Uncommon Sense

April 27, 2021

Deepak Chopra BS

Deepak Chopra is a medical doctor of some sort (his certification is in internal medicine; he specialized in endocrinology) and yet he is better known as a new age guru who harkens back to being an old age guru (he is a fan of chakras and other aspects of Indian medicine). Note This is why I refer to him as Mr. Chopra below because his doctorate is not in a field that impinges at all with his opinions in this article. Were he writing on the pandemic and endocrinology, I would refer to him as Dr. Chopra.

In an online essay (A Reality Reset is Coming) Mr. Chopra emphasizes the “flaws” of materialism. He refers to a recent experiment on muons that “may” challenge the standard model of physics. I emphasize the “may” because such things come along with great regularity. And, also with great regularity, the predicted possible disruption of current theory does not happen. On the flip side, experiment after experiment confirms the standard model, but those experiments do not make the news. Maybe the last one that did was the “discovery” of the Higgs boson. I say discovery because its existence was predicted decades earlier and what was looked for was a conformation of its existence. Predicted by the Standard Model and then found. Quite a success.

But Mr. Chopra goes on to state “Materialism, it turns out, is just a plausible story, not a viable way to explain the world around us and certainly not the world “in here” where the mind operates.” He goes on to list many things that have not been explained . . . yet:
• No one knows where the Big Bang came from.
• No one knows how life began.
• The origin of time, space, matter, and energy remain totally hidden.
• The two leading theories in physics, General Relativity (which explains how large objects work) and quantum mechanics (which explains how tiny things work) turn out to be seemingly incompatible.
• The relation of mind and brain is as up in the air as it was at the time of Plato and Aristotle.
• The nature of consciousness and how it evolved—if it evolved—cannot be agreed upon.

I suppose Mr. Chopra thinks that these are trivial problems that should have been solved decades ago, but he glides over several thousand years of philosophy and religion having failed to solve these problems. Consider that roughly 100 years ago, we thought that our Milky Way galaxy was the entire universe. We knew nothing of the Big Bang. We had no evidence of planets existing around other stars. We knew little to nothing about quantum mechanics. Both special and general relativity had been postulated but at most fewer than 100 people understood those theories.

And Mr. Chopra is criticizing that which brought all of that knowledge to us.

He concludes “To boil things down to their most basic, if you don’t know where the universe came from and are equally baffled by where thoughts come from, how reliable is your explanation of reality? Intellectual honesty forces an answer: not reliable at all. Persuasive stories and unexamined assumptions riddle our current worldview.”

Okay, Mr. Chopra. Exclude materialism and explain . . . reality for all of us. Go ahead, we will wait.

And as to the reliability isue. I offer a test to Mr. Chopra. I will hold a 50 lb weight over his foot and ask him what he would do if I looked as if I were to drop that weight? He, like ever other person, would move his foot out of the downward path of that weight. That behavior, aka falling, is dependable, even though we still don’t know what gravity is. Dependability is based upon testing, not upon whether one knows where the universe or thoughts come from.

April 26, 2021

The Flaws of Capitalism

Filed under: Business,Economics,Morality,Politics,Reason,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 11:09 am
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The major flaw of capitalism, that it has no limit of even a brake on greed, I have pointed out before, but there are others. Here are a few.

It is claimed that capitalism provides the most efficient distribution of resources. That may or may not be true, but capitalism sure doesn’t do diddly-squat for the distribution of production wastes. There are a spare few examples in which capitalism did have an effect upon waste. A steel company was drawing some heat from the amount of waste they were producing. This waste stemmed from the “pickling acid” (actually hydrochloric acid) used to reduce corrosion of newly poured iron ingots. The acid “passivated” the iron but it also dissolved a bit of the iron and so “wore out” its ability to perform that task. They were dumping that liquid waste, some legally, other not so much and were drawing heat from the federal government (too much regulation, my ass). A consultant told them that their “spent” pickling acid contained a great deal of iron(III) chloride which could be sold on the market and much of the unused acid could be recycled. The sale of the iron(III) chloride and reuse of the acid reclaimed paid for the processing and, in fact, made a profit. Ta da! A capitalism success story. Unfortunately such stories are rare. Dumping of waste is the lazy and cost effective way to deal with it and has been for a very long time.

A capitalism horror story involved a battery recycling plant near Oakland, CA. This plant took car batteries, broke them down, and recycled the lead in them to make new car batteries. Sounds cool, no? Well, part of the process involved emptying the old batters of the fluid in them which was heavily acidic (sulphuric acid, stronger even than hydrochloric acid) and had a great deal of dissolved lead in it as well. So, how did they dispose of this nasty liquid? They poured out on a bare patch of ground out back behind their buildings . . . for decades. Evidence of this waste process was discovered many tens of miles (hundreds even) away as the ground water system spread it out to cover a large part of central California. We do not possess the resources or the techniques to clean this up. The company? Oh, they declared bankruptcy to avoid any liability on the part of those who did the deed.

Basically, capitalism abuses “the commons,” that is those things we hold in common: the air, our waterways, the ground and all of the systems operating therein. Capitalists pollute it, we clean it up. (We are still spending tax money to clean up Superfund sites from decades ago.)

Capitalism does a lousy job of distributing wages. As a prime example, CEOs in the 1950’s made 20-30 times what their average worker made. Today, more than a few CEO’s make 300-400X what their average worker makes. Wow, did CEOs increase productivity, knowledge, customer satisfaction, anything that much? Nope. If one could track CEO productivity (and that would be hard to do), I am sure that CEO salaries have rocketed ahead of any productivity measurement you could some up with. How is this so? It is so because the CEOs packed their own boards of trustees with friendly faces and when the issue of “CEO salary” came up they vote for “raise” every damned time. Some of these CEOs return the favor by serving on their friend’s boards so they could get unwarranted raises, too. Unwarranted salaries paid out to CEOs doesn’t end up in shareholder’s pockets, so how could this happen? Capitalism basically doesn’t care.

In this country we have come to view capitalism as a thing in itself, rather than a tool we wield. We think “it” does this and “it” does that when it is we who do everything. It is very, very (very) clear that unregulated capitalism is disastrous. So, why does one of our two major political parties campaign all of the time on a “less regulation” is better and “no regulation” is best platform? Shouldn’t we be searching for the best regulation and if not that, better regulation? Why would capitalists campaign against the thing that makes capitalism viable? Oh, it’s the greed thing again. Even rabid anti-socialist politicians will vote for corporate socialism almost every time and the reason they do? They are being paid generously, by capitalists, to do so. Apparently politics doesn’t limit greed either.

April 25, 2021

Netflix, Please Give the Atmospheric Scores a Day Off

I tuned in to watch a new Netflix movie, Without Remorse, with Michael B Jordan, an actor I like to watch. I had to turn it off several minutes later because of one of Netflix’s bad habits. It funds many movies and most of them have very “atmospheric” soundtracks, that is the music is almost continuous and mood setting. It also makes the movies hard on those of us who are a bit hard of hearing.

After struggling to hear and then make sense of the dialogue, I get frustrated and just turn the show off. And it is not that I haven’t tried other things. I watch a fair number of foreign generated shows, which use subtitles for those who don’t speak Korean, or Japanese, or Spanish. I do not mind this but it has certain limitations. When an English language show is on, I can go to the bathroom or the kitchen and still follow what is happening. If I am dependent upon subtitles, if I lose sight of them all I hear is words I do not understand. I either have to pause the show or rewind it when I get back (sometimes the bathroom calls strongly).

I do understand what a good movie soundtrack does, but I am learning what a bad movie soundtrack does now. Are any of you experiencing the same issue?

The Meaning of Life, Part Whatever

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:42 am
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If you have read this blog for any length of time you know my thoughts on “the meaning of life,” mainly that meaning is something we create, rather than something given to us or something we find.

Just to cover all of the bases, I decided to open myself up to a feeling of purpose, of meaning from outside of me. I tried not to force anything, like a source or even a meaning, I just opened myself to the possibility and went about my business.

Both my partner an I are long in the tooth (she is 67, I am 74) and have mastered taking care of one another and ourselves fairly well, and our children are launched into very nice lives, so what other meaning might present itself?

And then it came to me, apparently our meaning in life at this stage of our lives is to make her dog happy. When I see the two of them together playing and the dog is happy, I am happy. When he wants a treat or to be petted, I oblige and am happy to do that. He seems happy to be with me, also, although he has a bit of a licker problem. He likes to lick my chin very, very much, even early in the morning before I have shaved, so I assume he may just be cleaning his tongue off, but he seems to want that and I am happy to oblige.

Never having been a “dog person” through much of my life, maybe I missed the meaning in my earlier life of making my cats happy, can’t really tell.

Considering how much Americans spend on their dogs, maybe this is the meaning of life much of us share. So, is this meaning god-given? If so, it would have to be Anubis or Set if Egyptian, Fenris, or maybe Hecate, or the Morrigan (I am part Irish, you know), or, oh, in America it might just be Coyote, the trickster god. If so then this “meaning” we perceive from the outside may be a trick on our meaning seeking natures.

The search goes on!

PS I just realized that dog is god spelled backwards . . . a sign do you think?

April 23, 2021

Why Would God Care About Morality?

Filed under: Morality,Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:09 pm
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This is a rather brilliant and novel essay on the question portrayed in the title above.

Why Would God Care About Morality?

 

 

You Learn Something New . . . about Nazis . . . Every Day

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:45 am
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I have been reading an interesting book “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933–45” by Milton Mayer which I have commented on before. Most recently (I am a little over half way through), I learned something that contradicted claims I have made. In the past I responded to the claim that the Nazi movement was atheistic by denying that claim outright. I countered with the facts that Hitler was a Catholic and never renounced his religion and the SS belt buckle emblazoned with “Gott Mit Uns,” that is “God is with us” or, as we like to say, God is on our side, und so weiter.

Well, according to the actual Nazis interviewed in this book (in the 1950s), I was “somewhat wrong.” In the early days the Nazi leadership did not pick fights with the churches in Germany. Not that they would have gotten much of a fight; Germany’s churches were state churches supported by taxes and so were more than a little lax in their duties to parishioners.

But after a while, maybe 1940 onward, the Nazi regime started shifting to a stance of not a state-sponsored religion but a religion of the state, the Nazi’s own religion designed to take the place of the pre-existing religions, which would have been eventually banned out of existence. (Their plans extended to “after the war.”)

Of course, the Nazi leadership ran into a little hiccup, actually two: the Red Army in the east and the “Allied Forces” in the west and their plans never came to fruition.

Now, I must clarify, that the Nazis weren’t even thinking of creating an “atheistic” religion. Religion is too powerful as a tool to throw away its most powerful bits. They were designing a new religion in which the God was a thinly disguised stand-in for the German state or the German people. So, not atheistic except in the sense that your god is kinda-sorta being rejected. (Remember that Christians were considered atheists because they refused to recognize the other gods in the Roman panoply.)

So, I stand corrected . . . somewhat. :o)

Greed, Capitalism, and Fixing It

I will start by quoting myself:

The Achilles Heel of capitalism is that there is no limit to greed. (Me)

This is hardly a novel position. As evidence I offer:

“No bound is set on riches for men” (Solon)

“Money is like sea water: The more you drink, the thirstier you get.” (a Roman proverb)

“Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

The problem at the core of this problem is that wealth translates into political power. People with great wealth can use their wealth to buy political attention to their needs. Those needs always address their interests, the primary of which is maintaining and expanding their wealth.

So the big question is: “How do we fix this flaw” in the grand American experiment in self-governance? If greed results in the collapse of our society, as history shows that it will, how do we address it?

At first I was thinking of a bottom-up solution constructed of social pressures. One idea was that when people earn certain levels of wealth we would slap titles on them. Say, one a millionaire we would refer tot hem with the title of A Really Big Deal or Fat Cat. As their wealth increased with would come up with more and more disparaging titles that we would use publicly. Maybe at the ten million dollar wealth plateau, they would be Rich Assholes. At the Jeff Bezos level, maybe Filthy Rich Money-grubbing Obnoxious Asshole.

I have decided this won’t work as people have the attention spans of gnats nowadays and would be distracted by Brittany Spears news or something equally irrelevant, and stop following through.

There is a method that has worked for us and could work again and that is progressive taxation. During World War 2 the highest income tax bracket was close to 100%. Now, to clarify, that taxation rate was on earnings over $100,000 dollars when the average worker was making about $1885 per year (1942 figure). So, two points: this tax rate didn’t kick in until one had made $100,000 and only applied to the money earned after that $100,000 was earned. And $100,000 represented 53 times what the average worker made!

We generally craft tax brackets so there are small jumps in the tax rate between any two categories but that isn’t necessary. It could be 39% and then after $250,000 it could jump to 95%.

The consequences of doing this were made obvious when we had this system deployed. One consequence was that CEO salaries were about 20 time that of the average worker in their corporations instead of the 250-350 times we see now. And, instead of paying their CEOs ever more money, stock options, etc. They were treated with the trappings, or as they called them the perquisites, of their offices. They had lavishly decorated offices, with very expensive art work on the walls. They had company cars and trips on company airplanes, clothing budgets, and on and on. Many of these are now necessary to be declared as “income” for tax purposes, but they were not necessarily back then.

Of course to change the tax codes along these lines we would need to take back control of our Congress, but no matter what solution we come up with that task will be at the core, otherwise the wealth of the rich will result in laws undermining any system we set up.

And as part of the results of that “natural experiment” in economics that were our progressive tax rates after WW2, we found out that American corporations could be lead by leaders to become pre-eminent in the world without making 200 times or even 50 times, what their average worker made. CEOs have gamed the system to their benefit, not their corporations and not ours.

And, as you might not know, President Franklin Roosevelt brought the “captains of industry” and their ilk to the White House to strong arm them into accepting the high marginal tax rates with little to no protest using the scare of the Socialist Party of America, then one of the the largest socialist organizations in the world, and Labor Unions to make his point. They had to be given something otherwise labor chaos would result. (No business type likes labor chaos.).

Of course, priority one for the fat cats after WW2 was the destruction of the Socialist Party of America, which ceased operations on December 31, 1972 (and not because their goals had been met—Note another Socialist party rose from the ashes, in 1973, but it was and still is much smaller and almost entirely without political influence). And, as you probably know, union jobs in the US have shrunk from about a third in the 1950’s to around 7% today. This is due to a concerted effort on the part of the rich to de-fang labor unions, Our neighbor Canada still has the same level of union jobs as they had in the 1950’s, likewise about 33%, but they had no organized political effort to disempower their unions.

April 21, 2021

Where Morals Really Come From

Filed under: Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:16 am
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Gee, the argument about objective vs. subjective morals rolls on! (I wonder who keeps bringing up the obviously impossible idea of objective morality?) Can’t we put this discussion to bed, instead of it living on as a zombie discussion for more millennia? Because for millennia, human beings argued and negotiated standards of behavior, and then when organized religion came along, it hijacked the topic. Here is how morals actually grow in each of us.

If you consider a child’s typical experience in the U.S. (I know typical does not mean all), you can see where a child gets its morals. When newly born, babies are never corrected. If they poop their pants or throw up on Grandma, well “isn’t that cute.” Once the baby reaches the toddler stage (crawling, walking), that is can locomote on its own, corrections begin. Why? Because they can get into trouble on their own. If they pick up an electrical cord and try to bite it, they are corrected. If they reach up to touch the stove, they are corrected. If they try to bite their sister, they are corrected. This is done by mother, father, older siblings, grandmothers and grandfathers, and aunts and uncles, sometimes the parents of other children do, too. (It takes a village, indeed.)

Children are taught how to behave, what is acceptable, and what is not. Children are taught table manners (We don’t throw food, child!). Once the child enters day care or school, additional lessons are taught. No, not just the three R’s, but how to get along with other children and adults not your parents. If two children get into a dispute, say as to which gets to play with a particular toy right now, they are taught dispute resolution. Each gets to tell their story and the judge (parent, child care worker, teacher) decides on how to proceed. They learn that they don’t have to like a decision, but they do have to abide by it.

Children are taught these lessons in various ways. When I was a child, corporal punishment was still in vogue. Now it is tantamount to child abuse.

If their family is church going and they attend Sunday school, children may learn more. The story of Noah’s Ark teaches them that there is this powerful Superparent that once killed almost all of the people and almost all of the animals. They may even learn that if they are not obedient, they may die and end up in a cave full of fire. They are taught to love them the Baby Jesus but the only one they can see is being tortured on the wall.

So, where do children learn how to behave rightly? At home and in day care and in kindergarten. Where do they continue to learn moral lessons? At home and in school and on playgrounds.

So, are the lessons taught by parents, et. al. learned from the Bible? Lessons like don’t bite your sister, don’t stick your fingers in electrical sockets, don’t pull on the cat’s tails, share your toys with your friends, don’t hit others, don’t run out into the street, don’t take candy from strangers, be kind to others, help those in need, etc. While some of these may be reinforced by church activities (winter clothing drives, food drives, toy drives for those less well off) I suggest the basic lessons were already learned. So, when do they receive their moral instruction from “The Bible?”

If We are Going to Pass Anti-blasphemy Laws We Should Know What Blasphemy Is

Filed under: Culture,Morality,Religion,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 11:07 am
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A number of high ranking officials in the Muslim world, most often it seems the President of Pakistan, have been suggesting that western nations really, really should pass anti-blasphemy laws.

So what is blasphemy?

Blasphemy is an insult that shows contempt, disrespect, or lack of reverence concerning a deity, a sacred object, or something considered inviolable. Some religions consider blasphemy to be a religious crime.” (Wikipedia)

But, you see, blasphemy is a religious crime, specific to each religion. You cannot generalize it. The churches themselves do not vehemently insist that you cannot blaspheme another religion. You can only blaspheme your own religion, they say. If you do try to generalize blasphemy so that it applies to all religions . . .
• Any Catholic who demeans a Protestant religion could be charged with blasphemy.
•  Any Hindu who demeans Muslims could be charged with blasphemy.
•  Any Muslim who demeans Hindus could be charged with blasphemy.
•  Any evangelical who bad mouths the Pope could be charged with blasphemy.
•  Any movie actor swearing according to script could be charged with blasphemy.
•  Political cartoonists could be charged with blasphemy on an almost daily basis.
•  Comedians could be charged with blasphemy on an almost daily basis.
•  Any one putting pineapple on a pizza could be charged with blasphemy.

Well, maybe not that last one.

Would we really want our courts bogged down with such cases? Plus, consider the complications. Would jurors be asked what their religion was during voire dire? (If so, what happens to the Constitutional “no religious test for public office/position” provision?) Would public defenders have to be the “right religion?” What would happen if the “church” of the religion so offended disagrees with the decision of our secular courts?

Think about what the standards for “showing a lack of respect” for a religion might entail. Where I come from, if you want respect, you have to earn it. Such laws would apparently give respect to all forms of worship (even worshipping Satan or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?) whether it has been earned or not.

Can you imagine the religious brought into court for demeaning the worship of Satan? (Oh, please, please, please let it happen.)

I have no problem if religions want to chastise or punish members of their churches for such infractions. But when they try to impose their rules on the rest of us, that is where I draw the line. What’s next? Country clubs trying to impose their dress codes on the rest of the nation? Book clubs deciding what we can and cannot read?

I think these people have become a bit too full of themselves. I do know that for officials like the President of Pakistan, that this is a form of virtue signaling, but some less observant think he is serious in his demands.

April 20, 2021

The Invention of Whiteness

Filed under: Culture,Economics,History,Race — Steve Ruis @ 10:02 am
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This is an excerpt from The Invention of Whiteness: The Long History of a Dangerous Idea in today’s The Guardian that renders the idea that religion is harmless a lie.

If you asked an Englishman in the early part of the 17th century what colour skin he had, he might very well have called it white. But the whiteness of his skin would have suggested no more suitable basis for a collective identity than the roundness of his nose or the baldness of his head. If you asked him to situate himself within the rapidly expanding borders of the known world, he would probably identify himself, first and most naturally, as an Englishman. If that category proved too narrow – if, say, he needed to describe what it was he had in common with the French and the Dutch that he did not share with Ottomans or Africans – he would almost certainly call himself a Christian instead.

That religious identity was crucial for the development of the English slave trade – and eventually for the development of racial whiteness. In the early 17th century, plantation owners in the West Indies and in the American colonies largely depended on the labour of European indentured servants. These servants were considered chattel and were often treated brutally – the conditions on Barbados, England’s wealthiest colony, were notorious – but they were fortunate in at least one respect: because they were Christian, by law they could not be held in lifetime captivity unless they were criminals or prisoners of war.

Africans enjoyed no such privilege. They were understood to be infidels, and thus the “perpetual enemies” of Christian nations, which made it legal to hold them as slaves. By 1640 or so, the rough treatment of indentured servants had started to diminish the supply of Europeans willing to work on the sugar and tobacco plantations, and so the colonists looked increasingly to slavery, and the Atlantic-sized loophole that enabled it, to keep their fantastically profitable operations supplied with labour.

The plantation owners understood very well that their cruel treatment of indentured Europeans, and their even crueler treatment of enslaved Africans, might lead to thoughts – or worse – of vengeance. Significantly outnumbered, they lived in constant fear of uprisings. They were particularly afraid of incidents such as Bacon’s Rebellion, in 1676, which saw indentured Europeans fighting side-by-side with free and enslaved Africans against Virginia’s colonial government.

To ward off such events, the plantation owners initially sought to protect themselves by giving their “Christian” servants legal privileges not available to their enslaved “Negroes”. The idea was to buy off the allegiance of indentured Europeans with a set of entitlements that, however meagre, set them above enslaved Africans. Toward the end of the 17th century, this scheme witnessed a significant shift: many of the laws that regulated slave and servant behaviour – the 1681 Servant Act in Jamaica, for example, which was later copied for use in South Carolina – began to describe the privileged class as “whites” and not as “Christians”.

One of the more plausible explanations for this change, made by Rugemer and the historian Katharine Gerbner, among others, is that the establishment of whiteness as a legal category solved a religious dilemma. By the 1670s, Christian missionaries, including the Quaker George Fox, were insisting that enslaved Africans should be inducted into the Christian faith. The problem this posed for the planters was obvious: if their African labourers became Christians, and no longer “perpetual enemies” of Christendom, then on what legal grounds could they be enslaved? And what about the colonial laws that gave special privileges to Christians, laws whose authors apparently never contemplated the possibility that Africans might someday join the faith?

The planters tried to resolve the former dilemma by blocking the conversion of enslaved Africans, on the grounds, as the Barbados Assembly put it in 1680, that such conversion would “endanger the island, inasmuch as converted negroes grow more perverse and intractable than others”. When that didn’t work (the Bishop of London objected) they instead passed laws guaranteeing that baptism could not be invoked as grounds for seeking freedom.

But the latter question, about privileges for Christians, required the colonialists to think in a new way. No longer could their religious identity separate them and their servants from enslaved Africans. Henceforth they would need what Morgan called “a screen of racial contempt”. Henceforth, they would need to start thinking of themselves as white.

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