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"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to
  one who is striking at the root."
- Henry David Thoreau
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A man must not swallow more beliefs than he can digest. - Havelock Ellis

Anecdotes
07/28/2019

Shopping for a belief system

More than three decades ago, as a business applications computer software system consultant, I was working as a team member at a utility with a man that was the finest such expert systems analyst and designer that I have ever known. We were working to "save" the mainframe based billing system, the COBOL based programs of which were old and outdated. While the facets of the business had multiplied with new options for the customers, the whole billing system had been neglected, and the unstructured programs had been repeatedly modified under pressure by an inadequate staff of programmers to support the new dimensions. They had been patched with temporary and emergency fixes until they had become very problematic, with  aborts or abends on a daily basis. The billing processing was chopped up and spread out over the month almost on a daily basis to level the load for efficiency. The staff were getting nightly calls to come in during the billing cycle run to fix the programs so that the processing could begin again, and the programs had degenerated down into what is called "spaghetti code", snarled and tangled, and very difficult to maintain.

Needless to say that everything a utility does in providing an ongoing service is a liability investment, and ONLY when they get paid does it turn into an asset. The billing system was on the verge of becoming unmanageable and bringing the whole company down with it.

The systems analyst and I were faced with a formidable challenge, and in meeting it head on, we became friends and went out to lunch together almost every day. He was a younger man approaching middle age who had been raised in an agnostic humanist environment, was pretty world wise, had sowed his wild oats, and was now settled responsibly down, married with two small children. Up until that time he had eschewed worrying about religion, didn't want to get snared in any superstition, and was very skeptical about what he saw in the religious community. And he made it very clear that he wasn't interested in "God talk".

On one such lunch occasion, being concerned for himself and now his family, he told me that he had begun to consider what to believe about the more important issues, like dying and ultimate destiny. He described it as looking for a belief system. I laughed, and characterized him as shopping for a belief system. He acquiesced by remarking, "something like that".

"Well," I said, "shopping is shopping. When you go out to buy your first car, don't you initially consider what you want to do with it? You don't even consider buying anything if it doesn't even PROMISE to perform as wanted. For instance, if you are primarily interested in off-road adventure with not much other use, you don't go to the Cadillac agency. You go to the Jeep or Landrover agency. My advice would be to look around for something that at least promises to deliver what you want." His rejoinder was, "That makes sense." And then it was time to go back to work.

Bet your life certainty

One summer weekend my lady partner and I went to a yard sale on the  other side of the city because they advertized computer equipment in which I was interested. I noted that this equipment was next to the driveway, in a large yard filled with various and sundry items, because the power cord was naturally coming out of the garage. To the right of the computer stuff was pottery or something else that she was interested in,

The next day we somehow got into an argument over the arrangement of the yard sale where she remembered some other category of items next to the driveway. I was foolishly in an argumentative mood and adamantly insisted it was the computer equipment. She querulously asked me what made me think that I was right. I replied that I KNEW I was right, and that I would stake my life on it!

She objected to that by asking me why would I do something foolish like that; what if I were mistaken? My reply was that IF I were wrong on such a level of certainty, I could not go on living in relative security, never being able to trust myself. We had to drive across town again to settle the matter. Of course I was correct and am still alive.

 

 

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