Saturday, January 18, 2014

How to Insult Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July Speech was the 1852 equivalent of a bitch-slap.  I’m sure his abolitionist friends gathered around in antsy anticipation of what this freed negro was going to say about the fourth of July and the meaning of freedom because that is what they had stupidly asked him to come and speak about.  But much to their chagrin, he kindly declined and told them to piss off.   What the hell does a black man know about freedom?  They might as well had given him diamond encrusted handcuffs for Christmas.  “Do you mean to insult me, dear citizens?” he asked.


Black freedom was totally different from white freedom.  Black freedom had levels.   Whites got the cheat code and jumped to level 9.  Blacks struggled for two hundred years to get to level one only to find that there was a level 2, 3,4,5, 5a, 5b, 5b-prime, and so forth.  Many times they’d get pushed back a level.  Sometimes they didn’t even know what level they were in.   Sometimes they ended up in one of those ghost levels.  You know the ones:  where all the minions are missing  a foot and everything is upside down.
So when blacks talk about Fourth of July should it come as a shock that we experience a strange foreignness.  As if it is supposed to be a part of our soul, but it is disembodied and roaming aimlessly in the world, never to come back.  Was it ever ours?
Savannah grassland
I’m sure as he once raced through the sunny plains of Africa,  John Jack felt the freedom splash down upon his face, but he probably hardly knew or thought to comprehend the difference between the sunny expanse of freedom and the shadowy gallows of slavery until that fateful day.   Like many free Africans, he was snatched up in the net of the burgeoning slave-trade  and taken away to America.   It was strange.  A thing which would take decades to re-establish could be ripped away like life from a dying soul.
And decades did pass until he was able to buy his freedom, but this “freedom” was odd.  This freedom was different from what he he had on that sunny plain in Africa long, long ago.  It had a sort of weird, salty aftertaste.  It was a freedom minus citizenship minus humanness.  It was black freedom.  Was it freedom at all?   He wanted more than this illegitimate second grandchild of freedom.  He wanted citizenship!  And he fought and clawed for that inch of freedom, and fought, and fought and lost, and died.  He passed in 1773, three years prior to the Declaration of Independence.  And in death, he flipped off the benefactor of that sacred document: the U.S. of A.  He flipped them off by hiring a British sympathizer to take care of his estate in death.

This out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fryer feeling was emblematic of the history of black America.  We would experience grand, triumphant victories and then great defeats.  We’d nibble away at the wall only to have it rebuilt.   Hold heaven in our hands and have it snatched away.

“What is Fourth of July to a slave?” Frederick Douglass once asked.  What is freedom?

Some of us still don’t know.   

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Logic and Critical Thinking: Breaking Down an Argument

If you're a fan of deep, insightful logic absolutely, positively do not go to  Frequented by passionate "patriots", it is easy to see that none of them have stepped anywhere near a Logic and Critical Thinking Class, and if they did they slept throughout.  And if they did not sleep throughout, it is clear None is more demonstrative of this phenomenon than a popular poster who I will refer to as Willoughby.  Here is one of her posts that received over 100 likes.

Here we have a president who has repeatedly shown complete disregard, if not contempt for our military...forget the fact that,for starters, he has never SERVED this country, and knows little about combat, if anything. From the trivial act of using a Marine to hold his umbrella, or "forgetting" to salute them, to his zero sum foreign policy, that routinely puts our men and women in the military at risk,( and sends a very clear message of empowerment to our enemies), the rules of engagement that put them in peril, to the aiding and arming our enemies with planes and tanks and money, and now, no hot meals for Marines and other military in the fields of Afghanistan...Let us not forget him disposing, albeit slowly, of some Generals and high ranking officials in the military, and replacing them with his "yes men"...There are a million other places you could cut funds from, but he chooses to punish and cut them from the military. How about adding extra pressure on the men in combat by adding women into the mix...seemingly innocent "well meaning" gesture, that would inevitably complicate the lives of those who are trying to do their jobs, as well as add unnecessary cost to facilitate those women...and then of course there's Benghazi, at the very LEAST, he decided to sacrifice American lives for political gain, and we still don't have the full story! The only thing this "Commander-in -Chief" has demonstrated thus far, is how effectively he plans to weaken, compromise, and lower morale in our military...meanwhile, plenty of cash for his lavish parties. what an epic SHAME

Let us look at the central claim of this post which is that Obama has acted in such a way that shows "complete disregard" or "contempt" for the U.S. military.  She tells us to "forget the fact" that he never served for this country, but the fact that she mentions it somewhat shows she does NOT want us to forget that fact.  She is, in essence, poisoning the well.  She is presenting facts to undermine Obama's credibility from the outset while at the same time saying they are not relevant to the debate.  We agree.  So we will move on.

She mentions "aiding and arming our enemies with planes and tanks and money."  Now, we do not know what "enemy" she is talking about, but it is probably the Muslim Brotherhood.  However, we do not need to know that to rebut her claim.  The claim in this is that ALL or ALMOST ALL acts that .

Why do I say "ALL OR ALMOST ALL"?  In argumentation, when one makes a claim, it can ONLY lead to a valid or strong argument if one of the claims is proclaims that ALL, ALMOST ALL, NONE, or ALMOST NONE of a defined set contains a certain characteristic.  Saying SOME A's are B; x is A; therefore x is B is a WEAK argument.  Saying "ALMOST ALL A's are B; x is A; therefore x is B" is a strong argument albeit invalid (which only means it is not always true).  Saying "ALL A's are B; x is A; therefore, x is B" is a valid and strong argument.

If she is making a weak or invalid argument, there is no need to rebut her, therefore, we will assume she is attempting to make one of the strong arguments.  So let's take the first strong argument: ALL aiding and arming our enemies shows contempt for our soldiers.

However, those familiar with the infamous Iran-Contra scandal know Reagan did this very same thing: armed our enemies.  Certainly, you can say it was a good cause: for the release of hostages.  However, if you agree with Reagan's decision and believe that it DID NOT show contempt for our troops, therefore, the "ALL" version of Wiloughby's argument does not hold up.

Therefore, maybe she means "arming our enemies ALMOST ALWAYS shows a contempt for our troops."  This is the direct way of reasoning with almost all which is valid.  However, this claim in and of itself cannot be proven.  It is a vague claim to begin with in that "showing contempt" is highly subjective.  Additionally, in order to get you to agree with her, our friend Willoughby, has to get you to believe a hidden claim: arming enemies shows contempt.

Her second bit of evidence is that he "'forgets' to salute a troop".  Obviously, the hidden claim is that he did not forget, but rather he purposely did not do such because he really doesn't give a damn about the troops and would rather be off plotting his communist agenda instead.  However, what evidence do we have that he did not in fact just forget?  In the incident she was talking about Obama, after realizing the faux paus, jogged back down and shook the soldier's hand and talked to him privately.  It is possible that this means he does not give two snots about the soldiers, but to flat out assume that this is an obvious case of Excluded Middle.

The next claim is that he has a "zero sum foreign policy... that routinely puts our men and women in the military at risk (and sends a very clear message of empowerment to our enemies)".  This claim is loaded with problems.  First, we have the unsubstantiated claim and dysphamism that he has a "zero sum foreign policy".  However, maybe the following argument is meant to prove this claim.  Well, to substantiate it, she says that his policies "put our men and women at risk".  All foreign policies, however, do this.  In fact, all of our policies put our men in unnecessary risk.  We do not have to invade other countries.  We do not have to be a world presence.  It is just that in order to achieve a certain goal, we as a nation that we ascertain that we have to put a certain amount of troops at risk.  The Obama Administration, for instance, has changed the rules of engagement in reference to IEDs in that they have to practice more caution in approaching those who are suspected of planting IEDs.  The result, conservatives say, is more soldiers dying.  Therefore, what Wiloughby is saying, is that more soldiers dying equals contempt for them.  However, as demonstrated by the countless wars and soldier deaths under every administration, either soldier deaths does not equal contempt or every U.S. President in history is contemptible.  It is highly unlikely Wiloughby would be willing to accept the latter claim.

As you can see, just in the first few sentences, this impassioned argument there are countless fallacies and assumptions in this post.  It is very impassioned, but not very well thought out.  It is for this reason, I consider lots of the views expressed on the boards to be complete trash, but that's just my opinion.  ;)

Where's There's Smoke, There's Crossfire.

Recently, CNN announced that Crossfire would be rejoining their lineup with the likes of Newt Gingrich, S.E. Cupp, and Vann Jones.  Not the most non-partisan bunch, but would any person in this nation fare any better.  Are we not all a bunch of Tucker Carlsons and John Igedallas in our own right?  Do we not gather in our little clicks and belittle anyone who thinks differently than us?  Do we not talk down on George W. Bush or Barack Obama with ridicule and derision as if they were children who do not know their right from their left?

Are we advancing the conversation?  Do our arguments and name-calling ever lead to anyone saying, "You know what?  I think you're right?"  Have they ever?  I do not think so.  Rather, I think that these hyperbolic and unproductive arguments are nothing more than violence in the verbal form.  We cannot punch Obama or Boehner in the nose, but we can pretend they are mentally challenged while we sit in the ivory tower of our feigned intellect, thinking that we have more sense than them -- that we could do better than them.

We cant.  The fact is we all just have different views on different issues and we simply value certain things more than others value them.  Some people value individuality and self-reliance over helping other's out.  Both are laudable virtues.  However, I have become increasingly tired of both sides, myself included, falling into the trap lazy name-calling.

If you are for teaching self-reliance, a liberal will accuse you of being heartless and greedy and not wanting to help the poor.  If you are for helping those in need, the conservative will say that you want to encourage laziness and to treat people like children to the point that they sponge off the government.  Neither of these things are, at least, ostensibly true with most individuals.  We all know that there will be negative outcomes resulting from ANY action we decided to take.

Sometimes when one performs the heimlich on an individual, that individual ends up getting a broken rib.  The pressure you have to apply to get the obstructing item to flow out of the victim's throat is so great, that sometimes things on the inside break.  That is a bad thing, but it is a bad thing that we accept, because it greatly outweighs the other bad thing sitting on the other end of the table: death.

Decisions are not often this easy.  Do you risk giving money to the lazy-good-for-nothing welfare cheat in order that a few more deserving people can get on welfare?  Or do you make the rules stricter so that more of the deserving are turned away?  If you answer "yes" to either of these, it does not make a you a bad person.  It just means you have different values from the next person.  Let's not beat each other over the head by assuming one side is the devil, and maybe we won't need Jon Stewart to come on and put an end to our show.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Psychology of Cronyism

As I watch an old clip of Jack Abramoff being interviewed on 60 Minutes, he seems like a nice guy.  Honest, straightforward eyes, a manner of talk that's not too showy, but confident and earnest.  Unfortunately, those are the very traits that landed Abramoff in jail.  Abramoff, you see, is an ex-lobbyist who was so corrupt that he was sent to prison for four years for swindling an Indian reservation.

What was striking about the interview was that Abramoff continuously noted that congressmen don't know that they are being influenced.  They don't believe that they are doing anything wrong.  Unfortunately, this is the case as it is in many walks of life.  The McDonald's cashier who gives his buddies free fries, the office manager who gives the resident brown-nose a position he didn't earn. We are all psychologically fooled into cheating the system.  It just looks so innocent when the shoe is on our own foot and so malicious when it is on the other.

I say this because I don't want to single out our congressmen.  Most of them go into office, I imagine, wanting to do a good job and be good men or women.  Unfortunately, they are subject to the very devices of unconscious favoritism as any other human being.  You like people who give you money and give you gifts.  It is difficult to say "no" to people you like.  Therefore, even though their argument for their particular cause may have been formulated by rabid chimpanzees, they are infinitely more likely to receive public funding for their BS cause than things like, say, cancer.

Legalized bribery of public officials incentivizes lobbyist to form, what C.S. Lewis termed, an inner circle.  Within the circle, the line between right and wrong becomes blurred.  Rules become amorphous, transient beings flickering in and out of existence.  The psychological defense mechanisms are already ingrained in the common human mind.  Cognitive dissonance occurs when our sterling view of ourselves is in danger of being tarnished.  "Everyone does it....  No one will notice....  People on the outside just wouldn't understand," the fiendish burger-flipper tells himself.  Another psychological phenomenon, moral disengagement, also gives us and congressmen the means to brush off wrongdoings.  Cognitive psychologist, Art Markman, explains this tendency in a Psychology Today article.  He details a study where participants were asked to read an honor code which states that they are not to cheat and then they are given a test.  The results were thus:

People read the honor code before they did the math test.  So, the difference in memory had to arise from something about cheating.  Indeed, those specific individuals who cheated on the test were the ones who showed the worst memory for the items on the honor code.  That means that people were systematically suppressing information that might have made them feel guilty about their behavior.
Abramoff even said of himself "I didn't think I was doing anything wrong.  I was so far into it."  So the problem with lobbyism is a psychological one, and it is the main reason I am so for the boring, albeit all-encompassing issue of campaign finance reform.  We have to take the carrot out of the equation.  The McGuffin should be the American people.  Aristotle once said that politics is the only arena in which an individual truly has the opportunity to deliberate about right and wrong, what is just and unjust.  Instead today or politicians deliberate about what is profitable and unprofitable -- what is politically feasible and unfeasible.  Strip away the wiles of capitalism from the public sector -- of the desire for power and money being the primary driving factor in legislation.  Only when this is stripped away can we work to achieve Aristotle's ideal of government: one in which we strive for legislation that is logical, that is helpful, and -- heaven forbid -- that is right.


Harvard Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do?  Episode 10

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why I don't Bash Homophobes.

Too often, I think, the other side is lambasted for merely holding an opinion which is the logical progression of their faith.  The bible presents a couple of passages that would lead one to believe that God would take a negative stance on homosexual behavior.  Now, there are three basic methods for attaining knowledge about what is moral.  There are logical methods, evolutionary methods, and divine methods.


In my personal opinion, the logical methods are very valid and the the most promising way of achieving some semblance of what could be considered a moral law.  Unfortunately, this is a methodology that has been in action for millennia with little or no consensus.  Certainly, that is no reason to give up on the question of moral certitude.  However, it does not give us any certainty as to what is the right morality and what is the wrong morality.

We have come to rest upon the Christian and Buddhist dictums of "treat others how you want to be treated".  But what if I want to be treated differently than the next guy?  "Well, treat others how they want to be treated."  But what about people who are suicidal?  "Well, treat people how psychologically normal people want to be treated."  But how do we determine who is psychologically normal?  And even then, some people just want to be treated differently by virtue of the fact that they are just different.  Some people are introverts.  Some are extroverts.  Some people like brutal honesty.  Some people don't.  Even the seemingly most simplistic moral rule is fraught with complexity, and very few people even think these questions are worth asking.  They just go with their gut.  So, let us turn to a more or less objective method to determining morality.


Vampire bats have somewhat of a moral code or what is called "cheater detection".  What happens when a lone bat finds a horse or some dead animal? Of course, it feeds upon the blood of the corpse but then something very interesting happens.  This vampire bat leaves the corpse and drops off excess blood into the mouths of its fellow vampire bats.  Many believe that this is how our concepts of morality can develop.  How is that?  Well, it's beneficial to the promulgation of the species if we share when we are in excess and disadvantageous when we horde.  Therefore, it would stand to reason that having a sharing-nature would be evolutionarily advantageous and in turn would be passed on from generation to generation.

However, none of this says anything about whether this is right or wrong.  Just because a feeling evolved does not lend any credence to it.  The skeptic who claims that a proclivity to believe in God is detrimental to society must explain the appearance of this seemingly useless adaptation.  They will tell you in old days when you heard the wind blow, it was evolutionarily advantageous if you believed it was a being rather than believing it was just the wind.  You would run, believing such, and because that "gust of wind" is sometimes a bloodthirsty carnivore, your rate of survival would be higher than the normal primate causing you to move forward in the evolutionary hierarchy while non-wind-listeners get left behind.

However, if we are forced to admit that this adaptation is nothing more than an evolutionary side effect, then we are also forced to admit that any mode of morality is of the same depravity.  We are left with nothing but a hedonistic view of morality: what makes me feel better.  Therefore, we turn to the final method of learning morality.


So, for the most part, it has been settled (with little philosophical introspection) that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  Unfortunately, we find that this method of morality becomes more complex than we first proposition.  Therefore, there is no end-all-be-all to moral law.  It seems we may need a shortcut.  That's where divine intervention comes in: some belief that beings from a higher dimension intervened for just a couple of moments to let us in what the real rules are.  Some of those rules already overlap with what we logically believe to be true.  Some don't.  Homosexual sex, for instance, Christians believe is wrong.

You may disagree with this assessment but no other mode of epistemology of morality has given us a definitive answer.  Physics gives us pretty certain answers.  Biology does.  Philosophy of ethics is specially designed to leave you with more questions than answers.  Why do we bash those who go for this third method of determining what is truly the right thing to do?  None of the methods have been proven very valid in determining right from wrong, therefore, should we not have patience with this third sect of moral knowledge?


So, to sum it up.  We have three methods of determining morality: logic, evolution, and divine revelation.  None of them seem all that effective in giving us definitive answers.  Why should we fault someone who resorts to divine revelation when most people (liberals included) don't even have a reliable way of determining their own?  Give anti-homosexuals a break.  Yeah, don't let them kill people or take away your rights, but at the end of the day, you really have little reason to say they are wrong about the morality of homosexuality.

The False-Consensus Effect

One of the most annoying things about Leonardo Dicaprio's character in Django Unchained is not his smarmy smirk or even the fact that he makes slaves fight each other as if they were dogs, but the fact that he actually believes that everyone likes him.

We as human beings seem to think that everyone thinks like us.  When others do not think in this manner, it confounds us to no end.  This illusion starts when we're children as we are brought into this world with egocentric frame of mind, id-driven and behaving solely according to the principle of self-interest.  Piaget noticed this in series of experiments designed to test this very thing.  Termed The Three Mountain Problem Piaget found that young children had a difficult time of drawing a picture of a mountain from the other side.  Only able to draw it from their own.

While this tendency declines as we get older, it still stays with us into adulthood.  Contrary to what we think of egocentrism, everyone is prone to this cognitive bias.  Susan Krauss Whitbourne P.H.D. defines it as "the natural restriction on our perception caused by the simple fact that we can only see the world from our perspective."  Think about the last time someone cut you off.  Was it because they were in a rush and late to work?  Was it because their loved one was sick and they just weren't thinking clearly?  No, it was because they were a jerk of infinite proportions, probably of lower than average IQ, and flat out didn't pass the driving test.  It's hard for us to see things through other people's eyes.

So, this is how the false-consensus effect occurs.  We are not very good at thinking like other people, so as a subconscious shortcut, we think, quite incorrectly, that everyone thinks exactly like us.  This is where concepts like "common sense" can materialize from nowhere.  Thinking everyone should know everything that you know is one of those common mistakes made by false-consensus folks.

It's a Fine Line Between Narcissism and Egocentrism
Wikipedia: False Consensus Effect

Monday, May 20, 2013

Deregulation: a moral quandary

There may be some credence to the belief that increased deregulation leads to economic expansion.  Look at the Clinton years.  Though it was characterized by higher taxes, it was also characterized by a time of deregulation.  The linchpin in the economic meltdown was the Sabarnes-Oxley Act which eighty-sixed the Glass Stiegal Act specifically designed to divide commercial and investing banking. However, during much of the 90's this laissez faire approach to government seemingly led to increased gains in wall street.

As deregulation only increased under George W. Bush, so did the Dow.  Maybe there is something to this deregulation thing.  However, there is a caveat to this: human beings.  When regulations are lifted on things like, say, food, people become violently ill and die because some corporate study showed that only 1 out of every 1000 people would die from that part-time poison they call food.  The number of lawsuits would be negligible and therefore capitalism wins out to one-more-person-being-alive-ism.

I'm sure we could take the Ford-Pinto approach to business and do a monetary cost-benefit analysis of all of business; unfortunately, we have this pesky little penchant to care about people.  Therefore, we kind of support things like minimum wage, thirty-minute breaks, five-day weeks, and asbestos control.  These are things that are the antithesis to deregulation.  Additionally, remember those deregulatory policies Clinton implemented in the 1990's?  Yeah, those kind of blew up in our face too.  And while companies got bailed out and were seeing record profits, unemployment flew to as much as 10% during that period and is going down at a slow rate compared to the continued rise in corporate profits.  Not to mention, wage continues to decline.  Though it did rise recently (albeit slightly).

To summarize, deregulation has a tendency to stab the American worker in the back with a rusty knife, move it around a little bit, and pull it out only to stick it back in again.  Both sides agree we should get rid of stupid rules; it's just that one side seems to give a damn about the hapless worker and the other doesn't.