The good/evil number line

During the last presidential election (some of you may remember it) occasional memes floated through social media making pronouncements to the effect that choosing the lesser of two evils (e.g. Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump in these memes’ cases) is still choosing evil.  These memes seemed often to come from first hopeful, then frustrated, Bernie Sanders supporters, but it’s a notion that’s by no means confined to such groups.  Ideologues of all stripes, from the religious, to the political, to the social-scientific and beyond, fall prey to the classic mental fallacy of the false dichotomy—the notion that the world is divided into two absolute, opposite natures, and that if their own ideas are pure and good (and nearly everyone, on all sides, seems to believe this of themselves), then any choice other than the pure realization of their ideas in all forms is somehow a descent into evil.  Many people implicitly believe that even to choose the “lesser of two evils” is somehow to commit a moral betrayal that can be even worse than simply choosing evil for its own sake.

I hope to explode this notion as the destructive claptrap that it is. Continue reading

You can ONLY get “Ought” from “Is”

There’s a notion held by many intellectuals—or at least those who are educated beyond some minimum level—that one cannot derive any moral “ought” in life from any “is” about nature.  This notion is attributed to David Hume, the famous and by all accounts extremely intelligent 18th century philosopher, though I haven’t read the original source material (and if I’m doing his ideas a disservice, I apologize profusely to his memory).  In general, the “Humeans” seem to accept the apparently dogmatic notion that the realm of morals and ethics is divorced from the realm of our understanding of the natural world, and that nothing that we could learn about the objective facts of reality could ever give us the answers to what we ought to do—ethically, morally—in our lives.

I don’t understand how so many otherwise intelligent people, Hume among them, could ever have accepted such a patently idiotic idea. Continue reading

A Message to the Makers of “Don’t Give Up” Memes

What follows is a brief message for the creators of Hallmark-knockoff style memes that say things like, “No matter how hard it gets, it’s okay for you to feel pain, to feel tired, to feel discouraged, to feel heartbroken…but don’t you give up!”  (These are often inscribed on a floral background, or some more abstract pattern that resembles a pseudo-Gothic wrought-iron fence.)

My message to those people is:  Fuck you.

I don’t know who these people think they are or what they think they’re accomplishing.  Do they really believe they’re helping people who suffer from depression, or who are going through other, similar disturbances or trials?  If so, then they really need to examine their own mental functions, because I fear they must suffer from a prolonged thyroid deficiency, or some other neuro-endocrine disorder.  Or perhaps they’re infected with the same inanity that makes so many think that by saying, “I’ll pray for you,” or “I’ll keep you in my prayers,” or worse, such idiocy as, “Pray for Manchester,” they are accomplishing anything in the world other than bolstering their own egos.  Continue reading

Don’t Try to Make Pronouns Number-Fluid

I want to begin with a very clear and definitive statement:  I firmly support LGBT rights, which are logically implicit in the very notion of human rights.  The right to pursue happiness is enshrined in the founding document of this country.  I have beloved family, friends, and personal heroes (living and dead) who are (or were) members of the LGBT community.  If a person is attracted to others of the same gender, or identifies with a gender other than the one with which they appear to have been born, then that person should be, and feel, free to pursue whatever individual truth is available and inherent to that nature, as with every other person in the world.  This is, of course, followed by the inescapable caveat, “as long as you don’t harm anyone else.”*  Since I have yet to hear of a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person seeking the right to harm other people, I need not belabor that caveat.

But I will NOT refer to an individual, no matter what their sexuality or identity, with a plural pronoun! Continue reading

Reflections Following a Sad Event

Monday, October 24th, 2016

Interesting morning so far…in tragic way.  I got up a bit later than usual, planning on taking a slightly later train, since I ordinarily arrive far earlier at the office than anyone else.  However, while the train was going north, there was an accident (another train hit someone), so they had to reroute the passengers by running shuttles and so forth…and of course there were delays.  Most people tend initially to react to such events as if this is something happening to them, but of course, it’s something that already happened to the poor person who died, and to the people who are stuck on the train involved in the accident until the authorities finish their investigation. Continue reading

In States Where They Lose Voting Rights, ex-Felons Should Not Pay Taxes

boston-tea-party-1

I first learned about many of the principles behind the United States government while watching cartoons on Saturday mornings, on Schoolhouse Rock.  These cartoon shorts are available to own, and if you have kids, I strongly encourage you to make that investment.  In any case, on a particular History Rock episode about the Declaration of Independence, I first heard of the concept of taxation without representation, as one of the major complaints that led the American colonists to rebel against the government of Great Britain.  If I recall the exact quote from that cartoon, it said, “That’s called taxation without representation…and it’s not fair.”  Having learned at least a little bit more about the concept in the intervening years, I’ve decided that I agree, and I think most people in America would concur.  How can a person reasonably and ethically be forced to pay for the activities of a government in which they have no ability to participate?

Continue reading

An Anarchistic Thought Experiment

2000px-Circle-A_red.svg

In celebration of my joyous return to Florida, and my oh-so-entertaining dealings (already) with the bureaucracy of Broward County, I thought I would post something that I originally wrote some time ago…while I was “away,” in fact. It involved an invitation and discussion of a gedankenexperiment (did I get the German right?) that I considered for myself. I would like to invite all of you readers to consider it with respect either to Florida or to your own states, and tell me what you think might happen.

Ready? Here we go.

Albert Einstein famously used “thought experiments” to explore the implications of his theories of Special and General Relativity. This was necessary because actual experiments about many of the aspects of Relativity were simply not possible…and some of them may never be. After all, we can never truly get information back from inside an event horizon, at least as far as we know, so we have to consider what might happen to someone who plunged past one only in principle. In that spirit, let’s do our own thought experiment now, about what would happen if the government of Florida–at all levels, from the Governor down to the custodian who mops up the local DMV–were to disappear abruptly.

For humanitarian purposes, let’s stipulate that no harm has come to anyone in the government, but rather that–for inscrutable reasons of their own–a powerful alien race has suddenly teleported every member of every government body in the state to some other part of the country, along with their families, modifying their memories and giving them new, and better, sources of livelihood. Also, let’s imagine that an impenetrable barrier, a la Stephen King’s Under the Dome, prevents the federal government from stepping in to take any action. How would the people of Florida react once they discovered that all those in “authority” were suddenly gone?

It’s all but inevitable that, at least temporarily, a time of chaos would ensue. Some people would panic and be overwhelmed by paranoia. Others might celebrate the sudden lack of supervisory restriction by indulging in various types of crime. But the people of Florida are, to say the least, well-armed. In the ultimate spirit of “stand your ground” legislation, many citizens would defend themselves against celebrating criminals…at least the ones they deemed truly dangerous, such as thieves, rapists, murderers, trespassers, and the like. It would be silly to imagine that all such anti social miscreants would be eliminated during such a natural “purge,” but at least some of them would doubtless find that the law had protected them at least as much as it had restricted them.

Meanwhile, the average Floridian might discover that, when true, urgent needs have to be addressed, such manufactured “crises” as drug use, gambling, and even prostitution do not directly impact upon their own health, safety, and happiness. What vigilante has ever felt the urge to hunt down and kill someone who is smoking a joint in his own home, or playing a non-state-sanctioned game of poker? A new sense of perspective about such so-called offenses might very well come into being. Wouldn’t that be nice?

It’s inevitable, of course, that some fundamental new social agreements would have to be made, instituting a new form of proto-government. Some type of currency would also have to be chosen, though at first old-fashioned barter might rule the day. One thing is certain: Having a great deal of money in the bank, or tied up in overseas investments, would not yield one anything like the advantages they do in our current society. Also, without government entitlement programs, the health and care of those unable to care for themselves would likely be provided only by the goodwill of their families, their friends, and their neighbors. Thankfully, history has show that, in crises and natural disasters, many Americans (and other humans) do tend to look out for those who are weaker than they. Not everyone does it, but a surprisingly large fraction of people do. However, the criteria for being considered truly “disabled” by one’s fellow citizens, would likely become much stricter, without “other people’s money” paying the bills. It would be interesting to find out of things would be more or less compassionate than they are as things stand now.

Whatever new form of government the people might institute–and there would very likely be many conflicts and upheavals in that process–at the very least, some serious reassessment of priorities would likely ensue. In order to survive and thrive, the citizens would need to make cooperation and productivity the watchwords of their lives. If they didn’t, natural selection would likely do its ruthless but even-handed job and wipe them out.

It would take a great deal of time to explore thoroughly all the possible effects and ramifications of a sudden loss of government in the state of Florida. We can be sure that there would be at least some violence, and a great deal of disorder, fear, and heartbreak. Ultimately, though, there would have to be a return to a new equilibrium, if that term makes any sense, and it could be hoped–if one were optimistic–that the new government might be less intrusive, less authoritarian, and more streamlined than that currently in existence. It’s a historical truism that governments tend to increase in power, complexity, and self-justification over time; thus, however disorderly our alien intervention might temporarily make things, it’s possible that the complete loss of the current government of Florida might, in the long run, be very good for all honest Floridians not already in the government’s employ.

What are your thoughts? What are some of the things that you think would happen if aliens eliminated the government of Florida, or of your own state, if you’re not a Floridian? Would things ultimately become better, or would they be worse? Let me know.