Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Modern Day Trolley Problem

The Trolley Problem (aka the Trolley Dilemma) is sometimes used thought experiment used by psychologists and philosophers to gauge a person’s moral compass. The though experiment goes something like this:

Suppose there is a runaway train car (a trolley) that is rolling down the tracks towards five people tied to the tracks, or are lying on the tracks and are otherwise unable to move. You are off in the distance observing this and happen to see a lever next to you that if pulled will switch the runaway train car from its current course onto another set of tracks. However, on the diverted track there is single person tied to the tracks and will be killed if you pull the lever. Question is: Do you pull the lever to save five people and kill one or take no action and let five people die?

Keep in mind this is the Trolley Problem in its simplest iteration. There are several variations of this thought experiment which involve intentionally pushing a fat man onto the tracks to save five people (the Fat Man version) or intentionally pushing the man (a “fat villain”) who tied up the potential victims onto the tracks to avert the deaths of the innocent. Let’s not concern ourselves with these versions or ask questions about the characters of all the potential victims. For the sake of realism, however, we are going to alter the details of the thought experiment to a more likely scenario than initially presented. We’re going to do this because the Trolley Problem such as it is described above doesn’t present a realistic situation one would find themselves in and be forced to make a moral judgement. What I’d like to do is introduce a modern equivalent to the Trolley Problem, changing the problem to something more akin to what philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson had in mind with her “brilliant surgeon” version of the Trolley Problem.

Here’s my version: Suppose you are a politician and if you don’t vote on a particular bill, five random people will lose their health care coverage and die from pre-existing conditions. If you do vote for this particular bill, the five people will keep their health care coverage but another single random person will lose their coverage and die from their pre-existing condition. In summary, if you don’t vote – if you take no action regarding the bill – five people will die. If you do vote for the bill – take action on the bill – one person will die and five will be saved. Do you vote for the bill or not?

Philosophically, what you as the politician is likely to do is based upon whether you are a utilitarian or a deontologist. That is, if you seek to do the greatest good, as a utilitarian you’re going to vote for the bill. If, on the other hand you think that committing certain actions like intentional harming someone are wrong, then you’re not going to vote for the bill. Of course, the obvious flaw with the deontologist’s position is that not voting for the bill – an inaction – is just as bad as intentional harm if it is your intention to abstain from the vote. In other words, an inaction is just as bad as an action if one intends towards the inaction. (The major flaw in Deontology is that intentions matter.) There is a choice to be made – vote or don’t vote – and once it is made, there is intention behind the given choice; this fact cannot be escaped. The deontologist likes to think that by not intending to ‘intentionally’ cause harm, they are absolved from whatever harm does happen. Obviously, this is madness as not voting for the bill – intentionally – causes harm and makes the deontologist’s actions morally impermissible.

This deconstruction of the deontologist’s position philosophically compels you to vote for the bill, thus taking the utilitarian route (if there’s no false dilemma here, which there may well be). Without knowledge of any of the random people involved, without knowing whether saving the five will result in a better or worse world, you should vote for the bill on the assumption that the death of five people is likely to wreak more sorrow and havoc than the death of one person. All things being equal among the random people, you are compelled to vote for the bill on purely philosophical grounds if you want to be considered a morally just person (such as morality is construed in the Western Industrialized world). However, what people are likely to do is much different in reality. 

In reality, most people take the deontologist’s route and think they are avoiding taking an action that intentionally harms a single person. This outcome was confirmed by a 2007 online experiment conducted by psychologists Fiery Cushman and Liane Young and biologist Marc Hauser. They concluded that by taking a positive action (doing something) that resulted in a positively negative consequence evoked emotions that clouded ‘better’ judgement. But why should this be the case? Why would ‘taking action’ result in feelings that assume the outcome will be worse than taking no action at all? Why does an apparently personal investment in an outcome change what a person will decide to do?

We may want an evolutionary psychologist to weigh in here or we may hypothesize that people generally ‘don’t want to get their hands dirty’ for fear of negative consequences, meaning, precisely, being responsible for one’s actions. As those of us familiar with the workings of Western culture know, we tend to forgive inaction that leads to harm as we work from the assumption that such consequences weren’t malicious in nature. Only, if one knows the consequences – that five people will die through the inaction of not voting – it is difficult to reason why this outcome isn’t just as malicious as voting. Again, the deontologist works from the premise that an action can be wrong and an inaction not wrong, but I’ve already argued this is demonstrably false as inaction is in fact an action because the decision itself is based on intention. The deontologist intends not to intentionally kill someone not realizing the initial intention intentionally kills five people. No matter what angle you view such moral dilemmas from, given only two choices, the deontological reasoning falters.

None of this takes into account other reason why you might vote or not vote. Perhaps you view situations like this and feel the need to do something, and therefore decide to vote. Or perhaps you’re a misanthrope and are indifferent to the people dying. There may also be the way such dilemmas are presented (for example, in the way they are written or are viewed in a virtual world) that may influence decision-making. Regardless of the one of the two choices made – if that’s all that are given – it still tells us something about the moral compass of the person making the choice. In my example, a deontologist has no firm philosophical ground to stand on. They are, in other words, irrational.

And this is why the Trolley Problem, formulated in 1967, is still relevant today. It would be wise to know when a populous is too irrational, if for no other reason than to prompt a re-evaluation of, say, educational programs. Of course, there is the other side of the coin in which people in powerful positions rely on an irrational populous, so such moral tests would be wise for them to administer as well so they might be aware of when citizenry might be becoming too smart for them to fool. Thought experiments, long considered the realm of lowly philosophers, are beneficial to everyone. And when they’re not, they still make for good conversations when you’re high.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Anti-Intellectual Vote

On November 8, 2016, Republican nominee Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. On November 8, 2016, the prophecy of Mike Judge’s 2006’s movie Idiocracy was fulfilled.

Many explanations have been offered to explain the election of a man who – if not actually any of the following things himself – ran a campaign that was racist, xenophobic and misogynistic, and whose vice presidential pick certainly is homophobic. And, both the president- and vice president-elect are climate change deniers. Nearly half of the people voting in the presidential election lapped up the rhetoric like dogs unafraid to eat their own feces.

Why did they eat it up? Why do voters, who by now should be incredibly used to political candidates who don’t fulfil their promises, fall for a candidate who pretends to be anti-establishment while at the same time has benefitted so much from it? Among other things, why would so many voters who are angry about taxes pick a candidate who gamed the system so that he didn’t have to pay taxes himself, that intends to cut taxes for the wealthy and continue to place the tax burden on the middle class? While I can certainly understand a voter’s dislike for Hillary Rodham Clinton given her history of politically and personally questionable judgements, RCH at least offered four more years of the status quo. While not the ideal situation, at least with HRC as president, no one could whine about their guns being taken away or the Second Amendment being repealed and be taken seriously. Why did so many people vote for Donald Trump, an unknown factor, instead of the status quo? Was the status quo really that terrible? Apparently it was…to stupid people.

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again.” Besides never explaining when the U.S. was ever really that great for anyone who wasn’t or isn’t white (much less acknowledging that an American could mean anyone from North- or South America), Trump never vowed to make the U.S. number one in, say, math or science. How can the U.S. be great again if not in education and the resulting benefits? By rehabilitating U.S. manufacturing jobs? Ah, yes, there it is, by making stuff; low-skilled workers making stuff for as long as it is economically in the best interest of a business to do so, at least until robots take over those manufacturing jobs.* Oh, and also by getting unemployed coal workers mining and oil companies drilling again who will aid in flooding the atmosphere with fossil fuel waste because really, air quality is a small price to pay for people not interested in retraining for new jobs, even if it were free. Who refuses free training? Mostly older people who are stubborn and were never good in school, who instead of wanting to make America great again want themselves to be great again at their old job so they can buy a larger screen television from a foreign country.

[*Unsurprisingly, many of the jobs Trump ‘saved’ from going to Mexico at the Indiana-based company Carrier shortly after the election are going to be lost to automation anyway, according to the company itself.]

‘Mericans, as I like to call U.S. citizens, are generally not the most intellectual group. I submit as evidence the fact that the average Trump supporter (who is not the same as a highly paid business person who is a Trump supporter, which would stand to figure) subscribes to conspiracy theories and parrots everything Fox News and Breibart.com say – ‘news’ organizations that are not shy about their conservative skew – while telling you any other news organization that doesn’t validate conspiratorial beliefs is ‘fake news.’ Such people are incapable of analyzing their own biases. The fact that Trump supporters are largely uneducated was confirmed by Pewreasearch.org after the election, who wrote, “Trump’s margin among whites without a college degree is the largest among any candidate in exit polls since 1980. Two-thirds (67%) of non-college whites backed Trump, compared with just 28% who supported Clinton.” Articles in the journals Reasoning & Thinking and Applied Cognitive Psychology of studies done on intelligence and the conspiracy theorist mindset suggest a direct correlation between a lack of education and a vulnerability to the very wayward thinking modern Republicanism espouses. Summed up by Tania Bombrozo, “Among other things, studies find that people are more likely to endorse conspiracy theories if they feel alienated, powerless and disadvantaged, and if they are distrustful of others. Conspiratorial thinking is also associated with narcissism, rejection of climate science, and an individual's own willingness to participate in conspiracies. Additionally, a variety of demographic factors have been found to predict conspiratorial thinking, including low levels of education.” (Emphasis added.) It is also certainly a uniquely common human trait for people to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions, which also helps explain the denial of the human contribution to climate change and an aversion science in general. As either a cause or a symptom, the U.S. currently ranks 27th in math and 20th in science among developed nations, so I suppose no one should be too surprised Trump won. Being 27th in math, one wonders if ‘Mericans can even count that high.

Clearly ‘Mericans cannot do math as Trump supporters fail to understand taxes and Trump’s proposed wall between Mexico and the U.S. for example. During his campaign, Trump vowed to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. and make Mexico pay for it to boot, seeing how Mexico is ‘not sending their best.’* There is no doubt that Mexico is not going to pay for a wall between the two countries, so one is compelled to wonder where that money is going to come from. By Trump’s own estimate, he said that the wall would cost anywhere from $8-to$12 billion to construct and have Mexico at least help defer the cost by strong-arming them into paying $5 billion a year in order to help keep the estimated $24 billion going to Mexico from the U.S., remittance from supposed illegal aliens sending money back ‘home.’ So where else is the money going to come from? There’s no choice but to have it come from taxpayers. And who pays the lion’s share of taxes in ‘Merica? The middle class. So for any middle class person who voted for Trump to complain about what their taxes pay for (or would pay for), well, they shouldn’t – at all. Of course, in the ensuing analysis after Trump said this about a wall, Trump has proposed using money saved from enforcing the border – which means spending more tax money on enforcement – and/or by using money saved by not giving benefits to immigrants who are in ‘Merica illegally – which again comes out of taxpayer money. The president-elect has even proposed using assets seized from drug cartels to pay for a wall but there is no clear numbers in this regard and there is no indication that there’s enough money along that avenue to pay for such a build. In all likelihood, if a wall is built, it will surely not be a concrete structure such as Trump has proposed but something much more cheap, perhaps made in China, but most ‘Mericans are used to being cheap. In the end, though, Trump’s supporters don’t care about a wall actually being built; they just like that he proposed it. So goes the thinking of minds attuned to reality television, people who know what they’re watching isn’t real but want to see people come into conflict nonetheless.

[‘…not sending their best’? Meanwhile, the forthcoming First Lady is an immigrant so lazy she has to have Trump’s daughter assume several traditionally First Lady duties and plagiarized a Michelle Obama speech at the Republican National Convention. But, hey, at least she’s white.]

Speaking of China, the uneducated white middle class that elected Trump think their man can do no wrong in provoking a possible trade war with a country holding over a trillion dollars of U.S. debt. (China used to hold the most U.S. debt but now that country is Japan, whom Trump will nuclear bomb before they can ever call in their markers.) As everyone knows, or should know, the trade relation between China and the ‘Merica has been a love-hate affair. Damn those Chinese for making cheap crap but GOD do’ Mericans buy up that cheap crap (to include all those Trump “Make America Great Again” hats, not to mention his ties, suits, etc.*). Despite having wrote in 2005 that outsourcing overseas is not always a bad thing, Trump ran a campaign on promises to bring jobs ‘back to ‘Merica by imposing heavy tariffs on imported good. Of course, those tariffs will probably not apply to Trump’s goods manufactured overseas, but I digress. Imagine if you will the price of goods made in ‘Merica for ‘Mericans. Even if the costs didn’t skyrocket – which would be shocking since most of ‘Mericans beloved items like cars and smartphones require materials from outside the U.S. – ‘Merica would never be able to see their goods sold overseas because of tit-for-tat tariffs. Why would another country want to buy ‘Merican goods anyway? While China and Mexico are derided for making cheap goods, ‘Merica isn’t known for manufacturing the most reliable stuff. Sure, the U.S. does make good motorcycles (Harley Davidson), fun movies (thanks liberal Hollywood!), craft beer (thanks blue states!) and weapons (that figures), China surpassed U.S. manufacturing output back in 2010 and shows no signs of slowing down. For the U.S. to turn that around, ‘Mericans would need to make higher end crap that everyone wants which just might take better education, something Republicans surely do not want, at least not before a good dose of mindless theism is injected into the educational system.

(*For an incomplete and not even detailed list of all Trump’s products made overseas and not in the U.S, click here.)

Understanding of the U.S. Constitution was also one of the casualties of the largely Republican war on education. In order to protect their guns from being taken away no matter how many mass shootings occur and by whom (usually white people), gun lobbyists often call for a literal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution while never minded that most gun owners are not part of a well-regulated militia. Nevermind that President Obama never took anyone’s beloved guns away – he actually eased some key gun legislation, but whatever – Trump ideologues are quick to invoke the Second Amendment anytime someone proposes new gun legislation. (I, for one, don’t think it would help end mass shootings, but that’s beside the point here.) However, the same people are not so quick to invoke the Constitution when it comes to Trump and his overseas holdings, which the Constitution clearly states in Article I, Section 9 he cannot have if he’s to be president. Many Trump supporters would also like to see Christianity established as the official religion of the U.S., much to the chagrin of the very first amendment. Maybe Trump can start to make ‘Merica great again but having people understand the documents the country is founded upon.

One has to wonder who the people voting for Trump are who intend to make America great again, but do not intend to make America great again like it was during WWII when it helped defeat a hellbent, racist dictator. (History, another casualty in ‘Merican edumacation.) Trump’s vast numbers of white supporters are hellbent themselves to stand in the street or in a subway car to turn red in the face as they berate a minority. They refuse to understand the basis for the Black Lives Matters movement and decry it, but want to receive special attention themselves through the acknowledgement of, say, a Christian ruling class. One has to wonder who these people are that claim not to be racist, but remain silent on Trump’s KKK support while simultaneously demanding that Muslims be more outspoken against Islamic terrorism. One has to wonder who the people are that defend misogynistic talk as the locker room bantering of an immature 55 year old who has miraculously ‘matured’ over the past 15 years. Bill Clinton may have abused his power in having an affair with Monica Lewinski, but even ol’ horndog Bill was never so crass. One has to wonder who these Trump supporters are that bemoaned Obama’s lack of political experience who now suddenly cite a lack of experience as what they like about their candidate who appoints a brain surgeon to serve as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. One has to wonder who these voters were that saw Russia as an enemy before Trump rose to prominence but who have been heaping praise upon Putin ever since Trump’s victory. Who are these people that think so lazily they think they’re going to make ‘Merica great again?

To be fair, Trump supporters are not the only ones who are negligent when it comes to critical thinking; the Regressive Left is just as bad. Their constant and vehement anti-white rhetoric resulted in a backlash they didn’t see coming because of their own failure to consider consequences. With these two sides coming together within the boundaries of a single country, is it any wonder ‘Merica is so dysfunctional? No, no one who remotely thinks is surprised by the election of a business man by the grace of the lower classes he cares nothing about and has benefitted from stepping on. A thinker may be angry that this is the case, but it’s still the reality of the situation. And the reality of the situation is that the new administration will be coming for the thinkers first. Oh, wait, they already have; climate change denier Trump requested the names of 74 climate scientists from the energy Department and for the time being has been rebuked. ‘Merica should have expected nothing less in a country where education isn’t a priority, that heaps rewards upon people for their ability to manipulate or delude others, upon celebrities who have little or no talent, or on athletes for playing a game.

As usual, things will get worse before they get better, though really ‘Merica will have to wait and see what happens after Trump is sworn in. An intellectual can say that and mean it and be forgiven for hoping for the best but expecting the worst. Naturally, that’s not what happened before Obama was sworn in. It’s still not what’s happening even as Obama prepares to leave office; the President’s detractors would still see him lynched and his wife back in Africa living with apes. And that’s what is to be expected from small minds – horrible consequences – not a great country.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

You Are Not A Christian

Psst. Hey, you. Yeah, you. Are you a Christian? You are? Sorry, wrong answer. You’re nothing like Christ.

Now, what I’m about to say obviously doesn’t apply to all Christians, just about 98% of those
living in the United States. For some bizarre reason, for many who claim to be a follower of Christ and his teachings – hence the word ‘Christian’ – to be a Christian in America means to be anything but like Christ. For example, whereas it appears in the Bible that Jesus contemplated the old Jewish laws and reinterpreted them to his own liking (or whether an ‘unchanging’ God changed the rules), today’s American Christian is commonly devoid of the ability to reflect upon any matter that requires more than a fifth grade education. They simply stand by whatever Fox News’ personalities (not journalists) report or what their elected Republican representatives say. You simply can’t ask a Christian to do too much thinking. Don’t just don’t take my word for it, though; even the right-leaning magazine Business Insider shows a map [here] of the most- and least-educated states with the most educated states being those that are largely Democratic and the least educated dominated by conservative, Republican led states.

But I digress; being uneducated doesn’t mean you can’t follow the example or words of Christ. However, I suspect a lack of education leads people to avoid reflecting upon whether or not they are actually acting like Christ ‘cause in my experience, people who praise Jesus wouldn’t know Jesus if he came up to them and smacked them in the face (which, of course, Jesus wouldn’t really do). So what exactly do I mean when I say a ‘Christian’ isn’t exactly a Christian? What does it mean to be what I like to call, a Pretend Christian?

In the Book of Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus says, “You have heard it said you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.” Similarly, in Matthew during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “I tell you not to resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Now, I surely understand how hard this may be to do in practice, but shouldn’t a Christian have a leg up on non-Christians in this respect? I mean, they’ve got the power of Christ behind them! But today’s American Christian acts nothing like this. Just one minute surfing the internet reveals unspeakable volumes of vitriol levied against people like Hillary Clinton and President Obama; we’re talking murder even! I’m pretty sure – judging by his words and commitment to be crucified – that Jesus was against violence. Jesus would never have owned a gun, not even as protection from the Romans who he knew were going to torture him. When you criticize or argue with an American Christian, their response is very rarely, “I love you” but instead “You’re going to burn in Hell forever and ever.” On occasion, a Christian will counter Jesus’ non-violence with the narrative in which he drives out the money changers from a temple by overturning their tables and (in the Book of John) using a whip, but it is quite clear Jesus never sought lasting harm to anyone and surely forgave the money changers for their offense, assuming Jesus was true to his own doctrine of forgiveness. Although Jesus says again in Matthew to love your neighbor as you love yourself and that this is the second greatest commandment, you’d be hard pressed to find an American Christian who doesn’t loathe another Christian not of their denomination or is otherwise a non-believer. (We can add to that any minority if we’re talking Southern Christians here.) So, if you proclaim to be Christian and levy insults and slur or resort to violence against your foes, you are not a Christian. If you say you’re a Christian and hate and condemn homosexuality which apparently wasn’t important enough for Jesus to talk about directly, you’re not a Christian. If you don’t, in the words of some more tolerant Christians of whom there are not enough, “Hate the sin but love the sinner,” you’re not a Christian because that’s exactly what Jesus would have done.

So far, I’ve stated the most blatant disregard for Jesus’ teachings. Some are more subtle. Many people claiming to be Christians are Republicans (and Jesus clearly steered clear of politics, saying in Luke 20:21-25 “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and what is God’s to God” and later “My kingdom is no part of this world”) with the Republican Party well known for their kowtowing to the rich and wealthy and supporting the death penalty. But what did Jesus say about rich people? When a rich man asked Jesus about what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him in Mark 10:17-31, “Go and sell all your possessions and give money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven” and later “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” So why do so many professed Christians seek wealth, support the rich or support the people who support the rich? The only answer is that they do so because they’re not really a Christian. As for the death penalty, see above; you can’t possibly be Christian and support the death penalty.

Unfortunately, the typical American Christian cannot even follow Jesus’ most simple advice from the Book of Matthew, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” How many times have I heard tales of people being ostracized from a church for being a newcomer or not dressing properly or for not tithing enough! Jesus did call out these so-called Christians in Matthew 15, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘these people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.’” Now there’s a quote you never hear a rich, racist, xenophobic ‘Christian’ recite.

While I may be falling into the trap of the No True Scotsman fallacy, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect anyone claiming to be a follower of Christ’s words and deeds to try and emulate those thoughts and deeds, or at least not think and act in exactly the opposite manner from Christ. Many of the words coming out of the mouths of ‘Christians’ these days and their actions are indefensible from Jesus’ point of view. They are, in other words, Pretend Christians.

Psst. Hey, you. Yeah, you. You’re not a Christian. Admit it already. You’re not going to Heaven either. Have a nice day.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

In the Beginning of Creationism vs Evolution

I’ve met an alarming number of creationists lately with whom – due to circumstances – I am unable to debate publicly. On one hand, I largely do not care what people believe as long as they’re not jerks or insist on foisting their beliefs on others. On the other hand, people are so unreasonable, it boggles reasonable minds and something must be said about their erroneous beliefs that they do want to foist upon others. Of course, the belief in creationism over evolution as an explanation for how life may have begun fits the bill.

While evolution doesn’t really explain how life began, people of many faiths and denominations of those faith take this to mean they should devise an explanation that is supernatural. What has long bothered me about creationism as an explanation for life’s origins is this – a believer, probably unknown to themselves because they do no critical analysis of their beliefs, is in essence saying that it is more likely that some divine being took a lump of clay and breathed life into said clay to create a man than molecules could spontaneously come together and at some point begin replicating themselves. The believer believes this despite ample evidence that the universe often displays self-organizing behavior; the formation of galactic clusters, galaxies, solar systems, stars, planets and the elements all of those things are made of to say nothing of the laws of physics that keeps everything stable enough for long enough in order for things to organize. Granted, this doesn’t speak directly to the origin of life, but indirectly speaking it seems plausible that a molecule – possibly RNA according to biologists current theories – might start copying itself or make other molecules due to natural chemical reactions and just might organize themselves into a larger system. As I said, the universe is not without a few examples, examples that are even prior to known life.

Moreover, the explanatory power of evolution is much greater than that of creationism whose powers of explanation do not go beyond the initiation of life. For the creationist who wishes to have their cake and eat it too, meaning they believe in creationism which is guided by evolution thereafter, they are merely shorting the process of evolution by one step. Why not just accept the first step as well or simply admit that one does not know how life began? Evolutionists – at least the ones who know what they’re talking about – will always say that the theory of evolution does not (yet) explain the origin of life, though from what they have inferred from the process thus far, it seems more likely that some molecule in prehistory began the evolution of life rather than submitting the explanation that an invisible and supposedly benevolent force made life simply pop into existence. In short, questions about the origin of life boils down to this: Is it more plausible that life suddenly popped into existence thanks to an invisible force that is sentient or that life began by some simple molecules organizing themselves? Maybe the answer depends upon how much one understands chemistry and biology, and maybe even physics.

As is always worth noting as well is that the very premise of life having a supernatural origin while the originator itself has no creator is completely nonsensical and arbitrary. If a creationist is going to be arbitrary in their beliefs or even claim evidence for their beliefs, why is it wrong for an evolutionist to be arbitrary in their beliefs or claim they have evidence for their beliefs? In actuality, both groups of ‘believers’ have life originating from non-life. Better to have something rather than nothing in common one supposes. Only, why something rather than nothing? 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sanders, Trump, and the Cult of Victimization

The year is 2016.

When people act like cavemen, in ‘unevolved’ sorts of ways, it is inevitable that someone is always there to ask “What year are we living in?” meaning, there is something allegedly shocking to a person of reason about how slowly large groups of people evolve socially over time. As Donald Trump grows closer to securing the Republican nomination, he continues to indirectly but not so subtly pander to the racist, misogynistic (largely) uneducated white voters who are not above rising to violence who happen to think Trump’s presidency will ‘change things.’ The question is, what is it Trump supporters hope to change? It’s not like a whole lot of racist, misogynistic (largely) uneducated white voters haven’t benefited from the status quo for, well, pretty much all of American history.

And that’s just it; for Trump supporters, what they are hoping to change is the direction in
which the country is changing. Trump’s overwhelmingly white supporters see the writing on the wall; for example, they’re currently under attack spiritually as the number of diverse religions grow within U.S. borders. Heaven forbid a Christian from Bala’ama be forced to share the street with a non-Christian! (For the sake of brevity, now replace ‘Christian’ and ‘non-Christian’ with ‘white folk’ and ‘people of color,’ ‘men’ and ‘women,’ ‘the uncultured and illiterate’ and ‘a gay from New York,’ etc.) Of course, least we forget that the Mexicans are stealing jobs Americans don’t want to do. Somehow, Trump supporters feel victimized by the growing number of people who don’t think conservative white men should be allowed to keep victimizing people the way they have for over 200 years now. Oddly, if there is anything Trump supporters should be fighting, it’s the narrative of victimization that seems to be the driving force in the lives of U.S. citizens these days.

The middling success of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign is indicative of this narrative. People of Color, gays, Millennials, left-of-left leaning liberals and people who don’t want another Clinton in the White House are flocking to a socialist who sounds like a Sweathog from Welcome Back Kotter. While blacks more than any other group of minorities have suffered from institutionalized racism (Native American aren’t around much to persecute anymore), it is hard to see why they think a frazzle-haired Jewish president would suddenly make them equal in the eyes of conservative white men, seeing how Obama’s presidency hasn’t helped much. Really, though, blacks and gays are the only groups of people who have truly been victimized throughout U.S. history, though it is arguable the LGBT community has had a great deal more success in being accepted. Meanwhile, Millennials and left-of-left leaning liberals feel victimized by being born into a culture that is largely a meritocracy. People who don’t want another Clinton in the White House feel victimized by the lack of Whole Foods supermarkets in their neighborhood (that are owned by a Republican by-the-way).

What both sides have in common is that they feel victimized by the status quo. The difference is slight at best; Trump supporters want to stop the status quo from ceasing to be the status quo while Sanders supporters think the status quo can’t change fast enough. In the meantime, both groups of supporters (read: fanatics) are being forced to live in a world that is utterly horrible, one that doesn’t kowtow to their respective beliefs. This is, however, merely indicative of a larger problem insofar as it has become every American’s prerogative to perceive any transgression – no matter how slight – into being victimized. Politically, both sets of supporters want to sell everyone on the idea that their candidate is for freedom when in fact both candidates are diametrically opposed to freedom – one is out to curtail freedoms for certain people while the other is out to curtail the freedom of certain ideas. The U.S.’s currently culture of victimization is born directly out of having too much freedom: The fact is that in almost no other country do the citizens have so much freedom to protest that their freedoms are under attack. Keep in mind that this is despite the media in the U.S. almost entirely being under the control of a mere five corporations.

Moderate independent, liberal and conservative voters alike have long mocked the ‘special snowflake’ narrative of left-of-left liberals and Millennials when it appears all groups suffer from this delusion that they are special and deserve special or preferential treatment. Chances are, unless you’re an overweight, militant, gay Native African-American who wears glasses, you haven’t been victimized by anything other than your own ego. While both Trump and Sanders supporters would like to get rid of a culture that is a meritocracy (in theory, anyway) it is perhaps best if we actually employed a culture of meritocracy. Special or preferential treatment should be earned regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation or nepotism. I say this because employing a true meritocracy is the best way to ensure everyone is treated fairly and no one can be victimized except by themselves.

Trump and Sanders supporters will never admit they have anything in common which only further demonstrates their inability to recognize their own humanness and the flaws that accompany it. Both groups think their candidate can fix what ails the country, but it is highly unlikely that more poison is the cure. Common ground is the cure, not a sharp divide.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

You Forgot To Say Thank You

Stardate March 1, 2016: Donald Trump has taken the Super Tuesday presidential primaries by storm…

As horrible as it is, there is a reason why Donald Trump is ruling the Republican roost as of late. It has a lot to do with the Regressive Left’s narrative that is washing like a wave over people of color (POC) who were once a minority but now stand to become the majority of people in the United States in the coming decades. The extreme leftist narrative that has taken the ‘earning’ out of learning across the nation’s colleges has fully unveiled male Caucasians for who they really are – xenophobic, misogynist devils that the world would be better off without. To this it should be expected that Caucasians would rally behind a demagogue like Trump as they fear getting bred out if not lynched altogether once the tide has fully turned against them. (As the comedian Louis C.K. said, “Oh, us white people just wait. We're gonna pay hard for this shit.”)

But as POC rise to power they become just like their former oppressors who often refuse to acknowledge their own racism. Unsurprisingly – and perhaps on purpose – POC neglect to think about how their rise to power in the U.S. even came about in the first place. To take that measure of history into account would mean having to say to male Caucasians, “Thank you.” Obviously this will not do, but history is often difficult to ignore.

Despite a good measure of institutionalized racism that is nonetheless slowly dissipating (not quickly enough, I will grant), young POC do not seem to realize how well off they are to live in the U.S. While they look around and see that in many instances they are outnumbered by Caucasians, this numbers game somehow translates into victimization. Yet, these victims are given a chance to speak across multiple platforms, be it on college campuses, social media or taking over a Bernie Sanders rally. Last time I checked, this opportunity to speak appeared difficult to come by in most other countries.

This is to ask any given POC who has grown accustomed to living in the U.S.: Would Asians-Americans rather live in China where the government censors the media, discriminates against the handicapped, is horribly polluted, and actually governs people’s lives, or live in Japan where the emphasis is not on individuality but on conformity? Would Hispanic-Americans rather live in Mexico, Puerto Rico or Cuba where the standard of living is much lower? Would Indian-Americans rather live in India where a rape culture persists and marriages are arranged? Would African-Americans like to live on the African continent without potable water, access to a decent education and among religious extremists? (We have religious extremists in the U.S., too, but they usually don’t murder you for blasphemy.) Really, the only Americans who should be complaining about not being able to go back where they came from in order to compare living situations are Native Americans. As a Caucasian who really doesn’t care that they are Caucasian probably because it’s never been an issue in a mostly Caucasian country, I understand completely how bad this will sound, but, POC should be a little more thankful they live in the U.S. and not some other country. After all, if living in the U.S. is so terrible, maybe POC should try living in Scandinavia where it is so cold, the only way to get Caucasians to stay is to give everyone free stuff (that is, after you’ve taxed the hell out of them).

If, as POC contend, that Caucasians have instituted racism to such an extent that POC find themselves still able to bring the issue of racism up, who is to thank for this situation? While the Forefathers of the U.S. Constitution probably did not foresee POC rise to prominence in the U.S., they still included a key phrase that to this day makes all U.S. citizens equal, in theory anyway. It is precisely because these ‘white male devils’ included such a philosophy in their constitution signifies how advanced their social philosophy was in their day. And where did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and company get their ideas? From mostly Caucasian Enlightenment-era philosophers like Jean-Jacque Rousseau, Baruch Spinoza, Francis Bacon and Immanuel Kant. (Okay, Spinoza was actually Portuguese, but looks Caucasian in portraits, kinda like what the white-devil did with Jesus.)

And so the question as I put it to angry POC who are quick to criticize Caucasians is: In what other culture of predominantly non-Caucasian people is their social philosophy that all people should be equal? Moreover, if such a culture exists, does their country’s constitution or charter state unequivocally that all men are created equal? Of course, the answer to this question is, “There are none” which is why no one on social media ever gives me an answer when I ask this question – they don’t want to acknowledge that the idea of equality of for all was mostly the idea of Caucasians who also (and here’s the kicker) have actually tried to implement this philosophy.

This being the case, I really don’t understand what is referred to as ‘white guilt,’ the idea that Caucasians should feel guilty for the transgressions of their brethren that actually are racist. Logically speaking, this would mean that any time anyone of any ethnicity is racist, the rest of their race should feel guilty about it. Opponents of this argument say the guilt in question assumes some kind of power imbalance such as African-Americans being oppressed by Caucasians in the U.S. (or African-Americans being oppressed by Asians and Indians who are hogging up all the decent, wage-paying majors in colleges) or, say, me as a Caucasian walking through Harlem at night. If in that case I were attacked for being Caucasian, it would be a racist crime and all African-Americans should feel guilty about it according to ‘white guilt’ logic. I might also ask the question of what makes me responsible for the actions of others regardless of my race and theirs. There is no objective moral philosophy that says I am.

While it is certainly true that there have been many accounts of institutionalized racism in U.S. history, I am not so sure that such cases are any worse than what is included in the history of any other country.* However, because of the U.S. Constitution, because of its basic moral and social philosophy, an advancement in the social status of POC, women and homosexuals has been achieved. Is there further to go? Absolutely, but let’s not take a step back by electing a racist, misogynist ego-maniac. But let’s also not point to Caucasians and claim every problem POC face is their fault. If one is going to claim that, they’re going to have to claim that equality is the fault of Caucasians, too.

[I hope that doesn’t sound belittling of such situations. It’s not meant to be.]

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What Is Time? And Is Time Travel Impossible?

Before I begin, it should explained why understanding the nature of time is seemingly important. Unlike the strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism and to a certain extent, gravity, we have extremely limited control over time. To understand time would potentially allow us – or whomever controls the knowledge or technology – to gain one more advantage over nature. If the nature of time could be understood, it is assumed we could control or at least manipulate it. Based upon our current understanding of physics and cosmology, I believe I’ve come to understand the nature of time. Equally important is that in understanding how time works, this understanding destroys the extravagant notion of time travel* altogether.

[*Time travel into the past, that is. Time travel into the future is known to be logically possible, but this concept of time travel is not regarded as ‘sexy’ because it does not allow any control or interaction with the past, much less the ‘now.’]

Why would we think time travel is possible in the first place? Human beings have been the stewards of impossible ideas for a long time and time travel is no exception. It is an even more bizarre thing to contemplate time travel when you take some of the most popular theories of time into consideration. For example, in the B-Theory of Time aka Tenseless Time or Eternalism, it is hypothesized that the past, present and future exist all at once and this would certainly not allow time travel. The B-Theory of Time is most likely a false hypothesis given Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity as it relates to the relativity of simultaneity and time dilation due to the effect of gravity (it is well confirmed that time runs differently, say, near massive objects as opposed to further away due to gravity). A similar criticism can be leveled against what is called Block Time, in which it is hypothesized that the past and present are real but the future is not; that the future amounts to an ever shifting ‘now’ that somehow leaves a trail of breadcrumbs we could potentially go back to and pick up. There’s less of a problem with imagining that only right now exists given anyone’s perspective from any point in three dimensional space, though upon reflection, what now is there? For as soon as it is now, now is in the past. This last point brings us to whether or not there is a flow to time.

Does time flow? That is, does time flow like a river or it does it manifest as a series of infinitesimally small pieces, like a quantum-sized roll of film? While some scientists believe that the latter is the case and have scaled packets of time down to what is called Plank Time (trust me, a super-duper small measurement) there is no explanation as to how one frame of time ‘becomes’ or seemingly ‘flows into’ another. It also seems odd that any scientist would insist on dividing time into packets since this would make time appear to be unlike anything else in physics; the strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism and gravity are not even matter are cleanly divided into packets. (Of course, just because the others are not a divisible ‘something’ doesn’t necessarily rule this out of time’s nature.) Where would solid matter even go during the intervals in which time changes in this view? If on the other hand time is part of a fabric that comes from the stretching of space, this would appear to make more sense as there would be a connection between space and time that makes it plausible that any interaction with gravity would have differing effects. These differing effects are what ultimately causes time to flow in the only direction we have ever known – forward. Thus, whether or not time flows is rather irrelevant; it’s the seemingly forward direction of time that matters*. And, the reason why time only goes in one direction is because it is an emergent property of the expansion of space and not a dimension unto itself.

[*On the macroscopic level of organization in which we interact with the world. Time appears to have little meaning in the subatomic world, though overall this has little impact on time as we experience it.]

In trying to understand time, people seem to overthink or want to complicate the answer as to its nature because time is so hard to pin down, metaphorically speaking. Anything so elusive must be difficult to understand, is what conventional wisdom seems to want to say. But the question and answer are not intractable. What is time? It is the perception or measurement of space and matter in relationship to each other. Time is observed as changes in the differences between these two aspects of nature. And these things change in relationship to each other – all the time – because space itself is always expanding.

We know that on both a cosmic and local scale, space itself is expanding and doing so in every direction (thus there is no ‘center’ to the universe). It is also expanding at a speed per distance in every direction that is faster than the ability of light to transverse already interstellar distances, which is about 70km/sec per megaparsec and accelerating (we’ll see what this has to do with anything soon). Because of this, most galaxies are getting further and further away from each other (and not themselves necessarily ‘moving’ away from each other). Keep in mind for a moment that the expansion of space at the subatomic and local scale is overcome – that is, not taking place or doing so imperceptibly – due to the strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and even gravity whereas massive objects like a planet, solar system, or galaxy is concerned. In deep space, space itself is expanding (more rapidly than at the subatomic and local scale) and as it expands, the change of objects in relation to each other changes. These changes are perceived as the passage of time. For example, in the smaller confines of space, such as within the area of a galaxy – which is small, cosmically speaking – a galaxy’s position changes in relationship to everything else in the universe and because the matter therein changes in relation to space – which is not static in any direction – this is what we construe as time. Even if space were not expanding and instead were collapsing, we would still see the arrow of time go forward because of the different arrangement of matter in relationship to space. (Or in another scenario, we would be unable to tell if time were flowing backwards or forward since we’d be part of the changes taking place. And now you’ve just realized that, heck, that means time could be flowing backwards right now and we wouldn’t know it.)

Meanwhile, as space expands and matter spreads itself out (for the most part) on the cosmic scale, the Earth is moving through space around the Sun at 30km/sec, the Sun is moving around the center of the Milky Way at about 200-250km/sec, and the Milky Way is moving approximately 600km/sec toward the constellation Hydra. This, too, provides us with a positional change between objects that we can observe and measure. Notice if you will how often scientists assert that time and space cannot be separated; this is a bit confusing because it is an incomplete assertion: time and space and matter altogether cannot be separated if time is to be observed and measured. Time and space may exist on their own together, but to do so would be irrelevant to the matter of which we are comprised. You will likewise hear scientists say that time didn’t exist before the moment the universe came into existence. As space came into existence after quantum fluctuations supposedly caused the Big Bang (or Big Bounce depending on what theory you want to go with), matter formed as space expanded and cooled, providing the universe with time as we know it*.

[*We’re not exactly sure how the Big Bang or Bounce could happen as quantum fluctuation would suggest the necessity of the passage of time. But it appears that the so-called arrow-of-time means little if nothing at the subatomic scale or at least little or nothing to massless particles such as a photon. Empty space, teeming with energy – meaning it’s not really empty – doesn’t rely on a direction of time for changes. I do realize this seems counterintuitive for those of us who live at the macroscopic level since we perceive changes as going forward in time. Quantum physics doesn’t play by the same rules, apparently.]

What implications does this hold for time travel? It makes time travel, at least to the past, impossible. (How could you use ‘forward’ time to go back in time anyway?) Space and time and their relation to matter do not allow for a ‘map’ in which there are points in the past we can revisit on a whim. Due to the expansion of space and the movement of matter within space – which is a drive towards the equal distribution of matter and energy in the universe – the position of the matter within the universe is constantly changing; to visit the past would necessarily no longer be the past we knew, but a new past that included the input of (our) new matter into the initial position of matter within the universe at the time in question. Some might speculate that to do such a thing would result in a new timeline/alternate universe, but there is no evidence to suggest creating an alternate timeline or universe is possible. Hence, to “go back in time” would be paradoxical and paradoxes are by definition impossible.

As I alluded to in passing several times now, quantum physics doesn’t play by the same rules of time that we are used to. Massless particles such as a photon, light, do not have experiences in the traditional sense because they are not directly affected by the forces that dictate the behavior of particles with mass. A photon can be pulled into a blackhole because of the curvature of space due to extreme gravity, but gravity has no direct effect on a photon. The curvature of space is what appears to make a photon – something that experiences no time – to experience time, by changing the photon’s position because space around it expands and/or curves. Although a photon has no mass (and can therefore exert no gravitational force or, again, be directly affected by gravity) and is essentially ‘frozen’ in time, it is perceived to experience the passage of time due to space expanding through the photon’s fixed points. All of this is to once again say and add to that, that not only is time a derivative of the expansion of space, but is an emergent property of changes to the positions of mass and massless particles due to the expansion of space while gravity curves that space.

Time travel to the past is not possible unless we can reverse the expansion of space and un-curve space to put mass and massless particles back in their previously experienced positions. Even if we could do this, we wouldn’t know that we’ve done it because we would all be in the same state we originally experienced. Again, if time were actually running backwards right now and the so-called arrow-of-time is just a phrase for the direction time flows, we wouldn’t know it because it is normal to our experiences. In my conception of time, none of the legendary logician Kurt Godel’s (1906-1978) ‘light cones’ are allowed to ‘tip over’ due to extreme curvatures of space and allow information or you to travel to the past.

Given this conception of time, some questions remain (though all are not directly tied to the nature of time itself). If it is assumed by cosmologists that approximately 80-90% of the universe’s mass is missing, how does this missing mass affect time, if at all? (Perhaps it isn’t missing and something we haven’t thought of is overcoming gravity to drive the expansion of space, though, Dark Energy is the name of this clandestine force I suppose yet sounds too precise for something totally unknown). It would also be interesting to know how consciousness allows us to perceive the passage of time.

Naturally, this theory of time as I have formulated it is without a certain level of preciseness as I am not a physicist. My theory, though, makes far more sense and possesses more explanatory power than other theories such as the B-Theory of Time or Block Time, both of which are not confirmable.

Time only goes in one direction, expanding so to speak, and this doesn’t allow for time travel. But don’t shoot; I’m just the messenger. Go back in time and kill me before I figure all this out if you don’t believe me. (Or, more courteously, simply point out where my argument fails. Thanks.)