Saturday, November 09, 2002
A momentous announcement
This weekend, though I am not there personally to witness it, my office is getting heat.
I suppose there would be two common reactions to this statement:
1) Your office had no heat? How did you survive?
2) Southern Californians need heat?
Attitude 2) seems to be common among builders, who must be from elsewhere. Yes, it does get cold here. Not frigid, but when you show up for work at 7:30 and it's 43 degrees out, you do need heat.
Having no heat is pretty rare even here, but architectural indifference to the weather is not. So many buildings, including the one I now live in, have little or no insulation and drafts everywhere. Even up north, where winters are colder and wetter. When my family moved to NorCal in the early '70s, our new house, which was about 15 years old, had no insulation. My father put in most of it himself. (Just in time for the energy crisis.)
The irony is that indoors it's often more comfortable in colder places than it is here. When my father lived in Vermont he would laugh when I complained how freezing my office was. But his house there was built like Fort Knox. You could sit in the living room in a T-shirt and gaze out at the snow. And it actually cost less per month to heat the place than the California house.
Still, it's not like I wouldn't rather be here than there. And I should point out that most of these shoddy buildings were made in the era of cheap energy. I hope that nowadays, builders are a little more clueful about these things. Hey, even my office is catching on!
Eve Tushnet has a correspondent who's apparently an expert on the history of home economics. The blogosphere turns up experts on everything, it seems.
How many schools still have courses in home economics, or consumer science, or whatever you want to call it? Inasmuch as I understand what it is, it seems like it would be useful for both sexes. I've certainly known a lot of singles with little idea of how to manage money, deal with food or take care of clothes. Moreover, when they marry or live together, this creates a lot of domestic tension. There's no need to describe the conflicts money causes. And I get the feeling, from what I've heard, that one reason men don't do as much around the house as women (if they haven't purposely divided the labor that way) is that they don't feel as competent at it. Women often reinforce this by criticizing them when they try. (The one time I lived with a guy we were actually the reverse, so I feel men's pain here.)
The trouble is that these types of courses are usually elective, and the people who elect to take them aren't the ones who need them. If I could do high school over, I'd take a quarter of auto shop. I didn't take it because I wasn't interested in cars, but of course I would one day own a car, and get jerked around by mechanics because I don't know squat. Likewise, I suspect home-ec courses are filled with people who would be interested enough to teach themselves about it, and not people who have no natural feel for this sort of thing and therefore need instruction.
High school is like that: the really useful courses are seen as minor at the time. When I dropped out of drama halfway through the semester I decided to fill up the quarter with a typing class. Might come in handy someday, I thought...
Luscious Jackson moment
It's just a rainy day
Ain't got no games to play
So come on over, babe
We'll bug out anyway
Friday, November 08, 2002
Camassia goes global!
Now that I have a Sitemeter I can see the still-paltry number of people who visit my site and where they're coming from. Most of them I already know, but today somebody turned up from the time zone UTC +6, which is way off in central Asia. Welcome, stranger! Of course, given the weirdness of the Internet, this could be somebody in Bakersfield whose server is routed through Kyrgyzstan for some reason ...
There's been a lot of critical self-examination going on among Democrats since the election, some of it very useful. A Washington Monthly article (via Flit) considers the party's inability to form a coherent national-security policy. The author, a former Clinton speechwriter, blames this on a basic lack of interest; people don't become Democrats because they're interested in military issues, they do it for the domestic policy. To the extent that the left is interested in foreign issues it's been focusing on liberal subjects, like ending apartheid and relieving poor countries' debts.
I've been frustrated by the same things for about 10 years -- ever since Gulf War I, really. I was at an East Coast college at the time, and I was appalled at how many educated lefties there not only didn't know much about Iraq and Kuwait, they didn't see why they had to know. Bush was off on a military adventure abroad, it involved oil, and that was all they needed to know to oppose it. Then as now, there were anti-war activists who were much more informed, but the insularity really bugged me.
There's always a human tendency to see every conflict abroad in terms of the conflicts at home. Certainly during the Cold War, many on the right tended to look favorably on anyone who was fighting Communists, when the realities on the ground were often more ambiguous. The left has fallen into the same trap, and when you look at the conflicts they do get interested in, you can see how. Ending apartheid was easy to understand because it reflected the fight against segregation in America: black vs. white, rich vs. poor is something Americans can relate to. In Yugoslavia the Serbs made the mistake of using the phrase "ethnic cleansing," which set all sorts of liberal alarm bells off. In Israel, we have a group of people who came largely from Europe moving into territory already inhabited by non-Western peoples, bringing to many minds the oppression of Native Americans by white people. In Tibet we have a place and a culture that still carries a certain hippie cachet, being oppressed by people who shot down a group of idealistic student protesters.
There are two problems with this approach. One is that it leads you to ignore problems that don't look familiar. The Hutu and the Tutsis in Rwanda have no counterparts in the West, and it was never that obvious why they were killing each other. Likewise, many African governments have been and still are as oppressive as South Africa but attracted little attention. Today, many people are rightly wondering why campuses are circulating divest-from-Israel petitions when so many other Middle Eastern countries are doing worse to their citizens.
But the other problem with analogizing too much is that it makes you distort your view of the problem itself. The Israeli situation differs from American colonialism in many, many ways. And I fear that many people who sign up for the Free Tibet campaign are defending a counterculture dream of Tibet rather than the reality. Despite the theoretical pacifism of its religion, Tibet's history is as violent as most other places'.
In other words, when it comes to foreign policy, there's no replacement for doing your homework. You have to deal with the otherness of the rest of the world; casting some simple master narrative over it like "communists vs. freedom" or "rich vs. poor" or "West vs. everybody" does not prepare you for the complex situations that are going to come up. And saying "If it doesn't fit my paradigm, I'm going to ignore it" really doesn't help.
Gutless, but not without a sense of humor
Pen from The Gutless Pacifist wrote me a nice email saying he did not take offense from my post. He also mentioned he told Hauerwas himself about his blog this week, so if the man has actually seen all this he's surely amused to see himself cast as Dr. Evil. Hi, Professor! :waves:
Peace with the peace-lovers
The Gutless Pacifist is understandably ambivalent about my earlier post about him. I was kidding, of course, but it's worth asking why I thought finding another Hauerwassian blogger was so funny. And really, I think, I was laughing at my own ignorance.
As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I'm from a couple generations of Godless Americans, and am by education, geography and practically everything else firmly on the blue-state side of the culture war, part of what politicized fundamentalists love to hate. Yet there has long been a sort of collusion between "my people" and their archenemies that the fundamentalist version of Christianity is the true one: as Bruce Bawer put it, "that this is authentic religion, while anything else is just a watered-down version of the same thing." I knew liberal Christians, but they often dismissed large parts of the Bible, which tended to support the view that secular humanists lie at one end of a spectrum with the Christian right at the other, and everyone else is somewhere in between. This, of course, affirms to secularists why they're secular.
So while I admit I know little of Hauerwas (he's on my reading list, along with about 463 other people), what I gathered about him through Telford was that this was a guy who managed to tick everyone off. Not through insults or stupidity, but by defying these single-axis definitions that lefties and fundies have agreed upon. I really admired that, even if I didn't agree with everything he said. But for some time Telford has been sui generis to me; I have never known anyone like him. So when I came across the Gutless Pacifist, I was surprised. There are more of them! I should not have been shocked, but I was still laboring under my old stereotypes.
So I apologize to both you guys if I sounded insulting. I kid because I love. Really.
Thursday, November 07, 2002
He said, she said
Charles Murtaugh makes a good point, but with a poor example:
Another key to understanding the left's decline is its inability to see any political reality beyond power relations. Presumably Yglesias favors abortion rights, and other "women's issues" -- actually, I think he does so to a fault. Does this make him less of a "white man"? There are only two interpretations: either he's suborning his own interests in domineering women's uteri, so that he can use their vote for something he does care about, or else he honestly cares about women's rights in spite of his own malehood. I'm generous enough to assume it's the latter -- i.e. that sympathy, that cardinal human virtue, allows him to transcend his ethnic/sexual identity. Why can't liberals give conservatives the benefit of the doubt, then? There are pro-life women, after all: are they either deluded, or just playing along to get tax cuts, or is it possible that they can see a moral world outside their autonomous selves?
Who says men have no self-interest in abortion? I'm reminded of some knucklehead who showed up at a pro-choice rally once with a sign: "Abortion: The Right to Get Laid." Even if you're not that crude, obviously unwanted children can be a burden to men as well as women, if not as much of one.
Actually, this underscores Charles' point. Not only does seeing politics as a power struggle between groups limit your vision, it can make you define the groups wrong. Back in college I read a sociological study of abortion activists, and as I recall both sides were predominately women. So it may be a "women's issue," but in the sense that it's women who feel most passionately about it, not in the sense that women are all lined up on one side and men on the other.
Are pro-life women transcending self-interest? Interesting question. The study (which I'm afraid I cannot directly cite, since I've forgotten the authors and the publication by now) indicated that pro-life activists were more likely to be religious (duh) but also mostly of lower socioeconomic status than the pro-choice women. Fulfilment was not through work, which was low-paying drudgery for them; it was in their role as mothers, and in their ability to create at home a haven from the heartless, selfish consumerism of the outside world. Abortion was an invasion of modernity into a place it didn't belong.
I'm going by 12-year-old memory here, but that was the general idea. I was thinking of that study, in fact, when I wrote the earlier post about why some religious conservatives oppose globalization. The tension between capitalism and Christianity was never more apparent than there. So Charles was correct in saying they might "see a moral world outside their autonomous selves," but I don't think they felt they were going against their self-interest. Their self-interest lay in being something other than an autonomous self. (Whether they're entitled to make this worldview into law is another question, which I will not discuss now...)
You don't say
Telford has a stalker. Well, I might think that if it happened to me, but obviously I'm way too cynical.
Thanks to Minute Particulars for helping me get tracking software for the site. One of these days I'm going to add a blogroll and maybe comments, but one thing at a time. I've made it to the '90s ... I'll get to the 2000s any day now ...
So, Camassia, why haven't you blogged about the election?
Because my co-workers won't shut up about it, that's why. Some of my colleagues are rather fond of political debate. That's all very well, except that after three years in the place I pretty much know what everyone's going to say, and they say it so LOUD.
I keep wanting to go over and say, "Do you have any idea how BORING you are?" I haven't, but I have a feeling I will. Not that it's a good idea, but I do things like that.
Wednesday, November 06, 2002
Awful poetry moment
So last weekend I wrote a sentimental post about my address book. But trust me, folks, it could have been a lot worse.
Within you and without you
Minute Particulars has more about the dichotomizing of inward and outward life that he (like Telford Work) blames on Enlightenment philosophers. He extends this to the mind/body division. I had no idea I'd tripped over such a hot topic, or I might have worded things more carefully. The original distinction I was trying to make was between voluntary and involuntary sin, but I think Telford misunderstood my point and I misunderstood his response. But sometimes even mistakes in the blogosphere can set off interesting discussions. With Charles Murtaugh talking about "embodiment," this might turn into a trend.
Save the mamas
In my last post I relied on my fuzzy memory to say that the rate of death in childbirth without modern medicine is about one in 50 births. Today the AP reported the rate in Afghanistan is one in 62, so I guess that's about right. Shockingly, in one province it runs at one in 15. The articles I've seen don't explain why, but that seems like way more than even nature intended.
By the way, the article throws off a statistical remark that's one of my little pet peeves: "dying in childbirth accounts for nearly half of all the deaths of young women." I hear that formulation for various stats: murder is the leading cause of death for young black men in X city, AIDS is the second-leading cause of death for young Hispanics in some other place, etc. It sounds scary, but the fact is that any cause of death for young people is going to be awful. They don't die peacefully in their beds (and if they did, that would be alarming, too!). So it doesn't mean a whole lot -- the larger question is how many young people are dying, period.
Tuesday, November 05, 2002
The price of brains
Charles Murtaugh has been posting lately on what he calls "embodiment" or what I think of as, "You can't fight biology." In his latest post he considers the funciton of pain in childbirth:
He's quite right that it's ridiculous to assert that women deserve to feel pain in delivery, but this doesn't mean that we should rush into making delivery painless. I know little about childbirth, apart from what female friends and relations have told me, and even less about anesthesia, so once again I hope a real expert like Medpundit will correct me if I'm wrong, but my impression is that there is still no way of giving birth painlessly. I wonder if this is because if a woman couldn't feel pain during delivery, she wouldn't have enough information to know when to push, how to breathe, etc. In other words, the pain may well be hardwired into the process, and if we tried to eliminate it totally we would end up with many more unhealthy birth events.
A book I have, Carl Sagan's The Dragons of Eden, addresses this question:
So far as I know, childbirth is generally painful for only one of the millions of species on Earth: human beings. This must be a consequence of the recent and continuing increase in cranial volume ... Childbirth is painful because the evolution of the human skull has been spectacularly fast and recent.
Now this book is 25 years old, and written by an astronomer, not a biologist. But I've heard similar things elsewhere; that the maternal mortality rate is naturally higher for humans than for other primates. (Without modern medicine it is shockingly high, at something like one in 50 births.) If birth really isn't painful for other animals, then maybe the pain has no real function. It's just not a big enough disadvantage to outweigh the benefit of bigger brains. As Charles says, close enough for gubmint work.
On it goes
Eve Tushnet picks up where I left off with Telford Work. I'm glad I wasn't the only one totally confused by the justification-by-works thing. She also links favorably to some of my posts (thanks, Eve!).
Speaking of Telford, today I ran across a guy who seems to be his twin, the Gutless Pacifist. Another devout Protestant pacifist fan of Stanley Hauerwas, he even signs off with "grace and peace," which is how Telford signs off his emails. No coincidence, it seems: they both studied under Hauerwas, and apparently even knew each other at Duke. So is this Hauerwas guy turning out a bunch of Mini-Me's, or what?
Monday, November 04, 2002
The great divide
Another Net event I'm a bit late to was a discussion between Jason Rylander and Matthew Yglesias about the obsolesence of the political left/right labels and what they should be replaced with. In his most recent post on the subject, Jason concludes:
Despite all the political rhetoric to the contrary, I think America has reached a general consensus on the proper amount of economic regulation in society. Certainly there will be debates on the margins--sometimes important ones, but neither a truly deregulated nor truly socialistic economy will ever come to pass in America. And though running against government makes for good political ads, the reality is that congressional Republicans are nearly as likely to vote in favor of government programs as are Democrats.
I think he has a point, but I would add that economic issues can also be cultural. Geitner Simmons had a good example of this in a post where he pointed out that opponents of globalization aren't just neo-hippie types but include a lot of religious conservatives. Jason frames the economic debate as government vs. private sector, but the anti-globo conflict is more about local community vs. any large, distant, powerful entity -- whether it's a government or a business. So the conflict is partly about business exploiting the workers, but more about consumerism brought by business destroying culture. The economic and cultural conflicts are inseparable.
What distinguishes the lefty anti-globos from the righty anti-globos is that the former want to protect premodern cultures while the latter want to actually live in them. This divides them on some matters of domestic policy. But this distinguishes them both from those who want to see Western individualism and capitalism triumph over all. Whether modernity's discontents can organize into a political force remains to be seen. One reason the left traditionally turned to government to ameliorate the effects of capitalism, I think, is that it's the only force with countervailing power. If you mistrust them both, you'd better believe in God, because that's about the only thing powerful enough to stop them.
Telford Work gives a thorough response to my last theo-post. I feel a little better now about it, so I'll just add a few comments:
--You're not causing me pain. Clearly we are divided not only by personality but by a lot of philosophy courses, which I never regretted not taking until I entered the blogosphere, I have to say. But I wrote to you about these things in the first place partly because of your formidable learning. Given that I'm not paying any tuition, I'm getting quite a deal.
--Your comment about the expectation of self-control is a good one, and reminds me of another excellent Noah Millman post (although since Noah is Jewish, I'm not sure what this says about it being a Christian thing).
--I would like to visit the question of involuntary sin at some point. Right now I feel like I've been hogging all your blogspace, and I hope I'm not boring everybody, so I'll give it a rest.
In other news...
So while I was absorbed in theology, address-collecting and grog the last few days, there was some good Web stuff going on. One of my favorite blogs belongs to Charles Murtaugh, Harvard research fellow in some meganerd subject (cell biology?), who always has interesting reading. On Thursday he linked to an article by British prison doctor Theodore Dalrymple about the startling cases of malnutrition he's seen among the inmates. Most of these came from drug abuse, not surprisingly; but a large minority, he says, are people who simply don't seem to know how to feed themselves. He meets young men who never have proper meals, scraping by on meager rations of soft drinks, chocolate, potato chips. No wonder they're so malnourished their teeth are falling out.
Dalrymple blames this on family breakdown. The young men he sees come from extremely troubled homes -- or no home -- where they were not properly fed, where eating became "a solitary vice, something done almost furtively, with no pleasure attached to it and certainly not as a social event." He scoffs at the explanation apparently offered by the British left that poor neighborhoods are "food deserts" where the supermarket chains sell only junk food, if anything.
At this distance I can't evaluate how either theory applies to Britain, but this brings up a subject I've wondered about for a long time: how much do you need to train children to eat? One unusual thing about how my parents raised me was that they didn't believe in telling us kids what to eat and what not to eat. (My father didn't want to be, in his own phrase, a "food nazi.") As a result, we did a few things others would regard as dangerously decadent: my sister didn't eat vegetables at all, and I remember Saturday mornings when we would grab the cookie jar and have "breakfast" in front of the TV. But for the most part, we ate fine. We're both big on fresh fruit, yogurt, and other healthy stuff. So when I'd have dinner with other kids and see some of the battles they'd have with their parents over food, I thought, sheesh, what a pointless waste of time. Like kids would kill themselves with scurvy or kwashiorkor if their parents didn't tell them how to eat.
According to Dalrymple, though, some people are doing just that. There is, however, a big difference between how I grew up and how the inmates grew up. Until my parents split up when I was 14, we had dinner together every night. My mother packed my lunch every school day. And my parents' eating habits were pretty good, which gave us examples to follow. These poor young men had no such guidance or modeling.
The lack of instruction inflicts more damage on some people than others, I expect. Some people just don't have very big appetites, and so with limited money they deprioritize food. Stress and depression also make some people undereat (just as they make some overeat), and one suspects these young criminals are seriously unhappy. And of course, when you're malnourished you feel lousier, keeping the vicious cycle spinning. (I suspect that's the reason for the results of the study Dalrymple starts with: malnourished inmates are in worse moods, making them more prone to arguing and thus violence.)
So I think to some extent, children do need to learn to eat. I still don't like the overcontrolling tactics I've seen some parents use, and I really disapprove of this you'll-eat-it-and-be-grateful thing. I knew a guy whose mother would beat him if he showed up for dinner when it was cold (ruined!), which is just wrong. I also think that, with the wonderful variety of foods available to Americans these days, it shouldn't be too hard to feed kids a balanced diet that they'll actually like. (I say this as one who hasn't actually had kids, of course...)
Actually, navigating the abundance is probably the big task for eaters in the Western world now. Dalrymple's patients, as he points out, have reverted to a hunter-gatherer existence, but unlike their ancestors they have quick-fix junk foods to gather that satisfy their tongues but not their bodies. In a way, parents have the same challenge when they're trying to head off obesity; they need to train children to choose. In a New Yorker article a couple years ago, Atul Gawande pointed out that weight-loss programs have a long-term record of unremitting failure -- unless the patients are children. They can learn, and they do learn.
Mad about you
I started reading this article about letters to Mad Magazine at work today, and had to stop for fear people would notice me laughing. My personal favorite:
I was once a miserable but fairly intelligent human being. But since reading your magazine, I have changed into a happy little moronic beast. While I am on the subject, I would also like to mention the transformation in my physical anatomy. I now have three eyes.
Sunday, November 03, 2002
A spadeful of spacetime
I am in most respects a creature of the computer age, but one thing I'd never gotten around to doing was creating an electronic address file. Oh, I would throw an email address into the Yahoo "book" once in a while, but for whatever reason I tended to rely on my memory of email addresses and would type them out. And I never put in anyone's street address or phone number. I kept all that the old-fashioned way: in a little book that I carried around. And this weekend I paid the price for my antiquation: I lost the book.
That book had a long history. I got it as a gift in high school, I don't remember for what occasion. It was one of those presents that I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to when I first got it, because I just stuck to the haphazard methods I'd been using all along to keep track of people. And when you're a kid, you don't have to do much; your parents do a lot of that, and the school directory does most of the rest. So starting to use the address book was part of growing up for me, of forming my own life.
I'm sure the book wasn't made to last as long as it did. It was a real mid-'80s teenage-girl item, a tiny cardboard thing with blue-and-white diagonal stripes and a little attached pencil. The pages were just ruled like notepaper; there wasn't anything as fancy as boxes. But I just kept using it, and using it. When I finished college and formed a group of young single friends in San Francisco, I was the only person who had an address book. They tended to stick with the scraps-of-paper-by-the-phone method, so not surprisingly they were always asking me for each other's numbers. (I suspect the fact that most of these friends were male had something to do with it!) I kept the book in my purse, which meant it was pretty much always with me. It made me an eminently useful person to be around.
The book was a real record of my life these past 15 years -- going through classmates, friends, boyfriends, teachers, relatives, co-workers, dates that didn't go anywhere, businesses I used to work for. Most of the data in there was probably out of date; it is, after all, a time in your life when a lot of people come and go, and everybody moves around. Nobody in my immediate family is still living where we were when I started. I remember I had one page that was filled up by one friend who kept moving -- I just kept putting new numbers under the old ones.
I've been contacting everybody whose info I need to replace, and it's not a very long list. It's kind of sad how many people are gone for various reasons, but I have always been more about quality than quantity in relationships anyway. And actually this has been a chance to renew contact with some people I'd let lapse but who, when I thought about it, I really do want to keep up with.
When I emailed my grandfather to ask for his information, he wrote me a reminiscence about his address book, which is twice as old as mine. In the early '70s he and my grandmother came back from an assignment abroad and bought fancy matching leather books with gold monograms. "She still has hers put away safely," he wrote, "but mine gets full exposure to loss, defacing, watersoaking (I once fell out of a Sunfish with it my pocket. A blurred mess!) and hard use. It still smells, faintly, like leather. And when I misplace it, which I do pretty regularly every six months or so, I go nuts."
I'm busy building an electronic file for all the information, but I also bought a replacement book. A much more grownup and up-to-date one, in hunter green faux leather, and little boxes for everything including email and mobile phone numbers. Telf thinks I should get a Palm Pilot instead, but I like having a book. It lives your life with you in a way a computer doesn't; it's a connection to your past selves. Besides, could a Palm Pilot survive going overboard from a Sunfish?
Sins of the heart
I didn't mean to say that Telford's argument about love and hate was "sophistry," -- I was talking about his earlier dismissal of the question of the origin of evil. This is what I get for rambling so far off the main subject of the post, and I apologize. I was also sort of kidding about Orwell; I understand the point he was trying to make, it's just an idea that's so open to abuse. Actually, it seems like our interpretation of the Luke passage is basically the same: the "hate" is supposed to be a transitional state on the way to a higher love. (Eve Tushnet asks an interesting question about this: what does this say about how you treat nonbelieving family and friends? Is Telford supposed to be hating me? If so, he's not doing a very good job of it!)
I do want to address this idea of "psychologizing sin" and the interpretation of Matthew 5:21. I don't want this to turn into dredge-up-my-pet-peeves-with-Telford week (I'm sure I have my own annoying habits he could name!) but I am getting a bit frustrated by how here and in a lot of his other replies to me he diagnoses some objection of mine as being a product of cultural brainwashing. This seems to be a common attitude among professors; I got it from my lefty profs when I was in college, and getting it from a righty evangelical prof isn't any less annoying. I mean, obviously the way I think is affected by the culture I grew up in, and I'm always happy to see different ways of looking at things. But it's insulting to my capacity for independent thought; it often assumes larger schema in my head that aren't actually there; and it unnecessarily complicates things.
In this case, I don't think you need to drag Kant and Freud into the picture to understand where I'm coming from. The idea of "sinful thoughts" seems to be a pretty standard Christian concept, including thoughts that you never act upon. And while I don't know Greek, I assume that words like "love" and "hate" included emotional states, even if they were more action-oriented than in the current use. I am really not sure from Telford's description how important he thinks emotions are; on the one hand he implies that you can "love your neighbor" even if you are feeling emotional repugnance towards him, and on the other he speaks of the "root cause" of sin. He almost seems to be implying that an emotion doesn't really exist without an action, which in my personal experience is absurd.
In fact, I think personal experience is a lot of what's dividing us here. Telford is very "left-brained," in his own words; he also seems to me to be fairly extroverted, both in the colloquial sense of being sociable and in the literal sense of being "turned outward." I'm not that way; I've always been introverted, right-brained, imaginative and emotional, which has generally meant that I've had a vivid and very distracting inner life that is sometimes only tangentially related to the outer one. I do not think my culture "trained" me to be that way; it would, in fact, be a lot easier for me to live in this culture if I weren't. Moreover, if any culture encourages the importance of the inner life, it isn't the West. I'm reminded of a paper I did on the Bhagavad-Gita when I was in college, where I remarked upon the fact that the Indian attitude places a huge emphasis on the inner life, to the point where it almost doesn't matter what you're physically doing, and how different this was from the Western Christian approach.
Indian thinking can take this to an extreme, saying that the physical world is an irrelevant illusion, and I'm not going to go that far. I also know I could do with a bit more outward-turning, since inner life can frequently turn to self-absorption (a trait of mine that Telford has been extremely patient with, I should add). But the point is that thoughts and emotions that are never acted upon are as real to me as those that are; sometimes they are overwhelming. This is why I don't like the way Telford keeps holding up the Hebrew culture of the time as the standard against which others are measured; like every culture, it seems to me, it favored some personality types over others. A God who does not consider the inner life important, who does not have a way of dealing with powerful and tormenting emotions, is not a God who understands me very well and could hardly be my creator.
Anyway, about the Matthew passage. I can't read Greek, but I have read a few different translations of that passage by now, and they all express the same basic idea: if you look at a woman with lust you have committed adultery already. You've committed it only in your heart, but you've committed it. Now it's true, as Telford says, that to look at someone is an action. But it is not ordinarily a sinful action; moreover, it's an unavoidable action, unless you're a hermit. What makes it sinful is the emotion. It is not surprising that many people have interpreted this to mean that having a thought or feeling a feeling can be a sin in itself.
There's also still the question of human nature here, but now that I think about it that will lead the whole thing off in another direction, and this post is already huge. Sticking to one topic per post seems like a good idea...