24 April 2011

But in the spirit of commemoration

- whereby those important events of the past, usually associated with someone's death or the end of some awful bloody struggle, are celebrated with a nice holiday....

Having long since seen little point in attending to religious ceremony, or really ceremony generally speaking, I see no reason to commemorate such useless things. So instead I will demonstrate my annoyance with some particular commemorations.

Twisting Fawkes attempt to impose Catholicism into a struggle for freedom is a little off-putting, but otherwise, it is not all that distant the operations of most modern religious institutions and their promises of order, of freedom from thought (rather than of thought), and so on from V's speech.

I suppose if your desire is to depose of your reason and your faculty for tolerance of viewpoints distinct from your own in exchange for an illusory sense of balance and appoint to yourself a label of holy moral judge of the character and habits of others, if your desire is to absolve yourself the responsibility to live in exchange for the presumption of an afterlife, and that always full of reward. If it is to demand of others the conformity to your comfortable assumptions and claims of common sense rather than investigation of wisdom and a discomforting presumption that you might be wrong, then religion is the perfect world for you.

But I'd have to ask how far it has fallen since Aquinas and Augustine and others to make a challenge of free will and the responsibility of engaging and wrestling with one's moral ethical standards over a lifetime somehow a mortal danger worth casting aside in favor of being told what to do and how to live by others.

19 April 2011

In which religious fundamentalism is revealed

Seems like a plausible thesis: That religious identity and the fervor which it has undertaken in parts of the world is a reaction to a perceived threat to identity and individual meaning. It is a lot more comfortable to "find" meaning by having someone else tell you what it is I suppose, and much easier to make sense of the behavior of "others" when you belong to a firmly set group holding strict ideas. I think this method is lazier and often leads to a lot of sloppy thinking (plus inherently leads to tribalism), but then again, most people do not do a whole lot of existential questioning of their lives and societies either.

The biggest element to all of this is the resilience, of a sort, of universalist set of values against this allergic reaction to cultural shifts that some have adopted. I'm not totally sure I buy his thesis that it's an effective response. I'd have to probably see how he lays out the case for that. But it is essentially what non-religious fundamentalist people often do, adopt an overarching view of say "tolerance" or a respect for free people's choices within some reasonable constraints and move on rather than busy themselves worrying about what everyone else is doing. The crucial part is that such a set of ideals worries less about what others are doing, but it still has to grapple with the individual's demands for status games somewhere in there. I'm not sure that his explanation is satisfactory for how to thread that needle. Nor does it seem to me that if this is already a commonly held liberal worldview, so to speak, that it would have any sensible impact upon the traditionalist worldviews that are attempting to insulate themselves against this modern global environment. I don't see a whole lot of crossover happening here already.

I'm also not convinced that the problem is worse or amplified in a social media standpoint. I think the problem always existed in humanity and that there are just more people in the ballgame than ever before competing for those same social accolades of status. The ballgame is different than just "valedictorian at your high school" or something like that from the previous generations, sure. I don't see how that intensifies the problem. It would seem like that means there are more winners (and more losers), but that there are more opportunities as well to get back into the "game".

The most convincing thread of his thought is the explanation for things like suicide bombing (along with other acts of isolationist violence engaged in by fundamentalists, like murdering doctors for example). A desire for immortality that is so powerful it leads us to completely devalue life itself? ....And to wonder that I called that whole afterlife concept the most pernicious aspect of religious dogma and theology.

16 April 2011

As if I needed another reason

to be pissed with this guy

14 April 2011

Another difference

There seems to be a distinction between most libertarians and progressives over economics, and commonly we are lumped together with right-wing conservatives for this distinction. While it is broadly speaking true that libertarians and conservatives share some economic views, this appears to summarize what we lack in common on economics.

"Libertarians generally have two broad types of reasons for favoring a free-market system, which countenances potentially quite large inequalities, without a great deal of redistribution: First, they think the incentives and decentralized coordination this system produces generate much more wealth for the society as a whole over the long run. Second, they think it’s an important way of respecting people’s free choices and agreements (given, of course, a bunch of controversial assumptions about the conditions under which a choice counts as “free” and the scope of our rights over physical stuff, as opposed to the added value human effort imbues that stuff with).

Conservatives will say those things too, but it seems to me they’re far more likely to rely heavily (primarily?) on the idea that wealth is a deserved reward for hard work, ingenuity, prudence, and whatever other virtues they ascribe to the rich—while the poor must similarly deserve their lot by dint of being lazy, dissolute, and so on."

This is why, when discussions about drug-testing welfare recipients comes up, I'm having to fend off these absolutist perspectives that all poor people are inherently vile creatures who don't "deserve" the money that we give to them and thus that somehow instituting a vast draconian system of testing at our expense would, presumably, give us the decreased liability of taking care of the poor and downtrodden. When in fact, most people are poor for structural reasons, and many of those are poor for temporary reasons (job loss in a downsizing field, divorce, newly minted graduate, etc). Drug testing these people serves no purpose and we are now talking about a set of people who are chronically poor for other reasons. Most of those are not Calvinistic predestination any more than people are born with an inherent quality that provides them with wealth and prosperity. Things like poor education systems, broken homes, lack of societal role models, generally poor incentives, lack of job opportunities in poor neighbourhoods growing up, etc. Much of this is beyond individual control and somehow it becomes thus that we are bound to punish people for it by presuming that they are guilty of being poor for other reasons (never mind that people can be quite wealthy or successful and use drugs, alcohol, etc, but that they also acquire and use drugs or alcohol in "approved manners").

And there are a whole wealth of preference sets that conservatives internalise and do not wish to see the public choose, and seek to restrict these while posing as the agency who opposes bigger governments (as a system requiring drug tests of welfare recipients would be, or going back further, as a system requiring state authorities to help seek out escaped slaves or to engage in conquest for an empire of slavery would be, from those former "state's rights" folks). Drug wars, abortion/birth control, religions other than Christianity (or whatever the predominant religious agency is in a conservative's realm of existence), education, use of language, cultural tastes in art or music, expressions of sexuality, forms of sexuality, etc. All attempts to restrict as though such restrictions are best used through governments and would somehow be modest or small intrusions into private preferences of a broad subset of people who are not conservatives and do not share these preferences.

But of course at the same time, I have to beat back the prospect that all wealthy people are inherently scummy people that should have their wealth and prosperity confiscated and provided to the poor. I'm reasonably comfortable with a set of liberaltarian values which might include a welfare state which must be funded, in part, by redistributive or progressive taxation. But the sort of political optics that have to be engaged in do little to encourage people to adopt what appear to be successful models for a prosperous life. And of course neither do our actual policies favor such things where they create barriers to entry for no apparent reason other than to protect or at least insulate market participants from the vagaries of the market system itself. One reason libertarians are fond of freer markets is that wealth can be overcome by new players in the field, new technologies, and so on, rather than it to be used to rig the market against both. Conservatives are often as uncomfortable by the prospect that a market system changes societies very rapidly and somewhat unpredictably just as progressives are. And this leads to half-adoption of things like a market for education or health care, mostly just to subsidize their own choices at preference to those of others however, and not to actually create open markets where their preferences would have to compete. Progressives are fond of somehow concluding that given a choice between the broken systems we have now and more socialized ones, the public will generally choose the more socialized one. And this is correct. But it is not the choice that a libertarian, free market endorser proposes having in play either.

The game is rigged. And it's rigged by both the players toward having their own slightly different flavor of tea. Since I hate tea anyway, I'm not fond of playing by those rules.

13 April 2011

A list of biases and preferences

1) Pro-civil liberties/anti-security theater
1a) Pro-free speech especially.
2) Pro-sex ed/anti-anti-science (ie, abstinence only sex ed)
2b) Pro-vaccines too for that one
3) Anti-dumb regulation. I see these all the time in the form of licensing laws, sign restrictions, most traffic laws, etc. A better way to put this is that I am anti-symbolic laws. Laws should actually function to do things against that which they purport to oppose when they are constructed. They should not simply be a pass-forget system in which we feel better for having done something (or opposed something) and we all move on without having evaluated whether the law actually benefits the people it is publicly intended to. Most laws will have beneficiaries, but they are often authorities, or rent seeking industries, and not say, poor people, or minorities. Many laws use the fallacy of a corner solution also and ignore their significant costs and effects in their haste to attend to a single issue (and often enough, badly at that too, as in the case of anti-drug laws).
4) By contrast, pro-externality prices. So by my reckoning, gasoline, most forms of energy, water, meat, corn, or milk probably would either cost more if left to their own devices in the market or would use more efficient methods to gather them (as would most narcotics cost more in my idealized state, as they would be largely legal and taxed). Sugar would probably cost less. Corn and milk probably would too. As would labour
5) Pro-immigration/anti-xenophobia. I think there are some smart arguments against mass immigrations of people across borders, but most of them are coached in the same tired "logic" of the Know Nothings in the 1840s and 50s. That these are a noisy, dirty lout of criminals and degenerates streaming across the border. Send them back from whence they came! And so on.
6) Pro-Utilitarianism and empiricism. Anti-received "wisdom". Lots of arguments are just utterly wrong when they come this way because people don't fully understand where they are coming from themselves, having not had to think through their beliefs. If you have very few critical first principles, and arrive at them basically as "free people will tend to do better than otherwise", because that seems to be the historical trend, then it's a stronger case to be made than "america is teh awesome" or some such.
7) Anti-emotional appeal. I see people doing this frequently. The plural of your anecdote is not data.
8) Pro-market. I'm not definitely anti-union, but I'm not all that fond of them at this point either. They have not done much of benefit for the public since we enacted a series of labour laws and they mostly operate as another source of rent-seeking for an industry lobby.

12 April 2011

Planned parenthood and other bits and pieces

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Pap Smears at Walgreens
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

I remember being stopped in the street in Philadelphia by an activist wanting funding for activism (and not for the actual day-to-day operations for Planned Parenthood), and my response to this...was that they didn't need to worry about it. I'd be okay giving money to the actual organisation. Not for lobbying that wasn't necessary because I was certain that it a) wouldn't pass and b) wouldn't get through the Senate or the President. And c) wasn't necessary to cut in the first place. It mostly saves us money to give poor people access to cheap preventive health care for one and it's not nearly a huge chunk of the funding (neither was NPR, though I'm certainly more comfortable saying we don't really need social funding for public broadcasting companies). Symbolic politics being what they are, I guess it was important to go to war over a few pennies on the floor when there are dollars to be had that are flying out of the building. Remind me again why I'm supposed to take these Tea Partiers seriously?

(Wake me when more Republicans take Paul Ryan seriously. Much less when any Democrats do and propose something of their own which deals with entitlements. Or when Paul Ryan takes himself seriously and proposes things dealing with tax reform more specifically than "we need to do it" and with defence and "security" cuts to boot. He didn't cut nearly enough in my view, still I'm glad someone took using block grants for medicaid seriously at least).

But in any case, the "not intended to be a factual statement" meme, that's glorious.