Monday, April 23, 2018

Maybe we could learn something, ay?

I am sure all these points are contributing factors. However, I would argue, the most important prerequisite for this outcome was the fact that Canadians have a societal-level sense of unity. That is, they recognize the value of their fellow citizens. They realize that by sticking together and ensuring that others do not fall through the cracks, there will be enough for everyone and everyone will do better.

For fifty points, this is in sharp contrast to what country? Here are some hints. 

In this other, once great, country, they have devolved into a self possessed culture where each one feels entitled to grab the most for themselves. They tend to justify this behavior with an outdated, prejudicial, and mean-spirited idea that those who have nothing find themselves in that condition because they are lazy and worth nothing.

In such a society it becomes easy to imagine that millionaires and billionaires achieve that status because they must be way more valuable than other people. Many of the citizens in this society find difficult to believe those wealthy people are merely the ones who thrive in a game primed for greed, narcissism, and money hoarding. In this society, sharing and cooperation for the common good is for chumps. Instead, one is drawn to emulate the behaviors of the greedy. In this way, the me-me-me carousel keeps spinning.

For another fifty points, who can predict the logical outcome of this game? Here are some hints.

 The masses will continue trying to become more like their heroes, the millionaires and billionaires. It will not occur to them that they are late to the party and their chances of reaching their dreams are infinitesimal. And it most certainly will not occur to them that, were they to reach their dreams- they wouldn’t like who they’d become. Meanwhile, each one will be looking at her fellow citizens, who is also scraping up the crumbs left by those who own everything, and thinking, “that guy is the apocryphal frog-in-the-pot”. Such disdain will make each feel briefly superior, but in truth, they are all standing in water that gets warmer by the minute as more wealth is distributed upward.

So, here is one way of seeing the problem, these people are lost because they started out by surrendering the simultaneous pursuit of happiness and well-being for themselves and their fellow citizens. This fact is well understood by those who own and/or control almost everything (the ownership class). It is then a trivial matter to let just enough crumbs fall from their table to keep the illusion of sharing and cooperation alive. Meanwhile the owners consolidated their hold on the dissemination of information (media) to ensure they controlled, to a large degree, the messaging. In short, they made sure they are the people who tell the masses that the system is working for them. And how do these opinion makers ensure most will never question the message? One might imagine they would use sex to sell the message. In fact, they use fear and anger.   

In the end, the masses appear oblivious to the fact that the system they are using to achieve wealth (and become more like their idols) tends to funnel most of the money to the already wealthy. Even if it slowly begins to dawn on them that their dreams were an illusion, how will they get off the treadmill to nowhere? In the framework of the game, anyone who steps off the treadmill is a loser.

One way to look at the conundrum.

Capitalism is arguably the greatest wealth creating system ever devised.
Capitalism set in a system where it is worshipped rather than being employed as a useful and thoughtfully regulated tool leads to this bleak place.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

News, terror, and amusement parks

What do amusement parks and news outlets have in common? They are both purveyors of fear. And what is the difference between them? The amusement park looks you dead in the eye and says, “Get on the rollercoaster. You are going to pay us to frighten you and you are going to love it!” I respect that. Sure, it is rapacious and unapologetic capitalism but, the terms are clear and overt. I am not so certain I could say the same about many of our news outlets.

Like many Americans, I recently watched the drama caused by the so-called Austin bomber. I was saddened by the casualties but having lived through the era of the “uni-bomber”, I was relieved that the whole episode was mercifully brief. Kudos to the brave and dedicated law enforcement officers on this front. However, what struck me was how quickly our attention turned to what we now consider to be the most important question. Were these bombings an act of terrorism? Was the perpetrator a terrorist? When the perpetrator was discovered to be a caucasian and an American, our mutual abhorrence with regard to his actions quickly faded. In its place, we found a way to be divided. Lines were drawn based on who was willing to call him a terrorist and who was not? Our news outlets told us we were at war with each other over a labeling issue. It wasn't even a hard sell. We were primed.

Did you ever stop to wonder why there are national discussions on who should be labeled a terrorist? We ask ourselves if we are labeling too many foreigners as terrorists and not enough homegrown Americans. What about the color divide, we collectively muse? Sure, there are lots of brown terrorists (most of us are pretty quick to agree on this) but are caucasian terrorists being undercounted? If it were not so deadly serious, it would be laughable.

Meanwhile, how many are questioning the gruel we are offered? Why are we now more obsessed with tactics (terrorism) than criminal acts (murder and destruction)? If we have a national consciousness, any thoughtful discussions in that realm are now surrendered to fearful fretting, anger, and thoughts of vengeance.

If you suspect the coverage of “terrorists” and “terrorism” is somehow not in line with day-to-day reality, you are not alone. We are all victims of terrorism now. But, perhaps, not by the agents we imagine. The simple fact is, terrorism specifically and fear-mongering generally are big business with many purveyors. A number of our news outlets would certainly qualify. However, like any multi-level marketing scam, there are many other sellers in the chain as well. And who is buying? We are.

A worthwhile link on the topic by actual experts:

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Our Democratic Republic under attack

As the legal noose tightens around the president and his cohorts, it seems like a good moment to remember some recent history.

Our precious democracy was (and by all accounts, continues to be) attacked by hostile powers. Especially of concern, is our voting system (one of the foundations of free and fair elections in a democratic republic). At least one of the hostile powers was an external agent called Russia. The other hostile power was the Republican Party. Through a well-thought-out and concerted effort to inhibit voting by persons they believed to be opposed to their agenda, Republicans became an internal threat to our democracy.

One needs only to observe the public reports of their behavior before, during, and after the recent elections. Under the guise of protecting us from voter fraud (supposedly undocumented alien residents purposely voting illegally by their milliions) Republicans brazenly attempted (and arguably succeeded) to tilt the elections in their favor. They used gerrymandering and every form of voter suppression they could bring to bear. The only reasonable inference one could draw is, these people were convinced they could not win on their ideas and were willing to employ any tactic ( no matter how unfair, unconstitutional, or mean-spirited) to insure their victory. The fact that they were funded by hugely wealthy autocrats also contributed to the travesty.

Were that not a sufficiently horrifying set of circumstances, these hostile powers (both internal and external) appear to be shameless and persistent in their Machiavellian efforts to undo centuries of effort to create a more perfect union.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Cowardly bombers, brave Americans, and a shady President

Washington Post Link here

For those of us too young to remember the era of the so-called “una bomber”, these heinous crimes can be difficult to solve. Let us all hope our law enforcement agencies (including the FBI) will soon bring these tragic crimes to a halt.

It might also be a good time to note, while we can always find a bad apple or two in any barrel, for the most part the folks who do the work of finding these criminals are brave, dedicated, patriotic Americans. They regularly risk their lives to save ours. They continue to do this important work night or day rain or shine and despite the recent overt, despicable, and unsubstantiated slurs leveled at these fine people.

Keep in mind, the person largely responsible for slandering these honorable people is currently under investigation by the people he rails against. The fact that he is being investigated has nothing to do with who is a Republican or Democrat (vicious assertions by Fox News talking heads notwithstanding). One might rightly wonder why I can say this so confidently. Which brings us from the headlines to our bride civics lesson. The President is under investigation because evidence has led investigators to his doorstep and that of his close personal allies/friends. Just so we are all perfectly clear on this point, Special Counsel Mueller does not single-handedly decide the veracity of the evidence. He, like any other prosecutor, must present evidence to a judge and/or a grand jury in a court of law. This is one of the ways in which our legal system helps to sort out personal attacks from valid evidence to be applied in a lawful prosecution. So, naturally it follows, when one casually smears the Special Counsel or his team, one also smears the judge and jury with that same brush.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Re: The Passing of Dr. Stephen Hawking

This idea matters. Why? Because believing this life is only a prelude to some greater existence guarantees the believer will make decisions based upon an incorrect set of assumptions. Rather than promoting a sense of community and cooperation among the other sentient beings, these beliefs bend toward narcissism and tribalism. It logically follows that believers will most highly prize their own ticket to heaven and will tend to cooperate only with others of similar mind. Naturally believers will strive for a better relationship with the invisible/otherworldly deity who holds the keys to their imagined future paradise. The result is people communing with their invisible friend in the sky and failing preserve the only planet they will ever inhabit and failing to attend to their fellow sentient beings in the only life they will ever know.

Evolution of Morals

Okay, so the video goes a bit quickly and one might need to rewind or watch multiple times but I would say it is totally worth doing.  Or read the article.

The fields of evolutionary biology, cultural evolution, evolutionary psychology are things with which to acquaint ourselves and keep our eyes on. One way of looking at this is to acknowledge our inability to apply rigorous gathering of evidence/data points during the long history of human questioning into the nature of our own behavior and moral/ethical structures. In short, despite having some of the finest minds of our species applying their considerable talents to the questions, we were largely consigned to brute force logic (minus hard evidence), supposition, and superstition. To our great good fortune, scientific advancements to our understanding of our own biology along with microscopy, statistics, imaging, etc. have lead us to a place where we can ask the big questions and begin to receive reliable answers. 

I will resist the urge to prattle on and summarize by suggesting a book called, The Moral Landscape as a good starting place.