Does the Left Appeal to Guilt as Opposed to Principles?

http://thestarphoenix.com/…/column-why-not-rewrite-the-enti…

Gormley’s article (see link above) is a satirical piece pressing home the point that people need to chill with all the engineering of society through language. For example, there are people who want to change the New Testament so it doesn’t say “Jesus sits at the right hand of the father” because it alienates left handed people. These social justice warriors are well-intentioned people but they:

1). Mistake their own sense of personal indignancy as the standard by which all others should measure what is socially acceptable or unacceptable. The identity wing of the political left definitely shares some behaviors and attitudes consistent with ‘benevolent’ authoritarian regimes.

2). They assume that nuances or any semblance of tradition cannot continue to exist because it reflects white male patriarchy.

I confess I understand what they want to achieve but their activity makes me fearful because good people are afraid to disagree with them since no one wants to appear to be bigoted or prejudiced; whereas if I disagree with them I might, in fact, be reasonable and justified in doing so.

Advertisements

The Continued Influence of Ancient Greece

Belief in the “supernatural ” belongs to a “bygone era” (along with the belief in ghosts or that ideas exist outside of mind.) The very act of entertaining the existence of ghosts reflects the continued influence of pre-scientific, mythological thinking on the present; and despite the privileged position reason, logic and science currently occupy, Western culture appears incapable of entirely shedding its ancient skin, e.g. we still call our galaxy the Milky Way even though no one believes in the existence of the goddess Hera; while continuing to entertain the idea of mind-body dualism despite advances in neuroscience which quite satisfactorily describe consciousness—“ideas” if you will—as an emergent quality born out of the complex physical workings of the human brain. There is still a minority of neuroscientists who entertain the notion consciousness implies that the sum of the brain’s parts alone do not satisfactorily explain consciousness; nevertheless, this is a minority position and the neuroscience community appears to have made peace with the fact a physical explanation agrees with observation. Or to invoke Ockham’s Razor the mechanistic explanation definitely makes far fewer assumptions than the idealist explanation does.

So, no brain? No ideas. Yet, an argument can be made ideas potentially exist, i.e. ‘truth’ and ‘beauty’ do not exist “out there” as in some sort of Platonic form; however, it is quite reasonable to suppose—and I’ve heard various philosophers and scientists seriously consider this hypothesis—that once an appropriate mechanism evolves (like the brain, for example) consciousness and then ideas inevitably follow. So, in a sense, ideas exist independent of mind as something potential rather than actual; they just need a host in the same sense a bow needs an archer to pull the string.

Why do people continue to entertain beliefs in things like soul, spirit, idealism, mind-body dualism though? There are a combination of factors but I would appeal first and foremost to Thomas Paine’s explanation, i.e. the long habit of thinking a thing true gives it the superficial appearance of being right.

People have thought these things exist or are true for so long the culture has literally succumbed to a sort of organic or inherited “argument from antiquity”. The reason you appear to even entertain idealism (and by extension mind-body dualism) is Western culture–to which you belong–was shaped considerably by Hellenistic thought. From the Greeks we inherited some useful ways of looking at the world and some not so useful. For example, from the rationalist Thales we inherit the idea that we can explain what happens in the natural world (like a volcano erupting or lightning striking) by appealing to natural causes (or mechanisms) rather explaining these things by saying Hephaestus or Zeus are angry. We also inherited the assumption that souls, spirit and mind exist independent of the body. Plato, as I mentioned previously, even went so far as to claim, as you’ve entertained, ideas exist “out there” objectively and that the so-called “mind’s eye” perceived them. The problem with idealism, souls, gods, mind-eyes, etc. is there’s no reason (no evidence) to suppose any of it reflects the way the world actually works. Gods, etc. were all constructed from common sense deductions—based on the assumptions of the time—that offered a pseudo-scientific explanation satisfying the ancient Greeks. Nobody told the inheritors of Greeks (us), however, that not only could we drop belief in gods but also assumptions about souls and objective ideas, as well.

 

Thinking Critically About History

The study of history is sometimes just a straight-forward re-telling of events; yet, no matter how straight-forward we think a historical narrative is we still have to be willing to think critically about what we are reading, discussing or thinking. In order to think critically about history, we need to make a few assumptions about our knowledge:

  1. Our knowledge is always incomplete. No historical narrative includes every single important or necessary detail.
  2. We often think we know more than we actually do. Frequently we believe we know something but the confidence we have isn’t supported by the available evidence.
  3. We are what we think about. The thoughts we have and the values we hold are a reflection of the experiences we have had and the ones we have not had.

We are going to investigate three important aspects (or problems) related to the study of history: the first is the problem of omission; the second is the problem of anachronism; and the third is the creation and interpretation of historical models.

 

The Problem of Omission
When we omit (leave out) people or events from history—whether intentional or not—we change the impression people have of what happened. Obviously, just because we leave out an action does not change the fact that action occurred. History, in this sense, is an objective thing.[1] Yet, when history is written down it becomes a subjective[2] thing. Thus, the quality or trustworthiness of a historical narrative depends to a great degree upon the values, assumptions and abilities of the individual historian. The role women played during both the medieval and Renaissance periods is frequently ignored. Historians of either period tended to focus on the accomplishments of men like kings, merchants, bankers, popes and knights. By omitting the actions of women in history the false impression that they did nothing or were unimportant is created. The achievements and contributions of various minorities has definitely been either understated or ignored altogether by most historians until relatively recently.[3]

The Problem of Anachronism
The problem of omission largely creates unintended errors when it comes to historical interpretation. Anachronism, on the other hand, either reflects the historical writer’s ignorance or a particular subject or a deliberate attempt to deceive. An anachronism is a chronological inconsistency where two things, e.g. a technology, an idea, material, plant or animal, etc. from two different time periods are presented as though they existed at the same time. For example, there are some people who believe dinosaurs and human beings lived at the same time. Some people go so far as to say humans actually placed saddles on velociraptors and rode dinosaurs like they were horses. The fact is there is no evidence of either human/dinosaur (they are separated by approximately 65 million years of history). Also, the saddle was not actually invented until around 365 CE by Sarmations. Anachronisms do not typically affect general histories so much as make primary sources or documents untrustworthy that historians use to construct those narratives.

Model Dependent Realism
We are natural born story tellers: we have developed some interesting ways of interpreting what we see and experience. In 1700 BCE the Babylonians saw what they believed to be divine displeasure whenever eclipses occurred. For this reason Babylonian priests conducted elaborate rituals to appease their gods Tiamat and Abzu. Comets have always evoked fear and superstition. Their occasional appearance disturbingly challenged the notion of an unalterable and divinely ordered universe. The ancients deduced comets were there for a reason: they were harbingers of disaster, indications of divine wrath—foretelling the deaths of princes, the fall of kingdoms. We no longer look at eclipses as some sort of sign of divine displeasure. We have a different model or way of understanding cosmic events. Specifically, we are scientific now in our thinking explaining things now not by appealing to the will of the gods but to material forces and causes like gravity.

In terms of history, the model medieval historians came up with was dividing time up into a period of darkness (all the time before Jesus’ birth) and a time of light (all the time after Jesus’ resurrection). Renaissance historians divided time up into three distinct time periods, e.g. the ancient world, the dark ages (or Middle Ages) and the Renaissance (or their present) in the 15th century. Interestingly, the people who lived during the Renaissance period did not actually use this word. Instead, the term Renaissance was applied by French 19th century historians to describe a period of cultural renewal that took place in Europe between the 15th and 18th centuries. Models are not really a problem, only that, it is important to be aware of the role they play in both our interpretation and telling of history. Specifically, we could create, and we have created, many equally valid models to interpret the meaning and significance of history.

_________________

[1] If something is objective it is completely independent of belief; it is something that stands on its own merit and cannot be erased through either unbelief or ignorance.

[2] If something is subjective the truth of that thing is at least in part dependent upon belief, assumptions or it is subject to interpretation.

[3] The situation has largely been rectified with the present’s greater emphasis placed upon describing the role of sociological forces as opposed to focusing mainly upon political histories or the deeds of “Great Men”.

American Healthcare

The majority of Republicans don’t believe you should be required to pay into healthcare, or buy insurance, if you are young and/or healthy. This is an absurd way of looking at insurance.

Think of it this way: in rural Tennessee there was a fellow who forgot to pay for fire protection. So when his home started on fire the fire department arrived with one purpose–to prevent the fire from spreading to the man’s neighbors who had paid for fire protection. The man begged and pleaded for fire protection services to put out the blaze but they refused. He didn’t pay the fee.

You don’t buy insurance because you’re house is currently on fire any more than you pay taxes to pay for police protection services only when your home is in the act of being broken into. The whole premise of insurance is to have some capacity to deal with adversity, obstacles and problems, etc. in the future.

When it comes to healthcare you might not be sick now but odds are you’ll eventually, we’ll all eventually, make use of it; it makes some intuitive sense then to have everyone pay into insurance so we can pool our collective wealth avoiding such things as:

  • Bankrupting families who have to sell homes, cars, cash in assets, etc. to pay for exorbitant health care costs in order to seek treatment. When I was younger I had a number of medical procedures to determine whether or not I had cancer. These procedures would’ve cost me thousands of dollars (money I would not have had in my early 20s). Luckily I was born in Canada so I paid nothing for any of these procedures.
  • Pushing the elderly out of healthcare because a good proportion of them are stuck on a fixed income. My mother died of lung cancer in 1998. The various procedures to detect and attempts at treating the disease would’ve bankrupted my family; however, we paid nothing, not a cent for her treatment (and yes we did pay something, we paid taxes over time, and consequently we were able to worry about just caring for my mom in her last days instead of paying for her care).
  • Needlessly forcing young people off of their parent’s insurance plans, i.e. even young and apparently healthy people can suddenly grow sick.

I’ve met a number of Americans, particularly ones in their 20s, who were forced into the following gamble: don’t buy insurance this year so I can pay for that car or student loan. They gamble with the fact that cancer and a host of other illnesses do not discriminate and frequently appear as though out of nowhere. Why gamble in this way when it isn’t even necessary? There are, ironically, more cost-effective and productive approaches to healthcare than the private insurance Americans appear to love so much.

So, while there are some legitimate criticisms of a universal healthcare system like Canada or England has, e.g. long wait times, the use of older technology in diagnosis and treatment, etc. Canada’s system is far more efficient than whatever the heck America has had. Specifically, Canada has longer wait times because everyone–even homeless people–can access the healthcare system. (With that said, people who are seriously ill do not wait but are fast-tracked to the front so they can receive emergency treatment. Yet, no system is perfect, sometimes people do get overlooked…but far fewer compared to the millions of Americans who had no healthcare whatsoever prior to Obamacare.) The only reason you don’t find these longer wait times in the United States, historically speaking, is because private insurance systems naturally keeps millions of people out of the system because of cost. People who can’t afford insurance don’t make use of insurance or related health services. Good system? Stupid system.

In a meeting with all 52 senators at the White House today, President Trump argued that single payer (or the American equivalent of universal healthcare) doesn’t work because it would cost more money than would be taken in. I beg to differ. Canada, Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Finland, Belgium, etc. all  have universal healthcare systems (or socialized healthcare) and these countries are doing fine. Healthcare outcomes in these countries are much better than what Americans experience by comparison. Why can’t some Americans see this?

If you bombard people with a trope like “universal healthcare doesn’t work” or “socialized medicine” doesn’t work enough, you can convince people through shear repetition that it doesn’t work. The thing is the American free-market approach, or placing profit over people, doesn’t work compared to what other G20 countries do (you can Google “healthcare comparison outcome” and you’ll find article after article backing up what I’m saying here).

Ideology and political culture. Free market fundamentalism is an ideology that’s alive and well in the United States despite being discredited by not delivering what it promises to do, e.g. trickle down economics. American political culture is prevents a lot of people from seeing socialism as a living option, i.e. people have been pounded and pounded with anti-socialist, pro-free market tropes, since they were young they cannot tell the difference between liberal socialism and authoritarian communism. Also, it would be difficult to establish a centralized system in a country like America because the United States, historically speaking, has purposely set up a system where individual states are preserved from interference from the federal government. A country like Canada, therefore, which has a strong central government was, and is, able to do things more seamlessly than America. This doesn’t mean you cannot establish a single system for America; it just means there’s an additional hurdle in the American context.

Some Thoughts About the Left

Never has there been an example in history where an ideology (or a group of ideologues) say to themselves: we’ve gone far enough, no further, e.g. identity politics, political correctness, etc. just like National Socialism or communism in the 20th century have a certain grim logic to them that seems to escape its adherents, e.g. when I use the phrase “Boy, it sure is hot out here” and feminists consider the usage of the word “boy” a form of micro-aggression, I think it’s safe to say we are living in a society that has more in common with Orwell’s “1984” than the Canada Baldwin/Lafontaine’s envisioned or the America Jefferson/Lincoln envisioned.

Watch the video below before continuing on.

I suppose this is what Hegel alluded to when he observed history is composed of paradigm pendulum swings where conservatism is ascendant for a time, then the paradigm swings the other way and liberalism becomes fashionable, and so on and so forth. This new “liberalism” isn’t liberalism though; it’s a pseudo-liberalism that smells more like a secular religion than a political philosophy, e.g. if you go back centuries the Catholic Church tried to engineer society by controlling what thoughts and ideas and expressions its adherents used to help save them from hellfire. The politically correct crowd is equally well-intentioned when it comes to “saving” people from oppression it seems; it is something if not ironic that in an effort to combat oppression the political left has become oppressive itself. I abandoned the left primarily for this reason and gladly occupy the center. I’m hoping more people will join me there going forward.

Take heart: maybe liberals will be reminded that everyone is entitled to intellectual freedom, expression, etc….even those they disagree with or the ones who promote unpopular views. You don’t fight terrible ideas by turning your back and not listening or outlawing them from being expressed; you fight lousy ideas by coming up with better ones and communicating them rationally.

We Are Our Minds

We are our minds and they’re all we can offer to others. This might not be obvious, especially when there are things in life needing improvement, e.g. unrealized goals or relationships in need of attention. But it’s the truth. Every experience you have ever had has been shaped by your mind and every relationship is as good or as bad as it is because of the minds involved. If you are perpetually angry, depressed, confused, and unloving, or your attention is elsewhere, it won’t matter how successful you’ve become or who is in your life–you won’t enjoy any of it. Not a single thing.

Everything we want to accomplish–to get in better shape, write a book, travel, make a career change–is something that promises if we do it fulfillment; but this is a false hope: most of us spend our time seeking happiness and security without acknowledging the underlying purpose of such a search: each of us is looking for a path back to the present (we are trying to find reasons to be satisfied now).

Why is it I can appreciate this at an abstract level but fail to implement it at the practical? Given enough time, I suppose, our mental software can be modified to a certain extent (despite the determinism of that blasted limbic system I inherited from my forebears).

Perhaps the most important realization I’ve had in all of this is my need to feel connected and be part of a community (and to contribute to the well being of that community). I learned this when I participated in an urban outreach program while in Washington, D.C. a few years ago but forgot the lesson for some reason. I’ve spent the better part of the last five years pretending to be a human being; it’s time to actually become one in the fullest sense of the word and quit seeing myself through the eyes of others.

So I was Talking to Wittgenstein the Other Day…

I walked up to the great German philosopher Wittgenstein and observed, “What a bunch of morons the people of the Middle Ages must have been to have looked every morning at the dawn and to have thought what they were seeing was the sun going around the earth. But every school kid knows the earth goes around the sun and it doesn’t take too many brains to understand that.”

Wittgenstein responded: “I wonder what it would have looked like if the sun was indeed going around the earth.”

The point is the dawn would have looked exactly the same. We see what our knowledge tells us to see; what you think the universe is, and how you react to that along with everything you do, depends entirely on what you know; and when that knowledge changes, for you the universe changes; and that is as true for the whole of society as it is for the individual—we all are what we know today. What we knew yesterday was different and so were we.

This is humbling if you understand the implications. If you don’t understand, then it’s probably just nonsense.