Friday, June 2, 2017

Twenty-One Questions About God - Answered

There is one weird fact that solves every difficult theological problem that has ever been posed.  Once you know and understand this one crucial fact, you become a Maser Theologian and can answer every question about God easily and without contradiction.

1.  Is God a male, a female, or a gender-less oozy gastropod of some sort?

Answer:  Neither, because gods aren't actually real things at all.

2.   Did God create evil?

Answer:  No, because gods do not exist.

3.  Will God forgive me?

Answer: No, because God does not exist.  Forgive yourself and try to be a better person.

4.  How is it that God and Jesus are the same being?

Answer:  Because neither of those things exist.  Jesus was never a real person, and there never were any gods at all.

5.  Did God create our spirits and give us free will?

Answer:  No, because there never were any gods at all, and the evidence is strongly against the existence of spirits.

6.  Will I meet God when I die?

Answer:  No, because no gods exist, and neither do you after you die.

7.  Does God know everything?

Answer:  No, because the idea of an all-knowing god is a testable proposition that fails on the basis of evidence.

8.  Is God all-powerful?

Answer:  No, because an all-powerful god is a testable proposition that fails due to the proposition being inherently contradictory and therefore absurd and self-negating.

9.  Does God want me to believe in him?

Answer:  No, because there are affirmatively no such beings in existence.

10.  Didn't God give us the bible to tell us that he exists?

Answer:  No, because gods are not real things.  The bible is as much a proof of a god as Marvel Comics is proof of a Spiderman.

11.  Did God send the angel Gabriel to instruct Muhammad?

Answer: No, because there never were any gods or angels at all.

12.  Is not the Pope God's actual representative on the earth?

Answer:  No, because gods are not actually real things that exist.

13.  Which religion is the right one?

Answer: Religion is wrong.  Religion is entirely a wrong thing, period.  Religion is a wrong process reaching wrong conclusions, and is full of wrong ideas and wrong people.  Religion is wrong about every single thing that makes religion unique.

14.  Did God empower Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt?

Answer:  No, because there are no gods.  Also, Moses was a fictional character invented around 700 BC based unimaginatively on half a dozen previous fictional characters and popular stories known from antiquity.

15.  Did God create Adam and Eve?

Answer:  No, because there never were any gods at all.

16.  Does God prefer that we worship on Sunday, or on Saturday?  Which is the correct Sabbath?

Answer:  Neither, because god isn't a real thing and worship is a wrong thing to do, being based on demonstrably false assumptions.

17.  Why does it seem like God allows terrible things to happen?

Answer: Because there is no such thing as gods.   You might just as well agonize over why the underpants gnomes are allowing so many bad things to happen.

18.  Does God hear and answer prayers?

Answer:  No, because there never were any gods at all.  Also, telepathic communication is disproved bullshit.

19.  Golly gee whiz, I'm pretty sure there is a God. My feelings and my church says so.

Answer: There isn't.  Examine why you think that, and look critically at all the evidence.  Lots of people have walked away from those unfounded beliefs once they realized that there was nothing in it.   They're just fine, and you will be just fine, too.

20.  But what if you're wrong?  Huh?

So - you're a gambler, are you?  Pascal's Wager, is it?  OK - let's play that game.  Given all the evidence, the probability of any god existing is vanishingly small, and the probability of that god being precisely the one you think it is, is again vanishingly small out of the infinity of all possible gods that might exist.  Now then, of all the possible gods, how many would be offended and angry if you guessed the wrong god?  Therefore if any gods exist, there is a high probability that you will have disastrously picked the wrong one.

Or you could just not play silly games of chance and follow the evidence where it leads.

21.  But couldn't there be a something, somewhere, and you can't prove there isn't!

Is that what you believe in?  A vague notion of a "something, somewhere?"  A non-interfering god that refrains from modifying the universe in any measurable way so as to remain undetectable?  Such a being is indistinguishable from the wholly non-existent, so it makes no difference whether you believe in it or not.

But all the specific gods, who believers claim must always modify the universe early and often and in specific ways, expose themselves to objective, empirical examination through evidence.  All the evidence is concordant with the non-existence of magic, the supernatural, or of gods, devils, spirits, ghosts, fairies, or leprechauns.  Most of the evidence directly implicates these facts,  while some of the evidence (to which theists cling) merely bears multiple explanations.

But the simplest explanation that is consistent with all the evidence and which provides the simplest, most believable and coherent answers to all theological questions is that there never were any gods at all.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

There Is No Magic

There is no magic in the world, in the shed, or anywhere in the less interesting parts of the universe.  This universe is governed by natural laws which can, if we try hard enough and have a big enough shed, be found out.

There are no magic potions, no magic pills, no magic causes or cures for disease.  Only Science cures by first understanding the natural causes of disease.

There are no magic foods, no magic water, no magic stones, no magic crystals, no magic shapes, no magic numbers, no magic places, no magic plants or animals.

We are not magic.  There is no brain-magic, mind-reading, or fortune-telling.  There is no magic essence lurking deep within us, and we do not live forever.

Magic is not needed to explain consciousness, intelligence, or emotions.  Science explains these things perfectly well and with immeasurably greater predictive power and elegance.

There are no magic words.  Except for "Abracadabra" and "A-La-Peanut Butter Sandwiches!"  Obviously.  Words mean only what the hearer believes they mean, and they have no effect on the actual universe other than slightly raising its entropy.

Existence is not magic.  So far, the existence of everything known to be in existence either has a natural explanation or is at least susceptible to ongoing scientific investigation.  The existence of Life too does not require or even suggest a supernatural magical explanation, and is perfectly accounted for by entirely natural causes and processes.

There is no magical guy in the sky.  We know there is not, because the various man-made legends of various forms of magic sky-guy are each  internally inconsistent and therefore mathematically impossible.  We also know this empirically because no evidence has ever been put forward which bears no other explanation than the improbable existence of a magical man in the clouds.   Stated another way, every piece of evidence ever collected is either directly against the existence of Sky-Man, or bears other, far more likely natural explanations.

The idea of secret invisible magic people can also be tested and found to fail every single time.  We have no more reason to suspect the existence of an invisible magic man purposefully concealing himself from us than we have to suspect that leprechauns are secretly flapping their ears whenever no one is looking.

To believe in magic in any form is to reject reason, to deny reality, and to love comfort and lies more than truth. But what is truth?  Do you really have to ask?  Do you not understand that truth is that which can be shown to be indistinguishable from Reality?  That which can be objectively observed, measured and described?  Truth is only complicated if you're trying to wrest it and contort it into being associated with something that is unreasonable.

So what do I believe?  I do not believe.  Instead, I accept that for which there is adequate evidence.  When one does so, there is no need for belief.  And there is no need for the lie known as magic.

Happiness, healing, joy and purpose exist without the aid of any form of magic.  Morality exists without magic, more so than with magic, which in many forms attempts to supersede and pervert morality. Meaning and goodness exist without any help from magic, which owing to its being devoid of any truth, more often causes suffering than prevents it.

Do, tell me why I need magic in my life.  Chances are I can make (and have made) your argument better.  Certainly I have considered it and found sufficient reason and evidence to dismiss any argument in favour of the nonexistent value of the nonexistent.  But if you wish me to consider the nonexistent, then all I ask is evidence.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Nobel Prize Is Not Enough

. . . to make you a fully rational person and protect you from Bullshit Beliefs.

The following Nobel-Prize-Winning Scientists held bullshit nonsense beliefs in spite of being fairly intelligent people in a specific field:

Pierre & Marie Curie (Physics, 1903), Lord Raleigh (Physics, 1904), Joseph Thomson (Physics, 1905), Charles Richet (Medicine, 1913), Einstein (Physics, 1921), Otto Stern (Physics, 1943), Wolfgang Pauli (Physics, 1945), Alfred Kastler (Physics, 1966), and Brian Josephson (Physics, 1973) all held superstitious beliefs in various forms of paranormal or psychic bullshit.

Alexis Carrel (Medicine, 1912), Philipp Lenard (Physics, 1905), William Shockley (Physics, 1966), James Watson (Medicine, 1962), and Konrad Lorenz (Medicine, 1973) all believed in various crank racial theories e.g. white supremacy and related morally reprehensible (as well as scientifically debunked) pig puke.

Antonio Moniz (Medicine, 1949), Linus Pauling (Chemistry, 1954), Brian Josephson (Physics, 1973), Nikolaas Tinbergen (Medicine, 1973), Louis Ignarro (Medicine, 1998), Luc Montagnier (Medicine, 2008) all believed in various forms of medical quackery, snake oil, crank theories, and general health-related nonsense.

Even having a Nobel Prize is not enough to save you from Bullshit Beliefs. Only a disciplined focus on rationality, evidence and logic can save you.


One notices that Physics seems to be rather well represented in the bullshit belief brigade. The most likely explanation is Expert Syndrome: the belief that "smart in one field = smart in all fields," an attitude which, by the way, is engendered in budding physicists from their first undergrad days and which leads so many of them astray down spooky, dark and stinky paths (stinky from all the bullshit).

Medicine is heavily represented in the medical bullshit category, likely a result of the specialist effect: an individual has to be so focused in one area of medicine to distinguish one's self that some other area of medicine may well escape their complete understanding, or apparently even their passing familiarity.

Objections from the Bleachers:

"But doesn't that simply indicate that they are using their full brain - creative and rational together?"

Absolutely not.  The two "sides" (not literally sides btw) of a brain work together in concert. Being creative is not enhanced by being illogical, gullible or have debilitating cognitive biases. Creativity works best when paired with an analytically disciplined mind in possession of a large number of facts.

"I think it's a laudable quality that even Nobel Prize winners can keep an open mind about their facts possibly being wrong."

Um, no.  That's not what's going on here.  From the cases I've read about in greater detail, it is clear that it is definitely not the situation that they are "hedging their bets" against the possibility that their "prize-winning" knowledge turns out to be incorrect.  Rather, these Bullshit Beliefs are in areas outside the individual's field of expertise.  They are almost always hobbies or outside interests in which their irrational beliefs are free to run wild without the constraint of empirically established facts.

But occasionally smart people have bullshit beliefs within their own field of expertise.  Not a Nobel Prize winner or even remotely a candidate, but I once worked with a Physicist who held bullshit beliefs about Relativity Theory being completely wrong and believing in the existence of a Luminiferous Aether.  And yes, his job was in a technical sub-specialty in the field of General Relativity.  Somehow he had managed to get a PhD in Physics without ever having had a rigorous course in Special Relativity in his life.  Also, I suspect he did not really grasp the real nature of scientific endeavor.

"Well, then they're doing their best to try to understand some other area they are not familiar with, and accepting the challenge of doing so."

Again, no.  That is not what is happening either.  If they applied the same rational approach to, say, paranormal beliefs as they did to their scientific work, they would quickly discover that it is bullshit.

You see, the Defining Feature of the rational process, aka the scientific method, is that it actively seeks out any data, observation or fact that could disprove its hypotheses. 

By contrast, the hallmark of a Bullshit Belief is that its adherents exclusively seek out only confirmation of their bullshit and willfully ignore all dis-confirming evidence. If you want to know whether a belief is bullshit, just observe how they are going about it.

"Wait - you mean to tell me that Science is about working out a new theory and then trying for the rest of your life to disprove it?"

YES - YOU FINALLY UNDERSTAND SCIENCE!!!!  Congratulations!  That is exactly how the scientific method works.

Convincing yourself that something is true is really easy. People do it all the time for all sorts of patent nonsense. Anything whatsoever that the mind is motivated to accept can be "confirmed" by almost anything you experience.  Conspiracy theorists do it all the time - everything they see, hear or read confirms the conspiracy for them.

But only ideas that are so true that they are indistinguishable from the full truth are able to withstand sustained, skillful and determined efforts to disprove them, debunk them, falsify or otherwise discredit them.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Religion Against Humanity

For most of my life I was a devout religious person, but at the same time I was always committed to truth and reason.  I felt that if a faith could not withstand exposure to reason, facts, logic and an occasional robust challenge, then it was not worth having in the first place.  I was one of those people who felt that Religion and Reason were complementary.

As time has progressed and as I have had the chance to explore certain facts and ideas more thoroughly, I have changed my mind about Religion and now find myself believing that it is incompatible with Reason.  But are we really better off without it?

Like most religious people I was taught that Religion was the sole source of human morality, and like most religious people I did not question this assumption.  Now however, I see things very differently.  I have come to the conclusion that Religion is the antithesis of morality.  And no, this is not merely an ad-hoc justification for sleeping in on Sunday, but a conclusion forced upon me by logic and empirical observation. To understand how this can be in any way a logical, reasonable conclusion, consider the following arguments.

Suffering.  The nature of suffering is that it is not a vector quantity, but a scalar amplitude.  In plain English, this means suffering cannot be offset or reduced by something else: it has no opposite, no negative quantity, no "antisuffering."  This means that no amount of joy, for example, experienced today will diminish or offset some suffering you may experience tomorrow.  One individual's happiness does not count against another's suffering when the total amount of suffering in a community is being weighed.  Suffering in one nation is not nullified by another nation's simultaneous prosperity.

No, the only way for the rate of suffering to be reduced is for it to fail to be created.  We fail to create suffering either by our omissions (things we don't do) or by our commissions (things we do).  Whose suffering?  What suffering?  I refer to one's own suffering, that of others around us, or the general degradation of the living environment or quality of life.

Morality.  A moral person is one who deliberately fails to create suffering by his omissions.  In other words he intentionally refrains from acts that can reasonably be expected to lead to suffering in himself or others, with others given priority.  "The needs of the many" etc.  A moral person also fails to create suffering through his deliberate acts.  He intentionally commits acts that can reasonably be expected to lead to the avoidance or discontinuation of suffering.  A moral act is thus objectively defined as one which raises the quality of life, leads to an avoidance or discontinuation of personal suffering, and is reasonably expected (barring accidents or unforeseeable consequences) to not directly result in suffering.  And if you need a further definition of suffering in order to understand what it is, then don't worry about it - it won't do you any good.

A moral person is therefore chiefly concerned with the direct consequences of his actions or inactions, both short-term and long term, and he makes choices by evaluating - that is, applying a value system to - the available actions relative to the effects of those actions on himself, on others, and on the quality of life in his environment.

An immoral person, by contrast, is mainly concerned with his short and long-term gain in any choice considered.  How it affects others, how it affects the living or social environment, or even how it affects his own well-being is at best a secondary consideration.

Religion.  After fifty years of studying and practicing religion I have come to the following conclusion:  Religion teaches people to be immoral.  It teaches us to consider only our long-term gain (specifically, post-mortality) in any situation, and not to consider either our own well-being, that of others, or that of the environment.  It teaches that to be devout, we must have no other consideration in the choices we make other than adhering to a set of arbitrary rules purportedly given by a silent, invisible deity.  Through Religion, it is possible to ignore or even cause significant suffering if there is any conflict between religiously prescribed acts and those acts I define as moral, i.e. that might diminish suffering.  In any such collision, every religion I have encountered requires you to put absolute devotion to the religion ahead of what a moral person would do having never heard of religion.

Essentially, Religion teaches people to think only about themselves and about their own reward or punishment at a time and place that remains entirely hypothetical.  The objection raised here by the keepers of religion and its apologists is that Religion starts with essentially selfish humans and teaches them to be not quite so selfish by appealing to their natural self-interest in a carrot-and-stick system of incentives.  Follow our rules, you get the carrot; don't follow them, you get the stick.  This argument assumes that in essence every human is a sociopath unless and until they get Religion.

This defense of Religion falls apart by considering that sociopaths usually only pretend to be religious while remaining complete sociopaths.  Consider that atheists represent only 0.07% of those incarcerated in the US prison system - the largest prison system in the world.  Also consider the following two words that  have no business even being together:  paedophile priests.   And consider the verifiable observation that normal people are naturally empathetic and moral, with sociopathy and psychopathy being relatively rare exceptions in the population, with or without religion.

Another defense of religion that apologists will be thinking right about now is the window-dressing of "feed the poor, heal the sick" that many religions include in their programs.  "We tell people that if they don't give money to us for charity then they will certainly go to hell."  While I may be guilty of straw-manning religion here, it's only a little bit, and it is needed to point out the essential problem.  What is the motivation offered by religion?  To do the right thing because it reduces suffering?  Or to do whatever you're told in order to advance your own self-interest?  When it's something as obviously good and valuable as alleviating the suffering of the poor, it's easy to comply.  Then when people get used to doing whatever they're told to do, it's easy enough to replace one thing with something entirely different.

A side-effect of charity-by-extortion is that it provides an incentive to maintain a population of impoverished, disenfranchised people upon whom we can bestow our points-earning charity.  There are even various sick, perverse religious theories relating to scapegoats, "victim souls" or "God's Will" to justify the existence of poverty and suffering.  If combating poverty were the aim instead of getting to heaven, things might be done differently that rather than perpetuate poverty would meaningfully address the underlying causes.

The other problem with charity as a justification of religion (other than the obvious fact that charity and relief aid can and do exist in the total absence of religion) is that it can be and often is used as an ideological weapon.  This happens every time a religious aid organization places conditions on how or where the aid is distributed, or uses it to score political points.  One famous church that rhymes with "bath lick" uses its aid money and its global might to aggressively push a no-contraception agenda in countries that desperately need contraception as a means to address wholesale suffering and poverty.  A true cynic would suggest that this is their strategy for ensuring they have ongoing membership growth.  An even worse cynic would say this completely illogical policy ensures that there will be plenty of children for the priests to rape.

In the last million years as a species, we humans have evolved physically only superficially (for example some of us have turned an abnormal pasty white, a temporary aberration likely to disappear in a few thousand years).  By contrast, our software has evolved considerably.  Ideas have developed which allow individuals to experience long lives marred by significantly less suffering.

If this species is going to exist for another million years, it will be due to our minds evolving further still.  We will consciously choose to condition our behaviour to voluntarily limit our population, to limit violence and destructive emotions, and to place greater social value on reason, science, logic and morality.  The immoral self-interest of religion, of doing things strictly on the basis of reward or punishment by an imaginary agent in an imaginary after-life, and the inherent inter-tribal distrust and violence that religion promotes, has no place in a sustainable future for humankind.

And so we face the ultimate question of morality.  Do we immorally and selfishly cling to belief systems that feed our egos and desires, or do we take the moral and more difficult high road of throwing off our past superstitious, destructive conditioning to ensure a future for this species?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Why VW Was Right

Volkswagen Group made a deliberate, calculated decision to make cars that were more fuel efficient, better performing and better for the environment at the expense of taking liberties with ill-conceived and somewhat arbitrary emissions standards.

In the end, I expect they will be exonerated for considering the long-term greater good even at short-term disadvantage to themselves.

A diesel engine operates fundamentally differently to a spark-ignition engine.  Diesel engines require very high pressure in the combustion chamber, and consequently very high combustion temperatures.  This enables them to be more fuel efficient and cleaner-burning than gasoline/petrol engines while producing more torque at lower RPMs.  That means that a given vehicle with a diesel engine can go further faster on less fuel with less CO2 emissions than the same vehicle with a gasoline/petrol engine.  Add a turbocharger and it gets even better:  the engine can be smaller and lighter, meaning the vehicle chassis can be smaller and lighter, less steel is required (meaning less lifecycle CO2 burden) and fuel consumption falls even further, as do direct CO2 emissions.

However the higher combustion temperature comes with a sting.  Air is only 21% oxygen, the component required to burn fuel and release the stored energy therein.  The rest is mostly nitrogen (78%).  And at high temperatures, fuel isn't the only thing burning.  Nitrogen burns, too, and produces oxides of nitrogen, NO and NO2, collectively called NOx.  (Not to be confused with N2O, also sometimes called "nitrous" or "NOX.")

NOx can contribute to smog and acid rain, is a short-lived greenhouse gas, and ends up contributing to nitrogen content of soils and waterways.  While it is therefore undesirable on the whole, it is not the worst thing ever.  There are much worse things, which we will get to in a moment.

In order to reduce NOx emissions, the combustion temperature must be kept in check.  In a diesel engine this has the direct effect that cylinder pressure is also proportionately reduced, and therefore torque output is reduced, and therefore power is reduced, and therefore efficiency is reduced.  Also, fuel combustion can be negatively impacted by lower temperature, resulting in more soot, more un-burned hydrocarbons (HCs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) coming out the tailpipe.   Lower efficiency and lower specific power means higher fuel consumption and higher CO2 emissions.

Hydrocarbon emissions and VOCs can have direct adverse effects on human health.  NOx emissions on the other hand have only indirect effects, as a part contributing factor to smog (the main factors being ozone, particulates and coal-fired power plants).  NOx also contributes to acid rain, but there again the main culprit and more dangerous one is sulfur compounds emitted by coal-fired power plants.

While NOx can be a short-lived greenhouse gas, CO2 is by far the greater long-term threat, because it persists in the atmosphere forever and ever, or until absorbed by a plant.  Or deliberately captured and stored by humans at considerable monetary and energy cost.

Therefore, when striking the balance between NOx and the far worse HCs, VOCs, and CO2, what should we do?  What should Volkswagen have done?  I am convinced that VW did the right thing.  This episode will undoubtedly draw attention to the current incorrect balance in emission standards, and prompt a re-evaluation and rationalization of them.  Perhaps different emission standards for diesel and gasoline/petrol vehicles would be appropriate.

On the whole, small efficient diesel cars are better for the environment.  The fact that they are now being made imminently drive-able by innovative carmakers like VW makes them more attractive and promotes their widespread acceptance.  This is a good thing, and VW was undoubtedly considering the greater good when they unilaterally decided that a bit of NOx was a small price to pay for the significant benefits to human health and the environment of better fuel efficiency and lower HC/VOC emissions. Way to go, Volkswagen!  Keep it up.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What Is Religious Freedom?

Congratulations on your religious liberty!  Here is what you've won:

  • You have the right to believe any damn thing you want in the privacy of your own mind, regardless of how absurd it is, how far removed from reality and provable fact, or how anathema to morality and ethics it may be.  
  •  um . . . that's . . . pretty much it, I'm afraid.

Please note that religious freedom does not grant you any of the following:

  • The right to go to church.  This is not a guaranteed right for anybody. However, you may exercise this privilege in certain cases, provided that you first work hard and buy a goddamned car.  It's what everyone knows they ought to do, because it's simply the right thing to do (according to Saint Jeremy of Clarkson).
  • The right to impose your beliefs on others.  Even if God tells you it's ok, it's still not actually ok. Refer to the "golden rule."  (God sometimes forgets that he issued that one, so help him out once in a while.) 
  • Your beliefs enshrined in legislation.  Larceny was made illegal not because it is a "sin," but because it is a gross trespass upon the right of an individual to retain his lawful property.  Good government does not pass laws or create policy on the basis of religious belief.  The ten commandments never were the basis of modern jurisprudence, nor can they ever be.
  • The right to break laws you don't believe in.  Break them you may, but "religious belief" is never a valid defense and you will be fully culpable for any penalties that your wicked lawbreaking incurs.   
  • The right to be insufferable.  Golden rule, again!
  • The right to judge and discriminate against those who do not share your private beliefs. If "religion" is your reason for doing shit like this, then man do you have some fucked-up ideas about what religion is supposed to be for.  And you wonder why religion is in general decline in the world. 
  • The right to express your religion publicly.  Most of the time you will not be materially impeded in this regard, but in cases of e.g. school dress & jewelry policies, you could be prevented from displaying your idolatrous religious iconography.  Where security and identity are a concern, the State has the right to require you to remove coverings over your face, even if your religion prohibits this.
  • The right to murder small children.  You're thinking, "WTF?"  No, this actually happens quite a lot, sadly.  Certain religious people do this by attempting to deny life-saving medical treatment to children on the basis of their bizarre and easily disprovable religious theories.  This is child abuse and is against the law for very good reasons.  Religious freedom, they say, makes it ok; but they are lying.  It is not ok.
  • The right to over-populate the planet.  Why are some religious people still going around the world telling poor people not to use contraception?  This is evil.  I oppose the practice of not using contraception at all times.  One should only have children when one can guarantee their adequate provision and if one is capable of being a suitable parent. 

Enjoy your one (1) religious freedom!  

UPDATE:  The Masses Respond

"I'm a religious American, and that alone gives me the following Special Rights you forgot to mention.
1. The Right to tell as many people as possible about my totally awesome beliefs.
2. The Right not to be criticized, persecuted or ridiculed in any way for my beliefs while telling everyone about them.
3.The Right to PRACTICE my religious expression at any time and in any place that my religion requires me to."

Ahem, no.  The things you mention are not Rights, but Freedoms, some of which do not actually exist (see below).  Also, any freedoms you have are not extended just to religious people of the favored faith, but to anyone and everyone no matter what they believe or don't believe.  

1.  The right to tell everyone about your religion.  You have the freedom of free speech to say what you want within certain limits (e.g. "fire in a theater" limits.)  But the legislature is also free to restrict nuisance activities or speech that is causing problems.  Just because your message is religious in nature does not give it special priority over any other form of speech.  This is because the law cannot properly determine what is religious speech and what isn't.  One cannot allow "hate" speech or inciting to violence just because someone somewhere claims it is their religious belief.  Therefore all speech must be evaluated equally and have the same limits without special regard as to whether it is religious in nature or not.

2.  The right for you not be criticized for your beliefs.  Never.  If you say something in the public space, you do so with the understanding and acceptance that anything you say can and will be stress-tested to the limit.  You can and will be criticized (fairly or not), ridiculed (deservedly or not), and required to defend your statements.  That is the agreement.  Deal with it.  There is no special "protection" for religious claims, and no one ever anywhere in the history of everything has ever promised you freedom from criticism.  That is simply not a thing that exists.  So, in other words, No.  The only place you can expect to never be ridiculed for the things you believe is inside your own mind, and so that is the best place to keep your beliefs.

3.  The right to religious expression.  In a free society with true religious liberty (if such a place existed), the law cannot and must not distinguish between one subjective belief and another.  Therefore there is nothing to prevent people from claiming religious belief for almost anything whatsoever that they may wish to do.  You may be in a fortunate special case for which almost all (probably all) of your religious observances involve perfectly legal activities that are appropriate for their time and place.  But this is not the general case of all possible beliefs and observances that could potentially exist.  Therefore - which would you say ought to take precedence?  A person's subjective beliefs and whims?  Or the objective law of the land?  Of course it has to be the law that takes precedence so that people don't do things like murder small children out of a silly religious antipathy for medicine, ritualistically mutilate small furry animals, or embezzle money out of a sincere religious conviction that god wants them to have the money.

But if you try to compromise and bestow special privilege upon one religion deemed to have "acceptable" practices, while prohibiting religious beliefs that the law deems "unacceptable," then you no longer have any true religious liberty at all.  It has been completely done away with.  You really do have to treat all religions equally if you are to have religious liberty.  In other words, true religious liberty depends on the law having no opinion of what is religion and what isn't.

You do not have the right to practice or express your religious observances anywhere, anytime.  All your acts whether religious or not will either comply with the law or be subject to its consequences.  You have the freedom to try to practice your religion, but society and the government are not required to let you do anything whatsoever, do not need to help you do it, nor are they required to assure you succeed in everything you want.

There is a difference between rights and freedoms.  You are often free to try to get your way, but you do not have the right to always get your way.  The one right you do have that cannot be taken from you is the right to believe any damn thing you want in the privacy of your own personal brain.  And that truly is the limit of your religious rights.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The One Technology That Will Save Us All

THERE ARE certain individuals and organizations who do not support universal access to the one technology that will save humanity.  Possibly without realizing it, these people are therefore also supporting the following:

  • Poverty
  • Crime
  • Hunger
  • Oppression of women
  • Disease
  • Human trafficking
  • Violence and conflict
  • Environmental degradation and climate disruption
  • Famine
  • Increased vulnerability to natural disasters
  • Overcrowding and congestion in cities
  • Yet more disease, crime, violence and suffering
  • Inflation, devaluation of wealth
  • Scarcity of vital resources
  • Many, many dead and dying children

Population growth is always one step ahead of humanity's ability to feed and house its global population, and science has continually struggled to keep up.  But as soon as one problem is solved, the population surges ahead to create the next crisis.  Where disease was once dragging on the rate of population growth and keeping it from getting out of hand too quickly, science has fixed that and the population zoomed ahead.  Where lack of food has previously limited the population by starving some of us to death, science has developed better, higher-yielding and more resilient crops, allowing us to have the same problem again, but at a much higher level of population.  Rather than reduce suffering in the world, all our best efforts have apparently only increased the scale and magnitude of human suffering.

There is one technology, however, that is capable of breaking this deadly cycle - capable of vastly reducing if not entirely eliminating most of the problems listed above.  Yet, for superstitious, ignorant and irrational reasons, many people resist the use of this technology and prefer to put all their faith in Science's ability to keep saving us again and again.

They pretend that their refusal to support the widespread use of this technology is based on "moral" grounds.  Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the definition of morality and measure it according to some more objective criteria.  I propose that the number of dead, starving and suffering children in the world offers one such reliable quantitative measure of Morality, with increasing numbers of course corresponding to lower overall levels of morality.

All Hail, Our New Yabbie Overlords
Corporate Religianity today is self-absorbed, hypocritical, politically and financially motivated, superstitious, and ultimately immoral in its refusal to support universal access to Contraception and Abortion.  It expects the world to suffer all of the above calamities just for the sake of its own tiny superstitions, traditions, philosophies and dogmas.

If humans possess the technology to save themselves, save all other life on this planet and the planet itself from destruction and yet refuse to use it, then when we are all gone in a few hundred years' time, Evolution will have to start all over.  Next time, I hope it chooses an intelligent species.

I'm guessing it will be Yabbies.

-           -           -

Side Note:

If you have a problem with Abortion (and it's something that I, too, would rather didn't happen if at all possible), then there is one thing you can do about it.  One of the most effective forms of contraception that drastically reduces the incidence of unwanted pregnancies, teen pregnancies, and pregnancies in households lacking the means to give a child anything but misery, is the following:

Education for girls and women.

If you don't support that, then you clearly love Satan and enjoy child-murder.  Enough said.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Brief History Of Marriage

In recent times good people everywhere are being urged to step forward and protect Marriage.  But what exactly would we be protecting?   The 1950's definition of marriage?  The 1920's definition?  The 1360's definition?  The paleolithic definition? One reason why the public debate over marriage sounds nonsensical with neither side able to understand the other is because everyone talking about marriage is talking about a different thing.

Therefore in the public interest I herewith undertake to present to you a brief history of Marriage.

Modern humans have been around for somewhere between 200,000 and 1,000,000 years.  So this problem with marriage isn't exactly a new thing.  Humans have these genes that have one goal and one purpose: to reproduce; to perpetuate themselves; to carry on.  Those genes are not by nature monogamous, but they are by nature highly jealous.  "MY genes are being perpetuated here, not YOURS.  So get your paleolithic paws off my woman!  That one, too.  And that one."

This tended to lead to a lot more clubbing and stoning than was strictly necessary, and so in the best interests of our reproducing genes humans formed societies.  These societies solved the problem of jealousy-related manslaughter and other reproductive misunderstandings by pairing off and marking spouses in some way as off-limits to others.  Not that that ever really stopped any mischief from happening; it merely set down the ground rules, indicating where extra discretion was needed, and providing a framework for dispute-resolution.

So we have the earliest definition of marriage, consisting of socially-recognized reproductive partners as a way of heading off potentially deadly disputes among your basic cave-man types.

Much later as societies became incredibly complex, it became increasingly difficult for an individual to determine one's actual place in society.  In European cultures and others it became usual for people to belong to classes or categories, and for certain categories to exist under the protection of more powerful ones which they served.  Marriage paralleled this arrangement by placing women socially under protection of men whose status offered them a position in society.  Marriage in this type of feudal society became then a contract between a man and his father-in-law in which property was exchanged; namely a woman.  In every legal sense she was considered property, first that of her father, and then that of her husband.   A woman simply had no status without being legally deeded to some man or another, and the definition of marriage in such societies was the arrangement by which a man extended some of his legal, social status to a woman in exchange for subservience and offspring. This is the origin of the legal definition of marriage that people defend so vociferously today.

Much, much later we witness shifts in society leading to more enlightened concepts such as human rights, freedom and democracy.  Just for men, initially, but eventually for women as well.  In most countries this has only happened within the last 100 years or so; in some countries it has not even happened yet. With that change, marriage quietly changes as well.

Since women no longer need a man's legal status in order to own property, to be recognized under the law, to have rights etc., what is marriage now for?  Well, the law conveniently provided another reason for marriage by outlawing fornication and adultery.  By inserting itself into the bedroom, government held onto its medieval authority over the family, and marriage became basically a license to have legal sex.

In the last 50 years or so in most jurisdictions, "blue laws" have been struck down as impractical, unnecessary, backwards, unenforceable, inhumane, and generally stupid.  So where does that leave marriage?  Unwilling to surrender power in any domain, the law gradually and sneakily found a way to keep the marital handcuffs on:  Insurance.  Taxation.  Property.  Identity.  Each of these areas in our complex lives are affected by one's marital status.  When a relationship breaks down, it leaves a path of legal destruction a mile wide which supports a thriving industry all its own.

Not only that, the law as it stands discriminates and disadvantages people who for any number of reasons cannot or will not participate in traditional marriage.  The law in regard to marriage is increasingly being recognized as deeply unjust, outdated, destructive, and pointless.  Children?  There have long been adequate laws on the books which protect the rights and enforce the responsibilities of biological mothers and fathers.  Laws regarding marriage are more often an obstacle and a distraction to paternity/maternity laws being fairly and evenly enforced.

What should the future of legal marriage hold?  None.  Nothing whatsoever.  It is far past time to dissolve any and all legal definitions of marriage, whether it be:

  • Ownership of women;
  • Legalized sex;
  • Eligibility for citizenship, insurance, education, or any other specific benefit;
  • Inheritance and property;
  • "Next of kin" recognition.

If two (or more) people choose to say they are married, then they are the only people eligible to define what exactly that means.  The Law, to be fair and just, must restrict itself to recognizing individuals only, and must accept that individuals will at times be in relationships with each other.  And when those relationships dissolve, the Law does not need to become involved.

Will this be better or worse for children and families?   I assert that it will be better.  My reasoning is as follows:

A marriage is often regarded as an extant thing apart from the individuals, as some gold-plated unassailable fortress of permanence.  If that illusion were not reinforced with legalistic documents, elaborate state-issued certificates and the like, then perhaps more attention would be given to the fragile, ever-changing and ethereal thing called a relationship.

Without the legal fiction of Marriage to muddy the waters and distract everyone, substantive legal concepts such as property and paternity could be dealt with rationally and in the best interests of all involved including and particularly children.

Without a legal definition to consider, individuals would be free to consider their decision to marry entirely within the context of their particular religious faith should they have one, or entirely in the context of their relationship.  This would seem to present a clearer, more focused idea of just what it is they are choosing for themselves, and in my opinion would lead to stronger families less likely to be torn apart by financial, employment, religious, social or legal considerations, well-meaning though they may be.

Therefore the question of gay marriage is the wrong question entirely.  We should not be asking whether gay marriage is legal, but why the Law has anything at all to say about our most intimate, personal relationships in the first place.

The government is neither our parent nor our priest.  We are not feudal serfs, nor cave-men.  It is time to establish the preeminence of human rights and freedom, and to eliminate any reference to marriage in the Law.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Economics Explained

(so that even a moron can understand it)

When an inventor comes to me for help with a totally new idea for an internal combustion engine that he promises will save the planet while producing emissions no more harmful than ice cream sundaes, I immediately know for a fact that this individual knows less about internal combustion engines than my belly-button lint does.

The same is true when some naive intellectual comes up with a new economic system that he claims is more "fair," meaning that people like him with absolutely no useful skills will not have to work for a living.  The arrogance of ignorance knows no bounds.

Taking economics lessons from someone who has no money and no clue about what it is, where it comes from or what it's for is like asking my grandma to fix the internet.  It can only lead to one place:  the emergency room.

So, if you're one of those smug hippies who think they know better how to organize everybody's lives for them, then put down your goddamned bongos for half a goddamned minute and learn how economics really works.

Economics is all based on Human Rights.  Yes, you read that right.  It is all about the most basic, fundamental and universal human right there is:  the right of the individual to self-determination.  In other words, it is the individuals' right to chose his own actions rather than being compelled in his actions by force.  In the most basic terms, this means that people have the right not to be the slaves or the property of other people, even of the State.

This further means that the most fundamental human right is the right to ownership over one's own labor, and by extension, the results of one's labor.  If you go out and gather, kill, make or grow some food, then you and you alone have the right to eat that food or to decide who besides you eats that food.

Whether to feed yourself, your spouse, your offspring, your parents, your neighbor's kids or the guy who in exchange gives you some of his nice dry firewood is entirely 100% your own personal individual right to determine.   Your labor and the products of your labor (which I call stored labor) belong to you and to no one else - not your parents, not the community, not the State, not even the almighty Flying Spaghetti Monster or any other mythological being.  

Does this mean that all taxation is theft and slavery?  No, silly.  Only that all excessive taxation without democratic consent and without a return to the taxpayer of goods or services of commensurate value is theft and slavery.  There is a legitimate role for the state, but politicians seem never content to limit their power to the small handful of legitimate areas of government involvement.

Equality does not mean that people have equal assets.  There is no requirement for or benefit from that kind of fairy tale.  Equality means every person has the equal right to ownership over his or her own labor and stored labor (property).  Besides, everybody has assets whether they understand them or not.

Your time is your most basic asset and property, and it is your human right to decide what to do with that asset.  Many people will choose to apply that asset to their best interests by utilizing it for the urgent matter of survival - food, shelter, clothing and security.  But if people chose to do otherwise, you can't suddenly revoke their human rights just because it's not exactly what you would have done.

Other assets that people own for themselves include innate talents, learned skills, tools, and property that meets a person's basic needs (apparel, housing, personal care implements, weapons for self-defense,  implements for communication, tokens of identity or status.)  To in any way deprive a person of his personal property is a violation of his human rights.

But what if someone appears to own far more than they actually need?

Oh?  Who gets to decide that?  You just worry about yourself and let other people worry about what they need.  To do otherwise is the height of arrogance - thinking that you know better what someone else's needs are.

Whether it is a hovel on half an acre or an estate on a thousand square miles, a person's property is a person's stored labor and therefore his life, and no one besides her has any right or claim over it.  That is even true if it was her great-great-grandfather's stored labor and not hers personally.  If you grow food (store labor) and bestow it upon your children, then it becomes their life and their right to do with as they determine.  If they exchange it for something else, then that article takes the place of stored labor and remains their right.  Because your time, tools or acreage makes it possible for you produce food, then that property is as much your human right as the sustenance you produce therewith, and bestows on you the right and duty to determine how that sustenance is disposed of.

Why is that in any way "fair" to people who don't have the same assets?  A) because "fair" is a subjective and imaginary concept that is pointless to bring up, since it involves making invalid comparisons between nonequivalent entities, and B) the basic human right to control one's labor and stored labor, if denied to anybody, is very soon denied to everybody.  If it is the poor (people suffering deprivation) you are so concerned about, then know that it is the poor who are always the first to suffer and suffer the hardest whenever this has been tried.  Equality does not mean that everyone has the same assets.  It means that everyone, without exception, has the same basic human rights - the right to ownership over one's own labor and stored labor.

With the sanctity of property explained, let's talk about wealth and where it comes from.  But let's not be confused by the concept of money, because money is not wealth.  Cash currency is at best a temporary storage container for wealth that facilitates exchange of value; nothing more.  Wealth is the ability to create things that meet one's own ongoing needs and the needs of one's dependents.  Thus, money is not wealth, and giving money to the poor does not make them un-poor.  By "needs" I refer to both the physiological needs of any human (food, water, shelter, energy, security) as well as the often paradoxical psychological needs (uniqueness and conformity, novelty and sameness).

Wealth consists of the assets I mentioned previously and occurs in the following four categories in the following order:

0.  Time and labor, which may be exchanged by agreement for basic needs;
1.  Talents and acquired marketable skills, which may be exchanged by agreement for basic needs and/or other assets;
2.  Tools which may be used to produce valuable articles for exchange;
3.  Productive property that enables the creation of desirable goods and sustenance.  Farmland,  factories, dwellings, businesses, or shares thereof.

Everybody has the zeroth asset category from birth, but not all in equal measure. Some people are stronger, some people live longer.  Get used to it.

Most people acquire some assets of the first and second categories by the time they reach adulthood. Anybody can eventually acquire the third asset category these days, since previous illegal restrictions on ownership (affecting women and minorities mainly) have been mostly abolished as a gross violation of human rights.

Wealth is created in two steps.  First, when an individual gets busy and uses any of the above assets to produce something of value, wealth appears as if out of thin air.  Assets are valueless unless they are used to provide for ones needs; but when they are used, that's called wealth.  Second, every time a willing informed exchange takes place, wealth increases.  How does that work?

If two people have dissimilar articles and willingly agree to an exchange, it is because each of them would rather have the other article.  In other words each person values the other article more than they value their own item.  Therefore the exchange of articles makes sense and actually increases the total value of the two articles.

If a seller has an article and a buyer agrees to purchase the article in exchange for an agreed amount of currency, then it is because the buyer values the article more than that amount of currency, and the seller values that amount of currency more than they do the article.  Again, value increases and wealth grows.

But, for this to work the exchange must be without compulsion, and the exchange must be informed, i.e. each party knows exactly what they are giving and getting.  Those are two pretty big if's, admittedly, and both account for a large measure of how the poor often act against their own best interests.  They buy stuff that is of no value for too much money, and sell their time (usually their only asset) for too little.  They also fail to acquire assets, frequently out of ignorance or due to cultural conditioning.

The other problem often encountered by the poor is being in a skewed market, which also happens out of ignorance or irrational human behavior.  Remaining in a labor market that is too far skewed in favor of the employer is not rational and not informed.  Move somewhere else, for Frodo's sake.  Or get out of the labor market and get into something more suitable by acquiring some category 1 or 2 assets.

We are now prepared to speak intelligently about price.  It takes two people to set a price:  the seller and the buyer.  Together they set the price of things by simply agreeing to the exchange, and it is nobody's business but theirs.

It may seem stupidly obvious that the number of items bought is always equal to the number of items sold, but this is a very important fact to keep in mind.  In an open and informed market, a large number of transactions for the same item can establish an average price point that may fluctuate from time to time.  But at any given time, the price being offered and accepted for an item is the price at which an exactly equal number of buyers and sellers agree is the exactly correct price for the number of items transacted.  Think about it:  at higher prices, more sellers would agree, but fewer buyers.  At a lower price, more buyers but fewer sellers would be willing to transact.  Therefore any murmuring about the price of an item not being "fair" is nonsense.

Often, people who don't understand economics propose the artificial setting of prices by non-involved third parties whose business it is none of.  The government, for example.  Also trade unions, produce cartels, monopolies, criminal gangs and the like.  Good company, apparently.  Things that have been or are being artificially price controlled in various markets include rent, gasoline, medicine, wages, electricity, and potatoes. (I am NOT making this up!  Western Australia has an all-powerful potato cartel that fixes the price of spuds.  Or tries to.)

The effect of setting a maximum price for things like gasoline, rent or potatoes is that there are fewer sellers willing to exchange items at that artificially low price and too many buyers eager to buy at that price.  In other words, shortages.  Long lines.  Black markets.  Poverty, crime and deprivation ensue.

The effect of setting a minimum price for things like wages is the opposite:  too many sellers entering the market with too few buyers interested in paying an artificially high price for something that is in plentiful supply.  The result is unemployment, slow economic growth, and fewer goods and services being made available to the population. In either case, meddling with private transactions between two informed parties wrecks everything and infringes on people's basic human rights to deal with their own property, labor and lives as they see fit.

There is nothing to be gained by lamenting the prices of things, as though the power to set prices was some magic belonging only to the rich and powerful.  Or something that politicians do.  Such woolly-headed paucity of reason distracts from the real issues of availability and desirability.  Supply and demand.   It is not a man-made system or an arbitrary rule someone made up: it is just the natural way that things work.  When you try to meddle with it, things always go wrong.

-    -    -

Worrying about other people's problems is a popular pastime these days, and so there are many theories about what to do about those people who can't seem to provide for themselves - the poor.  why is that my problem?  Because the poor in desperation turn to crime, and crime ain't good for nobody.

Here too price becomes a pointless distraction and leads to more harm than good.  Some people propose to "solve" poverty by forcing prices to be low enough for poor people to buy what they need.  This results in supply shortages and nobody getting anything.  Except the resourceful rich, who always know how to get what they need.  This benefits only extra-resourceful people who know how to supply the rich with what they want, and the poor continue to be poorer still.

The other solution is to just give currency to poor people.  This has a number of interesting effects, none of which helps the poor in any way.  A) It devalues the currency.  B) It increases the demand on goods.  C) A + B = prices go up, so that the poor are no better off.  D) It creates dependency while punishing resourcefulness, leading to an entire culture of people who are incapable of providing for themselves. Most programs to help the poor accomplish only two things:  They assuage middle-class guilt while assuring the continuing existence of poverty and suffering.

If it's the relief of suffering you're actually interested in, there's nothing stopping you but lack of generosity.  If someone is hungry or sick, give them food or medicine, no questions asked.  No paperwork to make sure they qualify under federal regulations, no cash payments.  Just relief of suffering.  Doing it that way is much cheaper than paying an army of bureaucrats to work out who gets it and who doesn't.  "But someone might take advantage of our generosity!"  So?  A truly generous person doesn't give a shit about quibbles like that.

In the battle against poverty, wealth is the only thing that has ever prevaled.  By affirming individuals' right to their own labor and stored-labor, by providing education and opportunity as well as non-cash relief of immediate suffering, the poor (and everyone else) get to choose whether to be poor or resourceful.  On a practical level, we do this by ceasing to bog small businesses down in regulation and double-taxation.  This allows previously poor people (newly educated about how economics actually works) to create their own jobs and jobs for each other rather than waiting around for a corporation to move in and flood the labor market with low-wage jobs.

The Big Secret to money is this:

Always have plenty of it.  

If for any reason you don't have plenty of it, then do these three things:

1.  Realize what money is: just a temporary storage media of value that facilitates exchange of stored-labor for productive assets.  Money is never the problem, so stop blaming it for your situation.  (And if you wish to accumulate wealth, do not accumulate currency.  Accumulate assets instead.)
2.  Start creating more value every day.  If you live somewhere where this is not possible, THEN MOVE!
3.  Manage your resources better.  Stop buying worthless crap and start acquiring value-producing assets, starting with category 1 assets such as education and skills.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Certainty or Self-Deception

Everybody wants proof for their beliefs.  They want it so much that consciously and unconsciously they fabricate all the proof they need.  Needless to say, this sort of self-deception does not lead anywhere good.

People with religious beliefs which they are unable to distinguish from objective fact become a real pain in the ass for the rest of humanity.  They see non-believers not as people who simply see things differently, but as people who maliciously deny self-evident facts for nefarious ends.  They see non-believers as the enemy in a war; and not always just an ideological war - all too often it is a real shooting, stabbing, kicking, punching, biting, hurting and killing kind of war.

"Oh, I would never do that," you say.  Really?

Many religious people see it as self-evident that humans have souls and are quite apart from the rest of Animalia or even Mammalia on this planet - this planet that is increasingly recognized as not unique at all in the galaxy.

Consciously or unconsciously, they accept as proof of their deistic beliefs a supernatural explanation for human existence, behavior, consciousness, emotions, and perceptions.  As long as there is currently no natural explanation for these things, then religion is unquestioned and unassailable.  And everyone has to do as they, the keepers of the religion, say.

Proof of the existence of Clouds.
However, this is exactly like saying, "there is certainly a God, because  - clouds!  How could there be clouds if not for God?"  And that very argument used to carry weight, before we figured out atmospheric thermo-hydrodynamics.  Today, the recipe for clouds, curiously, includes no supernatural forces at all.

So it is with human consciousness - the recipe no longer calls for anything beyond the reach of empirical science, experiment or observation.  Consciousness, self-awareness, the ability to solve complex logic problems (i.e. to reason), the ability to imagine, to create, to count, to be self-aware and to feel emotions are increasingly recognized as neither unique to humans nor in any way supernatural.

To continue to defend one's deistic beliefs by appealing to human uniqueness is a losing battle, and was never necessary to begin with.  Beliefs, unless they are to be misused for control, power, or economic advantage, do not ever have to be defended.  If you are not seeking any earthly advantage over your fellow Man, then you do not ever have to defend, justify or prove your personal beliefs.

However, many deists will fiercely defend beliefs about human uniqueness even in the face of mounting empirical evidence to the contrary.  The well-known refusal to even acknowledge the oceans of proof that exist for the principle of Evolution has its roots in people simply trying to hold onto their belief that the existence of humans is proof of the existence of God.  What other objection to it can they possibly have?

While some deists who style themselves as Enlightened will smugly accept a form of "guided evolution," they can still be heard issuing opinions on the uniqueness of humans.  "What separates us from the animals is ___;"  (fill in the blank with anything whatsoever - politics, penmanship, pornography, peritonitis, petroleum, or possibly even things not beginning with 'p'.)

And every time they do that, science comes along and wipes out the statement with an empirical result showing that in fact, no, humans are not unique in that particular respect.  Better at it, perhaps, than other organisms, but not fundamentally unique.

-          -           -

Love is an interesting example which I personally have had occasion to contemplate from time to time.  (Though no one has ever accused me of being a romantic.)

What exactly is it?  Is it uniquely human?  Is it God?  Is it my "soul" doing something detectable in the physical realm?  Probably not.  Do other animals love?  In all respects except for being able to tap into another organism's internal experience, the external markers have all been confirmed observationally.  If we say that a dog does not love simply because we cannot know what it is thinking or feeling internally, we must also conclude that other humans do not love.

But what is love?  We know that to experience anything outside of ourselves, the mind has to model that object in order to project it onto the "screen" of our consciousness.  Sensory awareness alone is not sufficient - even a computer can do that much.  The mind collects sensory information about the object in order to build that model, which is essentially a simulation of the object held in the mind.  The mind draws on all past experience (indicative or not, relevant or not), beliefs, assumptions and desires in order to fill in whatever the senses are unable to provide.  It then associates that model with emotions that are the basis of all behavior.

A human is one object that the mind has evolved to model particularly well.  And this is no small feat - humans are particularly complex objects. Creating an internal simulation of another human in the mind - necessary in order to have any conscious awareness of the human - requires most of the brain's structures, and the same structures it requires to be aware of itself.

My hypothesis is that when the mind attempts to model a particular human which matches that mind's own, shall we say, patterns or parameters, then something unexpected happens.  These patterns or parameters, for lack of better language, may be in the form of unconscious values, beliefs, ideals, positive associations, positive recollections, or experiences.  And also the genetically-mandated urgent imperative need to propagate one's genes.  One cannot forget that.

The unexpected thing that happens when the mind models another human under those conditions is the following according to my hypothesis:  the mind experiences a pleasure response to the very act of modeling, i.e. thinking about or being aware of, that person.  In my experience at least, and that of others who have shared their experiences, even being aware of certain people causes a pleasure response within the brain (transmitted no doubt by various neurotransmitters and hormones, e.g. dopamine and endorphines) that I have usually interpreted, according to the cultural conditioning and language conditioning of my mind, as Love.

There are certain people that give me pleasure by doing absolutely nothing other than existing!

At the risk of rambling, I can't leave the topic without warning of the dark side of love: pathological love, upon which I hope to elaborate in the future.  The mind can sometimes fall in love with not a real person, but with the mind's own creation based loosely on a real person, much to the suffering of everyone involved.  Also, the ill-conditioned mind often connects love too closely with what I call its disreputable siblings, Need and Desire.

Many people mistakenly assume that the pleasure of love emanates from the person they love, and not from within their own brains as is actually the case.  This causes them to feel compelled to own, control, possess, and manipulate the person they love in a misguided attempt to secure the source of their pleasurable internal experience.  This is what I call Need, and it leads to all sorts of behavioral pathology and misery.

The other disreputable sibling of Love I call Desire.  But it's not all bad, really.  As long as one recognizes that it is not necessary to attempt to sexually reproduce with every human or object for whom one feels any sort of Love.  A well-conditioned mind can separate the two and be the master of desire.  It wasn't for naught that the Buddha declared Desire to be the author of Suffering.

In fact it is the mind that is the creator of both.  Fix the mind, and you fix everything.  Control the mind and you control your entire experience in this existence.

As for proof of the existence of God or a supernatural world:  stop looking.  It's both bad religion and bad science.

Friday, July 4, 2014

More Reasons Why Politics Is Stupid and Other Disconnected Ramblings

I am less often attacked by self-righteous liberals who see me as a conservative than by scared ignorant conservatives who think I am a liberal, or by libertarians who brand me a monarchist.  Monarchists of course assume I am an anarchist, because that's how their particular little world is divided.  I have never met a true anarchist, so I don't know what they think of me.  Anyway, the weather cares little for the opinions of people, so why should I?

The cost of being original and thinking for one's self is that you never have any allies.

Being an egalitarian, I am equally critical of conservatives and liberals, and for that matter of all politicals.  They all make the same stupid mistakes.  They attack each other for being what they are, merely for the labels they carry, and not for anything of substance.  They see only what they wish to see in order to confirm their own limited fantasies.  Politicals try hard to make sure there is only ever one side (their side) to every question; while workable solutions to problems require that all aspects be acknowledged and addressed.  Therefore politicals are incapable of solving anything and they never produce anything of value.

The major flaw in Conservatism (the thing, not the people) is that it fails to acknowledge new facts, new realities, and is incapable of responding to changes intelligently.  It only knows what USED to be true.  Example: Man-made global warming is a verified, proven fact and by far the most dangerous thing happening in the world now.  Conservatives refuse to open their eyes to empirical truth and will therefore fail to act until it is too late.  And then they will blame someone else for their xenocidal intransigence.

The major flaw in Liberalism is that it fails to acknowledge what has always been true that continues to be.  It thinks it is more clever than a thousand generations of humans; and its strange theories, when tested, fail again and again.  Example: Wealth is the only thing that has ever prevailed against poverty, suffering, injustice, and environmental degradation.  The natural facts of how wealth comes about (i.e. through individuals acting with individual freedom) and the natural human right to retain one's own property and direct one's own labor are fundamental to life itself, and not merely a fungible "system" that can be re-engineered to suit some arrogant, self-righteous academic theory.

The major flaw in Libertarianism is that government and community actually do have legitimate roles in the world.  Generally speaking those roles are in concentrating capital for purposes that benefit the broadest categories of people rather than those narrower needs best served by for-profit enterprises.  There are certain things we will always do better as a city, as a nation or as a planet than we do as individuals or as self-selected corporate entities with a necessarily limited focus.

The major flaw in Totalitarianism is that the State rarely innovates and quickly stagnates without risk-taking individuals creating wealth to begin with.  It collapses in on itself leaving mass suffering in its wake, or like any purported perpetual-motion machine, it runs down and stops unless there is a continuous artificial outside subsidy.  The State can never hope to successfully provide all things to all people, nor should it ever be thought of as having that responsibility.

This flaw is only slightly ahead of the equally fatal flaw of being a complete violation of basic human rights, particularly the right to ownership over one's own labor or stored-labor (wealth). In other words the state that controls everything is essentially mass-slavery. Unfortunately there are many forms of Totalitarianism, and it lies at the valley of every slippery slope upon which both liberals and conservatives vigorously dance.  All politicals, right, left or center, crave power and any quantity of it is never enough for them.

The key to a balanced, prosperous and healthy world is keeping the politicals strictly in check; limiting their power and insisting instead that power reside within a necessarily small, efficient set of equitable laws.  It lies in actively resisting the impulse which assumes that more and stricter laws are always the answer to every question, the solution to every problem.   It lies in not valuing security over liberty and human rights; in accepting risk in the world and not fearfully clinging to notions of control over "the other people."  It lies in abandoning the futility of subduing enemies with force while avoiding any meaningful engagement, but instead engaging with them as peers and relinquishing control to at least the extent that they have some kind of recourse other than death (yours or theirs).  It means allowing individuals to retain and exercise meaningful power, and accepting the consequences of that necessity - being that people will not always act as you would wish, and sometimes your rights may be encroached upon.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  Everyone needs freedom, though a few may experience some inconvenience to themselves as a result. Only slaves are 100% secure; free people must accept and bear the risks of freedom. That means that the people you are afraid of will not be under your control.

One consequence of freedom as a basic human right is that those who mentally cannot endure racial, gender, cultural or religious integration are free to separate themselves and form enclaves in which they can fantasize about the world without interruption and without inconvenient facts being laid before them.  I do not recommend this at all since it damns them to a state of stagnation, intellectual in-breeding, idiocy and poverty.  But they remain free to do so, and we, rather than make enemies of them, must be mature enough to treat with them as peers, understand what they want and why, and be open to exchanges in our mutual best-interests.  Exporting ideology is nobody's legitimate business.

And that's why politics today is stupid: it is an overt attempt to export ideology and impose it upon others rather than seeking to understand others and treat with them.  The constant vilification of "the other guys" is the main reason that I loudly denounce Conservatives as stupid, Liberals as stupid, Libertarians as stupid, Socialists as stupid, Greens as stupid, Communists as stupid, Islamists as stupid, Christian Fundamentalists as stupid, Monarchists, Oligarchists, Militarists, Separatists, Aryans, Racists, Gays, Homophobes, Feminists or any of these smug artificial identities as stupid.  Any such identity is fundamentally based on a false assumption that "the other people" unlike you are your main problem.

And that just isn't so.  Your main problem is always you.  My main problem is always me.