Friday, August 21, 2015

Thoughts on immigration

Upon reading this article on the Daily Kos, I found myself changing my mind about my next writing project. I had intended to write a piece for my blog on the admittedly esoteric philosophical question of whether a form of consensus secular ethics, "democratic ethics" if you will, could be established or whether moral/ethical questions really do become subjective in the absence of a uniform religion the way the religious right has begun to so frequently claim. I've now put a pin in that project to write on Know-Nothingism, scapegoating and the politics of immigration. Know-Nothingism has a long and rarefied tradition in American politics and it's important to understand the way Trump is tapping into this deep well of bitter political capital. It's something that everyone on the left needs to understand because it's one the issues on which a lot of Americans will really need to be educated.

The term "Know-Nothing" was originally a slur invented by political opponents of the so called "American Party", founded in various states in the 1840s. The term was used to attack them for the air of secrecy they cultivated. When asked about party activities, party candidates or party platforms before the actual campaigning started all party members were supposed to reply "I know nothing."

At various times known as "The Native American Party", "The American Republican Party" as well, their appeal was not at all secretive. Simply put, the Know-Nothings represented the deeply ingrained cultural and social prejudices of the wealthy WASP elite and the "Catholophobia" of the white protestant (not necessarily Anglo-Saxon) working class. Now Donald Trump isn't accusing illegal immigrants from Mexico of wanting to conquer the country for the Pope and convert the population by force the way the Irish were accused in their day. While most anti-Latino prejudice disguised as "immigration reform" appears to be focused on the fact that Hispanics "don't speak English" or are somehow "not white", it is an interesting coincidence that the modern Know-Nothings are also targeting a largely Catholic immigrant group in what appear to be the economic interests of the wealthy WASP elite. Donald Trump is absolutely the candidate of the wealthy WASP elite.

The economic side is simple: these people are a convenient source of cheap labor if the WASP elite is able to keep them subjugated and controlled. For Know-Nothings from the actual American Party in the 1840s-1860s to Nativist movements in the Republican (during and after WWI and WWII) and Democratic Parties (the southern, pro-KKK and lynching wing of the Democratic Party was also fiercely anti-Catholic) to the modern and sadly bipartisan "immigration reform" hokum of today the message has been clear. It's not that the elite really wants to keep Mexican immigrants out. It is that they want to keep their only access illegal access so they are easier to control and exploit. Immigration reform is today's Know-Nothing code for anti-Latino prejudice, often anti-Latino American prejudice rather than true concern about illegal immigration, in much the same way that many Nativist groups embraced Prohibition as code for anti-Irish and anti-German Catholic prejudice during the so-called "Progressive Era." Exploit them, but don't empower them.

The really important side is the cultural side. The wealthy WASP elite see themselves at the apex of a vast socioethnoeconomic pyramid. These days the "outsiders" are less outsiders because they are not themselves ethnically or racially acceptable but rather their lack of willingness to freely join and defer to the superior culture of the WASP elite. Having money and being willing to pretend to be a WASP is enough to get you in, in much the same way private clubs are no longer officially restricted but people who don't "fit the right image" still have a way of not getting in. It is this secure place of cultural hegemony that the champions of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Privilege are trying to protect. They want everyone to continue to defer to them as the moral arbiter of culture. This is why you have seen the break between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment. The Tea-Party represents the increased working class Protestant discontent with the degree to which the importance of those racial and ethnic social barriers and keeping them closed to even "culturally acceptable" members of non-white or originally non-Protestant groups.

Trump's blustering everyman rhetoric bridges the gap between disaffected working class Protestant prejudices and the broader tolerance of the WASP elite for anyone willing to conform to their cultural values. The elite see this as an expansion of their power whereas the working class, whose interests are frequently quite synchronous with those of minorities and immigrants, see the outsiders as threats to their importance to the elite and to the "received truth" they accepted from their parents at the prompting of a previous generation of the elite. This allows the elite to play a dual role of cultural champion to protect their own power, and benevolent patron to protect the position of their chosen additions to the elite. This is what Trump is really selling.

Friday, August 14, 2015

In search of Spiritual Awakening...

I recently read something, meant meant with a simple and good natured sincerity, that convinced me spirit needs to wake up a bit. I find this a trifle ironic considering that my mother is a Master of Divinities and I have long identified myself as Christian and thought a lot about my deep moral convictions and some of their religious sources without really asking myself what I absolutely knew that I believed. In the hopes of finding that sense of spiritual awakening, I propose to examine exactly what I believe.

So where can one start? Let's go with what I cannot possibly bring myself to doubt. Of what am I one hundred percent certain? At the risk of being unoriginal, the first thing of which I believe I am absolutely sure is that I exist. I think. I feel. I experience. I perceive. In order to even have a sense of the word "I" then I have to exist. It's quantum physics: even if I don't exist I am created by belief in my existence.

So what deeper faith can be extracted from this beginning? For the next step is obvious. If I exist, the other people with whom I am interacting must exist too. I can't know this absolutely, the way I believe I can intellectually justify my own existence. However, it is the natural hypothesis to make based on my own experience. The people with whom I interact must also think, feel, experience, perceived and exist. If they don't, then my belief in their existence confirms their belief in their own existence and vice versa. I have faith that other people exist and have experiences to which I can somehow relate.

I have faith that I have free will. I don't know this for certain. I would love to discover empirical proof but I am afraid empirical disproof might someday be possible. That said, I perceive myself as having the free will to make decisions. The fact that my actions have consequences strikes me not as proof of determinism, but as confirmation that my choices have meaning. As an extension of this, I have faith that my fellow human beings have the same free will and meaningful choices that I enjoy. This strikes me as an inherent defining trait of humanity.

This leads me to a belief in some kind of general "good" possible for all humanity, as naive and idealistic as that sounds. I tend to define that good in religious terms and those terms tend to be those of Christian Socialism, but the core belief I cannot deny is my belief in some possible universal improvement of the general standard of living for mankind as a whole. The Christianity I chose to adopt is an expression of that optimistic universalism that says "Go thou and do likewise." It's why I still give money to beggars however naively idealistic that may be.

I don't know if I'm feeling that spiritual awakening yet. Care to help me dig deeper?

What does it mean to be "Radical"?

There is a reason I identify myself as a "Radical" instead of as a "Liberal", "Progressive", "Libertarian", "Independent" or even "Conservative" despite having used most of those labels (the one thing I can't remember ever calling myself is an "Independent") at some point during my intellectual "growing-up" period. Since I haven't written anything in awhile I wanted to start what I hope to be a sustained return to ongoing activity with an introduction to who I am, what I believe, and why I identify myself the way I do. So keep reading. Hopefully, understanding me will help you reconsider how you think about certain things. I'm honestly less interested in changing minds then making people take a basic assessment of what they already believe and take close consideration of their reasons for believing it. That constructive thought is what leads to true understanding. True understanding of one's principles leads to constructive debate. Constructive debate leads to both sides reassessing their ideas and growing as needed. So read on and then feel free to post something about your own intellectual "growing-up" if you like.

One thing that I consider important is "epistemology." I like big words. If you don't, don't worry. I'm going to follow this one with a simple definition. Epistemology is the study of the theory of knowledge, ideas and whether the thinking behind them holds up under the pressure of close inspection. Do our ideas make sense? Are we capable of offering empirical evidence to support our ideas or are we forced to appeal to some authority to support our ideas? How is a carefully researched and tested scientific or scholastic theory different from an unsupported belief? What is the difference between fact and opinion? Why do we choose the words we choose in making an argument? What do those words really mean?

This brings me back to labels. Many labels really have little practical difference. Let's take "Conservative" and "Liberal." The label "Conservative" gets used pretty broadly, but it traditionally means someone who advances a set of social and economics beliefs correctly defined as "classical Liberalism." The label "Liberal", on the other hand, believes that those social and economic beliefs need to change with the way scientific and social progress change society. This is correctly defined as "Progressivism." Confusing? That's because the thinking behind the labels was confused in the first place. Classical liberalism was very liberal when the mainstream position was a mercantile economy in which a government licensed monopolies to a select group of political insiders who ran these monopolies as private business partnerships with the government. It became conservative when the capitalists went from being a middle-class advocating for greater political, social and economic rights to the dominant political and economic class. Yet the original classical liberals in England still called themselves "The Liberal Party" when they were supporting the right of capitalists to pay their workers starvation wages in Victorian England and resisting labor agitation by those same workers.

"Radical" has a clear meaning. First, it clearly identifies me as outside of so-called "mainstream" or "establishment" political thinking. The American political establishment is profoundly right wing on economic issues. The employer/employee has never entirely advanced from its feudal past even when society and politics appear to have done so. The modern "free market" is really only free for those who make a living off providing capital (what we could politely call the "Investor Class" or "Capitalist Class" if we don't like the negative connotations of the term "Leisure Class") and those who administer and execute the means by which that capital is used. That second group can best be defined as "the Corporate Class." Together they form the American economic elite: the people with the money and the people who promise to make a profit for the people with the money.  I think that system is inherently flawed in the practical sense and "bad" in the moral sense.

I support what economists have called "radical democracy." It is not enough to provide equal civil rights regardless of race or gender if social and political rights are still determined by one's share of economic property. It is necessary to provide a basic framework of economic equality before the law. This includes reforming of the civil justice and penal system, reforming of our economic system to democratize wealth to a larger degree while still rewarding hard work, creative ideas and willingness to take educated risks with capital. Capitalists have a right to a fair profit, but labor has a right to a fair wage and while the wage may need to go up and down according the demand for a product or service the fair profit also goes up and down. Nor is their empirical justification that the massive disparity between the income of the corporate class and the income of the working class provides any practical utility to society or the economy. It is simply accepted as a matter of course by both sides of the mainstream political debate. This is why Hillary Clinton is being attacked from the left by Bernie Sanders; there really isn't a huge difference between a mainstream Democrat or a mainstream Republican on a slough of economic and regulatory issues. A certain kind of voter, a disenfranchised member of what used to be the middle class and is now the working class or what used to be the working class and is now the underclass, is starting to realize that the mainstream does not care about their real needs and interests.

There are two words for freedom in Russian. "Svoboda" is the social, economic and political well-being of a community. When using this word, no one person can be truly "free" unless everyone in the community enjoys the same freedoms. Taking your freedom reduces my freedom, because it means someone can take it from me next. Increasing your freedom increases mine as well, because we are entitled to the same basic rights as members of society. Either the community is free or it is not. This is the freedom our nation needs desperately to struggle toward.

"Volia", on the other hand, is the rapacious freedom from traditional social restraints without regard for the consequences to others. It is the freedom of the pirate, the bandit, the Cossack and the corporate executive. Individuals enjoy different levels of freedom from consequences. A 17th Century pirate or 21st Century gangster is only free for as long as they are not caught. A 15th Century French nobleman or 21st Century CEO, on the other hand, usually received preferential treatment and backhanded forgiveness even when caught red-handed committing the same crimes as the pirate or the gangster.

The political establishment supports volia for the leisure class and the corporate class.

If you support svoboda for the entire community, you may be more Radical than you know. If that's the case, please keep reading! I want to give you something to think about!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Developmental Disabilities of Developmental Scientists

I've generally been too burnt out by the simple fact that most people like the world the way it is to do much serious writing. My burn out has been increased by the fact that part of me is comfortable with the status quo and fears real change just like everyone else.I've tinkered with fiction and I've dabbled in some paying work (all in the area of boxing writing)but that's it. The little serious writing I've done has been about philosophy, theology, and morality in the hopes of shifting the focus of this blog from political symptoms to the underlying intellectual, spiritual, and moral condition.

My discovery of The Autism Crisis has compelled me to try to turn my hand to something semi-political, though my real concerns are the moral and intellectual motivations behind the politics. The blog's theme is the science of ethics of autism research in an environment where said science is solely driven by advocates of specific autism-related agendas not necessarily terribly concerned with autistic individuals. The degree to which the issue seamlessly fits into my view of modern sociopolitical philosophy got my fingertips itching.

My personal interest in autism science and advocacy started with an entirely selfish interest in ADD/ADHD science and advocacy. My childhood academic experience was about as pleasant as someone who has seen me characterize the US system of education as "sadomasochistic" might expect. Some of the problems came from my attitude toward school and teachers and some of them came from the attitude of schools and teachers toward me. The degree to which the US school system and I came to loathe each other eventually required my parents to try find a home schooling program that would be compatible with my desire to learn rather than to perform busywork for the justification of the system. Ultimately I was fortunate to live in a state (California) that gives a high school diploma to anyone able to pass a test that proves they learned what they were supposed to learn in high school.

The merits of the educational system and the value of a standardized test are issues for another time. Suffice it to say that I passed and it was the only way out of what I perceived to be a Hellish experience. My interest in ADD, ADHD, and Ritalin were driven by a desire to acquire a "normal" tolerance for the useless busywork that life too often demands we perform and to be willing to settle for doing a job as I was told to do it instead of doing it in such a manner that it was finished and finished correctly. I wanted to know if I was suffering from ADD or ADHD and I wanted to know if Ritalin would help me. To this day I do not know what my actual "diagnosis" would be, were I to seek one out, because my investigation led me to the conclusion that all of the science on the topic was fundamentally flawed.

The following is quoted from the ADHD entry on PubMed Health,a website for which ultimate responsibility lies with the National Institutes for Health. If the NIH espouses a different definition, it is not on their website, so I will take this quotation to define the condition as the NIH sees it:

ADHD is a problem with inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity, or a combination. For these problems to be diagnosed as ADHD, they must be out of the normal range for a child's age and development.

The words "the normal range for a child's age and development" are important. They imply an authoritative baseline to judge the presence of a developmental disability that requires treatment by means of a powerful mind-altering drug.

ADD/ADHD science is based on a pair of serious epistemological errors that Bertrand Russell or John Dewey would easily be able to point out to the scientists involved. The first of these errors, and perhaps the most severe, is the conclusion that the use of the word "normal" involves an objective intellectual judgment rather than a subjective intellectual judgment. The second of these errors, which would be a horrendous mistake even if the judgment process behind the word "normal" were properly understood, is to equate the process of judging what is "normal" by the mathematical study of averages. Thus "normal" is defined as "average."

The problem is that an "average" is not a discrete thing. It is an abstract mathematical construct. It does provide a baseline for comparison but it does not provide any sort of guidance in judging the validity of the comparison. The "average child" on whom ADD/ADHD science depends does not exist. They are merely an imaginary construct whose only purpose is comparison with the individual. The matter is complicated by the fact that any child psychologist not on mind-altering drugs themselves will tell you that "inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity, or a combination" are in fact normal symptoms of a condition called "childhood." So we have a situation where evidence of normal childhood behavior is justification for a diagnosis of mental abnormality based on an arbitrary prejudice regarding "desirable" behavior combined with an imaginary baseline construct telling us how much "normal" is too "normal."

This flawed diagnostic system is broken entirely by the fact that behavior symptomatic of ADHD can also be a specific response to specific stimulus under specific conditions. The child who does not do his assigned homework because they believe the classroom exercises sufficient and who, instead, reads ahead in their textbook for the following day's lesson and then goes to basketball practice is making a rational decision. When such a child has prepared for the next day's lesson and expects to work on that lesson but instead finds the class bogged down in the review of the previous day's lesson in the form of homework analysis, it would be terribly abnormal if they were attentive. When said child also gets an "A" on all class tests it could further be considered normal for the child to receive a "D" in the subject they have clearly learned so well. All of this a natural consequence of a classroom environment created by valuing social promotion over the gradation of learned skills and the completion of assignments over actual learning.

None of us should be surprised that forced medication of students is preferable to school districts over the trouble and expense of giving individual children attention based on their individual educational needs and accomplishments. The parents' health insurance foots the bill rather than the school district. What should surprise us is that the majority of ADD/ADHD "science" is undertaken in support of educators with the purpose of controlling children they do not know how to teach. Many parents of kids diagnosed with ADD have been fighting this tooth and nail. They see the effects that mind-altering drugs have on their children outside the classroom. The "scientists" don't care.

My personal view, that ADD and ADHD do not exist at all but are merely convenient labels to allow school systems to drug students that resist sadomasochistic institutionalization, is not necessarily widely shared. However the parallels with icepick lobotomies in mental institutions in the 1950s and 1960s are worthy of consideration. Both "treatments" consist of the destruction of individuality to suit the needs of the institutionalizing system.

It is the issue of questioning the motivations behind the science that brings me back to Michelle Dawson's blog and this article. The subject of the article is a study advancing a specific thesis about autistic understanding of spatial relations. Their findings were not pleasant:

The press release starts by declaring that autistic children "lack visual skills required for independence" and does not exaggerate the claims in the paper, which merit a lot of scrutiny. So bear with me, this is not going to be short. First what they did (and didn't do), then what they found, then what it means.

The statement Ms. Dawson quotes from the press release encapsulates the high-minded science of the study quite succinctly. The study minimizes some of the real learning advantages studies have found autistic individuals to possess by dismissive their usefulness in "the real world." Rather than design a "real world" test of "visual skill", however, the actual study constructed an elaborate simulation that did not even directly test visual skills!

This attitude can best be described as a belief in the virtues of conformance, submission to authority, and the abdication of individual responsibility to expert opinion as recognized by the institutions that expert opinion serves. Teachers unduly burdened by students with ADD/ADHD are not able to properly teach the rest of the class, we are told. Parents burdened by autistic children are handicapped in every other area of life. In neither case is the individual diagnosed with a disability the victim of said disability: instead, through their disability, they are the means of someone else's victimization.

Something whose combination of symptoms we choose to label "autism" clearly exists. It is not so easy to argue that the symptoms of autism are as "normal" as the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Even if ADD/ADHD does exist, however, teachers aren't its victims. The kids are the ones suffering from the school system's INability, as well as their own DISability. They deserve better. How much more insidious and dangerous is the scientific attitude that autistics are not the victims of autism but, rather, society and government are the victims of autistics?

I've talked more about the specific issue of ADD than I intended and less about autism, but the real point in all this is not either specific issue. It is a culture of institutionalization in which elaborate systems are developed for every stage and facet of life and people are deemed worthy or unworthy based on their ability to fit into those institutions. Science must serve fact and not institutional values.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Green, clean, or sustainable? Where should our priorities be?

'I'm not saying the warming doesn't cause problems, obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it. I'm saying that the problems are being grossly exaggerated. They take away money and attention from other problems that are much more urgent and important. Poverty, infectious diseases, public education and public health. Not to mention the preservation of living creatures on land and in the oceans.' - Freeman Dyson

The environmental movement has busily attempted to make a great deal of hay off BP's colossal boner in the Gulf of Mexico. One sees it on HuffPo and one sees it on liberal blogs. It's hard to blame them.

The trick is whether they are pursuing the proper tack.

I tend to consider myself reasonably 'green' on most issues, but I tend to consider that Dyson's position on environmental activism bears a certain degree of merit too. It's important to understand that 'clean energy' is not as simple as it sounds. How do we define 'clean'?

The environmental lobby has a lot of ideas. Solar, hydroelectricity, wind, geothermal power... and they all pose their own economic and environmental risks. Hydrogen fuel cells are a substitute for gasoline, but not for oil. Hybrid engines and chemical batteries create waste more toxic than carbon dioxide and that waste must be disposed of safely. How do we do that?

Self-proclaimed 'conservatives' bandy about phrases and code words like 'clean coal' and advocate greater use of nuclear energy. Right wing propaganda aside, making 'clean coal' a fact and not a propaganda phrase would cost more money and pose a greater economic risk than public investment in solar and wind power. It is important to note that the 'free marketeers' who oppose investing in potential new solar and wind based industries are happy to pour a fortune into the coal industry on a pipe dream. Nuclear energy, like chemical batteries, requires the safe disposal of waste much more toxic than CO2.

This isn't an issue where there are easy solutions. T. Boone Pickens' plan to convert gasoline-power industry and transport to natural gas power while investing in wind and solar power was interesting... but also very expensive. Economic issues have caused it to be thrown aside. It still might be worth examination, but the cost is a real factor.

More importantly, natural gas is still a non-renewable resource. Ditto uranium, cadmium, lithium, and coal. We may not have developed Hubbert Peak level models to discern when these resources will be exhausted... but we still know it will happen if we're intellectually honest with ourselves and others.

This is not to say that investment in battery power and nuclear power is not practical. It is only by seeking to improve existing chemical and nuclear technology that cleaner and safer alternatives can be discovered. If cold fusion can be made practical, further research into fission and fusion technology must almost certainly precede it.

There are no easy answers.

What if we're not even asking the right questions?

It is not just a matter of finding safe and clean energy technologies. We also have to develop sustainable energy technologies if we don't wish to eventually go Luddite. This energy has to be affordable to the average citizen if we do not wish to narrow our economic base even further than we have already done.

Civilization is going to have an effect on the environment. We can make choices about just what form that effect will take. We can't eliminate it entirely. We may not be able to eliminate every option (with the exception of the non-existent and scientifically shaky 'clean coal' notion) entirely either.

The honest answer, from the environmentalist standpoint, is that we really don't know yet. The honest response to that answer is not 'conservative' declarations that we might as well keep doing what we're going as long as it keeps working.

The honest response is another question.

Why aren't we doing more to find out?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Long Silence, Random Thoughts

Obviously, I haven't been around for awhile. Not just here. I haven't really been active on any of the political blogs on which I used to comment regularly. Originally this was for reasons of health. When I overcame the health issue that kept me from writing, I realized I was incredibly burnt out.

I'm still incredibly burnt out.

I've been working a new job since late May and it appears to be going well so far. This has kept me pretty tired in the evenings. It is good to be back in telecommunications again, but it is also tiring to learn a whole new system for a whole new company. I am just glad I was fortunate enough to be in that position.

I am a 'grandfather' now, which is rather amazing to me since I've never technically been a father. The baby is gorgeous and I got to skip the part of having to raise and pay for a kid for 18+ years and skip straight to the fun part. So no complaints there.

I think most of the bloggers whose domains I used to stalk are probably glad to be rid of me. That is probably a good thing, since I don't know when I'll be that active again. I just felt, today, that I had to write something. So I am writing about nothing.

My thoughts on the issues of the day are, as usual, a mixed bag. I just don't feel as motivated to shout at the wind. I want to be that motivated. The trouble is that we live in a world where people don't want to think, read, or listen if they can possibly help it.

I'll try to have something to say the next time, but this time I just felt I needed to say anything at all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Once again I've been inactive for longer than normal. This has been due to a recurrence of my dental health issues that were responsible for my last unintended hiatus. I am pursuing their resolution, but until they are entirely resolved I cannot promise regular updates at the same pace as before this problem began. I apologize for any inconvenience to anyone actually paying attention my need to bloviate and I appreciate the patience of those who haven't dropped the site from their links yet.