09-27-16 8:55  •  Witches and Prayer

OrangeHair: This was in the news, witchcraft is enjoying a revival in Britain! Even public servants are casting prosperity spells and the like. As a pagan, I'm thrilled.

MyMy: Uhboy, the revival of crazy thinking.

OrangeHair: What? Casting spells for good fortune is no crazier than praying for good fortune.

MyMy: Exactly. Crazy.

OrangeHair: Hey! Even if it is nothing more than a person talking out a problem in their head, if they feel better afterwards then it was a good thing. I don't readily recall prayer being intended to harm anyone. Usually, there is a lot of good intent behind it. So what's the harm?

The harm is when people do not understand that they are just talking out a problem in their heads, and think they are actually invoking the supernatural. That is harmful because there is no reason to think this is really happening.

Due to very natural confirmation bias, humans are quite prone to misattribute causality. Wyma's post about getting money supernaturally may have been a joke, but there are millions of people in the world who think this really happens.

There is no evidence that humans interact with the supernatural, or even that anything exists which could be considered supernatural. Observation shows a universe which works very differently.

The harm is in not understanding real cause and effect.

It would be better to have a world where people are not afraid to call talking out a problem in their heads what it is.

OrangeHair: People are not afraid of that.

Well, whatever the reason, the unsubstantiated claims continue.

OrangeHair: If this is how an individual solves a problem, or if it is comforting to them in some way, then it is in no way hurting YOU.

I am harmed by having to live in a society where people disregard the truth. That sucks, and not just for me.

OrangeHair: It is really none of your business or anyone else's as to how an individual works through their issues in life.

The truth matters.

OrangeHair: I love and deeply respect science. However, it doesn't know everything. We don't even know why water expands when it freezes, unlike everything else. There is a lot that science does not explain.

Time to throw down some honest "I don't know."

OrangeHair: When science fails us, it makes sense to me that we try to find another explanation.

That is not throwing down some honest "I don't know."

Unsubstantiated "other explanations" which don't explain anything are not respecting science, and they can be really problematic when they lead people to think we understand things we don't, or lead people to think things work in a very different way from how they actually do, or lead people to think things can be controlled which can't.

That is what the continued propping up of "prayer" and "witchcraft" is doing. In addition to letting people think their problems through in their heads, it is letting people think their problems can be solved with magic.

The distance between that unsubstantiated claim, and how things really are, is causing a lot of error.

OrangeHair: Excuse me, "solve their problems with magic"? That's not how magic works!!

How does it work?

OrangeHair: Well, like, if my friend needs a job, I can use kitchen magic to bake him a cake. I focus my energy on getting him a job with the additions of every ingredient. Then, it's not definite, but HOPEFULLY, it makes a difference for him.

No, I am asking, how does that happen?

OrangeHair: What do you mean?

Who discovered the principles of witchcraft? What are they? Are there any known regularities?

OrangeHair: It's ancient. There are some well known witches in history that we can look to for guidance, but most of them are more contemporary.

Where are they getting their information about it?

OrangeHair: You can look up the Council of American Witches, who in 1974 set down a list of 13 principles witches can operate by.

Thanks so much for posting this. These seem to be statements of Wiccan ethical principles. Allow me to clarify - what I am asking is, what are the principles of how witchcraft works? How have they been established?

For example, "Louise," the British civil servant the original article, stresses that her witchcraft won't work unless she does a selfless act soon after. How soon? How selfless? What is known about how this works? Who discovered it?

OrangeHair: Um...I CAN answer this of course, but I'm busy right now. I'll have to PM you later.

Of course, first things first.

GreenHair: That "council" speaks for themselves. It's one of the draws to Wicca that there isn't a centralized organization telling people what is right and what is wrong. A real Wiccan knows that there is no one authority.

In physics, there is no one authority, no person or goup or people, who decided what the laws of physics are. They were discovered, because they exist independently of people. If you want to know how fast objects in Earth's gravity well fall, you don't have to consult a physics book or a "physics council" - you can drop an object yourself and measure the rate of descent. If you do, you will almost certainly find that objects in Earth's gravity well fall at 32.2'/sec². The principle can be independently confirmed.

Is there anything about witchcraft/wicca that exists independently of people? Is there any principle of how it works which can be independently confirmed?

GreenHair: Physics has some rules. There is actually an organization that sets those rules down. If you do an experimentation of physics that don't abide by the rules set forth by those organizations, (depending on the type of physics you're working with) then the experiment is declared invalid until it does.

Sorry if I wasn't clear, but this is nothing like what I am asking about. I am not talking about "rules of conduct," set down by humans for other humans to follow (or not.) I'm talking about "laws of nature," that is, observed regularities in the behavior of matter and energy. These weren't decided by people; they just are what they are.

Are there any observed regularities in how things work in the practice of witchcraft? That is, do X, and Y regularly happens?

What I'm trying to determine is, how are people who come up with spells, etc, coming by the information that the spell they are describing does what they say it will do? By what means are the components of the spell affecting the outcome?

GreenHair: The spell doesn't affect the outcome. YOU do. It's like when you need a job, standing in front of a mirror giving yourself a pep-talk. After that, you start looking harder at the classifieds, start making some changes to your resume. You get an interview and you are more confident. Like that.

So, nothing at all involving the supernatural. That's what I thought, thanks!

It's easy to see what the main problem with "witchcraft" is. It's when people are using normal mental functions to sharpen their focus and boost their confidence, and then attributing it to deities and the supernatural. It's a misunderstanding of real cause and effect.

GreenHair: You and MyMy are so funny! So determined to logic the shit out of this that you fail to see that many witches and wiccans don't believe in the supernatural.

I agree that would be very much less problematic. However there are plenty of people who do believe in the supernatural, wiccans and otherwise. That is very problematic. With no reality check, people just make it whatever they want, and a lot of it comes out really bad.

GreenHair: The one thing neither of you seems able to remember is that what you/we believe is determined by how we choose to construct our internal world view.

That is why we invented a wonderful and amazing process called checking. If you want your ideas to be very accurate, you can check and see what is actually the case and then change your internal world view to reflect it accurately.

Hello there GreenHair! It's a thrill to have such an intelligent and interesting person disagree with me! Thanks so much, I look forward to learning a lot from speaking with you.

GreenHair: I think you don't understand the sociology of language. Or how it changes the culture in which it resides.

That's possible. To what are you referring? Be specific.

GreenHair: Or the difference between hard sciences and everything else.

Making observations and describing them accurately is not "hard science." It is how people understand everything.

GreenHair: But have fun with your myopic view of the world. I used to have it too. It got boring to me and was very limiting.

So far, having accurate understanding has been a non-stop thrill ride. It has allowed me to soar to the heights of achievement and safely plumb the depths of human darkness. I have travelled the world, participated in ancient rites, climbed mountains, swum oceans. I have embraced strangers, mingled with the powerful, and found true love. I have danced at the party at the end of the universe, and peered breathlessly into the secrets of time and space.

Still, I'm always up for one more. Please tell me what would be more fun and I'll be on it!

GreenHair: There are entire college courses dedicated to learning how language affects and effects cultures both modern and ancient. If you really want to learn more, sign up for one.

Aren't you clever! That is an easy out for you, isn't it? But of course you know I was asking YOU to explain how this bears on YOUR disagreement with what I said. If the "sociology of language" actually shows that my position is incorrect, you would simply describe how. In fact, if you could really show how my position was wrong in this way, it would be fun, for you and everyone here. So, obviously you can't.

GreenHair: Enjoy your sociology course!

I did, very much, all of them, thanks.

GreenHair: Your description of the supernatural was in the terms used for hard sciences.

Nope, wrong. Simple language like "making observations" and "describing them accurately" apply to understanding everything. Every single thing.

GreenHair: I'm glad you've had such a good life. Not everyone is so lucky.

I agree, but obviously your impression that accurate understanding makes for a boring or limited life is uninformed.

The fact of the matter is that accurate understanding is the backbone of modern civilization and responsible for every real thing that makes our incredible lives possible, from technology like electric power and the microchip, to cures that extend and enhance our lives, to moral progress, like ending slavery, enfranchising women and enacting civil rights. Accuracy is the key to understanding everything. A good life is what it is for.

GreenHair: I am guessing you are the type of person who likes to have the last word, so please respond to this and I will let that be it.

Suit yourself. Too bad, for a minute there it looked like you could hang. That might have been cool. If you really knew something I didn't about this and could explain it, then I would get to learn something new, and gain in understanding. Win-win! But, lacking that, at least you read this before you bailed. As did others.

Well, perhaps we'll have a chance to discuss it another time. See you then GreenHair!

OrangeHair: You sure are trying desperately hard to get people to agree with your views, Ms J. Falwell.

When people don't understand the difference between rules of conduct and laws of physics, it matters. How are we supposed to make good decisions as a society?

OrangeHair: You are walking the path you are meant to walk and all paths are necessary for our world to thrive, in my view.

No. Failing to comprehend the difference between rules of conduct and laws of physics isn't a spiritual path. It's being wrong.

Glorifying this kind of wrongness is not helping the world to thrive.

OrangeHair: As I said, you walk the path you are meant to walk. Good for you. It is not my path but you will grow from it, as we all do.

What are you even talking about? What are you saying is my "path"?

OrangeHair: You live your life as you see fit and I will live mine.

Now you are pretending that reason is a fascist dictatorship. No, it's not telling people how to "live their life" by pointing out that reason works.

So, back to my original point.

Belief in the supernatural is a big problem for society. It results in a lot of vague blathering about nothing, for one. For two, it results in otherwise well-meaning people with no clue that there is not a "physics board" making sure your experiment conforms to the laws of physics.

What people seem to not understand is that there IS a system that works. It's not just elaborate HOPEFULLY-something-will-happen finger-crossing. The system of using reality to define reality works, and works great, amazingly, miraculously. It cures diseases, it makes incredible inventions. That system created the screen you are reading this on.

Remember that the next time you try to bake magic cake. Magic cake has never been known to do ANYTHING. Reason made this.

09-19-16 8:55  •  National Identity

Wyma: Trump represents stability, a return to our roots, our national identity. What kind of a world will this be if our Nation loses it's identity?

National identities change. Great Britain used to be a colonial power, with colonies and strongholds all over the globe. The sun never set on the British Empire.

Until it did. They had to let the colonies go. Their power contracted. Everything about what they thought mattered and made them what they were changed. They became something different.

They are still cool, still producing some of the best minds humanity has to offer.

"National identity" is whatever you happen to be doing. Right now the U.S. is not doing everything right. If changing our national identity is what we have to do in order to do more things right, so be it. I'd rather be doing the right thing.

09-19-16 8:55  •  Turning to Christ

Cora: I see you admiring people who chose atheism. I just think you are so closed-minded to Christianity, you would never admire a story about a person who turned to Christ.

Actually, I was the moderator of an online discussion called Crossroads of Religion for many years, and I have heard many wonderful stories of this kind. I thought I would share a couple of them with you.


Years ago we had a young man in our forum who was a fiery atheist. He had no use for faith, but he was more than a non-believer - he was angry, insulting, combative to anything having to do with religion. He knew how to use reason, but would fall back on insults just as easily. He went by the screen name of Metraton. (It was a deliberate misspelling of Metatron, the biblical angel.)

I had to bounce a lot of his posts at first - we had a pretty firm no-insult policy at the Crossroads - but he kept coming back. Eventually he toned down a bit, and we learned a little of his story. He had been raised Catholic, but had been one of those poor, unfortunate boys to encounter a sick priest.

He was extremely bitter. As a boy he had loved Jesus, but he could not reconcile the admirable figure with the supernatural tales, or with the ills he had seen in Jesus' name. He felt that he could never feel that love again.

But, he was intelligent, and he listened to the other posters. As time went on, he began to rethink his stance. He heard Christians talking about the words of Jesus, and found he could still admire their amazing wisdom. He began to feel there might be a place in his life for Jesus, not as a savior, but as a teacher. He began to see that compassion and forgiveness require no faith. He found that he could again find his love for Christ, and he vowed to express it by applying His teachings to his own life.

Over the course of years, I saw Metraton emerge from his bitterness and grow amazingly in wisdom and kindness. He dropped his angry, combative style and eventually came to be considered one of our wisest members, with his consciencious attention to upholding compassionate principles.

I loved Metraton and I would call him a wonderful turning-to-Christ story.

J and W

Here's another example that happened more recently. This is an actual exchange from the Crossroads. W. is a Christian, angry, struggling with her pain and her faith. J. is my husband and co-moderator of the forum.

W: My brother tried to kill me. My family always took his side in everything. My mother did everything in her power to help him. I have forgiven my mother and we have had long talks about it.

My brother comes up for parole soon. I have not forgiven him yet for the many things he did to me. That is something I pray to God about all the time. I haven't opened up that wound enough to let God have it yet, I am still holding tightly to it. How can I forgive?

J.: Here is something to help give it up to who ever you care to...

Forgiveness is first about you. Jesus Christ said as you forgive, so shall you be forgiven.

You are carrying a burning ember in your heart. Your lack of forgiveness hurts you, constantly. It hurts your relationships with every one you care for, even your god. I'm not saying you have to make nice with your brother, or even care for him in the future. I'm saying set that ember down. You don't need it and it is hurting you. Where do you think much of that rage comes from?

You are justly angry, but that is no excuse. Don't worry. You won't forget. You don't have to be open to him. Just learn that you don't have to think about it or remind yourself about it or beat yourself up about it. Let the past handle itself and refocus on your present.

In a way you are quite lucky though. You can use setting it down as a trick to deepen your relationship with God.

Every time the thought comes up, as soon as you notice it, purposefully hand it to Jesus and say "Here! I have forgiven this. Please deal with it for me Jesus." Then hold that last word for a while in your mind. This will create a good habit out of a bad one. At first it may seen hard or silly or even overwhelming. Just stick to it every time you can and it will happen a bit quicker each time. This is important. Don't go looking for it, just let it happen on its own. Eventually you will replace the anger, hurt and pain of the past for thinking of Jesus now. You'll just skip straight to your thought of Jesus, bypassing the old hurt.

Unlike pop psych, nothing is removed or changed. You are just rerouting the trigger to where you want it to be to give you the life you are looking for. You are learning to choose the good and let go of the bad.

W: You know J, that is just amazing! Rerouting our focus is what its all about. I never truly thought about rerouting my triggers. So many people in my church tell me to "give it to Jesus!" but they never really explained HOW! Your description is much like when atheletes visualize themselves winning every time they practice. I like your idea.

Thank you J. Even though we rarely see eye to eye, we do have mutual respect for each other. I wish others could agree to disagree and still have meaningful debate.

W. seems a lot happier since she decided to turn to Jesus in this way, so it's certainly made a difference.

I admire people who learn and grow and benefit from their path, no matter where it leads.

Cora: Well of course, as an atheist, that person was angry and bitter. Turning to Christ is what softened his heart.

I think I should point out that Metraton is still an atheist. He is following the path of Christ in a non-theistic way, as wisdom for its own sake.

Buddhists do not (necessarily) believe that the Buddha was a prophet, or a supernatural figure. He is usually regarded simply as a wise man, with uncommonly good advice, nothing more. Metraton says this is how he chooses to regard Christ...not as a magical figure, but as an enlightened man who knew what he was talking about.

Cora: I don't agree, but I have to say, your husband sounds like a very caring, compassionate person.

He is amazing. I would worship him if he would let me, but of course he doesn't. Well, not often.:-)

09-15-16 11:55  •  "Black Dads Matter"

VeeBeeDee: Some person vandalized this vandalism. Where someone had spray-painted "Black Lives Matter," someone else came along and crossed out "Lives" and wrote in "Dads," so it reads "Black Dads Matter."

So true! In fact it's probably the biggest single solution.

The solution is to not have any person be a surprise dad - or mom. The biggest single solution is full saturation birth control.

VeeBeeDee: That won't work.

A lot of people aren't surprised. It's on purpose. Once the government stops paying people more money every time they birth an illegitimate maybe it will stop. A lot of people use babies as a way to get a paycheck. A snap card. It's become a lifestyle.

What is "a lot"? What percentage?

Hello again V! This is a thoroughly fascinating premise! Thanks so much for posting it. If true, it would be very disturbing, but frankly, I thought it sounded more like a conservative canard than a fact. So, since you did not provide any percentages, I decided to look into it myself.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, about 21% of people in the U.S. are currently receiving "welfare" like SNAP and TANF. (This is WAY down from about 35% in 2012.) About 40% of those recipients are black people, so that means about 8.4% of Americans are black people on welfare.

I doubt you have any figures on how many of them are welfare queens, i.e, "lifestyle" recipients, having babies because it increases their benefits. However according to the DoC, only about a quarter of welfare recipients receive benefits for more than 2 years. So that could only be about 2% of the American population.

And that's only if EVERY person who stayed on for longer than two years was actually a welfare queen. Investigations usually find tiny percentages for fraud and abuse, in the area of 2-3%.

So, even being very generous, there could not be more than about %.25 of Americans, far less than one percent, who are living "the SNAP lifestyle." What's more, these are among the poorest, least educated and least enfranchised people in the country, most of them in fact children. They are almost perfectly powerless and have practically nothing.

There is no basis for this insane claim that what society needs most is for %.25 of people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They are not hurting us. Their utter disenfranchisement and lack of better options is hurting them - and us.

This is why full saturation birth control is actually a baseline solution that will affect all levels of society. It would help the %.25 of Americans who are "abusing welfare," and it would help the vast majority of Americans, who are subject to unplanned pregnancy at a rate of about half - much higher as you go down the income and education scale.

In particular, it would help the "missing father" phenomenon by not making fathers of any man who has not specifically chosen fatherhood. This would help men in every race and class, and women too. It would work.

Thanks again V!

Mrs.D: If Black Dads Matter, maybe we should stop incarcerating them?

Cora: If they do dumb illegal shit, they are going to get locked up.

Mrs.D: . . . at higher rates than whites for similar crimes.

Cora: Aha! And why is that!?

There are reasons, and it has nothing to do with blacks doing more dumb illegal shit than whites do.

For one, police discriminate. They stop people of color more than whites, they police neighborhoods of color more strictly than white neighborhoods. For two, police target black drivers, stopping them and handing them tickets at typically two to three times the rates of white drivers.

Then, blacks (and poor people generally) are less able to post bails and pay fines, and so are more likely to see a jail cell for infractions the higher classes are barely inconvenienced by.

Of course, the "War on Drugs" disproportionately affects minorities. Blacks are about four times more likely to be arrested for drugs than whites even though they use drugs at about the same rates. During the "Drug War" the arrest rates for whites rose only from 3.5 to 4.6 per 1,000 persons, but for blacks it rose from 6.5 to 29.1, a huge increase.

Many people - of all races - are in American jails just because the U.S. has much tougher drugs laws and much harsher sentencing requirements for drugs than other developed nations. Our jail and prison populations are largely made up of the mentally ill, addicted and non-violent, for reasons other than public safety.

Then, the poor have to rely on overworked and inadequate public defenders, and many never see a lawyer at all. Because of this, the poor are more likely to plead guilty even if innocent, because of bad advice or poor understanding of their legal rights. Actual trials are becoming very rare. Over 95% of cases are settled in plea-bargains, largely due to very harsh mandatory sentences.

Of course, time in jail makes everything worse. People who have to wait in jail for their hearing are four times more likely to end up sentenced to prison than those who got out on bail. Prison sentences are longer than they used to be, especially for people of color. Prison contains very little in the way of help for the mentally ill or addicted, and the poor are disproportionately isolated, as even phone calls are exorbitantly expensive. Even those in for non-violent offenses have no choice but to become part of the pervasively violent prison culture, either by adopting it or being victimized by it, with irreparable damage.

Then, once out, the criminal justice hangover - probation and parole, even for non violent offenses - make life unlivable, especially for the poor. Many have to pay big fees for supervision by private companies, and if they fall behind they go back to jail, even if the original crime was minor. And people with a criminal record have a much harder time getting jobs, housing, going to school and getting assistance. More than 60% of formerly incarcerated people are unable to find a job a year later. And employers are far more likely to disregard the application of a black person with a criminal record than a white person.

So if we ended the ridiculous War on Drug Users, and turned to solutions other than "lock 'em up and throw away the key" for the troubled people in our society, maybe we could avoid systematically tearing families apart and destroying them from the outside.

09-14-16 6:38  •  Coal and Sticks

Houseplant: Do you believe anything, any of the facts that are told in the Old Testament? Anything that can match up to the history books?

A very few, but what difference does it make?

Houseplant: The facts prove the Bible is true word of God.

Actually it doesn't. People can put a fact and a story into the same sentence. The presence of a fact does not mean there is no possible presence of non-fact.

For example, Troy was a real place, but that in no way suggests that the Trojan War was really started when Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, enticed three goddesses to fight over a golden apple marked "For the Fairest."

In the Bible, the "facts" that really align with historical accounts are few and far enough between to make it indistinguishable from the mytho-historial accounts of other cultures.

Houseplant: I just know it is very important we don't worship other Gods.

There is no evidence that this is important. A person said it. So what? People say a lot of things.

Houseplant: There is one God that made the whole universe.

There is no evidence of this.

Houseplant: Why does God punish people who don't worship him?

There is no evidence that He does. A person said it. That's all.

Houseplant: You are 100% right. Hell sounds like a horror story. God forbid it be true. I really can't imagine this being true at all.

Just in case though...better to be safe than sorry. This causes enough fear that I don't want to go this place.

Well, if you are going to believe this "just in case," why don't you believe the Greek afterlife distribution story "just in case" too? After all, if the Greeks and not the Christians are right about the afterlife, there are millions of Christians right now standing on the wrong side of the River Styx, going "Crap, we got salvation from Christ but what good does that do? We should have been buried with coins for the Ferryman!

Houseplant: That is the basis belief of all Christianity.

Yeah, unfortunately. Luckily that suggests an obvious avenue forward.

Houseplant: So you are not scared of God in the OT at all.

Nope, and nor am I scared of getting struck by a thunderbolt from Zeus. I am not scared of getting coal and sticks from Santa for Christmas either.

Things that are all talk are not scary.

Houseplant: The people right now in the NT are not scared of God judegments.

Are you kidding? Christians seem scared shitless that God will give them coal and sticks, or whatever bad thing they think He does to "other people." They are terrified of becoming "other people" and so spend their entire lives furiously enacting antidotes to judgement.

Houseplant: Do think we should be fearful of God at all?

Of course not.

But, everyone has fears. So, I like to keep mine to a minimum by a) having a very good understanding of reality, so that I know what to actually fear and what not to fear, and b) using attention to fear only when necessary.

09-13-16 11:49  •  Full On Society

At the beginning of Obama's presidency we had the chance to discuss our ideas for a better future. The following two discussions arose from that time and, with some refinement, still form the basis of my line of thinking.

Ella: What is in your perfect world?

Wow! I've thought about this a lot, and someone finally asks! Okay, here we go.

Full Public Education

Everyone would be able to get as much education as they wanted, throughout their whole lives, just as easily as kids get their grade school right now. The schools would be generously funded, the teachers would be well paid, the standards would be high and they would stick to the truth.

Full Public Healthcare

Everyone would have everything they need to keep them healthy taken care of in the best way possible. No quibbling over which treatment is "covered." Financial concerns are nothing against a person's health. The full range of treatment options would be available to anyone who needed them.

Full Public Housing

There would be large dorms constructed in urban centers, enough for everyone, so that no person, no matter what, would ever have to be without a bed and a bathroom of his own. They would be nicely maintained, not tenements. They would provide an address and access to phones and internet so that people could use them as a base to improve their lives and look for work. Anyone who wanted more than one room and a shower could work for it, and most people would.

Full Public Nutrition

In the public dorms (and elsewhere as needed) there would be simple, nutritious cafeteria-style food served to all comers. No person who was hungry would ever have to go without a nutritious meal. Anyone who wanted more variety, higher quality, and more of their favorites, could get a job and work for it, and most of them would.

Full Employment

There would be simple jobs available to anyone who needed money. Absolutely every person who wanted to work, even with no skills, poor job history, etc., could be put to work immediately for as long as they needed it, making a minimum livable wage. Anyone who wanted more out of life could get an education and compete for more demanding, higher paying jobs. But the bottom would not have to be unemployment.

Full Childcare

Any parent who needed to have the children safely cared for for any reason could leave them with excellent quality caregivers. It would be available twenty-four hours on a moments notice, and it would be very sport- and education-oriented, to give kids lots of interesting things to learn and do while they are there.

Full Democratic Participation

All citizens would be required to vote. Politics would be publicly funded and anyone could run for public office without having to raise gobs of money.

Full Equality

People would not by discriminated against by age, sex, race, or sexual preference.

Full Justice

The criminal justice system would not be dominated by jails. Only people who were actually physically dangerous would be confined. Anyone else who was not a threat to public safety would not be held in confinement. Their debt to society would be paid in a meaningful way, like community service, making reparations to those they have harmed, and learning what is expected and how to do it and how to avoid such a terrible mistake in the future. People would not be sentenced to jail, to learn from criminals how to be better criminals...they would be sentenced to school, to learn from citizens how to be better citizens.

(In fact, the public dorms I mentioned could actually be dorms, attached to large public education facilities.)

Full Renewable Energy

All electrical needs would be provided by safe, clean renewable energy sources.

Full Environmental Stewardship

We would stop doing things that kill the plants and animals and poison the air, water and soil. Other ways would be found to get the things we need.

Full Pedestrian Neighborhoods

Enough "dieting" and "going to the gym"! People need to get exercise the main way they always used to, by walking to where they need to go. Urban neighborhoods would be arranged into areas where homes, markets, workplaces, libraries, schools, theaters, and restaurants would all be within a healthy walking distance from each other. You could get most of the things you needed for daily life by walking around, or biking, and using motor vehicles would just be for long journeys or the odd occasion.

Full Cognitive Liberty

People would have full freedom of conscience, to make their own life choices according to their own evaluations of the risks and benefits. In other words, stop locking up the peaceful pot smokers and letting the beery brawlers go free!

Marijuana would be available right next to the beer and the cigarettes. And if more people decided to choose the pot instead of those other two miserable options, they would immediately be better off.

Other substances would be available to people who are interested. They might require some kind of certification, like a driving test to make sure you understand how to do it safely, and they might require some kind of prescription, so they could be dispensed appropriately, but they would be available. No locking people up just for having fun (with the good drugs) or being stupid (with the bad drugs.) Addiction would be cured, not condemned. Drugs would be treated like what they are, a part of life.

That's a start.

And now, of course, the big question, how are we going to pay for all this???

It's quite easy. We are already paying for this right now. We just aren't getting it.

We could pay less money than we pay now, and have better health, if we adopted a national healthcare plan like Canada has.

We could pay less money than we pay now for welfare and food stamps if we simply provided minimal levels of housing and food for people.

We could pay for actual employment - people doing things - for less money than we are paying out in unemployment while people scramble around trying to "find" work.

We could pay less money than we pay now for maintaining the world's largest prison population if we simply provided education and social training for people who make mistakes, and for everyone else too.

We could have fully renewable energy systems for less than we pay now to fatten up the oil companies.

We could easily pay for full drug education and treatment for what we are now paying under the table for drugs to the black markets of South America and Afganistan. We could tax 'em, too.

Most importantly, if everyone in the entire population was educated, healthy, socially skilled and free of discrimination, everyone would be able to strive for something higher than the public systems. People would be strong, smart, and have what it takes to work, and prosper, and make the economy prosper. More great ideas would be had. More great opportunities would be created. More great investments would be available.

Everyone in society would be wealthier, and not just in money.

What do you think?

Ella: I. LOVE. THIS. That was AWESOME! I want to live in your world...lol.

Thanks. I've been thinking about this for a long time. Thanks for the chance to articulate it.

We're actually not far from this in America today. We have fairly good systems in our society for educating most people, and providing for most people, and healing most people. We just need to expand that slightly to include everyone.

And, we already have an understanding that we do need to help everyone. But what we are doing is not working that great. A few changes here and there, not in what we are spending, but what we are doing with the money, would make a HUGE difference.

Ella: The main problem would be to shift the massive inertia that exists in American society now to move towards this direction.

Ah, but that is an attitude problem, not a design flaw within the system. Attitudes can change, and in America they often do. And, we are not really that far from this now. We have systems for educating, helping and healing, we just need to make them work better and make sure everybody gets to participate.

Ella: Research and research findings will always be skewed as long as self interest groups keep running it (ie. Pharm companies); history and current affairs will always be rewritten, expunged, altered by the "conquoring" nations.

To an extent, but that's not the issue. The U.S. ranks last in the first world in science. Other countries are doing it better. We can find out what they are doing and do it that way. It is not insurmountable.

The main problem in the U.S. is a gross misunderstanding of biology, mainly due to the "creationist" crap which has been clogging the system for a century. This debate needs to be declared settled. If other countries can get past this then so can we.

Ella: Some specifics on your specifics, lol:

Full housing - where does the funding come from ?

1) Current systems of social welfare. We are giving out money to pay for housing but it's not working. People don't need to get a small amount of money, and then scramble around for something they can afford. They need a bed and a bath now. It should be healthy, and dignified, but utterly minimal, so people will seek out something better when they are able.

2) The current prison system. Why are we paying to house people with a bed and a bath, but not letting them leave to get an education or a job or better themselves?

Ella: Full employment - doesnt this sort of exist now? kinda?

Sort of...but the vast majority of jobs are the type where you are one of many who fills out an application, you are vetted, you will be turned down if someone else is better qualified, and if you are hired they expect you to join the staff.

So, when people just need a bit of money now, they go to loan sharks...I mean, cash loan offices. Or perhaps they pawn something of theirs...or something of someone else's.

There should be place where you can go and say, I need a hundred dollars. What can I do? And they would say, here, do this for twelve hours and you got it. No application, no background check, no getting passed over for someone better, no questions asked. Do the work, get the money.

Someone who has been passed over for other jobs should be able to work in this system too. There's plenty to do. We need to make it easier for people to do it.

Ella: Full Childcare - this would have to be heavily regulated to ensure the safety.

For the most part, we don't have any trouble keeping our schools safe. We could make this a twenty-four-hour, all-ages, fun school, with the same safety criteria.

Ella: How are we going to pay for all this, you ask? - aye theres the rub.

We are paying craploads of money right now for a private healthcare system that is systematically killing and bankrupting people. We need to redirect that into a more efficient system like what you Canadians have!

In that same way, we can take the money from the systems that are clearly not working now and use it for this instead.

Plus, there are two big sources of revenue that are untapped. We could slightly decrease our stupid fucking military budget and we would have lots of extra money. We could slightly increase our taxation of the top ten percent and we would have loads more. Those two changes would barely cause a ripple in the systems and they would do so much good.

Here's a chart Bill Maher showed on Real Time last week:

And we could tax weed!!

Ella: do you really think that higher education would make people "smarter" in ways that make them visionaries? I dont.

Not everyone, of course. But shit, Ella, there are people who would be visionaries right now if they had the education. Our current system is crushing everyone who isn't perfect, or able to fake it. So much human potential is languishing away in the prisons and the ghettos and the crack houses. If they hadn't make one wrong turn, or had all their options systematically stripped away, most of those people could be doing at least a little better. Some of them could be doing A LOT better.

Ella: Full Democratic Participation - Anyone could run, but honestly i think that they need to be able to satisfy some educational criteria, and work experience before being allowed to rule the country.

Well, maybe. Seems like a big lack in this department would go against a candidate in an open election. If the population was decently educated themselves they would be slightly less likely to elect an undereducated dope over an educated person. Or, the less educated person might actually have some angle that would make their participation worthwhile.

As long as it wasn't all decided by "wealth=win" it would be a big improvement. The money we are blowing on this now could be better spent.

Ella: Full Equality - How does one impliment this?

Same way we have implemented the partial, but still greatly improved, equality we now enjoy. Great big gobs of social will to make it happen.

We ended slavery. We implemented civil rights legislation. We ended sodomy laws. This is next.

Ella: Full Justice - what do we do with the "unemployable"? People who are mentally affected in some way?

Keep trying. Let them do the best they can. Take good care of them. Confine only the dangerous.

Ella: I dont have much faith in humanity to self monitor and self regulate some of these things effectively.

It almost works now! We could do this with the exact same level of self-monitoring we have right now. It wouldn't be perfect, but we're not doing that bad.

Think back, just a hundred years ago. Since then, we have come so far, made so many improvements to the quality of life for so many in the world! This is just half a step better. It's worth a try.

09-13-16 11:44  •  Workonomics

With economic inequality greater than ever and rising, it is obvious that our economic systems are not working. The traditional choices for economic systems, "capitalism" and "socialism," do not work to provide everything we need. In particular, capitalism, as we currently practice it, is failing the majority of the population, while practices which work better are rejected simply on ideological ground, because they would represent "socialism," which must be avoided at all costs.

It is time to transcend the old ideological paradigms of what ideas are "capitalist" and therefore good, what ideas are "socialist" and therefore bad, etc. The ideological approach is not working. We need to operate our economy with a different invisible hand...not one wielded by the effect of greed, but by the effect of efficacy - Does it work?

I am inventing a new theory of social policy. I'm calling it Workonomics. It means, "Do what works."

Works for who?


How can we make things work for everyone?

We just have to do the best we can.

How can we know what works?

Examine reality and find out.

In practice, it represents a hybrid of capitalism and socialism which has been shown to work wherever it is tried, including here in the United States. The ideas include strong checks and balances on power, and full public services including health and education.

I think it's time to start solving problems with solutions that work. What do you think?

OtterPop: Hmm...As long as I get to keep living how I'm living and doing what I'm doing, alrighty.

If everything you are doing is working for everyone involved, you shouldn't see much difference. But if you are an American, your health care system and your education system and your economy and your government are not working very well at all. You are statistically likely to have poorer health, to have to work much harder than the previous generation to stay afloat, and to be unrepresented in your government.

So, since much of living how we are living and doing what we are doing isn't working, we would be in better shape if we examined what does work, what worked before and what works elsewhere. The idea might involve changing some of what we are doing and how we are living, but changing them for something that works better.

OtterPop: I'm an American. I have decent health insurance and my children don't utilize the public school system, my 8 year old goes to private school. I'm happy with my life and the way we live.

As an American, your fortunes could change in an instant. Your options for health insurance and private school would evaporate if you found yourself without money. This can happen very easily. And, your life and the way you live could be damaged irreparably at any time if the current system continues to boom and bust.

However there is really no reason to be concerned that you would somehow like healthcare that works for everyone or education that works for everyone less. For example, health outcomes and customer satisfaction with national healthcare, like in Canada, or with our own Medicare, rank much higher than with private systems. And even countries with great public education systems like Finland still have private schools as well, so that would always be an option.

OtterPop: If you give out stuff for free, what's to prevent everyone from being lazy asses?

The usual. Education. Opportunity. Trying to impress the opposite sex. Etc.

OtterPop: I know a shitload of people that would be happy as a pig in shit to have free housing, free internet and free food and not want anything else.

Well I don't. The people I know are like the majority of Americans, who want to have a normal life with normal careers and homes.

As usual, the big hangup is the ideology that you have to threaten people with death to prevent "laziness."

If some person is content to sit in one room, share a computer with strangers and never have a choice of anything they eat, then they may have serious problems. Some people do. Our duty to people with serious problems is to make sure that they get every bit as much education and healthcare as they need to solve them.

And if after everything we try fails, then what? It still hurts society more to put that failure in the street than it does to house and feed him.

In Workonomics, we don't have prevent every single person from ever getting a single morsel they didn't slave for. That is an ideological position. In practice, as long as good avenues upward are maintained, a small percentage of people getting "free" food works much better - and costs less - for everyone in the system.

OtterPop: Our welfare system is abused quite a bit already.

The bottom 10% of this country only controls 2% of the wealth, even with the all the scams and cheats thrown in. That tiny amount of money is fairly meaningless in the scheme of things.

The real abuse in our system is happening where all the money is...at the top.

NextTimeOn: I like your ideas! Here are some of my thoughts on your proposals:

As far as education, at some point people have to be expected to pay back into the system.

I don't really agree this is necessary, any more than kids need to literally "pay back" the country for their grade school right now. This is a social investment we regularly make in having an educated populace. It's more of a "pay-forward" system - highly educated people will ultimately contribute far more to the system throughout their lives, by having better health, better careers, making better life choices and being better able to perform their civic duty.

NextTimeOn: I would be concerned with lazy people just continuously going back to school and being unproductive and never getting a job.

I don't really share the perennial concern with "laziness" that seems to bother everyone so much. Most people seem to want more from life than is available to the lazy. If some few just kept going to school, they should eventually learn to be productive. And if they are so completely a-typical that they never figure out how to be productive, well...I can think of far worse places they could be than in a classroom.

NextTimeOn: How do we fund? Will we have a flat tax system? Will we have a tiered tax system much as we have right now?

Progressive taxation works. For one thing, it is fair. As Adam Smith said, when people are able to take great advantage of an economy for personal enrichment, they need to pay for keeping the economy going in a manner proportional to their use of it. For another thing, progressive taxation is a check on the accumulation of unmandated power. As our Founding Fathers realized, great power must be checked and balanced.

For most average Americans it would probably not be much different than the tax rate we paid in the 90's, which balanced the budget with surpluses. Corporations and financial wealth would need to be taxed at a similar rate, instead of the slim-to-none rate they are paying now. This is what the Nobel Laureate economists are saying we need to do to make the system work. In Workonomics, that is what matters.

NextTimeOn: If we are providing food, health care, housing and education, where can charitable donations really go?

Keep in mind that in the hybrid system I am proposing, there will still be private choices as well as public. People can always find ways to help voluntarily with their money, I don't see it as a problem.

NextTimeOn: What do we do with those that want to abuse such a system? If they are posing a greater harm to our society by abusing the system, is it mandatory jail, death on a second offense?

There isn't really any way to abuse a system which is simply available to everyone. It's like the old soup-kitchen quandary - how do you keep people from taking soup from the line if they already have soup at home? The answer is, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to check everyone in line to make sure they really "need" soup. It is far cheaper, easier and more practical to just give soup to the people in the line.

People who want better soup, with more varieties of choices, and things in addition to plain soup, can get a job and work for it, just like most people do right now.

NextTimeOn: What about our justice system? I strongly feel that we need to be more intolerant of violent crimes, get rid of the idea that people can be rehabilitated and stop wasting so much money on them when they are on death row.

If we didn't lock up so many millions of non-violent people, and our system wasn't so disenfranchising, we would have resources available to confine people who are a danger. It has nothing to do with "rehabilitating" them, it's a public safety matter. It's not a waste of money to maintain public safety, and it would represent a very small portion of our current prison population.

I don't agree that execution is warranted. Not because the intractably violent don't deserve it - who cares what they deserve? - but that we don't deserve to be killers just to have vengeance on the likes of them.

OtterPop: What happens to our existing businesses when you start offering free accomodations and food? Would you see some motels and cheap cafes going out of business?

I would not count our responsibility to cheap motel and cafe owners as greater than our responsibility to everyone else. For example, I certainly wouldn't say we should not educate the public on the dangers of crappy fast food just so that McDonald's won't lose business. Our social responsibility to public health is greater.

I'm sure innovative or greedy business owners can find an angle.

Again, Workonomics is about what would work for everyone. If there are solutions that would work better for more people I am very interested in hearing them.

But it doesn't take a brainiac to see that our current system is not working for the majority. Some changes, even just to implement better worker organization and more financial regulation, would return us to systems that worked better in the U.S. a few decades ago. Some changes to public health and education would give us systems that are working better in other countries right now. That is what Workonomics is about.

OtterPop: Why are you doing this?

If I was in a position to present Workonomics to the public discourse today, I would present it as a way forward from the failure of the outmoded system we are using. It is leaving party and directional differences behind and choosing policies which really work to fix the problems that they are designed to fix.

The original poster for the Occupy Wall Street movement asked, "What is our one demand?"

If it was up to me, the demand would be, "We demand systems that work."

So, how does that play out in actual policy?

The economy has been stressed into collapse before. What worked to save it then, and what worked to keep it sound and prosperous for decades, would work to keep the economy sound now. Our policies need to include:

Strong regulation of finance. We need to restore the Glass-Steagall regulation that prevented banks from mixing speculative finance with regular banking. It was working.

Strong labor protections. The labor movement produced the highest quality of life and the most prosperous middle class in human history. It was working.

Public Investment. Our infrastructure needs repair and a public employment program would create the jobs we need. A public works program jump-started our economy the last time it collapsed and we need to do it again.

Public education. The only way to become enfranchised is through education. There is no conceivable obstacle which should be allowed to stand between people and as much education as they want. Countries which provide this have very well educated people. It works.

Public health care. This system is producing measurably better health for significantly less money for citizens in counties who use it. It works, and can be shown to.

Cognitive Liberty. The Prohibition of alcohol created the same social ills of black markets and crime that the "Drug War" is producing. Ending the current Prohibition will work to check those forces the same way ending the last one did.

Public Services. Our social services have minmized poverty and kept this country a first world nation for decades. This is no time to start hacking away at them. Social retirement and social assistance work to keep the nation from the ravages of true poverty.

These are not ideological arguments, offered from a love of "socialism," they are advocating real policies which work and can be shown to. And as you can see, market economics is still understood to be the engine of commerce, despite it being a "capitalist" idea, because that obviously works for a lot of things too. These ideas are not mutually exclusive. What works from both sides of the ideological divide can be used at the same time. In fact they can only work together.

That's what Workonomics represents.

OtterPop: But seriously, how would you pay for all this?

We could take the money we are currently wasting maintaining the world's unnecessarily largest military occupation force and prison system and repurpose it. We can use progressive taxation. We are a very wealthy society.

OtterPop: You can't avoid the question "What do you do if there isn't enough money?" by responding "There will always be enough money".

That was not my response. But I think it's more ridiculous to claim that there somehow just "isn't enough money" in this world for everyone to have enough to eat.

The answer is, we continue get the money for strong social services, whatever form they take, the way we always have - by taxing the economy, like we do now. When the economy is not being tanked by runaway military spending and hoarding by an unregulated financial sector, it works pretty good...good enough to keep America a first world nation with minimal poverty for decades.

It's not impossible, because we're already doing it. And there's really no choice. Not having good social services costs a lot more money in the long run.

09-12-16 2:44  •  Finding Oneself

AngieD: I have heard about people trying to "find themselves." What is this? Is it just taking time to think about your life and accept things as they are? Or looking back for "lessons" we have learned through troubling times? How does one find oneself?

In Zen, what we find is that the self is an illusion. It is created by your brain to maintain your personality but it is not 'you.' The way it is created is by thinking words.

The way you transcend 'self' is to stop thinking words. Then you see that you are simply awareness of what is occurring. 'You' are not the speaker, but the listener.

09-12-16 10:01  •  Nothing

QJL107: As a Muslim, I do not believe that Jesus was God.

If you are right, then all of Christiandom is wrong about this. If Christianity is right, then all of Islam is wrong about it.

Is it possible that a person's sincere belief, which they know in their heart to be true, could be wrong?

QJL107: May I ask what are your beliefs?

I avoid belief.

QJL107: So you believe nothing?

Nothing comes to mind.

QJL107: Don't you believe in science?

I do not see that it is necessary to "believe" in science. That science exists is apparent by the observation of people using the scientific method. That science works to advance human knowledge is apparent by the change in what is possible through the acquisition of knowledge. What's to "believe"?

QJL107: I believe all God centered religions maybe right to some extent and all religions are wrong to an extent.

What are they right about? What are they wrong about? How can you tell?


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