Category Archives: Philosophy

“The War on Consciousness” – Banned TED Talk

This is one that’s been making the rounds and I wanted to share it with everyone:

Needless to say, I support the freedom for everyone to use their minds and bodies as they will. As some people know, I’m a Thelemite, and for me it’s quite simple: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Almost all of the world’s problems consist of people meddling in the affairs of others. For too long we’ve simply accepted the notion that the role of government and law is to govern our use of our own bodies and minds. This is a holdover from monarchy and “divine right” government. It creates a naturally adversarial relationship between the state and the citizen that has no place in a free society of equals. So long as this is the case, we can never truly feel like we are on the same side as our government…they feel like someone out to get us.

And of course, this makes perfect sense. Because–so far as I can tell–they are. The recent “revelations” shouldn’t be a revelation at all…it was clear what the Patriot Act and all of its precedents and descendants were going to do, each and every time they are proposed. Each time, people have “worries” and “concerns” about civil liberties. And then the law, or signing statement, or executive order goes through anyway, and people forget all about it. And it makes sense, I suppose…what are we really supposed to do? As we allowed our government to get more powerful and dangerous, we hit a certain point where, as a culture, we realized that nothing we could ever do would change the situation; if we were to continue to enjoy our “rights” and “freedoms”, it was going to be out of the kindness and honor of whoever happened to be running the government. And once that was the case, the rest has been inevitable.

Within a democracy, with a government created, controlled, and enacted by the will of the people, it makes no sense for our government to behave in any way that coerces the people unnecessarily. Note that, unlike some of my colleagues amongst the Libertarians, I do not argue that finance and economics is one of the places coercion is unnecessary. It is clear, from observations of both history and present circumstances, that people will not behave honorably about finance and economics. We might be able to encourage them to do so, but that will only work if we can all agree that doing the dishonorable thing is still dishonorable if you make a lot of money doing it. Until then, people cannot be trusted to either understand the larger economic system within which they act, or care about the results of their actions.

But people use their substances of choice and, so long as they are responsible (admittedly not as common a phenomenon as one would hope, but still the majority of people) there are seldom any issues. The hysteria about drugs is completely out of proportion to the actual damage they cause, and the moral and psychological damage of prohibiting them easily exceeds the dangers. We need to train our citizens to be personally responsible for their own behaviors, which will help everything, across the board, rather than trying–usually with no success–to use transparent lies to instill fear. The moment a kid learns to use a search engine, the lies are revealed, and trust is broken…about drugs and everything else.

The Universe Doesn’t Exist

The Big Crunch. The vertical axis can be consi...

The Big Crunch. The vertical axis can be considered as either plus or minus time. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consider:

1. The universe is currently considered to be bounded but infinite in time and space… while it has a particular boundary at any given moment, it will just keep going, expanding in space and time, like we are inside a giant basketball, forever inflating.

2. However, the amount of usable energy, which is what’s needed to maintain the coherence of matter as well as its content, is finite.

3. Any finite number divided by an infinite number will tend infinitely close to zero.

Therefore, the universe does not actually exist, and once it achieves a specific extension in space and time, the energy required to maintain such structures will become exhausted. This will not necessarily involve a “big crunch” in the sense of gravity pulling all matter together; the real “big crunch” would be as there was less energy to maintain the structures of reality.

So when your socks vanish forever, consider that they may have just winked out of existence and you may be next. That person you ran into downtown who knew you, but of whom you had no memory? Could have been from a different timeline that collapsed into our own because there wasn’t enough energy to maintain it. Or your timeline could have collap

Reality is as frightening as anything I’ve read or written.

My Stance on SOPA and PIPA

As an author, I’ve had my work stolen. That’s lost money…people who stole an article or short story or novella and put it up on their site, denying my publishers the money they deserve and (sometimes) denying me the advertising revenue cut that makes up online royalties. That’s money in the bank.

So what a law like this is trying to convince all of us is that I should be willing to trade my internet freedoms, and the freedoms of everyone else in the world (that’s right…the world, because the bill specifically is set up to go after people in other countries, too) for money. Cold hard cash. Anyone supporting this bill is saying that they will trade freedom, for them and everyone else, for cash. That makes them traitors of the highest order…traitors to not just any one nation, but the species as a whole.

I’m not saying that the current state of online piracy is acceptable. But the market itself is dealing with this problem. Services like Spotify and Hulu allow all the convenience of piracy, but actually charge reasonable prices and allow for a return for the creators. There is no way to pirate or steal this content because of the way the systems are built. A system like this for books, articles, and stories would finish out the problem for writers, and a similar system for graphical art would serve in the same capacity for artists.

Now, there are complaints about such systems, in that they are not going to give the various industries involved the same kinds of profit margins that they have become used to over the last century or so. That’s tough. As an author, I am one of those people. However, if it comes down to either getting nothing, because it’s all being pirated, or making something by charging prices for content that people are willing to pay, I’ll take something any day.

Publishers, the RIAA, and the MPAA need to come to terms with this. They no longer have the control. They don’t get to dictate terms. If they won’t be reasonable, they’ll be pirated into oblivion. If they will be reasonable, however, they can continue to exist. The consumers of content and the industries producing that content are in an adversarial situation so long as the industry is determined to charge unreasonable prices. People pirate movies because it costs an unreasonable amount to see them in the theater. People pirate music (less now) because it costs an unreasonable amount of money to buy music. And people pirate books because it costs an unreasonable amount of money to buy them. This isn’t all producers and publishers…but it is the majority of them.

For a very long time, these people had the public over the barrel, and they took advantage of that, creating this adversarial situation. They knew they had all the power in the situation because they controlled the means of production and distribution. Now anyone with a computer can publish and distribute for so close to free as to be negligible. So far, the middle-men of the industry have done their best to maintain their control, acting as gatekeepers to keep self-produced and self-published works from being take seriously, but that is working less and less. What it comes down to is that if the industries won’t adapt to the new situation, and the lower profit margins, then they won’t have any profit margins at all.

So right now, and for the last decade or so, these industries have been trying to use the law to maintain their power over the situation. For the most part, they have failed. But now they find themselves hand-in-hand with an increasingly authoritarian government, who will embrace any excuse to make more laws that give them more power. And SOPA and PIPA are the outcome of this unholy collaboration between those who would turn this country into a fascism and those who want to keep control of the means of production within the art and entertainment industries.

So understand this, people: when you support SOPA or PIPA, you are not protecting the rights of creators to profit from their creation. You are saying that money is enough to buy your rights, and the rights of people in other countries all over the world. This isn’t about cash, this is about freedom.

So look around. Think about how many atrocities have been justified with “they’re fighting to protect our freedoms”. The enemy tries to take away our freedoms…that’s what makes them the enemy, and if those people are within our own country, that makes them traitors to everything this country is supposed to represent. So remember what we are supposed to do to those who would threaten the freedoms and liberties of American citizens. We haven’t had a real enemy who could do that militarily since WWII…now we do, and they are our own legislators and the greedy, self-involved organizations determined to maintain their profit margins, no matter what it costs.

Ask yourself this…can you trust the government not to misuse and abuse the powers given to it? Honestly, no matter your stance, Left or Right, ask yourself that question. Can you trust them with the power they are asking for…the power to control the most powerful tool for education, free speech, and free assembly to ever exist? Look around…there is really only one answer to this question, and it’s “no”. It’s not a question of will SOPA and PIPA be abused to control the flow of information and interaction through the internet; it’s a question of how.

Don’t allow this trade of our liberty for money (or rather, the promise of money). Oppose SOPA and PIPA in every way possible.

The Problem With “The Way Things Are”

We shoot at you

Image via Wikipedia

It’s amazing how many people seem to have some sick form of Stockholm Syndrome for the system as it currently stands. People talk about government and economy like it has a defined role and characteristics, even though government is an abstraction we made up, and we can make up different roles and characteristics anytime we want. People talk about “the economy” the same way…as if it were a type of rock that just has certain features and that’s the way it is, as opposed to an abstraction we made up to systematize our exchanges of goods and services. This is a severe problem.

Adam Smith wasn’t a scientist, he was an economist and philosopher, and guess what? His philosophy, that has had us chasing equilibriums the way former eras chased the favor of gods for centuries, is full of holes. It assumes the “Enlightenment” model of the human mind and decision-making process, which means it says that we are all little calculators doing min/max calculations about everything and making our economic decisions rationally. But this is known now, through actual scientific research, to be false…we are very seldom rational, and make economic decisions rather badly, even when we do have all the facts (which we almost never do).

In addition to this, Smith’s system is rigged to favor capital. Capital can always decide, with impunity, to lower wages and make worker conditions poorer. The reason for this is because, as an artificial entity with the hiring privilege, they essentially have a monopoly on work. They can choose not to hire at a given wage, but the worker who has a family to support and has to eat generally can’t choose not to work at the wage offered. Since labor can’t actually force the “price” of their labor to rise to the value they put on it under pain of death and failure in personal responsibilities (in addition to the social stigma we attach to people unwilling to work at unfair wages as being “lazy” and “entitled”), then there is always an unequal power dynamic…the only equilibriums that form are those that benefit capital, not labor. Unionism was an attempt to balance this dynamic, as were labor laws, but the same people it benefits to have the rigged system have generally convinced everyone else that unions are bad, evil, and, of course, socialism, and the moment labor lost all power to demand labor laws to protect them, the NLRB was gutted and labor laws castrated.

Capitalism also assumes a scarcity of labor which will help balance the imbalanced power dynamic of capital vs. labor, which I suppose made sense back in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. It made sense that there was a lot of work to do, just to survive. But thanks to the technological and scientific breakthroughs of the last century, that’s just no longer the case. Now we have a surplus of labor, and a surplus of the main resources necessary to human survival…food, clean water, clothing, and shelter. In order to preserve the profitability of food markets, we have subsidized some foods and also actually destroyed surpluses that would have lowered prices past profitability. That’s right, people are starving all over the world, and we have more than enough food to feed everyone and the technology to do it cheaply, but we destroy the extra, or subsidize it to be used in other ways (high fructose corn syrup, anyone?) rather than feed people, all to keep profits up.

It used to be the reason why humanity had to toil was because toil was required to survive, but that isn’t true at all anymore. Now we toil to create profits for capital, but have been convinced that this is somehow the same noble labor that once put food on our table. It is not. There is nothing noble about working hard to put money in someone else’s pocket.

So why do we accept a system that is designed in such a way that the majority of people are inevitably going to be screwed? Labor is the majority, capital is the minority, and always has been, including back when they were called the aristocracy, the crown, or whatever. They have to convince us to accept these systems. Our ancestors were convinced by a combination of religion and force, but our aristocracy has been more subtle, adopting rhetoric that it is hard to argue with and a system that requires a good deal of expertise to see the “rigged” part of the game clearly, and generally the only way to gain that expertise is to already be one of the people who benefit from how the system is rigged.

We have been convinced through centuries of propaganda that this is “just the way things are”, but that’s not true. “Things” have been very different in different cultures and different eras. Consider that peasants and serfs were once convinced the same thing about feudalism through the notion of “divine right to rule”. The “way things are” was different then…it could be different in the future. We just have to actually reject a system that from its conception was meant to exploit and oppress the majority to favor the minority.

Consider that the two forms of secular economic organization, capitalism and communism, were both put forth at the same time “God” was being declared dead. The worry of the day was that without some governing principle, humanity would fall to chaos and barbarism. To that end, Smith and Marx both presented new systems…but they are both just as “religious” as the system of thought they were replacing.

In the past religions, it was “God’s judgment and providence”, a supernatural guiding force, which gave structure to the system by which people lived and organized their lives. There was no evidence for this invisible guiding force, but it was accepted anyway. Similarly, capitalism has the “Invisible Hand” of the “market”, another invisible guiding force that also has no evidence for its existence, but was accepted anyway. Communism has the notion of a “historical dialectic”, which Marx took from his mentor Hegel…again, an invisible, guiding force that also has no evidence for its existence, but was accepted anyway.

In past religions, just reward or punishment was claimed to come in the afterlife, something for which there is no evidence, through being consigned to Heaven or Hell, two places (or states of being) for which there is also no evidence, but it was accepted anyway. In capitalism, just reward and punishment is to come through the establishment of equilibriums, where all things, including labor, will cost what they are worth. These equilibriums, however, have no evidence for their existence except in mathematical models which assume Smith’s system axiomatically, but they are accepted anyway. Communism has the “communist utopia”, the state of society after the transitional period of a capitalist society to communism, where the state dissolves itself and all authority, wealth, means of production, and resources are held in common. This, obviously, has never happened and there was/is no evidence that it could ever happen. It’s almost impossible to even imagine…how, exactly, could a free populace manage the distribution of goods held in common without some rule-set to define a just distribution? “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need” sounds well and good until you ask the question of who is defining my abilities and needs.

The main thrust of my argument is this: we have generally been tricked into accepting systems of living that are:

1. Contrary to our current knowledge of the human psyche and decision-making processes.
2. Intentionally creating an imbalance in the power dynamic between the minority of our population (capital) and the majority of our population (labor) that favors the minority.
3. Based upon ideas with no evidence confirming their existence.

In addition to this, I’m saying that we have fallen into a cognitive trap that causes us to reify abstractions as if they were actual things with actual properties. It happens all the time…we talk about “government”, and especially the flaws of “big government”, as if it were a bear or a tree or a rock, taking for granted a set of properties and relations that are considered “facts”, as immutable as the laws of physics. But this is fuzzy thinking…government is simply an idea, and there have been many such ideas. All it takes is deciding to change things and acting on that decision. The same is true of “the economy”, “the law”, etc. These things exist in our heads, but we act like they exist in the world, and behave as if there were “matters of fact” about what they are and how they behave. This is folly.

Our world has changed a great deal in the last couple of centuries, and no amount of denial will change that. We can’t keep pretending there is a significant scarcity of most resources (food, shelter, clothing, water) that justifies the continued attempt to make profit from them without creating absurdities and inhumanities like burning crops to keep the market from crashing while people are starving in other countries, or having people homeless and in the streets while homes and apartments sit empty. We can’t keep pretending that there is a scarcity of labor that will keep capital honest in its hiring practices…there are more people than jobs, everyone knows it, and capital knows that it can offer unfair and inadequate compensation to their employees with impunity because those employees have to eat, feed their families, etc.

And most of all, we can’t keep making things up and then forgetting they are made up. Government is a technology, a category of answers to the problem of “how shall we live?” The economy is similarly a technology, a category of answers to the question “how do we divide our stuff?” As technologies, it should be expected that we will fix them when broken, innovate upon them where better things are possible, and make them efficient when they are shown to be wasteful. But if we reify these abstractions, if we fall under the spell of thinking these collections of ideas and methodologies are somehow “real” and “binding”, we can’t improve upon them, we can’t fix them when broken, and we can’t remove inefficiencies and inconsistencies. We’re stuck.

We live in a story, and its not a very good one right now. It’s a story that was written back when “all men are created equal” was assumed to exclude anyone who wasn’t white and male…that is, the majority of people in the world. A story that assumed that the right to own deadly weapons was important enough to put in, but the right to not be oppressed simply because of the color of your skin wasn’t. Looking back over the history of humanity, it’s easy to look at the eternal exploitation of the poor and weak by the rich and powerful and judge our species to be monsters. And it would be true. But we have been monsters because we have written ourselves that way, because we have woven a story of monsters ruling over and exploiting others.

It’s just a story, and there is nothing stopping us from imagining a new one, if we can only remember that we are the ones who made up the tale, not simply characters within it.