Archive for Philosophy and Logic

Jan
28

Voter id, not voter ID

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Flickr photo by whizchickenonabun via Creative Commons

Flickr photo by whizchickenonabun via Creative Commons

All this time and money Republicans spent trying to game elections in this country seems wasted. They erected hurdles to voting in state after state, from evil-genius gerrymandering to voter IDs to slashing early voting and same-day registration to shorting voting machines in minority precincts. They could have just asked Trump. Voter id, not voter ID may determine this election.

New York magazine surveyed 100 Republican primary voters. They were all over the ideological map. The one phrase that seemed to encapsulate the voters’ mood in choosing a candidate is “testicular fortitude”:

The phrase seemed telling. If there was anything almost all of the respondents sought in a candidate, it was that testicular fortitude — or, in less colorful terms, strength. It’s why Trump has steamrolled his rivals despite his ideological inconsistencies as a Republican. And it’s why Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have failed to connect: Being labeled a nerd in this GOP primary is the kiss of death; being cast as a sissy is even worse. Machismo even seems to be Carly Fiorina’s best selling point.

This attraction to strength seems to be connected to an inchoate sense that the world is falling apart. The voters we spoke to were concerned about a lot of potential threats — terrorist, economic, and cultural — and hoped that a strong president would protect them from dangers within as well as from abroad. Voters said they no longer felt free to be themselves in their own country — policed in their speech, unable to pray publicly or even say “God bless you” when someone sneezes. “Everything’s so p.c.,” said Priscilla Mills, a 33-year-old hospital coordinator from Manchester. “And then the second you do say something, you’re a racist.” Trump, who had 21 percent of the vote in our small sample, has capitalized the most on the political-correctness grievance, which is likely to surface in the general election no matter who becomes the nominee.

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Jan
18

A moral and financial black hole

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Not all drugs have to be injected, ingested or inhaled. Yesterday, I drew parallels between the man-made crisis on Wall Street and the man-made water crisis in Flint Michigan. The reason is that the amoral pursuit of personal gain is an addiction that goes far beyond Wall Street. The Big Short made a big impression, can you tell?

The Guardian’s Tim Adams spoke with “The Big Short” author Michael Lewis about the film’s protagonists:

The idea that the madness was going to get worse did not occur to him. “In fact, it got worse and worse to the point where people were paid unbelievable fortunes just to do stupid things with money. Even the movie can’t really get this across. The movie gets across that there was a bet and these smart guys were on the right side of the bet. And those smart guys made hundreds of millions of dollars. That inevitably leaves you thinking that the people on the other side of the bet lost. Of course, the banks went down. But the real story is the actual people on the other side of the bet also got very rich despite the banks collapsing. If no matter what side of the bet you are on things are still going to work out for you, the world is upside down.”

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Jan
05

Give me that old-time constitution

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Ammon Bundy

Say what you will about the excesses of Rome and the papacy (and not to ignore Constantinople), prior to the Reformation there was some central authority to define Christianity for much of the West, to set standards and protocols, if you will. The Reformation may have decentralized the faith and brought it closer to the people, but it also meant by the late 20th century that any American huckster with a flashy suit, an expensive coif, a sonorous voice, and a black, Morocco-bound, gilt-edged, King James red-letter edition could define Christianity pretty much any damned way he pleased. And did. Who was to say he was wrong?

That do-it-yourself spirit extends as well to Americans’ understanding of their founding documents. Every born-again, T-party convert carries a pocket Constitution and becomes an instant expert and his own defining authority on what is and isn’t the true American faith. It’s the American Dream: every man his own Supreme Court; no priestly judicial caste interposed between a man and his God.

Dana Milbank looks at how, like the stand-oafish Bundy militia in Oregon, they love them some law of the land until they have to live under it. Then it’s “unconstitutional.” Conservative thought leaders (oxymoron?) regularly wink at lawbreaking when it furthers their purposes. Because their leaders condone it, the Bundy bunch believes the atmosphere is right for challenging “unconstitutional land transactions” 108 years after a Republican president set aside public lands for conservation:

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Dec
28

A “small step” towards a better future

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This exchange from Star Trek: First Contact always fascinated me:

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The economics of the future are somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century.
Lily Sloane: No money? You mean, you don’t get paid?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.

What a concept. A society not organized around money. Thomas Paine floated the idea of a citizen’s stipend in Agrarian Justice (1797). His ideas for reorganizing the economy were a bit ahead of his time. And while the 24th century may be bit far off yet, it seems several European cities are taking Paine’s 18th century idea out for a test drive:

An experiment to give away money as “basic income” is underway in Germany. In 2014, Michael Bohmeyer, a 31-year-old German entrepreneur, launched “My Basic Income” (“Mein Grundeinkommen”), and this month, the project, made possible through crowdfunding, issued $1,100 checks to 26 people to use however they want.

Leftists in Germany tend to support the idea of basic income while others in the country say the idea might take away incentives for people to work.

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Dec
27

Stop making sense

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David Silbersweig, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard Medical School, wrote to extol the virtues of liberal arts (and a degree in philosophy) in the Washington Post on Christmas Eve:

My father, uncles, and grandfathers were all physicians. As I studied existentialism in college, I thought that becoming a doctor would constitute a pre-determined lack of free will. Then I took a course, Philosophy in Medicine, and I discovered that a philosophical stance and approach could identify and inform core issues associated with everything from scientific advances to healing and biomedical ethics. My honors thesis was in philosophy of mind. I was captivated by the relationship between the mind and the brain, just as that nexus, both scientifically and philosophically, was taking off. In that context, I critiqued arguments for the irreducibility of psychology to neurobiology.

Silbersweig found that it was not possible to understand the body without the mind and vice versa, and that philosophical thought experiments “were unknowingly misguided by virtue of being under-informed by data.” He found that blending studies of both helped make better sense of each. Furthermore,

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Dec
24

The American dispirit

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The notion that “we’re all in this together” became popular during World War II as Americans on the home front sacrificed for the war effort. That snippet of information drifted in over the mental transom the other day, perhaps in reference to a video for students produced at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. “We’re All in This Together!” debuted last month. It focuses on how American families and kids “scrapped” and saved dimes to buy war bonds.

As it turns out, there is a recent Monopoly edition based on the theme. Monopoly: America’s WWII: We’re All in This Together features key corner spaces common to all Monopoly versions: Jail, free parking, collect $200 and go to jail, McClatchy reported:

Most of the rest, though, has a WWII theme. The game pieces are an airplane, combat boots, helmet, radio, ship and Sherman tank. Spaces on the board and corresponding deed cards feature significant WWII events. Railroads are replaced with supply routes, and houses and hotels became camps and headquarters.

The “Chance” and “Community Chest” cards are replaced with cards for allies and home front.

Historian Stephen Ambrose described how the war changed the country:

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Nov
13

Yesterday’s Leftovers

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Got a little busy yesterday and didn’t have time to cross-post this:

I resemble that remark

From Tuesday’s GOP debate, Marco Rubio:

For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.

Uh, that’s fewer philosophers, Marco. He’s wrong about those pay levels, of course, as philosophy major Matt Yglesias observes. But being factual wasn’t Rubio’s point anyway. Reality having a left-wing bias and all.

For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized liberal arts education. Or education in general.

Anyway, the philosophers are speaking out. The New York Times consulted Cheshire Calhoun, chairwoman of the American Philosophical Association and a philosophy professor at Arizona State University:

Ms. Calhoun notes that philosophy is not about toga-wearing thinkers who stroke big beards these days. Rather, she says, the degree denotes skills in critical thinking and writing that are valuable in a variety of fields that can pay extremely well.

While some universities have cut back or eliminated their philosophy departments, and the job prospects for academic philosophers are notoriously bad, Ms. Calhoun argues that students who pursue undergraduate philosophy degrees tend to have a leg up when applying to graduate school. The notion that philosophy means “pre-poverty” is a misnomer, she said.

Rubio might have considered that Carly Fiorina was standing just feet away. She holds a degree in medieval history and philosophy from Stanford.

At Salon, Avery Kolers, philosophy professor at the University of Louisville pushes back at the notion that market price is any measure of social worth:

… What kind of person would assume without justification or explanation that an endeavor (or a person’s) value, derives solely from the amount of money it can make?

A market economy is a tool for securing human welfare and promoting human freedom. It may or may not be effective at those things, but either way, that’s what it is: a tool. Sadly, the contemporary Republican Party has elevated that tool into a religion, bowing before it and disparaging those who don’t.

Ed Kilgore had a little fun with that as well, speaking of religion:

But here’s the thing: Rubio (or my recruiter, for that matter) could have made the exact same point using religious studies or theology as an example of a pointy-headed field of study we should not be subsidizing. Church gigs on average pay even more poorly than philosophy, I’m pretty sure, and why should taxpayers be encouraging private religious training?

I have a philosophy degree myself, as I’ve mentioned before:

I grew up thinking that education was its own reward. In college, I studied, philosophy, art, drama and science. Yeah, I waited tables and traveled for awhile. After college, I was appalled at the attitude of many customers. They’d ask if I was in college. No, I told them, I’d graduated. Next question: What was your major?

When I told them, their eyes went blank. “But what are you going to do with it,” they’d ask. You could see the gears going round in their heads. How did that (a philosophy degree) translate into *that* as they mentally rubbed their finger$$ together.

Then again, there were those two suited, young businessmen dining on their expense accounts one evening at Table 29.

“Tom, where have you been? Haven’t seen you here lately,” one asked as I approached their table.

I told them I had taken the summer off for a solo, cross-country trip. I’d driven out to Los Angeles, then up the coast and as far as Alaska. I had just come back to work.

They looked at each other and you could see it in their eyes: What the hell are we doing?

Life’s not always about size (of your paycheck).

Today I design factories for a living. When I’m finished doing my job, other people get jobs making products in this country.

Funny thing, this little video on our attitudes on cost and worth just came over the transom last night:

(h/t RJF)

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Nov
01

Freedom: Bow now or bow later

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Let’s not point fingers, but for all their hands-over-their-hearts, pocket-Constitution-carrying, misty-eyed Americanity, there are certain of our neighbors who are just not comfortable with democracy. With one-person, one-vote. With freedom of speech and religion that is not theirs. With facts that do not support their preferred view of the world. With not being in control. Galileo Galilei knew a few. As Jesus said about the poor, they will be with us always.

Thomas Jefferson knew to be wary of them:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.
-Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

So it was no surprise that things did not go smoothly in Spring, Texas this week when the Church of Lucifer opened its doors:
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Oct
19

“The high cost of being labeled a sissy”

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Absolutely fascinating article by Malcolm Gladwell in New Yorker on the etiology of school shootings. They have become a ritualized behavior independent of the pathologies of individual perpetrators, he believes.

School shootings are not simply the isolated acts of a string of copycat psychotics who hear voices in their heads. They are perhaps a kind of slow-motion riot in which perpetrators downstream participate because they’ve been given a kind of permission by those who came before them. Four decades ago, Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter posited that riots develop in this way.

Citing sociologist Ralph Larkin, Gladwell asserts that Columbine’s Eric Harris (“a classic psychopath”) and Dylan Klebold “laid down the ‘cultural script’ for the next generation of shooters.” Gladwell introduces us to a foiled 2014 plot by a seventeen year-old Minnesotan from a loving family. He wasn’t
“someone who had been brutally abused by the world or someone who imagined that the world brutally abused him or someone who wanted to brutally abuse the world himself.” Unlike Harris, psychological testing revealed this kid “wasn’t violent or mentally ill,” but “simply a little off.” Plus, he thought Harris was “cool.” The account reads like a scene from Fargo.

Gladwell explains Granovetter’s theory:

In his view, a riot was not a collection of individuals, each of whom arrived independently at the decision to break windows. A riot was a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them. Social processes are driven by our thresholds—which he defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them. In the elegant theoretical model Granovetter proposed, riots were started by people with a threshold of zero—instigators willing to throw a rock through a window at the slightest provocation. Then comes the person who will throw a rock if someone else goes first. He has a threshold of one. Next in is the person with the threshold of two. His qualms are overcome when he sees the instigator and the instigator’s accomplice. Next to him is someone with a threshold of three, who would never break windows and loot stores unless there were three people right in front of him who were already doing that—and so on up to the hundredth person, a righteous upstanding citizen who nonetheless could set his beliefs aside and grab a camera from the broken window of the electronics store if everyone around him was grabbing cameras from the electronics store.

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Oct
03

Truth is no longer an American value

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As a kid, I watched Superman on TV in black and white fighting his never-ending battle for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” All three have since fallen out of fashion. Carly the Fabulist’s tales of Planned Parenthood reminded us just how far we have fallen. Her “willingness to unrepentantly and repeatedly” look into the camera and lie to our faces recalls Dick Cheney’s talent for that, Digby reminded this week at Salon.

Digby references a post (in part about Mitt Romney) by Rick Perlstein that I want to revisit. While his books might bear pictures of presidents to please the marketers, Perlstein writes, he is much more interested in how “both the rank-and-file voters and the governing elites of a major American political party chose as their standardbearer a pathological liar. What does that reveal about them?”

Indeed. Direct-mail maven Richard Viguerie is one of his Perlstein’s touchstones for seeing into the conservative mind. Perlstein’s insights also come in part from examining the snake-oil ads in conservative publications such as Human Events and Townhall, as well as the more plebian Newsmax. My viewport is the conservative pass-it-on spams that land in my in-box. I collect them. I lost count somewhere around 200.

Perlstein contrasts the ubiquitous “get rich quick” appeals in these publications to one he noticed in the liberal The American Prospect for donations to help starving children in the Third World. I contrast them with the lack of appeals found in pass-it-on spam. They are lies, smears, distortions, propaganda — passed along dutifully by the parents who warned us about communist propaganda as kids:

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