Saturday, November 29, 2014

An Ancestral Dogmatic Hypothesis

I came across an old note wondering about the reaction our ancient ancestors must have had when first creating something they perceived to be permanent. It was probably a piece of art, either a figurine or a painting on a cave wall, maybe a body ornament. This idea interests me because the experience of life is normally filled with constant change, and our very ancient ancestors must have experienced—and expected—nothing else. Flora and fauna grow and die; rivers rise and fall; weather is unpredictable; the motion in the skies is a constant series of changes; there are periods of plenty and periods of scarcity; etc. When those ancestors of ours first began to create anything seen as stable, I'm guessing there was a magical feeling they experienced by being able to create something exempt from change.

Maybe this uplifting feeling of control was an eventual catalyst for doing other things with a sense of permanence like building shelters and coming up with regularly scheduled rituals. Existing within a reality that is unpredictable can be unsettling so it's understandable how as desire to mitigate that feeling would result in efforts to create things known to be (or thought to be) stable.

I think this idea of permanence also got another huge boost with the later invention of writing. When our ancestors developed systems to transfer their words to the permanent media of stone and clay, the feeling of creating something truly magical must have been off the scale. The power that must have been felt when exercising this ability must also have been tremendous.

But there was an unfortunate side-effect that came with this ability that hounds us to this day: dogma. Until the creation of something that literally froze ideas in stone, it must have been much easier for our ancestors to adapt to whatever came up. Pre-writing civilizations certainly had developed a body of rules and traditions to maintain their cultures and guide their decisions. But without a physically tangible history to which everyone could refer, a society's leaders could more easily make adaptive decisions because authority rested with a person(s), not a set of tablets, who was probably the official keeper of the society's collective knowledge. It is likely that this process was eventually determined to be inferior to the inferred magical nature of something written and preserved, giving birth to the concept of dogma. 

Of course, different cultures adopt varying levels of dogmatic ideas and practices, allowing some manner of change to be considered and adopted. But dogma, to any degree, is harmful because relying on anything that is declared to be always applicable and unchangeable is anathema to existence.

As mentioned above, we live with this unfortunate situation today, with people ready to kill in order to keep their preferred dogma from being altered. The most common modern examples are religion and nationalism. In both cases there are collections of written words (religious texts and constitutions) that are supposed to be treated as if they are perfect and always applicable. This is a framework that is bound to fail because living in an ever-changing existence can only be accommodated by constant adaptation. Trying to serve our desire for stability actually hurts our ability to treat ourselves with dignity.

So, like a lot of things within the human experience, we get good and bad together from our actions and often fail to deal with them appropriately. Writing has certainly been a positive tool for humanity, but it has also been a tool used to hurt us terribly. I can only hope our descendants figure out a way to do better with this tool than their ancestors have done.

Inability To Predict The Future Fails To Deter Dogmatic Declarations

I don't know if there is a name for this, but there is a consistent failure in which we humans engage where we make rules to mandate our future behavior that we think will cover everything. These attempts always fail because no future set of circumstances can be predicted with precision. There are too many variables within existence itself to come up with a caveat-free description of (or for) anything, now or in the future.

This problem plays out in everything from a simple promise between two friends to entire criminal justice systems. No matter what words are said or put down on paper at any point in time, there will always be cases where they do not accurately, fairly or completely cover a future set of circumstances.

Along with the problem of not being perfect fortune tellers, this problem exists for us humans because language itself is not up to the task. It is not a tool with an ability to remove all ambiguity, no matter how it's used.

Despite this easily recognizable situation, we still create dogmatic declarations that are to be seen as so perfect as to be unalterable, but this exception-free goal gives us nothing but problems. We would be so much better off if we would accept the notion that we will constantly need to adjust to the ever-changing and unpredictable situations in which we find ourselves.

As mentioned at the start, I don't think there is a name for this (at least I can't find one). It's a kind of Delphic incorrigibility, but that phrase is too clunky to make sense for most people. Maybe one day a proper name will come to me.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Jesus applauds early end to Thanksgiving to celebrate his birthday with more shopping

A few more The Onion-style satire headlines to share....

Jesus applauds early end to Thanksgiving to celebrate his birthday with more shopping

Teen hopes to connect with parents who don't understand him by sharing fetish porn collection

Hoping to give retired life meaning, local man becomes active internet troll

Book cover artists demand judgment of their work be based on author's contribution

Area pastor undeterred by failure to win converts as internet troll

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Law Enforcement Art of After-the-Fact Lying

There is something being avoided in the wake of the Ferguson non-indictment having to do with the nature of the police mindset when it comes to defending themselves against any charges of wrongdoing: institutionalized lying.

It is a fairly common historical practice for polic
e to lie after the fact in order to justify an action. It's usually something like they smelled pot or alcohol, or the person "looked like" someone with a warrant for what are relatively minor acts of bad behavior. But lies being told also include claims that allow a much worse collection of bad behaviors. Claims of seeing a bulge under someone's coat (meaning they thought it was a gun), someone made a threatening gesture, or trying to grab for their gun (the main claim in the Ferguson case that supposedly justifies the shooting) can be used to allow a police officer to avoid personal responsibility for anything, including murder.

I have worked with all kinds of police forces across the country and this attitude was impossible to miss. And from what I could tell, it's just about universal. So don't be so quick to assume that when a police officer makes a claim that is used to justify their actions that the claim is true. There is more than a minor chance that they are lying. The lie will also be adamantly supported by other officers everywhere so that they, too, can do so in the future (or have a past lie remain acceptable). The routine has become a law enforcement art form.

The Perfection of Police and Politicians

It's amazing that we, as a species, don't toot our own horn more often about having the ability to consistently choose nearly perfect people to put in police uniforms. When compared to the rest of society, the lack of guilty verdicts and criminal prosecutions must point to some virtuous character trait that all police departments can detect when hiring people, right? This can't be a coincidence.

As a point of investigative comparison, we must also have a knack for picking politicians who are more ethical than the rest of us. They also rarely end up being convicted of anything when compared to non-politicians. The numbers being so different, labeling this contrast as coincidental would also  be hard to do.

How did we end up so fortunate as to have evolved to a place where we always seem to put the most perfect among on in these most important jobs? If aliens have visited us, they must be living the rest of their lives in awe of this human trait.

Could there be other groups we need to admire for hardly ever being found guilty of anything? We certainly would not want to leave anyone out when honoring people for their ability to stay out of trouble with the law.

The most likely additional group worthy of celebrating is probably the rich. This group is a little different than the others because its members are not directly chosen. But those in this group also seem to stay out of trouble with the law at rates that are much higher than the rest of society. Being rich must also have the side-effect of being (or becoming) a more ethical creature.

In the U.S. being white is also an apparent group membership that means a more law-abiding existence. White people are found guilty of things way less often than people of other races. This group must also have an innate ethical compass that keeps them from committing the crimes committed by other races.

Given all of this evidence, we should presume that members of these groups are free of guilt where members of other groups should be assumed to always have an abundance of it.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Parents Announce Newborn's Candidacy For 2040 Congressional Campaign

I'm wondering if the backlash we're experiencing against an increasingly early Christmas shopping season can also be used to stop increasingly early political campaigns. We haven't even sworn anyone in from the last election and people are already lining up to run in (and ruin) the next one.

There is absolutely no reason we can't have a proper election with only a few months of campaigning. Way cheaper, way less annoying, way more likely to avoid burnout, and way more likely to attract more qualified candidates.

But politics isn't known for being humanity's friend, so I'm not going to hold my breath.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Trickle-up Tax Credits

It is a fairly common refrain from advocates of trickle-down policies that those with the most money should have a reduced tax burden. The reason for this position is that those at the top of the economic system are to be seen as "job creators," a group whose members are supposed to be worshiped and thanked for allowing the rest of us to work for them. It is then "logical" under this impaired view that a requirement these people pay taxes (or a progressively higher tax rate) is unfair because of this huge favor they are supposedly doing the rest of us already. For them to be seen as a source of tax revenue is an insult in this deranged model.

There are plenty of reasons to reject this silly and confused argument, but an important one I generally fail to see has to do with a type of piracy. Not only are the falsely labeled "job creators" to be lauded for their willingness to let everyone else earn money for them in this ruse, but they are to be given credit for the taxes paid by everyone else. This poisonous position actually allows the most privileged among us take credit for taxes they do not pay. And not only to take credit for them, but gladly be given credit for them by those actually paying them.

I can't help but place this mindset in the same category that includes people who make excuses for their abusers. It's a human trait that seems to always find new ways to fail us.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Toilet Paper, People of Equal Importance

One of the things about humanity I think is telling but few others notice at all is the fact that labor costs on business spreadsheets are not shown any differently than paper clips or parking expenses. If we were a species that actually wanted to claim a moral basis for unchecked capitalism, the cost for humans would be noted in a way that reminded us to honor one another, not lump us together with everything else where the goal is to pay as little as possible. The way we train ourselves now is to ignore the humanity of humans, having been convinced we don't deserve to be treated any differently than toilet paper.

Relevant article: Buddhist Economics: How to Start Prioritizing People Over Products and Creativity Over Consumption

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Loneliness of Miscommunication

An idea struck me today that should have surfaced within my brain quite a long time ago: despite the romantic reputation of a life filled with variety, the more varied one's life experiences, the more lonely that person is likely to be.

I pull this idea in part from an often repeated insight about loneliness not being an absence of people in one's life, but a lack of people with whom one can successfully communicate. This type of communication problem is readily recognized as being in play for people who simply have a highly unique brain chemistry or who have lived through various kinds of physical trauma. But I don't think loneliness caused by a highly varied and unique life is generally acknowledged.

People with highly varied and unique life experiences I think are much more likely to find points of commonality with others to be weak and functionally nil. Even when there seems to be a promising overlap of experience or knowledge open for exploitation, for those who have lived a highly unique life the opportunity is often quickly exposed as an illusion.

This wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't a common human trait to seek out people who understand us. We often hear people dream about a partner that "gets me" and fill out dating questionnaires designed to match people who have the most points of commonality. We look for groups to join on websites like to meet people who might be similar to ourselves. We engage with special interest groups, volunteer for causes we support, and look for connections with people who have similar hobbies by attending conventions and conferences. When given the choice, we move to neighborhoods where people are most like ourselves. This search for compatible others is a core part of being human, and when the search fails, loneliness is a highly likely result.

As is often the case with things we romanticize, a downside exists that gets little attention. When we learn about people who have lived lives filled with adventures or strings of disconnected experiences we find alluring, it's natural to glorify the person's life. But if one looks carefully enough, the lonely downside is what might deserve the attention more.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Where Is The No Minimum Wage Paradise?

Headline: "Minimum wage increase wins in four red states"

As usual, I'm curious about something. This time it's about people who are against wage supports.
If the thinking behind the anti-minimum wage position is valid, it should be relatively easy to find at least a few examples of high wage areas that are just awful places to live and low wage areas that are pretty close to paradise.

Maybe I'm not looking hard enough, but I can't find a single example of either.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Reincarnation, Patina, and Marriage Proposals

Another offering of satire headlines...

New survey shows 87% of professional athletes secretly wish their most intense fans would "just
get a life already"

American Psychiatric Association internal report shows depression caused by reincarnation errors

University researchers conclude surprise public marriage proposals most successful when done
right after last call

Hoping to avoid regulations, drone makers renaming their products "cordless kites"

Looking to expand beyond the saturated teen market, video game maker Blizzard Entertainment to
make Warcraft Antiquing: Quest for Provenance & Patina

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Our Irrelevant Best

After seeing it referenced many times, I have finally read Mountains Beyond Mountains, a book about Dr. Paul Farmer who has become famous for bringing health care to some of the world's poorest places, most notably Haiti. The story gives me a bit of whiplash because the timing coincides with lots of prominent people in this country actually trying to take away health care from millions.

Even though we've had various versions of The Golden Rule around for millennia--something few declare to be an awful idea--we sadly continue to see it as immaterial, even in circumstances when it would be most useful.

I sometimes think an accurate flow chart of human thoughts and behaviors (assuming one could be created) would look like something an insane person would draw during a psychological test about their own thoughts and behaviors. A hopeful sign for such people usually includes an understanding of the problem and a desire to improve. Unfortunately, I see little of that when looking at humanity as a whole, making me see a less golden future.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Supernatural Sounds of the Forest

I heard again recently the supposedly deep philosophical question, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound"? When I am exposed to this question it makes me cringe a little because it shows how deep our broken sense of existence actually goes. Just asking the question reveals the mistaken idea that the universe has a chance of being supernaturally influenced by the mere presence of a single human. The only thing uncovered by this question being formed, letting alone it being answered, is yet another example of what's dysfunctionally possible from humanity.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Power of the Pro-Pain Vote

It is often asked why the poor and powerless vote against their own interests when given the chance. When this question comes up I can't help but look for clues in similar human activities like abused spouses who stay with their abusers, people with low self-esteem who deny what's positive about themselves, and people who have a fetish for pain. It's unlikely that these things are completely disconnected from one another.

There is also a somewhat common mindset that supports the idea that those with power deserve it and those without power don't. (This idea is the basis behind caste systems in all their forms as well as the concepts of karma and heaven & hell.)

It is unfortunate for humanity that we have these capabilities that give support to what hurts so many of us, with no exception for self-inflicted damage. So it's no surprise to me that people deny opportunities for improvement, even when they are clear and easy to claim.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Horse Sense, Macaroni and Cheese

Continuing with the satire headlines...

New measuring techniques confirm "horse sense" standards are inferior to educated guesses, rules
of thumb, and "we've always done it this way"

Local man vows to solve mystery behind identical cooking instructions for every brand of
macaroni and cheese

Hopes of Candy Corn makers dashed as Halloween sales again fail to spur after-holiday interest

The world's most wealthy and powerful pushing U.S. to invade and impose our new anti-voting form
of democracy