Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Education For Dummies

I was referred to this site by djomama's website which references another great article, but being that my passion is education this article appealed to me even more-plus it's today's.

Shakespeare is irrelevant. More accurately, Shakespeare is irrelevant to anyone who believes that he is irrelevant. You do not get a federal job by knowing Chaucer, or having heard of Chaucer. Those forced to study writers, or philosophy, or history they don’t want to study will gain nothing. Those who do want to study them lose much, because the courses will often be of sufficiently little rigor as not to oppress the bored ... The public schools, say some, have failed to such a degree as to make their continuance rationally unjustifiable. Yes, they fail, but why? To some extent it is because they are expected to do what cannot be done—to educate the uneducable. For reasons of dizzy idealism, we pretend that all students have the wit to learn. Thus we suffer high-sounding programs like No Child Left Behind. You cannot ensure that no child will be left behind. You can try to ensure that no child will get ahead. To this we incline.
As in the universities, the difficulty is that we refuse to separate the able from the rest, yet insist on attempting to teach to the uninterested things that they do not want to know.

A wise course, and therefore one impossible of realization, might be to recognize that schooling is inherently hierarchical and not susceptible to populist leveling. A beginning would be to make all study voluntary beyond, say, the sixth or eighth grade. By then all would have learned to read who were ever going to learn. Below the university level, private schools unregulated by government are the only way to let people study the subjects they choose at the level of rigor that they want. Freedom from federal intrusion is crucial. Nothing else can prevent resentful minorities from imposing invertebrate standards on all.

Absolutely Fred, I agree. Although I wish that all schooling was free because it's desperately hard to afford it, you get what you pay for. Also, by reducing the huge burden of schools on taxation, more money would be available privately, and schools could offer all sorts of incentives and scholarships to attract bright students to their schools.

In The News

(CNN) -- An American woman who was scuba diving with her husband in Thailand as one of Sunday's tsunamis roared overhead said she was oblivious to the disaster until after they surfaced, her mother told CNN on Tuesday.
"Faye Wachs, 34, was diving with her husband, Eugene Kim, Sunday morning off Ko Phi Phi Island in Thailand when they noticed the water visibility worsened and felt as though they were being sucked downward, Helen Wachs said."
"She said her daughter didn't know what had happened until the dive master got a text message from his wife telling him about the catastrophe.
Soon they saw bodies floating past them, Wachs' mother said in an interview from Oakland, California, where she lives."

I was wondering about this actually-if there were any divers there and what happened to them. I guess the safest place to be was under the water. It probably saved their lives. I wonder if they would have surfaced early if they would have been swept up in it? I'd like to know how deep they were.

Haha, in other news a man's dog decided to drive his truck into the shop for repairs, but ended up just doing more damage.

"The truck raced into the building, stunning Henson and clerk Josh Hopper.
"The guy said he was standing there, looked up, and saw his dog driving his truck through the building," Turnbough said."

The Top Ten Movie list for 2004 is out, and I like this reviewer's take. I'll have to rent all of these because the only one I've actualy seen is Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. I never watch movies anymore, but this makes me want to.

More examples of bipartisan democracy at it's best. The total resistance to common sense and rational thought is almost cute if it weren't so damned dangerous.

"here we have a Republican fighting a wind farm in one place as he ignores those elsewhere. No internal logic there. We have Democrats objecting to the potential lowering of property values, loss of tourism dollars and jobs from a wind farm off the coast, but casting a blind eye to others with the same Not In My Backyard attitude (though out of sight, out of mind to the privileged with waterfront land). No internal logic there. "

"... to see individuals paying homage to noble purposes and broad ideas to aid the masses, then assuring that those ideas have no ill effect upon them, since they are not to be construed as part of those masses, makes for great comic theater. "

and thank you Mr Forney for saying it:

"Why be embarrassed for being an individual? Why not embrace the idea and come to recognize that when enough individuals develop the same idea, and do not split hairs about its implementation, that is an idea worth implementing? "

And a thorough argument from About what? I'll let you guess.

String Theory

I just happened upon an excellent website designed to explain to novices like me everything you wanted to know about theoretical physics-well almost. It'll keep me busy for a while.
From The Official String Theory Web Site:

Relativistic quantum field theory has worked very well to describe the observed
behaviors and properties of elementary particles. But the theory itself only works well when gravity is so weak that it can be neglected. Particle theory only works when we pretend gravity doesn't exist. General relativity has yielded a wealth of insight into the Universe, the orbits of planets, the evolution of stars and galaxies, the Big Bang and recently observed black holes and gravitational lenses. However, the theory itself only works when we pretend that the Universe is purely classical and that quantum mechanics is not needed in our description of Nature. String theory is believed to close this gap.

Think of a guitar string that has been tuned by stretching the string under tension across the guitar. Depending on how the string is plucked and how much tension is in the string, different musical notes will be created by the string. These musical notes could be said to be excitation modes of that guitar string under tension. In a similar manner, in string theory, the elementary particles we observe in particle accelerators could be thought of as the "musical notes" or excitation modes of elementary strings.

If string theory is to be a theory of quantum gravity, then the average size of a string should be somewhere near the length scale of quantum gravity, called the Planck length, which is about 10-33 centimeters, or about a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter. Unfortunately, this means that strings are way too small to see by current or expected particle physics technology (or financing!!) and so string theorists must devise more clever methods to test the theory than just looking for little strings in particle experiments.

This period in string history has been given the name the second string revolution. And now the biggest rush in string research is to collapse the table above into one theory, which some people want to call M theory, for it is the Mother of all theories. Stay tuned to this web site, we may some day soon be changing the name to The Official M Theory Web Site!

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Participatory Universe

What a crazy weekend, between holiday travel delays and a tsunami killing nearly 50,ooo people at last count. Seems the full moon was a quite appropriate back drop. I was in Alabama last night and it was low in the sky and large looming over the houses like a watchful eye.

While I was waiting for my delayed flight, I read some more of "The Fabric of Reality" by David Deutsch. I'm trying to get a basic working knowledge of Quantum Mechanics, at least in regards to the theory. Certainly I'm a ways off from understanding the mathematical equations which back it up. So I happened today upon the third in that series by SETI which I've been following. Deutsch explains it much clearer, or in more layman's terms I suppose. I was actually looking at the full moon and thinking about the photons activities as I squinted trying to tell if the rings around the moon actually turned from blue to green to red as it appeared. I thought of the penumbra and umbra and I tried to make sense of the idea of a "shadow" moon being gazed at by a "shadow" me which might perhaps be seeing an inverted color display, or some other shape than the round full moon I was gazing at.

After reading about the Ekpyrotic Universe, the idea of a fifth dimension of some kind interfering with the four dimensions we recognize, and then wrapping my mind somewhat around these "parallel universes", I suppose it was only a matter of time (?!) before I happened upon the "Participatory Universe" conceptualization.

It would appear that what has "happened" in the distant past in this case may be
determined by what is happening right now even though it is supposed to have "happened" over a billion years ago. The choice of which path, in other words, has somehow been "delayed." One might view this as the Universe playing more the part of an active participant in what is happening rather than just in what has happened in the past in this case. ... Far from being an absolute, time in quantum physics is a not a solid background upon which particles in space change. In quantum physics time is not yet really, in a sense, even there until the "time particles" are measured.

It's amazing to me that in school I always found science to be an insufferable bore. Of course, this is quite a different gambit from memorizing the periodic table, at least to me. It's easier for me to understand a concept then to just memorize data.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Santa's Hidden Clause

I've wondered off and on whether this is a tradition I will want to pass on to my children (when I have them) or not. It seems almost impossible to fight the tide on this one. You certainly don't want the child running around chastising all the other children because he knows it's all a farce, and you don't want the child to feel deprived of the holiday wonderment that most of us enjoyed as children. I do wonder though, since it certainly doesn't teach them reality; what it does teach is disillusionment, that parents and neighbors and adults in general lie, and that anything you wish can be yours. I suppose at least the story says he only rewards good children, so that it's sort of earned, except that then children from less affluent families are left to wonder if they were not as good as Johnny Silverspoon who got the newest coolest toy, when all they got was a modest collection of decent toys, or less.

"Carl Anderson, a psychologist and adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote his dissertation about the effects of Santa on children. He's read widely and deeply on the subject of Santa, whom he calls a hopeful and comforting figure that historically provides solace during times of war and economic hardship. "You go back far enough," Anderson says, "that's the whole origin of the custom. Whenever there's a need for hope, there's more turning to Santa, more energy given to it."

But is that a good thing, to give so irrational a hope? Shouldn't children be taught to deal with life as it is, by the means available in the real world, rather than leaving them wishing on stars and mailing letters to the North Pole? Is that a possible reason that so many of us have no idea how to cope with the hardships that life brings? We are taught from our earliest memory that someone else will make it all better, and worse, someone imaginary! I don't want to be a bah-humbugger, but really, isn't this sort of a shift of parental responsibility? And what of the men who play Santa in the malls this time of year, they get stuck trying to answer for and uphold the lie face to face with the earnest children so desperate to understand.

"Being a Santa today can be a drain: children wanting parents home from war or gadgets beyond Claus' ken. Then there are the (law)suits."

"I had a little girl on my knee," Nevada [a professional Santa] recalls, "and she said she wanted 'a happy home' for Christmas. I looked up at the mom, and mom had bruises on her face. Now, what can I do? I can't phone the cops. I can't tell the child, 'Don't worry — Santa will send some hit men over and they'll take care of the old man.' I called Mom over, and she sat on my right knee, and mom and daughter faced each other and we had a little visit. What I could do was give that mom and daughter three or four minutes of peace."

"Maybe all this added pressure isn't the reason a Santa in Atlanta earlier this month knocked a woman cold with a 2-by-4. Maybe it's not why 30 Santas got into a drunken street brawl two weeks ago at a charity fundraiser in Wales. (Five Santas were arrested.) But it's undoubtedly why so many professional Santas sound edgy, spent, as if they might come down with the flu before they come down the chimney."

"That doesn't even count the Internet, where a booming Santa industry is taking shape. Alan Kerr, founder of, says his website has received millions of e-mails in its seven years of existence — 500,000 this season alone. Many e-mails, he says, contain requests even more wrenching than those made in malls, as children turn to Santa for help not only with parents in the military, but parents who are sick, parents who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, parents who are abusive. So Kerr has teamed with child psychologists and police to develop special software that identifies those "in dire circumstances," whom he then directs to the proper social agency. "
"When I started years ago, the only thing you really asked was — Have you been good? We didn't get into discussions."-From: Ho! Ho! Is More Like Uh-Oh

Then when you learn there is no such thing as Santa, it's like you are supposed to understand automatically the whole package deal, that wishing doesn't fix anything, that presents cost money, and money takes work, and that real life problems need real life solutions.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think we should do away with the whole thing. I think it's a nice traditional story. I just wonder if we should pretend it's real.

Well, I'm sure I'll go back and forth on the issue, and I have quite a few more years to decide, for now I'll just go enjoy the holidays. I'm leaving Florida to go somewhere cold where it will really feel more Christmas-like. I hope everyone enjoys their holiday!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Ecology of Public Opinion

Regarding Micheal Crichton's now book "State of Fear" (which I think I'm going to have to add to by ever-growing reading list-anybody need a last minute gift idea?) George Will comments that public opinion can be a fair-weather friend. In the case of global warming, mass hot-headness has contributed to "eco-friendly" restrictions on business and helps keep the environmentalists case current in everyone's mind. Seems this eco-friendship blows hot and cold though, so before you make heavy weather out of nothing, check out Crichton's new book.

One of the good guys in "State of Fear" cites Montaigne's axiom: "Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known." Which is why 30 years ago the fashionable panic was about global cooling. The New York Times (Aug. 14, 1975) saw "many signs" that "Earth may be heading for another ice age." Science magazine (Dec. 10, 1976) warned about "extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation." "Continued rapid cooling of the Earth" (Global Ecology, 1971) could herald "a full-blown 10,000 year ice age" (Science, March 1, 1975). The Christian Science Monitor reported (Aug. 27, 1974) that Nebraska's armadillos were retreating south from the cooling. Last week The Washington Post reported that global warming has caused a decline in Alaska's porcupine caribou herd and has lured the golden orange prothonotary warbler back from southern wintering grounds to Richmond, Va., a day earlier for nearly two decades. Or since global cooling stopped. Maybe.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Ekpyrotic Universe

Whether you believe the universe will be destroyed by The Big Rip, or in the five dimensional "brane-storm" of a Ekpyrotic Universe, it seems to me that rather than feel depressed about the possible never-ending end of the universe as we know it, we should be glad that science can give us this sort of info at all, especially 100 billion years in advance. It's a credit to man that we have scientific theory that reaches that far into the future, and if we can see the end approaching even 5 billion years in advance, why would anyone assume that we won't be able to change something or find some way to continue to exist. Personally, I thought the Ekpyrotic Theory was the most interesting.

The following description is from provided by the authors: (Justin Khoury, Princeton; Burt Ovrut, UPenn; Paul Steinhardt, Princeton and Neil Turok, Cambridge):
The Ekpyrotic Universe draws its name from the ancient Greek word ekpyrosis, meaning "conflagration" (disastrous fire or conflict). According to an ancient cosmological model with this name, the universe was created in a sudden burst of fire. The current universe evolves from the initial fire. However, in the Stoic notion, the process may repeat itself in the future. This, too, is possible in our scenario in principle if there is more than one brane and, consequently, more than one collision. We plan to discuss this possibility in future work, along with further speculations about what preceded the collision that made our present universe. Quantum effects cause the incoming three-dimensional world to ripple along the extra-dimension prior to collision so that the collision occurs in some places at slightly different times than others. By the time the collision is complete, the rippling leads to small variations in temperature, which seed temperature fluctuations in the microwave background and the formation of galaxies. We have shown that the spectrum of energy density fluctuations is scale-invariant (the same amplitude on all scales). The
production of a scale-invariant spectrum from hyper-expansion was one of the great triumphs of inflationary theory, and here we have repeated the feat using completely different physics. The building blocks of the Ekpyrotic theory are derived from Superstring theory. Superstring theory requires extra dimensions for mathematical consistency. In most formulations, 10 dimensions are required. In the mid 1990s, Petr Horava (Rutgers) and Ed Witten (IAS, Princeton) argued that, under certain conditions, an additional dimension opens up over a finite interval. Six dimensions are presumed to be curled up in a microscopic ball, called a Calabi-Yau manifold. The mind-bending concept does not involve multiple or parallel universes, as have been suggested by other researchers. Instead, Ovrut explains, the fifth dimension is all there, is out there, and embedded in it are multiple branes. Each end of the fifth dimension is bounded by an infinite brane. Our visible universe is one of those, and before the collision it may or may not have contained normal matter. At the other end of the fifth dimension is a brane with physics unlike ours. The branes in between, while they may contain matter, are not universes, and they do not resemble the brane we inhabit. There is no reason to assume, given this conceptual framework, that there are any other universes out there, Ovrut said. Turner, the University of Chicago cosmologist, believes textbooks a century from now will either read:A hundred years ago, people were so desperate to try to understand how to put it all together, they invented additional spatial dimensions. What were they smoking?" Or: "A hundred years ago, people were so provincial that in spite of much evidence that there should be extra dimensions they refused to accept it.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Po Mo Mo Fo?

So, what exactly is postmodernism?

Modernism, for example, tends to present a fragmented view of human subjectivity
and history (think of The Wasteland, for instance, or of Woolf's To the Lighthouse), but presents that fragmentation as something tragic, something to be lamented and mourned as a loss. Many modernist works try to uphold the idea that works of art can provide the unity, coherence, and meaning which has been lost in most of modern life; art will do what other human institutions fail to do. Postmodernism, in contrast, doesn't lament the idea of fragmentation, provisionality, or incoherence, but rather celebrates that. The world is meaningless? Let's not pretend that art can make meaning then, let's just play with nonsense ... Postmodernism, in rejecting grand narratives, favors "mini-narratives," stories that explain small practices, local events, rather than large-scale universal or global concepts. Postmodern "mini-narratives" are always situational, provisional, contingent, and temporary, making no claim to universality, truth, reason, or stability ... The idea of any stable or permanent reality disappears, and with it the idea of signifieds that signifiers point to. Rather, for postmodern societies, there are only surfaces, without
depth; only signifiers, with no signifieds ... In postmodern societies, anything which is not able to be translated into a form recognizable and storable by a computer--i.e. anything that's not digitizable--will cease to be knowledge. In this paradigm, the opposite of "knowledge" is not "ignorance," as it is the modern/humanist paradigm, but rather "noise."... Such decisions about knowledge don't involve the old modern/humanist qualifications: for example, to assess knowledge as truth (its technical quality), or as goodness or justice (its ethical quality) or as beauty (its aesthetic quality) ... is this movement toward fragmentation, provisionality, performance, and instability something good or something bad? "-Dr Mary Klages (emphasis added)

3. postmodernism: A rejection of the sovereign autonomous individual with an emphasis upon anarchic collective, anonymous experience.

Among the modernist devices which postmodernism pushes to a new extreme are: the rejection of mimetic representation in favour of a self-referential "playing" with the forms, conventions and icons of "high art" and literature; the rejection of the cult of originality in recognition of the inevitable loss of origin in the age of mass production; the rejection of plot and character as meaningful artistic conventions; and the rejection of meaning itself as delusory.

Recently a Nobel Laureate physicist was asked to comment on an interpretation of specific findings. He approved, point by point. When asked to say more, he added: "In physics today you can say anything you want."

For example, recently a competent anthropologist's report on his field work engendered lively questions. Then he said: "From post-modernism we know that there are no facts, so I can really say anything I want." It stopped the discussion.

Two Wrongs Don't Make A *Right*

The reliance upon a supernatural realm of facts which are given to us either by God, or for those who reject God, it has been secularized into Society, is a flaw that undermines the Identity of Individuals into a mish-mash of faceless groups, clamoring for their equal share of life's pleasure and the pursuit of happiness which every individual was granted in our Constitution. This neccessarily separates individuals into groups in order to gain leverage in the public eye, and with government, in order to gain special favors and privleges before the fickle eye of public opinion passes over them and onto the next *interest* of the moment. Objectivism instead puts everything in the realm of Reality, and gives individuals their own value and holds government's only responsibility to be the protection of individual freedoms, not to dictate right and wrong based either on popular opinion of society or based upon a religious entity. Objectivism recognizes no such entity as society.

By Secularizing individual power to the whims of public opinion, the not so suprizing result is that then people rely on the government to control public opinion. Special Interest groups lobby to change language (where did P.C. come from?), to ban books they find offensive, or TV shows, or radio programs, to enact harsher punishments for crimes committed against their group, and ultimately the government becomes a sort of frenzied parent. It punishes this group to make up for what the other group did, buys this one candy while that ones in time out, favoritism, unequal punishment, and unequal rights. The government, in this view, is the primary agent responsible for ensuring an equal distribution of social benefits. The recognition of rights is needed, in this view, in order to ensure that downtrodden groups gain a more equal share of social status. In order for everyone to *actually* have equal rights, we have to stop trying to legislate morality, and legislate public opinion. The raging unecessary conflict is just a byproduct of the senseless conflict between the two sides of today's deepest philosophical false alternative: the clash between a social and a religious metaphysics. To resolve that conflict will require an amendment of our culture's deepest philosophical convictions.

(Ref:Tracinski Publishing Co. The Intellectual Activist-March 2004)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Words as Rhetorical Weapons

I recently came across this article which confirmed some suspicions I was having about the nature of some of the books I was reading after I started on the Ayn Rand tract
Postmodernism brings metaphysics, ontology, epistemology, and ethics to an end because these types of study assume a fixed, universal reality. Postmodernism denies the basis for knowing anything except itself. Consequently, postmodernists proclaim a universal tolerance of all ideas. Postmodernism can be evidenced in the following instances. Some scientists believe that there is no one self; rather the self is a changing socially constructed reality. Other scientists now contend that one of the
brain's functions is to tell stories (even with only few facts and frequently without the use of logic) in an effort to make sense of the world. Literary criticism is thought by many to find meaning in the reader's experience – the reader creates the book's reality. In turn, literary deconstructionists debate the idea of representing anything with words. Postmodernists tend to view the world as theater in which we are all competing spin-meisters. For example, political leaders try to get their story told by the media and believed by the people. In law, many scholars dismiss the idea of permanent legal principles. In psychology, a method for treating people involves the creation of a new life story for them (i.e., putting a different spin on their circumstances). Postmodernists are constantly redefining themselves and are searching for new meaning. As problem finders and problem solvers, they tend to reduce life (and especially political and social issues) to problems and solutions. They also like to engage in zero-base thinking, dismissing the systemically evolved knowledge of the ages.

I've only just started to study Objectivism, I've only just heard of it. In truth I've only just discovered postmodernism too. How strange that I should discover both simultaneously. Objectivism spoke to me naturally, practically. I commented to my friends and family I felt like someone was telling me the truth for the very first time. In contrast when I tried to explain postmodernism to a friend I told her it was a non-term, a joke on itself. Interesting.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

What's Wrong With Happy Holidays?

Once again it's time for the Holidays and time for the battle between religion and commercialism. It seems the battle itself is as much a part of this winter tradition as are trees and lights. Christian Religious groups want to put the "Christ" back in Christmas. Secular groups are trying to blank everything out of the holidays or else "multi-culturalize" it. Some of us just want to celebrate in peace, listening to all the traditional songs, seeing the traditional displays, without being preached to everywhere or being afraid of offending everyone we meet.

Grinch. Scrooge. These were the labels affixed to school administrators in New Jersey this year when they decided to ban religious Christmas music in the holiday concert lineup - an effort to maintain steadfast separation of church and state.

Across the country, a battle for the soul of the public square is being waged this holiday season. The question: Has the quest for inclusiveness gone so far down the road of sensitivity that children might be forgiven for not knowing what holiday many Americans will celebrate on Dec. 25?

Well, aside from the obvious flaws of that paragraph: what Holiday are we celebrating Dec 25th?

Historically, people have always celebrated the winter solstice as the time when the days begin to lengthen, indicating the earth's return to life. Ancient Romans feasted and reveled during the festival of Saturnalia. Early Christians condemned these Roman celebrations--they were waiting for the end of the world and had only scorn for earthly pleasures. By the fourth century, the pagans were worshipping the god of the sun on December 25, and the Christians came to a decision: if you can't stop 'em, join 'em. They claimed (contrary to known fact) that the date was Jesus' birthday, and usurped the solstice holiday for their Church.-from ARI

On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact, which casts considerable light upon this disputed point" (Adam Clarke's Commentary, Abingdon Press, Nashville, note on Luke 2:8).

In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on
his birthday. It is only sinners who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world" (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908 edition, Vol. 3, p. 724, "Natal Day").

to facilitate the acceptance of the faith by the pagan masses, the Church of Rome found it convenient to institute the 25th of December as the feast of the birth of Christ to divert them from the pagan feast, celebrated on the same day in honor of the 'Invincible Sun' Mithras, the conqueror of darkness" (Manual of Liturgical History, 1955, Vol. 2, p. 67).

When was Jesus born? Nothing is absolutely certain, because we are dealing with implications and assumptions, but a good guess from the Scriptures and history is September 29, 5 B.C.

Germanic tribes of Northern Europe also celebrated mid-winter with feasting, drinking, religious rituals and the lighting of the yule log. During the Middle Ages, Catholic priests sought connections between biblical teachings and pagan traditions - believing that a convergence of customs would lead more individuals to Christianity ... The Celts for example decorated trees with apples and nuts during the winter solstice (around December 21), encouraging the sun to return to bring spring. Other European people had tree decorating rituals ... St. Nicholas is illustrated in medieval and renaissance paintings as a tall, dignified and severe man. His feast day on December 6 was celebrated throughout Europe until about the 16th century ... The ancient inhabitants of northern Europe believed a powerful pagan god, cloaked in red fur, galloped across the winter sky. These myths combined with the legends of the real life figure of Bishop Nicholas.

The net result of all this confusion was that, for several hundred years, various churches celebrated the birthday of Jesus on different dates. The eastern Churches generally used January 6th, which they now call the Epiphany. Other churches chose April 24th or 25th; and some even placed it in

So, it seems the "real" reason we celebrate on Dec 25th, is because we want to actually enjoy ourselves. How gauche.

All the best customs of Christmas, from carols to trees to spectacular decorations, have their root in pagan ideas and practices. These customs were greatly amplified by American culture, as the product of reason, science, business, worldliness, and egoism, i.e., the pursuit of happiness. America's tragedy is that its intellectual leaders have typically tried to replace happiness with guilt by insisting that the spiritual meaning of Christmas is religion and self-sacrifice for Tiny Tim or his equivalent. But the spiritual must start with recognizing reality. Life requires reason, selfishness,
capitalism; that is what Christmas should celebrate--and really, underneath all the pretense, that is what it does celebrate. It is time to take the Christ out of Christmas, and turn the holiday into a guiltlessly egoistic, pro-reason, this-worldly, commercial celebration.-from ARI

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Haha, yes ok, I'm a year too late finding this article by Brian Wheeler of BBC, but not only does it seem relevant it's so brilliantly titled.

The potential for the brain to memorise is enormous. No one wants to put a final limit on it," he says. The mind does not store information in a cold, clinical way like a computer. Memory is strongly linked to emotion. So although we are bombarded with information all the time, we are unlikely to remember much of it. The problem is not the amount of information you take in, but what your brain does with it, Professor Kendrick says. Trying to take in lots of information and organising it in such a way that you can bring it back in the right way, at the right time, is quite a problem. We have got so much information now that you are likely to overload your own personal capacity.

Right Mr. Wheeler, that why I started my blog, to keep my information organized and to present it to the world so that I take more emotional stock of it and integrate it fully.
Another blog titled Future Now responded to the article and pointed out that information doesn't really exist on it's own, but is created at the moment it is observed or measured.

In other words, "information"-- or more accurately, knowledge-- really only exists when those decoding and intepreting functions are going on. It is created by the exchange; it isn't a thing that is exchanged. The CD doesn't contain information; it contains instructions that, if acted on by the right computer running the right software on the right operating system, can become knowledge. Or as Bob puts it, "Our friend Thoreau said 'It takes two to speak the truth - one to speak, and another to hear.' This captures nicely the notion that what is really happening in communication happens in two brains and not somewhere in the middle."

The Free Will Debate?

That little article opened up a whole other branch or artery, one I had gleaned over and left because I haven't finished studying Objectivism enough to defend it, but here it comes creeping up again, so rather then try to defend it, I'll just present what I've read so far. I think I mentioned that the source I look to for Objectivism is the ARI and not TOC. On the matter of free-will and Objectivism, I don't really see how the last article refuted it, or even sprang from a debate on it.
Man is a being of volitional consciousness." "That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call 'free will' is your mind's freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom. This is the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and character." Thus Objectivism rejects any form of determinism, the belief that man is a victim of forces beyond his control (such as God, fate, upbringing, genes, or economic conditions). -From the ARI
Then there's The Open Letter to a Young Objectivist, where the author asks:
Why think introspection provides any evidence whatsoever about the nature of causation, as opposed to evidence for the existence of an instance of causation, or conveys any information at all about the relative merits of determinism or indeterminism?
and then goes on to say:
The metaphysical question simply has nothing to do with the questions of whether I can make choices, intentionally control my own actions, or be responsible for the effects of which my actions are a cause. I can make choices, be in control, and be responsible. This is, I believe, darn near to self-evident. And that's all having free will amounts to.
It almost seems like they are in agreement. Free will, for purposes of making life decisions and getting through life is self-evident and axiomatic in that we have to operate and live from our available minds, whether or not our brain cells happen to be rolling dice to get us to where we are or not.
The task of man's consciousness is to perceive reality, not to create or invent it.
I don't think there's any point in saying that we are incapable of knowing reality or that we are somehow predetermined, unless you are trying to avoid dealing with reality, or avoid responsibility in some way. Unless your idea is that we could somehow learn this deterministic system and beat it and acquire an even freer sort of existence. But then things get sort of silly and "Mr. Anderson" comes to mind.
I guess this is where the "compatibilist" comes in, and where Wilkerson says:
I know that Objectivists claim free-will has axiomatic status, and I agree that it is pretty near self-evident. What I dispute is that the falsity of determinism could be axiomatic. I think that's just incredible, and I think the implicit objectivist argument against determinism is just the one I stated.
And some of the responses that struck me on his blog include:
The most important issue here, in my opinion, is whether or not we need an Objectivist or libertarian type of free will in order for us to make choices or be responsible for our choices. Will seems to think that we don't. Another important issue here is whether or not the Objectivist argument against determinism is sound. Now, I don't think that it matters which sense of "free will" you plug into the Objectivist argument. It doesn't defeat determinism.
What is the precise difference beteween "an undetermined will" and "a free will"? I see no relevant distinction, and have never heard anyone who could give one. I therefore wholly stand by my first comment, and I wait for a plausible answer.
And then Don at Anger Management attempts to clarify with
free will is a characteristic of man's consciousness, namely, that man directs his faculty of awareness. Some of his mental and physical actions are *chosen*. Choice, however, is not chance. It is a type of causation. Causality is not "event based." The law of causality, in the Objectivist view, is not the one endorsed by most philosophers and scientists, namely, "Event X was caused by even Y." Objectivism agrees with the Aristotelian view of causality: namely, entities are the cause of all action - no entity can act in contradiction with its nature.
Or you can just check out good old Wikipedia for furthur info:
Furthermore, it is often held that the phrase "free will" is, as Hobbes put it, "absurd speech", because freedom is a power defined in terms of the will, which is a thing--and so the will is not the sort of thing that could be free or unfree. Some compatibilists argue that this alleged lack of grounding for the concept of "free will" is at least partly responsible for the perception of a contradiction between determinism and libertyCompatibilists often argue that, on the contrary, determinism is a prerequisite for moral responsibility — you can't hold someone responsible unless his actions were determined by something (this argument can be traced to Hume). After all, if indeterminism is true, then those events that are not determined are random. How can you blame or praise someone for performing an action that just spontaneously popped into his nervous system? Instead, they argue, you need to show how the action stemmed from the person's desires and preferences — the person's character — before you start holding the person morally responsible. Libertarians sometimes reply that undetermined actions aren't random at all, and that they result from a substantive will whose decisions are undetermined. This move is widely considered unsatisfactory, for it just pushes the problem back a step, and further, it involves some very mysterious metaphysics.
Various interpretations of quantum mechanics may suggest that the universe, when viewed as a single system, is deterministic, as there is no outside entity capable of making observations, aside possibly from God. It is far from clear, however, that microscale interpretations of quantum mechanics can be applied to large systems in this way, and whether quantum mechanics ultimately describes a universe governed by laws of cause and effect or by chance is hotly debated both by physicists and philosophers of science.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Matryoshka Homunculus of Infinite Regress

This article reminds me of the movie, The Matrix. It's amusing if nothing else :)

This article is the outgrowth of a debate on objective morality between Ed Hudgins of the Objectivist Center and me, which took place at George Mason University Law School. During our debate, we touched on the question of Free Will. Followers of Ayn Rand -- indeed most folks -- believe we have Free Will. I, however, am not so sure.
"Am I free?" you may ask. First, the bad news: no, you're not.

What you call making choices or exercising your Free Will is an illusion. I realize this seems highly counterintuitive, even absurd to suggest. But the following considerations may convince you that you are not, indeed, free.

First, we must agree that your body (and brain) is made up entirely of physical atoms and molecules. In other words, there is no supernatural essence like a "spirit" that animates your physical body. If we cannot agree on this, the rest of this article is moot.

Another way of talking about all of this is the familiar language of "cause and effect."

There are no causeless effects, it seems -- at least at the macro-level we live in from day to day. Chairs don't fly up into the air and coffee cups don't move across desktops unless some force acts upon them -- "causing" them to move.

So, our bodies and brains are subject to causal laws, as well. Even though the myriad cause-and-effect chains happening in the human body are extremely complex, it is not possible for us to break these causal laws just because we're human. The same can be said for apes, cats, chickens, bugs and bacteria, as all are creatures that belong to the causal-physical world.

Here's the problem. In our everyday language, we say we "choose" tea over coffee, or we "make a decision" to turn left or right. But since all of our so-called decisions take place in our physical brains, we are confronted with a very deep problem. When we say we make a choice, aren't we committing ourselves to what I call "self-starter theory?"

"Ah ha, Max!" you might be thinking. "I don't have to commit to a self-starter universe, because I have read my Heisenberg (particle physics). I know that at the micro-level, things exhibit very strange properties. In fact, the particles' behaviors aren't deterministic, but probabilistic. For example, there may be a 60 percent chance that a photon will curve to the left, and a 40 percent chance it will curve to the right -- if, say, fired from a particle accelerator."

The idea behind this tale of micro-probabilities is that the universe may have a different set of causal laws at the level of the very small. Let us, for the moment, set aside the idea that this may be an issue of our observational limitations and not differing causal-physical laws. Even if the universe were probabilistic at the subatomic level (and that very same subatomic universe were able to exert itself all the way up to the level of people making their so-called "choices"), it would still be very strange to claim that people have Free Will.

This approach forces us between the horns of a very strange dilemma: commitment to supernatural spirits on one hand, or to what I call a "matryoshka homunculus of infinite regress" on the other. In the first instance, subjectivity of experience is
conceived of as a soul or non-physical essence, which somehow causally exerts
itself in the physical world. This is rife with problems of Cartesian Dualism in the
philosophy of mind, which we will dismiss here as mere metaphysical spookies.

On the second horn, however, we have to take seriously the notion that mind and body are intimately connected, and that our experience isn't something spooky. More specifically, in order to be materialists, we have to believe that human subjectivity depends for its existence on the causal-physical goings on in the brain (e.g. why depressed people feel better when they take Prozac). Enter the matryoshka homunculus of infinite regress.

If observation breaks the probability limbo between two "choices," whatever it is that is doing the observing must be a physical thing -- like a homunculus sitting above our brains and breaking probabilities limbos for our choices. But since that homunculus is also a physical thing subject to causal laws, it too must "choose" whether to observe one option or the other in order to break the probability. Since that probability limbo needs to be broken, we must postulate another observer, i.e. a
homunculus, to break the probability. Each homunculus is nested within the next
(like a matryoshka) ad infinitum. Now you can see the regress. And of course, this is an absurd result.

It seems our subjective states force us into the illusion that we are making choices. The unitary nature of consciousness is set up so that, whatever causal track we're
riding on, it darn well seems like we're actually in control. But what if we really aren't? If we really aren't in control, how are we to be considered responsible for anything we do?

I'd say we simply have to live in the illusion. We get on with life as if we had Free Will. Many political forms don't depend too much on a presumption of Free Will for their power. But even if they do, we do a pretty good job of living without the idea that everything is somehow predetermined. Political freedom is still good for us. Maybe it was even preordained that I fight for it. And since there is no way to function outside of the illusion, I may as well get on with life. Besides, it's fun to pick on Ayn Rand for her "axioms." (Sorry. I had no choice, Ayn.)

The author is Program Director, The Institute for Humane Studies.

Unfortunately this really refutes nothing in Objectivism in the least. But I like the gaity in his word play. I'll pull some more information on free will as I am not eloquent enough in my studies at the moment to state everything that appears wrong with this article.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Will The Bubble Burst?

Earlier this year I had planned to purchase a home, actually two, for purely investment purposes. I had studied the process, the pro's and cons, and happened upon what looked to be a good first time deal. However, as time went on through the process and I learned more and more about what the deal entailed and I crunched the numbers in every possible way a hundred times a day for two months, I realized that everything was balancing very precariously upon the expected appreciation. Real Estate is something that you can pretty much always count on it to appreciate, as long as you are in the right location and especially if you make improvements on the property. I'm too young to remember but my mother reminded me that in the early 90's, housing prices actually fell and alot of people she knew were stuck selling short on their homes just to get out from under them. I decided that the home(s) I was looking at were not sound enough investments for me to risk, after looking more in depth at the locations and crunching the numbers yet again with the thought of housing not actually falling, but staying the same or only rising slightly. I came down to Florida specifically to enter the real estate market, that was a primary goal, and it was such an exciting prospect to finally be getting started, but I felt my decision to cancel the sale was a sound one and I haven't regretted it. I have, however, felt that little jab as others around me are making their profits where I feel that I should have been. I console myself with the fact that I was two years too late and there are plenty of other investments for the time being until I feel that housing has stabilized again, or if I should happen to find a particularly sturdy deal. For instance if I had been purchasing a home to actually live in and for that reason only, I would have approached the whole thing differently, but the only reason for me to be buying a home right now is for the investment value, and so, I will wait.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Collapsing The Wave

Wow, looks like I'm going to have to hit up the bookstore again tonight. Perhaps I should just go ahead and purchase some Barnes and Noble stock while I'm at it. The book is "Backbeat" A Novel of Physics by J. Fredrick Arment, who describes himself as "the superposition of every wave of experience, past, present and future: growing up in suburbia, blue collar father, fundamentalist Christian mother, undergraduate degree in History, masters in the French Enlightenment, post-graduate work in physics, teacher and lecturer, married with two children, divorced with a second chance at love, technical writer for corporations, advertising business owner, sailboater, peace advocate, infant of the sixties who bought the idea that anything is possible if we just use the energy in our minds. Like the characters in Backbeat, I’m the culmination of foreshadowing. A waveform, in effect! " Hahaha, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

In other News Micropenis Enlarged with New Surgical Technique. Apparently a "micropenis" is 2 inches or less in legnth and affects .6% of men. The procedure is called phalloplasty, and was performed on nine patients (three of which were hermaphrodites), all of whom are satisfied with the cosmetic appearance of their penis.

Take a bite out of this, Virgin Toast is a $28,000 self-fulfilling prophecy. Damn, that really puts a damper on my "Jesus Christ, it's a Sandwhich!" restaurant idea. Or does it? I like the idea of having my staff wear name tags that read "Molly Miraclemaker, how can I save you today?"

Glossolalia observed in Prairie Dogs? Or are they actually gossiping about us? "Prairie dog chatter is variously described by observers as a series of yips, high-pitched barks or eeks ... That means all they're saying are things like "ouch'' or "hungry'' or "eek." ... But Slobodchikoff believes prairie dogs are communicating detailed information to one another about what animals are showing up in their colonies, and maybe even gossiping. " Brilliant work Dr. Dolittle!

And to round it out, we dive back into the collapsable waves of Quantum Mechanics with, The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Great Minds Think...

I just found a very funny article which ties together all the things I've been writing about here, by a man named Thoreau no less. My goodness is he active. And I was just musing to Chris the other day about what had ever happened to that name, not that I have any proof yet that this writer is any relation, it's probably just a happy coincidence. I don't know that his ideas are exactly something I would follow, but as a sort of decorative article I think it's quite amusing.

Help Stop Bush: Boycott GOP Companies
By Bob Schober and Jackson Thoreau
Since the 2004 election, many of us have been grasping for something to do. "What's next?" seems to be the question of the day for us liberals, now faced with a presumptive right-wing majority salivating to remake America.
So, while Bob was recently painting, Rosa Parks and the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott came to mind, and it all fell in place - we liberals CAN fight back in terms well understood by the right wing. We can boycott those companies that contributed heavily to the Republican cause. Their money helped the GOP to denigrate liberals; we can use our dollars to hit back where it really hurts - on the bottom line. The time has come to show them that their politics has an economic consequence.
We'd only be following the philosophical footsteps of Ayn Rand, whose protagonist John Galt in Atlas Shrugged convinced the productive, but vilified, members of society to drop out and let the system crash. The right wing glorifies her philosophy, and how delicious that wed be turning it back on them by withholding our dollars. And don't forget the tradition set by this country's forefathers and foremothers, who boycotted another King George and his British Empire business supporters.
We're salivating over the prospect of millions of frustrated liberals, progressives and others who oppose the Bush administration, tired of being slimed by the right-wing media and politicians, individually sending letters to the corporate offices of companies who lend major support to those causes. Imagine the Republican CEOs getting thousands of letters saying, "You have lost me as a customer until you show a balanced contribution to all political parties."
The GOP message during the campaign was that liberals are unpatriotic and anti-American - well, we'll give these companies their wish and, Galt-style, check out. These companies won't have to suffer our tainted dollars anymore. You can get donor information on such Web sites as Center for Responsive Politics ( and Political MoneyLine (, which compile the information from Federal Election Commission databases.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Thomas Jefferson

Another of my long time favorites. I have loved Jefferson since I first learnt of him, and it was sealed in my highschool Government class. It would do us all good to remember where we came from a little more often. The world wasn't always this way; people fought for the rights we are throwing away each day. Great men and women spent their lives achieving this level of ingratitude. I've always been quite a patriot, although I don't feel I've earned that since I've never been out of this country. I'd fight for it though, and I'd have joined the military, except I just don't trust the government to do right by me. Besides, there are other ways of fighting...

"It had become an universal and almost uncontroverted position in the several States, that the purposes of society do not require a surrender of all our rights to our ordinary governors; that there are certain portions of right not necessary to enable them to carry on an effective government, and which experience has nevertheless proved they will be constantly encroaching on, if submitted to them; that there are also certain fences which experience has proved peculiarly efficacious against wrong, and rarely obstructive of right, which yet the governing powers have ever shown a disposition to weaken and remove. Of the first kind, for instance, is freedom of religion; of the second, trial by jury, habeas corpus laws, free presses." --Thomas Jefferson to Noah Webster, 1790. ME 8:112

The inconveniences of the want of a Declaration are permanent, afflicting and irreparable. They are in constant progression from bad to worse." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. ME 7:311

"Man [is] a rational animal, endowed by nature with rights and with an innate sense of justice." --Thomas Jefferson to William Johnson, 1823. ME 15:441

"Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will." --Thomas Jefferson: Legal Argument, 1770. FE 1:376

"Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual." --Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819.

"The idea is quite unfounded that on entering into society we give up any natural right." --Thomas Jefferson to Francis Gilmer, 1816. ME 15:24

"It is to secure our rights that we resort to government at all." --Thomas Jefferson to Francois D'Ivernois, 1795. FE 7:4

"[It is a] great truth that industry, commerce and security are the surest roads to the happiness and prosperity of [a] people." --Thomas Jefferson to Francisco Chiappe, 1789. Papers 15:405

"But a short time elapsed after the death of the great reformer of the Jewish religion, before his principles were departed from by those who professed to be his special servants, and perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandizing their oppressors in Church and State." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1810. ME 12:345

"The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man." --Thomas Jefferson to Jeremiah Moor, 1800.

"[If] the nature of... government [were] a subordination of the civil to the ecclesiastical power, I [would] consider it as desperate for long years to come. Their steady habits [will] exclude the advances of information, and they [will] seem exactly where they [have always been]. And there [the] clergy will always keep them if they can. [They] will follow the bark of liberty only by the help of a tow-rope." --Thomas Jefferson to Pierrepont Edwards, July 1801. (*)

This doctrine ['that the condition of man cannot be ameliorated, that what has been must ever be, and that to secure ourselves where we are we must tread with awful reverence in the footsteps of our fathers'] is the genuine fruit of the alliance between Church and State, the tenants of which finding themselves but too well in their present condition, oppose all advances which might unmask their usurpations and monopolies of honors, wealth and power, and fear every change as endangering the comforts they now hold." --Thomas Jefferson: Report for University of Virginia, 1818.

And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe? It is an insult to our citizens to question whether they are rational beings or not, and blasphemy against religion to suppose it cannot stand the test of truth and reason. --Thomas Jefferson to N. G. Dufief, 1814. ME 14:127

"To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical." --Thomas Jefferson: Bill for Religious Freedom, 1779. Papers 2:545

"The advocate of religious freedom is to expect neither peace nor forgiveness from [the clergy]." --Thomas Jefferson to Levi Lincoln, 1802. ME 10:305

"This blessed country of free inquiry and belief has surrendered its creed and conscience to neither kings nor priests." --Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Waterhouse, 1822. ME 15:385

"The spirit of the times may alter, will alter. Our rulers will become corrupt, our people careless. A single zealot may commence persecutor, and better men be his victims ... They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights. The shackles, therefore, which shall not be knocked off at the conclusion of [that] war will remain on [them] long, will be made heavier and heavier, till [their] rights shall revive or expire in a convulsion." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XVII, 1782. (*) ME 2:225

"What a cruel reflection that a rich country cannot long be a free one." --Thomas Jefferson: Travels in France, 1787. ME 17:162

"Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility, which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck." --Thomas Jefferson to James Smith, 1822. ME 15:409

"More than a generation will be requisite [for an unprepared people], under the administration of reasonable laws favoring the progress of knowledge in the general mass of the people, and their habituation to an independent security of person and property, before they will be capable of estimating the value of freedom, and the necessity of a sacred adherence to the principles on which it rests for preservation." --Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1815. ME 14:245

"I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." --Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820. ME 15:278

"Against such a majority we cannot effect [the gathering them into the fold of truth] by force. Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XVII, 1782. ME 2:223

"Truth and reason are eternal. They have prevailed. And they will eternally prevail; however, in times and places they may be overborne for a while by violence, military, civil, or ecclesiastical." --Thomas Jefferson to Rev. Samuel Knox, 1810. ME 12:360

"We who have gone before have performed an honest duty by putting in the power of our successors a state of happiness which no nation ever before had within their choice. If that choice is to throw it away, the dead will have neither the power nor the right to control them." --Thomas Jefferson to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, 1820. ME 15:281

"My hope [is] that we have not labored in vain, and that our experiment will still prove that men can be governed by reason." --Thomas Jefferson to George Mason, 1791. ME 8:124

"Shake off all the fears and servile prejudices under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear." --Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 1787. ME 6:258 Papers 12:15

Jefferson's character

Saturday, December 04, 2004


"In a sense, the strength of science at its best is that it is always aware of its limits, aware that knowledge is always growing, always subject to change, never absolute. Because knowledge depends on evidence and reason, arbitrary authority can only be its enemy. "
The most widely-read (and one might say "popular") philosopher of the Enlightment is François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire. Voltaire spoke out and ridiculed the institutions of religion, particularly the Catholic Church (I was raised Catholic btw). He argued against the idea of a soul which is separate from the body, though he felt that atheism was almost always fatal to virtue. I haven't read his work but I do plan to pick up the Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy which looks like quite an enjoyable read, actually.
to be continued...

Civil Disobedience

Ahh, I've neglected to mention another of my heroes. Mr. Henry David Thoreau, my first love. Indeed I do believe he was my very first striking inspiration and I have hung to his quotes as to a security blanket; as to the first words spoken to me by someone else which reached so deeply into my own heart, as if the words had come from there to begin with. For today we will deal with Civil Disobedience, for that is the mood I am in as of late.
I'll let Henry do most of the talking, he has the panache.

"But a government in which the majority rule in all cases can not be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which the majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?--in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right."
"All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its
obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority."
"Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn. "
"Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible."
"But, if I deny the authority of the State when it presents its tax bill, it will soon take and waste all my property, and so harass me and my children without end. This is hard. This makes it impossible for a man to live honestly, and at the same time comfortably, in outward respects. It will not be worth the while to accumulate property; that would be sure to go again."
"Thus the state never intentionally confronts a man's sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I. They force me to become like themselves. I do not hear of men being forced to live this way
or that by masses of men. What sort of life were that to live? When I meet a government which says to me, "Your money our your life," why should I be in haste to give it my money? I may be in a great strait, and not know what to do: I cannot help that. It must help itself; do as I do. It is not worth the while to snivel about it. I am not responsible for the successful working of the
machinery of society. I am not the son of the engineer. I perceive that, when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but both obey their own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best they can, till one, perchance, overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live according to nature, it dies; and so a man. "
"Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and
treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow men. A State which bore this
kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen. "
Thoreau: Works] [Civil Disobedience]

Thoreau was my first encounter with what you might call the "Rugged Individualist". I had read him a bit in school, but it was during a hiking trip (Outward Bound in NC 1995) when his words really took hold. I saw for the first and perhaps the only time, what it was like to exist outside of society; to exist for yourself. It was the first time I think that I ever caught a glimpse of my own value. I never wanted to leave there. I've held the memory close, it was and is defining for me. The words I read were not from "Civil Disobedience", they were from "Walden", but they were the words that grew into love for the man who had spoken them, such a long time before me. It is love that came from respect for a man who loved life with passion, with boldness. A man who made sure to live it, as I am desperate to do. When he speaks of Civil Disobedience, it is an act of honesty towards self. It is the statement that noone shall own him, nor take the fruits of his labor without his consent. In this instance it is because he cannot accept a state that will allow slavery. I find it particularly appropriate now, and I can think of several possible actions the current government could take which would motivate me in such a way. I really did not think it possible that we could be forced to endure the next four years in this way, but there it is.

Friday, December 03, 2004

The Voices of Individualism

Individualism as an action or belief has always inspired me. I consider myself to be an individualist. This is not a thing you hear too much about, except criticism, as if it were a quaint notion, and of no use in today's ever expanding "society" or "culture". I started looking for other female Individualists after reading yesterday about Isabel Patterson, and what turned up was Feminism. However, Feminism largely ignores their individualist members, focusing instead on the Socialist approach. The Individualist Feminists were labeled under Anarchistic or Libertarian headings. The main ideals were "self-ownership" and government protection for the individual's right to work, enjoy the fruits of their labor, to own property and defend that property from others, male or female. Morality was not part of the equation, neither was a specific social condition. Individualists by nature focus on the lessening of governmental controls. The government needs only to protect an individual's specific claim to his/her body, his/her property, and the fruits of his/her own labor. Although it may be aligned with feminism for a specific purpose, it need not be, as Individualism does not change whether it is defending the rights of women or of any other social class, since it is always, neccessarily, defending the rights of the individual. Conversely, it is whatever social movement is going on that requires the label of Indivualism to seperate out those members who are supporting the movement because they believe in the individual rights it will benefit. Notice how then they are labeled anarchists or libertarians. In other words, favoring lawlessness and disorder resulting from no government structure at all, or favoring anything and everything under the guise of free-will. There is even a lot of quibbling between Anarchists and Libertarians over who is what, and what constitutes Individualism. These labels are helpful only in discrediting the individual by lumping them together for a specific movement. Individualism itself is defined as:

a. Belief in the primary importance of the individual and in the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence.
b. Acts or an act based on this belief.
a. A doctrine advocating freedom from government regulation in the pursuit of a person's economic goals.
b. A doctrine holding that the interests of the individual should take precedence over the interests of the state or social group.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

-which is sufficient for my purposes and I think much more to the point without the drafty, umbrella terms of Anarchy and/or Libertarainism. What's more, although people will tell you Ayn Rand inspired the Libertarian movement, she did not agree with the loose term, and indeed said it sounded like a made up word. Leonard Peikoff has since denounced the Libertarian movement altogether and it is a central point in the division between ARI and TOC.
Therefore, to keep my point undiluted I wish it emphasized that what I am looking for is Individualism for Individualism's sake, and NOT Feminism, Anarchy, or Libertarianism.

I found an interesting aticle on what Anti-Individualists cannot know, which seems by nature of the double negative to say what only Individualists can know. I found a few Individualist blogs lowercase libery and analysis which look promising and which I have bookmarked. In fact I will probably end up making a list of all of these links, so that they can be accessible at any time from the main page. In the mean time I've started thinking I might move to Austrailia. Perhaps that will be the topic of the next post :)

"The philanthropist, the politician, and the pimp are inevitably found in alliance because they have the same motives, they seek the same ends, to exist for, through, and by others. And the good people cannot be exonerated for supporting them. Neither can it be believed that the good people are wholly unaware of what actually happens. But when the good people do know, as they certainly do, that three million persons (at the least estimate) were starved to death in one year by the methods they approve, why do they still fraternize with the murderers and support the measures? Because they have been told that the lingering death of the three millions might ultimately benefit a greater number. The argument applies equally well to cannibalism. "
-- Isabel Paterson, The God of the Machine [1946]

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

20 years later and it's still 1984

So it's come at last, the railing on Bush post. Lets start with the economy. I have an IRA and a VUL and I've been looking for other ways to invest. Now with Bush at the helm, I'm getting the creepy feeling that I ought to close all my accounts and hoard my money in a deep hole somewhere that noone else can get at it. And I don't have shit. Why oh why are we so in debt. Because we consume more then we produce? What is going on here? Now my taxes are going to growing Social Insecurity which I don't agree with, I can't afford to pay for college out right and I'm scared to even think about student loans. Think it isn't scary? My 24 yr old friend just declared bankruptcy. I rang up a suffocating amount of debt in the 2 years I did attend college, and I had to move back in with my Mom and work 7 days a week for almost a year to get out of it. I'm not doing that again.

"Bush and his Republican machine have mortgaged young Americans’ futures by running up record deficits, even as he has sent hundreds of us to our deaths in Iraq. Rock the Vote and other youth-vote organizations successfully excited people’s passions before the election by raising questions about a possible draft, enough that Bush was compelled to deny the plan publicly. But with the fires still burning in Falluja, and the drums starting to beat for Iran and North Korea, it’s hard to believe that promise won’t be broken, along with so many others. In Bush’s America, the real opportunity for young people doesn’t wear a cap and gown—it wears a helmet and boots. " -But Boot Camp is Still Free by Anya Kamenetz

I want to move to New York, but I don't know if I can compete with the Bright Lights and Big Rent Check. And when the hell am I ever going to finish school if I do that? What's my other choice? Move back in with the Moms and keep working my way through community college, no thanks. That's a last resort. I think I will finish an Associates or something at least pretty soon here. That's about all that seems feasible. You can see why I currently am studying independently. I am not eager to join Generation Debt.

Not to mention what appears to be a frightening trend back towards the Middle Ages, with our own American President having been goaded into a leading role in the crusade. America seems suddenly like a very powerful hypocrisy, and I'm quite concerned we are going to implode and become the black hole that sucks at the rest of humanity. With religion gaining control again, we can feel sure that this is becoming an increasingly dangerous and volatile world. One bright spot is the progress being made in world trading procedure, but then you see the opposite effect happening with this globalization also, for instance the war on tobacco. One really is reminded of the sub-grade ciggarettes provided in Orwell's classic. We forget, when we think of "the good of the people" that the "people" are individuals who are perfectly capable of making their own decisions and that it really isn't all that appealing to have a government locally, much less world wide, acting as our collective parents. Suddenly even the simple act of turning off the lights when you leave a room can become the stuff of public policy.

But if you're getting discouraged, here's a look at the slow but steady growth of another Individualist Woman, Isabel Patterson. She had to fight seemingly insurmountable odds, and she rose to set an example for the rest of us. If we can learn to think and speak with our own voices, we can make progress towards that brighter future we envisioned as being ours.