Monday, June 29, 2015

The All Boy's League

I was once arguing with someone about science vs religion and he said the current system, where scientific evidence is required for something to be considered “proven” was an unfair system. He compared it to an all boys basketball league. The rules of that league said girls could participate but, to prove that girls were acceptable, an all girls’ team would have to win in some sort of tournament. He left some detail out. The point was, it was unfair to expect the girls to win at that level without some experience of playing on the boy’s teams or being coached by experienced coaches. He compared this to the rules of science, requiring evidence of natural phenomena.

I couldn’t get him to see that the old system, where if you questioned Catholicism, you were tortured, is exactly the old boy’s system. But that aside, he also couldn’t see that science is precisely designed to be fair. That’s a little harder to see. He pointed out that if something supernatural did occur, science would approach it as a natural event and try to find a natural explanation. That’s what science does. If there is not a natural explanation it is considered a mystery to science.

Without going into the philosophical details of this, I want to apply this to Friday’s Supreme Court decision to make marriage available to any two consenting adults. The reason it happened is that for about 100 years, we have been determining what it means when people say they feel attracted to the same sex in the way most people are attracted to the opposite sex. In a fair system, it’s not enough to simply say you feel that way. If that were true, then those who say they feel oppressed or offended by this new law would have to be given equal consideration. There is no way to justify the law one way or another if we simply go by what people say they feel.

A big part of determining what is actually true about our biology based on what people were reporting came to us via psychology and psychiatry. That system had a lot of flaws and was essentially a boy’s basketball league 100 years ago. It took years of lobbying to change the manual from saying homosexuality was a disease that needed a cure. Hopefully we have learned from the errors made during that process and improved our methods.

Another big factor has simply been getting to know the people that are willing to let us know they feel differently. In the “boy’s league” days, you were shunned or banished for openly expressing those feelings. Many still are. It’s hard to understand someone who has an attraction to something that you are repulsed by. But it’s not impossible, as we have seen millions of minds changed over the last few decades.

The Supreme Court simply put a stamp on what most of us have already figured out. But it also made it official that the boy’s league has to change  it’s name. Not everyone was ready for that, and they are now experiencing the same feelings that everyone who wasn’t invited to play used to feel. If we forget that, then we’ve made no progress at all. If we forget that, then we’re just a majority rule society and not much better than “might makes right”.

Getting back to science, if you remember what it was like to be treated unfairly, or see your friends being treated unfairly, then also remember what it took to get to where we are now. The colorful parades were fun, but there was more than that. There were logical arguments being made and long discussions between psychologists and pastors. If you missed those, get to know them before you thumb your nose at the losers in this debate. Someone listened to the queer kids in class when others were making fun of them, now it’s your turn to make that choice.

If someone mentions the Dred Scott decision and you don’t get the analogy, look it up. If someone says marriage is about children being raised by their biological offspring, look at how adopted kids do in healthy homes. If someone says gay marriage is an abomination, find out what they mean by “abomination”. If Scalia's dissent doesn't make sense, find someone who can help you make sense of it. It’s okay to say you don’t know or hadn’t thought about it. If someone thinks it makes them the “winner” because they thought of something you didn’t, that’s their problem.

The LGBTQ movement was and is an incredibly successful one. It is especially notable for its lack of violence. I’m not ignoring the horrid violence perpetrated against them, but pointing out that there was never a gay terrorist group or band of gay freedom fighters hiding in a mountainous region somewhere. This is what we need to see more of in our revolutions in the modern world. That is, we need to see less violence and more peaceful resolutions to our differences.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The King is Dead, long live the Westphalian nation-state

Kings and Queens are pretty much an anachronism these days. England has their royals but they are figureheads, they don’t have any real power to rule. Where there are kings, we think of them more like dictators. With a few exceptions, as always. But in the time of Kings and kingdoms, it was unheard of to not have a King.

If a King died, whether it be by old age, in battle, or more suspicious circumstances, he was replaced by another from a royal lineage. Hopefully the transition was a clean and peaceful to the eldest son, but if that wasn’t possible, a nearby King would likely move in and claim the territory. Sometimes a Queen or child King could hold the kingdom together, but that was less likely to last.

This was seen as some sort of natural order. As if the very blood in your veins made you a royal. Being born a peasant had equal meaning for what you would do with your life and what you were capable of. The many notable exceptions didn’t seem to matter. Royals who inherited their position failed miserably and peasants rose up to be great men and women. Power rested in the hands of a few and overcoming it seemed impossible.

We got rid of kings because we got tired of their childish bickering destroying so many lives. In 1648, after a century of wars, mostly over details of how to worship Christ, a peace treaty was signed that created the modern nation-state. Some argue that the wars were actually over territory and resources, and of course all wars include those goals, but the treaty specifically stated religious freedoms as part of the deal. The King could have his territory, but he couldn’t punish people for worshiping differently than him.

I tell this story not only to explain where religious freedom comes from, I’ve been over that. I want to point out that something that appears to be the natural order can be changed. The natural order that is accepted in the modern Western nation-state, dominated by capitalism is, that if you are rich, you deserve it. Because we are free, we can gain and accumulate wealth freely. We can use our intellect and energy to create value and be rewarded for it. If you work hard, you will be rewarded. Sounds good.

It is good. But it only works if people are honest, if they don’t lie and cheat their way to fortune. We know people do it, but we so want to believe in the power of the free market to select the best people and reward them accordingly, that we ignore that. We dismiss those who are caught as outliers. We punish the little cheaters, the starving boy who steals an apple, and let the bankers charge outrageous fees and the insurance companies deny benefits.

This corrupts the system and wealth accumulates at the top until all of our politicians are millionaires because it takes millions of dollars to get elected and laws get passed that you can spend billions on an election because the thing that is supposed to measure your value in a free market is now a commodity that can buy more freedom. “More freedom” is not a lie like “more equal” was in George Orwell’s 1984. Freedom can be bought at the expense of others. But as we did with kings, we can change that.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

AJ Stephens Birch Beer

I don't remember the last time I had a Birch Beer, but I think it was better than this one. The sugariness was fine, the fizz was fine, but the flavor left something to be desired. Maybe I was expecting more rootiness, this was more like barkiness. I'll have to find some other Birch beers for comparison.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What Are We Doing?

I’m not the first one to notice this, it’s really nothing new. There are some recent books covering it if you want more details. I’m not sure what got me thinking about it in the first place. Possibly the book I’m reading by Howard Buffet, son of billionaires Warren and Susan Buffet. His father made sure he got a regular job first, he’s now a farmer, but his parents also funded his non-profits. On top of all that, he volunteers as a local deputy and at local food related charities.

What are we doing?

The average amount of time spent watching television in America is 4.8 hours every day. That puts us firmly in first place in the world. For me, that’s all of my free time on a week day. Which means I’m bringing the average down and someone out there is doing virtually nothing but channel surfing. I bring up my average a bit during football season but generally I don’t lay around watching TV on weekends. Also on average, I sleep an hour more, and I’ll bet that hour less of sleep is spent watching TV for many. Only on occasion do I watch TV while eating, so there’s another hour or so that could be affecting the average.

But the question is, what else are we doing? “Social networking”, a nice name for watching cat videos is up to around 3 hours per day. Again, either people are laying awake doing this, or multi-tasking.

We read 19 minutes per day. Those who are in monthly book clubs, think about how many non-readers it takes to bring that average down.

I couldn’t easily find numbers although they are out there, but I suspect physical activity and attending civic events is also quite low.

Karl Marx had a theory that capitalism is designed to keep some people in poverty. It provides a pool of labor to draw from when needed and keeps lower income people afraid of slipping into that group, so they work hard and put up with bad management. If he were alive today he would see a relatively stronger and healthier work force but he would also note that once people get far enough away from that feeling of slipping into poverty, they quickly forget about it and do nothing to work on changing the system.

It was easier then to rally the proletariat to action because they could see the benefit and understood their solidarity. I joined a union a few years ago, and most of the work of organizing is convincing people that have a common cause with people in basically the same situation but slightly different job function.

The good news of this is we now have a pool of volunteers to draw from like never before. I don’t like fear tactics, but as more people slip from middle class into poverty, more will understand that it’s time to turn off the TV and take control of the world they created.