Crashed on Takeoff

August 30, 2008

I ought to make the obvious official: this blog, which had barely taken a breath, is already dead.

My intent was to use the blog format as a tool to examine my own beliefs critically and hopefully arrive at something resembling a defensible worldview. But that’s a lot of work. I haven’t abandoned the goal, but it’s too confusing to be pursued this way, at least for me. I’m already questioning certain things I’ve posted, but I don’t want to go back and amend them and I don’t want to be constantly arguing with myself. This is why I’d begun to delve into observational political stuff that didn’t specifically advance my goal; I never really got serious about the self-analysis.

This blog has more unpublished entries than published. I’ve also got a folder on my computer jammed with text files full of half-thoughts that will never see the light of day. So it’s not that I’ve had no ideas — quite the opposite. My mind is buzzing with colliding ideas, but that chaos is hard to express. I’d been hoping that the chaos would begin to coalesce into coherent thoughts that I could post, but that hasn’t been happening. The overall trend in my thinking is becoming clear, however, even though it hasn’t been expressed here: I’m becoming something of a radical.

I doubt that I’ll revive this blog, so if you were kind enough to link to it, feel free to remove that link. If I do resume blogging, it will probably be less ostensibly about self-analysis and more overtly about sociopolitical critique, and under another title (I really do love this title and subtitle though, so I won’t say never). But I’ve got no plans for that at the moment. My activities are right now centered on various topical forums, which I prefer to blogging because the response is immediate and the discussion is not focused on a single author.

Anyway, thanks to those of you who took the time to read and respond to my odd thoughts. :-)


Reasonism Versus Areasonism

July 17, 2008

I’m watching Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0, and after Sam Harris’s talk there was a comment from the audience (at 48:20) that perhaps a good replacement for atheist would be reasonist, because the prefix a- is usually applied by those who are in the position of power within a given paradigm, to identify those who reject that paradigm. So we should turn the tables and call theists areasonists.

The comment somewhat misunderstands the etymology of atheist, which is not actually a derivation of theist, but in fact comes to us more or less intact from the ancient Greek atheos. Anyway that’s quibbling over a minor detail and is beside the point.

I love the idea. It’s really just a reworking of rationalism versus irrationalism, but the a- prefix has the added benefit of drawing a connection to atheism, with the hope (at least for me) that the point would not be lost on the recipient of the areasonist label.

Presidential Illegitimacy

July 14, 2008

The US has never had a legitimately-elected president, because legitimacy has only been possible in the last nine elections, and none of those presidents has received majority support from among the voting-age population (VAP). And as I’ve said before, the percentage of registered voters (RV) is not a valid indicator of support, because not voting is the same as voting “none of the above” (NOTA).

The first possible legitimate presidential election was 1972 (which Nixon “won” with 33.51% VAP), because the 26th amendment guaranteed the right of 18-year-olds to vote in 1971. If you’re old enough to fight and die for your country, then you’re old enough to have a say in how it is governed, and anyone who disagrees with that had better have a powerful argument.

If you reject the above (let me get some popcorn before you begin that argument), then the first possible legitimate presidential election must have been 1924 (which Coolidge “won”; % VAP unknown, but at 54.04% RV it couldn’t have been a majority), because it was the first where women from every state were able to participate fully (the 19th amendment, which guaranteed the right of women to vote, was ratified in time for the 1920 general election, but not the primaries, thus that election was not fully legitimate).

If you reject the above (I’ll get more popcorn), then the first possible legitimate presidential election must have been 1872 (which Grant “won”; % VAP unknown, but at 55.58% RV, again, it couldn’t have been a majority), because it was the first where (male) blacks were (technically) guaranteed the right to vote, by the 15th amendment (ratified 1870). I say “technically” because they were still disenfranchised through all manner of intimidation, especially in the south.

If you reject all the above, then you’re probably a racist, misogynist… monarchist… or something.

Incidentally, here are the VAP percentages for all nine post-26th-amendment presidential elections:

1972 - Nixon   - 33.51%
1976 - Carter  - 26.81%
1980 - Reagan  - 26.67%
1984 - Reagan  - 31.21%
1988 - Bush I  - 26.77%
1992 - Clinton - 23.76%
1996 - Clinton - 24.12%
2000 - Bush II - 24.11%
2004 - Bush II - 28.49%

So there you have it, the closest we’ve had to a legitimate presidency is Nixon’s second term, to which he was elected by barely 1/3 of the electorate. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which part of that sentence is more depressing.

More fun with numbers:

Interest in the upcoming election appears high, so participation will presumably be relatively high as well. But according to the source I’m using, the highest VAP turnout on record was 63.1% in 1960, when Kennedy beat Nixon by less than 113,000 votes (the source doesn’t have turnout records before then). That election was at least as hot as this one. Also, the highest winning RV percentage since 1824 (when the popular vote data begins), was 61.05% RV in 1964 (Johnson).

Assuming a generous (but unlikely) two-thirds VAP registration and turnout (using the 2004 VAP count, since I don’t have the current figure), and assuming the winner of the upcoming election takes two-thirds of the RV (also unlikely), then he would boast the support of over 44% of the electorate — better than Nixon, and probably the best ever, but still illegitimate.

Is Homosexuality Natural, or Supernatural?

June 24, 2008

Religious people usually claim that homosexuality is a choice. If this is true, then how does one account for the Bonobo chimpanzee? These close relatives of ours use sex as a social lubricant (no pun intended), with both sexes engaging in frequent homosexual activity. Is this a lifestyle choice? Do they have “free will,” or is their behavior natural?

If it is natural in the Bonobo, then there is good reason to believe that it is natural in humans (not to mention the other species that exhibit the behavior). This would refute the “choice” hypothesis. It would also mean that God, as the creator of all things, must have created homosexuals and intended them to be that way.

If it is unnatural, then it must be the opposite of natural, since a behavior cannot be both natural and unnatural. The opposite of natural is supernatural. This, too, would mean that God created homosexuals and intended them to be that way.

Which position would the religious prefer to deny? Unless they wish to present some other hypothesis, they must decide if homosexuality is natural or supernatural. The only solution to this riddle, as I see it, is to grant free will to those other species, which raises a whole new set of questions that will need answering.

On Self Defense

June 21, 2008

If rights exist only by virtue of their recognition by others, then presumably only those liberties which concern others would require that a right to enjoy them be granted.

For example: a right to privacy. Since I can hardly prevent the rest of my community from barging into my home all at once and rummaging through my personal effects, then my right to privacy can only come from a mutual agreement that we will not do that to one another. Moreover, in the absence of a community of potential snoops, I do not need a right to privacy — it becomes meaningless.

But what about a right to life? What does that phrase mean? (Note that I am not talking about the abortion issue here.) Presumably a right to life carries with it a right to self defense. To say that I have a right to life, but not to self defense, implies that there exists some other means of guaranteeing the first if I am assaulted while no third party is around. Without round-the-clock protection, there can be no such guarantee; and besides, who would protect my protectors? It is not enough simply to extrapolate that thought, and suggest that we are all each other’s protectors; clearly, the risk of being attacked exists, even in a large community (especially there!). So unless we engage a protection force capable of watching over each one of us at all times, and we grant them the right to self defense (since we are compelled to fold our arms in the face of danger), then we must ultimately rely on ourselves for protection.

But do I even need such a right? Does the terminology of rights even apply? Whom does it concern, besides myself and my attacker? Presumably he will not agree to my right to defend myself against him, so we will have reached a stalemate. If anything, my attacker would need a right to attack me (since murder has a negative impact on society); presumably that right would never be granted.

No, I submit that it is of no concern to the rest of society whether I defend myself or not. It’s not as though I can choose to “go around defending myself,” so as to become a menace to society; the choice is foisted upon me, and it is mine to make. I need no “right” to self defense. I must prove that my attacker presented an imminent threat to my life, but I need not justify or even explain my response to that threat.

If there is no need for a right to self defense, then is a right to life still necessary? Yes: since the individual cannot adequately defend itself against the collective, then a mutual agreement is in order, as with the right to privacy. Unfortunately, this does result in a “fox guarding the henhouse” scenario, which is how capital punishment (and privacy violations) can be tolerated in an otherwise civilized society. But, that is another post for another time.

If You Run Them, We Will Vote

June 20, 2008

A lack of participation in the democratic process is an implicit “No” vote for all the available choices. If there were any choices that the non-participants felt they could support, they would participate.

Looking at the 2004 U.S. presidential election, 56.2% of the voting age population participated. Never mind the percentage of “registered voters,” that is a stupid figure which only proves the point: if the choices elicited enthusiasm, an overwhelming majority of the VAP would not only register, but would actually show up and vote. Bush received 50.73% of that 56.2%, Kerry received 48.27% of it.

In other words: 71.49% of the VAP effectively voted “No” for Bush; 72.87% did the same for Kerry.

These turnout figures are typical. At best, about one third of the electorate makes the decisions in American politics. Any lower and I would be tempted to throw around pejoratives like “oligarchy.” But it would be an oligarchy by consent (if that makes any sense), which somehow makes it sound even worse. Turnouts for state and local elections run from slightly better to much worse.

What should this tell us? That something is fundamentally wrong. It’s not that “the system” is flawed; that is just a convenient scapegoat for people who lose elections. It’s not that the people aren’t politically educated; they don’t need to be educated (although ideally they would be), they just need to be motivated.

There is a lot of hype for Obama this time around, but I am not convinced that it is genuine. I don’t foresee an overwhelming turnout. I hope that I am wrong. Regardless of who wins, a 100% turnout should be the goal, more so than victory for any particular candidate. If the victor cannot induce a majority of the VAP to vote for him, then he did not “win” anything. It is possible to win and still be a loser.

Give people something to vote for, and they will vote. If they are not voting, then the choices suck. It is just that simple.

(Figures taken from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections.)

Does the Planet Belong to Us, or Do We Belong to the Planet?

June 20, 2008

“One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk.”
–attributed to Thasuka Witko, A.K.A. “Crazy Horse

John Locke, who was a theist, believed that since God created humans, we are his property. I do not believe in God, but I do still find value in much of Locke’s philosophy. Just because he begins from a theistic starting point doesn’t mean I have to dismiss everything he said, so long as I limit myself to those parts that do not depend on God, or I replace God with some other causal agent that fits reasonably well: evolution, for example. Of course, when I do that, I may be forced to tweak the philosophy a bit in order to make sense of it without God…

According to Locke, the creator owns his creation, which for humans means that we own that which we create or make useful by our labor. However, unlike God, we are bound by the restriction of sufficiency: it would be unjust to accumulate so much property that we deprive others of the ability to fulfill their needs. If I hoard all the berries, I’ve not only taken more than I can eat before they spoil, but I’ve taken that which I could have left for you. When it comes to land, this philosophy dictates that I am only justified in owning that which I am capable of working and turning to utility. (Presumably our right to own land at all comes from the belief that God has gifted the planet to us.)

But what happens when we replace God with evolution as our “creator”? It should be obvious: the relationship between humans and the planet gets flipped, and we become the “property,” or, more appropriately, the children, of “Mother Earth.” The natural process of evolution arose from the conditions of the planet, so its offspring is the planet’s offspring. If the planet is our creator, then how can we own pieces of it? The created cannot own the creator. The very concept of land ownership requires a supernatural creator, because the supernatural cannot be ensnared by this neat little trap.

In short: supernatural origins allow for land ownership; natural origins preclude it.

It was not long ago that I would have bristled at a post like this, yet here I am writing it. My position then was that I should not be allowed to use land unfairly — for example, to buy up all the land surrounding an important resource and prevent you from gaining access to it — but the concept of land ownership was perfectly acceptable to me (although I’ve never owned any). Yet, once again, reason has forced me to reconsider my position in order to remain consistent.

This poses a potential problem for me, regarding my position on “One World” government, since it becomes difficult to justify our borders if we cannot justify our claims to the land. But that reality doesn’t erase the one I described in the other post, and that one represents a more serious and immediate concern, in my judgment. The issue of political empowerment, and the fear of losing it under a global authority, is very real, whereas this topic is largely philosophical (although it does have real-world repercussions).

At any rate, it would seem that if Locke was right about ownership, then Crazy Horse was right about the land.