Thursday, July 20, 2017

News Media Confuse Viewers by speaking as if all Oligarchs are Russian

Dateline: TENNESSEE—American corporate news media baffle viewers by presupposing that all oligarchs are Russian citizens.

“You never hear CNN speak of American oligarchs,” said news media watcher Alonzo Plompus. “For some unknown reason, whenever you hear about oligarchs on cable news, they’re always Russian.”

An oligarchy is a state ruled by only a few people, or by a small minority. Officially, the United States is a democratic republic, not an oligarchy. But Russia under Vladimir Putin likewise holds elections, giving at least the appearance of being democratic.

According to Plompus, viewers of CNN are perplexed by the cable news meme “Russian oligarch,” because they’ve become “familiar with the phoniness of American democracy.”

For example, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but lost in the Electoral College, and that college of elites was “established by the Founders as a bulwark against democracy.”

In 2001, George W. Bush was handed the presidency by the Supreme Court, which ordered that Florida stop its controversial, grossly-dysfunctional vote count.

And a 2014 Princeton study found that because American governmental policies for four decades have demonstrably favoured the wealthy and ignored the majority’s stated interests, and because the richest ten percent therefore has held a virtual veto on public policy, the United States is effectively a plutocracy, which is a type of oligarchy.

“Then there’s the gerrymandering that renders the congressional elections a total charade in numerous states,” said Plompus. “Because of corruption in how redistricting was done to lock in arbitrary advantages after the 2011 census, many Republicans found they could pick their voters rather than the other way around.”

“But you never hear the phrase ‘American oligarch’ on US cable news,” said Mr. Plompus. “Even the business elites who ruled in the American Gilded Age are called ‘robber barons,’ never ‘oligarchs.’

According to the Forbes list of the world’s 500 richest people in 2017, only 28 are Russian citizens. The United States has over 200. The richest Russian is only 46th on the list, whereas 8 of the world’s richest 10 billionaires and 14 of the richest 20 are American.   

Mr. Plompus held a contest to brainstorm hypotheses to explain this puzzling news media phenomenon. The winner, whose solution was voted most promising, received a basket of assorted muffins.

One of these hypotheses is that journalists are lazy and so once they devise a meme, they become glued to it because they’re averse to creative thinking. But this hypothesis leaves open the question of how the meme got started.

Another solution is that the word “oligarch” sounds vaguely Russian to the “clueless egomaniacs” who read the news on the corporate news channels, according to the teenager who suggested this explanation. The word “oligarchy” is actually rooted in ancient Greek.

The winning possibility, raised by Delilah Butte, is that the news media believe that all the world’s oligarchs packed up and moved to Russia, “because they like vodka or because Russia is so geographically enormous that it can better fit all their gargantuan possessions.”

Ms. Butte generously shared her muffins with the others who attended the contest.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Clash of Worldviews: Is Philosophy a Boon or a Con?

MODERATOR: Good evening, denizens of the interweb, and welcome to a special edition of Clash of Worldviews. We have a stacked panel here to discuss whether philosophy is a boon or a con, a topic that should naturally branch out into the meaning of life and the nature of happiness. Please put your hands together for Adam, noted liberal secular humanist; Heather, postmodern pessimist and cynic; Lindsey, Catholic conservative; Fred, popular alt right blogger and President Trump supporter; and Tariq, Muslim writer and intellectual. In addition, we expect two special guests to drop in later.

But in the meantime, let me put this question to the panel: Who here has a negative view of philosophy? And let me be clear, by “philosophy” I mean not just the academic subject, but any use of critical thinking to answer life’s most general, fundamental questions. 

Scientism and Normative Myths

ADAM: There’s a problem with that definition of “philosophy,” though, and once we see what that is, we’ll see what’s wrong with philosophy. If you’re talking about “any” use of critical thinking in those areas, you’re talking about cosmology, physics, and mathematics, but those are sciences. So the reason philosophy is indeed a fraud is that philosophy has been rendered obsolete by scientific progress. Thus, those engaging in the old-fashioned discussions are wasting their time.

LINDSEY: All hail Western scientism! Tell us, Adam, which scientific theory has established your liberal values or demonstrated that capitalism and democracy are the best ways of organizing a society.

ADAM: No political opinions are known to be true. We don’t need to think critically about them. Instead, different societies try out various political and ethical ideas, and majorities gravitate to the most attractive options. Capitalism and democracy rule in most places because they work well, not because of any argument or experiment. History is a process of trial and error.

HEATHER: Oh, so it’s good to know that, according to that bit of pragmatism, it isn’t exactly true that humans have rights or that women should be treated as men’s equals. I suppose those bits of liberal Enlightenment wisdom just happen to work for a while until the next fad comes along, correct?  

ADAM: Correct, but there’s no need to be smarmy about it. For a belief to be true, you need a fact to correspond with the symbols making up the thoughts that constitute the belief. And there’s no fact of the matter when it comes to what we ought to be doing.

HEATHER: Really? Then won’t you tell us more about how the Western lifestyle works relatively well. I take it you mean that individualism, capitalism, democracy, and the rule of law are most effective in achieving certain goals. What are those goals, I wonder. 

ADAM: Presumably, the point of a social structure is to make people happy or to ensure that some members are more powerful than others.

HEATHER: So if history discards some cultures and lifestyles and preserves others, as being more or less effective at achieving those goals, how do we justify those ultimate goals themselves? Not through history and not through science. How else, then?

ADAM: Who says they have to be justified? That’s just the way things are: we want to be happy or to dominate weaker persons.

LINDSEY: So if you lived in a dictatorship and you came to be dominated by the corrupt ruling elites, Adam, you might feel the power distribution is unfair, but you’d still maintain there’s no way to prove the elites are in the wrong? You’d just say, “Oh, well, that’s how things are around here in the torture chamber.”

ADAM: I might fight back or try to reason with the torturers, but even if I were to succeed, that wouldn’t show it’s empirically true as a matter of fact that their conduct is wrong.

HEATHER: No, not “empirically” true, just philosophically so. Nice try with the word game. 

MODERATOR: If I might interject, Adam, are you saying that philosophy doesn’t exist or is some sort of illusion, or instead that philosophy has been outmoded by science?

ADAM: The latter, of course. Talk about word games—that’s all philosophy is now, because the substantial issues are handled by the sciences.

LINDSEY: Like the issue of whether we should strive to be happy or should rebel against dictators? Yeah, right!

ADAM: People still engage in philosophical speculations—and religious ones too—but that doesn’t mean those are respectable practices. You won’t come to know anything from philosophy or religion that you shouldn’t instead be learning from science.

HEATHER: He means you won’t learn anything from philosophy or religion in the scientific way. So are you going to blame philosophy for the fact that you’re now playing another word game, even though you supposedly reject philosophy?

Can we move on from this scientism? Philosophical questions are meaningful, not to mention profound. Indeed, their profundity can be measured by the extent to which their answers are potentially subversive.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Miracle of Intelligent Selection of Events

Do miracles happen? Is the notion of the miraculous still useful, after the Scientific Revolution? I think so, contrary to the strawman originating, perhaps, from David Hume’s criticisms of natural theology. Hume misconceived of miracles as violations of natural law, defining “natural law” as an inductive generalization that’s based on observations of mere correlations between events. We perceive loose patterns in the world and add causal connections via the imposition of instinctive expectations or heuristics (cognitive rules of thumb) onto the more open-ended data. We thus naturally simplify the world’s infinite complexity to make rational sense of it, as opposed to wishing the world operated according to the gratuitous, occult dictates of divine commandments. Natural laws are thus opposed to religious dogmas, for example, in that the former are based on the brain’s interpretive mechanisms, whereas the stem from strategies for social domination.

This Humean view is right as far as it goes, but it’s not sufficiently atheistic. There are no objective natural laws, since “law” in this case is euphemistic. There are regularities which we understand according to our models which simplify and idealize to further such pragmatic ends as our interest in exploiting apparent natural processes. But all laws are social agreements, given atheism rather than deism or theism. Strictly speaking, there are no natural laws and thus there can be no violations of them. Thus, the notion of a miracle as a violation of a natural law is useless. Here, though, is a worthwhile notion of a miracle: a miracle is an anomaly that astonishes or terrorizes those who appreciate something of the strange event’s significance. Notice that this definition is consistent with the foregoing account of natural order. Again, there are perceived regularities which are understood in light of our subjective and social resources, including our cognitive rules of thumb and experimental models. The regularities themselves are objective, as are the data that inform our models, but the way we understand and explain the phenomena are largely anthropocentric. Even scientific understanding, which bypasses the crude anthropocentrism in the metaphors implicit in natural language, inherits the animal’s prejudice for the utility of working tools or traits. The chief standard for scientific explanations is their workability in the civilized project of taming the natural world. Like all gross, bullying demonstrations of power, technoscience will likely prove to be self-destructive. In any case, we become accustomed to the regularities we observe, because we’re in terror mainly of what we don’t understand. Anomalies, then, are those natural events which are rare and which we don’t understand. Some subset of anomalies is, further, miraculous, because a philosophical suspicion of its cosmic importance subverts the predominant way of life.

There have been at least three miracles in this viable sense. First, there was the proto-physical event that sparked the universe’s creation from quantum weirdness rather than from any intelligent design. Virtual nothingness proved to be unstable and so particles popped spontaneously into being. Then the seed inflated and evolved into spacetime which fragmented into the galaxies of solar systems we see today. Second, life developed from nonlife. At one time, physical processes occurred despite there being no one to wonder at them. Some such processes created a rudimentary form of biological life, and that life form complexified by natural selection and by other such evolutionary means so that organisms acquired various body types, including senses and brains for interpreting the environment. Third, some organisms developed also a vision of how the world should be and boldly sought to modify how the world naturally is, according to that ideal.

The Miracle of Artificiality

Let’s focus on the third miracle, which is the miracle of artificiality, of art and of all other idealistic contrivances. Part of this miracle is present in the way the natural patterns of some system persist despite interference from the system’s environment. This is why working explanatory models are ceteris paribus, why they include some humble recognition of the model’s limitations or partiality. The model is about a special occurrence that “tends” to happen but that may or may not actually happen, depending on the circumstances. In the laboratory, those circumstances are controlled for, so the phenomenon can be studied in isolation and in its pristine form, whereas in the wild, factors which aren’t covered by the model can intervene and prevent the causal relationship from materializing. There are, then, possible outcomes, one of which speaks, as it were, to what we think of as nature’s structure, to some signal or meaningful bit of information, whereas the other outcomes are so many confounding noises. Only a theory of the totality of the universe would bypass the need for this distinction between system and environment, between the part and the whole, in which case the places of every part would be understood according to their interrelations that make up the whole of everything; more precisely, the whole would be understood as a unity with no divisible parts.  

Saturday, July 1, 2017

President Trump attended Secret Workshops to learn how to Lie like a Politician

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C.—Leaders in both the Democratic and Republican parties have been holding secret workshops with President Trump to teach him how to lie well.

According to an anonymous source who attended some of the meetings, there has been widespread frustration in Washington that Trump has been giving politicians a bad name due to the “pitifully weak” quality of his lies.

“The problem isn’t that Trump lies all the time,” said the source. “No one expects a politician to tell the truth. The problem is that Trump has no idea how to lie well.

“A politician is supposed to be such an expert at lying that even though you know it’s the politician’s job not to tell the truth, you go along with the lie because of its plausibility and the smoothness of its delivery.”

Trump’s problem is that “he’s too old to keep track of his infinite lies, and he lies about things that are obviously not as the president is making them out to be, so he gives the game away. A classic example was his lie about the size of his crowds at his inauguration.”

Moe Backalley, a presidential historian believes the problem may be a deficit in President Trump’s short-term memory capacity.

“The president seems unable to remember what he said a week ago on Twitter or at a press conference, when he later says the opposite, and so some of his lies are easily exposed because the press can just check the record and confirm the contradiction.”

Trump’s defenders insist, on the contrary, that he’s a master of deception. “No one know which way is up or down anymore,” said a Trump voter. “That’s all thanks to Trump’s audacity. He’s gaslighting the nation, creating a whole new narrative and making the facts—so beloved by the establishment—irrelevant. That means he’s winning!”

The workshops included tests of Trump’s understanding of the difference between truthfulness and deception. Trump was shown a plate with one apple on it, and was asked how many apples are on the plate. He answered, “There are three apples. Very, very nice apples. Shiny and red. One of my companies sells apples, you know. The best apples in the world. You should buy some.”

The apple was removed from the plate and Trump was asked, “What’s on the plate now?”

The president answered, “There’s a dog turd on the plate.”

But there was in fact no such dog turd.

“And where’s the dog that produced that turd?”

“In my coat pocket,” said the president.

According to the source, the president then swiftly devoured three of the ten present politicians and their bodyguards, somehow unhinging his jaws like a snake and swallowing the men and women whole.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Liberal Morality Emasculating, argues noted Political Pseudoscientist

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C.—Horace Mollycoddle, political pseudoscientist at the Machiavelli Institute, has theorized in his interview with Subversion Magazine, that being morally right on the political issues is correlated with being a wimp or a sissy, which is why politicians who need to best each other in the bloodsport of politics either can’t justify their policies or are unwilling to fight for what’s right.

Quoting Yeats, Mollycoddle said, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Liberalism is more rational and ethical than conservatism, according to Mollycoddle, and liberalism entails assigning equal rights to women and minorities “whose feminine interests and slave morality rub off on liberal men, draining liberals in general of the strength to wage war on the manifest villainy of so-called conservatives.”

Thus, in the United States, Republicans trounce Democrats and “push their odious ‘free-market’ policies of plutocracy and their anachronistic and incoherent family values to evermore insane extremes. Alternatively, liberals somehow scrape together a victory, but lack the stomach to apply their progressive principles, as in the case of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama.” Mollycoddle added that Hillary Clinton would likewise have governed as a neoliberal centrist, had she defeated Donald Trump in 2016.

Mollycoddle therefore posits a Wuss Factor that renders liberals “girly-men,” as Arnold Schwarzenegger called them. “This is the flip-side of Obama’s famous lack of ‘drama’: he didn’t create any drama while in office only because he didn’t care about anything, which is why, in turn, he didn’t fight for anything.

Obama’s defenders have said he’s cerebral rather than spineless or nihilistic, but Mollycoddle contends that “intellectualism, as in Woody Allen’s perennial movie character or Dostoevsky’s ‘mouse’ in Notes from the Underground, can provide cover for cowardice.” Instead of admitting to “a lack of the irrational inner strength that’s often needed to take decisive action, the hyper-aware intellectual will rationalize in an endless cycle of doubts and half-measures.”

Obama didn’t fight for a public option in the healthcare debate, said Mollycoddle, and so he will “suffer the irony that ‘Obamacare’ may be repealed even though Obama’s Affordable Care Act wasn’t at all a progressive alternative but was a conservative, Romney-style non-solution to the problems with the American healthcare system. And when he discovered that Vladimir Putin was waging cyberwar against the US in its 2016 presidential election, Obama dithered and choked instead of punishing Russia.

“Ultimately,” Mollycoddle continued, “this is because it’s impossible to be both moral and manly. To be sure, the liberal’s heart will always be in the right place. Unfortunately, this means Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi, Jimmy Carter, or any other liberal leader necessarily lacks the killer instinct to destroy his or her enemies.”

Ordinarily, in a healthy democracy, politicians would have “no need for battlefield virtues, no need to attempt to systematically annihilate their rivals,” because both sides would have the common welfare in view and would gladly compromise to retain the nation’s dignity.

But the twenty-first century American political system is “evidently dysfunctional” and “the so-called conservatives are actually radical anarchists who seek to further impoverish the majority of Americans to benefit the wealthiest one percent who have no need of any social safety net, since they live in their own worlds.” 

Mollycoddle then cited Lewis Mumford on the Rabelaisian culture of the sixteenth-century Country Houses in Europe: “The conditions which underlie this limited, partial good life are political power and economic wealth; and in order for that life to develop well, both of these must obtain in almost limitless quantities. Honest labor cannot achieve such wealth or command such leisure: it is possible only through privileged exploitation of the resources and labor of an entire country, for the benefit of a minority. The ease, the grace, the dignity, the spacious days of this society are therefore purchased at the price of the toil, the constriction, the ceaseless economic anxiety of the mass of the population: not only at home but in the exploited territories abroad. Under all its patent refinements goes a ruthless monopoly of land and political power. Force and fraud, either remote or recent, are the twin foundations of Country House existence” (The Condition of Man).

“The reason conservatives rig the American economy,” said Mollycoddle, “is to recreate that grotesque inequality. It’s a war of princes, lords, or plutocrats against the planet in general, but particularly against the majority of mere ordinary mortals.

“So conservatives haven’t a prayer of being anywhere near right on the issues. Their political views are so many loathsome, decadent monstrosities or bestial sneers and postures. But they inevitably end up on top because liberals are pussies, and the reason liberals ‘lack all conviction’ is precisely because they’re in the right.

“Morality itself is the Wuss Factor.”

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Cocktail of Journalistic Insights

Dateline: NEW YORKMake no mistake, journalists were fired up, so they drilled down and rolled out a cautionary tale of the bombshell that landed on a dumpster fire in the middle of a firestorm, after the grilling of senators who pivoted to whether they’d reached a tipping point or were just playing politics, not fearing the optics of thinking outside the box at the crossroads of their last ditch effort, although there was plenty of blame to go around in this searing indictment of the favourite Washington parlor game that turned a blind eye on a potent symbol of the game-changer which donned the mantle of a hotly contested feeding frenzy.

Needless to say, it remains to be seen in the 24-hour news cycle of the digital age, whether, at first glance, the woefully inadequate, byzantine rules that burst onto the scene will allow the punditocracy to breathe a sigh of relief or will force it to probe the powers that be for the American people, but those rules double-down with strange bedfellows in the wake of keen observers of tongue-wagging, well-heeled lobbyists who met with an ignominious end in the final analysis at the end of the day when, for all intents and purposes, cooler heads prevailed at the inflection point of no return that was shrouded in secrecy in an ill-advised, much-ballyhooed, hastily-convened, closely-watched and oft-cited paradigm shift of a broken system that underscores the object lesson of this Rorschach test.

Be that as it may, this is not your father’s tectonic shift, if you will, and Christmas came early for skittish donors in that land of contradictions which ushered in an eye-popping era in a nutshell that, contrary to popular belief, prevented anyone from acknowledging the new normal in which there are no face-saving compromises and we all press each other’s hot-button issues which are the talk of the town, yet a portrait emerges of a grizzly veteran who endured withering criticism in a dizzying array of wide-ranging interviews in a nondescript office building, and of the poster child of an unsung hero who was tapped to rise from obscurity and spark a debate that raised the specter of hand-wringing partisans on both sides who traded barbs in a war of words and walked on thin ice in a charm offensive, going forward as creatures of Washington in a stinging rebuke to the fevered speculation of the proverbial growing body of evidence that shines a spotlight on a political football, which raises more questions than answers about the tightly knit social fabric.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Putin contends Trump wasn’t Competent enough to have Colluded with Russia

Dateline: MOSCOW—In an exclusive interview with Fancypants Magazine, Vladimir Putin took offense at the allegation that Donald Trump was competent enough to have colluded with the Russian government in the hacking of the American political system that helped win Trump the presidency.

“Trump deserves no credit for that Russian triumph,” said Putin. “Just as the Soviets did the lion’s share of the work in defeating the Nazis, my army of hackers vanquished American imperialism almost singlehandedly by securing Trump’s victory, sowing chaos in America that won’t be repaired for generations.”

According to Putin, Trump is merely his and his oligarchs’ pawn, not a co-conspirator. “Sure, we helped elect Trump by various underhanded means. And sure, Trump would have applauded our efforts. But Trump is brainless and has nothing he could deliberately offer us without screwing it up first. We wouldn’t accept his conscious attempts to pay us back since he’d just bungle any pro-Russia scheme in his typical ham-handed manner.

“No, we saved Trump from ignominious failure after his near financial ruin, when no American lenders would touch him, given his tendency to bankrupt his companies. Through Bayrock Group, Russian oligarchs invested in his brand and in his family’s ventures at the start of his media career, in 2002. As Eric Trump said, ‘We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.’

“We did this to prop up that psycho-clown, positioning him as a living WMD to one day blow up the American empire.

“Then we pulled the trigger in 2016, when we helped to bring down Hillary Clinton by hacking the DNC and manipulating the egomaniacs and bean-counters in charge of American mass media, supplying them with fake news they couldn’t resist recirculating.

“Again, we did all this and asked for nothing in return from Trump. Trump’s being Trump is thanks enough. Being himself, he couldn’t avoid bringing down the American government from within, once he became president. He couldn’t help but divide and trash his own country due to his mental disorders and stupendous incompetence.”

Putin insists on taking all the credit for Russia’s role in helping to bring Trump to power. Although during the campaign Trump publicly called for Russia to hack the DNC and retrieve Hillary’s secret emails, the Russian hackers were busy waging a full-spectrum cyber assault on the American political system.

“Yes, we heard Trump’s plea for aid against Hillary Clinton, but Trump deserves no credit for the genius we displayed in our steering of the American election. He’s a bumbling buffoon that we wanted to win, because Clinton, the vicious neoliberal, is a hundred times more threatening to us than Trump, who can be led by the nose just by flattering him once in a while.”

Putin hopes, though, that Americans continue to “feed Trump’s ego” with charges of his treachery.

“You have to know what you’re doing to be a co-conspirator,” Putin said. “You have to be able to put one foot in front of the other without knocking over a table, slipping and landing on a dog, rolling through a wall and bringing the whole house down.

“But the more Americans are dazzled by the conspiracy theories and build up Trump as a criminal mastermind, the more they’ll stoke his rage and hasten their downfall via his clownish overcompensations. Naturally, they’ll ignore what I have to say, since who could trust Putin?”

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Nature of Sympathy

Recently, at the end of a work day, I parked the company car at a public parking lot. When I exited the car I happened to notice, just in front of the left rear wheel, a curled-up baby mouse. I knelt down and saw that its eyes were closed and it was periodically shivering. I wondered whether I’d struck the mouse with the car, but there was no sign of blood. Perhaps the mouse was cowering before the giant vehicle, as I had only nearly crushed it. More likely the mouse had been abandoned by its mother, since there were no other mice I could see nearby. I wondered whether there was anything I could do to help. But I quickly realized I might do more harm than good, since as soon as I left with the baby, its mother might return to fetch it. Cynically, I reminded myself that the world is cruel, that untold millions of animals everywhere suffer unspeakably, that the mouse might carry some disease, that even if I did somehow rescue it, I’d thereby be depriving some other hungry creature of an easy meal. In any case, I didn’t have the time during the day and night to care for a baby mouse. Later, I checked the internet and there are indeed steps that could be taken to rescue an abandoned mouse, one of which is to drop it off at an animal shelter, which I didn’t think of at the time. In any case, I left the shivering baby to its devices, my rationalizations overcoming a pang of anguish I suffered on the mouse’s behalf. 

The next day, I returned to the car, expecting to see a tiny corpse in front of the wheel, but there was none. Had its mother returned? Had a raccoon gobbled it up during the night? I’d never know.

This raises several issues, but I want to focus on the nature of that spasm of pity that provided the backdrop for my musings on what to do as I stared at the helpless rodent. What exactly is sympathy? The least helpful answer is the rationalist’s, which is that sympathy is in recognition of the golden rule that we feel for others in need because we fear to contradict ourselves. Ethics in that case would be a matter of logic. We ought to help others, because we’re no better than they and we would want to be aided in return or if the situation were reversed. All of this may be so, except that it has nothing to do with logic. Instead, it’s based on the implicit social contract: if I scratch your back, you scratch mine; otherwise, society breaks down and we all lose out. But the free-rider, who takes that chance, violating social expectations such as by accepting a favour but failing to return the good deed, hasn’t acted irrationally by gambling, since the odds are indeed in his or her favour. Society likely won’t crumble as long as the majority dutifully respects the social contract while only a minority has the audacity to be selfish. Indeed, in so far as logic is at issue, unethical behaviour has the merit of being supported by that probabilistic inference. The free-rider (the con artist, sociopath, or criminal) who excels at pretending to care about others or who is protected from the victim’s reprisals, by wealth or social connections, can have the best of both worlds, including society’s protection from the elements and the benefits of enriching herself at everyone else’s expense. Life is short and so a pragmatic decision might well be in favour of selfishness, in which case the Golden Rule is for dupes who are merely lacking in self-confidence.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Democrats begin Impeachment Proceedings on the Grounds that Donald Trump is an Old Man

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C.—After the 2018 U.S. congressional election, Democrats won back enough seats to bring impeachment proceedings, but they decided to simplify their case against Donald Trump, citing only the undeniable fact, as the reason for the urgent need for Trump’s immediate removal from office, that Trump is “an old man.”

There are hundreds of scandals, crimes, conflicts of interests, gaffes, inadequacies, or other embarrassments that can be attributed to Trump’s presidency, but leading Democrats believe they can avoid getting into the details by reminding everyone that, after all, Trump is just an old man and thus is obviously unfit for high office.

“There’s something that happens to you when you get old,” said Senator Al Franken. “You go downhill, as they say. That means your brain doesn’t work as well as it used to. Why should your brain stay the same when the rest of your body is clearly deteriorating? I mean, your skin sags and gets full of wrinkles, you lose muscle mass and bone density.

“You go downhill. At the bottom of that hill is the sort of old guy ridiculed in The Simpsons. You get to be like Homer’s dad who babbles incoherently and can’t take care of himself anymore because, you know, he’s gotten, like, really, really old. That’s what’s happened to Donald Trump: he got old, far too old to run a country.”

Democrats contend that, although he’s always been a boor, Trump’s senility is responsible for the outlandish scope of his incompetence. Thus, there’s no reason “to get into the weeds,” as one Democrat put it. “You just go with what’s obvious and can’t be denied. Trump is super old and he acts like it. So he needs to be pushed into retirement.”

Republicans have accused Democrats, in turn, of being hypocritical, since numerous top Democrats are over seventy years old, including Bernie Sanders, Barbara Boxer, Pat Leahy, Harry Reid, Carl Levin, and Dianne Feinstein.

Franken replied that while many Democrats may likewise technically be far too old to be entrusted with driving a car, let alone with the enormous responsibilities of holding high political office, they’re “functional old fogies,” whereas Trump is “off his rocker and off his meds.”

Sociologist Millie Hildebrand credited the PR firm Old Folks Rule for conspiring to generate the misplaced confidence most people have in the elderly, which is why, she said, the elderly are often reelected.

“In an election,” Hildebrand said, “voters see the old man or woman next to the fresh-faced challenger, and the young gun doesn’t stand a chance because he or she lacks experience. That’s what most voters think; they go with the greater experience.

“What these voters forget is that the more experience you have, the older you must be, and after a certain number of years you suddenly become simply an old man or an old woman. When that happens, it becomes absurd for others to expect much in the way of competence from you.

“For example, an old politician won’t be able to keep to a tight schedule, because he or she will be in the bathroom all day and all night. How are you going to talk tough to dictators on the phone when you’re always sitting on the toilet?”

Jay Wackadoodle, a political pseudoscientist at the Machiavelli Institute, offered a different explanation for old people’s success in politics, pointing to the fact that most American voters are themselves elderly, given the shockingly-low voter turnout in all U.S. elections over many decades.

“We vote for people like us,” he said. “Bald guys are more likely to vote for baldies. Blondes vote for blondes, racists vote for racists, and the elderly vote for the elderly.

“That’s how narcissism works, and we’re self-obsessed because our materialistic culture drives us to be consumers, first and foremost. We have to attend to all our needs and wants, and so we have to buy all these products; we think the world revolves around us. Naturally, then, we presume we ought to run the country, but because we’re too fat and lazy to do so, we vote for the next best thing, someone who reminds us of ourselves.” 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Reason, Faith, and the Authentic Self

In a society dependent on technoscientific progress, the conflict between faith and reason is liable to be underestimated, due to a rationalist bias. Faith or intuition will be interpreted as an inferior form of cognition, the assumption being that knowledge is the ultimate goal of both science and religion or art. But this rationalist interpretation understates the magnitude of the conflict.

Reason versus Faith

Reason has mostly been a weapon we’ve deployed against obstacles in the social and natural environments: we devise hypothetical models and test them to discover regularities we can exploit. The problem is that the regularities we find in most of the world are perfectly inhuman. The more we exercised reason to know what nature is and how it works, the more we had to doubt our intuitions and our comforting self-image. To take the most glaring example, the natural world we observed, measured and modeled got larger and older, the more objectively we examined it. We once thought we were at the center of a universe that consisted only of our solar system, and that the universe began only “days” before our arrival in the animal kingdom, just several thousand years ago, as the biblical Creation myth speculates. Now we know the universe is unimaginably larger and older than that, consisting of trillions of galaxies and having begun billions of years ago. And that’s just the observable universe. Natural reality includes dark energy and matter, which dwarf the universe as we experience it. Plus, there may be a multiverse which dwarfs even that vaster universe.  

In fact, the smart money is on meta-cynicism. Anthropocentrism has been proven wrong at every turn, and so we can induce that the end of human knowledge will be some supremely negative form of self-effacing anti-humanism. If you want to picture the most rational worldview, you should begin by imagining a monstrous form of objectivity, such as the kind we attribute to the baddies in science fiction, to the indifferent aliens or to the cold and calculating robots. This objectivity devours every precious illusion, including all the life-preserving myths and fairytales that nurture our pride in the human enterprise. But objectivity doesn’t stop there, as indicated by its postmodern, deconstructive phase. Reason embarrasses the life-affirming emotions and intuitions, but it eventually turns on itself so that science and knowledge in general become de-sentimentalized. Knowledge turns out not to be a tool or a weapon, after all, but something like a black hole that negates everything in its path, finally devouring itself. Reason is for understanding the world, but in standing under or apart from phenomena, as we learn to detach from them to see them as they really are, we learn to do the same for ourselves. As a result, the Cartesian divide is undone and the posthuman vision is of a natural universe of amoral, inhuman processes that can’t exactly be affirmed as such, since reason ultimately reveals the world to be indifferent to meaning, truth, value, and other such anthropocentric illusions. The universe as we objectively present it to ourselves is utterly inhospitable, a source of horror or anxiety for enlightened creatures. 

The honourary saint of Reason is thus the devil, beginning with Prometheus or the serpent of Eden whom the Gnostics revered as the first skeptic and truth-teller, because he subverted the shaky divine order as it was naively intuited by the animal slaves that adhered to Yahweh’s commandments. The serpent warned Adam and Eve that their creator was tricking them and holding them back, whereas they had the power to investigate and to exploit natural processes to their advantage. But Reason as symbolized by the nay-saying serpent turned out to be cursed, since the cost of knowledge is death, the banishment from the paradise that the world seemed to be when we encountered it in our innocence as a young species. (We still perceive the world to be a magical paradise when we’re children and don’t know better.) The mythical character Satan became the cynic who challenged Yahweh with doubts as to whether Creation was as magnificent as it seemed, as in the Book of Job. In the New Testament, the devil is demonized, because Christianity began as a barbaric, anti-intellectual form of Judaism that obliged everyone not only to moderate our behaviour but to think as children and to banish ungodly thoughts, to avoid everlasting punishment. Failing those superhuman feats, believers merely had to worship Jesus in a cult of personality to be saved from original sin and from the other flaws of Creation, in a new world to come at the cataclysmic end of time.