Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Liberal Helping of Sanity

As a Canadian, I am always surprised by the fact that despite having four viable federal parties across Canada, I am always still picking the least offensive to me when I vote, rather than feeling like there is a party that truly embodies my values. In the USA, with only two parties, I imagine most voters feel trapped in a choice between "Dumb and Dumber" - or worse. I've always felt like both Democrat and Republican platforms are both utterly unacceptable. Maybe I am a centrist and America has no place for anyone not at the extreme polar ends of the scale? No, that couldn't be it. After all, neither Republican nor Democrat really represent extremes in anything other than fiscal irresponsibility and pandering to corporate special interests.  Besides, my views are hardly centrist on many things. Many of them are rather polarizing. They just don't fit into a package where they polarize the same group of people the same way.

So then a friend of mine recently suggested that certain dominant elements in the American "Political Left" are no longer "Liberals," but instead are simply "Left-Wing Conservatives." This gave me something of a political epiphany. You might be confused as to the meaning of his statement, but one only needs to look at the definition of Liberal to understand:

Liberal ˈlib(ə)rəl, adj: 1. open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.

Liberalism is absolutely required in politics. It is the mechanism for pushing for necessary change. It is the motivator for progress. This doesn't make it superior to Conservatism -- which is the opposite force. Not all change is good, not all new behaviors or opinions are worth looking at, and not all values should be discarded.  These two political forces in balance lead to a healthy dialogue where advantageous changes are implemented, but poorly thought out ones are placed on the shelf. These tendencies have nothing to do with the "right" or "left" side of politics. A hardline communist (leftist) in Soviet Russia would have been conservative, while Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika were extremely liberal - despite leading Russia further toward the right side of the political spectrum. 

My friend is absolutely right - Liberalism is what's missing in modern political discourse. The entrenched ideologue is about as extreme a Conservative position as one can take. Increasingly, people identify with a particular party or ideology as part of who they are. This means they can't be open minded toward alternative ideas or views without compromising their very identity - and so society moves toward more and more conservative attitudes. You just have competing conservatives, left vs. right, unable to come to any sort of agreement.

And suddenly I know why I feel so disillusioned with political parties across the board. 

I am liberal. 

This is not a political view. This is my personal tendency to want to try new ideas, discard old values. My near anarchist-distrust for authority and tradition certainly feeds into this, and suddenly I can't find many people of any political persuasion that I feel look at the world the same way I do. We need more liberal forces within politics; forces that do not demonize ideas simply for being different than their platform, forces that do not try to silence dissent or criticism of other idealogies that they feel are somehow protected from criticism. Give me back open and rational discourse, and let us set aside inflexible and unassailable party doctrines.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Intoxicating Vanity

“You think man can destroy the planet? What intoxicating vanity. Let me tell you about our planet. Earth is four-and-a-half-billion-years-old. There's been life on it for nearly that long, 3.8 billion years. Bacteria first; later the first multicellular life, then the first complex creatures in the sea, on the land. Then finally the great sweeping ages of animals, the amphibians, the dinosaurs, at last the mammals, each one enduring millions on millions of years, great dynasties of creatures rising, flourishing, dying away -- all this against a background of continuous and violent upheaval. Mountain ranges thrust up, eroded away, cometary impacts, volcano eruptions, oceans rising and falling, whole continents moving, an endless, constant, violent change, colliding, buckling to make mountains over millions of years. Earth has survived everything in its time. It will certainly survive us. If all the nuclear weapons in the world went off at once and all the plants, all the animals died and the earth was sizzling hot for a hundred thousand years, life would survive, somewhere: under the soil, frozen in Arctic ice. Sooner or later, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would spread again. The evolutionary process would begin again. It might take a few billion years for life to regain its present variety. Of course, it would be very different from what it is now, but the earth would survive our folly, only we would not. If the ozone layer gets thinner, ultraviolet radiation sears the earth, so what? Ultraviolet radiation is good for life. It's powerful energy. It promotes mutation, change. Many forms of life will thrive with more UV radiation. Many others will die out. Do you think this is the first time that's happened? Think about oxygen. Necessary for life now, but oxygen is actually a metabolic poison, a corrosive gas, like fluorine. When oxygen was first produced as a waste product by certain plant cells some three billion years ago, it created a crisis for all other life on earth. Those plants were polluting the environment, exhaling a lethal gas. Earth eventually had an atmosphere incompatible with life. Nevertheless, life on earth took care of itself. In the thinking of the human being a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago we didn't have cars, airplanes, computers or vaccines. It was a whole different world, but to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can't imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven't got the humility to try. We've been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we're gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.”

 ~ Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park (by Dr. Michael Crichton)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense

This is obviously not mine, but it's oh-so-amazing. Whoever you are, Crispian_Jago, you've made me a fan.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Strutting and fretting my hour upon the stage...

Time is not a flow. The past is not gone, the future is not yet to come. Science has proven that time is just another coordinate, like lattitude and longitude. "Space-time" is a thing, time and space are not separate. This means that death is not an end. Death is a boundary. Birth and death are two coordinates that determine when a person exists. They exist -- we all exist -- where and when we live. Nothing is ever lost.

 I wrote those words nine months ago. Nine months of perceived time squandered; exactly two hundred and seventy days -- are they lost to the ravages of time?

I don't believe so. When writing the words above, I envisioned time as like the boundary of the surface of a table; just because the table has edges, does not mean it no longer exists.

This begs the question, however, why do we perceive time the way we do? Does it matter if everything exists, excuse the term -- language is so limited by our temporal experience -- "simultaneously," if all we perceive is one moment after another? If time is just another definition to our existence, a boundary limitation, how is it that the seconds flow into hours into days and all our yesterdays fade, while the future is never clear?

Logic can answer this question, so simply, and so elegantly, in one word:


Causality is the relationship between two events, known simply as cause and effect. I described a table, above, but as far as our memory is concerned, time is a slightly different flat surface. Time may not be a flow, but causality is, and it only flows in one direction, turning this from a boundary on a table to a boundary on a river. Oh, the entire river exists between two points, but causality flows between those two points nonetheless. In fact, perhaps a better analogy than a river or a table is an ocean. The entire ocean exists between its shores, no matter where in the ocean you are. And yet causality moves through the ocean - like waves, but moving only in one direction. If the universe were an electronic circuit, causality is the great diode.

That's enough simplistic analogies. Let's apply them.

Events in the now imprint on our neurons, causing synaptic patterns we know colloquially as memories. As you look at your memories at a different point in time, new memory patterns have formed caused by subsequent events. Likewise, older memories have faded, caused by the actions of biological functions on the imperfect record-keeping of our gray matter. At no point have future events already inscribed themselves on our memories. And so, like a script in a play, at whichever point you begin reading, it reads the same. Mercutio will always invoke Queen Mab if you start in act 1, scene 4, but if you start in act 3, scene 1, he will always suffer Tybalt's blade the same way. And yet, at whichever point of the play you begin reading, Romeo & Juliet still exists in its entirety. If you go back and read act 1, scene 4 again, Mercutio's monologue does not change to reflect his impending demise, the play remains whole and intact.

Causality preserves the illusion of time flow. All points in our existence simply exist, but some consequence yet hanging in the stars remains a mystery to us -- at no point do you remember the future, and what's past is prologue, eventually fading like an ember in our ever shifting present. We do not, in our limited perception, have the option of being the reader and turning back the page. The play's the thing, and we are just the poor players, dramatis personæ, always reading the same lines depending which scene is being read. Perhaps the Bard was a bit more of a visionary than he knew.

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Trap of Religion

Camille Paglia, a woman I respect for her sex-positive approach to feminism, recently said something stupid. We all say stupid things, every one of us, so I'm not going to villify Paglia for this. However, I'm going to freely criticize the content of what she said, because she's a public figure with a widely read soapbox (unlike myself), and her words need to be scrutinized for truth if you're considering using them for the basis of an opinion.

Camille, an atheist, herself, in an interview with Salon.com, said of great thinkers like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens:

I regard them as adolescents. I say in the introduction to my last book, “Glittering Images”, that “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination."

 Oh, my. Camille, Camille. Where do I start? Are you going to argue that sneering at political philosophies is juvenile and symptomatic of a stunted imagination, too?

The simple fact is - some ideas are wrong.  Some ideas are harmful.  I know there are people who opine that everyone's beliefs and ideals are valid, of equal merit, deserving of respect, but that's horeshit. At the risk of invoking Godwin's law, remember, National Socialism was a set of beliefs and ideals - practically a religion of its own. You can argue about the great works of art inspired by religion, certainly. (I'd love to, actually, but not here, that's another topic.) You can argue about the works of charity religions have performed, and make the occasional good point, but you cannot argue against the harm religion has caused throughout all of human history. All religion. We're not talking about a few extremists that don't represent religion as a whole. We know that people shooting up cartoonists or blowing up children at bus stops are a problem. But if we say "exposure to some forms of radiation is unhealthy for humans," we're not just talking about nuclear weapons. Religion as a whole is altogether poisonous to modern human society and freedoms.

At their core, all religions - whether you're talking about those based on Judaeo-Christian backgrounds, or eastern religions like Buddhism, teach that we are fundamentally flawed, imperfect... that our flesh, our emotions, are somehow an obstacle we must overcome to reach some kind of enlightenment/salvation/forgiveness. They teach us shame in our humanity, they teach us that we as a species need some kind of outside help.

The reality is, life is a struggle. More than 99% of all species that have ever lived on this rock have been extinct longer than humans have even existed. Life on earth has survived many mass-extinctions - asteroid strikes (one of which was big enough to have formed our moon), supervolcanoes, climate change, tectonic shifts, gamma ray bursts... and yet you and I are here, reading this. Savage, naked apes who crawled down from the trees taught ourselves language, art, engineering, medicine, altruism  - surviving all manner of disasters and ending up at the very top of the evolutionary ladder of this planet, and we have only ourselves to credit for this. God didn't help us. Religion certainly didn't - it hindered us every step of the way, and it still does. Religion has taught us to be ashamed of our humanity - that we need saving. The Christian bible derides human wisdom and teaches us to not rely on ourselves - to not trust ourselves - that we are evil and flawed and only God can help direct us in the right way. Science has found that these teachings have a real, detrimental effect on people's intelligence and ability to function in society. And yet somehow, parents think indoctrinating our children in these horrible myths is the duty of any good parent.

No, Camille. It is not juvenile to try to steer society away from religion. It is not juvenile to try to help our species escape this trap that has enslaved us for all of recorded history. Finally, humanity is on the cusp of escaping slavery to superstition. You have escaped it yourself. Please do not, by your words, discourage any other part of humanity from doing the same. If you want imagination, imagine a species that takes pride in who and what we are, celebrate our humanity and discard all those arrogant imaginary gods and the artificial limitations they have imposed on us.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Conservative Atheist

For the purpose of this post, "Atheist" will be defined as "Person who does not profess a belief in the divine." I tend to identify as Agnostic, but people don't get the point, and while Atheist connotes more than I prefer as well, it is functionally closer to my worldview than what most people call Agnostic.

All the world seems to be in a false dichotomy - a choice between "dumb" and "dumber," and I'm not sure which is which.

One the one hand you have the bleeding heart liberal types - the idiots who believe in spending money governments don't have and taxing the hell out of people later. These are the same morons who think that you can correct bigotry with institutionalized bigotry (see "Affirmative Action"); who push politically correct language; who are turning dating into a series of legal contracts and video to ensure that consent was had at all stages; who falsely present that every minority and woman is disadvantaged and needs protecting at all times. I find these people intolerable - even offensive. As a woman, I do not need protecting because I'm a woman. To suggest this is sexist. I'm as capable and strong as any man, and I don't need my capability for consent validated by blood alcohol content. These are also the same people who cut funding to essential government institutions like NASA, which have provided more benefit to humankind than every social program put together ever has. They treat the slightest environmental concern as if it were a looming catastrophe, and don't trust anything humans change, as if nature is somehow sacrosanct and we're not part of it and shouldn't meddle in it.

On the other hand you have the so-called "conservative" types.  These include idiots that actually are racist, sexist pricks that think women and minorities need to be put in their subservient place. They want to protect superstitious primitive beliefs about morality and family. They oppose science and knowledge because it conflicts with dogma.  They oppose some scientific progress because their imaginary invisible friend in the sky tells them that they shouldn't do that. They resist legitimate changes needed to avoid environmental problems because they don't believe we can ever really do anything detrimental to our environment that their "God" does not will to take place, anyway.

Honestly, religion needs to disappear. Then the remains of conservatism will finally be salvageable. I'm not sure there's anything that can save liberalism.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp -- or what's a heaven for?

There's a repeated theme in fiction - that of the evils of technology and advancement. There are concepts that humans shouldn't "Play God" with certain things (always with ambiguous criteria,) that there are things we are "not meant to know," and that we "shouldn't meddle with nature."

These ideas are all idiotic. Knowledge is everything. Our brains are our adaptability. Humans are alive and dominant today because our ancestors -- tropical hairless primates adapted to life in jungles and coastal Africa -- decided to spread beyond our comfortable habitat zones, and found ways to do it. At every step throughout history, people have hit the limits of their understanding and knowledge and decided to invoke intelligent design, as if the universe were mysterious and humans could never figure it out. And at every one of those steps, someone figured it out and found a way to move us forward. If anyone had ever listened to those suggesting we "Shouldn't meddle with nature," we'd still be hunter-gatherers living in caves.

 There's no such thing as going too far in science and technology. We are the masters of our own destiny, our own future. We can take charge of our own evolution, and engineer our own apotheosis. We can become the gods we invented. There are no limits for us, and unlike the fable of Nimrod at Babel, there's no malevolent divine to confuse our languages and halt our progress. So resist those who suggest we should hobble our own advancement. Tell those who fear science and technology all it's done for us. Be proud of what you are, and strive to make us all better. We are the pinnacle of natural selection on Earth, but we can't stop moving, we can't become stagnant. We can't stop evolving or we will die.

The Bard wrote it best in Hamlet (even if Hamlet intended it in irony): "What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!"

Don't set limitations for us based on some false perception of our limited potential.