Class Warfare Blog

June 2, 2020

I Repeat . . .

Filed under: Culture,Morality,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 10:22 am
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A simple rule change is all that is needed to proscribe the actions of police officers. As I have suggested before, the actions of police need to be limited to the penalty were one convicted of the crime alleged. So, if someone is accused of passing counterfeit money, the most that infraction of the law can impose is a short stay in prison. If a police officer uses lethal force, it should be clear to everyone that that is not allowed and must be prosecuted. If someone is being arrested for the crime of passing counterfeit currency and they resist arrest, what is the penalty for resisting arrest? A short stay in jail. Anything imposed by police in excess of the punishment were the person being arrested convicted of the crime, is a violation of the law and must be prosecuted.

Using lethal force to arrest someone for jaywalking, or an equipment violation on a car is ludicrous and needs to be addressed and this way makes the police and prosecutors accountable for their decisions.

That someone is killed because he was selling cigarettes one at a time illegally, is ludicrous and no prosecutor should be given the option to “file charges against the officers involved or not.”

This is simple, easy to learn. If an officer is ignorant of the law, a quick call to dispatch can inform them of the amount of force that can be applied. (Come on, they do not have to memorize all of the penalties of all of the crimes, they just need to know which qualify for the death penalty. Any other infractions are covered by excessive force regulations.) When someone is arrested for selling single cigarettes, a scratch on the wrist from when handcuffs were applied is an acceptable amount of force. Remember these are the people who protect a detainee’s head when getting into a patrol car to be taken in to be booked. When they show extreme neglect of such care must be prosecuted.

Okay, if someone holds up a gun and seems to be going to shoot, can cops shoot back? Considering the police’s track records at shooting kids with BB guns, even an adult in a store shopping for Christmas and holding a BB gun, I think the police need to be trained to take cover and be authorized to return fire, not shoot “because I was afraid.” Being afraid and doing a good job is part of the qualifications for the job. It should not include the current “if you feel fear, open fire” dictates so often employed.

Interestingly police in other countries, some of whom are not armed with firearms, seem to do a better job at this than our police, so we know it can be done.

And, yes, all of the other recommendations about psychological testing, more training, and a national registry of police officers fired for cause being kept are all good, but I think the limits of the behavior of our police are good ones. And hiring police departments should be required to search that database before hiring.

May 10, 2020

The Biological Basis of Morality

Filed under: Morality,Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:40 am
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I was reading, from the recommendation of Professor Taboo, an article in The Atlantic written by Edward O. Wilson in 1998 entitled “The Biological Basis of Morality.” I am only part way through part 1 but a statement appeared that gave rise to a comment. Here is that statement:

I am an empiricist. On religion I lean toward deism, but consider its proof largely a problem in astrophysics. The existence of a God who created the universe (as envisioned by deism) is possible, and the question may eventually be settled, perhaps by forms of material evidence not yet imagined.

And my comment, is I believe a corollary to Clarke’s Third Law (Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.), asks if a deistic creator of the universe can be distinguished from an alien with access to very advanced technology? Remember that a deistic creator, launches his creation and then withdraws form the sandbox. So, any fingerprints it might have left behind are 13.8 billion years old at this point.

I argue that the two are not distinguishable (making my corollary: a deistic creator god is indistinguishable from an alien with very advanced technology), so referring to one or the other as closer to the truth is disingenuous.

* * *

And as is always the case in any morality discussion my mind ferments.

In most of these discussions, including those on free will, there seems to be little attention paid to emergence. Emergent properties of a system have interesting properties. They are usually unpredictable and they certainly break all causal chains and thus argue against a deterministic universe. This, of course, requires an example.

When the automobile was invented, did anyone predict traffic as congested and chaotic as we have it today? And, could anyone upon the basic of, say traffic congestion alone, predict the design of the automobiles causing it? There is clearly a good causal chain, or rather chains, involved in any kind of automobile. (You push the pedal down and the music goes round and round, etc.) Automotive engineers are hired who understand every cause-effect link in the chain, down to tire squirm. But is there anything in the design of those automobiles that allows us to predict the kinds and effects of traffic congestion? I say the answer is “no” as traffic congestion is an emergent property of cars and roads.

Thinking back upon how we became societal, I think the first bands of humans were family bands. We were designed (by evolution, of course) to be social animals, so we had built into us the idea that collectively we had a better chance of surviving than if we all tried to stand alone. So a band of Homo sapiens sapiens started out as a male and female and their children. But as time wore on this little band grew naturally, either through more children or children growing up and having children, or from accepting strays (survivors of the destruction of other families, or finding mates in other groups, etc.). There seems to be a natural upper limit on the size of such groups with evidence indicating that when a family group gets to be of a certain size it splits into two groups. (One of those limitations is how rapidly such a group can exhaust any locales resources. Splitting the group allows time for recovery of any locale between visits of the two bands, each of which harvests less from those locales. And since there was plenty of room, the two bands could follow quite different paths and not share any particular locale, although evidence indicates that these groups set up somewhat regular “meets” to exchange goods and family members.)

Once physical bounty becomes available, such as occurred naturally in river terrains, the upper limit on the size of a quasi-family group (everyone being kind-sorta relatives) went up and agriculture and civilization began their little dance.

Even when the bands were quite small, societal rules evolved naturally as emergent properties of the group. If the same problem came up over and over, say children fighting over who got what food, a structure might have been set up to reduce the tension these created (e.g. “We will take turns.”). Group cohesion was considered a general good as “in numbers lies strength.” So, a hunter who goes out and kills a deer comes back to the group and distributed pierces of meat to the members of the group. This deals with the lack of an ability to store meat (it rots fairly fast in warm climates, and also draws predators, so the safest place to store it is in the bellies of the tribe members). It also creates a nascent altruism.

As these groups got larger, managing a wide range of behaviors became problematic. When the patriarch/matriarch were unavailable to settle problems or weren’t strong enough, men’s and women’s circles were invented to teach the members of those groups and to resolve disputes.

All of these things are natural, emergent, outgrowths of a social species, especially one that learns to communicate significantly (which facilitates learning and dispute resolution).

I assume Dr. Wilson will make these points as I continue reading, but I consider these things inevitable. A highly communicative social species, should end up with general rules of behavior to keep the group viable and on an even keel emotionally. And voila, morals are born.

Note We are now learning that Neanderthals may have had some form of speech available to them (their DNA suggests this). If we hadn’t bumped them off of their perch, they might still be around today, having all of the basics to form complex societies. (They still had differences/limitations to deal with, such as a shoulder joint unable to perform an overhand throw, such as of a spear, so they probably wouldn’t have invented baseball, but they might have invented softball.)

 

 

 

 

April 11, 2020

The Hierarchy of Pearls and Swine

Filed under: Morality,Philosophy,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:14 am
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The adage is “cast not your pearls before swine” which is a Biblical quote from the New Testament, which betrays yet again Jesus’ at best callous attitude toward “the people.” The full quote is “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” (Matthew 7:6 KJV and evidence of deplorables in Biblical times?)

While addressing a frequent commenter on apologists/religious trolls on Quora, I realized there is a hierarchy of situations using this metaphor. Remember it is really about the importance of supplying important information to worthy recipients.

Here it is the hierarchy:

The Hierarchy of Pearls and Swine
1. casting real pearls before real swine
2. casting artificial pearls before real swine
3. casting real pearls before artificial swine
4. casting artificial pearls before artificial swine

Version 1 is the metaphor and infers that giving something of great value to something which cannot recognize the value is futile and destructive and possibly dangerous.

Version 2 describes the work of religious apologists. Imaginary “pearls of great price” are conjured up to be offered to the faithful.

Version 3 describes the selfless work of atheistic representatives tirelessly responding with truth to the apologists and trolls who ask insincere questions that begin with “Atheists, how . . .”

Version 4 describes Fox (sic) News trying to educate the Trump administration.

You heard it here first, now go forth and multiply the uses of these new categories.

Addendum A colleague of mine came up with one of these (#2-#4) 40+ years ago, so I am not the originator of the idea, just the promoter.

April 5, 2020

Let It Begin!

Filed under: Economics,Morality,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:53 am
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Back before the 2016 presidential election, my partner made a quasi-prediction. You remember that electron, the one between a corporate Democrat and an amoral, money-worshiping Republican? She felt that our only hope, if there was any available, was that whoever was elected would overplay their hand. I thought there to be a virtual guarantee of that happening, but she went farther, she felt that the entire corrupt system would crash and there would be “hard times” for sure but maybe, just maybe, a new system could rise from those ashes. Back then I was skeptical but now, maybe not so much.

Just this morning I read Capitalism Has Failed in Fighting Coronavirus by Richard D. Wolff, professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. And this article stated quite clearly that “ The problem of policies aimed to return the economy to what it was before the virus hit is this: Global capitalism, by 2019, was itself a major cause of the collapse in 2020. Capitalism’s scars from the crashes of 2000 and 2008-2009 had not healed. Years of low interest rates had enabled corporations and governments to ‘solve’ all their problems by borrowing limitlessly at almost zero interest rate cost. All the new money pumped into economies by central banks had indeed caused the feared inflation, but chiefly in stock markets whose prices consequently spiraled dangerously far away from underlying economic values and realities. Inequalities of income and wealth reached historic highs.” (Emphases mine.)

Hey I’ve got an idea to help those corporations: they can . . .
sell the fucking stock they bought with their fucking tax cuts!

On walking the dog this morning I saw a clear tag on many of the city trash barrels I passed “Tax the Rich!”

And our government rallied to pass a two trillion dollar relief bill, maybe 20% of which will actually go to people. These rest goes to . . . guess where . . . mostly corporations.

Have people forgotten that the recent federal tax cuts were largely a benefit to said corporations? And what did those corporations do with their windfalls. The Trump administration promised that they would use the funds to modernize, expand, hire a bunch of people and the skeptics (me included) said “Well, the last time they bought back their own stock (which used to be illegal price fixing) which enriched their shareholders and their executives.” So, what did they do this time? They bought back their own stock (which used to be illegal price fixing) which enriched their shareholders and their executives. Wow, it almost seems like déjà vu!

Hey I’ve got an idea to help those corporations: they can . . . sell the fucking stock they bought with their fucking tax cuts!

Why should we be giving corporations “relief” funding when they have been sitting on piles of cash and/or piles of their own stock, which because of their purchases, they can sell at inflated prices right now!

It is clear that any administration . . . Trump led . . . Biden led, anyone endorsed by either of these parties has their marching orders. Prop up the status quo, no matter the cost. (Why do you think they torpedoed Bernie’s campaign?)

If you want to estimate the actual costs, read the comments to the Naked Capitalism post linked to above. They are of the “maybe we need to stand a few people up against the wall and shoot them” variety.

There will be blood.

 

March 31, 2020

If You Needed a Reason Why a For Profit Healthcare System Doesn’t Cut the Mustard, Here’s One

Filed under: Business,Morality,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:00 pm
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From The Guardian:

The frontline in the battle against coronavirus has shifted a couple of hundred yards down the main road through the Kansas city of Wellington.

Two weeks ago, as the virus crept closer and people in other parts of the state started dying, the owners of the city’s only hospital thought it a good time to close down with just a few hours’ notice on the grounds the facility was losing money.

“We lost our hospital abruptly and without warning,” said Dr Lacie Gregory, a family practitioner in Wellington. “Even as the healthcare providers here in town, we did not hear that it was closing until it was a done deal. We received a text message from the director of nursing saying as of now there’s no hospital. So really, really unfortunate timing.”

That has left Gregory and a small group of other doctors and nurse practitioners at the city’s Family Care Center at the forefront of preparing for the coming pandemic with little guidance and not much equipment.

The physicians had assumed the 63-bed Sumner community hospital’s emergency department would deal with people contracting coronavirus while they went on treating more routine conditions of cuts, broken bones and high blood pressure, and that the two would remain safely at a distance. But now the Family Care Center is the first line of defence for the city of 8,000 people.

 

March 27, 2020

Well, Now That’s a Reason!

Filed under: Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:50 am
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According to The Morning Heresy newsletter “The guy who leads Bible study for Trump’s cabinet, Ralph Drollinger, blames the Coronavirus on those who have ‘a proclivity toward lesbianism and homosexuality,’ those with ‘depraved minds,’ environmentalists, and atheists (elbow-bump!) for igniting ‘God’s wrath.’”

So, God is responsible for sending COVID-19 our way. Now that’s a reason to worship that god. I am working on my first prayer, which I have entitled “Prayer to a Genocidal God.”

March 18, 2020

Can Software Be Conscious?

Filed under: Morality,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 11:55 am
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This was a question addressed at a conclave of philosophers, software developers, and their ilk, but I think this is the wrong question. I think the question is can a “computer” be conscious, with the word “computer” standing in for some combination of hardware and software.

A major leg up on being “conscious” is being self aware. Researchers devised the mirror test to see if animals recognized their reflections as themselves or as another animal or at all. I don’t know if this test really tests for that and I do not know whether any other animal has “passed” this test, but it does show the importance being placed upon being self aware by consciousness researchers.

Now, let me begin my argument with a thought experiment. In my sport we depend a great deal on proprioception, which is the awareness of where our body parts are in space. For example, you can pick up a glass of water, close your eyes, and take a drink from that glass with no problem. We “know” where our hand is and we can feel the glass in it and we “know” where our mouth is and we don’t need to be “talked down” (a la every airplane crisis movie ever made) to delivering that load where it is intended.

This ability is not obvious to us, but any disruption of it results in quite some confusion. For example, if you get an injection of a pain killer in a gum for some dental work and part of your tongue goes numb, don’t expect to be able to talk and be understood until that anesthetic wears off. The position of our tongue in our mouth is necessary information for being able to form sounds.

Another sense we suffer from losing is our sense of balance. If you have ever had extreme vertigo, you will know what I mean. But if we have a stuffed up nose from a cold or other, we seem to get by quite adequately without a sense of smell.

Now, as to the thought experiment. You are lying on a bed and you lose your senses, one by one. First, you lose your sense of sight, which means full “fade to black,” not just what you can still see when you close your eyes. Then your sense of smell, then hearing, then touch, then taste, finally your sense of balance, then proprioception. You cannot feel the bed under you or the breeze blowing in the window or hear the birds chirping outside.

This why the science fiction trope of having a brain in a jar doesn’t work. How long do you think you could remain sane in this state? You couldn’t even scream for help. It is questionable that you would even be able to vocalize.

Software does not have “sensory input” without hardware. And, it seems that we are rapidly developing sensory inputs for computers. A common theme of news commentaries is face recognition software, which is, of course dependent upon video feeds as “sensory input.” An article headline in this week’s Science News is “An AI that mimics how mammals smell recognizes scents better than other AI.” AI stands for artificial intelligence or “super-duper computer.” Computers, for quite some time have had the ability to monitor the temperature of their CPU’s and can tell you if they are experiencing a “fever.”

It is not a big stretch of imagination that if we continue to add “senses” to computers and allow those computers to monitor their sensory inputs, we will have a much greater likelihood that one of those AIs will become self aware.

Now, I am sure that some people will argue that these computers will only be simulating self awareness or some other such construct, but since I do not see that we fully understand our own self awareness, how we could build machines that would have self awareness exactly the same as we do. Nor do I see that that is a necessary condition. Self awareness is self awareness, no matter the mechanism.

I have read science fiction and fantasy for at least 60 years and have read more than a few stories about self aware “computers” and what they are capable of, including feeling something akin to death when they are “turned off.” In the latest season of the show “Altered Carbon” on Netflix, the main protagonist’s AI does want to perform a reboot even though he is glitching up a storm because he doesn’t want to lose memories which are precious to him. Apparently recorded memories are just not the same as “real” ones. A major step along this path, a path that leads to self aware “computers,” “AIs,” and whatnot is providing what can stand in for senses and internal monitoring of those senses. We seem to be barreling down this path at great speed, so I think this may happen in the next 50 years, if not sooner.

 

 

February 19, 2020

Whoa! Really … Whoa!

An article in the most recent issue of Scientific American had this title and subtitle: Will Past Criminals Reoffend? Humans Are Terrible at Guessing, and Computers Aren’t Much Better A new study finds algorithms’ predictions are slightly superior but not under all circumstances

I don’t give a rat’s ass about the predictability of recidivism. Even if we had perfect predictions, what would we do with those predictions? Keep someone in jail because our AI says that he is just going to go out and commit another crime? Is it no longer “three strikes and you are out?” Is it is one strike and a computer’s say so?

So, a person gets picked up for littering or vagrancy and the judge was feeling grumpy and sentences them to a month in county jail. Then the counties AI says there is a 100% chance this guy will go out and commit another crime. Then what? Then fucking what?

Why is any one investigating this ability? Are we going to go all in with precogs like in the Tom Cruise movie The Minority Report?

Where are the small government people screaming to get the government out of our lives? Is this another situation like the anti-abortion people being also pro-death penalty? Life is sacred until somebody pisses me off? We’re in favor of small government except. . . .

Does anyone seriously want this ability?

December 29, 2019

The Fly in the Ointment

I read recently an article about how Amazon.com is creating many, many small businesses to deliver their goods. Amazon originally used USPS, UPS, and FedEx and the like as their delivery agents and negotiated their prices down, down, down but reached a limit of those services which pay their employees fairly well and treat them fairly well. (Trust me, I had a brother in law who worked for UPS and UPS is not a saintly organization. It is just that their jobs weren’t “shit jobs.” Their employees had pension plans, healthcare, decent wages, unions, etc.)

Amazon is creating little entrepreneurs to Uberize the delivery business.

Amazon also squeezes its own employees terrifically for better performance but not for higher wages. For example, Whole Foods, an Amazon subsidiary, announced it would be cutting medical benefits for its entire part-time workforce. The annual saving to Amazon from this cost-cutting move is roughly what Bezos – whose net worth is $110 billion – makes in two hours.

Does the man deliberately cultivate the aura of a Bond villain?

Amazon’s commercials aside about how wonderful some of its employees think the company is, the number of stories of employee abuse hasn’t declined much. And, Amazon raised the wages of its base employees only under considerable pressure from outside.

Now, as Americans, we believe that businesses should be “free” to run their businesses any way they want (within some rough standards of practice, outlined in the law) but the question I am asking here is “To what end?”

I ask, “Why does Amazon need to lower its employee costs, lower its shipping costs?” The “old Amazon” made Jeff Bezos the richest man in the world. He can’t move any higher on that list. So, why are these practices necessary? So Mr. Bezos can make even more money when he cannot possibly spend the wealth he has accumulated so far? Please recall that to spend one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000) one has to spend $532,000 per hour of every business day for an entire year. In just one morning or afternoon, this amounts to as much money as I earned in just under 40 years of working as a college chemistry professor. And Mr. Bezos has in excess of a hundred times that much accumulated wealth at this point.

This is the core problem of capitalism. There are no limits placed upon greed.

Mr. Bezos, like Costco, could settle in and provide high quality jobs for his employees (and reap the loyalty that invokes) and provide quality goods for his customers and make money hand over fist for decades if not longer. But he is not, he is squeezing the system so that more and more money oozes out of the top and into his pockets.

I have come to agree with Bernie Sanders in that a democratic republic such as ours cannot tolerate billionaires. Wealth taxes (such as inheritance taxes and new ones) need to reduce the fortunes of these greedy SOBs. I know this is intolerable to the greedy class but I can’t feel pity for someone whose wealth is limited to the mere hundreds of millions.

Oh, and the right to do this? The right is called self-protection. In this country money is power. People like Bezos and Bill Gates have acquired way too much power for the good of the system. We all have to concede some of our individual rights for the good of the collective whole. This is one of those.

And if you think such a thing is antithetical to capitalism . . . you are just wrong. Consider the case of the capitalist state of . . . Finland.

November 7, 2019

Morality and Manners

Filed under: language,Morality,Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 7:40 am
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I frequent the Quora site and since I am interested in atheism, I see the question “If you don’t believe in God, how can you be moral?” and its many variants over and over and over (and . .  over . .  <sigh>). . . . This “question” is more of a statement than a question and is usually categorized as a “Gotcha Question,” right up there with “If God is all-powerful can He make a rock even He cannot lift, Father?”

An interesting variant of this question showed up this morning in the form of “Atheists, do you respect other people’s beliefs though you yourself do not believe in a deity? It is morally right to respect people’s beliefs, right?

The obvious answer is “no;” respecting other’s beliefs has nothing to do with morality. Consider Hitler’s profound belief that Jews were abominable and were to be exterminated. But then I realized that the questioner hadn’t used the best words available for his question. I believe he meant to say “Atheists, do you respect other people’s religious beliefs though you yourself do not believe in a deity?” Just because others often compound ordinary beliefs with religious beliefs, we should not fall so easily into that trap. If this is the intended question, and it seems to be, then the Hitler example is not all that good, although one could make an argument that the hatred of Jews was promulgated by Christianity. So, how about another example, how about Pope Urban II? Around the year 1095, he gave a speech calling for armies to embark on a crusade to the Holy Lands to take back Jerusalem from Muslim rule. Between 1096 and 1291, this speech was the impetus for eight major expeditions into the “Holy Lands” where untold numbers of unspeakable acts of savagery resulted in 200 years of bloodshed, and more than 1.7 million deaths. Should I respect old Urban’s belief that Christians are the rightful rulers of Jerusalem as opposed to the Jews who were there first or the Muslims, who were in possession of it at the time, both of whom are partial “rulers” of that city today?

I think there are many religious beliefs that are less mainstream that most people would find it difficult if not impossible to respect: any Scientology belief, for example.

Another immediate thought I had was it should be good manners to strive to understand someone else’s belief before adopting an opinion on that belief and to not just dismiss it out of hand. And, then . . . manners . . . manners? Why are there no questions regarding how we can have manners without God? Why are their no Christian manners? Surely manners are on the same spectrum with ethics and morality. Even if it were not immoral to covet one’s neighbor’s spouse, surely it would be bad manners? Aren’t manners intended to help us live together amicably, just like ethics and morals?

And where did manners come from when there isn’t a peep about them in the holy scriptures? Surely manners couldn’t have been created by people and, ugh, be like, you know, subjective and everything.

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