, and I passed the age waiver (sort of, I deployed and moved overseas, both of which interfered). About that time I gave up on my dreams of commissioning. Though I looked into other programs (the nursing program and chaplaincy program both came up), I didn't think I could make all the requirements for them.

However, three major things just recently changed my mind. First off, my position at my unit has steadily and inexorably gotten worse and worse. I feel like I have been passed over for multiple positions. I've sort of been shafted by being placed in (and somewhat in charge of) one of the toughest offices in the unit. These things and some others have really struck me hard because I'm a very hard worker. I think nothing of staying late, working weekends and holidays, and I intentionally shield my subordinates from the most trying parts of the job. I work in the scheduling office (over the last year) and as just an example, this past Christmas I worked my tail off. I went in on Christmas eve, Christmas day, the day after, and the day after that. We were supposed to get a four-day weekend (Monday and Tuesday were "down days," basically free leave days for holidays). So, on a four-day weekend for the holiday, I worked every day. Now, I didn't go in all day each day. I went in only a couple hours on Christmas eve, about five hours on Christmas day and only a couple hours the two following days. Regardless, I didn't get a holiday at all really. I had to go in and make multiple phone calls for schedule changes all weekend. I did this voluntarily because I didn't want my subordinates to lose their holiday. Basically, I'm saying I work my butt off, but it doesn't matter, I've been passed over for upgraded positions and marked down on my performance report. One quick addendum since I first wrote this piece. I have just recently been selected for an upgrade position. I start training this year in August. Though I've asked for this upgrade, I doubt very much that this change in position will effect my career plans in any way.

Secondly, my good friend recently punched his ticket and went for this. His daring willingness to serve God has inspired me. He got out, he had served as an enlisted member for about twelve years (I'll be at about fourteen when I reach the end of my enlistment), and he got out and is now attending Liberty University Seminary full-time. He plans on finishing his M.Div. degree and applying for chaplaincy in the USAF. I want to follow his footsteps (though I'm thinking of going to Denver Seminary).

Thirdly, and this one is the oddest one, I ran into a vociferous liberal chaplain. He spoke of being proud that he was the only (military) chaplain on Okinawa that would perform same-sex marriage ceremonies or counsel same-sex couples on marital issues. Two things in our conversation really spurred me on to this career change. One is that Bible-believing chaplains need to be strong in the military if only to respond to people like that liberal chaplain I met. Not unlike CS Lewis' comments about philosophy: "Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered." I feel that one can substitute "chaplains" for "philosophy." Secondly, and this was huge(!), I found out that one can complete one's ministry experience preparation simultaneously with one's seminary attendance. One of the most important prerequisites for becoming a military chaplain is two years of practical ministry experience. When I first looked into military chaplaincy I considered the way closed to me because I didn't think I would be able to support my family while getting that experience. I was worried that if I tried to become a chaplain I'd have to find some way to support my family for about four years without a job (two in seminary and two getting ministry experience). Armed with this knowledge I now know I only have to do two years "unemployed" or "minimally employed" while getting the requisite credentials.

So, here's the plan ... I'm planning on finishing out my current enlistment (separation date: Aug 2020). Immediately upon separating I'm planning on enrolling in seminary (where is still up in the air). While in seminary I'm going to seek part-time ministry at a church. As soon as I finish my M.Div. degree and have the requisite two years of ministry experience I am planning on getting ordained (sponsored) and rejoin the USAF as a chaplain. From the time I rejoin, I will only have to serve about six years and I'll be eligible for retirement from the military, and I plan on doing so. After that, I'm not sure. Maybe working as a chaplain will fit me so well that I keep going until the military kicks me out for being too old ... I don't know. I've been told by several people that I'd make a good chaplain. And, based on some of the above description of what's going on with my current job, I'm immensely more excited about a career as a chaplain than I've been about being a linguist since when I was in language school.

Is this God's will for my life? Well, I'm not certain. I think so, and as I said I've been encouraged by multiple people that it is. However, my wife has proposed a kind of fleece (as the story of Gideon setting out the fleece to test God's will/message). Basically, it goes like this. IF at the end of this overseas assignment (March 2019) I get an assignment to the language institute in Monterey, CA (DLI), I'll take that as God's saying, "stay where you are." I've wanted to teach at DLI since I attended from 2006-2008. If God wants me to stay a linguist, He'll open up that path for me to continue in this job. If I get the assignment to teach at DLI, I'll, more than likely, stay as an enlisted military linguist until 2026 when I retire. Again, after that, I have no idea what I want to do. That's too far in the future to really make plans. Given all this I think "chaplain Sam" or "chaplain Ronicker" has a good ring to it, doesn't it? We'll see.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Determinists' Delusion

Before I get to this topic I want to apologize. I have been over a year without an entry (I have been busy but that's a lame excuse). Before I get into the meat of this issue I want to talk about what started me thinking about this issue. I got into a short discussion on Facebook about the HBO show Westworld and the ramifications of artificial intelligence (AI) (I have since started also watching the British TV show Humans). They both deal with AI and how humans would interact with very human-like robots.

The premise of the show Westworld is complicated and I won't give any spoilers away. Essentially a group of people (only one of the founders of this company appears to be still alive, that is somewhat of a mystery) started a theme park. At this theme park, instead of riding roller coasters, you get to experience a fully authentic style Old West town (and surrounding area). The visitors to the park are free to do, say, behave, kill, rape, etc., etc. anyone and anything they can imagine. The park is set in the future (obviously, since we don't have human-like robots today) and the park's technology keeps the visitors safe. The "hosts" (the term the show uses for the robots) can fight back, and they're programmed to behave in the typical manner of an Old West town, but the "hosts" are incapable of hurting the visitors. The "hosts" can try to shoot the visitors but the bullets don't really hurt the humans (they sting a little), and if a "host" tries to stab or otherwise seriously harm a visitor their primary programming stops them and they freeze (usually). I can't say that I actually recommend the show ... I wish HBO hadn't done it. It intentionally and brazenly uses nudity/sex/violence/etc. to sell the show to a crass, sex-addled society. I understand the nudity (in a sense); basically, when the "hosts" are in the shop for "repair," they never (unless it's to practice a scene from the theme park) wear clothing. So, there are lots of scenes with lots of naked "people" in them. Also, there are a wide variety of sensuous and violent scenes, including rape scenes and scenes depicting slaughter of random "people/hosts" (I don't recall if there are any scenes directly displaying the slaughter of children). What often happens in the theme park is, visitors come to the park and live out their wildest fantasies. There appears, the non-violent characters are not highlighted, that there are some who just come to the park and have fun, explore, play games, get their picture (there is an old-timey photographer often shown in the background), and leave. But, of course, the show revolves around several characters living out their darkest, vilest, cruelest dreams in the park.

The show Humans (technically the 'a' is upside down) is a much less (so far, I'm only on episode three of season 1) dark show. There certainly is much less nudity, the "synths" are nude in some scenes but they're mostly covered or clothed throughout the show (the nudity has not been full-frontal-nudity as it is Westworld several times). However, the show tackles similar philosophical and existential issues with AI. It seems, so far, that the theme is, some of these "synths" are gaining full consciousness or at least seem like they are (what does it even mean to have full consciousness). And, in a sense, some of them seem to be rebelling against their human masters. There are some clear displays of how "synths" are enslaved (some even in the sex industry), but mostly they are just unpaid, unfeeling, slavish (but most often not mistreated) household servants. For example, the primary family characters bought their "synth" to help around the house because the mother was often away on business and the father also worked outside the home and just neither of them had time for domestic issues like cooking or cleaning. So, they bought a "synth" to cook and clean for them and to free them up to spend time together as a family. There are a couple side-plots that haven't fully developed, but apparently, "synths" are hackable and some have gained a certain level of independence/consciousness. They're governed by something similar to Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics" 1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. It isn't overtly stated that they must obey these laws (the Will Smith movie I, Robot makes these laws a quintessential part of the plot, but the writers of Humans are more subtle. The "synths" aren't permitted to touch a human unless given direct, explicit permission. Also, and this comes up in the plot, children are not permitted to be "primary users" and may not be touched by the "synths" unless given express permission by an adult/"primary user." Anyways ... I prattle on. These two shows illustrate human depravity like few others I've ever seen. But, all that is just the precursor to what I really want to talk about. That is something that Sam Harris and Paul Bloom discussed in this podcast.

Sam Harris is (in)famous as one of the "four horsemen of atheism" and is an outspoken author and speaker on the subject of atheism. Even in this podcast, which isn't really about atheism/theism, Harris seems to be unable to control himself in deriding the Christian God. He says that God is the worst possible "mind criminal" (a term from an author that he references in the podcast). He says this because God created minds, and then tortures them in Hell (I believe he may have phrased it, "consigns them to torture in Hell"). Nevertheless, the discussion is very interesting. They talk about empathy and compassion. They talk about it with regard to how we will or should treat (future) AI (I'm not going to keep calling these "robots" by the monikers used in the TV shows, I'm just going to call them "AI"). The biggest thing that hit me in this whole conversation wasn't directly about AI. In the course of the conversation Harris insisted (without much argument or support) that though determinism leads us to less anger when people do evil, but doesn't lead us to less desire or love of empathy/compassion (those are not the same, but in this discussion we can treat them together). This inexplicable insistence leads me to think that Harris (and presumably his guest) is deluding himself. Let me put this more straightforwardly. Determinism is the idea that everything and I mean everything, is determined. There is no escape. This is not the "nature versus nurture" argument. This is a combination of nature and nurture that says, essentially, given the combination of one's genes and upbringing that one will behave exactly the way one behaves. So, we cannot blame the despot because he was programmed to be despotic because of his genes and upbringing. If the despot had been born with different genetic makeup he would be different, and if the despot had been born to different parents, he would be different. Regardless, one cannot change one's genes or upbringing, so we shouldn't be mad at the mass murderer because he's just acting out his genes and upbringing. People are just complicated forms of biological machines.

On the other hand, though, Harris insists that we can praise the virtuous person. How does this make sense? He says that we can praise this person because she chooses to care about the wellbeing of others. But wait, doesn't determinism mean that a person is merely the sum total of his/her genes and upbringing, there's not really any such thing as "choosing" something at all. Choosing requires an agent, a person. But determinism destroys personhood. The bad person is just being bad because his genes and upbringing make him do so, just as the good person is just being good because her genes and upbringing make her do so. Harris phrases it something like, people with compassion want the best in others. When I heard him say this, "With loving kindness, you really just ... you want that person to be happy." Isn't "wanting something" a choice? He says that it's different in two ways: first because in hating a bad man, we're assigning ultimate agency to the man, and under determinacy, there is no ultimate agency. But, loving kindness doesn't ascribe ultimate agency to the good person, it's just wanting that person to be happy. Well, no offense to Harris, but his logic is clearly flawed here. The statement may technically be true; that loving kindness doesn't claim that the good person that you're loving has ultimate agency. However, what he's clearly ignoring (perhaps unintentionally), is that his idea of loving kindness clearly ascribes ultimate agency to the person doing the loving kindness. Also, the good deeds for which Harris is saying one might show loving kindness to someone requires that he/she must have ultimate agency (despite Harris' claim otherwise). Harris is deluding himself if he thinks he can have his cake and eat it too. Either determinism absolves both bad and good behavior or the determinists are just lying about their insistence on determinism. Harris (and many, many others) only really claim determinism in a way that suits their preconceived notions.