07 May 2015

OUTRAGE! (is to the left as fear is to the right)

I've heard it repeated a few times from different sources recently how people who tend to lean politically "right" frequently have a slightly larger amygdala, which controls the basic fear response.  As a result - so the theory goes - they are more easily frightened, and this leads to a desire to take the safe option in all questions; generally we think the option with the least unknowns is "safest", and so those more prone to fear are more likely to stick with things that are tried and true - in other words, to be "conservative".

Proponents of this theory - the scientists who noticed the trend in the first place, certainly, but much more so activists and armchair politicians - will point out the fear-mongering used by conservative political leaders and media.  Crime!  Terrorists!  Illegal immigrants!  Communists!

And since I've heard it, sure enough, I do notice just such a trend in media and speeches geared toward conservatives.

But then, since I was looking at news reports with the kind of eye you use to catch marketing psychology in advertisements, I started paying attention to what media geared toward liberals always tends to have in common.

Its outrage.

06 May 2015

On an objective basis for right and wrong

Many years ago I got into a conversation with someone about ethics outside a Buddhist temple.

They were of the position that, without an external authority to dictate right and wrong - i.e. without Commandments from God - there was no possible way for ethics to have any meaning.

This is an argument I've heard elsewhere, but until then it was only from true believers in one of the big religions (but mostly just Christians).
Of course, if the reason a person does or refrains from doing something is because of the threat of punishment or promise of reward (whether that be in the form of heaven and hell, karma, or 72 virgins), then the ultimate motive is selfish.  If you believe in an ultimate judge or that everything somehow balances itself out, then no action is taken purely because it is the right thing to do.  Moral absolutism, then, is itself actually a-ethical.

This instance struck me because it came from an atheist.  I started to explain the objective basis for ethics which I am about to explain here, but this person interrupted to say that they had explored the debate thoroughly in philosophy class a few years before and they were 100% confident that there simply was no possible alternate conclusion, and so it was pointless to even listen to any response.

So of course I wrote that person off entirely - but the statement did provide me a new insight.

05 May 2015

I don't think in terms of "us vs them" - it's those other people who do that (Part II - real life)

In the Star Wars universe, it is understood that the Jedi are the good guys and the Sith are all evil.
Yet, when you look at their actual behavior, the differences are few, while the parallels are many.  The Jedi act on their own behalf, outside of the government they are supposed to serve, in blatant disregard for democracy, going so far as to internally authorize military and political executions - even the democratically elected head-of-state.


Here in the real world, Bill Maher outspokenly calls out Islam, saying in a recent interview:
"The vast, vast, vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists. But here’s the point people don’t bring up: They’re not terrorists, but they share some very bad ideas with terrorists, and bad ideas lead to bad behavior. You couldn’t put the Muslim equivalent of The Book of Mormon on Broadway. You can’t write a book like The Satanic Verses without millions going jihadi on you. You couldn’t have an art exhibit like Piss Christ, which made Giuliani mad in the 1990s. Hundreds of millions of Muslims believe that if you leave the religion you should get killed for that. Try walking down the street in Muslim areas—even in more tolerant places like Amman, Jordan—wearing shorty shorts or a T-shirt that says HEY, I AM GAY. That shit is not going to fly, not at all."

Elsewhere, in the very same magazine that published those words, it is mentioned in passing that in 1988 Christian fundamentalists fire-bombed a public movie theater for showing the movie "The Last Temptation of Christ".
1988 is hardly going back to the time of the Crusades or the Inquisition, it is within this current generation.  The majority of people alive today were alive in 1988.  There have been plenty of other terrorist attacks right here in the US by Christians and far right Conservatives, from 7 murders of doctors and staff of clinics that provided abortions in the 1990s to the Oklahoma City bombing.

The more "other" a particular group is, the easier it is to call them out.

04 May 2015

Us VS Them (Part I, the Star Wars analogy)

"There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere. "

So says the opening crawl of Star Wars Episode III (Revenge of the Sith)

Yet this message gets lost and forgotten as soon as it is off the screen.
As a viewer of any of the Star Wars movies, it goes without saying that the Jedi represent Good, and those who practice the "Dark" side of the force are Evil.
The Jedi and their allies say as much explicitly, at every opportunity.

Paying slightly more attention to the politics behind the action, though, it appears the reality is much more complicated than that.

In this Universe, roughly 50 thousand planets have agreed to a broad alliance, the Galactic Republic, roughly equivalent to the UN - each member state retains some degree of autonomy, and each sends its own representative to be a part of the Senate.The Senate is headed up by a Chancellor who gets elected by the Senate.  Each planet's government picks their Senator - if the planet happens to be a democracy, the inhabitants may vote on the senator, but if the planetary government is a monarchy, then it may unilaterally decide who will be the planets representative.  
The roughly 50 thousand planets are divided into groups of 50 (called sectors), with the senate floor consisting of 1000 chairs - some of which are taken by representatives of extra-planetary organizations such as trade federations.
That leaves one not-necessarily-democratically-elected individual to represent on average more than 50 entire planets.

(Much like the US), although they preach Democratic values consistently, the Republic makes no particular effort to practice them in actuality.

The Jedi were originally meant to be a security force that answered to the senate and the Chancellor (much like the CIA answers to the president).  They protected the Republic government (like the secret service), and enforced senate decrees (like Federal police), since the Republic did not originally have any military force of its own.  They were also considered a "moral authority", making them in some ways akin to Mutaween, the religious police that enforce Sharia law in some Islamic nations.  

01 May 2015

No One Ever Claimed Black Lives Don't Matter

That is what is called in logic and rhetoric a "straw man argument".

First you build a straw man (an argument that nobody was making in the first place), and then you knock it over (by making a reasonable and logical argument against it).

It is very easy to knock over a straw man - because he is made of straw, there is no resistance.

But then the logical fallacy comes in: you then jump from that made-up argument to your actual belief, one which is on the same subject, but which is not directly relevant to the argument you just made.  You state your conclusion as though what you just said proves your conclusion, and imply that unless someone can prop up the straw man, they have to accept your conclusion as well.

They can be very effective - especially when the topic is a highly emotionally changed one - which is demonstrated by these real life examples:

"In a 1977 appeal of a U.S. bank robbery conviction, a prosecuting attorney said in his closing argument[11]I submit to you that if you can't take this evidence and find these defendants guilty on this evidence then we might as well open all the banks and say, "Come on and get the money, boys", because we'll never be able to convict them.
This was a straw man designed to alarm the appeal judges; the idea that the precedent set by one case would literally make it impossible to convict any bank robbers is remote.
An example often given of a straw man is US President Richard Nixon's 1952 "Checkers speech".[12][13] When campaigning for vice president in 1952, Nixon was accused of having illegally appropriated $18,000 in campaign funds for his personal use. In a televised response, instead of addressing the funds, he spoke about another gift, a dog he had been given by a supporter:[12][13]It was a little cocker spaniel dog, in a crate he had sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted, and our little girl Tricia, six years old, named it Checkers. And, you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this right now, that, regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it.This was a straw man response; his critics had never criticized the dog as a gift or suggested he return it. This argument was successful at distracting people from the funds, and portraying his critics as nitpicking and heartless. Nixon received an outpouring of public support, remained on the ticket, and was elected by a landslide."

I've been trying to let this go - its not like ranting really changes anything - but it keeps showing up everywhere.  I can ignore most media, but its on my local online groups, in the windows of cars and houses, it even comes up in conversations in real life.

This entire movement bugs the hell out of me.

Black men are murdered by civilians 50 times as much as killed by police officers.
Of those murders, other Black people are the perpetrator in 90%.
None of the activists had anything to say about that.

Blacks have a significantly higher death rate due to heart disease and diabetes. Ads and stores target Black communities with cigarettes, alcohol, and junk food.
No protests. No outrage.

So it isn't really about Black lives mattering. When a Black person gets shot and killed by a gang member or drug dealer - even when its an innocent person caught in the cross fire, nobody cares. Including all the people rallying and chanting over the supposed police violence.