You are now the proud owner of a mind. Before you get started using it to explore the knowable universe, there’s a few things you should know: Continue reading “Yo’ Head: a User’s Guide”
Do people really think that everybody who disagrees with them about politics is
B) an unwitting tool of the forces of evil,
C) an amoral slimeball, or
D) all of the above?
Really? Like, it’s us against them, Gondor versus Mordor, Rebel Alliance vesus Galactic Empire? Because, if that’s really the case, then shut up, get a gun and start shooting – what’s left to talk about? They’re just orcs and cloned storm troopers anyway – why waste your breath, just cut to the chase.
BUT – if among your opponents are some actual human beings, then ENOUGH WITH THE BASHING, ALREADY!
Currently, the Tea Party people seem to be getting the worst of it, but that changes moment to moment, I’m sure the socialists and liberals are taking their share of incoming fire, too.
While acknowledging that, yes, there are some stupid, ignorant, gullible people out there, and yes, there are evil people out there, too, who gladly use the gullible as tools (and the gullible are often gladly so used in return for getting to pretend they are with the cool kids), I’m really not convinced – yet – that the situation is so bad that it’s constructive politics and acceptable humanity to sneeringly insult and dismiss *everybody* who shares a particular political point of view I happen to disagree with.
Memo to liberals: Tea Party people have some valid points. Many of them are very aware that certain established forces are trying to co-op and neuter their movement, and are fighting it like mad. Many of them are appalled at the same exact behaviors in government and business that appall the socialists in your camp. There are plenty of goofballs in that movement, but, hey, take a look in the mirror before you start thinking there’s any higher percentage of goofball Tea Partiers that goofball Liberals.
Memo to Conservatives: Socialists have some valid points. Amoral capitalism – which is what we’ve got, once you get a little past the mom and pop level of business – is compelled by its own internal logic to do Very Bad Things. Very. Bad. Liberal outrage at the injustices perpetrated in the name of profits is real, and, at least sometimes, completely valid. Not all liberals are closet Stalinists who hate America. Many love America as much as you do.
Yes, evil people and nuts are out there. But, at least as a working assumption, let’s assume that many of our fellow Americans are worth talking to in a civil manner even if they don’t agree with us politically. For if our opponents are, in fact, as our President put it, ‘enemies’, the rational alternative is not name-calling and sneering. If our ‘enemies’ are really orcs and stormtroopers – well, you know how that turns out.
Once in a while, I fantasize about writing a book called ‘Sagan: Demon in a Candle-lit World’. Continue reading “My Sagan Obsession”
While I am of the ‘Pox Upon Both Their Houses’ Party – the party of George Washington and other true patriots – this does not prevent me from seeing good in either of them, when that good presents itself. For example, there are and have been any number of very intelligent Democrats – Clinton is brilliant man, as is Barney Frank. FDR and the Kennedy brothers were very intelligent. All these men probably are or were smarter than I am. And demographic reality suggests there are plenty more men and women Democrats who are really, really smart.
Being intelligent is a good thing. But it is a good thing like being beautiful, not a good thing like speaking the truth. For – and this is the part Democrats in particular seem to be unclear on – it is entirely possible to be brilliant, insightful, eloquent, charming, and possess all the other gifts of the intellect – and utterly and completely WRONG. It is also completely possible to be dim-witted, ignorant, provincial – and completely right.
The subtle thing here is that, while intelligence may help you understand a situation more quickly and thoroughly than those who are not as intelligent as you in that particular way, that very same intelligence comes with a set of temptations and pitfalls that are not as big an issue with the less intelligent. Chief among these is hubris. Closely related is the need to be thought brilliant – it’s very hard for a person whose self image is all tied up in being thought smart to endure the scorn of others who are thought smart. This, I think, explains what has been called ‘the herd of independent thinkers’ phenomenon. Continue reading “Smart versus Dumb; Right versus Wrong”
How does one make funny out of the following?
– Carefully timing the news so that it happens too late to inspire yet more people to go to the polls AND hits the post-election news cycle so that it will get buried, the Fed has announced that it will buy at least $600B in Treasury bonds. That means one arm of the government – the Fed* – is buying debt from another arm of the government – the Treasury. In this case, the Fed is creating money (no, really – the Fed’s job is to create money ex nihilo. You knew that, right?) solely for the purpose of funding our government debt. Continue reading “In other news, Snake Swallows Self”
In college, many years ago, I once read a little pamphlet that contained some exchanges between Martin Luther and Erasmus, occasioned by Luther’s publishing of a paper called ‘On the Bondage of the Will’. It was a fascinating read on several levels, but one item in particular has stuck in my mind all this time. Erasmus makes the point that, if Luther truly believes that the human will is not free, why in the world would he bother talking about it? Learning about the abject slavery of the human will isn’t needed by those Christians who by the sole grace of God and through no merit of their own have gained freedom, and it won’t do any good for those other poor souls, who are utterly enslaved by sin and are incapable of doing anything at all to change that situation.
It seemed like a pretty good point to me at the time, and still does. However, history shows that Luther did not, in fact, stop talking about it. Score 1 for passion, 0 for logical consistency.
But then again, those who think consistency is some sort of hobgoblin must take some comfort in how few people are afflicted with it. Continue reading “Will the Real Skeptic Please Speak Up? Another Ramble”
“A child who has been boxed up six hours in school might spend the next four hours in study, but it is impossible to develop the child’s intellect in this way. The laws of nature are inexorable. By dint of great and painful labor, the child may succeed in repeating a lot of words, like a parrot, but, with the power of its brain all exhausted, it is out of the question for it to really master and comprehend its lessons. The effect of the system is to enfeeble the intellect even more than the body. We never see a little girl staggering home under a load of books, or knitting her brow over them at eight o’clock in the evening, without wondering that our citizens do not arm themselves at once with carving knives, pokers, clubs, paving stones or any weapons at hand, and chase out the managers of our common schools, as they would wild beasts that were devouring their children.”
Curious? After the break:
Do You Want to Know the Real Problem with Our Economy?
I’ll answer that rhetorical question right up front: no, you don’t. Because, fundamentally, what we consider our current high standard of living is based on almost everybody being consistently stupid, selfish and greedy. If too many Americans started acting reasonably, generously and with prudent frugality, our economy would collapse. Continue reading “Another Basic Point about the Economy, or Today’s Downer”
“Larger vehicles are safer.”
Um, no, they are not. Simple physics says: as a fragile human being, you’d want the roads populated by *less* massive vehicles, which cause *less* damage in accidents. If I’m worried about safety when I’m out driving, regardless of whatever vehicle I personally am in, I want all the other vehicles on the road to be as small and light as possible – that way, if anyone hits me, I’m less likely to get hurt.
But that’s not what people mean – what they mean is: all other things being equal, *I* am safer in a bigger, heavier vehicle. Safer for me, maybe, but more dangerous for everybody else. But that’s their problem.
Yet another reason why if you look inside an needlessly huge personal vehicle, you’re likely to find a narcissist.
Sometimes listen to NPR. Terry Gross’s interviews are my favorite item. She should give lessons to all interviewers in whatever format that is she uses, which would consist of 3 things: Shut up and let your guest talk; ask good questions; shut up and let your guest talk.
Anyway, she was talking to some legal scholar a bit back, and the topic of ‘original intent’ came up, and she, very predictably (this is NPR) blessed the notion that, since it is inevitable that issues and situations not covered by the original intent of the drafters would come up, OF COURSE the SCOTUS would need to, you know, sort of make it up as they go, with an implied ‘what can these crazy original intent types be thinking?’.
Now, of course, the issue isn’t really binary: thinking people (especially lawyers) understand that you can’t write everything down, that there will be plenty of situations that require judges to apply law that wasn’t written with the concrete case in front of you in mind, and few ‘living document’ types really, truly believe that the Constitution is a blank piece of paper (although many of our elected officials seem damn close to that POV – it doesn’t count when your behavior is constrained by fear of the people, and that just happens to coincide with some musty legal fundamentalist’s interpretation of the Constitution. That’s called cowardice, not principle.)
What struck me was not that Ms Gross came down on the issue the way she did – news flash! Sun sets in the West – but rather how, given a situation where, from any objective perspective, you’re walking a path between the state whereby intolerable evils persist because no written law applies to remedy them and the state of chaos where the law means whatever any judge happens to feel like it means at that moment, that you’d recognize the dangers on one side of the issue but totally miss or ignore the trouble lurking on the other.
That path is not all that narrow, but it seems to me to important to recognize you’re on it, and work to stay on it. If all you fear is that some evil might not be redressed because there are as yet no laws available with which to redress it, while not also fearing that judges might confound what they want to see happen with justice (like we all do) and thereby do evil, then you will, frankly, arrive at the current unhappy state of affairs.
Thinking about this in relation to a different but conceptually related notion: that the beliefs of the Catholic Church are ‘historically conditioned’, meaning, it seems, that any statement of belief can be challenged and overturned based on the assertion that the belief does not represent an eternal truth, but is rather just a data-point of how people at one time and place *understood* a fundamentally ineffable truth that defies any attempt at definitive formulation.
Something like that. There’s probably a cleaner formulation of this concept out there.