03-27-15 3:01  •  Compassion

WellaWella: Did you hear? They have discovered a drug which can increase compassion. We shold give it to the GOP, haha!

Ida Know: Hmmm.....maybe its an indication that some people's brains have evolved more than others, that this is the direction we are meant to go in- to learn to be compassionate and less individualistic. It makes sense because the only way we survive is through each other. We are after all heavily social critters.

It's true that the only way we survive is through each other, but, this is not necessarily accomplished by every person being very compassionate. In order to survive in complex surroundings with heirarchical social structure, human groups have to have a lot of different types of personalities. Sometimes to survive humans needed ruthlessness too, so groups have the best chance to exploit all of the opportunities in their environment if there are some members of the group who are very compassionate and some who are less so.

Also, humans are generally very compassionate to their in-group and very much less so to their out-group, so they needed both for different circumstances. Lastly, humans have to compete for rank within their groups and this sometimes calls for putting self first. So, very often non-compassion has been just as much a survival skill as compassion is. It exists for a reason and because of that I would not consider it less evolved.

However we invented civilization so that we could try to smooth off some of the rough edges and expand our ingroups, and we have learned so much over the centuries about what works and what doesn't for human well-being. This has allowed us to see that the more we use our compassion and the less we use our ruthlessness, the better things work in civilization, where we have to consider others as ourselves.

So, enhancing our natural compassion is important, and we do it in many ways, particularly by instituting social compassion.

If this chemical is a new way to do that, it could come in handy.

03-26-15 8:01  •  The iEverything Economy

Robert Reich believes the 20th century economic model is growing obsolete, and is attempting to illustrate this with a thought experiment. In this article he describes how technology has replaced and is continuing to replace humans in the workforce, from labor to service to, increasingly, white collar work. From the link:

Where will this end?

Imagine a small box – let’s call it an “iEverything” – capable of producing everything you could possibly desire, a modern day Aladdin’s lamp.

You simply tell it what you want, and – presto – the object of your desire arrives at your feet.

The iEverything also does whatever you want. It gives you a massage, fetches you your slippers, does your laundry and folds and irons it.

The iEverything will be the best machine ever invented.

The only problem is no one will be able to buy it. That’s because no one will have any means of earning money, since the iEverything will do it all.

This is obviously fanciful, but when more and more can be done by fewer and fewer people, the profits go to an ever-smaller circle of executives and owner-investors.

How will we run the economy in the future? Will there be middle-class jobs? Is that important?

Claire: They've been saying that since the first saboteurs threw their sabots (wooden shoes) into the gears of the textile looms that were replacing replacing 10 weavers with 2 machine operators.

Initially automation does create unemployment. But, so far, what's happened is that after a while new jobs have opened up that didn't previously exist.

We may not have buggy whip makers, because the car replaced the horse as our primary means of transport, but we do have computer programmers, rock stars, marketing brand performance specialists, and many many other new professions.

A larger and more complex society = more niches

Do these niches include a middle class? Do you see the current ownership models as sufficient?

Claire: How do you define middle class? In times past, you were middle class if you had a cook, a nanny, a maid and a gardener. Times have changed.

So they have. In that case, why don't you just describe what classes you anticipate in the "more complex, more niches" economy?

Claire: Have you come across the term "reputation economy" ?

Yes, in connection with the "sharing" economy. What is the basis of ownership in this economy? What protections exist? What of the unreputable?

Claire: "Basis" of ownership? What differs is the method of transfer of ownership. Ownership of physical objects stays the same as now.

Starting from where we are now? We live in a world where 90% of the wealth is owned by a very tiny minority and billions own virtually nothing. How will non-owners be involved in this economy?

Claire: Instead of objects being exchanged in return for other objects (barter), or a financial medium of exchange (money), they get given for the gain in reputation the giver gets. So it isn't just what the recipient thinks of the object you give them, it is what everyone else things about the act of the giving (how it was done, what effect it had, etc).

So if you make a couple of goof moves and trash your reputation, then what? What of the unreputable? How do they live?

And, I'm still really wondering, what level of subsistence will most people be able to attain by this? Will most people have to frantically pimp their reputation day and night to get enough to eat, or once a year to get a little extra for a cruise? How do you figure people will spend most of their time in this system - dedicated to pursuing these economic activities, or freed from the burden of economics to pursue science, liesure and art? How much ability will there be to opt out of these economic pursuits?

Does this require post-scarcity? By what means? Does it provide for public health care? What provisions prevent the powerful from exploiting the weak or gaming the system?

A few details would be helpful, thanks!

Claire: If you like Science Fiction, try Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. There's a free audiobook version of it.

Thanks, but that explains nothing of what I asked.

It looks like you are dismissing Reich's concerns as pointless, buggy-whipped handwringing, and are offering this as a more likely or more viable alternative, and yet you are unwilling to say out loud what this would actually mean in terms of human well-being. Weird.

The questions you are avoiding like "Where is the bottom?" and "What of the failures?" are important for evaluating human well being in a economic system. Are you willing to drop into the "reputation economy" with nothing? Unless the answer is yes and you can explain how that would be a great place to start for anyone, then there isn't anything to recommend this system.

Claire: Riech's example could never happen. He says the iEverything would be too expensive. Don't you see the contradiction? You can't get from our current state, to his hypothesised end state, WITHOUT the machines being cheap and widely available.

It's a thought experiment. The point is not to fret about the implausibility of a real iEverything end state. It is to illustrate that we are moving from an economy which provided widespread prosperity and mobility to one that doesn't.

The actual question is, how can we get from our current economy, which is becoming increasingly unfair and unsustainable, to an economy which provides prosperity and mobility and is fair and sustainable?

That is something that matters and why I brought it up. What do you think about this?

Claire: Always worrying about the rich getting too much! Let us say that a small commune of 1000 billionaires manages to hoard 99.999% of the Earth's monetary supply, and shuts themselves away in a luxurious island compound. The rest of the world would just say, "Forget them!" and create a new form of money.

Or, suppose the far more likely scenario, that instead of "shutting themselves away" they use their massive power to exploit and war and destroy the air and game the system to increase their power over us. Then what?

Claire:You're being picky. Should make for a fun conversation.

It could be. It would be fun to hear your answers to my questions.

Claire: Let's just say, I don't think Reich's concerns are inevitable. Have you read the work of Thomas Piketty?

Yes, and I am familiar with r > g. It may not be "inevitable," but what Piketty said is that it is happening, and if it continues, disproportionate influence on policy will inevitably become generational.

Claire: There's an equilibrium. In a society where all segments of the electorate have equal turn outs, and are equally well informed about what's in their own best interests, if one party favours a particular minority too much, at the expense of the majority, the majority will elect into power a different party that will work to reverse that trend. (Eg by making taxes on income, or inherited weath, higher for those at the top, until the trend balances back out).

Where you get problems is when the elite are able to leverage their wealth into a disproportionate influence upon policy, either directly by buying politicians, or indirectly via the media to misinform, distract the electorate - keep them ignorant and unthinking.

Yes, this is what is happening in my country.

That is the entire purpose behind Riech's thought experiment - to work against this trend, by informing the electorate about factors that feed into what is happening, and trying to get people thinking about it.

Good thing I posted about it too. :-)

Claire: The law of supply and demand makes the job market a two-way street of free agents. Check out this article that shows how the growing size of companies is contributing to inequality.

This illustrates how utterly arbitrary the link is between performance and compensation. It depends on millions of things besides just human skill and effort. Obviously not a meritocracy.

Claire:. From the article: "Entry-level workers in the middle of the income distribution may be willing to accept lower pay from big firms since in the long run the chances of winning a promotion are greater than at small firms.

This reveals a flaw in the suppostition that workers have full agency. The scenario supposes that each worker looks at an array of jobs, some at big firms, some at small firms, compares all the benefits, and then chooses his own job based on his preferences.

The reality is that there is an urgency to the job search which almost always narrows the choices to one, the next offer. People are not choosing to balance firm size with promotion prospects, they have bills to pay. They take the job that is available, overwhelmingly for the reason that it is available.

There is no "marketplace of jobs" for most people. They take what they can get because they have to.

Claire:. If you are out of work, maybe, but if you have a job there is nothing stopping you from looking for a better one.

Sure there is. There are numerous factors which stop you, or at least greatly hinder you. There may not be other jobs of the type you are qualified for in your area. There could be dozens or hundreds of applicants for every job. The economy could be in one of its frequent recessions where hiring freezes. You could have a life and a family and obligations and interests besides money which require your attention during your off work hours, and a boss who would not allow you to pursue other career opportunities during your on work hours.

You could have family and friends and prominent roles in your local community which mean something to you even if there isn't a better job here. You could be shy or old or non-white or physically unattractive, limiting the availablity of even jobs you qualify for.

People do not pick jobs in a marketplace, like picking fruit off a shelf, where there is a huge variety in price and quality and you can evaluate all the different factors available to you and choose the one that fits your preferences.

In this marketplace the workers are the fruit and the employers are the shoppers, and there is very often nothing you can do if you are always left on the shelf. So having any job would be considered a blessing too fragile to tamper with.

Claire: You shouldn't give up so easy! If you can do something well (and by "well", I mean "better than the average person already employed to do that) and the thing you can do is financially useful, and you've got the chops to prove that to an employer, you should be able to shop around.

Claire, I do everything well. I have been hired on the spot at practically every interview I've ever had.

But we are not talking about me, or you. We are talking about economic systems, and you can't evaluate an economic system by how great it works for the better-than-average person. How does that make sense? The economic system has to work for the average person too, and for the below average person.

The fact that you or I may have our pick of jobs, doesn't make this a marketplace of jobs where everybody has their pick of jobs. Most people don't. As a result there is zero pressure on employers to provide decent jobs for average people. Just look at Walmart and McDonalds, my country's largest employers. The wages are shit, the conditions are demeaning and exhausting, the schedules are crazy, there is no security or benefits and the corporations are continually settling lawsuits for everything from systematic discrimination to wage theft.

If this was a marketplace of jobs no one would choose those jobs. But they do.

Claire:Would you say there is a marketplace of food?

I would.

And yet, some people choose mac & cheese, or hamburger helper, because with the money they have, those are the only feasable choices available to them.

There being a marketplace doesn't mean all the buyers get to have a wide choice.

It is a market for the one who is buying, and in "the job market" it's not the worker. Who is paying? The employer is the buyer with the money, and the worker is the product. That makes his choices a lot more limited than that of the buyer, who after all has the money and the power and a vast horde of desperate people with bills to choose from. They are in very disparate power relationships.

The point is, the "law" of supply and demand does not automatically produce human well-being for the worker. Very often it doesn't.

Claire:However I do agree with your quote: "there is zero pressure on employers to provide decent jobs for average people." Very true. And some would argue that it isn't the place of employers to do that.

It is the role of society to shape the environment within which employers function such that EITHER they are constrained in some way (eg a minimum wage) OR that, on average, the employers get a better rate of return (ie more productivity per dollar spent on wages) by giving a higher than minimum wage.

Yes. The majority of society shouldn't have to live lives of devprivation and ignorance amidst vast plenty just because that is what is naturally produced by market self-interest.

So, it is up to us in our role as citizens to constrain "the invisible hand" through our collective action, to shape the system to provide for widespread well-being.

However that's a really hard sell to about half of my country, who believe "the free market" fixes everything automatically. So having the opportunity to spell this all out is valuable. Thanks again!

MyMy: The more you build the base and control the top; the healthier and more robust your society is.

Claire: Maybe. In some circumstances.

I think there can be such as thing as too much control over the top.

Can you give an example of this?

Claire: Well, you could prevent billionaires making backroom deals with politicians by implanting everyone with a net financial worth of over $1,000,000,000 with a communications bug that monitors what they do 24 hours a day.

You could, as the French, Russians, Chinese and Cambodians all tried at various times, either send them to the guillotine, or to 'reeducation' work camps.

So, by these standards, nothing that is actually being proposed, or that would actually help - like progressive taxation, or financial transaction tax, or stronger social safety nets, or a stronger regulatory environment - comes anywhere near "too much control at the top," and there is no reason to resist reasonable constraints because of slippery-slope fears about the guillotine.

03-21-15 2:34  •  God Law vs Human

Wendy: Human laws are only relative, but God's Law in unchanging.

There are a couple of problems with this assumption.

1. Unchanging law makes no sense. Conditions change, understanding changes, and laws can be improved with time. This is preferable to unchanging law.

2. There is nothing to connect the laws that people claim come from "the gods" to actual gods. Considered in the context of their times, they seem to be lists of tribal taboos made up by people.

Wendy: How does a society determine collectively what is right and wrong?

We can only do what humans have always done, which is do the best we can, and learn as we go. That is what we have been doing ever since we started making civilizations and keeping track of how it worked out.

This is why we are able to make a much better society today than we were able to make in the past. The moral revolution of the last several centuries has seen us get rid of terrible injustices which cause great suffering, like slavery, and treating women and children as chattel. We have been able to contrive economic and governmental systems that cause much less suffering and injustice than the systems of the past. We can conceive that in the future our systems will work even better, because we can continue to identify and correct flaws as we go.

Wendy: Majority rule? That's a slippery slope.

People make mistakes, but Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." The reason it does this is because of error correction.

If we keep on our present trajectory - with the fits and starts and zigzags that come from trial and error, of course - we are due to have better morality in the future as we learn more about how to prevent suffering and foster well-being. All on our own.

03-21-15 2:34  •  Myth Status

Serena: Yes, the Bible is a collection of stories, but it is more than that. Your choice to view them as "myths" is your prerogative...

MyMy: No, that is in fact what it is: a collection of Jewish and Roman myths.



myth. a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.

Serena: Your need to "educate" me is humorous.

Did you really think I dont know what the word means? *sigh*

Hi there Serena, it's been awhile! Great to see you!

I must say, I don't understand either the patronizing or the impatience. Can you please simply explain why the word 'myth' does not apply?

Serena: Myth? There is a good bit of fact in the book.

So, you claim you don't need a definition, but obviously you do. It clearly says with or without a determinable basis of fact. That there is a "good bit" of fact in the book does not make the term myth wrong.

You don't want to hear it, but that doesn't mean MyMy was incorrect or in any way out of line to use it. Do you really think everyone should pretend your myth is not a myth? Do they have to pretend this every day, or just when you might read it?

Your myth is actually creating a lot of problems. It can't be reconciled with the other current myths, or with observable reality. That is a big problem which no one in the religion wants to face or talk about. So instead, they just roll their eyes and *sigh* and pretend the whole thing is a big joke.

Well, it's not. Christianity is absolutely indistinguishable from other ancient mythologies. We are expected to treat it as different but no one will answer to why.

That is not humorous in the least.

Serena: The divinity described in the book can be called myth by those who do not believe but that does not change the lack of respect communicated by the word.

If you are not prepared to explain how your beliefs are true then how can you expect people to respect them as if they are?

Serena: Raverlady I do love you but you know we will endlessly disagree.

Serena, you know I feel the same and that is why I have avoided discussing this with you for the last five years. But the distance between the claims of Christianity (or Hinduism, or Islam, etc.) and the reality we live in are way too big to ignore.

Things are not adding up here in a big way and that is a very legitimate and immediate concern. The last thing it calls for is patronizing eye rolls.

Hello again Serena! Thanks for giving me the opportunity to explain something important.

Serena: This is an old argument to which there is no win.

There is a win. Everything that really is, is. Accurately describing it is a win.

Serena: I have little interest in arguing the validity of my beliefs. There is no win in such conversation.

There is a reason for this. There is no way to argue the validity of the beliefs. If there was a valid argument, someone would have presented it by now.

The beliefs cannot be shown to be valid because they are nothing like how things really are. They don't correspond to the observable. It's not just a difference of opinion, gee, no one really knows, let's agree to disagree. The stuff of your religion looks wrong.

It clearly doesn't match reality, it's clearly a folktale like all the other folktales, and there is not a single thing you or anyone has ever shown to suggest otherwise. But, you somehow expect us to keep pretending it's true, using only terminology which does not question the story, to avoid offending you? How can you ask this?

Serena: I have shared with you before that I believe the answer to peacefully coexist is respect.

Pointing out that your religion seems to be a myth like every other is not disrespect, it's the truth and an important one. And, respect is not enough. One big part of peaceful coexistence is removing artificial barriers to agreement.

Your religion appears to be one of the biggest artificial barriers to agreement there is. It can't be reconciled with observable reality, or with the other artificial barrier religions. No one is going to grow in understanding if they have to keep insisting on the reality of their own cultural folktales, because they are all different.

Serena: I know there are a lot of people in the world that do damage in the name of religion. I am not accountable for their actions.

That is not what I am talking about, and it's no excuse for not being accountable to your beliefs being true.

That is the problem. Neither you nor anyone in your religion want to be accountable for the validity of your beliefs.

Serena: If someone really really believed in unicorns I would not feel the need to show them disrespect by diminishing their belief to myth status even though I fully believe unicorns are purely fictional.

Oh yes you would.

Please picture our world. Millions upon millions of people believe that unicorns are real, actual things, who created this and manage it with unicon magic. There are unicorn worship centers on every corner in every town you have ever lived in. Unicorn worship rakes in billions of dollars every year for expansion operations, and unicorn group chants are intoned at public meetings and in public schools across your nation every day.

Almost everyone you know thinks unicorns are listening to their every thought and watching everything they do, and people are basing their morality and actions around this, and around the taboos of the unicorn cults of thousands of years ago.

There are Unicornists trying to get more influence over the school curriculum, and have pictures of unicorns shown in science class alongside pictures of giraffes and squirrels, as if they were actually real. Unicornists are trying to use Unicorn Dictates to declare how everyone should manage their sexual lives and reproductive choices according to the Unicorn Way.

To make matters worse, the Blue Unicorn people on our continent are making claims about unicorns which are in direct conflict with the claims of the Green Unicorn People and the Red Unicorn people in other places, which are also in conflict with each other. The claims are all about what color in the invisible unicorn rainbow shines brightest, but since it's invisible no one can tell. Irreconcilable differences are the result.

Worst of all, maintaining the unicorn fantasy is taking a huge toll on the health of your nation. You look around - no unicorns can be detected and almost all of the stuff that used to be explained by Unicorn Power is now understood to arise from natural processes. And yet, though it flies in the face of reason and seems blatantly false, the majority persists on maintaining the unicorn infrastructure at any cost.

Then one day, in a public discussion forum, you have the temerity to point out that, you know, the unicorn is not actually different from the pegasus or the sphinx or the centaur or other creatures humans invented to fill their stories.

And then people roll their eyes at you, and *sigh*, and yawn about how you aren't playing the game right. Shhhh, you are supposed to pretend about the unicorns like everyone else. There's no need to defend WHY we are doing this unicorn thing - it's enough just to point out how very gauche and insensitive it is for you to have questioned the unicorn paradigm.

And you say you would just go along with this, for the sake of politeness?

What of the truth?

Serena: I realize you feel the planet is threatened by zealots...

No, this is your second attempt to blame only bad people for the problems. The beliefs themselves are the problem, the same way it would be a big problem trying to run this as a unicorn society without unicorns.

The planet is threatened by unreason, and trying to maintain beliefs that seem untrue requires a great flood of unreason which regularly overflows the banks of religion and ruins other things too.

Serena: I can even see validity in that, but Christianity in its pure form is about love and compassion and Christians who love compassionately and adhere to that model shouldnt be disrespected with words like myth, fantasy, fiction etc.

Myth, fantasy and fiction are what it looks like. It would not really be loving or compassionate to pretend otherwise.

Serena: I would take issue with someone calling Krishna a myth in a conversation with a Hindu. I would react poorly to Mohammad being reducend to such as well.

Only out loud. Because if their stories about gods are not "true" like yours, what else could they be?

Serena: It doesnt help anything and when people scream it at you it will , from me anyhow, not be well received.

Now that is just silly. The word "myth" is a perfectly accurate word and in no way a personal attack akin to screaming.

I don't agree this had anything to do with the word myth being "screaming" and everything to do with it being correct.

Look at it this way. I am perfectly reasonable, and you and I agree on many issues. You know I am civil and polite in discussion. Where has that gotten my ideas with you in the last ten years? Nowhere, as far as I can tell. You will not consider the validity of what I am saying. So, even the very nicest approach hasn't worked an iota.

When people are entrenched in old ideas, very often the openly shocking and offensive is what is required to blast them out of the trenches. It takes more than just saying this isn't right - it's walking up to the white end of the lunch counter and sitting down. Ya gotta do it.

Thanks again, Serena. That's my peace and I've said it, so don't feel like you have to avoid me around CM to avoid this discussion. Maybe I'll bring it up again with you in another five years, lol. I really hope we'll still be in touch then!

Your friend,


03-11-15 6:34  •  Focus on Jesus

Ida Know:I think our brutality comes from being animals. We have evolved into creatures who are capable of amazing things but are still enslaved by our capacity for violence, greed and self absorption.

I agree, I would say that our capacity to do the things we find amazing and the things we find brutal are both the product of our evolutionary history. We invented civilization to help channel them effectively.

Ida Know: My belief is that too many Christians have gotten away from focusing on Jesus and his message (such as it is since we know very little about the actual Jesus, his life and nothing really about his words other than things written down years after his death) and instead focus on the bible and pick and choose its many interpretations and translations to conform with their ideology.

I don't think there was ever a time when it was better. The bible is a pick-and-choose machine and it always has been - that's what it's for.

Ida Know: I have stated ad nauseum that I think the core message of all the world's major religions is love, empathy and compassion- certainly that describes the Jesus I was taught about.

The world's religious writings were assembled by very primitive people doing the best they could with practically no knowledge. They took the best wisdom they had and threw it in with the superstition and folklore and tribal history that made up their belief structure. That's why religions often contain wisdom about love and compassion. However I do not think they actually constitute the core message in most cases.

The core message in each of the AFs is that there is a powerful being controlling all this and what He wants is what matters. I think trying to downplay that by focusing on the bits of wisdom is sort of ignoring the elephant in the room.

Ida Know: However, by focusing on religious texts and their interpretations people have screwed up the original message...

Seriously, the original message was nothing special. The people who wrote it did not understand anything that we do not understand much better now. We would not turn to bronze-age sheep herders to tell us how to construct a dwelling or order a democratic government. They did not know what we now know about it. So why take their word for what humans should think or be?

There is no reason to rely on such scant wisdom as was accumulated thousands of years ago. The accumulation has continued, and increased, and a great deal of error correction has occurred since then. Our wisdom is actually much better now.

Ida Know: If we all focused on Jesus and his message (and it doesn't have to have anything to do with religion) I think we would all be better off.

This I think would be extremely divisive. Even the Jesus described by the bible is nothing special. Focusing on this one person, who is supposed to be a deity, really impedes the message that living well is something anyone can do.

Also, plenty of people who are not Christian would not be interested in focusing on Jesus.

Lastly, there is no reason to focus on Jesus. We understand more than he or the committee who wrote him did. And the religion he is embedded in is a conflicted mass loaded with claims that seem obviously false.

There are plenty of compassionate and loving role models to emulate, and it is not necessary to worship them or believe supernatural claims about them in order to learn their important lessons. Plus, love and compassion and empathy are real things that we can discuss and aspire to outside the cults of personality they have always been burdened with. There is no reason we cannot simply revere these as values.

I think we would all be better off if we left the legacy religions we are still clinging to behind with all the others we have outgrown. This is more interesting and works better.

Thanks Ida!

03-10-15 9:12  •  How To Become A Liberal

Raintree: Check out this funny article on Alternet - How to Become a Conservative in Four Embarassing Steps.

Joiner: Ah, condescending bullcrap painted with a broad brush.

Is that how one becomes a liberal?

I can tell you how I did it.

I voted in my first election for George Bush Sr, on the advice of my dad, a hardcore conservative. My dad thought that lazy welfare cheats were the worst thing. How could someone not work, and expect to get paid!? He explained to me that Republicans were trying to end the handouts to the lazy cheaters and that's why I should vote for Bush Sr. I was nineteen and it made sense to me at the time.

I spent my young adulthood ignoring politics - think I voted for Perot in there somewhere, lol - without a party affiliation.

But, along the way I learned about the Gilded Age and the Great Depression and the New Deal, and how without the social safety net and strong worker protections, the wealthiest in society could exploit and manipulate the workers literally to death. I learned how rampant uncontrolled financial speculation destroys economies, and how strong regulation prevented financial collapse. I learned how the Cold War and Vietnam had been largely drummed up as result of hysterical saber rattling.

I didn't pay attention to politics again until Bush Jr. got into office, and 9/11 happened. Then I got to see what conservatism really meant.

It meant using a national tragedy as a thinly veiled power grab and responding with massive, inappropriate aggressive militarism using the basest propagandist techniques to trick the public into thinking Iraq was about 9/11.

And, conservatism meant trying to diminish the social safety net, increasingly by demonizing the least fortunate and ignoring that most who rely on it are children, the infirm and the elderly. It meant destroying unions, the only voice workers have for their own interests in the top-down hierarchical business structure.

Plus, conservatism had also somehow come to mean all this stuff from the Christian religion, like abstinence-only sex education, and blocking sexual minority rights, based on the Christian claims about how gods want humans to do sex. It had somehow become obviously all about limiting women's access to reproductive services in whatever way could be pushed through.

And somehow, it seemed to be about doing anything and everything to avoid acknowledging climate change.

And then in 2008, thanks to conservative policies, the global economy collapsed.

No, thanks.

Liberalism wasn't about much, but it seemed to be about using our collective resources a little better than that. So, I abandoned any idea that I had ever been a conservative, and American Liberal it was. For awhile.

As I got older, I learned more about how things worked. I could see that in Canada and countries where they have national health care, their populations are healthier and have a longer lifespan. I learned that in countries like Finland, they have national education, where every citizen can go to public school for a degree, lifelong, and their people are the best educated on the planet. I learned that in the Nordic Model countries, the social safety net was much stronger than ours, and as a result they have practically no poverty.

I also learned that when we allow the very richest to accumulate power far outstripping that of our elected representatives, we no longer control our government and are fundamentally disenfranchised.

That is when I left tapioca "liberal" behind and began to explore the benefits of Socialism. Socialism is the other half of the equation with Capitalism. Neither can function adequately without the other. Capitalism without Socialism is oligarchy, rule by the wealthy. Socialism and democratic organization require an economic engine - like capitalism - to pay for their workings and create prosperity. Both are required in order to have a functioning civilization at our current level.

But, I'm a dreamer, and I long to reach beyond our current level, so I can't even see "liberal" in the rearview mirror anymore. I dream of a human civilization where all are uplifted and material accumulation is gauche. All humans have the potential to reach greatness in a great society. We almost have it now. A few more steps forward and we can create a world where it is possible for everyone.

I'm now whatever that's called.

Does that help? :-)

03-10-15 2:12  •  The Problem, Again

MountainMama: Obviously, not all Christians behave with grace, but that is bad on them, not on the doctrine.

Raintree: How convenient for modern day followers.

MountainMama: Sorry, not getting your point. What is convenient for modern day Christians?

It is convenient that any problems which occur from Christianity can be blamed on bad Christians, so they don't have to analyze the religion for bad doctrines.

Raintree: Right, what she said.

MountainMama: Got it, thanks.

Although, in all honesty, it's not the doctrine, it's the implementation.....

If you are actually willing to discuss this, then allow me to completely disagree. The basic beliefs of Christianity are extremely problematic.

MountainMama: If you'll look at my copious posts on this topic, you'll see I can discuss with the best of 'em, and without profanity and name calling!

So here goes: what beliefs of Christianity do you find problematic?

The beliefs of Christianity (and other legacy religions) are problematic because they do not seem to be true. This includes the claims that humans know information about gods, that humans interact with gods, that gods interact with matter, and that some human writings are scripture. Also that humans can describe "the afterlife."

What humans actually experience is that there is no information which can be confirmed to be about gods. There is no indication that humans interact with gods. There is no evidence that matter has been affected by gods or that it could be. There is no way to establish that any human writing is supernaturally derived. And, there is nothing that can be confirmed to be an accurate description of the afterlife.

The distance between what is claimed by the religions and what is experienced by humans cannot be reconciled. This creates a lot of error.

Raintree: I'm an atheist, but I would never tell someone what they believe isn't true because how do I know?

The way you find out what is true is by checking.

Raintree: The basis for all belief systems should be, love, be kind and help each other whenever we can, it'd be a much happier world if we could just get past the labels and judgement that comes with them.

The way we get past conflicts and judgements is by checking.

Raintree: How can we check? Most religion is based on what will happen in the afterlife so we wouldn't know til we did or didn't get there.

Good checking. Yes, you don't know anything about the afterlife and you can't find out. What does that tell you?

It tells you that the people making the claims do not know anything more about it than you do. If you can't check, neither can they. It means every single word they say about it is just stuff humans made up to fill the void. So why credit the conjectural uninformed guess of another human with no more information about it than you?

Checking reveals the truth - that humans do not know anything about any kind of afterlife. Not one iota.

Raintree: The best way to accept it is to ask questions, and see life from other perspectives. No one will ever have a definitive answer.

There is always a definitive answer. If you don't know, the definitive answer is that you don't know. There is no reason people should not be able to come together around this one truth that is the same for everyone.

Raintree: I live in an area where their is a fierce Protestant / Catholic divide, and it really saddens me that so many people get hurt because they can't agree to disagree on Issue X.

No one can tell what God thinks is the right answer. But if you examine reality you can eventually see what works and what doesn't for human well-being. When we start basing our recommendations on that instead of what people said God said, we will be able to come together around it because it will be true.

Justine: Well what new testament doctrines are you talking about that need analyzing?

See my post to Mountain Mama.

Justine: You just cut and pasted that from a Darwin site! And it doesn't answer my question.

If you are referring to "which New Testament doctrines" I'm talking about, obviously I am not talking about New Testament doctrines. I am talking about the most basic beliefs of Christianity, of the other AFs and other ancient religions, regardless of which specific books they came out of. People in these religions almost universally believe in deital information, deital interactions and afterlife specifics.

The beliefs do not seem to be true. THAT is the problem.

03-10-15 1:24  •  Should Women's Orgasms Be Banned?

SunnySparkles: Check out this hilarious cartoon:

Callaiou: Excuse me, what is the purpose of this?

The purpose is to show that the concept of Religious Liberty is as incorrectly applied to women's insurance covering birth control as it would be to outlawing women's orgasm.

It is to show that the fact that something is not mentioned in the Constitution doesn't mean that we cannot now see the existence or importance of it.

It is to show that insurance coverage is part of the compensation a person receives and belongs to her. If her insurance covers birth control that is no more "the government" OR "the corporation" paying for her birth control than it is a woman's employer paying for her purchase of a vibrator.

It is to show that there is nothing that "should" take place only in the context of a societally-sanctioned monogamous heterosexual relationship.

It is to show that there is no reason a woman should ever be forced to submit to an invasive gynecological exam.

And it is to show that men don't have to deal with any of these problems.

All of these are legitimate points that need to be made. And, it was pretty funny. The Daily Show has demonstrated that using humor to highlight important issues is very effective for creating accurate understanding, and people who appreciate political humor tend to be well informed on the issues. So it has a great many effective purposes.

Callaiou: You don't understand. No one is telling women they can't use birth control, just that their company will not be the ones paying for her birth control for her. It's her business - why should they subsidize her sleeping around?

No religious employer, to my understanding, has said that their employees cannot take birth control that they pay for themselves.

Using one's insurance to pay for birth control is paying for it themselves. Insurance is part of the compensation that is paid to an employee. They earn the insurance by doing work, just like they earn the money.

Callaiou: As for the gyno exam, it is standard when getting birth control, because it is part of the screening process to ensure safety. How stupid to complain about that!

That is not the gyno exam the cartoon is referring to. It is referring to broader women's and sexuality issues, like gay marriage, and also the proposed legal requirement in Virginia that forces women who want abortions to undergo onerous transvaginal ultrasounds.

Callaiou: Insurance is a benefit, one that employers are not required to give. It is an extra, one that isn't earned.

That is ridiculous. Even if employers were not required to give it doesn't make it "not earned." Benefits are non-cash compensation, not free gifts. Do you really think companies give employees thousands of dollars in presents? No. They compensate employees because they work.

Callaiou: Transvaginal ultrasound is the only way to confirm pregnancy before twelve weeks. It would be completely negligent of anyone performing an abortion to not prove the existence of the pregnancy prior to giving a potentially deadly medication, or risky procedure.

The purpose of the proposed law is not to prove the existence of the pregnancy. The stated purpose is to make women re-think their abortions. The transvaginal probe is just the easiest part to talk about. The law requires that the probe be conducted by an MD, that it be the same doctor as does the abortion but on a separate day, that the woman be required to look at it, that the doctor be required to describe to her everything on the screen in detail and make her listen to the fetal heartbeat. How could all that possibly be required to "prove the existence of the pregnancy"?

The other requirements of the "transvag probe" law are what make it onerous. First of all, requiring that the ultrasound be performed by the same doctor who does the abortion makes it much more expensive for the women and much harder for the clinics to arrange staffing. There is no medical reason for it. This is meant to put as many abortions as possible out of reach.

Also, there is zero scientific evidence to support the claim that viewing the ultrasound will make the woman "bond" with the fetus and change her mind. The only study cited as evidence that this occurs is a 1983 paper that was based on exactly two women. No other evidence exists to suggest that forced viewing had any positive medical outcome results. On the contrary, negative outcomes are known to increase when patients feel they have no agency in their clinical encounters.

So, the cartoon could have phrased it, "Women  'accused of orgasm' must be burdened with extra unnecessary expense to drive needed procedures out of their reach and make them less available, to be humiliated and patronized, and be forced to view and listen to something for no reason other than to intimidate them into changing their decisions, with no evidence whatsoever that it results in positive health outcomes." But that would not have fit into the panel.

03-09-15 3:15  •   Love

Kathy: Who made love first?

MyMy: Love evolved as a means to improve the survival of the young.

Ms. KeeKee: No, Love is not the biological response for survival as in a mother bonding with her child. It's when we Love not for our own selfish survival but because of another's.

I'm sorry, perhaps I am misunderstanding something here.

How do you get a mother loving her offspring as doing it for her own selfish survival? She is doing love "not for her own selfish survival but because of another's", her offrpsing. Mother mammals will often give their own lives for their offspring. How is that selfish?

Ms. KeeKee: It is her own selfish survival for perpetuating and continuing the species.

Most mammal mothers don't know anything about that. Even humans only just found out about evolution a century ago. This has been going on for millions of years.

Mothers only know that they have a set of feelings about their offspring...feelings of great tenderness and affection and fierce protectiveness, and which in turn create a great desire to act in ways that nurture and protect the offspring. Are you seriously saying that feeling isn't really love, because it is for survival? What else would it be for?

Ms. KeeKee: Mother cats for example will kill their young or allow their new (stronger) partner kill her young in order to reproduce with the stronger male cat and thus have better cat babies.

This is another reproductive strategy in addition to maternal care but it doesn't negate it, and if you have ever seen this you can see the distress and horror in the faces of the mother cats when it happens. There is no reason to think that because this sometimes occurs, what mammals feel isn't really love. Human women have stood by in horror, unable to prevent their children from being killed in front of them. Does that mean what they felt for their offspring wasn't love?

Love is what we call the feelings and behaviors of affection and protectiveness to our offspring, mates, families and clans. A lot of mammals have very similar groups and behaviors. Yes, it helps survival. Love is one thing that helping survival feels like.

Claire: Remember, ror significant periods of human history, it was believed that the mother didn't contribute to the genetic makeup of the child.

All I know is, if I saw my kid about to get eaten by a bear (or hit by a bus, or run through with a sword) I woudn't be thinking, "Wow, if I don't do something quick my genetic material will not be preserved." I seriously doubt any person ever thinks this, and it's a guarantee that animals are not thinking it.

What mammals actually think and feel is horror at the thought of someone precious to them being harmed. The reaction arises from warm feelings of tenderness and affection that grow from the close contact and nurturing. It doesn't even have to be genetic. Certainly soldiers who give their life to save their comrades aren't acting to preserve their genetic material, they are acting from an emotional center.

These feelings of affection and protectiveness are love, and the fact that they cause creatures to act in ways that preserve genetic material merely explains why it works. It doesn't make this any less love than whatever KeeKee thinks is "actual" love.

But I've said enough, and I could be wrong, right? Surely KeeKee will be back to explain how bonding between mother and child or other feelings which might act to preseve genetic material aren't really love, and then explain what love really is and give examples. I'm looking forward to it.

Ms. KeeKee: With real love you are loving not for your own selfish survival (biology based; as mymy indicated) but for the survival of another.

It is ridiculous to suggest that love is not biology based on or for survival under any circumstances. What else could it possibly be for? Where else could it possibly come from?

Ms. KeeKee: You are anthropomorphizing when you describe what mammals actually think and feel and your idea that they feel horror and that their young are precious to them.

That is not anthropomorphizing, it basic observation. Watch the Trials of Life and Secrets of The Ocean Realm, and witness the physical expressions of emotion displayed by mother mammals - screams and cries, shaking and growling with fear, helpless whimpering - when they see something happen to their babies.

It looks very similar to how humans act under similar circumstances.

Watch Why Dogs Smile and Chimpanzees Cry. It addresses anthropomorphizing specifically. They explore animal emotional expressions and the overwhelming similarities to our own expressions, and the similarity of the brain and hormonal structures involved.

It is easy to see that we are all feeling similar things for similar reasons, why wouldn't we be?

Ms. KeeKee: Further, you ascribe to animals warm feelings and tenderness.

It is absolutely ludicrous to suggest that you feel tenderness and warm feelings when you cuddle and nurse your baby, but a mother dog or a mother bear or a mother sea lion does not feel that exact same thing when she does that exact same thing. They have the same brain structures as we do. The same kind of chemicals - oxytocin - are released into their bloodstreams as into ours.

How could it be different?

Ms. KeeKee: This instinct only feels like love to humans but at a very base level, it is for survival.

At a very base level everything is for survival, because if you don't survive nothing else matters. That doesn't make it not love. Love is the word we invented in this language to call what that feels like. What word do you use for it?

Ms. KeeKee: So now we try to get back to "what is Love." It's pretty enigmatic.

I am sorry you don't understand it. Love is the greatest feeling ever, and I have it in bucketloads every morning when I get up and get my family ready for their day. I give my kids their breakfasts and help them get their backpacks ready and walk my two younger kiddos to school. I wake my husband up with a foot massage and make sure he gets in the shower on time.

I don't have any other reason to give these weirdos my time every single day. Except I care about what happens to them. That caring is what love is and I am really sorry you don't appreciate it for the beautiful and wonderful tool it is that we created for our survival.

Ms. KeeKee: This concept of Love is not biological, not for self, but as a selfless act. You gave the example of the soldier. I was actually thinking the same thing.

There is nothing about this that is not biological. Throwing oneself into combat for one's group arises from the same place as protecting one's offspring, a drive to protect one's genetic material, because in most of human history a man's fellow combatants would be his brothers.

What I said was that the soldier was not thinking about saving his genetic material, he was thinking and feeling protectiveness and care for others, and that protectiveness and care, like all protectiveness and care, is love.

Ms. KeeKee: Another example is of the everyday hero. The person who jumps in the lake to save a stranger who is drowning.

If that was true, I would feel really sorry for practically every human that ever lived, because the opportunity for that specific kind of love comes to one in a million lives. That would make almost all ordinary human existence empty of love. Which it isn't. Almost all human lives are filled with love for the people close to us who we cherish. They don't have to be drowning. We love to be with them when they are happy the most.

So, I think you are just completely wrong about this. But, I am enjoying the discussion and look forward to your answers to my questions. Thanks again Ms.KeeKee!

Ms. KeeKee: To summarize my understanding of your thoughts: Love means to you simply put, a biological reaction.

This does not answer any of the specific questions I posed to you. Where else could it possibly come from and what else could it possibly be for? How could it possibly be different for animals who are extremely similar to us?

Ms. KeeKee: I personally believe Love is greater than that.

How so? That is all I am asking.


3-8-15 11:11  •   Evil

Ms. KeeKee: Is there such a thing as "Evil"?

And if there is, what kind of thing is it? A substance? Supernatural ick?

Ms. KeeKee: Is it energy? Bad chi?

Some people think homosexuality is evil because God doesn't like such things. However that is not a good criteria for deciding the content of evil, because there is no way to determine what gods really like or don't like.

So, how do we decide if homosexuality is bad or good? Well, we can look at it and observe how it affects human well-being. Upon observation, homosexuality seems to be naturally occurring and have some positive effects for the society. It seems to cause harm in ways no different from heterosexuality. There doesn't seem to be any malice or neglect inherent in it, any more than in heterosexuality. It seems ok.

Observation reveals that people who think it is wrong or bad are simply incorrect. It does not seem to be.

That is the straightforward way to determine if action is moral. How does it affect human well-being?

Ms. KeeKee:To play devil's advocate- homosexuality is wrong in the eyes of God not simply because He "doesn't like it" but because he created man and woman for a certain purpose and ss coupling runs counter and against the purpose of what God intended.

Mind you, I don't think so, but it's what the "True Christians" prattle on about.

Exactly. This is what I meant about the straightforward way to determine morality. You can't go by what people say. People can prattle on about anything. If you want to know how something is you have to examine it.

In the case of your devil's advocate argument, it is easy to see that nature employs many strategies in addition to couple pairing. For example, in wolf packs, only the Alpha male and female produce a litter. All the other pack adults are "aunts" and "uncles" to the alpha litter, and spend their lives helping with the raising. Even though they may never produce their own offspring, they are closely related to the pups, and are doing more in this role to preserve the DNA they share than if all the adult members had their own pups.

Similarly, many different kinds of nesting birds have "bachelor brothers." These are birds who never leave the nest to start a nest of their own, but stay behind to help the parents raise the next several broods. Again, even though they do not create new copies of the DNA themselves, they are doing a lot to make sure the family DNA goes on.

Raising offspring is hard, and lots of nuturing species have ways of creating non-reproducing "uncles" and "aunts" to help parents get the next generation up.

Are the non-Alpha wolves running counter to the purpose that God intended? Are the bachelor birds counter to His purpose? Are bachelor uncles and spinster aunts who stay on the farm instead of starting a family counter to His purpose? How can the species be sure there are some non-reproducing adults while still addressing all the normal pairing instincts?

A direct examination of reproductive strategy in nature shows there is nothing unnatural about non-reproducing adults. They are important.

Ms. KeeKee: I like that! and I never knew that about wolves or birds.

Would you mind my using that argument for future discussions elsewhere?!

Feel free, I'm glad you like it.

I learned about this and millions of other bizarre ways life has found to survive from watching Trials of Life, an animal documentary series by Sir David Attenborough. It's on Veoh - I highly recommend it. You'll never look at life the same way again.

Kathy: Maybe we should look at the matter little more.

To Figure where evil really comes from?

People are very complex. Part of our brain is dedicated to preserving the self at any cost, and sustaining the self (at least in part) by hunting and killing prey. These are the oldest parts.

Other parts of the brain came later as we developed the nurturing of young. More developed much later, and these are the parts that are dedicated to maintaining our social behaviors, and allow us to see others as ourselves.

To complicate matters further, humans are not disposed to see all other humans as themselves, but only those in their ingroup - their own tribe, family or clan. Humans are very prone to view strangers as threats, to be controlled - or eradicated.

Lastly, social groups are arranged in hierarchical rankings, and humans are prone to compete fiercely for rank against others within their own group.

So, to survive, humans were required to possess the skills to love and nurture and protect the least of their group, while at the same time have the skills to destroy and disperse rival groups. They needed the skills to slaughter in cold blood, not just animals but other people at times. They needed to be cooperative and caring and at the same time ruthlessly competitive.

Managing all these different urges and skills is really difficult, especially today when the new demands of civilization are so different from those of tribal people living on the edge of survival, where these skills and capacities evoloved. Practically everything humans do "wrong" is not wrong under other circumstances.

Also, human brains come with certain urges and dispositions, but they are fundamentally learning systems which learn by trial and error. A very great amount of the error we consider "crime" is committed by the young, with brains that are not very experienced at figuring out when to put self first, when to resort to violence, etc.

Lastly, humans cultures and thought systems have arisen which glorify warfare and dominance, which revile other cultures and uphold values like vengeance, and many humans today are being raised in these cultures.

That is where behavior we don't like comes from. When our skill sets have to include so much ruthless violence and self-scheming, is it any wonder humans make mistakes using them in complex social environments?

Kathy: When somebody is setting out to hurt others...

That is evil


The demands of civilization require that it become so. I hope we can mange it.

Ms. KeeKee: So, to summarize your views...

Hi there Ms.KeeKee, great summary! Thanks for the opportunity to elaborate.

Ms. KeeKee: You think evil developed out of necessity...

No, I think the human capacity to cause harm developed out of necessity. Is the capacity to cause harm synonymous with evil? Of course not. Very often this capacity to cause harm was a great good, for without it people would not eat, or would be destroyed by rivals. Is it evil to kill a deer to feed your family? Is it evil to kill a wolf that is encroaching on your territory? Is it evil to kill a man with a sword who is trying to kill you? Is it evil to kill a man with a sword who is not trying to kill you this second, but soon will be trying to? Is it evil to kill a man from a clan sworn to kill your clan? Is it evil to kill a guy who might be a terrorist ten thousand miles away with a drone?

Killing is almost always considered good and only gets "evil" in limited circumstances when you can come up with absolutely no justifications for it no matter how slight.

Ms. KeeKee: What at one time was a good thing for individual groups to thrive. But as people formed civilizations....

Actually, I think it probably has always been really difficult to tell when to use our capacity for harm vs. our capacity for caring. The hunter-gatherer had to kill for a living and brutally outcompete his rivals from other groups. At the same time, he had to compete against men in his own group for status and to win fair hand, but somehow without killing them. It's hard to keep all that straight, especially in moments of high emotion. I'm sure people failed at it a lot.

I do think it gets harder in some ways with with the advent of civilization, because it requires more acceptance of strangers, etc. But in some ways it got easier too. That's part of why we invented civilization - so people don't have to keep making these decisions themselves every time, but can follow statutory guidelines.

And even the guidelines are getting better as we learn and error-correct. Institutions we found fairly acceptable just a few hundred years ago - slavery springs immediately to mind - are now understood to be a very insidious evil which causes harm and social strife even unto the seventh generation (and holding). "Evil" has been expanded to include disenfranchisement.

We have thousands of years of trial and error, and figuring out what works and what doesn't, with which to debug the software of our mores, but we're running it on hardware designed for life in the jungle - or the ocean. So yeah, we humans are still operating under very old brain systems. We invented and improve civilization to compensate.

Also, it's important to remember that these complex brains can sometimes get hooked up wrong. Sometimes brains get born wrong, or get really screwed up, and an individual ends up without the capacity to distinguish appropriate use of his capacity for harm. That's pretty awful, and among what we most consider "evil," but it seems to be chiefly a malfunction.

Thanks again Ms.KeeKee!

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