Thursday, September 7, 2017


While I not only know that there is no chance of my wishes coming true, but also that I'm not really going to do anything more than talk about it, here is what I think should be done in the USA.

My first point is what I consider to be the most important one.  The largest amount of debate and political energy is put into external matters.  That is things like economic and political power, or social issues such as religious freedoms and civil liberties, or activities organized around safety/fear (war, crime, environment).  While these clearly matter I have a belief that these are less important than what happens internally 1.  My belief in what should be done is based on maximizing the happiness of people, and I think that while external factors such as poverty really matter, they don't matter as much as your basic mental state.

What follows from my belief that the internal workings of the mind is more important than the external environment is the implementation of a policy that uses the best available knowledge to provide the best available response at the lowest cost. As far as I can tell meditation has a proven record of reducing stress, increasing happiness, and increasing social connectivity (a better positive view of strangers.)  Even relatively small amounts of meditation (say 5% of the time we spend watching tv) results in a happier, less stressful, more compassionate, more connected society.  Therefore, policy point #1 is mandatory secular meditation lessons in schools.  Children should be taught the skill of meditation and then adults can decide whether they wish to use this skill or not.

My second point is that policies based on a fear of others are rarely effective.  A military policy of pre-emptive strikes against perceived threats can temporarily degrade the ability of those threats, but over the long term tend to increase the actual threat.  Did the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq make the USA (and the world) safer? The evidence seems to suggest that those wars increased the number of terrorists and the situation in the area is worse than before those invasions.  When was the last war that clearly made the USA safer?  I would suggest that would be World War II.

Policy point #2 is to alter the US military's basic strategy to pure defense from direct attack, and a humanitarian projection of power.  What this means is that the US military only fights wars when the physical territory of the USA is being attacked or as part of a UN force (not a "coalition of the willing.)  This is actually a basic part of multiple international treaties which the USA has signed (although not necessarily ratified.)  The foreign policy element should be humanitarian assistance on a massive scale.  The projection of US power around the world should primarily consist of schools, roads, hospitals, vaccinations, food, shelter.  The basic view of the world with regards to the USA should be that it helps people.  I believe that the cultivation of this attitude would make US more safe than any number of wars.

Policy point #3 is a move to a criminal justice system based on community policing and rehabilitation.  The basic attitude of the US police is a violent conflict between criminals and the police, in which both sides are afraid of the other.  As a result US police kill hundreds of people a year, a number wildly out of proportion to similar countries.  US police genuinely believe they are under constant threat from civilians, but approximately 0.04% of police are killed in non-traffic related incidents each year.  Community policing is based on building trust and removing root causes of crime.  The biggest help to all of this would be the removal of guns from the population.  The presence of guns always increases the danger, and therefore increases the fear, which increases the danger.

At the moment the US criminal justice system is based on punishment, revenge rather than making us safer. The US incarcerates about seven times the amounts of people per capita as Europe.  This incarceration rate hasn't made Americans safer than Europeans.  The very point of incarceration is to make people miserable.  The point is to reduce happiness, and therefore evil.  There is necessary evil in the world and jail does work to deter crime, but as it is evil it should be used to the minimum necessary extent.  Let's just not incarcerate people who haven't substantially hurt anyone else.  Why should anyone go to jail for possession of a drug that they would just use themselves?  It isn't safety, we let people do dangerous stuff all the time.

Times to Regret and Cherish

When I think of the times that I regret I was usually being "productive."

When I think of the times I cherish I was not.

Social Justice Warriors

 For Mary-Alice

The term "social justice warriors" first came about as a descriptor of people working for greater social justice.  People trying to equalize the power and experiences between different groups.  Things like working towards equal pay for equal work for women and men, or equalizing the rate at which black people and white people are stopped by the police.  People committed to the cause of equality and fairness.

More recently this term has become a pejorative term for people who attempt to police speech, tell everyone that they should do and think certain things or they are wicked people.  The idea is that such people are actively looking to find things to be outraged by, and then start an aggressive campaign against it.  An example of this would be being outraged by men holding doors open for women as it is an open sign of the belittling of women's competence that is pervasive throughout society.  It has further elements of this outrage being fake, that its' primary purpose is to show what a virtuous person you are (e.g."segregation is a social justice problem that must be solved!" from someone who never enters black neighborhoods because they aren't safe.) This is a powerful description of this point of view. As a progressive it seems to get more insane the longer you read it, but if you look at the examples given of the activities of social justice warriors you wouldn't be nuts to think those are nuts too.

So, which is right?  I don't think there would be much debate between the two groups as to who is a social justice warrior.  One side is proud to be one, and the other side thinks those people are awful.  The difference is in the description of the same activities.  I'm going to go back to my progressive college education, with its moral relativism and all, and say that both sides are right.  Social Justice Warriors are people who see themselves as committed to the cause of justice and fairness in a society that is patently unfair.  As such they search out injustice, make people aware of it, support those suffering, and stamp out the actions of those who are the cause of this injustice.  During this process they attempt to police speech, call certain beliefs abhorrent, and there's a hell of a lot more posting on the internet than quietly volunteering in slums.

I'm a progressive who strongly supports programs to rectify unfairness.  I think more funds should be spent raising up the most disadvantaged than supporting the more privileged.  A poor, black neighborhood should have more money spent on their schools than a rich, white neighborhood.  Women should get equal pay for equal work.  Men should get the same amount of time off for their children as women.  I also think Social Justice Warriors are appallingly annoying people and this has serious consequences.

In getting something done you need to know what it is you want to get done.  However, there's also the necessity of doing the things that achieve that result.  It's one thing to want more fairness in the world, it's another to make that happen.  Social justice warriors have no problem with knowing what they want, but their method has, in my opinion, has limited positive effect and serious negative effect.

A little history.  The march of social justice has gone at a remarkable rate over the last fifty years.  If you were going through your formative years in the 1960's the idea that there would be a black president, gay marriage was a right, and working mothers being the norm you would have been surprised.  In the 1980's you could be explicitly racist and elected senator.  Unfairness abounds but the movement is strongly in the direction of equality.  A consequence of such rapid change is that there are many people who grew up somewhere where everyone agreed that something was right, that are now told by society in general is not only wrong, but very wrong.  A good Christian in the 80's would likely think that homosexuality is a sin as described clearly in the Bible, and so would most of the people they knew.  Now society says that if they believe that they are vile bigot.

In order to advance fairness you have to get people with power to agree with you.  If there is one group with power then by definition you can't make them behave differently.  Furthermore, it seems to me that power is a zero sum game, any increase in power for one group means a reduction for another group.  To increase social justice you must convince those with power and privilege to give it up with no inherent reward.  This is where the goals are no longer enough, a practical method of achieving them is necessary.

The politics of social justice warriors as far as I can tell is identity politics.  There are different groups based on race, gender, culture, religion and anything else you can think of.  These then are essentially scored on the amount of privilege or oppression they face.  So if you are a black person you rank lowest on the privilege score (or native-americans?) on race, and if you are white you score at the top.  With the concept of intersectionality you can be in multiple groups simultaneously, so a rich, white, christian man is the pinnacle of privilege and power, while a mentally ill, black, gay, homeless muslim woman is somewhere near the bottom. 

As a point of ideology the different groups are inherently equal, there are no biological roots for the circumstances in which people find themselves.  For example, the smaller proportion of women who are engineers cannot be because women have biological differences in their brains that make them in general less interested in engineering.  It must be because of the influence of culture, and through the prism of identity politics that culture is determined by those with the most power and privilege, white men.  This results in the belief that inequality and the problems that arise because of them are predominantly because of white people, particularly men.

So we find ourselves in a situation where the people who are fighting for justice blame those in power for injustice, yet need those in power to change their behavior to their own detriment.  The sensible thing to do at that point is to try to find the most efficacious manner to get that to happen.  I maintain that yelling at people about how horrible they are, how ignorant they are, and how much better they have it than anyone else is not an effective way to do this.  When I agree with the basic principles of your campaign but you tell me that if I'm not part of the solution (i.e. do what they want me to do) I'm part of the problem (i.e. a bigoted member of a racist patriarchy) you piss me off.  If you are pissing people off on your side then your chances of changing the minds of people of people not initially supportive has got to be very low.

There are consequences to this, the most glaring being the election of Donald Trump.  Trump during his campaign was sexist, racist, bigoted on religion, offensive etc..  He won because of these things, not in spite of them.  Clinton said that half of Trump's supporters were "deplorables" because of their bigotry.  This is just an example of an unending stream of abuse towards those who hold beliefs that would have been considered standard a few decades ago.  Those who elected Trump say that America is being destroyed, taken away by the extreme activist left.  They are right.  The activist left is campaigning to destroy vital parts of a culture.  Religion, identity, morality, relationships, family are all being changed by people outside this group.  Just with any culture that is being destroyed it is painful to those undergoing those changes.  Tens of millions of people had just had enough and fought back.

What bothers me most is the hatred and intolerance within the progressive movement.  If you disagree you cannot just be a person with a different upbringing and different opinions, you are evil.  In order to alter the domination of white male voices the method is usually to ignore, dismiss, or exclude those voices.  There is indeed a domination of white, male voices but those are the people you want to give up their voices, and they don't have to.  It really just comes down to not being horrible to the people whose help you need.

I agree with the views of social justice warriors but hate the way they operate.  They are insufferably annoying.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Calendar of Change

I have now lived in Charlotte for four months.  Here is why I like it better than Houston.

A typical week in Houston.

Mon - hang out at home
Tue - hang out at home
Wed - hang out at home
Thu - go to local bar and hang out with 1-3 senior citizens
Fri - hang out at home
Sat - hang out athome
Sun - lunch and beer at a bar

Total number of people other than my wife or I am paying for something, on average, two

A typical week in Charlotte

Mon - hang out at home
Tue - band practice
Wed - hang out at home
Thu - dinner out
Fri - invited out to watch a band
Sat - meet a huge array of people, some of them I know
Sun - take TFOE to The Dog Bar, he and I meet people, some of them people I know.

Total number of people other than my wife or I am paying for something, on average, twenty?

All of this within a ten minute walk from my house.  I haven't driven to an event in at least three weeks.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Half Of Us Are Morally Repugnant.

 I have been told to start writing these again, so here we go.

In the last couple of weeks there have been a couple of unpleasant things in the news, death and torture. 

There has been the story of two black men killed by the police with the judicial system not even bringing them to a trial to determine if they had done anything wrong.  With a video of one of the men being killed while pleading for his life this is outrageous, or it should be.

The other story is the release of a report on the torture of "detainees" by parts of the USA military/industrial complex. I say military/industrial because some of the "interrogators" were actually private contractors.  The findings of the report were that the USA tortured people in sites around the world with an array of techniques from rape to mock executions to simply inflicting pain.

There will be no official, legal consequences of these abhorrent actions.  Why?  Because the government is responsible and these actions have been taken by organizations that are supposed to be for our safety. The idea is that for our own safety sometimes extreme actions are required, and nasty things happen.

While these actions are deplorable my interest is more in the reaction of the general public.  While there are certainly many, many people who are appalled by these events not even remotely close to everyone is.  I find this shocking.  I'm not shocked that government institutions will do evil things, the record is too extensive and clear.  I am shocked that on the most basic of moral questions, whether it is OK or not to kill and torture prisoners, huge quantities of Americans fail to get the right answer.

This disgusting truth is made even worse by the numbers.  A quarter of Americans are satisfied or pleased that not one of the policeman who strangled an unarmed man to death has been charged with a crime.  Only one quarter of Americans believe torture is never justified.

Talk to a few people who hold these beliefs and the reasons become sadly too easy to understand.  The police and the military are respected organizations with authority. These organizations are there to keep us safe.  There is widespread fear of a group of people, and importantly these people are "not us" and this fear justifies, as far as I can tell, anything.

A policeman said that his job was to "go home at night," that he had to treat "everyone as a threat" and that if you "don't comply you take your chances."  Because the police are scared if you don't do whatever they say when they say it then anything they do, up to and including killing you, is justified.  Of course this fear is directed towards the "other", and this "other" is black men, those aged between 15-19 are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by the police than white men of the same age.

At least judicially this default position, and justification, is accepted.  Police killed 2,718 people between 2004-2011 and only 41 policemen were even charged, 1.5%.  As a point of reference UK police killed nine people during the same period.  In the USA if the police kill you it was your fault.  In the UK they don't kill you.

The "other" with torture are called terrorists.  It doesn't matter that they have not been charged, or convicted, or sentenced in a court to determine whether they are actually terrorists  It doesn't matter that if they did the same to us we would be horrified.  The US authority has picked them up and they are foreign and Muslim, so anything is acceptable because those people are scary.

I learned this week that half of the people around me are morally repugnant because they are cowards.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Feeling Unreal

This week has been characterized by a pervasive feeling of unreality, a feeling such that the idea that there is an I experiencing a world is false.  This is to such an extent that my writing, "I" is weird, that a more accurate description would be "something."  That "something" has essentially all the characteristics of the "I" but without the identification.  There is something that is having these ideas and writing them down, and there is an awareness, a consciousness, of these ideas and the act of writing them down, but there is nothing much more than those actions and awareness.

This isn't a complete state, I have a pretty clear intellectual concept of "I" and an emotional state that is best described as, "pleasantly dreamy."  I have a concept of an entity continuing on into the future, and am capable of imagining that future, and even am making plans for that imagined future.

In trying to describe a state of mind there is always the difficulty of trying to translate from mind-to-different mind.  Each of us experiences the world through a different filter, using different tools to evaluate and arrange our experiences.  The best we can do is try to connect common experiences that fit our state as closely as possible and hope that there is a commonality in sensation felt in such an experience.

I felt very much like this a lot of the time as a teenager, particularly at school.  A little tired, a little bored, an empty mind in a relaxed body without real needs.  Imagine sitting in a conference room in a hotel during the third hour of an all-day training on a subject with which you are pretty familiar. You aren't really required to do much apart from be there.  Lassitude ensues.  For me, things start to look brighter, as if filled with light.  Time somehow disappears.

East and West have different viewpoints on this phenomenon.  I am reminded very much of a bit by Alan Watts in which in the West if someone says, "I have realized that I am God" that they lock you up for being insane, while in the East they say, "Congratulations!" 

In the West this sensation of unreality is called derealization, and in my case more depersonalization, "It consists of a feeling of watching oneself act, while having no control over a situation.[1] Subjects feel they have changed, and the world has become vague, dreamlike, less real, or lacking in significance"  It is described as psychotic, related to stress/trauma, and is part or parcel of a number of psychiatric disorders.

In the East it is described as a realization of the illusion of the ego, and is one of the great goals of spiritual development.    In Buddhism it is called Anatta, the perception of "not-self" and is vital to true understanding.  The perception that true reality is there is an I for which we must work, and toil, and protect, and desire, and need is in this view the root of suffering.  The realization that this perception is a creation of the mind rather than a fundamental reality is something that practitioners of Eastern spiritual disciplines actively try to acquire.

Psychosis/spiritual realization.

Something is feeling quite pleasant in a way that would disturb lots of people.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hey Look At Me!

It's impolite to impress ones needed mental state on others.  Therefore this post.

I don't feel that bad, really.  I'm more concerned about my wife than I am about myself.

However, I have lost interest in eating food.

I don't really want to do anything.

It took me three minutes to write this line.

I am finding that drinking and smoking pot are mostly what makes me enjoy my situation, and so I do that regularly.

My "sister" (hah!  Hugs 'n shit) called me up because she was worried, like an angel, and I was fascinating and helpful.

These are not good signs.  That's a list of classic symptoms.  But I really don't feel that bad.

a mystery.

The conclusion?


One hour later I'm eating a delicious burrito.  So ignore all of that.