27 January 2013

The God Pot

Hopi Bowl
I do not worship gods. I am neither theist or atheist. Theism like atheism, is philosophical quicksand.

My life is a flicker of light - too short for the ball and chain of theism or atheism.
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong.
Stephen Stills
Attributing human features and foibles to a deity is naive and absurdly human-centric. My theist friends ascribe human traits to deities. It's inexcusable, but I still love you.

leap of faith is antithetical to critical thinking. Theists, while otherwise lovable, charitable, or admirable, are disqualified as critical thinkers.

Atheists fancy themselves critical thinkers. Atheists are typically smart people trapped by the same narrow thinking as theists. Theists and atheists are the A and B sides of the same vinyl record.

Atheists often quote Epicurus as argument against the existence of god.
"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"
― Epicurus, 341–270 B.C
Shang Dynasty Pot
Note the personification of god. Benevolent god or malevolent god, why bother? It's drivel.

The notion of a benevolent god or a malevolent god is not a particularly illuminating tack. Existence and non-existence arguments are the pet topics of blowhards and gas-bags, neither of whom are particularly good observers or listeners.

So What Then?

If pushed to arrange my existential thoughts into a framework, it would be a framework consisting of two classes of stuff:
  1. Stuff that's well-understood like the earth-bound erosion and transport of big rocks into smaller and smaller rocks, or the laws of earth-bound thermodynamics, and 
  2. Stuff that's not well-understood like particle physics or human consciousness. 
A personal tendency, more for convenience than out of reverence, worship, or fear, is to relegate all of the not well-understood stuff into the god pot for further review and study.
Humanity's god pot holds all the stuff humans don't understand.
The god pot has indescribable volume. We cannot know its extent. That's why it exists - for further review and study. It is precisely this absurd pursuit that keeps us alive. This, it seems, is our quest. We want to feel like we're adding, however inconsequentially, to the pot of human knowledge.

One might be tempted to hypothesize that over the short blip of humanity, the pursuit of knowledge, the quest to know that which is knowable, would have rendered the contents of the god pot infinitesimally smaller. But no dice. That line of thinking is also naively human-centric.
Anasazi Bowl

So here we are.

I, for one, am unwilling to commit to a leap of faith. Nevertheless like most of my species, I have notions. Notions are like superstitions. Everyone has them.

My chief notion is that knowledge is like the conservation of energy. I suspect the sum or volume of all knowledge is constant. Also like the conservation of energy, knowledge cannot be created or destroyed, rather it changes state within the context of humanity.

Insomuch as there is an indescribable amount unknown, our god pot remains constant. When we learn something individually or collectively, we remove something from the god pot, but the void quickly fills with another unknown.
"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."
― Carl Sagan
Humanity's god pot is as real as our collective ignorance. In the human mind, god exists.
"When I joined the band I didn't know any of the tunes, and when I left the band I didn't know any of the tunes!"
Keith Jarrett reflecting on playing in Miles Davis's band

20 January 2013

Fairness, stupid.

Bill Clinton's campaign strategist famously distilled the 1992 Presidential campaign message to eager staffers into the following three words:
"The economy, stupid".
James Carville
Some 21-years hence, my two-word campaign message is:
"Fairness, stupid."

Alleged Recovery

As someone who entered the US workforce 30 years ago, I have experienced economic recession, economic stagnation, and economic recovery. By economic recovery, I mean alleged economic recovery. I use the modifier alleged because I mean to say, loud and clear:
Each US economic recovery seems to leave more people behind.
We have to ask if this is the kind of society we aspire to be -- a society that leaves people behind.


Fair play is part of my DNA. My father was one of 200,000 telephone workers who walked out in 1968 because AT&T refused a modest wage bump to match cost of living increases. Collective bargaining, at it's essence, is negotiating what is fair. After 18 days, AT&T conceded. Dad got his wage bump. AT&T continued to turn a healthy profit.

My father was a union man with a high school education. He also made a better living than me, sent two sons to college paying cash, and had enough money stuffed in his mattress to enjoy a few years of comfortable retirement.

My father's American Dream scenario will not play out the same way for most of my generation. My economic status has been stagnant or downwardly-mobile since I left graduate school in the late 80s to take my first real job as an engineer. In that engineering job, I had my first (and last) private office.


I have been harping about fairness for so many years, I should apologize to my loved ones. I felt vindicated this morning after reading the Sunday New York Times opinion piece Inequality Is Holding Back The Recovery by Joseph Stiglitz. Joseph Stiglitz is not some tree-hugging, common good do-gooder like me. As it happens, Joseph Stiglitz is a Columbia University professor with serious economics chops.
"Our economy won’t come back strong unless it also becomes more fair."
Joseph Stiglitz, 2001 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economic Science.

Share of Total Income by Income Percentile (Business Insider)

A staggering share of the income in the US now goes to the top 50 percent. The lion's share of income gains over the past 30 years are enjoyed by the top 10% (and especially the top 1%).

All of us know the health of any business is related to the health of its customers. Today's consumers are dangerously leveraged, or broke.

I don't have all the data to support my notions about inequality and fairness, nor do I have the economics chops of Joseph Stiglitz, but I believe in my heart of hearts that income inequality is a huge ball and chain on our short and long-term economic well-being.
"Politicians typically talk about rising inequality and the sluggish recovery as separate phenomena, when they are in fact intertwined. Inequality stifles, restrains and holds back our growth."
Joseph Stiglitz
Inequality leads us down a path of instability. There are too few people enjoying too much of collectively-generated wealth. Obscene wealth accumulation comes at the expense of the common good. It strips many of us of the basic necessities and provides few economic opportunities.

Our Future

It's time to ask what kind of society we want to be. It's time for a national discussion about fairness whether focused on tax policy, education policy, military policy, or our dwindling social safety net.

It's about fairness, stupid.


12 January 2013

The 113th Congress - Jobs Bill for Zygotes

Have you ever noticed how the policies put forth by conservative ideologues never serve the common good?

Three days ago Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) co-sponsored a Fetal Personhood Bill.

Have those of us living and breathing outside the womb grown weary of the absurdist political theater from Wisconsin's Eddie Munster?

Root canal?  An infestation of cockroaches? Or a 113th Congress infested by domestic terrorists bent on dismantling collective government services?

How will pragmatic and politically aware policy wonks like me manage to somnambulate through the théâtre de l'absurde that promises to be the 113th Congress?

I dunno. But, do me a solid? Wake me up if Paul Ryan co-sponsors a JOBS BILL for ZYGOTES.