Category Archives: Philosophy

All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Arrested Development

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Arrested Development, quite possibly the most finely crafted series ever to hit television screens, is slated to return any day now. With all fourteen new episodes to be released on Netflix at once, we’ve been excitedly re-watching, reading about, speculating and incessantly quoting for months (years) now. And though it seems like this will probably be a standalone run with no plans announced to produce a follow-up movie or further seasons, I hope the executives at Netflix have nonetheless anticipated our anticipation, lest their massive servers be brought down by our cultish traffic. No matter what happens, the Bluths and their Balboa mythos in the O.C. have already indelibly altered our lives and philosophical outlook, for better or worse. Because they understand more than you’ll… never know.

All I really need to know I learned fromarresteddev

  1. Always leave a note.
  2. Feel the hot sting of sweat in your eyes from an honest day’s work.
  3. Curl up in a ball and remain motionless when confronted.
  4. I’d rather be dead in California than alive in Arizona.
    Arrested Development - Jessica Walter
  5. Never give up animation rights.
  6. Hermano means brother.
  7. Don’t yell.
  8. Never promise crazy a baby.
  9. Vodka goes bad once it’s opened.
  10. You want your belt to buckle, not the chair.
  11. Do not be afraid to ride her. Hard.
  12. It’s okay to take a little something from work.
  13. The blue part of the map is land.
    alg-arressted-develpment-will-arnett-jpg
  14. Do not order the Skip’s Scramble.
  15. Don’t leave the door open with the air conditioning running.
  16. This close they always look like landscape. But nope, you’re looking at balls.
  17. Children should be neither seen nor heard.
  18. It’s the poor craftsman who blames his tools.
  19. You’re gonna get some hop-ons.
  20. Annyong is Hello.
  21. When you can do this without getting punched in the chest, you’ll have a lot more fun.arrested-development-season-4
  22. It ain’t easy being white, it ain’t easy being brown…
  23. Never touch the Cornballer!
  24. Sometimes a diet is the best defense.
  25. It’s called ‘taking advantage.’ It’s what gets you ahead in life.
  26. A Fake Popemobile doesn’t stop real bullets.
  27. Wine only turns into alcohol if you let it sit.
  28. Buy all your cars at police auctions.
  29. Buy yourself a tape recorder and just record yourself for a whole day. I think you’re going to be surprised at some of your phrasing.
  30. arrested-development-tv-shoow-image-blue-tobias-01Don’t pit your sons against each other.
  31. Portugal is in South America.
  32. Take the foil off the ding-dong before putting it in the microwave.
  33. If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a night, but if you teach a man to fish, he’ll want to use your yacht.
  34. Thou shalt protect thy father, and honor no one above him, unless it be-eth me, thy sweet Lord.
  35. The only scary thing about a one-armed man trying to scare someone is the fact that he feels his one arm is only good for trying to scare somebody.

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  1. When life hands you a chance to be with someone special, you just grab that brownish area by its points and you don’t let go no matter what your mom says.
  2. A trick is something a whore does for money. Or cocaine candy.
  3. If there’s still plenty of meat on that bone, take it home, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato. Baby, you’ve got a stew going.
  4. The jury is still out on science.
  5. Too many lives have been ruined because some cheap waitress at a HoJo’s said she used an IUD.
  6. Faith is a fact.
  7. You gotta lock that down.
  8. British Parliament has three Houses.
  9. If you have a son, either take him to the cabin in the woods, or promise to take him and then not take him. But never not tell him that you’re taking him to a cabin in the woods and then not take him.
  10. Don’t teach lessons.
  11. NO TOUCHING!
  12. Life is about making difficult sandwiches.
  13. Family is the most important thing.
  14. Breakfast is the most important thing (of the things you eat).
  15. There’s always money in the banana stand.

The Genetic Killer

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Another proposed “solution” to the mass shootings in America is sure to upset many camps; privacy advocates, mental health care advocates, and even those calling for the heads of the murderers. Soon we will have the results of genetic analysis of Adam Lanza, which may be used by scientists to model genetic predispositions of violence, or by defense attorneys in their pleas. This controversial science is being criticized from all sides, condemned as “misguided and could lead to dangerous stigmatization.”

via Vaughan Bell at Mind Hacks:

But the request to analyse the DNA of Lanza is just the latest in a long line of attempts to account for the behaviour of individual killers in terms of genetics.

Perhaps the first attempt was for a case that bears more than a surface resemblance to the Sandy Hook shooting. In 1998, a 15-year-old high school student called Kip Kinkel killed both of his parents before driving to school and shooting 24 students, one of whom died.

In his trial a child psychiatrist argued that Kinkel had “genetic loading” that made him susceptible to mental illness and violence.

His appeal also relied upon this angle. His lawyer argued that “owing to a genetic predisposition, and therefore through no conscious fault of his own, the defendant suffers a mental illness resulting in committing his crimes.”

Perhaps for the first in decades, an appeal to genetics was used in an attempt to explain the killer’s behaviour.

The genetic arguments became more sophisticated with the trial of serial killer Cary Stayner where a psychiatrist and geneticist presented a genealogy of the his family showing how mental illness and violence ‘ran through the family’.

By the time of the trial of murderer Stephen Mobley, the defence based part of their case on molecular genetics – suggesting that Mobley had a version of the MAOA gene that made him susceptible to violence.

It’s worth noting that none of these appeals to genetics have been successful in the courtroom but it’s interesting that in light of the tragic events in Sandy Hook there has been, yet again, a look towards genetics to try and make sense of the killer – this time presumably based on the yet more advanced technology of whole DNA sequencing.

On this occasion, however, the reasons seems less related to issues of legal responsibility and more for scientific motivations, supposedly to better understand the ‘DNA of a killer’.

As the Nature editorial makes clear, this is foolish: “There is no one-to-one relationship between genetics and mental health or between mental health and violence. Something as simple as a DNA sequence cannot explain anything as complex as behaviour.”

There is a valuable science of understanding how genetics influences violent behaviour but analysis of individual killers will tell us very little about their motivations.

It does, however, reflect a desire to find something different in people who commit appalling crimes. Something that is comprehensible but distinct, alien but identifiable.

This may give us comfort, but it does little to provide answers. In the midst of tragedy, however, the two can easily be confused.

While I have mulled the utility of psychopathy testing before (mostly to weed out serial killers and white-collar criminals), I certainly don’t want to demonize mental illness. I also don’t want to see this turned into a genetic witchhunt, with public registries that would affect hiring, insurance rates, or result in other forms of discrimination or revocation of rights. Not only is it unknown for sure if Adam Lanza (or even James Holmes, for that matter) suffered from mental illness or disorder, but depending on the definitions, as many as 1-in-4 Americans might fall into this camp. This framing also narrowly and unfairly decides what is “normative,” always a dangerous proposition for society.

This sort of ‘registration’ might end up much worse for our liberty and democracy than any gun registration, by orders of magnitude. Especially if, as indicated by our elected leaders and the NRA, we are more concerned with tracking and banning these individuals than providing resources and help.

It sets a scary precedent, but it is also the observable evidence-based realm of science. Should we even go there? What do you think?

Read the artice in Nature, and follow Mind Hacks for more in-depth analysis of complex psychological and neurological issues.

Red vs. Blue

redvblueWe’re joined again by aaronJacob who helps us dissect the ridiculous divisions in party politics and ideology, examining the faulty logical steps that make them falter and fail. We decry both the stubborn projection of the GOP and the unscientific post-modernism of the Democrats. Their refusal to recognize evidence and facts may be partly to blame for their refusal to work together to make positive change for the country.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-01-12: Red vs. Blue by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – The Marimba Belles
Muuttuvat Laulut – Georg Ots
The Stars & Stripes Forever – Matmos
Hornets – Herbie Hancock
Take Me Just As I Am – Mitty Collier
Boys & Girls – Alabama Shakes
Haqq Al-Yaqin – Om
Virus – Tes La Rok
Rip (w/Bun B) – Childish Gambino
Ezili Freda – Cut Hands
Between Love And Hate – Nehuen
Before I’m Done – Toro Y Moi
Oscillate Wildly – The Smiths
Noam Chomsky Spring Break 2002 – Department Of Eagles
Muzik Mogollar – Moğollar
Geistige Nacht – Aksak Maboul
Zemer Attic/Tanz Tanz Yiddelach – 3 Leg Torso
Bratislava – Beirut
Dongle – The Baghdaddies
Kinetic Work – Hangedup
San Francisco Setting of the Cries of Two Newsboys on a Foggy Night in the Twenties – Harry Partch
Cumbia – Sobre El Mar Trio Serenata
the atom man theme – the vitamin b12
Music From Dry Machine – Oleg Kostrow
Everyone Is Afraid Of Clowns – Kumquat
3:24 – Clutchy Hopkins
Secondchance – Dan Paladin
Space Slut – Captain Funkaho
Hot Juicy Girls – Dupobs
Thus the Whirlgig – Daedelus
Polka Ofver Svenska Folmelodier

The President and the Democrats were able to get modest concessions on the fiscal cliff deal, averting a cliff disaster of their own arbitrary making, and in the process The Repubicans now have the debt limit and federal budget to use as leverage, while Obama gave up all of his own. The GOP even managed to turn the sequestration  which had been against their favor, as further collateral for their cause. The entire process was referred to by Joshua Holland at AlterNet as ” a hostage exchange.” Half of them aren’t even arguing about the same thing. They don’t want to fix the deficit or the debt; they just want smaller government. Both Tea Partiers and progressives are unsatisfied with the deal, unhappy that any compromise was met, or perhaps such pisspoor compromise. The media ate all of this political drama up like a reality show. So what does it actually do? The payroll tax rate is going back up to where it was in 2010, 6.2%, before President Obama pushed through a temporary cut to spur economic growth. And this return to the previous payroll tax rate hits everyone. And although low-wage earners dodged the bullet of seeing their tax rates rise from 10% or 15% to significantly higher rates, the tax on capital gains and dividends will be permanently set at 20% for those with income above the $450,000/$400,000 threshold. It will remain at 15 percent for everyone else. This is a huge drop from the Clinton-era rates, not to mention the rates of the 50’s and 60’s, disproportionately benefits the wealthy and hurts the middle class, and will not be enough to generate revenue for the government. Assuming one purpose of the tax code is to bolster the domestic economy more than the economy of other nations, taxing that investment at a lower rate than the employee’s labor is completely backward. This will result in a downward drag that globalization, mechanization and de-unionization have had on workers’ incomes. Wages have fallen from 53 percent of GDP in 1970 to 44 percent today—a shift of nearly $1.5 trillion away from wage income. The median wage continues to drop, adjusted for inflation, even though the economy is growing. And the share of the economy going to wages rather than to profits is the smallest on record. This was also a huge compromise on the tax goals President Obama outlined at the beginning of last month. In return, however, he received a fair amount of funding for anti-poverity and stimulus programs. The expansion of tax credits for lower-income Americans—initially paid for by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—will be extended for five years. This includes the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit (originally pioneered by Republicans in the 1990s), and the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Unemployment insurance will be extended for another measly year.

President Clinton’s tax rates delivered big budget surpluses and one of history’s strongest rates of economic growth. By contrast, President Bush’s cuts to those tax rates birthed massive deficits and the slowest rate of economic growth in modern history. Yet, faced with the fiscal cliff’s choice between Clinton and Bush tax rates, both parties agreed to ratify almost all of the latter.

Worst of all, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the final bill will increase the budget deficit by $4 trillion. Way to go, guys. Where is this money going? While the bloated defense contractor handouts couldn’t be touched, other corporations were affected. The legislation reportedly contains $205 billion in tax breaks (kick backs) for corporations, including:

  • “seven year recovery period for NASCAR motorsports entertainment complex property”, which is to say it allows anyone who builds a racetrack and associated facilities to get tax breaks on it. This one was projected to cost $43 million over two years. engaged in construction.
  • $165 million a year for railroads to maintain their tracks.
  • $150 million in deductions for Hollywood studios that film in low-income communities of just in the United States.
  • $9 billion a year to help banks and manufacturers “engage in certain lending practices and not pay taxes on income earned from it,” according to Naked Capitalism. Specifically, the bill allows the banks and multinationals to defer paying taxes on foreign income, thus encouraging the creation of jobs outside the United States.  supporters of the bill include GE, Caterpillar, and JP Morgan.
  • Sec. 323 allows US multinationals to not pay taxes on income earned by companies they own abroad.

This provides plenty of goodies for corporate interests, who meanwhile would like to convince Americans to cut taxes, spending, and regulations—divert all attention from record-high corporate profits and the concentration of income and wealth at the top. Another “subsidy for fancy Manhattan apartments and office towers for Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Corp” was supposed to go directly to the small businesses affected by 9/11. Goldman got $1.6 billion in tax free financing for its new massive headquarters through Liberty Bonds.

  • An increase in the import tax on rum from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to benefit rum distillers in these U.S. dependencies.
  • Tax incentives for mining companies to buy safety equipment that they should be buying anyway. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to bribe mining companies to not kill their workers.
  • $1 million a year in tax credits for coals companies that mine on land owned by Indian tribes.

Another little-noticed item in the bill changed the law that establishes conditions under which the president is allowed to reduce the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Rather than such action being contingent on certifying that Russia has first met its nuclear treaty obligations, the president now only has to know whether or not Russia has done so. There is more that the bill doesn’t do, because in a much realer way, we all lose. It does not fix the problem of dramatically increasing publicly-held debt. The “deficit debate” completely ignores this problem, as well as the starving, the sick, the dying, the preyed upon, the bankrupted. We’re already spending nearly 18 percent of our entire economy on health care, compared to an average of 9.6 percent in all other rich countries. Yet we’re no healthier than their citizens are. In fact, our life expectancy at birth (78.2 years) is shorter than theirs (averaging 79.5 years), and our infant mortality (6.5 deaths per 1000 live births) is higher (theirs is 4.4). In fact, the “austerity caucus” thinks it has a good shot at cutting Social Security and Medicare as part of a “grand bargain” with Obama. So anything at this point only kicks the can a short way down the road.  If cuts to popular retirement benefits end up in the mix of a budget deal, then this deal would have paved the way for a bad outcome. They want to take hard-won rights from you and me and call it ‘entitlement reform‘, a false bill of sale based on rhetoric and myth. These are programs that Americans direly need:

Census data showing 49 percent of Americans living in homes where at least one person is collecting a federal benefit – food stamps, unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation, or subsidized housing — up from 44 percent in 2008.

The number and percentage of Americans in poverty has increased dramatically, including 22 percent of our children. Social Security won’t contribute to future budget deficits. By law, it can only spend money from the Social Security trust fund. That fund has been in surplus for the better part of two decades. Taming future deficits requires three steps having nothing to do with entitlements: Limiting the growth of overall healthcare costs, cutting our bloated military, and ending corporate welfare (tax breaks and subsidies targeted to particular firms and industries). The current bill ignores the first, allows the second to go one unabated, and makes the third even worse.

  • Military: in 2012, the U.S. government spent about $841 billion on security—a figure that includes defense, intelligence, war appropriations, and foreign aid. At the same time, the government collected about $1.1 trillion in individual income taxes. (And about $2.4 trillion in revenues overall if you include payroll, corporate, estate, and excise taxes.) In other words, about 80 cents of every dollar collected in traditional federal income taxes went for security. Nobody in Washington seems interested in seriously curtailing defense spending that is greater in real terms than what the U.S. spent in the Cold War—despite the fact that the U.S. will be officially at peace when we withdraw from Aghanistan next year and the U.S. faces no major global adversaries.
  • Corporate Welfare: through bailouts, no-bid contracts, pork, tax cuts, subsidies, deductions and loopholes.

So what can we do? Besides just minting a symbolic trillion-dollar coin? The American Prospect advocates more tax brackets for the super-rich, rich, and sorta rich, breaking apart their interests.

In 1960, there were 17 brackets above $35,000—(roughly $250,000 today)—going up to $400,000 in annual income, or $3 million. Now, there’s a single one.

We could favor running large deficits in order to stimulate the economy during and after the Great Recession. But there’s something deeply wrong about proposing to permanently tax Americans at the lowest level in a generation and funding defense at Cold War levels while piling up over $6 trillion in new debt. And the president’s budget only makes things worse, largely continuing the fiscal disasters of his predecessor.

So that’s what the fiscal cliff was really all about, Charlie Brown. A group of lunatics threatening one disaster after another. So we look at the despicable, hypocritical, baseless and often schizophrenic philosophy of the far-right, which has become a black hole of conventional conservative wisdom in the media, on Wall Street, on the Beltway, and in the GOP, NRA and Tea Party.

The right has its own religion and mythology, unsound and invalid proposals and conclusions that they not only live by, but hypnotize their constituents into taking on faith:

  1. Austerity works.
  2. We need less government spending.
  3. Social Security and Medicare is in ‘crisis’ and we need to cut it.
  4. We’re “living beyond our means.” More snake oil.It’s undertaxed corporations and billionaires who are living beyond our nation’s means, by claiming an inordinate and unearned share of our nation’s wealth and not paying their fair share of taxes for it.
  5. Banks paid back what they owed us from the bailout. First, we don’t have a full accounting even now. Secondly, we’re still responsible for the enormous amount of toxic risk which Wall Street created and the government then assumed on its behalf.
  6. Wall Street-ers didn’t commit any crimes – or they’re too hard to prosecute.
  7. Accusing the other side of Voting Barriers and Voter Intimidation (while doing so themselves)
  8. Federal Programs Need to be Rolled Back
  9. Billionaires Have the Free Speech to Steer Presidential Races
  10. So Do Secret Big-Money Groups

When they’re not focusing on the plutocracy, they’re proselytizing a theocracy:

  1. Religious School Voucher Subsidies
  2. Creationism In Science Classes
  3. Prayer And Proselytizing In Public Schools
  4. ‘Conscience’ Exemptions to Health Care Coverage
  5. Anti-Shariah Laws

“Is that just math you do as a conservative to make yourself feel better?” Not only does Fox News repudiate the findings of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on last year’s US temperatures, but even went so far as to insinuate that the academic researchers should go to jail.

“In the business and trading world, people go to jail for such manipulations of data.”

First of all, no they don’t. And second of all, we don’t jail scientists for reporting on actual data, we’re not Italy. If anything, its current data is even more reliable than before. But it’s not just science under attack, but mathematics as well:

“Fox News host Eric Bolling on Wednesday accused some schools of “pushing the liberal agenda” for teaching an algebra lesson about the distributive property.”

Conservatives don’t hold a monopoly on magical thinking, as the crazy cultish liberals have shown us: So we examine all of these properties and condemn both for putting ideology before evidence, and presenting faith as a fact.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-01-12: Red vs. Blue by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

The Difficulties of Discourse

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The futility of political discourse seems all-too-evident in America, whether at the highest levels of power concerning the nonexistent ‘fiscal cliff’ or the debt ceiling, or around the family reunion dinner table concerning guns and health care. Both ‘sides’ are guilty of pseudoscientific claims, misrepresenting the opposition, sowing division with unnecessary ‘othering’, and usually no real clue as to where they actually stand on the issues or why they stand there at all.

Authors like Alex Berezow and Hank CampbellChris Mooney and Jonathan Haidtclaim to have found the secrets behind flawed political brains, usually on the opposite ‘side’ than their own. Many studies and online polls posit to have found the mechanisms by which liberals and conservatives operate; liberals are smarter,conservatives are happierliberals stereotype moreconservatives bow to authority more. While many of these trends can and do show up again and again, it ignores the diversity within and without party lines, the cognitive dissonance along the ideological spectrum, and the subtler reckonings of individual issue orientation. It defies capitulation, conciliation, and compromise. The sweeping generalizations that each ‘side’ usually eschews concerning class, race, religion, gender and sexuality do not seem to apply when considering others in the political landscape.

As Peter Lawler discusses in a recent BigThink post, there is actually a very wide diversity of conservative opinion, some with more depth than others. If we understand the common history, traditions, populist underpinnings and umbrella themes of even widely disparate worldviews, we can begin to work together towards reasonable approaches and solutions to society’s ills.

What’s the big difference between American conservatives and leftist nationalists?  They have different views on how much big government can remedy the excesses of big business.  Another difference concerns their view of the goodness and enduring viability of local institutions and traditional morality.  They actually tend to agree that Marx’s description of capitalism as reducing our freedom to “nothing left to lose” is largely true.  They differ a lot on the goodness and efficacy of some socialist antidote.  From a socialist view, the [The Front Porch Republic] are agrarian reactionaries.  From a Porcher view, the Marxists are irresponsibly “Gnostic” utopians.

Clearly, generalizations and sterotyping are an impediment to progress on either “side”. Even this false dichotomy of language (a relic of the oligarchy’s division tactics and oversimplified media portrayal), contributes to the unhealthy ‘othering‘ that ultimately serves to dehumanize one’s debate opponent. If the other side wants to murder unborn babies, then they are inhuman monsters. If the other side allows people of color to live with poverty and police brutality, then they are heartless misanthropists.

Because, just as with any intellectual pursuit that involves reason, logic, and candor, striving for thorough understanding is hard. It would be much simpler to only intake the sources that validate our reactionary conservatism, religious zealotry, neoconservative militancy, wall street greed and austerity, party cheerleading, progressive utopia, new age psycho-babble, left-wing anarchism, conspiracy theory, or UFO dreamland.

Party affiliation can be deceptive, as can positioning oneself along the political spectrum, rife with overgeneralizations and false associations. Although it’s also inaccurate to outright deny existing on the spectrum at all; the truth lies somewhere in the middle. On issues, you exist more on a web, an amalgam of strands as varied as the visible spectrum of light (and even the invisible, if our mixed metaphor allows for our hidden biases and subconscious belief systems). Taken as a mean, however, it is fair to place yourself somewhere, at least initially for comparison.

So does a progressive have more in common with an anarchist or socialist than a neocon? Do a Democrat and a Republican each have more in common with a centrist or moderate than the radical extremists in their own parties? Do the moderates of each ‘side’ have more they can agree on than the loud and oversampled minority flanking their ranks?

Talking Points Memo highlighted the efforts of a small, but responsible, group of conservatives who are “pro-same-sex marriage, pro-choice, pro-tax Republican activists.” They may be on the rise, as the Tea Partiers whoenergized frenzied the base resulted in embarassing media coverage, abominable policy stances, a fractured party and a disastrous election. The cry to distance themselves may be ‘Everything in Moderation!’, as we all realize that those social issues are always going to be nagging ethical arguments nuanced between us, but that the majority of Americans are actively under attack by unprincipled predators.

Most people honestly believe their delusions and logical fallacies. They came by them honestly. It will only take the incessant jackhammering of facts to break them free. Whether they believe that there is a massive Kenyan conspiracy or that the mushrooms can talk to us, they are not crazy nor liars. The endeavor of discourse, be it personable, in the media, or the national conversation, should aim to correct misconceptions, preconceived notions, and mistakes. We are not concerned with intellectually dishonest actors here. Do not lower yourself into debate with manipulators and charlatans who are mostly concerned with power and greed. They are not usually themselves radicals or revolutionaries, unless they are using and steering such a group for their own self-interests. As a rational, reasonable debater, you will find your considerable efforts at chipping away the hard exterior of an entrenched acolyte to be far easier than dealing with an unremitting fraud. You can pull the former closer to a more moderate position with enough time and work. After all, they believe themselves pursuant to the truth; they have just fallen down a corridor of errors in their search. A liar has no such allegiance.

It is true that what is ‘moderate’ and ‘centrist’ changes over time. This is not a post-modernist statement endorsing relative morality or truth. It is evident that our national dialogue, and the pandering rhetoric of our elected demogogues, swings over time. There is nothing innate in it that demands it become more progressive or reactionary over time. Other trends such as changing demographics, current events, media, law, those in power gaming the system, and technological transparency help define what the New Normal is. We all contribute to it. We are all in a constant tug-of-war game.

It may be the case that in the grand scheme of the social contract and evolution, we are hardwired by default for authoritarianism, and to conserve the status quo. Think of gene preservation and proliferation and likewise other outlier mutations. But just because something is the popular consensus (logical fallacy: argumentum ad populum) or rules by our leaders (logical fallacy: argument from authority) doesn’t make it right. Likewise, just because something is novel or progressive (logical fallacy: appeal to novelty) doesn’t make it right. It is right because it is right. No, evidence and a factual revelation of how reality works should govern our beliefs and ideology, not the other way around.

We strive as civilized animals for societal progress; to protect the unprotected, to feed the hungry, to clothe the cold, to shelter the homeless, to defend the defenseless. Members in every camp can be reached who feel a sense of justice, fairness, equaility, and civil liberty as part of our American tradition and values. Only those actively working against a righteous human condition need be discounted from the discourse (unfortunately, they are often given center stage, the sensationalist media spotlight, a louder voice within their respective parties than the rest).

And there are a variety of radicals in every camp as well; neoconservatives, tea party conservatives, anarchists, corporatists, new agers, creationists, paleoconservatives, anarchoconservatives, tax protestors, ecoterrorists, corpofascists… Their numbers do not represent the larger percentage of each group (though on specific beliefs, biases and issues, there are predispositions from one group to another). That’s not to say that somebody with some crazy ideas can’t be right every once in a blue moon (see: Alex Jones or Terence McKenna), or that their outsider theories may not hold a kernal of interesting truth. A broken clock is right twice a day, and a logically fallacious argument can still happen to be right coincidentally.

Of course, given two theories, one should not simply report on both and say the middle ground is accurate. This is what has allowed climate change denialists to voice their ‘relative truth’ to an uncritical and overly open-minded media in defiance of the overwhelming and reliably tested scientific consensus (not to be confused with popular consensus or sentiment). The right has its fair share of creationist loonies and neoliberal acolytes. And the left has plenty of crystal-worshipping, anti-vaxxer, alternative cancer cure morons as well. It seems too silly to argue which unsubstantiated claims are more damaging to scientific advancement and public policy. We all have our false dogmas, and they all damage us all.

Proposed or theoretical truths are subject to analysis, and should be eviscerated by criticism, replicated by study after study, and broken down into underlying mechanistic principles. Only after these theories hold up (be they scientific, economic, legal or political), only then should they be added to ‘The Canon.’ The Canon, despite its strict title, is ever changing, ever flowing with both the passage of time, new discoveries and contemporary understanding.

If the austerians believe that we should continue to empower the rich (“the engines of the economy”) at the expense of the poor and middle classes, then theirs should not be the default prevailing Beltway wisdom. The burden of proof is on their economic religious dogma to bear that out, especially considering how disastrous the practiced results of just such strategies have been worldwide. If any policy-maker or pundit honestly believes the inane bullshit that comes out of their pieholes, they should be exposed to harsh skepticism. They may be honestly deceived (or self-deluded), or they may themselves be revealed as a deceiver.

The onus is on all of us to research understand the arguments we are making. Just as it is inappropriate to attack Chris Christie based on his weight (logical fallacy: ad hominem), bear the responsibility of understanding a religion before criticizing its adherents, whether fundamentalist Christian, zionist Jew or radical Muslim. Explore the finer points of your debate opponent’s political philosophy by forcing them to delve into their deepest motivations, cited sources, and logical mechanisms. Who knows? You might alter your stance a bit as well.

Challenge entrenched and unfounded belief systems, especially your own. Do so with a relentless fervor, sincerely try to falsify yourself and above all be rational, be reasonable! Learn the rules of argument and logical fallacies so that you can identify when they are employed against you, by either frauds or self-deluded. Turn the incisiveSocratic Method against all claims, but do so patiently and peaceably. Make it known when you are only playing Devil’s Advocate for the sake of comprehension. Question relentlessly and mercilessly, but also earnestly and nonjudgementally. This will force someone to defend themselves not from your close-mindedness, but from critical-thinking and logic itself. It may reduce them to tears. It may change minds. It might just change the world.

Ayn Rand vs. the Natural Evolution of Human Altruism

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The natural history of mankind’s development seems to differ greatly with the psychopathic philosophy of Ayn Rand, a ‘virtue of selfishness’ in which her heroes, such as John Galt, strive for their individual supremacy and autonomy over a collective view of public good. The fact that anthropological evidence refutes her premises would hardly have deterred Rand, who referred to the “primordial savages” of the world, “unable to conceive of individual rights.” As if the rights of individuals are mutually exclusive from such goals as sharing, or showing compassion, working in tandem or exercising a collective group intelligence (with a social awareness) to meet goals.

Indeed, Ayn Rand framed her moral arguments as if the individualists were the persecuted minority, using drastic examples like Stalinist Russia to make her invective criticisms of much more centrist or moderate positions, while ignoring the rich history of robber barons, feudal states and serfdoms. Unfortunately for her, it is not only history, philosophy, culture and economics that have shown her to be wrong, but science as well.

 writes in Slate:

Christopher Boehm has been studying the interplay between the desires of an individual and that of the larger group for more than 40 years. Currently the director of the Jane Goodall Research Center and professor of anthropology and biological sciences at the University of Southern California, he has conducted fieldwork with both human and nonhuman primates and has published more than 60 scholarly articles and books on the problem of altruism. In his newest book, Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame, Boehm synthesizes this research to address the question of why, out of all the social primates, are humans so altruistic?

“There are two ways of trying to create a good life,” Boehm states. “One is by punishing evil, and the other is by actively promoting virtue.” Boehm’s theory of social selection does both. The term altruism can be defined as extra-familial generosity (as opposed to nepotism among relatives). Boehm thinks the evolution of human altruism can be understood by studying the moral rules of hunter-gatherer societies. He and a research assistant have recently gone through thousands of pages of anthropological field reports on the 150 hunter-gatherer societies around the world that he calls “Late-Pleistocene Appropriate” (LPA), or those societies that continue to live as our ancestors once did. By coding the reports for categories of social behavior such as aid to nonrelatives, group shaming, or the execution of social deviants, Boehm is able to determine how common those behaviors are.

What he has found is in direct opposition to Ayn Rand’s selfish ideal. For example, in 100 percent of LPA societies—ranging from the Andaman Islanders of the Indian Ocean archipelago to the Inuit of Northern Alaska—generosity or altruism is always favored toward relatives and nonrelatives alike, with sharing and cooperation being the most cited moral values. Of course, this does not mean that everyone in these societies always follow these values. In 100 percent of LPA societies there was at least one incidence of theft or murder, 80 percent had a case in which someone refused to share, and in 30 percent of societies someone tried to cheat the group (as in the case of Cephu).

What makes these violations of moral rules so instructive is how societies choose to deal with them. Ultimately, it all comes down to gossip. More than tool-making, art, or even language, gossip is a human universal that is a defining feature of our species (though this could change if we ever learn to translate the complex communication system in whales or dolphins). Gossip is intimately connected with the moral rules of a given society, and individuals gain or lose prestige in their group depending on how well they follow these rules. This formation of group opinion is something to be feared, particularly in small rural communities where ostracism or expulsion could mean death. “Public opinion, facilitated by gossiping, always guides the band’s decision process,” Boehm writes, “and fear of gossip all by itself serves as a preemptive social deterrent because most people are so sensitive about their reputations.” A good reputation enhances the prestige of those individuals who engage in altruistic behavior, while marginalizing those with a bad reputation. Since prestige is intimately involved with how desirable a person is to the opposite sex, gossip serves as a positive selection pressure for enhancing traits associated with altruism. That is, being good can get you laid, and this will perpetuate your altruistic genes (or, at least, those genes that allow you to resist cheating other members of your group).

Sometimes gossip is not enough to reduce or eliminate antisocial behavior. In Boehm’s analysis of LPA societies, public opinion and spatial distancing were the most common responses to misbehavior (100 percent of the societies coded). But other tactics included permanent expulsion (40 percent), group shaming (60 percent), group-sponsored execution (70 percent), or nonlethal physical punishment (90 percent). In the case of expulsion or execution, the result over time would be that traits promoting antisocial behavior would be reduced in the populations. In other words, the effect of social selection would be that altruists would have higher overall fitness and out-reproduce free riders. The biological basis for morality in our species could therefore result from these positive and negative pressures carried out generation after generation among our Pleistocene ancestors. Who is John Galt? He refused to participate in society and no one has seen him since.

And it seems that altruistic humankind are not the only primates offended by cheating; earlier this month we saw how Capuchin monkeys respond to unequal pay. So while I’m not advocating public executions or exile, perhaps we should utilize more gossip, bad publicity and group shaming against the ruling elite classes who for far too long have existed in a bubble of their ‘virtuous selfishness.’

Community Driven

Who doesn’t love communities? Both political parties pander to our nationalistic pride, but this isn’t even specific enough. They try to meet us on our local level, we all need to act local, it’s the local ballot initiatives that matter, etc…

Communities make up such an important part of my identity that if someone were so inclined, they could probably track me online, stalk me in real life, and crack my secret identity based on my affiliations, to varying degrees.

The radio station I volunteer my time for, Mutiny Radio, is organized as a collective. I joined meetup groups based on my interests in journalism, skepticism, psychedelics… I’ve joined book clubs, study groups, online classes and forums… My financial institution of choice is a credit union instead of a bank.

In high school I worked for a community local access station, I joined the drama club, the improv group, the newspaper, the art club, and sat in on many others. The number of writing and comedy groups I’ve been in only grew after that.

There are plenty of other ways to do this besides just reading, eating, supporting, thinking, acting and voting local:

  • Move where the people are neighborly, or seriously get to know neighbors.
  • Divorce (as best as possible) from corporations and credit cards, using co-ops and credit unions.
  • Refuse to join faceless, soulless political parties.
  • Prefer to work for non-profits.
  • Eat and drink where they know your name.

I enjoy a sense of belonging, and don’t we all? But I also relish the networked, communal resources, even intangible ones like help, advice, ideas or connections.  This shouldn’t be some arbitrary and impersonal affiliation like Republican or Fundamentalist Christian. And while you should explore and respect your local geography, we also know that we live in a globalizing society. Online social networking is great, but shouldn’t supplant your physical relationships, instead allow both to blend more smoothly. Just as the world and web blur the distinctions between fiction and reality (after all, society both exists and doesn’t exist).

Even Ghandi was wrong to shun relationships, to the detriment of his own family.

Communities can be close-knot and vast at the same time, so long as they are still personal and inviting. They not only offer the ego a satisfying succor of belonging, but purpose, direction, opportunities, and a wider, more worldly view of this thing called the human condition. You just have to strike a balance between being overwhelmed and underwhelmed, unfulfilled and happily fulfilling.

The Lie of the Conservative Batman

I’ve waited a week to post this until enough people have had a chance to see the latest Dark Knight movie, but it bears mentioning: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Batman mythos runs so deep in our culture, that parallels are easy. Claims now run rampant that the latest brilliant installment of Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight trilogy is anti-Occupy, or pro-capitalist in sentiment. That it purports ‘only a billionaire’ can save us. Chris Nolan has dispelled as much, though it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the phenomenally successful series may be inexorably linked to current events, as no writer or director creates in a vacuum, and both life imitates art and art imitates life. All films reflect their times, and the Batman is no exception. The imagery itself has seeped into everyday usage, (much like the protagonist masks in V for Vendetta), the war-painted Joker has been used by protest movements to vilify seemingly every elite from Bernie Madoff to president Barack Obama. Even without the gadgetry, moral code, genius-level detective skills, martial arts, cape or cowl, many billionaires see themselves as crucial heroes, their “sacrifices” necessary for the good of the system. And yes, the probably psychopathic James Holmes seems unable or unwilling to separate reality from fiction, modeling himself after The Dark Knight‘s villainous Joker (portrayed inimitably by Heath Ledger).

But Christopher Nolan’s version of the Batman (dubbed the Nolanverse), had already established an old Gotham rife with political corruption, a recession predating our own by a few years (Batman Begins began in 2005), the excesses of the rich and inequity of their system, and the thievery of Wall Street.

The script for The Dark Knight Rises was written during 2010, with location scouting happening in December of that year. Filming ran from May to November 2011, overlapping the rise of the Occupy movement by mere months. Any similarity is purely coincidental, and furthermore seen through the lens of Fox news analysis and FBI entrapment, where Occupiers have already been condemned as criminals and terrorists. The predominant Beltway philosophy already has established the ‘infallible rich’ as a cornerstone of its power structure.

And the story of haves and have-nots is as old as time anyway, as the Dark Knight Rises draws heavily from A Tale of Two Cities and its historical Red Terror. It’s a false dichotomy (which many pundits love) that one cannot have both a healthy opposition to violent revolution and sympathetic support for a protest movement. It really reveals more about the claimants’ ideology than anything else. Charles Dickens, for one, cared deeply for the plight of the poor, but not for the brutal atrocities of the French Revolution.

We humans will ascribe our own meaning and see what we want in film and comic book escapism, no matter how earnest the telling. This trilogy simply rings true because it dissects the hard ideological differences regarding justice, evil, truth, responsibility, and just exactly who is the real psychopath, anyway. We can all too easily see the divides and overlapping philosophies of the Occupy movement, the police force, the rich elites, and the League of Shadows. And yes, both lone vigilantes and lone nuts.

But even if the movie were a direct allegory to our failed structure, it could hardly be seen as a conservative endorsement, as bloggers on both sides have contended. More likely, the chilling dystopian vision of a city torn into a No Man’s Land reads as a warning against radical demagoguery and institutional deception. And though some may not agree with the aims of the Occupy movement, it takes a willfully ignorant or forcefully disingenuous mindset to equate them with the insane philosophy of either a chaotically sadistic Joker or a frighteningly focused and cold-blooded Bane (portrayed by Tom Hardy).

Indeed, Occupy remains a leaderless movement, constantly worrying about being co-opted by self-interested parties. Bane adopts a populist message in order to peddle false hopes to the citizenry he hopes to torture, populating his army with liberated thieves and killers. Yes, and there are those whom society has forsaken. Bane’s armed revolt plays to the same paranoid fears of Fox News and the State Department, and the same rhetoric of a much less radical Anonymous; it is made up of janitors, shoe-shiners, orphans, ex-cons, sanitation and construction workers. The under-served.

Bruce Wayne’s (reprised by Christian Bale) sins are spelled out for us at the beginning of the Dark Knight Rises. Not only has he taken the fall for the crimes of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and conspired to propagate a political lie, he has turned his back on society and the world. The streets have become relatively clean without him in the eight years since he donned the cowl, but the less obvious ills of a broken system still endure as Bruce neglects the city he loves, and literally atrophies in his elegantly rebuilt mansion.

Gotham’s sins are also many, where betrayal and lies are common political practice, where war heros are expendable during peacetime, where critical-thinking police are discounted as ‘hotheads’, and where even good men like Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) get their hands filthy. The Batman himself, as the Force-ghost of Ra’s Al-Ghul (Liam Neeson) reminds us, “for years fought the decadence of Gotham with his moral authority… and the most he could achieve was a lie.” The overreaching Dent Act, based on Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne’s falsehood, has robbed the imprisoned of any chance of parole. And though it was (hurriedly) agreed that if they world knew of Harvey Dent’s crimes, the guilty would be opened up to appeal, it is this very act of conspiracy that threatens to help blow apart the system, once finally discovered. The career politicians, police bosses, day traders and rich elite are anything but sympathetic figures.

Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is the only decent representative of the 99%. She (as well as her politics and moral code) is adaptable, values anonymity, and doesn’t seem to care much for gun control. She embodies the ‘honor among thieves’ adage, she is generous, and sees herself as somewhat of a Robin Hood, at least more than the society types she robs from, who ‘take so much and leave so little for the rest.’ However, she is equally horrified, frightened and disgusted by the madness that ensues during Bane’s “revolution.”

John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), on the other hand, is your stereotypical corporate vulture, a literal blood diamond opportunist looking for his next hostile takeover, who doesn’t have time for “save-the-world vanity projects.” In fact, Daggett doesn’t care if the world is destroyed with his help, so long as he acquires more money, and the “power it buys.” It is the likes of Daggett and the other one-dimensional capitalists who worship the status quo when it suits them, and then collude with criminals on the side. Daggett only sees Bane as ‘pure evil’ once he realizes the imminent threat to himself and his riches. Once it’s no longer himself who’s in charge. It should be noted, for the record, that there are no real-life Occupy figures who could cow a crooked billionaire by placing a hand on their shoulder like an alpha dominant.

But of course these unsympathetic crooks are surely served up as contrast to our hero: the billionaire who would save us.

And though the Batman/Bruce Wayne may be heralded as the authoritarian’s dream; willing to employ mass surveillance, extreme rendition, and solely deciding what technology the people deserve and can be trusted with, he is no societal Superman. He is not a billionaire’s billionaire, for though he has more cars than cares to count, has never answered his own door, and “doesn’t even go broke like the rest of us,” he is also easily displaced within his own boardroom, decries the egotistical hypocrisy of charity balls, and has not been watching his own money carefully. Notably, he wants to fail. He relishes the opportunity to be destroyed as the Batman, if it means saving the lives of everyone; the rich, the workers and the poor alike.

Neither, however, has he been serving his own people and city of late, trading in his once rich playboy identity for a Howard Hughes shtick. Not only is his corporation floundering, his beloved charitable foundation is practically defunct. Orphaned boys age out of Gotham’s social programs, neglected by a city with no homes of jobs available. Here they become easy prey for vaguely Middle Eastern terrorists and organized criminals, where they die in the sewers and wash away once they are used up.

The progressive responsibility of socially conscious and civic-minded billionaires, (an extremely endangered breed both in Gotham and out real world) had to be summed up by an ecoterrorist acting the part of a lovely socialite (Marion Cotillard); “You have to invest to restore balance to the world.” Bruce has been lacking in his duties, and that evil that he and Commissioner Gordon buried isn’t dead, but rising up once again.

Bane’s movement is a false one, as he tells the people of Gotham that he is not a Conquerer but a Liberator, but in actuality he is neither. Bane is the Destroyer. Spinning a hopeful message in the wake of his havoc, telling the people to “take control” of Gotham, Bane uses his “truth” to get the citizenry to “tear down a corrupt city” and reclaim what is theirs from the rich oppressors who had peddled their myth of opportunism.

And it is not just any “ordinary citizen” who holds the detonator to their destruction, but equal parts rich girl and terrorist-anarchist. These masterminds did not just create a populist movement to fulfill their diabolical plot, but infiltrated powerful corporations with their subterfuge as well. For comparison, real-world anarchists, despite practicing just another political philosophy, are readily depicted by the media as murderous terrorists. Protestors, despite exercising their constitutional right to assemble, are either beaten or made into bridge bombers by the FBI. Even those who have read the anarchist or socialist literature pale in comparison to the bloodthirsty Bane army. But the fear has been writ large in the news: if a lone nut like the joker can inspire a depraved massacre in a theatre, what would an evil warlord and his army of mercenaries inspire?

Like the Batman, authoritarians do seem to create their own enemies.

What follows once the structures fail lacks even more subtlety; in the face of such wanton violence, the government will abandon you. The good cops will attempt to salvage the status quo, and the bad cops will either desert or work against the people. Idiotically and blindly following orders, in fact, could get orphans and priests killed. Only the Batman can save us.

As even Selena realizes too late, this is not what the 99% ever wanted. Their system has swung wildly from an authoritarian, decadent state to the bloody turf of a mad warlord. It is the Dark Knight who is the hero we need, but unlike any known billionaire, he is now humiliated and humbled, fearful, responsible, accountable, and thus strengthened, empowered, respectful and focused. “Hardened by pain… not from privilege.”

It really should go without saying, by the way, that is not until Bruce Wayne loses all of his money, loses nearly everything, in fact, and is dropped into a pit to rebuild himself, that he is worthy of becoming a savior. And even those he still uses all those wonderful toys that only his privileged life could have afforded him, there can be no analogue for his virtuosity. Nobody has done as much as the fictitious Wayne family. And no playboy industrialists don a mask and fight crime.

As super-fan of the Batman, Kevin Smith, points out:

“In our world it’s not the case. The richer one gets, the less moral one seems to become. Not in all cases, but you hear about everything that just happened to our economy in the last few years… at the end of the day, Bruce Wayne/Batman [is] a moral example of a billionaire… Right then and there you should be able to divorce yourself from reality because no billionaire would waste their time helping others.”

This establishes the film’s central conceit as high fantasy. The Batman doesn’t have what we’d normally call superpowers, and we’ve seen it’s not simply the gadgets or money that keeps him going, but his rigid moral compass and drive to do good that makes him superhuman.

It isn’t just allegorical. It’s not just a cautionary tale. It’s a mad thought experiment. Fiction. Fantasy. Though some of us do have trouble separating that.

For there is no Ayn Randian perfect citizen or engine of the economy that somehow magically makes everything better. There is no Nietzschean Übermench. In the face of the very real threats of depraved elites, deadly terrorist groups and savage gunmen, there are no real superheroes.

Batman will not save us.