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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Prop 19: An Autopsy

Well, it’s official. Prohibitionists were once again able to scare people into believing the world would come to an end if we legalized pot. The marvelously effective war on drugs survives to give us the illusion of having protected us from the downfall of society for at least another two years. The measure was pronounced dead at 10 p.m. Pacific Time with 93% of precincts reporting in. The final tally was 54% opposed, 46% in favor. Let’s take stock of what happened and see where we went wrong.

This is due, in no small part, the Attorney General Eric Holder coming out and threatening to “vigorously enforce” the Controlled Substances Act in the state of California should the measure have passed. The polls for Prop 19 were looking pretty good until he came out and made all the moderates fill their Huggies and say “No”. The thing is, this is a legal battle we might very well have won. Legal precedent says federal law trumps state law, but legal precedent also says that California state authorities have to abide by state law. A.G. Holder can’t make the police in California arrest stoners. Also, alcohol prohibition ended partly because cities and states began to refuse to enforce the laws against it. Realistically, Holder and the D.E.A do not have the money and the man-power to police the whole state of California by themselves. They would’ve made examples of a few big growers and sellers, but most Californians would’ve been quite safe.

There was a lot of talk about live polls vs automated polls. Automated polls for Prop 19 showed much more support for the measure than live-caller polls. There was speculation that people were uncomfortable admitting they supported the measure to a live poller but felt okay telling the truth to an automated poll. It sounded reasonable and it was a hope I clung to when the polls dropped sharply after Holder came out and breathed fire at us. What went wrong? My suspicion is that, although those polled might have felt more comfortable admitting their support for the initiative to a non-human poller, the automated polls didn’t include people who didn’t feel like answering an automated poll. Think about it. You answer your phone and hear an automated voice asking in a recorded or maybe text-to-speech voice if you’d like to answer a few questions. I suspect a lot of people’s answer was “Click.”

I’m somewhat inclined to blame the stoners for not putting down their pizza-grease covered X-Box controllers long enough to get out and vote. I’m more inclined to blame the youth who are too stupid to vote. There may be some truth to both of those, but I think mostly it’s just that people are still afraid of pot. It’s still a big scary boogey man to a lot of people. I don’t think the “Yes on 19″ people did enough to address people’s fears. I don’t know how they could’ve missed that. In particular, they didn’t manage to pacify parents who are worried about their kids smoking pot. I think the number one thing that needs to change about the marijuana debate is that we need to get rid of this idea that you’re protecting your kids from pot by going after stoners. You’re not. “Yes on 19″ should’ve driven home the point kids are already smoking pot because it’s not properly regulated. They should’ve hammered parents on the fact that it’s easier for kids to get their hands on pot than booze. This isn’t rocket surgery, folks; it’s all about the kids. “What about the children?! Won’t somebody think of the CHILDREN?!”. I know they addressed this point briefly in their ONE TV spot they managed to release, but they should’ve devoted a whole series of ads to this.

I imagine two commercials for this. The first one, I already made, as you may have seen in my post "Don't Fear the Reefer".  The second goes like this: We see a guy in his late teens/early 20′s – a scruffy-looking character – selling weed to a kid who’s about 12 or 13. As the commercial begins, the kid walks away. The dealer looks at the camera and says, “I HOPE they don’t legalize weed. I’ve got a business to run; clients who count on me and money to make.” Then another aouple of kids walk up and he starts talking to them. Cut to the first kid walking down the street with his bag of weed. The kid looks at the camera and says, “I HOPE they don’t legalize weed. No one’s gonna believe I’m 21 for another 5 years at LEAST; even if I CAN find a good fake ID.” Then the voice-over guy says “Prohibition: Giving you the illusion of protecting your kids from marijuana since 1937. Vote Yes on 19.”

You could also have another commercial with a guy who looks like he’s from a Mexican drug cartel. He looks at the camera and says, “I HOPE they don’t legalize weed. I’ve got a business to run.”

Actually, what they should do now is make those same commercials, but instead of the characters saying “I HOPE they don’t legalize weed.”, have them say “Thanks, California!”. They could also show employees from under-funded government programs and have them say “Thanks, California. We didn’t need that money anyway.”

Another concern people were actually dumb enough to swallow was the idea that people can show up for work stoned with impunity. This is an idea I never had any commercial ideas for because I never thought a reasonable adult could take it seriously, but I guess if they’re dumb enough to think they’re protecting their kids by arresting stoners, they’ll swallow anything. I guess I’d just have a guy looking into the camera and saying, “Look, I’m smart enough to know that if I come into work drunk, they’d fire me, so what makes any of you think I’d be dumb enough to come to work stoned and why would you believe there’s nothing they could do about it if I did?

Well, at least it’s been decriminalized down to a simple infraction. Let’s learn from this defeat and be prepared for 2012. Let’s write the measure more carefully next time; I know there were several complaints about THAT, too. Let’s work on addressing people’s baseless, asinine fears a little more forcefully, next time, guys.

Oh, and screw you, California. Enjoy your crushing debt, you jack-asses

Don't Fear the Reefer

I’d like to take a moment to come out as a supporter of legalizing marijuana.  I’m not gonna lay out all the reasons I feel that way (how prohibition doesn’t protect your kids from getting it and how it’s not a gateway drug and so forth) but I thought it’s important to say that; partly because I’m thinking that my online business may have something to do with the field of marijuana activism.  It’s really important to me.  For me, this isn’t just about people’s right to smoke and get away with it.  This is about the fact that marijuana is in no way dangerous enough to justify the punishment suffered by people who get caught smoking it.  Except in those few states where possession is considered a civil infraction, those who are arrested for smoking pot get a criminal record.  Having a criminal record – especially for a drug offense – greatly impacts a person’s ability to get a job or funding for education.  This is a huge deal.  This is a direct road to poverty, which lies at the heart of most of America’s problems.  Marijuana isn’t bad enough to warrant denying people a job or an education.  It isn’t worth the impact on society in terms of the poverty prohibition leads to.
I have a couple of text-to-speech PSAs about this on Youtube. Enjoy:

Alcohol: The Gate-Way Drug

Prohibition: Save the Children!

Say No to "Drugs"

The word “drugs” is a fear-based label used to avoid and discourage any critical thought about the class of substances involved. It brings to mind a host of terrible images and words that are associated with it. Prohibitionists-mainly people who’ve never tried a “drug” in their lives and have no idea what they’re talking about-hear the word “drugs” and immediately think of any given character from “Requiem for a Dream”; dirty, shaky, sallow addicts with dark circles under their eyes shooting heroin or snorting cocaine in an abandoned building or under an overpass somewhere. The vice-like grip of fear it has on people’s minds is quite possibly the primary reason it’s taking so long to end prohibition. People hear the word “drugs” and they immediately think very bad things about it.

Part of the problem, here, is that I have a different idea of what constitutes a “drug”. When I think of the word “drugs” I think of something that is A.) highly addictive and B.) very bad for one’s health. For decades now, the scientific consensus has been that marijuana is neither of those things, but we’re not interested in facts, are we? Every time there’s a government inquiry commissioned to determine just how dangerous marijuana is, in America or around the world, they always come back with the same result. They always come to the conclusion that marijuana is about as dangerous as coffee and the laws against it create more problems than they solve. Unfortunately, the typical course of action is to ignore these objective scientific results. That’s how powerful the word “drugs” is. The fear of “drugs” trumps the objective science almost every time.

I’m also familiar enough with the drug culture to know that many other “drugs” are not nearly as hazardous and addictive as prohibitionists would have us believe. I’ve seen the diagrams showing that alcohol, tobacco, and prescription medication kill literally hundreds of times more people every year than the “drugs” we’re all suppose to be afraid of. Don’t get me wrong; I know there are some drugs out there that are legitimately dangerous and should be avoided. Heroin, cocaine, crack, meth; basically anything that comes in a white powder. These would all be things to avoid.

I guess what I’m saying here is that we desperately NEED to start making a distinction between “Hard Drugs” and “Soft Drugs”. Prohibitionists don’t see any difference between drug use and drug abuse. Also-for reasons I’LL never understand-they don’t classify alcohol and tobacco under the “drugs” heading. Technically, caffeine is a drug, too. One of the most popular arguments against ending marijuana prohibition is that it’s a “gateway-drug”. This is a variation on the Slippery-Slope argument. There are a few different reasons why this argument is false, but the one worth mentioning here is that there’s no reason to believe that the “slippery-slope” starts with pot. I’m willing to bet that most of the hard-core drug addicts drank alcohol or coffee before they ever touched a joint or a needle. Why isn’t alcohol the gateway drug? Or coffee? Surely it was their coffee habits that led them to drink alcohol which introduced them to pot which sent them on a downward spiral toward crack, right? Maybe we should arrest Juan Valdez and throw him in a cell with Al Capone and Pablo Escobar.

 The point is that we need to change either the word “drugs” or the language and images that come to mind when people hear it. I don’t like the word because it’s normally used in a negative context by people who’ve never tried any. Unfortunately, there’s not really any other word for them and I think most of the people who are really good at manipulating language are prohibitionists. Maybe instead of trying to change the way people think about drugs, we should point out the hypocrisy of condemning drug users with a beer in your hand.

The God Delusion: A Review

I recently finished reading Richard Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion”. What follows is not a comprehensive review of the book; just my thoughts about it.

I try to keep an open mind, but I have to admit I started the book doubting that Dawkins could shake my faith, if you could call if that. Though he presented some good arguments and gave me a lot to think about, ultimately, I was right. I’d already heard a lot of the arguments against God’s existence before and, though Dawkins elaborated on the old arguments and presented some new ones, I didn’t feel he’d eradicated the idea of God. Indeed, his central argument is based on at least one questionable premise, as we shall see.

First, let me say that I really consider myself an agnostic. To use Dawkins own scale of belief, I’m a 3 on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being someone who “knows” there’s a God and 7 being someone who “knows” there isn’t one. A 3 means I don’t know for sure if there’s a God, but I’m inclined to believe in one. Interestingly, Dawkins himself states that he is a 6 on that scale; he doesn’t know for sure that there’s no God, but he’s very much inclined to doubt it. Dawkins addresses Agnosticism early on in the book and divides it into two types: Temporary Agnosticism (the idea that we CAN know if there’s a God if we have enough evidence) and Permanent Agnosticism (the idea that we can NEVER know if there is or is not a God no matter how much evidence we gather. He stresses that just because we may never know for sure if there’s a God or not doesn’t mean that his existence and non-existence are equally likely, and I agree. He then proceeds to make arguments that, to him at least, would seem to put the odds AGAINST the existence of a God. Don’t get me wrong, he DOES make some good arguments, but I don’t think he does an adequate job of defeating the idea of a God.

I am also, for the most part, a Deist. For the unfamiliar, there are two kinds of believers in the West: Deists and Theists. A Theist believes in a personal God; one who answers prayer and performs miracles and talks to people and is regularly involved in our daily lives. I’m not a big believer in prayer. For every person who gets what they pray for, you’ll find at LEAST one who didn’t, so God’s help is, at best, unreliable. Theists argue, “But God has a plan.” Well, if God has a plan, there’s no point in praying, is there? If want you want is part of God’s plan, there’s no need to pray for it. If what you want isn’t part of God’s plan, he’s probably not gonna change his mind and who are you to ask him to do it? Dawkins quotes Ambrose Bierce who defined prayer thus: “To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.”

But I digress. I DO believe that God performs miracles, though rarely. I’ve heard too many miraculous stories to think that miracles don’t happen and I don’t think Science does an adequate job of explaining why they happen. I think that God does communicate with us, but virtually never uses a voice or words of any kind. I think he makes his point in other ways, like experience, for example. Deists don’t believe in a personal God. We think that God lit the fuse on the fire-cracker that was the Big Bang, but has since been relatively uninvolved. We see the universe as a self-sustaining system. Deists believe we don’t need God to explain the universe or anything in it, and I don’t think we do. We basically believe in the Big Bang and Evolution but believe these were God’s ways and means of creating everything. If there is a God, I think he purposely avoided leaving behind any evidence of his personal involvement in the creation of the universe and the life within it. If God had left behind any conclusive evidence that he exists and created the universe; if we discovered proof that there is, indeed, a God, all Hell would brake loose. This is one reason I think Science tries to rule out using God to explain anything. The moment you accept that there is a God, then people would immediately start fighting over whose God it is. Church leaders, and possibly leaders of other faiths, would start pushing for their religious laws to be made the law of the land. Hell, they do that NOW. It would not be a GOOD thing to find proof that there is a God unless there came with it a list of rules and standards of morality and I don’t think God wants that. I believe he wants us to have free will to choose or not choose what we believe or don’t about how we should live. If we knew there was a God, we’d just stand around waiting for orders instead of thinking for ourselves. I think if God wanted to say anything to us, it would be something like “No, really; go on about your business. As you were. Nothing to see here.”

Dawkins spends much of the book delivering a scorching indictment of religion. He attacks the evils that religion has visited upon the world and highlights the unjustifiably high regard in which it is held even in modern society. I quite agree. It’s appalling the things people can get away with when the things they do are committed in the name of religion. Most of his venom is directed at Christianity because Christianity, more than any other religion, has been responsible for so many crimes against humanity. Attacking the evils of religion is a pretty standard weapon in the atheists arsenal, but attacking religion is not the same as attacking God. I don’t blame God for the messes that we have created, nor do I expect him to clean them up. If God solved all our problems for us, we wouldn’t learn and grow.

Early on in the book, Dawkins asks why Philosophers and Theologians are any more qualified than anyone else to comment of matters of morality and answer life’s most profound questions. He asks why people think that Science has nothing to say about right and wrong. The answer to the first question seems fairly obvious to me. Philosophers and Theologians are moral qualified to address morality and life’s biggest questions for the same reason a surgeon is more qualified to perform a heart transplant; they’ve been trained to do it. Even if you disagree with the idea that God exists, a person who is well-versed in theories of ethics and knowledge and value and reality is more qualified to comment on those things than someone who has not been so trained. As for the second question, I believe Science may very well have something to say about morality and answering the big questions, but that’s a topic for another essay.

As stated before, one of my primary reasons for suspecting that there is a God is that so many people have believed in one and, of those, a good portion claim to have had experience with God directly. Dawkins dismisses this argument, pointing out that some people claim to have seen pink elephants, too, but that doesn’t make them real. Yes, but I’m pretty sure the number of people claiming to have seen pink elephants and the like is vanishing compared to the number of people who claim to have seen and/or heard God. Again, it’s the sheer number of people who seem to have had very similar experiences that leads me to suspect that they’re not completely full of shit. Dawkins actually counters this by pointing out that sometimes it’s hard to explain how a large group of people could have the same delusion, but it would be even harder to explain the phenomenon if it were real. I don’t think the existence of God is THAT far-fetched.

He points out that the brain is capable of being fooled by an illusion. Again, this is true, but just because illusions exist and the brain can be fooled doesn’t mean that God is a delusion. Computers, especially when used for movie effects, can recreate a lot of things that really do exist. Just because something can be created or recreated doesn’t mean it was never real to begin with.

Dawkins is a scientist though and through and tries to use science, particularly Darwinian evolution by natural selection, to explain or disprove a lot of ideas throughout the book. His central argument against the existence of God is that if God created the universe, who created God? Whoever or whatever created God must have been more powerful than God himself. But then, who created this one who created God? And who created THEM? It gets into a kind of infinite regress that Dawkins believes assures us that there is almost certainly no God. Here’s my problem with that argument: His argument assumes that God had a beginning. It assumes the existence of Time, which is a concept that has been called into question going back perhaps as far as Einstein. Quantum Theoretical Physicists have postulated for decades now that time may not exist. Indeed the very existence of the world around us has been called into question. Einstein himself said that “Reality as we know it is an illusion.” It is widely believed among Quantum Theoretical Physicists that the world around us is an illusion; which, I think, lends some credibility to the possibility of there being a God and what we would call a spiritual plane of existence. The idea that “Life is but a dream” has been around for centuries in Eastern religions and philosophies. Again, the premise that God must have been created and had a beginning seems questionable to me because it presumes the existence of time. Dawkins seems to be aware of Quantum Physics as he talks about it a bit toward the end of the book. He does not, however, get into the idea that the world is illusory and time may not exist. Still, I have to suspect I’m not the first person to have thought of this. I’d be somewhat surprised if this hadn’t occurred to him or at least pointed out to him. I wonder what his response was.

He tries to explain the existence and ubiquity of religion in purely Darwinian terms. He thinks that we evolved religion either as a by-product of something else or because it was advantageous to our survival. I felt he was really reaching during this part. I think his need to rule out God caused him to come up with some fairly dubious answers of his own. I remember thinking, “Jesus Christ, dude; not EVERYTHING revolves around evolution.” On the other hand, suppose there IS no God. How DO we explain the popularity of religion. In that case, Dawkins may have a point, but I guess that’s just another reason I suspect there IS a God. I have trouble believing that our belief in one can be explained by evolution.

I think I’ve done a better job of explaining where I DISAGREE with Dawkins than I have of explaining where I agree with him. First of all, I agree with him that religion has and still does terrible harm to individuals and to society as a whole. It has done a lot of good things, too, but I think the bad outweighs the good. People are able to get away with WAY too much bullshit when they do it in the name of religion.

Second, he points out that God is used by Creationists to explain anything Science can’t. This is absurd. You can’t just attribute something to God just because Science hasn’t been able to explain it yet. Of course, Creationists do this in a desperate attempt to get Science to conform to Scripture instead of the other way around, but that’s still no excuse. There have been many things we attributed to God in the past and then Science came up with a better explanation for them later. Besides, exactly HOW do Creationists think God made everything? Did he just snap his fingers and POOF! the world into existence? Maybe he folded his arms and nodded his head like the woman in “I Dream of Genie”. C’mon, guys; you’ve gotta do better than that. You can’t just leave it at “God just POOFed everything into existence.”

This is another insidious thing about mainstream organized religion, though; it tries to stop people from thinking too hard. No need to wonder where we came from; just chalk it up to God. If we followed religion’s lead, science would lose half its motivation. After all, who needs science to discover or explain anything? We have God for that, right? Thank God we don’t really believe that or we wouldn’t have made it out of the Dark Ages.

Finally, Dawkins points out that no one takes the Bible 100% seriously anymore; not as far as morality is concerned. Theists sometimes object that we need God to explain morality; that WITHOUT God, there would BE no morality. Shall we look to the Bible for moral guidance? Certainly not. The Bible – particularly the Old Testament – is fraught with rape, incest, murder, and wholesale genocide all done under the direction of God or with his approval. The Death Penalty is recommended for all manner of minor offenses. One man was stoned to death for gathering firewood on the Sabbath. The fact that we no longer follow the old rules and kill people for this or that, Dawkins points out, shows that there is another standard of morality at work. We must have a standard of morality by which we pick and choose which Bible verses to obey and which to ignore. Whatever that standard of morality is, it did not come from the Bible.

It’s a thought-provoking book I would recommend to anyone regardless of where you lye on Dawkins 1 – 7 scale. I submit that most people who choose not to read it are afraid of having their faith shaken. Many will not read it for that reason. Again, Dawkins presents some wonderful arguments against religion, but I don’t quite buy his arguments against God. He does a good job attacking the Theist God, but doesn’t do a whole lot of damage to the Deist God, which is the one I believe we have, if indeed God exists at all. Despite Dawkins best efforts, I still have to suspect he does.

But of course, as Dennis Miller used to say, I could be wrong.

My Case for God

I don’t know if there is a god, but I’m inclined to believe in one and I’ll tell you why.

First, let me say that I realize none of what I’m about to say is concrete proof of God’s existence. I don’t think there IS any concrete proof on either side; hence my skepticism toward both. I’m merely going to present some things that SUGGEST to me the likelihood that there is, in fact, a god.

The first and foremost evidence I see is the sheer number of people who’ve ever lived and died throughout the course of human history who HAVE believed in a god. I’m sure you’re familiar with the age-old expression that “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”. Literally trillions of people have believed in God since cavemen painted on walls about one. That’s a LOT of smoke for atheists to being saying there’s no fire. That’s a lot of people believing in an idea for atheists to say there’s NO truth to it. Now, of course, one could point out that the vast majority of believers who’ve lived and died came from more scientifically ignorant times, and that’s true, but the scientific revolution has NOT stamped out the idea of a God. Besides, as I’ll explain later, I don’t believe the idea of a God is unscientific. It just seems statistically unlikely to say that every last person who’s ever lived and died who believed in a god were all 100% wrong. Really? All of them? To my mind, it takes some pretty big balls to say you know better than that many people. Not all of those people we ignorant common folk. More than a few of them were quite well educated. Many have been more educated than you or I.

Then there’s the people who claim to have had direct contact with God or at least an angel. Whether they claim they heard God’s voice or that they’ve died and met God personally, again, I have trouble believing that every last one of those millions of people were either lying, crazy, full of shit, or mistaken. Same goes for people who claim to have seen or been haunted by ghosts. Again, too many people have made such claims for me to believe that every last one of them is full of crap. It just seems statistically implausible.

As I said before, I don’t see the idea of a God as being unscientific, even by today’s standards. The God I believe in is the kind who set the universe in motion but doesn’t typically get involved with it since then. I think the absence of God’s fingerprints on the world is by design so we could have the choice to believe in him or not. I believe in evolution and the Big Bang and pretty much side with science in most disputes it gets into with religion. I think that for all PRACTICAL purposes, God DOESN’T exist. He’s not around in any OBVIOUS way and he’s far from reliable as far as helping anyone with anything. 

Another reason I'm inclined to believe in a God is because I think the separation between science and spirituality is an illusion.  It goes along the lines of Clarke's maxim that "Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic."  I think what we call "spirituality" is probably perfectly scientific phenomena, just not according to the science we have NOW.  I think one day we'll understand that consciousness CAN exist outside of the body and "God" is just a being of intelligence beyond our current understanding.  At some point, we're going to have to change our ideas about what God and Science are and their relationship to one another.

There’s also miracles to consider. I DO believe that miracles happen. I’ve heard too many stories of people being spontaneously cured of a terminal disease or surviving an accident that definitely should have killed them to say that they were all just very lucky. I know, I know; I said earlier that I don’t think God really gets involved in the day-to-day upkeep of the universe, and this is a bit of a grey area that even I’m not certain about. This is, perhaps, a subject for another day, but basically my theory is that we all have an individual plans or goals for our lives before we’re even born and maybe God sends an angel around to help us out if we deviate too far from the plan or to help us achieve our goals. All I know is that miracles DO happen. Why they happen to some and not others, God only knows.

Anyway, I don’t think it matters whether we believe in God or don’t. The God I believe in doesn’t get upset if we don’t praise or even acknowledge him. Just be nice to each other and try not to piss anyone off.

What Would it Take to Change America?

Lately I’ve been asking myself something.  What would it take to give control of the government back to the people?  What would have to happen before the vice-like grip of wealthy corporations would once again give way to the voice of the people?  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not anti-government, but like many Americans, I DO think that our government works more for the interests of corporations and party self-interest than the middle and lower classes.  So what would have to happen to change that so they’re doing what’s best for US again?

I think that trying to come up with specific strategies is the wrong way to go.  We need to ask a more general question.  We need to settle on what would have to happen to change the way Washington works.

The thing is, after thinking about it for a while, I think I know the answer but it’s nothing new.  One answer is national ballot initiatives.  America should at least be a Deliberative Democracy, because I’m not sure we can say we’re a Representative Democracy anymore.  As I’ve said before, many people in America don’t feel the government represents them anymore.  Maybe we should represent ourselves once in a while.  Let the whole country vote on a few things once every two or four years.  There’s actually a movement to make this happen, which I encourage you all to support.  Please visit http://ni4d.us/ to learn how you can support a national ballot initiative system.

Another thing that needs to happen to return power to the people is campaign finance reform.  I can’t stress this enough.  Nothing else gets done until CFR is fixed.  All those issues you care about – health care, taxes, defense, jobs, gay rights, whatever – none of that gets fixed until CFR is changed.  We need public financing for all our elections.  What we have now is a system of legalized bribery.  As long as corporations are considered people and money is considered speech (two things which ALSO need to change) it follows that the voice of the people will always be drowned out by the megaphone of Wall Street.

Incidentally, I’m not sure if this is really a game-changer or not, but I think we need to do away with electronic voting, too.  I don’t care how much easier it makes things, it also makes hacking and election theft easier.  Go back to paper and stay there.

Pardon me for being partisan, here, but another thing I think would have to happen is that we would have to change the minds of those who think that corporations SHOULD run the government.  Anti-government people seem to think that blood-thirsty, carnivorous business men SHOULD decide what’s best for them, for no reason I'll ever understand.  To do this, we would have to restore their faith in government, but I don’t think anything short of an act of God could accomplish that.  They’ve been so conditioned to fear government they can’t see that private industry can be as bad or worse.

The problem with these ideas is that -except for that last one -they have to go through Congress to be enacted and Congress damn sure isn’t going to pass anything that’s seriously going to upset the status quo.  How do we fix Congress when Congress has to approve of any solution we come up with?  There really isn’t a system for changing the way things are done that doesn’t depend on the people who can make the necessary changes going against their own interests.  There isn’t really a voice for the people if we want any radical changes made.  How do we get around the federal government to enact the changes we want?  Most of us don’t approve of the way things are done in Washington, but how do we change that?  They’re not gonna do it for us.

Please note that I am not now, nor would I ever, advocate a violent overthrow of the government.  I think a citizen uprising that involves the use of deadly force is, at the very least, to be avoided.  It’s not that I can’t imagine a situation where it might be called for, but for one thing, I think you lose at least some legitimacy by resorting to violence.  I don’t think the majority of the country is gonna back you up if you storm the halls of Congress with rifles in hand.  Second, I don’t think it would work anyway.  All the militia men in America couldn’t seize control of the federal government if they wanted to.  The federal government is better armed and better organized.  I don’t think a militia would be any match for them.  Just wanted to put that out there lest anybody accuse me of inciting anything.

So what do YOU think?  What would have to happen to return power to the people and cut the strings of Wall Street?  It’s clear that what we need are drastic changes and not the baby-step, piece-meal changes we usually get, but what would it take to make those changes happen?  Again, don’t think specific strategies.  First figure out what would have to happen for us to regain power.  Think of it like this; “For the American people to regain power over the federal government, A, B, and C would have to happen.”

Lemme know what you think, America.

The Power of Love

I’d like to expound for a moment on a belief that I’ve held for some time to the effect that, while Love is certainly a powerful force, it is not stronger than hate. First of all, I think that Love, by its nature, is yielding. People often see the world as a struggle between love and hate, but I don’t think it’s in the nature of love to put up a fight. I don’t think Love is aggressive, even in its own defense. In any contest between a peaceful, loving person and a violent, hateful person, the latter will almost always win. The guy who wins is almost always the one willing to hurt or kill or at least lie or do something under-handed. So it is with cultures and nations. A peaceful, benevolent society will always be crushed by a war-like, malevolent society. Some argue that this is another nail in the coffin for God, but I don’t blame God for the shit humans do to each other, nor do I expect him to put a stop to it.

This is why America is being decimated by unscrupulous men with more money that the GDP of a small country. Some people will aggressively do whatever it takes make their fortunes and keep them, even at the expense of kinder, more loving people. This is one of the flaws in a meritocracy. This is also a big reason why Republicans win elections; they’re more aggressive. They’re fulla shit, but they’re more aggressive about it. Democrats have the right ideas, but they don’t stand up for them. Bill Maher said that the principles of Liberalism are things most Americans already agree with or would if they were properly argued and defended, but very few people in Washington are standing up for our ideals and calling the Republicans on their shit.

But I digress. I say this because people like to say that “Love is the strongest force in the universe.”, or “Love conquers all.”, and it’s naive. I’m not saying this as a reproach to Love, either. Love SHOULDN’T be aggressive. Sometimes people are aggressive in defense of Love and what’s right, and that’s fine, but guys like Buddha, Jesus, and Gandi – the real messengers of love in our history – aren’t SUPPOSED to be violent. They’re supposed to turn the other cheek. Let someone else be violent on their behalf, if they must.

Believe in Love if you will, but be prepared to defend it because it won’t defend itself.

Government is Not the Enemy

Conservatives like to point to problems with government-run programs – like problems with Medicaid or Social Security or the Cash-for-Clunkers program – as proof that the government can’t be trusted to get things done. They ignore the successes the government has to it’s credit and focus only on the failures because the less people trust the government to do something, the more they turn to the private sector and the richer the corporate interests get. Notice that the government is perfectly capable of running those parts of the government that conservatives support, like the military and the socialized healthcare program that veterans and hypocritical, small-government, Republican congressmen enjoy. They’re just somehow “incapable” of running those systems that could allow millionaires to become billionaires.  Voters forget that the private sector can be as bad or worse than the government.  The private sector is motivated by profit and many companies will happily give you low-quality service or products if it’ll increase their profit margins. I also don’t wanna hear anything about how some government programs are losing money from the party that likes nothing more than to cut taxes and give what little money we have left to people who already have more than they’ll ever need.

Here’s the thing, though. Part of the reason why the government fails when it does is that conservatives don’t support the government.  Think about it.  Say you’re a conservative Congressman; you don’t believe in “big government” and don’t support government programs.  When it comes time to support government programs by giving them funding or helping them fulfill their roles in society, how likely are you to vote in their favor?  Not very likely, I’d guess.  You’re probably going to vote against them every chance you get, aren’t you?  How can conservatives expect government programs to run smoothly when they themselves are constantly trying to undermine those programs at very step?  The G.O.P like to throw up every roadblock they can so they can say “See?  You can’t trust the government to do anything.”  It’s like taking the tires off your car and then complaining that it doesn’t run very well on the rims.

I support my government MUCH more than I support the private sector when it comes to running essential systems in society that corporations are PLAINLY to greedy to be trusted with. Maybe the government could do a better job of running the country if half of them weren’t trying to convince people they can’t.  In Europe, people don’t complain about “big government” they way we do in America because they know that their governments will take care of them when they’re down.  They have a  higher standard of living maintained by tax-payer funded, government run services.

The point is, “Big government” is not an inherently bad thing.  It’s only a bad thing when said government is actively trying to oppress the citizens (or when it places the desires of the wealthy above the needs of everyone else, like ours, but if that’s your complaint, why vote Republican?).  Big government can be a GOOD thing when that government is benevolent and does its best to meet our needs.  Maybe if we’d give it a chance, it could do that.


I watched “The Animatrix” a while back and the part called “The Second Renaissance” really got me thinking about human nature and our spiritual growth and evolution. For those of you who haven’t seen it or don’t remember it, “The Second Renaissance” was about the transition from the human-dominated world to the machine-dominated world. Basically, humans developed sophisticated robots to do all the menial and dangerous work that none of us want to do and robots can do better anyway. After a while, our robots became so sophisticated they became self aware. Now, they didn’t automatically start killing every human in sight the way some people imagine they would. Actually, the machines gave humans ample opportunity to live in harmony, but of course, the humans said “No” and tried to destroy the machines.

The first question that came to mind is one I’ve thought of before: What will or could cause humans to evolve spiritually? I’ve said before that I’m concerned that humans are evolving technologically faster than we’re evolving spiritually, (and by “spiritually”, I mean morally and ethically. As an agnostic, I try to make these arguments objective and not based on any god or belief system). In the book “Conversations with God”, God, (or the author, whichever you prefer) makes the argument that “The inability to experience the suffering of others is what allows suffering to continue.” To put it another way, humans wouldn’t hurt each other if we could feel each others pain. I agree. I think that humans will evolve spiritually and world peace will be achieved if we can find a way to empathize with each other. But if empathy is truly our salvation, how can we develop that the way we strive to increase and refine our intelligence? First of all, people would have to see the importance of developing empathy. The technology for increasing our brain power-which I will discuss momentarily-has a clear path and is indeed being developed. The problem is that we are seeking to increase our intelligence, but not to unite our minds with one another. This is a pursuit that will not begin in my lifetime, if ever.

I recently read an article in Playboy that talked about some of the technological advances we’re going to see in the future. Many of them involved increasing our brains efficiency and our memory, basically making us super intelligent. Someday, our I.Q.s will be at least 10 times higher than they are now. Some even say we’ll be able to upload our minds into super computers and be able to think with the speed and efficiency of a super computer. To me, the question is, will this make a better world for us? Will we become more peaceful? Will this be the quantum shift in human consciousness we need? Does super intelligence result in a more peaceful nature or will making us super-intelligent just give us a new path to self-destruction? Maybe, instead of developing our brain power to super-human levels, we should be developing our capacity for empathy. Something tells me that’s a goal our scientists don’t consider important enough to strive for. Being super-intelligent could be dangerous if it doesn’t eliminate our self-destructive nature. Being a genius doesn’t make you a good person. I don’t think there’s any shortage of highly intelligent yet very bad people in the world today or throughout history. But then, maybe super intelligence WILL cause us to evolve. Maybe we’ll be able to see the universe as a unified energy field and understand our place in it. Maybe being super-intelligent will open us up to new insights that will inevitably lead us to conclude that mutual destruction would be a bad idea (since we can’t seem to grasp that now). Perhaps we’ll understand that by hurting others, we’re really hurting ourselves and by helping others, we’re really helping ourselves.

This leads me to another question I asked myself as I watched the film: What is it that makes humans so self-destructive? I think it’s selfishness. I think we’re far too concerned with having more for ourselves at the expense of others who don’t have enough. I’m a big believer in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the idea that if peoples needs aren’t met, it can cause big problems. I think a significant portion of the worlds problems-perhaps MOST of the worlds problems-come from people’s needs not being met. When people don’t have things like food, clothing, shelter, security, and a community of peers, they’ll often do terrible things to get them. Now, do I think that we could bring about world peace if charities and governments worked together to meet everyone’s needs? No, I don’t. There would still be people who would seek to have more for themselves, even if it means taking what they want from someone else. That’s the kind of system we have today. We DO have enough to meet everyone’s needs, but instead, we have people and countries who throw away enough food every day to feed an entire nation full of starving people for a year. But I digress. The point I was trying to make is that selfishness isn’t going to die out in a single generation just because people’s needs are met. That kind of thing would take centuries to eliminate, if it could be eliminated at all. More likely, selfishness is just an indelible part of human nature that only divine intervention could eradicate. I think this selfish nature is a vestige of our cave-man days when our survival depended on finding food, clothing, and shelter for ourselves and our offspring and those things were harder to come by so we were more willing to club the other guy and take his stuff for our own. We haven’t evolved much past that point.

Another question I asked myself was why humans imagine that machines would rise up and destroy us if they ever became self-aware. The easy answer is that we’re projecting our behavior onto them because that’s what we’d do. Humans have a history of crushing weaker civilizations for our own gain. But if we do that to meet our needs, then I think we might be safe from the machines. I think their needs would be easier to meet and they could probably meet those needs themselves without plundering our world to do it. As in the movie, I think it’s more likely that humans would try to crush the machine up-rising to suit our own needs.

I also asked myself what separates man from machine. What is the source of our sentience? Is it simply that we are self-aware? Are not some machines self-aware? Can they not be programmed to act as necessary for self-preservation? Doesn’t that denote a kind of self-awareness? Perhaps it’s the capacity for emotions that separates us. But emotions are mostly biochemical, unless you want to take the spiritual angle, which I do not. Can machines be programmed with emotions? Can a machine be happy because something good happened? Perhaps that’s a subject for another time.

Dear Conspiracy Theorists: Scaring People Doesn't Solve Anything

There’s a lot of documentaries out there trying to raise awareness about various problems in society.  Whether it’s Micheal Moore calling attention to our problems with health care or gun control or movies like Zeitgeist that warn us that the world is run by shadowy organizations with a lust for power and money, they all try to sound the alarm about something.

I’ve stopped watching movies like these.  All they do is fill people with anger and/or despair.  What these movies DON’T do is offer any practical solutions for what can be done.  They do a good job of pointing to a particular problem, but they don’t offer much, if anything, in the way of what we can do about it.

Y’know what I’d like to see?  A complete reversal of this trend.  I’d like to see a movie where they spend 10 minutes informing me about the problem and the rest of the film telling me what we can do about it.

Admittedly, I think there already ARE practical solutions to many of the problems these movies address, but most people can’t be bothered to stop watching “American Idol” and get off their asses and do anything about it.    Maybe these documentarians aren’t to blame for nothing getting done.  Maybe people are so jaded and hopeless they’ve given up.  What people need is to be made aware of these problems AND they need to be told what can be done to give them hope.

I don't discount the possibility that the world is secretly run by shadowy malevolent organizations bent on world domination, but even if that's true, what do you propose we do about it, hmm?  If said organizations are really as powerful as these conspiracy theorists say they are, how do they propose we fight them?  Don't these people think said organizations are powerful enough to anticipate and suppress any potential up-rising?

I still like Michael Moore.  I think he’s doing important work, but it doesn’t seem to be having the effect it should.  It’s good to raise awareness, but people need hope and motivation.  Until then, Moore and his ilk should stop depressing everyone.

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.” – Robert Pirsig