Class Warfare Blog

September 15, 2018

Ethics and Morality without God

In a recent post on Daily Kos I read the following:

“I once said to a Native American friend that I thought that the Golden Rule was a perfect expression of social ethics, and before I could put the period on my sentence, he shot back, ‘No, it’s not … because if you’re a misanthrope who hates people and just wants to be left alone, you can behave that way in clear conscience. In my tribe, I have responsibilities to widows, orphans, and the ill. I have to hunt for those who can’t. That’s mutuality.’” (sfzendog)

This attitude toward the collective responsibility we all have, as well as individual responsibility, might be summed up in “love thy neighbor as thyself” but it isn’t made at all explicit in Christian ethics/morality.

Many people do not know that the “tithe” which has morphed into a fundraiser to support the church building fund and minister’s and staff’s salaries, was originally a tax. The Jews had a theocracy. Even when outsiders came in and established a new ruling structure, the Temple kept its own governing structure and the tithe/tax was a way to support widows, orphans, and the afflicted. That is what it was for, explicitly. The Jews had a structure in place regarding the collective responsibility of all to support those in need.

Christian ethics/morality on the other hand stops at “love they neighbor” and “turn the other cheek,” with little parsing of those instructions. There are clear signs that early Christians were communal (that means communists, Comrade). As Christianity was rewritten by pagans, that collectivism was written out. The Republicans are doing their damndest to wipe out collectivism in the U.S. right now, so this “battle” is quite longstanding.

We still haven’t answered the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We are still trying to address mutuality.

Many studies on democratic socialist states show that as they collectively (through government) care for those less fortunate or less capable and just ordinary citizens, the less the need for religion in their population. It therefore seems that religion has a vested interest in opposing government providing basic support for their people. The widespread evangelical support for the current administration therefore is less perplexing looked at in this light.

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September 10, 2018

What Passes for Wisdom Now

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Steve Ruis @ 9:01 am
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I subscribe to a “quote of the day” service called QuotableNotes. Today’s quote was supplied under the tagline “In the wise words of Oprah Winfrey”

Here’s the quote:

The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.” (Oprah Winfrey)

WTF? I am supposed to live my life as a series of repetitive, incoherent, bizarre fantasies, none of which involves paying bills or earning a living? Maybe she is not referring to real dreams, but is referring to goals we have contemplated but we haven’t attempted because we feel they are out of reach. Of course, that makes no sense either. You can’t live those goals without living the process that will take you to them.

I respect Oprah Winfrey as an entrepreneur, a self-made rich person, not as a public intellectual. Publicly she espouses a world of woo, full of magical influences she seems to think we can just reach out and grasp. And, I suspect, that her “opinions” would have almost no reach if she were not rich. (In this country, being rich stamps one as having some ineffable quality of being.)

Maybe she is living her world of dreams because many of her stances seem incoherent and bizarre.

September 9, 2018

Another Approach (The Nike Ad Campaign)

Recently, the shoe company (amongst their other products) Nike featured Colin Kaepernick in an ad campaign with one of its tag lines being “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Mr. Kaepernick is famous for protesting police brutality against people of color by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem at NFL football games. (Kneeling is a form of respect and submission, but not the form that Mr. Kaepernick’s detractors want.) He paid a price of many millions of dollars in that he lost his job as an NFL quarterback.

Several police organizations have protested this ad campaign as being a fallacious smear against the police who risk their lives daily. This is a bit much but also ignores the many, many incidents in which police officers have shot and or killed people of color with no repercussions other than occasionally an officer losing his job. The idea of a police officer being prosecuted for excessive force is almost ludicrous in this country.

Interestingly, police officers and their organizations, supposedly taught how to diffuse tense situations have instead poured fuel on the flames. There is available to them another approach.

They could have, without agreeing to anything, stated that a police officer using excessive force is unacceptable. They could go on to state that while the vast majority of officers do their jobs safely and with respect, even one bad officer is unacceptable. Consequently, the XYZ Police Association asks for more training funds and … blah, blah, blah. They could even have asked Mr. Kaepernick to sit with them and discuss options to move forward to a safer future. All of these things would defuse some of the issues involved.

Several things that come to my mind are the removal of the feeling of fear as a justification for a policeman to use deadly force. According to the police organizations, policemen face death daily, which just has to be associated with fear (and courage) which means that deadly force is always a reasonable approach for these officers … on a daily basis. This is unacceptable. I suggest that the level of force should never exceed the penalty for the infraction involved. If pulled over for a traffic violation, the worst thing to happen is a ticket and a fine. If somebody, once stopped, speeds away, there is another ticket and another fine, not an excuse to shoot at the miscreant or the miscreant’s car.

Allowing the feeling of fear to be the justification for the application of deadly force is ludicrous. We cannot verify such a fear, we can only sympathize. And even if the fear exists, we are asking officers to lower the fear level, not extinguish it. (Note The same thing goes for stand your ground laws.)

September 8, 2018

Artificial Intelligence—The Promise

I am a big fan of digital technology and someone who is hopeful of the future. It is harder and harder for me to maintain that stance, however.

Currently there seems to be a widespread debate regarding the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Since we know so little the positions staked out are quite broad. At one end is a new future where machines take over dangerous and boring jobs and human beings have more leisure. At the other end, autonomous drones are the first step toward Skynet (the “bad guy” in the Terminator movies) and the extermination of human beings by intelligent killing machines.

There seems also to be many opinions in between the two extremes.

Something I do know is that it will not be the machines that determine the outcome. In every case of new technology impactful enough to change the course of history, the tech has been used to coerce and oppress the labor of the masses to serve the interests of the elites.

Consider the following photograph.

This is an Amazon warehouse. Amazon is a tech company. So, how do those who work in Amazon’s warehouses fare? Amazon uses personal monitoring algorithms to make sure that its employees do not waste time taking short breaks to catch their breath or go to the bathroom. They are to stay on task as long as Amazon wants them to … or else.

Jeff Bezos, creator of Amazon, makes huge profits by paying his warehouse employees wages that are so inadequate that many of them need public assistance just to get by. Thousands of Amazon workers are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing because they can’t survive on the wages they receive. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos is now worth $158 billion, and his wealth increases by leaps and bounds. (And who pays for the public assistance subsidizing Mr. Bezos’ wealth? You and I do, of course.)

If you think back to the first powered looms to make cloth, it was the workers who had to get along with the machinery, not the other way around. Same was true with the assembly line to make automobiles, etc.

I do not argue that there were no benefits from technology that actually accrue to ordinary people. Henry Ford, no friend of workers, paid more than anyone else as a daily wage to pursue his dominance of the auto market. But that was then and now, wage suppression is the favorite tool of the captains of industry. Much of the advanced tech of today is not available to us because, well it is very simple, we cannot afford to pay for it. We don’t make enough money.

As much as people will squander $1000 on a new iPhone, the really impactful tech, such as a liver transplant, is not available to you … unless you can afford to pay for health insurance and many, many people cannot.

So, AI in and of itself will not necessary oppress ordinary people, coercing our labor for the benefit of the elites, but if rich people have any say in the future, my bet is that a sizable amount of AI will be used for just that purpose. (Jeff Bezos has already begun the application.)

September 2, 2018

Imagine a Union …

Filed under: Culture,Religion,The Unions — Steve Ruis @ 11:09 am
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Imagine as a business fantasy that you are a business owner and that you were able to create a union, unbeknownst to anyone not in the know. You “allow” your people to join the union, even encourage it. The union is supported by dues that the business owner gracefully allows to be deducted from weekly paychecks. The union agrees to a comprehensive contract that actually favors the business owner in subtle ways, making him even more rich. The owner eventually supports “closed shop” status, meaning that you have to be a member of the union to work in his business. “It is the right thing to do,” you say.

The union members are urged to “organize” other businesses as well as support the efforts of their union to support political candidates that support the union and the business.

Union leaders are indoctrinated into the workings of the union without knowledge of who is pulling the strings behind the scenes. The union is a wealth and power generating machine for its sponsor, but is sold as an instrument of the workers to avoid oppression by their paymasters.

Now, take the word “union” in every instance above and change it into the word “religion.” Maybe also change the word “dues” to the word “tithes.”

That about sums it up.

September 1, 2018

Trying to Understand Superstition

The Guardian today carried a rather lovely piece by Philip Pullman, the “Dark Materials” author: Why We Believe in Magic, subtitled “The world of magic defies rational explanation, but beware dismissing it as nonsense. Like religious experience and poetry, it is a crucial aspect of being human.”

Beautifully written, as all of his books are, Mr. Pullman doesn’t quite get at an answer to his question but rather seeks someone to write a major book he calls The Varieties of Magical Experience to parallel William James’ book The Varieties of Religious Experience. He suggests that the search for the reality of both magic and religion is a fruitless search and we are better off looking into what we experience under those labels. He sums this up with the unforgettable quote “Trying to understand superstition rationally is like trying to pick up something made of wood by using a magnet.”

And … (You know there was more did you not?) … like the school child I once was, mentally I was eagerly holding up my hand thinking “Call on me teacher. I know the answer!” Obviously I do not know the answer to the question, but one came to mind quickly.

People believe in magic and religion because of the promise of power, mostly power over their own lives. Throughout human history we were tossed about by the vagaries of Nature: famines, wild animals, floods, lightning, diseases, insect infestations, etc. the only earthly approximations of a paradise were experienced by small tribes of hunter-gathers in tropically lush landscapes. Even then hurricanes, storms, lightning, diseases, etc. could ruin one’s day or many days.

“People believe in magic and religion because of the promise of power, mostly power over their own lives.”

And when Nature relents, our fellow human beings have immense powers of oppression. I think I have commented before that there is an estimate that in 1800 half of all humans existed as some form of slave.

Since we all feel that we are individual and banding together to resist oppression by anything is quite difficult, we all wish to have the individual power to resist or overcome the pummeling we take at the hand of Nature and other people. As a youth I can remember wishing I had the power to heal. (My name means “the crowned one” and, well, “the hands of a king are the hands of a healer.” You see I even figured out a mechanism for my magic ability.) I also remember encountering the Incredible Hulk in comic books and on TV and I relished the idea that when people put upon me nastily that I could turn into an invincible green monster and trash all of their asses.

It is not a mistake, in my thinking, that so many religions, even Christianity, hold out the promise of magic to their believers (“You will perform works and wonders in God’s name,” etc.). Jesus performs magic and empowers others to do so also. When a Christian dies, they are rewarded magically and their enemies are punished magically, and since none of us understand magic or how it works, we settle for the promise of that power.

Pullman is probably right, we do need a book like The Varieties of Magical Experience if, for no other reason, only to understand ourselves and how we treat one another better. As so many studies show, as our societies do a better job of taking care of one another, the “need” for a religious or magical experience diminishes. So, I do not need it as “a crucial aspect of being human” as it will go away when we learn how to live in a state of lovingkindness.

 

 

August 28, 2018

Remarkable … Really?

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:32 am
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I just received a special issue of Scientific American. I have been reading SA for over 60 years now so, yes, I am that kind of geek. This special issue is on “Humans” with the subtitle “Why We’re Unlike Any Other Species on the Planet.”

The first paragraph in the headline article contained the following words:

“Curiously, the scientists best qualified to evaluate this claim (that humans are special creatures) have often appeared reticent to acknowledge the uniqueness of Homo sapiens, perhaps for fear of reinforcing the idea of human exceptionalism put forward in religious doctrines. Yet hard scientific data have been amassed across fields ranging from ecology to cognitive psychology affirming that humans truly are a remarkable species.”

WTF?

Really?

Hello?

To be remarkable is to be worthy of being remarked upon. I, for example, have been observed and the remark shared “What an asshole.” That remark makes me remarkable in the area of assholiness, in any case.

Of all the myriad species on this planet, which of them is capable of making a remark? Hmmm, at last count it was one, us. While sometimes my dog looks at me askance, I suspect the message is only a projection of my thinking and not the dog’s.

Gosh, stop the presses—we are special! No shit Shylock! Are you aware of any other species which has dominated this planet to serve its needs? Maybe chickens. The population of chickens has risen right along with that of humans. Next in line, maybe cattle, and then pigs. All of these species have spread around the world and exploded in population. Are any of them capable of making a remark? I think not.

That makes us the remarking species and what topic heads the list of things we remark upon? Hmm, Satan? (No, Church Lady, shut up will you.) Our remarks are dominated by comments about other humans and even ourselves. So, remarkable is not something to brag about.

Is the whole SA issue about how we are unique, then? Well I hate to break it to you, Bucky, but the whole idea of a species is that it is unique. The original definition stated that species could not mate successfully with members outside their species (we have since learned this is not exactly true). That is the definition of uniqueness, I think.

So, what is the issue about? I haven’t finished reading it yet, but it seems to be about how fucking full of ourselves we are. Shakespeare comes to mind—

“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—” (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2) Hamlet sensibly goes on to reject this description, but then he was a moody guy.

August 27, 2018

Are Christians Being Persecuted in the U.S.?

According to Christian scripture, a sign one is doing their god’s work is being persecuted for their beliefs (see below).

Take a negative associated with a religion (“Why would I join them, aren’t they being persecuted?”) and turn it into a positive. Spin doctors have been around a lot longer than most people think. So Christians need persecution to be recognized for doing good work … ah, now we know why there is a War on Christmas, and a War on Christianity! If a real persecution doesn’t exist, just make one up!

Christianity, spinning reality for almost 2000 years!

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and make you bake cakes for fag weddings and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)

August 25, 2018

Even More Bullshit on Alcohol

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:15 am
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I begin with excerpts from an online post:

“Even the occasional drink is harmful to health, according to the largest and most detailed research carried out on the effects of alcohol, which suggests governments should think of advising people to abstain completely.

“The uncompromising message comes from the authors of the Global Burden of Diseases study, a rolling project based at the University of Washington, in Seattle, which produces the most comprehensive data on the causes of illness and death in the world.

“Alcohol, says their report published in the Lancet medical journal, led to 2.8 million deaths in 2016. It was the leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability in the 15 to 49 age group, accounting for 20% of deaths.

“Current alcohol drinking habits pose “dire ramifications for future population health in the absence of policy action today”, says the paper. “Alcohol use contributes to health loss from many causes and exacts its toll across the lifespan, particularly among men.”

“Most national guidelines suggest there are health benefits to one or two glasses of wine or beer a day, they say. “Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none.”

“The study was carried out by researchers at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), who investigated levels of alcohol consumption and health effects in 195 countries between 1990 to 2016. They used data from 694 studies to work out how common drinking was and from 592 studies including 28 million people worldwide to work out the health risks.

“Moderate drinking has been condoned for years on the assumption that there are some health benefits. A glass of red wine a day has long been said to be good for the heart. But although the researchers did find low levels of drinking offered some protection from heart disease, and possibly from diabetes and stroke, the benefits were far outweighed by alcohol’s harmful effects, they said.”

Leave it to the wankers who did this study that they only considered the health benefits of imbibing. Do you know anyone who drinks for the health benefits? Anyone? I can’t imagine there is one, let alone enough to study.

Imagine a study regarding automobiles. So many people get injured and maimed every year in car accidents. People spend so much time traveling to work that productivity losses are huge. And sitting in a car for extended time periods is bad as sitting is bad, bad, bad. So, the only safe number of cars is zero.

Studies that look at negative effects of anything can create a graph showing that the more people who do that thing, the more damage there is and to lower the damage to zero, you have to lower the participation to zero. But cost-benefit analyses are designed to find a sweet spot where the costs are low and benefits high, a point of compromise, as it were.

Knives! So many people get cut or get stabbed and even die every year! “Our results show that the safest level of cutting is none.”

How about some consideration of, oh I don’t know, people maybe, with regard to how much pleasure moderate drinking brings to our lives. The moderate amounts of anxiety reduction, the loosening of some inhibitions, the warm feeling a good pint provides, or a glass of really good Sangiovese? Huh? How about some consideration of “we the fucking people want to drink”? I agree that drinking to excess is a problem and needs to be addressed, but not with a throwing the baby out with the bath water recommendation.

Did they learn nothing from the American experiment in Prohibition? I wonder what they would have come up if they had studied food? Do you know how many people develop diseases due to bad eating habits. People die from diabetes and related diseases due to poor dietary habits. Would they have come up with “the safest level of eating is none?”

August 18, 2018

Why Are We So Afraid?

On Quora, this question was posed: Why are so many Americans “tough on crime”?

One of the answers started this way:

“Americans are terrified.

“The United States of America is a nation of the coward, by the coward, and for the coward. Americans are the most frightened people you will find anywhere in the world.

“We are scared of everything. We’re scared of terrorists. We’re scared of immigrants. We’re scared of criminals. We’re scared of GM food. We’re scared of Muslims. We’re scared of brown people. If you come from any other industrialized country, and you’ve never lived in the US, it’s hard to understand the pervasive sense of fear that Americans live in.

“Americans are frightened, and this fear makes us cruel and mean.”

I immediately thought of the campaign to criminalize being a Black male (not just “driving while Black,” but existing while Black). As Jim Crow laws lost their footing in this country, some way had to be created to control Black people, especially Black men (just had to). After emancipation, one strategy was to criminalize the state Black people found themselves in. Vagrancy laws alone caused a great many Black men to be incarcerated and because they were poor and couldn’t pay their fine, they had to work off their fine … and room and board in the county jail. Voila, de facto slavery all over again. When these laws because unacceptable to society at large, the approach became “lock them up” on a much larger scale. Crimes that Blacks might commit had much longer penalties than if whites committed them. (Remember the crack cocaine sentences that were ten times longer than if powdered cocaine were involved? Guess which “possession crime” Blacks were more likely to be caught for.)

It has become our habit, through long exposure, to motivate ourselves to do anything politically by using fear. The message is “we must change because, if we don’t, something really bad will happen.”

Consider education: the report A Nation at Risk, claimed (erroneously) that our poor education system was dooming our country to second tier status … gasp, or worse! Also in education, the fear that girls were falling behind boys in math was promoted heavily at the exact moment at which girl’s math test scores had become equal to those of boy’s. (No mention was made of boy’s English language scores being much lower than girls, that was just “boys being boys.”)

The early environmental movement went to inflated extremes to gain attention. We were told we needed to “save the planet” as if it were at risk and not us.

Our “news media” haven’t helped one bit. They are not in the business of putting things in perspective, rather they are in the business of selling their wares. And the wares that sell are often the most alarming, most lurid, and most outlandish of stories.

Fear mongering is a booming business in this country.

And we are all paying for this by having fear dominate our lives. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was based solely upon fear. The slogan “Make America Great Again” implies we were great once, but are no longer …. but we could be again, just vote for me. Was there any analysis of this opinion? If a survey of world citizens were to ask the question “Which nation is the most powerful currently?” do you not think the USA would be voted to the top? (And if you didn’t so vote, would you expect to be invaded?)

When was the last time something was done politically because it was the right thing to do, rather than via a fear mongering campaign? Obamacare? The opposition to it was loaded with fear mongering, e.g. Death Panels! The national debt will skyrocket! The “safety net” will become a hammock! If not that, what?

If we insist that we will not do anything unless we are terrified, then all we are doing is waging a terror campaign upon ourselves. We are also letting the fear mongers and those who control the message in our news media to lead us around by the nose.

Welcome to the Twenty-first Century!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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