Uncommon Sense

January 18, 2022

Why All the Bullshit?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 10:37 am

Why all of the bullshit? We seem to unavoidably create imaginary realms and then claim that we have lost contact with them: Mount Olympus, the Elysian Fields, Heaven, Plato’s land of absolutes, the spiritual realm, etc.

I was reading a post on Medium that included the following:

“All human beings are descendants of tribal people who were spiritually alive, intimately in love with the natural world, children of Mother Earth. When we were tribal people, we knew who we were, we knew where we were, and we knew our purpose. This sacred perception of reality remains alive and well in our genetic memory. We carry it inside of us, usually in a dusty box in the mind’s attic, but it is accessible.” – John Trudell

and

I think it is unfortunately true that we have lost touch with the sacred dimension in ourselves, in nature and the cosmos, and I agree that that one fact empties life of its meaning as well as its mysterious beauty (emphasis mine).

How Mr. Trudell knew this about us when we were “tribal” I shall set aside for now, but human experience explains much of this. As a primitive people, having little knowledge of the world around us, we experienced death of people close to us. So, an understanding of death came to us. It fit right in with the deaths of plants and animals all around us and made the point that we were part of the totality of existence. (“We are one with nature, Grasshopper.”) Then we experienced the loss of a loved one and receive visitations from that loved one over and over, in our dreams. That we construct our own dreams from memory and imagination was not knowledge available at the time, so it appeared that our loved one was still alive, but when we woke in the morning or abruptly at night, they were not there with us, so they must be somewhere else. Our vivid dreams gave us the impression that those we knew were dead were still alive and since they were not here, our wishful thinking had us believing they were elsewhere. If memory serves, at one point the Celts believed that when we died, we went to another realm, and lived there much as we lived here, and when we died there, we were transported back here (lather, rinse, repeat).

In that same post, the author goes on to say “Underneath the cluttered surface of our minds lies another dimension, one that animals and nature live in without struggle.” Apparently this person is so divorced from nature as to not know that struggle is an integral part of all animal’s lives. In my last home in California, it was very quiet where we lived (out in the boondocks, as it were) and occasionally, as we were falling asleep we could hear what sounded like screams, which were the initial cries of rabbits being eaten alive by coyotes and foxes. All predators eat their prey, often before their prey has died. This hardly describes a “another dimension, one that animals and nature live in without struggle.”

Is this just a case of the world not being as we like it so we invent another, much like C.S. Lewis’s “Boxen” a land inhabited and ruled by animals? If one found relationships with humans difficult, one could retreat to a place where humans were not in charge?

I understand this being the response of a child in that I experienced this myself. But do we not put away childish things when we become adults?

Apparently not.

January 11, 2022

Hey Kyrie, Do Your Effing Research!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 12:05 pm

NBA superstar Kyrie Irving is refusing to get vaccinated against the COVID viruses and so is in the interesting position of not being allowed to play in his games in his home stadium, due to a city law. He is allowed to play in most of the road games his team has scheduled but for most of the first half of this season, the team sat him down and did not even attempt to play him. They did, however, pay him half of his salary for not playing! (I want that job! Can I have that job? I am an expert at not playing!) Now that they has struggled a little bit, the team  has decided that Kyrie playing half of their remaining games might not be so bad.

Mr. Irving has stated that he has done “his own research” and finds the vaccines are not safe and he will not take them. Some of his research, apparently, is based upon comments by Joe Rogan, a comedian. The rest being from the Internet, one assumes, as the likelihood that Mr. Irving went to a university library, the Mayo Clinic, or some other kosher source of information is quite slim.

But, I have some “more” research Mr. Irving could do.

The group of people who could provide the most pertinent information regarding the safety of the vaccines for him would be professional athletes, like Mr. Irving. Professional basketball players, playing at the highest level of the sport would be perfect. In September the National Basketball Association reported that over 90% of the 600 players then associated with teams were vaccinated. Some of those didn’t make the opening day rosters, so call it 500 players like Mr. Irving and if 90% of those were vaccinated (don’t worry Kyrie, I’ll do the math) then there are 450 men just like you, Kyrie, who have taken the vaccines. So, do your research! Ask around. How many of those had an adverse reaction? How many died from taking the vaccine? How many claim they lost their jobs because of the vaccine? You could do a social media poll since it seems most of that cohort participate in that activity. Or you could ask the NBA Player’s Association which has a fiduciary obligation to look after its members.

Or you could just hurt your team by getting paid to do nothing, probably now getting full checks on home games in which you are not even allowed in the stadium. Go for it man. They can widen the doors to allow your ego into the stadium.

Hey, maybe you can get Joe Rogan to do the research for you.

January 1, 2022

We Need to Fix Capitalism . . . Now!

Capitalism is quite flawed, but so are all of the other economic/political systems. Some countries have been good at reining capitalism’s excesses . . . this country isn’t one of those.

As I have said, often enough, capitalism’s Achilles’ Heel is that it doesn’t place any limits whatsoever upon greed. I suggest that a good start at reining in the greed woven into the warp and woof of capitalism is to eliminate speculation. There is no inherent good associated with speculation, although there are many associated evils in it; for example, people try over and over to manipulate prices, markets, whatever to make their speculations pay off, legally and illegally. Those are not what might be classified as productive labors.

We need to eliminate speculation as something that doesn’t contribute anything to our society, nor does it contribute anything to individuals. It is a form of gambling, pure and simple.

There is something called the “futures markets” in which prices are set now for sales that will take place in the future for various commodities. The buyers are hoping the prices go up and they will get a deal when that sale is triggered and the sellers are hoping the prices are going to go down, so they will get a fatter price for their goods. In an ideal world this process helps to moderate price changes, but in the world we live in, it is just another form of gambling.

The stock markets are dominated by secondary sales, making the story about the role of such markets in our economy we are taught in school to be a very, very minor form of providing capital for businesses. Instead these markets are very close to just being casinos where rich people gamble.

Let me explain how these capitalistic devices have taken over. If you go to the store and buy, say, a shirt in most states you will pay a sales tax, up to almost 10% of the price of the item (although a small number of states charge nothing, but I think there are just five of those). But if you buy a share of stock, what “sales tax” to you pay? The answer is nada, zip, zilch, no tax at all. Some items, such as alcoholic beverages, include what used to be called “sin taxes.” Extra taxes are levied upon alcoholic beverages to discourage their consumption (Get behind me, Demon Rum!). We do the same for gasoline in which there are substantial taxes, both federal and state, paid and then sales taxes added on top of those! We could do the same for stock transactions. This would discourage speculation, certainly the practice of buying a stock and selling in when its price went up a few cents, often just seconds or minutes after the buying transaction. (Amazing what you can do with computers!) If the profits from the sale didn’t cover the sales taxes, those sales wouldn’t be made.

Plus people who buy and sale and trade stocks contribute nothing to our society. Extensive studies show that stock markets are actually a drag on our economy (they extract funds from the economy without producing anything in exchange). We, at least, need to slow their roll.

Currently we have a patent system, a flawed system but it works . . . kind of, sort of. Drug companies have become adept at acquiring patents and then jacking up the prices for the goods produced under those patents. A current example is insulin. One vial of insulin lispro (Humalog), which used to cost $21 in 1999, costs $332 in 2019, reflecting a price increase of more than 1000%. The cost of manufacturing that drug has barely changed over that same time period. We could change patent laws to prevent such abuses. “What the market will bear” is not a limit upon greed. These same pharmaceutical companies have also taken to making very, very (very!) minor changes in their drug’s formulations to apply for new patents, extending their “right” to make as much money as they want. Patents were supposed to, were designed to, expire so that those things end up belonging to the commonweal. Often the public has already paid to research that drug in the first place through public universities and federal institutions and research funding. The same thing is woven into our copyright laws with written works and others eventually ending up in the public domain.

We have tools to rein in greed in capitalism but the current greedy class has acquired so much wealth that they are blocking access to the political gears of government to make such reforms. If we do not act soon, it will be too late. The only result of extreme wealth inequality is armed strife.

December 10, 2021

The Demise of Our “Democracy”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 10:05 am

We don’t actually have a democracy (“of the people, by the people, for the people”) no matter what people say. What we have is a democratic republic, in which we elect people to represent us. So, why are we turning so fascistic of late? Fascism used to be a dirty word, used for the likes of Mussolini and Hitler.

Last night as I was falling asleep I remembered an episode in my life in which leadership was chosen. I was part of a small group, males and females, and I was standing somewhere toward the middle of the group as we excited a building when a threat to our safety occurred. The next thing I knew was that I was out in front of the group, chosen as leader by the feet of the others. All of the rest of the members of the group stepped back from threat and I had not. Let the tall white guy handle it was the “vote” (the other side of the benefits of being tall, white, and male). In times of stress, the vast majority of us do not want to be leaders. We want others to do that, to take the risks, to save us if needed, to anguish over the decisions.

I was always puzzled that when I was a teacher that teachers were constantly claiming that there was a lack of leadership. I didn’t notice any of my colleagues stepping up to fill that role, however. It was so bad that when hiring a new college president I urged our college community to come up with a plan or statement describing what we wanted to see happen, what we wanted the new “executive” officer to execute, but I got voted down because they wanted to see what the new president wanted to do. So, we were hiring a total stranger and were prepared to follow wherever she decides to lead? It was puzzling.

What I see now is that the vast majority of people want “strong leadership,” in the form of some thing or some one who will make good decisions, keep us safe, and help us grow. We don’t want to do that work or even have any part of it. We reserve the right to complain about how it is done, however.

I see many issues today, that people do not understand, but want someone else to make the hard calls, etc. The pandemic is one, climate change is another, etc. Unfortunately, demagogues are also in play. Even though we chose someone to lead, they reserve the right to oppose that leadership. Imagine a football team in which half of the defensive players want to play according one game plan and the other half want to play according to another. I can’t see such a team winning many games. But I do see players traded away for being disruptive, for being demagogic, for demonstrating behaviors that are anti-cohesive in the team. Unfortunately the current crop of demagogues either can’t be traded off or have developed audiences that pay for their efforts. So, they encourage people’s fascistic tendencies without providing them with effective leadership, while making a goodly amount of money (think of the prosperity gospel preachers as politicians and public people).

So, who benefits from this chaos, this dysfunction? Apparently the already filthy rich are making quite a haul from the current state of affairs and are defending their status quo tooth and nail. And I see no sign of them letting up any time soon.

I also don’t see any change in human nature any time soon. If people truly believed that “if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” it might be different. But they don’t and it isn’t.

“Give me that old-fashioned strong man,
Give me that old-fashioned strong man
An old-fashion strong man is good enough for me.”

Sing with me now!

The truly sad thing is that many people think Donald Trump is one of those old-fashioned strong men. A bully, but a coward, Mr. Trump wouldn’t last ten minutes in a real fight. So, he always gets others to do his fighting for him and his judgment of the quality of his others is pathetically lacking.

December 5, 2021

God is Perfection

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 8:34 am

Were you to ask any believer in one of the Abrahamic faiths whether or not their god was perfect, what answer would you expect? I would expect their answer would be “Yes!” The idea that one’s god embodies perfection did not begin with the Abrahamic faiths, nor was it limited to those.

“God is the perfect and eternal transcendent being that provides order, form, and purpose to the universe” A Summary of Plato’s position
“God is the single source of all perfection, in which all other things derive existence from.” A summary of Avicenna’s position, ca. 1000 AD, Muslim

Avicenna didn’t stop with saying the god the Muslims prayed to was perfect, but that it was also the source of all other perfections.

So, the question I ask is where can I observe a perfection, any perfection? I claim that such things do not exist in our universe. The idea of a perfect anything is a creation of human beings from a line of thinking about improvement. Anything can be made better at whatever task an object might be applied to. A dull knife can be sharpened. A plant can be hybridized to provide more fruit. Children can be raised to be better than if neglected. So “just okay” can become good, good can be made better, better can be made best, and best can be made . . . perfect. At least that is what our minds tell us, but that is just wishful thinking, not a conclusion based upon observation. Plato went so far as to invent a realm of perfect forms. Where is that realm? Apparently you can’t get there from here.

Again, if Allah is the source of all perfections, then we do not need Allah. (Thanks, Avicenna!) If these gods are “perfect” and perfect doesn’t exist in this universe, then these gods cannot exist in this universe. They must be elsewhere, maybe “somewhere beyond space and time.”

It was not atheists that invented the beyond space and time idea. Theists did that, because they were running out of places to stow their god. And if that wasn’t enough they redefined their god to be “the ground of all being,” whatever that means. Does anyone actually worship the ground of all being? I wonder.

We are wasting a great deal of time and energy on these old gods. There is a place we put old gods, the realm of myth, and it is high time we dispatched the current batch of gods to that realm and got down to delineating the actual tasks that gods supposedly performed. If it is not some god doing this, then what is is the operative question.

If I cannot observe God, then it is not within the scope of reason, and not really worth thinking about. A summary of David Hume’s position, 1750

October 20, 2021

How Do You Recognize that Something is Artificial?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 10:21 am

There is a fair amount of misunderstanding when it comes to the word “artificial.” It is considered a negative term by advertisers so they use it that way. The same is true for the word “chemicals.” In fact the word chemical is so toxic that one sunscreen producer declared their product to be “chemical free.”

The word chemical is short for chemical substance. Chemical substances are the elements and compounds. I suppose you have heard the phrase “all things are made of atoms,” well atoms make up the elements and compounds and, as such, everything is therefore made of chemicals. That sunscreen was made of chemicals, our food is made of chemicals, in fact we are made of chemicals . . . and nothing else. The only way for that bottle to be “chemical free” is to be completely empty, and by that I mean the air would have to be sucked out of it, too, because the air is made of chemicals.

I am sure George Carlin could do a better job of addressing bad words (for advertisements), but I will soldier on.

Back to the word artificial. If I were to hand you a common object, would you be able to tell whether it was “natural” or “artificial”? I am going to assume you would answer “yes” and indeed you’d be right. Most people make this distinction easily. So, were I to hand you a stopwatch, you would say artificial. If I were to hand you a rock, you would say natural. If I were to hand you a bonsai tree, you would say that this is a more complex object. The container is clearly artificial but the tree in it started as something natural but then was reshaped by human hands to be as it appears now, so it is a natural object, reshaped artificially.

The word “artificial” means created by artifice, or art, or craft, or skill of a human being. If I say natural, then it is something produced by nature. The line between these two terms has been blurred because we have used artifice to change nature. Artichokes started out as thistles. Corn ears were quite tiny before we started tinkering with them. And through the artifice of man, we have changed these natural things to make them as they are now. So, clearly butter is artificial as there are no butter trees in nature to pluck it from, and peanut butter, ditto. These things have had the word “natural” slapped upon them because for marketing purposes, that word always helps sell the product. The people who made margarine, an artificial butter, got in a crossfire because on one side the defenders to butter, real butter, made claims that butter was natural and margarine was not. Both are artificial as you can see now.

Now, where am I going with this, you ask?

There is an argument that the Christian god must exist, because otherwise who created all of this? A wooden stool, clearly artificial, has a creator. (Correct.) A saucepan has a creator. (Correct.) So the trees and rainbows and mountains must have had a creator also, no?

No.

One of the clear signs of something being crafted are tool marks. In old log cabins, you can still see where an axe was used to shape the logs so as to fit together to make walls and whatnot. In iron implements made on a forge, you can still see hammer marks.

Of course a stool, made of multiple wood parts, cleverly stuck together, one can see something that no tree could pull off on its own. If there were screws or nails in that stool, those would be indicators of a creator, an artificer who made that stool.

Now a rock shows no such tool marks. But a large piece of stone can be reshaped into a statue of a human being, sanded smooth to perfection. The statue is, identical to the rock in composition, but if you look close you will find tool marks. Plus, no one has ever found a perfect statue of anything and claimed it had been made naturally, with no input from man.

So, why are theists still making the argument that the Earth and the rest of the universe must have been created, therefore there must be a creator? School children can distinguish between what is created and what is natural quite soon. They also are known for making rainbows in the back yard with a garden hose. Such do not require magical beings to make.

I understand that theists desperately want to convince us atheists that their god is real, that their god exists. But they are playing a game they are quite ill prepared to win. It might be different if their apologists (defenders) supplied them with somewhat valid arguments, but that hasn’t happened, which leads many of us to assume they have no better arguments, nor do they have any valid evidence. (Nicholas Everitt, a professional philosopher, wrote a book called The Nonexistence of God, in which he took all of the philosophical arguments offered for the existence of the Abrahamic god, unpacked them, and found that they failed.)

As to evidence, we still have theists making arguments like “See the Grand Canyon? God.” and we respond “See the Grand Canyon? No god.” They say how can you look at all of the beauty in nature and not see God’s handiwork? And we respond “How can you look at all of the pain and suffering and disease in Nature and see your god’s handiwork?

Such efforts on the part of theists are misguided as they cannot do what they wish. I often see questions from theists made to atheists about why we attack their beliefs. Possibly because they keep flaunting their beliefs and making “reasoned arguments” through which they claim their beliefs are true. If they would stop making reasoned arguments (The Kalam, the Kalam!) we would stop responding. Especially because every reasoned argument put forth over the past few millennia has not stood up to examination, so why are they still using them? I suspect it is so professional apologists can continue to collect speaker’s fees from church organizations. In front of a philosophically untrained audience of believers, those discredited arguments sound pretty good.

Most of us atheists are atheists because we finally realized, after all of the indoctrination and whatnot, that what we see is artificial, the work of man, not some god. And, unless I am mistaken worshiping man-made things is idolatry, no?

October 2, 2021

I Was Wondering

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 11:10 am

The only way to be truly happy is to make others happy.
—William Carlos Williams

I was wondering what all of those other people were for.

Some think of them as just being customers. Others think of them as being committed voters for their political causes. Still others think of them as blinking idiots who are just wastes of skin.

Those “others” are causing climate change, devastating pollution, and all kinds of social problems. Were most of them to go away, say 99.9% of them, many of our problems would go away with them. Instead of having a global population of 7 billion people that we are struggling to feed, the population would be 7 million people who we could feed easily. There would be jobs for all who wanted to work and no opposition to automation or mechanization of production processes. There would be time for an overly-polluted planet to heal itself. There would be time to re-think our actions that led to this current state of affairs.

The problem is, of course, that “others” breed like rabbits. It would be just 10 doubling periods that would result in the global population being 7 billion again (assuming enough resources, etc.). Currently that global population doubling period is about 61 years, so this period would be 610 years. That should be ample time to fix human societies, no? And, if not, we don’t deserve to keep going.

Thanos was right; he just didn’t go far enough.

September 6, 2021

Without God Everything is Permitted . . . Nope

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 10:00 am

“Is something holy because the gods love it, or do they love it because it is holy?” Socrates’s asked this question in Plato’s Euthyphro (well Plato implied he did anyway). Basically it asks if something moral just because God says so, or does he say so because it is moral? The argument, of course, is that if God declares something to be moral because it just is, then God is not the source of morals, something else is. So, believers have to believe that whatever God says, goes and they cannot believe that morals stem from outside forces, outside of their god anyway.

Defenders of the Old Testament (aka Hebrew Bible—they are not the same by close enough) are often reduced to the opinion that if God did it, it must have been okay for this same reason. But recall the old canard against atheism: “Without God everything is permitted.” (Dostoyevsky) Actually it seems instead that with God everything is permitted.

But it’s worse than that. Not just that God’s every deed is permitted, but therefore in principle everything can be permitted. That destroys any idea that there are universal moral absolutes. This destroys the very moral certainty which believers imagine religion supplies.

Cleavon Little with Gun

If god did this, would it still be funny?

Again With the Sanctity of Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 9:41 am

The latest assault on Roe v. Wade coming from Texas and the Supreme Court has caught a few off-guard. (See what happens when you don’t pay attention?) Here’s just one comment that drew my eye:

Few political issues inflame passions so much as abortion. The issues of a woman’s right to bodily autonomy (for abortion-rights advocates) and the sanctity of life (for their opponents) are so elemental that scant room exists for compromise, conciliation, or cool analysis.

In order for these motives to be understood, I think it is important to unpack them. My dictionary defines sanctity as “ultimate importance and inviolability” for example, the sanctity of human life.” So, the abortion opponents are arguing from a position of the sanctity of human life. I think they need to re-examine that motive because they certainly do not believe that live is sacred (the other definition my dictionary supplied for sanctity is “the state or quality of being holy, sacred, or saintly”). If life were sacred then the lesson of “judge not lest you be judged” would stand and the death penalty wouldn’t exist.

By employing a religious argument, they tear at the very fabric of this country, which was designed to be a secular state in which people would be free to practice their religion as they saw fit. The people behind this Texas legislation, and their Supreme Court enablers, are trying to ensure that you will be free to follow the tenants of not your religion, but their religion, as they see fit.

If this stands, this country will crumble as dueling interest groups tear down what took so much blood, sweat, and tears to build.

August 29, 2021

The Corporate Takeover

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 10:40 am

What comes to mind when you read the words “the corporate takeover?” Maybe it is one corporation buying another. Microsoft was so famous for doing this that smaller companies had business models with the goal of being bought by Microsoft. Maybe you think of “private equity” firms taking over healthy corporations and stripping them of assets. Private equity is a euphemism for wealth from wealthy assholes, by the way.

But none of those is the topic of this post; small potatoes they are. I am talking about the corporate takeover of an entire culture, specifically that of the U.S.A.

Allow me to explain.

This country is current a plutocracy; it is run by the rich for the rich. The ranks of millionaires and billionaires has swollen over the past 50 years, and the bulk of these newly rich are . . . corporation executives.

These executives have the temerity to call themselves business leaders. Groups of them are invited to the White House to “advise” the President. Corporate bankers, like Jaime Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, assume they have access to the President on short order. Why is this so? What do they have to offer? They may know a fair amount about running their own companies but the broader issues are largely beyond their ken. (They have predicted exactly zero of the past ten recessions, for example.)

And leaders . . . really? Leaders of what? Certainly not of our communities or regions, or even sectors of the economy. These are the very same people who supported the bogus economic claim that a corporation’s only obligation was to enhance shareholder value. The executives glommed onto this idea because more and more they are paid in shares of their corporation’s stock. So, they used that “principle” (It isn’t a valid principle, but it is a principle.) to wean corporations off of their previous goal sets, which included goals directed at being good members of their community and to line their own pockets.

These people are leaders, sure, leading to the elimination of any competition their companies might face and toward greater and greater profits, no matter who they hurt. But anything else? Not hardly. The President would be better off inviting successful college football coaches to the White House. At least he might get some tips on making his team stronger. I suspect these “titans of industry” are invited only to keep them donating to the various campaigns of the politicians kissing their asses.

It was not that long ago (I was alive) that corporations had goals of providing good jobs, being a good member of their communities, etc. The CEO’s of companies did well economically but they didn’t become members of the plutocrat club. Corporations weren’t allowed to vote and didn’t have free speech rights. Their ability to make campaign donations was quite restricted. All of those aspects of corporations have gone by the wayside. The Powell Memo was the death knell of liberal democracy. It was a roadmap for the corporations to take possession of the American government system.

The first to cave in was the Republican Party, the GOP, or should I say the GQP, the political party that has conspiracy theories for a heart (Q-Anon, etc.). The Democrats, starting in the late 1970’s became the Corporate Democratic Party. The two together managed to pack the courts with distracters and corporate flunkies. If they aren’t supporting corporations over citizens, they are making decisions that rile up many, many people so that whatever the corporations are doing under and over the table is basically invisible.

The big question is: what are we going to do about this state of affairs? So far, we have adopted the stance of receiving a prostate exam. This is not very promising. Are we all so willing to trade in the American Dream for this corporatist nightmare, all for an iPhone 13? Is our price so low?

If you wonder why our lives are so chaotic and seemingly so small compared with the not too distant past, why our children face a future that promises they will be poorer than we were, the answer is corporatism, a plutocracy being run by rich corporation executives whose goal is to become personally richer than Midas, and to Hell with the rest of us. Wake up, people.

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