Monday, June 30, 2014

Arrival of Surprise Dystopian Future

Every futuristic narrative written about machines becoming human-like is a dystopian horror story. It's turning out to be an accurate prediction, only with corporations instead of computers.

It's Not Safe On Either Side of the Box

For some people, the idea of thinking outside the box is a phobia, and thinking inside the box is seen as a gateway drug.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Super-Valuable Zero

We have a numbering system that shows an increase from 10 to 100 by adding a zero, even though we're told that zero is nothing. Knowing this, the system causes many brains to get overloaded with WTFs when we're told 1 million requires exactly six of these nothings. It's no wonder so many math students think their teachers have taken way too seriously what they came up with when they were stoned.

Life Proves Nothing

The argument in favor of the existence of a creator deity because the universe is "fine-tuned for life" is flawed in a basic way that should not be easy to overlook. We can pick any item or substance or system that exists and say the universe is "fine-tuned" for it, meaning the claim is literally pointless. Anything that exists exists because the conditions in which it exists allows for it. This is about as far from a special condition that needs a deity as can be imagined. If someone wanted to claim the existence of an entity with supernatural powers, an example other than carbon-based creatures that came about where it was possible needs to be shown.

A Job Should Not Be One's Enemy

Any full-time job should be one that a person can hold for life and live off of it. The attitude held by many that some jobs should only pay a minuscule amount because they should only be seen as stepping stones to “better” jobs is nonsense. Not all people are suited for management jobs (or want them), for example, or other posts that require different skills or are in other ways not suitable. This should not mean that people not be allowed to live a comfortable life being anything from a flight attendant to a deli counter employee to a department store clerk. These jobs will always be needed and to insist that the people who hold (and want) these jobs are not worthy of a living wage is an insult to them and just plain wrong.

Silent Penis-Vagina Shame

It is certainly not a sign of humanity's overall mental health that we feel weird about saying "penis" and "vagina" even though each of us has one and most want regular access to more.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Satirical Bible Bedtime Story Hits Home

For those of us who experienced this as children, I wanted to share this from The Onion...

Bedtime Story From Fucking Bible Again

BEAVERTON, OR—Saying that he has to deal with this shit every single night, local 6-year-old Andrew Neel was exasperated to learn Thursday that the bedtime story his mother would be reading him was once again...

Because so many people are responding to this one on social media, I think it's struck a nerve.

"Nanny" Objectors Acting Like They Need One

It seems that the people who voice fears and complain about a "nanny state" would have more credibility if they didn't act like mean, rude and obnoxious children who haven't outgrown the need for a babysitter to stop them from hurting themselves and others.

Military, Inc.

The current attention being paid to the lack of services being delivered to veterans should be seen as another clear indicator that our military is nothing more than a business venture. Just like when an employee of a business no longer works there and the company no longer pays for benefits, the military is doing the same thing. The number of companies that still have pensions and health care for retirees is miniscule, a huge drop from the past--again, just like the military. The military is using an increasing number of sub-contractors, even for combat-related tasks, a move that also mirrors businesses structures. Finally, military action is now almost exclusively based on making large profits for a small group of people by executing "takeovers."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ignoring the Obvious Nature of Interdependence

It seems to me that the fairly obvious fact of interdependence gets ignored when forming ideas and making decisions about how we organize societies. No human can thrive on their own, letting alone survive solo. This has been stated many ways by many people, but it still seems to carry little weight.

Let's consider all of the things individuals use that exist because of others. The most obvious include homes, cars, clothes, food, electricity, health care, schools, roads, every kind of household appliance, railroads, shoes, roads, along with all of the smaller included items of each, and more. Some of the less obvious include dental floss, toothpicks, computers, ink, batteries, light bulbs, traffic lights, soap, music, art, the post office, and more.

There is one other thing that should be looked at separately that's arguably more important than any of the others: information. We all learn about the world from the education we get from others--in both formal and informal settings. What we learn is almost exclusively learned from others, and we can hardly take advantage of anything else without the knowledge we accumulate.

Individualistic notions as the basis for a society cannot be fruitful because the foundation for such ideas are false; any results will be rubbish. As a test for someone who disagrees, place yourself in a non-inhabited area, naked, with no items created by others, including what you've learned from anyone else. Survival will be brief.

Each of us does next-to-nothing that contributes to our way of life. We get to take advantage of the features of societies because everyone else provides them for us. Those who convince themselves that they've "earned" on their own everything they have are ignoring the true nature of our shared existence. Valid conclusions stemming from individualism will never be realized. In order to successfully address and improve how we live, we can't ignore how the system of human existence works.

Quote: "Humans are social animals, perhaps with an innate biological drive for social interaction. We do not just live in society: we invent society in order to live." - Jim Baggott, A Beginner's Guide to Reality (Author's note: This is a quotation adapted from Maurice Godelier, The Mental and the Material, Verso, 1986.)

An Underused Way To Uncover Bogus Claims

I would like to see a conservative politician who insists that right-wing positions don't favor the wealthy asked what would change if they purposely set out to do so. Nothing, would be the correct answer, unless they wanted to declare that moving even further in the direction of their stated positions would be required.

I think this type of general question doesn't get pursued enough. When someone tries to claim that whatever they are advocating for does not line up with an opposing claim refuting it, ask how their position would be different if they set out to do what their opponents fear. If the answer is "nothing," then the position has been shown to be invalid--either incorrect or a lie.

Another example is contained within the first three verses of Revelation.
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
This book, written nearly 2,000 years ago, contains the claim right up front that the things described within will be happening "soon" because the "time is near." For those who don't skip over or ignore this verse, they somehow claim that it doesn't mean the predictions would happen at any particular time; "soon" and "near" can mean what they mean when otherwise used.  But, using the above questioning idea, if this passage had been written with the intent that "soon" and "near" were to be accepted as they are used everywhere else, how would it  have been written differently? The answer is that it would require no changes, meaning that the claim that it means something else is bogus. (This passage can only mean that time ran out on Christianity a long time ago.)

You Don't Have To Lie About Me, I'll Do It Myself

Politics has now progressed to the point where politicians not only lie about their opponents' positions, but also their own. And the members of the media, the group that's supposed to be playing the role of referee, have decided to go along for the ride, leaving the public to fend for itself while tumbling in a wave of increased mis-informed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Lame "Do Your Research" Statements

It is okay to not take anyone seriously who shares an opinion if, instead of offering validation, submits instead the instruction "do your research" but fail to share their's.

18th Century Solutions Don't Fix 21st Century Problems

A quote from this story about a current issue in the Mormon church: "Excommunication is a nineteenth-century Mormon solution to twenty-first century Mormon problems."

I read this and immediately thought it could also to the U.S. Constitution, only push back the comparison another century.

Ignoring For Millennia What We Know

Time apparently does not wear down our resistance to some of our best realizations.

The humble suffer when the mighty disagree. -Phaedrus (1st century CE)

There's no surer justice in the world than that which makes the rich thief hang the poor one. -Peire Cardenal (13th century CE)

When the rich wage war it's the poor who die. -Jean-Paul Sartre (20th century CE)

Just one more related quote that nicely reveals an insight into why wealth can manipulate motivation.

Riches do not exhilarate us so much with their possession as they torment us with their loss. -Samuel Gregory (19th century CE)

Recent story about how money changes us: "7 Weird Things Money Does To Your Brain"

Monday, June 23, 2014

Letting "Obvious" Claims Slide

One of the most pervasive but easy-to-fix mistakes we make is asserting that a claim about something is so obviously true that it need not be tested. Famous examples from past centuries include the weight of an object affects its speed when falling and the earth being the center of the universe. Modern examples include the claim that abstinence education reduces teen pregnancies and the need for abortions, and the idea that nothing stops atheists from acting in the worst ways possible.

People who have thought this way hold the mistaken notion that the claim contains its own proof, eliminating the need to investigate and verify. This erroneous situation needs to be addressed during everyone's primary school education so that, as adults, people don't make major decisions based on "obvious" claims that fail under scrutiny.

Maligning What Was Requested

It is a common complaint from women that men don't communicate well or enough. But when they do, it is now sometimes disparaged as “mansplaining,” something that's not going to improve things. Why don't we go ahead and start using a term like "bitch talk" to our vocabulary and see if anything positive comes of it.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

Just finished reading A Beginner's Guide to Reality by Jim Baggott. It is an intertwined history of philosophy and science, and I liked the book quite a bit. The people and topics in this book that have been written about by many authors, but every author brings their own take to anything they write about, something that allows us to take away new insights and ideas.

One of the items in this book that is an example of this is a discussion in the epilogue about the "socio-cultural revolution" that takes place in science when an area is undergoing a paradigm shift due a building consensus around a new set of discoveries or ideas. He compares it to similar changes that occur in other segments of human societies, showing that science does not exist outside a society's culture and is, in fact, influenced greatly by it.

This general idea was not new to me, but I got something new from a footnote where he paraphrases Thomas Kuhn : "Kuhn wrote that when this happens, individuals in the communities behave as they occupy different (social) worlds. Even though they may use the same language, many of the words in this language have taken on quite different meanings in these different worlds. The worlds are incommensurable. The words no longer have any common measures by which they can be unambiguously compared."

I couldn't help but see what's happening today as a "perfect storm" of this problem, with political, religious and other social groups currently going through this process at the same time. People have stopped trying to communicate and are just throwing insults around, at least partly because communication has become virtually impossible--incommensurable. The factions into which we have siloed ourselves have combined full-blown defensive postures with no-surrender attitudes with anything-goes attack strategies.

We are also fooling ourselves and missing what's really going with this loss of the ability to communicate on by thinking, "Why don't they realize what we're saying is so obviously true?" We are dumbfounded at "the ignorance" of the other groups and become so frustrated that we can longer justify being civil.

What a mess.

P.S. After this original post, I ran across this short article and video about Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Beetle in the Box Analogy talking about individual perspective versus shared experiences when it comes to shared meaning of the words we use.

Removing Humans From Human Communication

I wonder what the long-term results will be from our growing acceptance of more group-based interactions like social media to our communication options. This adds to the history of technology continuously giving us more not-in-person methods of communicating. Have we gained more than we've lost?

(Coincidentally, here is one recent story on this topic.)

Abandoning Ourselves

All those who have gone through a business school or spent any time in a job exposed to how major business decisions are made know that people are seen as no different than any other aspect of a corporation. The phrase "human capital" is sometimes used to place people in the same category as machinery, buildings or other materials. By de-humanizing people this way, we have actually convinced each other that we should be indifferent to ourselves, that we don't matter any more than a barrel of oil or a box of paper clips. Is this really a tenet worthy of our continued support? It should be seen as terrifyingly insane to create a system on which we are all supposed to rely that abandons actual people so unsympathetically. This is eligible to be a plot for a horror story.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Villain's Victims as Cheerleaders

Sometimes when I encounter certain protesters and pundits, the feelings I get seem to be what it might be like if I were to witness a cheerleading squad made up of victims of a villain still rooting for their tormentor.

In addition, the scene from "Animal House" comes to mind where the pledges to a fraternity are being repeatedly wacked on the ass with a huge wooden paddle and having to say after each hit, "Thank you, sir. May I have another?" In this scene, the "victims" are going through the ordeal because they know they will eventually be accepted into the exclusive and privileged group delivering the punishment. Similarly, those who accept repeated punishment from the most powerful and privileged in society put up with it because they expect the same. But they don't realize that their hopes of being allowed to take a shared place among the powerful are being deceived; their devotion will never be rewarded.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Selective Agitators

After watching a documentary about the civil rights movement of the early '60s, I was reminded that the most repeated complaint by conservative southerners at the time was that those who were pushing against their racist culture were "agitators." Again and again, racist political leaders openly told anyone who would listen that if "the agitators" would just leave them alone and stop trying to end racism, everything would be fine.

I couldn't help but wonder if the people of Iraq had used the same language when the U.S. invaded, would the same conservatives supporting war there (and everywhere else they've been the only proponents of war) on the basis of "liberation" agree that they were also "agitators" and should therefore stay away?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sex Drive v. Love Drive

The differences between love and sex have been discussed since the beginning of thought, but it seems that we never advance on the topic. It's not usually a problem for people to realize that love and sex are not synonymous, but we continue to act otherwise, so let's take a look at this by using the terms sex drive and love drive, and sex bond and love bond. Trying to frame it this way may make it easier to realize that these desires are not always identical and can lead to (hopefully) some new insights.

To be clear, these are not always mutually exclusive either. One can drag the other along for the ride if it's strong enough. (An analogy that might help is an old fashioned radio dial where one station bleeds over into another one if the signal is too strong.) This happens frequently enough that we often end up seeing them as inseparable, forgetting that they don't have to be.

This is most apparent with the accusation of cheating from someone in a long-term love-sex relationship. The person who "cheats" by having sex with someone else is almost always seen as having violated the couple's love bond as well as the sex bond. But it's the rare person who hasn't also learned that the act of cheating can be said to have happened when an emotional bond takes place with someone outside a relationship--even if there has been no sexual act. We have a tendency to see a violation of the sex bond or the love bond as a violation of the love bond, with little ability or desire to even try and keep them separate.

As any couple who has argued over this can likely attest, the person who cheated will rarely say they don't love their partner any longer with the other partner being dubious, seeing no difference between a violation of the sex bond and the love bond. It may actually be true that the person does still love their partner even after having had sex with someone else. But, with neither partner fully understanding that the love drive and sex drive can be separate, the argument usually gets resolved poorly--if at all.

We should admit to ourselves that resolving a sex bond issue can be different from solving a love bond issue. Even if these two desires have been nicely brought together by a couple for most of their relationship, looking at them separately when necessary can help to resolve problems with either of them and then, if desired, re-combine the love bond and sex bond more closely. (Another analogy: When a mechanic repairs a car, it is almost always required to remove and separate the parts, take care of the one that's malfunctioning, then put it back together. Trying to fix an alternator problem by working on the battery will always fail.) The real problem we have is not seeing sex and love and separately when it is appropriate.

Some other scenarios to consider include those who have been in a long-term love-sex relationship and sometimes engaged in sex without having the desire to do so. This clearly indicates that the sex drive is not permanently connected to the love drive, otherwise this would never happen. With the love drive intact, a person "not in the mood" may engage in sex anyway because it's what the other partner wants. With this in mind, we should also be able to more openly accept that the act of sex--inside or outside of a long-term relationship--does not have to involve the love drive. In these cases, the sex drive is on its own.

To complicate matters further, the sex drive and love drive can be triggered by other emotions (from inside or outside the relationship) that have nothing to do with either. Things that can trigger them to varying degrees include physical attractiveness, wealth, fame, humor, intelligence, a self-less act, shared experiences, common interests, similar personalities, and more. Having had the love drive or sex drive triggered by something outside a primary relationship doesn't necessarily mean that these desires have been diminished within that relationship. It can mean that, of course, but it could also be temporary and/or minimal.

If we really want to have love-sex relationships that work, ignoring what's really driving our behaviors is always going to fail. If, instead, we accept the difficult reality that our love drive and sex drive do not always get triggered together, and our love bonds and sex bonds can't be nurtured if we always see them as a singular bond, we will be heading for major improvements.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Indifferent Democracies Fail

It is a neglected democracy that keeps electing those who are among the least respected, a product of an indifferent populace.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Yes, No Are Not the Same

I find it hard to understand the claim that the major political parties are "just the same," as so many people declare, especially when they are looking for a reason to not vote. Anyone even casually exposed to politics can't have missed the enormous number of partisan votes at all levels of government, even the Supreme Court. There are consistent groups of people on opposite sides of almost every vote. How can some people voting "yes" and others voting "no" be "just the same"?

While it's certainly true that final votes come after a political "sausage-making" series of events that include a wide variety of influences, in the end, the voting is almost never bi-partisan.

There are differences among people given the temporary power to run the government. To pretend they aren't there makes matters worse.

Faux Justice

It is fair to say that our justice system has little of it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Never Enough Torment

On Iraq, I get reminded of the "Seinfeld" episode where Elaine asks George as he contemplates inflicting yet another caustic event on the family of his dead fiancee, "Haven't you done enough to these people already?"

Golden Rule MIA

I find it unfortunate that there is no commonly used word to note the universal absence of any version of the Golden Rule when one attempts to justify a war they've started.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Political Package Deal

This is going to be unfair, but it's how I feel sometimes...

Liberals can certainly be assholes, but conservatism has a much harder time making it optional.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Myths to Regulate Male Behavior

The issue of gender equality has once again risen to the top of the public's attention. This issue has been a recognized problem for thousands of years with one of the oldest attempts to handle it involve cultural myths.

From The Seven Story Tower by Curtiss Hoffman: “...the function of [some myths] is to delineate a societal...problem: the propensity for adolescent males to commit hybris when confronted with the feminine. This argument suggests that every culture will need to develop a means of regulating male behavior... We must grant that this is a common problem, one which many males in our own society never outgrow. This might cause us to wonder whether the rates of abuse of women are so high...because we lack such a myth.”

Roundup Ready Humans

Given the ability and financial incentive to patent genes, will there eventually be a version of Roundup Ready for people?

Mistaken Support for Simplicity

It is an unfortunate twist that Occam's Razor is used to mistakenly promote simplicity.

Many people have twisted Occam's Razor from the notion that answers with the fewest assumptions are likely (but not guaranteed) to be the most accurate to the idea that the simplest answer is the best, and incorrect warping of the actual idea. What this error does is give support to those who do not understand (or don't want to understand) complexity when they promote a simple idea instead. This is a prominent problem in politics and religion, but not restricted to those areas. It's certainly easier to hold something simple to be true, but it also allows those who eschew complexity to find comfort in ideas that take no work to adopt.

Beliefs and Suffering

The Buddhist idea that “attachment is the root of suffering” I think relates closely to my idea that belief itself should be abandoned. A belief is a conclusion. Because of that, the conclusion is “attached” to the believer, becoming part of their sense of self. Therefore, if that belief is challenged, the believer suffers because it is seen as an attack on the self. The result is a series of self-defense actions that only further the suffering. So, if the Buddhist idea is that attachments are a problem, so are beliefs.

Falling Short as the Norm

If someone thinks they have successfully used language to accurately communicate, they have misunderstood the potential of both. Turning thoughts into words degrades those same thoughts because the process can only distort.

"Idea Diversity" Can and Should Exclude What's Been Disproven

 There is a complaint often heard that says something like "intolerance of idea diversity" is too pervasive and undercuts the claims that people are actually searching for the truth. This idea that gets expressed in many ways is not accurate, however, unless it includes the caveat that old and disproven ideas don't need to be tolerated. It is perfectly fine--and a necessary component to the advancement of knowledge--to leave behind those things which have been superseded with new information. I find that a large number of the people who get on this "intolerance" bandwagon refuse to accept that their idea(s) has been shown to be wrong. The misdirected claim that they are somehow being unfairly discriminated against is a desperate effort to stay in the game with faulty and irrelevant claims that mask some other agenda.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Denying the Need For Others

There is a recent Pew report that shows conservatives tend to want to live apart from others while progressives prefer to live in closer proximity to others. I think one of the reasons is the more conservative idea that they can (and should) support themselves with little help versus the more liberal idea that individuals require support from one another. But this is actually a false notion of sorts because conservatives actually do think individuals require help, only they see it coming from a god, deflecting the reality that the cooperation of others is actually necessary. Even when conservatives do get assistance from others, they still attribute it to "the will" of their god, which denies where the help actually came from.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Prediction That Never Fails

Anyone can make a prediction of a coming economic collapse and always be right. Humanity's promotion of its worst traits and the constant denial of how the earth's systems operate requires it.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The New World's Free Ride is Over

I am convinced that any political/economic system that took control of any part of the Americas in the wake of Columbus would be able to call itself a "success." The two continents had huge untapped natural resources that would sustain any system put in place. The fact that what did take place included genocide and slavery (and still does) only makes more ridiculous the claims of "success." We are now past that era of virtually unlimited resources, meaning that the real test of a system's success is now underway, and unregulated capitalism is failing badly.

Autoimmune-Diseased Politics

There seems to be little difference between descriptions of modern American politics and autoimmune diseases.

Ignoring Results

It's amazing that all social structures persist for extended periods regardless of the results of their existence. Change, even for the better, is always resisted.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Blast the Past

There are always people who push others to return to the past, an effort which always end up making matters worse because it's not possible to go back in time--even if it was universally decided to do so. Even if people tried to recreate as much as possible some point in history, it is literally not possible, and undertaking a journey that is sure to fail is never going to be fruitful. We must always take what we know and move forward. Always. It's the only path that exists and, therefore, the only path where change is possible.

Weak Similarity

Religious Person to Science Person: "We are no different than you because we are looking for answers to the same questions you are."
Science Person to Religious Person: "Sure, but we're using things like the Hubble Telescope and the Large Hadron Collider and you are using tea leaves and hallucinations, a distinction that clearly separates us in to one group that continuously increases our knowledge and one that keeps repeating the same failed guesses."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Needing a Reason

Sure, you can be an atheist and a conservative, but what's the point?

Comfortable With Confinement Conditioning

I think we are grooming children to accept as normal the idea of confinement. From the rope lines attached to the wrists of toddlers when walking to together, to playgrounds being fenced off, to schools and school buses being mandatory places of separation, to entire neighborhoods where they grow up being "gated," to home alarm systems, we are conditioning the newest generations to feel comfortable with confinement.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Protecting One's Political Abuser

When I see member of a historically oppressed minority group promoting the the rhetoric of the right wing and attacking the progressive ideas that would actually help them (and everyone else), I can't help but see them like I see a battered spouse who still seeks the approval of her abuser.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Piss Me Off, Please

This whole Bowe Bergdahl thing is the perfect example of how pundits and opinions rule rather a calm search for what's behind it all. I find it frightening that so much of what I see and hear is simply one partisan talking head/blogger trying to maintain a larger agenda with any twisted hot-button language that can be assembled.

It seems we have a growing number of people who want to be pissed off, jumping at any chance to get that desire fulfilled. I just don't get it.

Coincidentally, a chapter of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers I just finished may shed some light on this.

In this chapter he outlines the idea that our cultural baggage not only stays with us when we leave where we have lived, but it can be traced back for hundreds of years. One of his examples is the culture of the American South which largely comes from the people who migrated in large numbers in and around the Appalachian Mountains from specific parts of England and Ireland, places where personal and family honor carried a lot of weight. Any insult against a person or their family often results in a hostile reaction to protect their honor.

In a study he outlines, individuals are insulted by someone they simply encountered walking down a hallway. Those who were from the South had higher levels of chemicals in their blood like testosterone and cortisol after the encounter, things that indicate they were in an excited mood. Other tests that were done showed that these people were also more likely to get in a fight or support someone else who was extracting a honor-based retribution through violence.

Because I just read these two stories near each other in time, it made me think that there might be a hint here to what's going on. If a group of people with this kind of cultural background feel insulted, they are more likely to look for a fight, and it doesn't really matter what the fight is about--they can become trolls looking for a confrontation.

For whatever reason, people from the American South--where conservatives have the most influence and power--feel like they are not being respected by the rest of the country. The actions in response seems very close to this lashing-out phenomenon I think we're experiencing, and not just about the Berghdal situation. Add in the additional factor that conservatives generally like change less than others, it seems to be a recipe for all kinds of confrontations.

I'm sure it a complicated set of factors that are in play, but to me this idea makes a good deal of sense. 

The Conservative Drift to Socialism

With the ongoing consolidation of corporate power continuing without an end in sight, it seems to me that we're heading (if we're not already there) toward a society that is actually more socialist than capitalist. It has been a rallying cry from the political right that a "strong central government" or "government control"--their overly simplistic definition of socialism--is detrimental. But substitute "corporation" for "government" and we have the same basic overall effect: a source of immense power that is dictatorial and untouchable. What we are doing is actually worse because for corporate power to be stronger or equal to democratically based government institutions creates the illusion that capitalism is working as advertised.

Consider that corporations now put serious restrictions on employees' behavior at levels that are dictatorial--on and off the job; have workers sign papers for everything from non-compete agreements (not at all capitalist) to keeping rights to all of their creative output--again, on and off the job; can give their top tier people money at levels incredibly higher than everyone else--exactly like old-style communist class systems where the privileged were part of a elite group called the Nomenclatura; support efforts to restrict voting--the old communist parties did it by picking candidates for approval (often with no opposition), where we now do it with unlimited corporate money and legal maneuvers to stop people from voting at all; and the intricate spying networks used by Eastern Bloc countries we used to criticize are nothing compared to what the U.S. is doing to its own citizens now.

Except for the names, we are becoming no different that what we claim to despise.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Negative Effects of Being the Best

The book The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard is the story of the author's experience being part of the 1911-1912 trip to the South Pole lead by Robert F. Scott who famously died with four others on the way back from the pole. In the book, it is noted that one of the problems that ended up unnecessarily wearing down man and animal (horses and dogs) was overwork of those willing to volunteer to accomplish the necessary tasks in the year preceding the actual trip to the pole while preparations were made on the coast on Antarctica.

I think this points to a general truism about human behavior that has unfortunate consequences: we give more work to those either willing to do it or who are better at it, often resulting in their being overworked and wearing out and becoming ineffective or getting burned out and quitting. This is a problem needs to be remembered.

The Dangerous Desire to Concentrate Power

It seems to me that there is a strong and dangerous human tendency to concentrate power. This proclivity ranges from a head of the household, to head of a government, to head of a religion, to monotheistic deities. A one-stop shopping solution at which to concentrate our attention is obviously easier, requiring much less work and brainpower to drive action. Even if people see the inherent problems of a single person having super power with little or no restraints, we always seem to end up drifting in that direction while ignoring the clear warnings from history against doing so. 

It's likely a default desire we have to concentrate our efforts to influence a source of power. In addition, praising or demeaning a diffused group is much less satisfying than doing so for a single and powerful entity. Concentrating efforts on one face instead of many seems to makes people less passive generally because there is an easy and clear target for their attention.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Yes, You Are a Sex Object—Just Like Everyone Else

From time-to-time the topic of sexual inequality and discrimination rises to the top of the pile of problems we need to address. But each time it happens, there seems to be a rush to the extremes, with the ensuing fight resulting in little more than increased hostility and misunderstanding that becomes the degraded starting point for the next time. It seems to me that the course most likely to bring positive results must start with a true acknowledgment of the actual situation being addressed, and we have never done that. It's long past time for that to change.

One core problem that gets this issue off on the wrong foot is the refusal to acknowledge the actual sexual attitudes that exist and the fact that they aren't universal for everyone and aren't in play 100 percent of the time. We also fail to acknowledge that what one group of people finds unacceptable when it comes to sexual attitudes and behaviors is not always a problem for others. There is a huge and complex sliding scale of sorts that exists in this area, and no point within it is null.

Perhaps the most common refrain that gets voiced in times of increased tension is the idea that being seen as a “sex object” is something to be corrected. It is insulting and degrading to be seen this way, the thinking goes, because it makes it okay to treat certain people as unworthy of respect otherwise. This is certainly true for some people in some situations, but the best way to address it is not to simply try and shut down the idea that people can be seen as an object of sexual desire. As anyone competent in the area of human behavior can attest, our individual sexuality is one of the few core elements that makes up a person's being. This component of one's self-identity is so foundational that to insist it be fundamentally altered or eliminated is like trying to convince someone to commit suicide.

Instead, what we should be doing is acknowledging that strong sexual attitudes and desires exist and that they are a large part of what makes us human, but with that awareness comes the responsibility to not let them be a detriment to others. If instead we try to assert that sexual desires are to be unconditionally attacked and vilified in an attempt to correct any problems, then we are likely to continue our record of colossal failures, just like sexual abstinence programs for teens. What does work is addressing this (or any) situation with open honesty about where we are and where we want to go. Otherwise, instead of embarking on a fruitful journey, we are engaging in a type of trench warfare that results in nothing but casualties.

So, the best place to start is to acknowledge that each of us is seen as a sexual object by others. Nothing we ever say or do is going to change that basic fact about humanity. What we can do, however, is realize that this reality doesn't mean we have to be single-minded when it comes to those seen as sexually attractive; there's no requirement we be myopic about it. The issue must be addressed based on awareness and mitigation, not elimination. The goal should be to never see anyone as only a sex object.

Self-Defense Against Pregnancy

Those who are pushing for "stand your ground" and "personhood" rights for fetuses to try to outlaw abortions don't realize it, but this path contains within it an increased constitutional justification for abortion at any time.

A pregnancy can certainly be seen as an assault on a pregnant woman's body, a situation in which she can take whatever measures she wishes to end the attack, including abortion. If a fetus is declared to be a person, the pregnant woman is given an extra legal position on which to stand: self-defense. There is no exception to the legal concept of self-defense when one person is being attacked by another. This is clearly a constitutional argument  under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause.

On top of that, wherever there are "stand your ground" laws on the books, the pregnancy woman has one more legal point in her favor if she chooses to exercise her right to an abortion.

So, if the fetus is not legally seen as a person, there is no basis in the law on which to outlaw abortions because the pregnant woman is not harming anyone. On the other hand, if the fetus is declared to be a person, a pregnant woman actually has the addition legal support of the universal tenet of self-defense that clearly allows an abortion to be performed if so desired.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Getting in the Way of Our Own Ideas

The reason I don't like debates is that members of the audience can mistakenly rate the quality of the information based on the performances, which has nothing to do with the worthiness of an idea or assertion. Attacks are often directed solely at the participants, bringing to mind the "don't kill the messenger" warning. Any information delivered by an individual doesn't get eliminated or validated by attacking or praising the person delivering it. It is an ineffective response that can be attested to by the failure of blasphemy laws.