Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ethics Part 2 - Rights and Responsibilities

If you haven't read Ethics Part 1 - The Non-Aggression Principle, I recommend doing so before reading this.

The Non-Aggression Principle is, arguably, the most basic ethical statement anyone can make. Any sane ethical system starts with this simple idea that using violence to get your way is wrong. However, for many people who understand the NAP, this seems to be where it stops. I have even heard statements to the effect that the NAP should be the only law in existence. I take issue with this notion.

Please, don't construe anything I'm about to say as an attack on the NAP. I'm not saying that the NAP is flawed or inadequate, because it isn't. But it can be taken out of context, twisted, and abused until it has been turned entirely on its head. I have even witnessed the NAP be used by certain idiots as a justification for violence against entire groups of people, in the name of 'defense'. I have also heard statements like "I owe you nothing, except non-aggression", and have encountered people who are so fiercely individualistic that they would say it's okay (or at least, there should be no forced consequence) to knowingly letting someone starve to death on their doorstep, when they themselves have abundance.

Again, this is not a problem with the NAP. This is a problem with crappy, narrow-minded thinking. To understand the NAP, you must understand some other basic principles as well. Without them, serious problems can come up when applying the NAP to real life. Let me propose a dilemma to illustrate:

Let's say a man is lost in the desert. He has no food and no water, and the sun is beating down on him. Without finding water soon, he will die of thirst. The only things he has in his possession are the clothes on his back and a loaded gun. He happens upon a vendor selling water, but the vendor is charging $10,000 per bottle. The man has no money, and the vendor will not take anything he has in exchange for the water. He only accepts cash. There is no other water to be had in a hundred mile radius. This creates an ethical problem for the thirsty man. Either he uses his gun and initiates violence against the vendor and take his water by force, or he dies. He must choose between acting ethically and forfeiting his life, or preserving his life and making himself a criminal. And for argument's sake, we will say that he has done nothing negligent or stupid to end up in his situation, life has simply thrown it at him despite his best preparations. So, what should he do?

Most of you, I suspect, would say he is perfectly justified in taking the water by force, up to and including the use of deadly force if necessary. Or, at least, you would excuse him if he did so. But, why? The only way, according to the NAP, that such a use of force could be justified is if it is a defensive act. So if we say that this is a justified use of force, then we must conclude that it was a defensive act. And if it is a defensive act, we must conclude that the vendor acted aggressively – that is, his refusal to give the man water or to sell it at a reasonable cost was a violent and aggressive act.

But how can that be? The water didn't belong to the thirsty man, it belonged to the vendor. He pumped it out of his own well, on his own property, using his own resources. He bottled it with bottles he bought himself, with money he earned himself. He loaded it into his own truck by his own effort and drove through the burning hot desert using fuel he bought with his own money. He doesn't owe anyone anything, does he? And if it weren't for his efforts the water wouldn't have been available at all. The product wouldn't have existed where it was needed. Yet many of us just justified killing him, and called it a defensive act. I've heard this same dilemma used before to try and discredit the NAP. Does it really show that the NAP is inadequate or inconsistent?

Hardly. Rather, it shows us that there are other consistent principles at work. A helium balloon floating into the sky does not disprove gravity, it merely proves buoyancy. And, gravity and buoyancy do not contradict one another, but rather they complement one another. And in the same way, the Rights-Responsibilities Duality complements and balances the Non-Aggression Principle.

What I call the Rights-Responsibilities Duality is the basic idea that for every right exercised there is also an equal personal responsibility that accompanies it. Or, as Spiderman's Uncle Ben put it, "With great power comes great responsibility."

We don't live in a vacuum. What we do affects other people, directly or indirectly, whether we intend for it to or not. We live in a universe where energy is a conserved value. In any given system at any given point in time it is finite. A world where the only types of human interaction are voluntary is unrealistic, even where everyone follows the NAP, because, unless the population density is incredibly low, human interaction is inevitable. What we do will always affect other people, for better or worse. And to exercise our rights in a way which inhibits others from exercising theirs is wrong.

Everything that we have was given to us. Either at the moment of our conception, during our development in the womb, or some time afterwards – even those things which we have earned through work were ultimately earned using energy which was given to us. We cannot claim that we have the right to receive from the universe those things which we need to survive. We can’t claim things like food, water, shelter, and medical care as rights. If we did, the universe would simply laugh at us and keep going on as it always has, regardless of what the little hairless talking apes on the tiny speck of a plant say, and we would get what we would get.

But it is the right of every person to seek those things out which they need or want. And it is our responsibility not to inhibit others from doing this, say, by hoarding resources to make them inaccessible to others. This is not a 'collective responsibility' that necessitates a massive centralized regulatory system, forced taxation, and entitlement programs. It is an individual responsibility for which we are individually accountable, though one can certainly argue that it is more efficient to carry it out as a (voluntary) collective effort. And the degree to which we carry this responsibility depends on how we exercise our rights, that is, how we influence the world around us and what resources are available to us. It also depends on what falls within our reach to do. To whom much has been given much should be expected, and to whom little has been given little should be expected. But, failure at this responsibility is negligence, which is violence, and should be dealt with accordingly.

There is a little more to it than this. For instance, it would be easy to surmise that we also have a responsibility to those who can't meaningfully exercise their rights to seek after what they need, such as the physically or mentally disabled, the mentally ill, children, and the elderly and infirm. Some might also say that we have a responsibility not to commit things like animal cruelty, which causes undue suffering on creatures that can clearly experience suffering. I would be inclined to agree with both of these statements. But before we can get much further down that rabbit hole, we need to understand a bit more about rights, what they are, and where they come from. And that deserves its own article, and a few other things should be addressed before that happens.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Why I'm not voting today.

It's November 4th, time for everyone to go do their civic duty and vote for who they think should be allowed to use violence to enforce their agenda for the next several years. And that is, in a nutshell, why I won't be doing so myself. Because my vote is simply: no one. No matter how good and noble your intentions are, how brilliant you are, how solid your values are, how spotless your integrity is, or how nice a person you are – you have no right to use violence to make me or anyone else do things the way you want them done. I don't care how many people vote for you.

If a gang of thugs surrounds you in an alleyway, demands your money, and threatens to shoot you if you don't give it to them, that's called robbery. If the gang first holds a vote, gives you a vote in whether or not they get to take your money, and then wins because they are majority and majority rules – news flash, that's still robbery. No matter how much you dress it up, or how many layers of civic pleasantries you hide it behind. Calling the gang government, giving them official titles or badges, expanding the voting pool to millions of people, calling the money taxes, creating an elaborate structure of laws, 'checks and balances', and other such things doesn't change the underlying reality. Initiating violence against peaceful people is wrong, no matter who does it, what their intentions, or how many people support it. Period. Violence is only justifiable when it is necessary for defense of one's own natural rights or the natural rights of another party. That is, when someone else has initiated violence against you or someone else, and you have to fight back to stop it.

That's not my opinion or political preference. It is the most basic, fundamental, and self-evident ethical statement that can be made. I defy anyone who wishes to dispute it. And without that simple principle as a foundation you have no ethics, no morality, no principle that isn't arbitrary self-righteous nonsense. (And, my fellow Christians, if anyone wishes to argue against that on a Biblical basis, that principle is clearly implied in the Greatest Commandments. Love does no harm to its neighbor, and is therefore the fulfillment of the Law. So unless you want to toss out the Greatest Commandments your argument, whatever it may be, is invalid.)

Please understand me. I'm all in favor of participatory government. I'm totally down with using voting as a method of participation (though not the sole method). And while I frequently argue that the voting system itself is broken, using the failtastic 'first-past-the-post' method, and that our government is not participatory enough but relies too much on indirect representation and centralization, neither of these are, in and of themselves, a good enough reason not to vote. Though they certainly don't lend any legitimacy to the whole system.

The reason I will not be voting, the reason I am boycotting the vote indefinitely, is because the only options on the ballot are to hand over the 'right' to initiate violence over to various candidates campaigning for that 'right'. Which is no right at all. The only meaningful vote that I can cast is not to cast one. I vote no confidence in the system itself, because that system is broken beyond repair. No amount of voting will fix it. The problem is rule-by-violence, and voting who gets to rule by violence only perpetuates that problem. You are voting for the problem to continue. It doesn't matter if it's the Democrats, the Republicans, the Libertarians, the Greens, or whoever else. The underlying paradigm doesn't change. And I will not lend legitimacy to such a paradigm by casting my vote for it, because rule-by-violence is inherently illegitimate.

If you would say, as some do, that I have no right to complain because I don't vote, I would respond with the opposite: you have no right to complain, because you voted for the situation to continue. You voted for someone to have the power to use violence to enforce their agenda on you. You might not have gotten the person you wanted, or the agenda you wanted, but you certainly got the system you voted for. I don't consent to such a system. I won't vote for it to continue. And I look forward to the day it collapses under its own dead weight. In the mean time, I will happily gripe about violence being used to force other people's agendas on me until others get it through their heads what the problem really is, and realize their own role in it.

If you choose to go vote today, I'm not judging you. If you feel it's the right thing to do, go and do it. I've voted in the past, largely because I didn't understand the problem. In hindsight, I regret casting my ballot, but hindsight is always 20-20 and I probably wouldn't have realized the truth of the matter without voting in the last major election, and the bad taste it left in my mouth afterwards. But I do strongly encourage anyone who understands what I'm saying here to consider boycotting the vote yourself. The less legitimacy this corrupt and violent government can claim for itself, the closer we are to real change. I vote No-Confidence 2014.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

I'm still here.

I just wanted to post and let my readers (all two of you) know that I haven't been sucked into a black hole or anything, nor have I forgotten about this blog. I've actually had several articles planned, but due to having a lot on my plate and no reliable internet connection, I have failed to finish any of them thus far. In the past, I have forced myself to push through an article and get one out, but for right now, I'm taking my time to get my ducks in a row, work on some other projects (namely, a novel I've been meaning to sit down and write), and deal with other more mundane issues that are competing for my attention at the moment. I've also been spending some serious time and debt-based fiat currency in the area of prepping, something I've been meaning to do for some time. And no, Ebola didn't inspire me, I actually started before all that came to the forefront. I may do an article or two about that in the not-so-distant future.

I do, however, now have a semi-usable internet connection. It's slow, spotty, and occasionally just doesn't work, but it means I can actually get a few things done online. So, in honor of being mostly back up and running out here in the sticks, I thought I'd share a couple thoughts.

Thought #1
I rub elbows with several members of the tinfoil hat community online. I don't always agree with their take on things, but many of them are quite perceptive, catch things other people don't, and most that I know hold themselves to a decent standard of intellectual integrity. They make me think about things from a different angle, and that's a good thing. So, when I say what I'm about to say, I'm not saying it in application to everyone. Technically, I fall into the tinfoil hat category myself on some issues. Like 9-11.

But, some of the people in the conspiracy theory community are just plain nuts. It's fine to use inductive reasoning, intuition, and imagination to hypothesize about fringe possibilities. In fact, it's a good thing. Because sometimes those fringe possibilities turn out to be the truth. The problem comes when a hypothesis, because it sounds so good to you and there is some shred of evidence that correlates with it, becomes fact in your mind and is henceforth purported as such. If you have a hypothesis about lizard people, mind-controlling nanobots, alien overlords, or plans to massively depopulate the human race – well, awesome. All of those things, while they strain the bounds of probability and reason, still fall within the realm of plausibility.

If someone is interested, there is no harm and much good that can come from investigating these possibilities and discussing it with others. But when you start to declare something as fact (or worse, as a pre-assumed fact which goes without question), provide only shaky and circumstantial evidence, and label those who call it into question as 'sheeple' or 'asleep'... well, at that point you have lost my attention. I will entertain almost any idea, no matter how crazy. I learned from 9-11 not to dismiss something just because it 'sounds crazy'. But in the same way, I won't accept something just because it 'makes sense'. Before you can call something a fact, you must first eliminate the possibility that it is not true. And on that note...

Thought #2
We, as a society, have an addiction. And I blame the Ancient Greek philosophers for it. They did us a great disservice in that they ingrained into our culture a terrible, horrible concept called two-valued logic. For those not in the know, and too lazy to read the linked Wikipedia entry, two-valued logic basically means a logic system where a given statement can either be true or false, not both, and not some other third option. Everything is a zero or a one.

This works great in computer science, where everything is a zero or a one. But for the real world... not so much. We have to deal with things called unknown variables, which result in uncertainties, probabilities, and such. So from any individual's relative position there is inherently a third option besides 'true' and 'false', and that is 'indeterminate'. Someone will argue, "Hurr-durr, its still true or false, u jus dont know witch cuz yer igner'nt." Which makes me want to drop a crate of physics textbooks on their head. Three-valued logic is inherent to the universe, and one needs to look no further than quantum mechanics to see that. There, you find uncertainty encoded into the most fundamental mechanisms of the universe. In other words, the universe runs on three value logic, the same way a computer runs on binary logic. And all of you black-and-white, true-and-false determinists can get just over it. Because there is nothing you can do about it.

It is okay to be uncertain. It is okay to not know all of the answers. It is okay for your worldview to have unanswered questions, tricky conundrums, and loose ends that haven't been tied up. You will never have all of your ducks in a row. Your ideas and logic will never be perfectly watertight. No matter how hard you try, no matter how many lifetimes you spend, there will always be indeterminates, unknown variables, and unknown unknowns. That just comes with the territory of being a mere mortal.

But this makes many people very uncomfortable. We have been taught that, if an idea has loose ends or unknowns attached to it, it must be wrong or worthless. And we feel very uncomfortable when we can't put all of our observations and experiences into a neat box, because then we feel like we aren't in control. Which is okay, because we aren't. People, you need to let it go. (No singing!) In most cases, 'indeterminate' or 'I don't know' are just as acceptable answers to a question as 'yes' or 'no'. It doesn't mean the person saying it is stupid, or incompetent, or whatever. And if you don't know, it doesn't mean you are stupid or incompetent. We need to learn to live with uncertainty, to be honest about it with ourselves, with each other, and accepting of others (and not dismissive of their ideas) when they admit they are uncertain. False certainty is the fundamental unit of willful ignorance.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Waves

I write this now sitting on a wooden balcony of sorts, overlooking the branch of the Lake of the Ozarks that snakes out around the edge of the little community I call home. The sun is setting, insects buzz in the thick green woods that surround the lake, and while the air is warm, the breeze is just a bit cool, just enough to make the temperature very pleasant. I see only a narrow strip of intermittent clouds in the sky, darkened by the way the light is hitting them, with a pink haze beneath them and a clear blue expanse above them which grows darker as it approaches the zenith. Only a few evening lake-goers can still be seen on the lake, and even they appear to be inching closer to the docks, their boats leaving long wakes that fan out into waves which ripple slowly across the water.

Ah, the waves. While there is no shortage of beauty to be seen from where I sit, it is the waves that captivate me more than anything else. As the wake from one of the boat continues to engulf the lake, changing its entire landscape with even, parallel lines that slowly inch towards land, I see another line of waves push back the opposite direction and begin to engulf the first set of waves until they are canceled out. Then the more subtle natural wave pattern of the lake soon becomes apparent again, flowing at a forty-five degree angle to the waves left by the boat. And all this time the smaller little waves could be seen lapping up and down, entirely indifferent to the larger waves with their greater wavelengths and lower frequencies. One does not affect the other as far as I can tell. And these little waves, rippling through the lake, seem to be random and yet in perfect harmony. If I cared to, I could probably time them and measure their frequency, and it would probably be the same no matter which point of the lake I picked to observe. I sit here from my vantage point watching all of this as the sky begins to grow dark, and I realize I am seeing the universe.

The lake is, indeed, an image and archetype of the universe itself at all scales, from the smallest quantum scale to the scale of multiple galaxy clusters. Waves flowing, crossing, merging, canceling, pushing, and pulling on other waves. Waves made of particles, which are made of waves, which are made of particles, which are made of waves, which continue down until you reach the smallest possible thing, which is both particle and wave, quantized and discreet yet flowing and amorphous. Bound by frequencies and amplitudes, yet clumped into coherent units, creating a tension which is both quantifiable and unpredictable. This is the palette of mathematical color from which the universe itself is painted by its Painter, skillfully and carefully mixed into photons and electrons, quarks and gluons, stars and galaxies, summer breezes and sunsets.

I look at the lake and see the story of everything. I see a narrative of all that has happened and will happen being told by the water in its silent voice. I hear the whisperings of every joy, every tragedy, every solemn occasion, every blissful moment, and I think to myself that if only I knew what the water knows, perhaps I could influence that narrative in some way and make the story a little bit better. Perhaps I could create waves of healing which flow opposite waves of tragedy, matching their frequency and wavelength, and canceling them out. Perhaps I could learn to paint with this palette of waves as a painter myself. For, in fact, I already am a painter, as is every person whether they realize it or not. But we are not always lucid as to what we paint, whether our waves make the story better or worse. This is not always our fault, because there is so much we don’t yet know and don’t yet understand. But, all too often we think we know, or rather, we pretend we know. Or we simply cease to care. We stop looking at the waves and look only at ourselves. We cease to learn or to observe the wake we leave behind as it ripples through everything around us. And such willful ignorance inevitably results in terrible chapters to this story we are all writing within the waves of the universe.

It’s now nearly dark. The lake is still visible but the I can no longer make out the waves except in the brightest spots. I know that while the light, itself waves that mirror the nature of the water, has crept away to shine on other parts of the Earth, the waves on the water still continue unseen, telling their story to whoever can perceive them and understand what they are saying. I hear their message, and I will keep listening until I understand. Because I want to make beauty like they do, that someone else might some day look on and take from me what I now take from the lake.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Israel and Palestine - Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

So, I want to address a very specific argument I am seeing a lot of from the side supporting Israel's actions in Gaza. It's the 'human shield' justification, which says that since Hamas is hiding behind civilians, using civilian facilities, etc; Israel is justified in attacking civilian targets, and not responsible for the civilian deaths. Those deaths are on Hamas.

Now, I have heard counterarguments against these allegations that Hamas is using human shields, including evidence that Israel is fabricating evidence to that effect. There is the claim that Gaza is so population dense, that the people have nowhere to go. And there is the whole question of whether or not someone should have the right to order someone else out of their own home so they can drop a bomb on it. But, the pro-Israel side will no doubt have counterarguments to these counterarguments, and trying to sort out the fact from fiction in the midst of all the propaganda is a massive and knotty task. Inevitably, both sides present their 'evidence', reject or explain away the others' evidence, and end up in a stalemate of butthurt.

Therefore, for the purpose of this discussion, we are going to make some assumptions for the sake of argument. I am not implying that any of these assumptions are actually true or false. I simply want to isolate the human shield argument and judge it by its own merits, without getting distracted by extra variables. So, for this article, we will assume:

1. That the State of Israel is legitimate in every way, has the right to exist where it is, and has the right to defend itself when attacked.

2. That Hamas is a real threat, its activities pose a significant danger to the civilian population of Israel, and Israel is completely justified in defending itself against that threat with deadly force.

3. That Hamas is, in fact, using human shields purposefully, storing weapons in civilian buildings, hiding behind women and children, and forcing or tricking people to remain in areas that are going to be bombed, for the purpose of producing dead Palestinians that can be used as propaganda.

So then, assuming all of the above is true – if you are Israel, what do you do?

Let's start with an analogy. If you are in your home, and there are crowds of people on the street outside your house, and someone in the crowd starts firing gunshots into your window (and there are no police that can be called), what do you do? Well, what you don't do is pick up an automatic weapon and start firing into the crowd. It doesn't matter if the shooter is purposefully hiding in the crowd and using them as a shield. Your right not to be assaulted does not trump the rights of the people in the crowd not to be assaulted, and neither do theirs trump yours. You are equal, and writing them off as collateral damage does not magically change this, or justify taking their lives.

"Well, warn them to disperse first!" someone will say. After all, Israel is supposedly warning the Palestinians to get out of an area before bombing them. Forget that this would, of course, give the shooter time to disperse too. But now, let's say that this crowd is actually in a fenced area. Their small neighborhood has been boxed in from all sides by a tall electric fence topped with barbed wire, and they have no way out. Nevermind that you built the fence and guard the only exit, that's not important. Thanks to this fence, though, the crowd has nowhere to disperse to. They can shuffle a bit, and maybe leave you a few empty holes to fire your automatic rifle down. But if you start sweeping side to side, they have nowhere to go.

"The crowd should just turn in the shooter! They know who it is, they should grab him and hand him over!" Except for, you know, the shooter has a gun and all. Remember that the crowd has been living with this shooter in their midst for a while now. They are scared of him. They don't want to get shot, either by you or him. They are afraid to criticize him, lest he retaliate against them. He's got friends, after all, and their little gang is rather rough. The crowd is caught in the middle, scared of both sides, with nowhere to run to, and no way to defend themselves against either one. And, for some reason, they don't entirely trust you either.

That is, they are hostages, and essentially being held hostage by both sides of the conflict. Coming to this realization should start shedding some light of perspective on the situation. Because in a hostage situation, great care is usually given to protect the lives of the hostages while taking down the hostage-taker, even if the hostage-taker is hostile and aggressive.

So, what should Israel do? If this is a hostage situation, and they are partly responsible for keeping those hostages, step 1 would be to release those hostages. The absolute first step in dealing with Hamas should be the immediate end of the Apartheid against the Palestinians. Open the fences and let them out. Give them back the freedom to move and live where they choose. Let relief and supplies in. That would be a great start.

But then, you still have to deal with Hamas, and if you release the Palestinians then you let Hamas out as well to tromp through Israel causing havoc. This is an inky problem, but so is any hostage situation. Going after them must be handled with care, just like you would when dealing with a criminal who has taken hostages. I can't give a detailed step-by-step guide on how to do so, but I'm sure there are plenty of hostage negotiation experts and tactical experts who could. Hamas could be hunted down and systematically eliminated in such a way that minimized civilian casualties, despite their human shields, with a bit of patience and tactical forethought. You cannot convince me that the mighty IDF would have any problem doing this.

Would there be mishaps, perhaps a stray Israeli bullet here or there that might claim a civilian life? Probably. Mishaps do happen in difficult situations like this, even when the utmost care is given. It's not okay, but it is a far cry better than dropping bombs on a civilian populated area. And when you value the lives of those civilians, view them as hostages to a militant organization, and make preserving their lives and dignity as much a part of your mission as protecting your own people, then you will make every possible effort to prevent civilian casualties. And, in a war zone, that is often the most and the least that we can ask.

In short, the human shield argument, even if it's valid, does not justify the bombing of populated civilian areas like we are seeing in Gaza. It doesn't justify over a thousand civilians killed since the beginning of the attack, including many women and children. These are real people, individuals with names, faces, family, friends, hopes, and dreams. Now they are dead. I've said before, and I will say again, that I fully support the right of the people of Israel to live in the land peacefully, and I fully support their right to defend themselves if attacked. But I cannot support what the State of Israel is doing now, or its continued Apartheid against the Palestinians, who also have those same rights. There is no way to justify it.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Best laid plans have a way of going awry. I had planned on doing several articles on the situation in Israel and Palestine. The first was going to go over the basic facts and statistics of the Israel-Palestine conflict, its history, and some verifiable sources to back up those facts to help everyone get on the same page. The second was going to address the current situation, concerning the bombing of Gaza by Israel and the ground invasion, which is now currently underway. The third was going to go where angels fear to tread, and tackle the religious aspect of this issue – not concerning Judaism or Islam, but concerning the Christians who back whatever actions Israel takes, regardless of their inherent moral repercussions, and justify this based on Scripture. I intended to examine the merits of this position from a purely Biblical perspective.

Well, I never made much progress on these articles, primarily due to spending time working on the house I just purchased, which doesn’t have internet, to make it livable enough for my family and myself to move into it. It’s a 45 minute drive from my current residence, and between that and work, I have gotten little done on anything else. I still might do the first and third articles at a later time, and Awakened Citizen and StormCloudsGathering both did excellent articles which cover the second topic well, so there is no need for me to restate what they have already said. But I wanted to at least make a few comments of my own on the situation.

On the topic of ethics, I believe in the Non-AggressionPrinciple, the inherent Natural Rights of every person, and in the inherent personal responsibilities that come with those rights. In that regard, I stand with the people of Israel and their right to live in peace where they choose, to organize their own society in a self-determined and peaceful way, and to defend themselves with force against any aggressor when necessary. For the same reasons, I also stand with the people of Palestine and their right to do the same things – to live in peace where they choose, to organize their own society in a self-determined and peaceful way, and to defend themselves with force against any aggressor when necessary.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a wedge issue. It’s not simple, straightforward, or easily solved. And people are angry about it, and I understand their anger. Innocent people are dying, and I’m angry about it, too. Over the course of the past week I have seen innumerable Facebook fights, arguments, and angry words over this issue from both sides. I have heard many claims and counterclaims, backed by many different sources of varying reputation, which only add to the confusion and fuel the fire of both the conflict and the heated debate surrounding it. I have admittedly, so far, had a difficult time sorting the facts from the fiction.

But, in my searching, a few thing have become abundantly clear. The first, is that there is innocent blood on the hands of both sides. To what degree and in what ways are obviously up for debate, but both sides have killed civilians, children, and otherwise innocent people. The second is that the Palestinian people, especially those in the Gaza Strip, are living in squallor in what can only be described as the world’s two largest concentration camps. Walled in by fences and troops, there is tight control over who and what enters or leaves, and this greatly limits economic development of any kind, and has even hampered relief efforts. Third, is that such conditions of great poverty and oppression, coupled with dogmatic thinking, create a ripe breeding ground for violent extremism. It does not excuse or justify such extremism, but it does provide fertile soil for it to grow in. And fourth, this back and forth, retaliatory violence is not solving anything, and is not going to. It's only making things progressively worse.

Can this conflict ever be solved? Can the senseless violence ever come to an end, and if so, how? I don't have an easy or definite answer to that question. But I firmly believe it's at least possible. But if it's going to happen, it is going to have to start with at least one of the two sides putting their foot down against the elements within them that support aggressive violence and holding those elements accountable. That, of course, is no guarantee of peace, but it is the only path that can lead to it. Either side can choose to make this step, but given that Israel is the more powerful of the two sides, and exerts the most control over the situation, they are by far in the better position to make this move and have it be effective. They have the most power, and therefore, the most responsibility. They are in the unique position to relieve the Palestinian territories of their concentration-camp-like qualities and end the Apartheid.

I have no illusions that, if they did this today and quit the Apartheid cold-turkey, it would somehow magically and instantly end the violence. Not by a longshot. But someone has to take the first step, and that someone will probably have to take the first several steps. Then, eventually, the other party will have to start taking steps, too. And they can only do this if enough people on either side choose to. And I have it on good authority that there are many, on both sides, that do want actual peace. I stand with those among Israel and Palestine who want to see real peace, for both sides. And I stand firmly against aggression of any type, and condemn the killing of innocent civilians, whether by airstrike, by rocket, by gun, or by suicide bomber. That includes these airstrikes by Israel on the densely populated Gaza strip.

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See also: Israel and Palestine - Part 2

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ethics Part 1 - The Non-Aggression Principle

Any sane system of ethics must be based on clear, consistent, and justifiable premises which, taken together, can be applied practically to reach a defined end. It was my intention to, at some future time, do a series of articles which proposed several such premises, explained their justification, and expounded on them to some degree. But, due to recent events, and to give context to several articles I'm planning, I think it's important to go into one of these premises right now, often called the Non-Aggression Principle.

The Non-Aggression Principle (or NAP) can be summarized in the following statement: "The initiation of violence against another person is unjustifiable and unacceptable – the only legitimate and justifiable use of violence is when it is necessary for defense." Put simply, you don't go using violence against someone who isn't trying to do it to you first. The NAP divides all violence into one of two categories: aggression and defense. Only the latter of which is permissible and only when it is justified and necessary.

Let me define a few terms before we go on.
• Violence is the application of any force, whether actively or passively, directly or indirectly, against a person in such a way as to interfere with, preclude, or otherwise infringe upon the exercise of their natural rights (another premise deserving its own article). Violence includes, but is not limited to, direct physical force, threat of force, intimidation, coercion, fraud, slander, false accusations, invasion of privacy, putting someone at risk against their will, or exercise of undue leverage (such as taking advantage of a state of duress to get someone to do something).
• Aggression is any act of violence which is initiated by one person against another who is not acting violently, and is therefore not defensive in nature.
• Defense is an action taken, directly or indirectly, against an aggressor to 1) preclude an imminent act of violence, 2) bring an end to an act of violence in progress, 3) obtain reasonable restitution for an act of violence to fully compensate the injured party for loss, or 4) to secure reasonable assurance that the aggressor will not further injure the wronged party or any other person with legitimate cause for concern. Acts of violence born from revenge, resentment, outrage, offense, or intimidating potential aggressors are, in and of themselves, not legitimately defensive.
• Necessary here means that there is no apparent and viable alternative that has not already been exhausted, or that the severity or imminence of the aggression warrants immediate response of defensive violence to deal with it. Also, it does not exceed the severity of the act being committed. For example: Gunning down a teenager who stole a pack of gum and is running from the scene is not a legitimate act of defense. Neither is shooting a cop on their lunch break just because you "know" they are involved in enforcing arbitrary laws.

The validity and importance of the NAP should be self-apparent – but since most people tend to thoughtlessly accept things around them which violate it, it seems that it's necessary to spell it out. Unless you live in a war zone, under an extremely repressive dictatorship, or some other situation where violence is commonplace, the NAP is in effect to one degree or another all around you every day, whether you know it or not. If you can walk down the street, pass by someone, and reasonably expect that they won't attack you – and they can expect that you won't attack them – then you have just witnessed the NAP in action. Most people who aren't sociopaths know that it's unacceptable to arbitrarily attack another person – whether it's to take something that belongs to them, to force them to do something you want, or any other reason short of self-defense or defense of another. This general understanding is why, in most civilized places, you don't see people going around killing and beating each other in the streets. Because we all know such violence is unacceptable.

However, in nearly all societies throughout history people have tried to shroud, disguise, or justify away aggressive violence in one form or another for some 'greater good' or 'worthy purpose', such as honor and glory, maintaining social order, upholding some arbitrary social standard, economic gain, or any number of other shaky reasons. On the other hand, you also have the rare total pacifist that denounces violence even in defense. (Although, there are certainly times when, for strategic reasons, it is arguably better to forgo defense to achieve a larger purpose. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. both understood this well, and it is illustrated well in Gene Sharp's "From Dictatorship to Democracy".)

Of these philosophies the NAP is the only one that, when followed, trends in a direction that approaches a limit (in the mathematical sense) of zero violence. Non-violence is the equilibrium state of an NAP based society. Pacifism has no mechanism to stop aggressive violence that does not require the aggressor's cooperation, which by definition they are not giving. Therefore, in pacifism, there is no force pushing back against the trend of violence. Total pacifism's equilibrium state is, therefore, one in which there is violence. In philosophies that try to justify aggression, it is possible to 'justify' employing violence where there was no violence previously. This means that, if you hypothetically had a situation where a group of people were living in total peace and without violence, you might still find 'acceptable' reasons to commit acts of violence against them. Since this allows for spontaneous acts of violence where no violence previously existed, this philosophy's equilibrium state is also one of violence. So, if peace is to be an objective, the NAP is the only practical philosophy that approaches that objective.

It's important to understand this, because whatever the issue, in nearly every case, either some or all of the problem can be traced back to violations of the Non-Aggression Principle. Any ideology, philosophy, or socio-economic system that is both sane and legitimate will include the NAP in some form, whether explicitly or implicitly. When you compromise the NAP, you open the door to breakdown in these systems, and take a step down a path that, if pursued, eventually leads to senseless violence and overt tyranny. In absence of the NAP, rule-by-violence is guaranteed. The NAP is not the only important component of a system of practical ethics, but it is one of the easiest components to understand and agree on for most people, and it has some of the most far reaching implications. Going forward, I will likely be referring back to this article frequently.

Revised 11-24-2014

Read Ethics Part 2 - Rights and Responsibilities.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I am NOT Anti-Government

I feel like I need to make my position here clear. Even though I have come to realize over time that I indeed fall within the extended anarchist ideological sphere, I am not anti-government. I am actually quite pro-government.

Government has many definitions, and dictionaries are terrible at capturing the underlying essence of a word as they often throw in elements from specific contexts in which the word might be used. The origin of the word 'government' comes from the Latin 'gubernare', meaning 'to steer'. At its essence, its most fundamental definition, government is a person, body, entity, or device which steers and guides a group or society. 'Anarchy' comes from the Greek 'ἀναρχία' (anarkhia), from ' ἀν-' (an-) meaning 'no, not' and 'ἀρχή' (arkhe) meaning 'ruler, power, authority'. Contrary to popular belief, it does not necessarily mean 'no government', but rather 'no rulers'. To rule, then, is to exercise power or force onto someone or something in order to impose your will on it.

When reduced to its essential concept, I'm not against government at all. I'm not even against big government. If anything, we need more government, more coordination, more cooperation, and more collaboration between people, communities, and organizations. We need people to come together, voluntarily, to solve problems, pool resources, discuss issues, and coordinate efforts to improve things. Government, like this, can be used to do great things. It can be used as a forum for people to pool ideas and effort together. It can be used to help settle disputes, without force when possible.

Where I have a problem is when that government, or any other entity, starts using force to shoehorn their agenda onto people without their consent. I am not anti-government, I am anti government by violence, fraud, and coercion. I am against a government which uses its power to control and dictate how its people live their lives without their consent, or steals their resources to use for its own purposes, by use of violence and threats. Even a benevolent government which genuinely tries to work for the good of its people, given the power to use violence as a means to its desired ends, will become corrupted over time until it descends into tyranny. Even a small, minimalistic government that depends on violence to carry out its functions will eventually devolve into an authoritarian menace. Guaranteed. History has proven over and over and over that when a person or group is allowed to use aggressive violence on others, that person or group will become corrupt and drunk on that power, no matter how seemingly benign, democratic, or noble that group seems to be.

You can have government without making that government into your ruler. You can have a functional, effective government without rule-by-violence. I'm not saying that such a government would be pacifistic: violence is completely justified when necessary for defense, and exercising it in defense of the rights, property, and lives of its constituents is not rule-by-violence. Such a government can still have teeth. But government must never become our master – it must always be our servant. It must never claim ownership over us, our property, or our rights – we must own and administrate it. It must never be allowed to exist in its own right, or govern its own right – it must exist by the continuing will of the people and govern with the consent of the governed. And it must always obey the boundaries of the Non-Aggression Principle.

So, when I speak out against this government, please don't think that I'm against government in any shape or form. I'm not. I speak out against this government because I am against rule-by-violence, and because I believe in the natural right to self-determination, which means our right to institute, alter, and dissolve whatever form of government or lack thereof we choose, so long as it does not embrace rule-by-violence. I believe in government of the people, by the people, and for the people without coercion, oppression, and aggressive violence – not being forcibly dominated by rulers, which is irrefutably what we have now.

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

8 "Unanswerable" Questions... Addressed

So, this was a completely unplanned post. A friend posted a link on Facebook: 8 Great Philosophical Questions That We'll Never Solve. I read the article and, in a sudden burst of madness, proceeded to spend the next hour or so answering each of these questions, or at least showing how they might be answered in the future. See, I have a bit of a problem with the concept of an unanswerable question. If a question really is unanswerable, chances are it's a meaningless question anyways, like "what would a square circle look like" (an example I saw posted in the comments). So I couldn't let this one slide. But, after I spewed my rant, it seemed like an awful waste for just a Facebook comment (or rather, four of them) that would be read by just a few and then disappear into the ether. Therefore, I thought it would make sense to copy it and post it here. If the wording or format seems a bit off, or a bit sloppy, keep in mind I copied it word for word from Facebook, except for the questions in Boldface which I added in from the article for ease of reading. I recommend you read the above article first, and keep it open as you read along below:

Challenge accepted. I'll give the uber-short versions so I don't end up writing a whole book here.

1. Why is there something rather than nothing?
1. The question is illogical. 'Why' inquires of a cause-effect relationship, which in physics can be called action-reaction. Action is the expression of energy, reaction is a new expression of energy that is resultant from an action. Energy, however, is also the basis and definition of existence itself. Everything that exists is energy or is an expression of energy. So energy is both the fundamental element of cause and of existence. So the question, in essence, is asking "Why why?", or trying to derive the causality of causality, which is a redundancy. It's like asking "how many hours are in an hour?"

2. Is our universe real?
2. "Real" has two meanings, and we need to define which we are referring to. It can mean "true" or it can mean "existing". If the latter, the answer is certainly yes, because existence is manifest and clearly observable. See previous comments on energy. If the former, it gets a little tricky. "True" must be defined in context of an argument, namely a statement which may or may not be true. In this case, we are talking about a specific statement about the universe, which may go something like, "Is the universe what I think it is?" For most people, the answer to this is decidedly "No." since very few people have more than a rudimentary understanding of the world around them. If we want to ask if the any of the best theoretical frameworks we have are what the universe is, again the answer is no, as even the proponents of these theories acknowledge that they aren't complete. If we ask specifically if the universe is a 'computer simulation that feeds data to our senses', the answer is provably yes, because the universe functions as a massive quantum and classical computer, with particles that carry information, process it as they interact, and our senses collect that data as the particles bring it to us and feed it into our brain as a perception of reality. It's a big simulation, but it's still real in the sense that it exists. But if you want to push it and ask if we are all hooked into the matrix, and it's all an artificial simulation like a virtual reality, the answer is provably 'no'. We can prove this wrong by observing particles at the quantum state. It has been long since determined that quantum mechanics cannot be explained by 'hidden variables' that control the outcome of wave-function collapse. An artificial simulation that was simulating this in real time would be a hidden variable, and is thus impossible.

3. Do we have free will?
3. Yes. We can observe that we perceive sensory information subjectively and qualitatively as qualia. That is, it's not just some rigid mathematical data processing function, but something that defies mere deterministic calculation. Yet at the same time, this perception is coherent and takes on definite, albeit subjective, form. So the universe is acting upon us (remember, action=energy), and acting upon our subjective, qualitative consciousness, or sentience. And for every action there is opposed an equal reaction. So our sentience must also produce a reaction to this stimuli. We can observe easily within ourselves that we are aware of our own subjective perception, meaning that reaction from our consciousness must pass information back into the data processing and storage functions of the brain for us to even be aware of it. And if our perception is qualitative, non-deterministic, yet coherent then the reaction is of the same nature - neither deterministic nor random. It is arbitrary. Free will in a nutshell.

4. Does God exist?
4. This goes back to cause and effect, or action and reaction. We can trace the action-reaction chain of events of our universe back to a single event, the big bang. Or maybe multiple such events, it doesn't matter. Point is, there seems to be a first cause. If the big bang 'caused' the universe, then it caused time, space, and probability dimensions which occur within context of energy. But, as noted before, the big bang didn't 'cause' energy. That would be a violation of the law of conservation. Since it did cause time, it would be meaningless to talk about 'before' the big bang, but that doesn't mean that the singularity that resulted in the big bang is immune from the laws of cause and effect. We have to think outside of space, outside of time, and outside of probability to find the cause. The problem is, once you take those three dimension-types out of the picture you have a situation where even if there is an infinite amount of energy in existence, the chances that any 2 units of that energy would be together, interacting in some space-time relationship is zero, because there are infinitely infinite many possibilities of 'where' (which isn't even the right word) that energy could be. UNLESS all that energy was of a common origin, and began (not chronologically) at a natural state of infinity. Infinite energy, at infinite density, with infinite complexity. A hyper-singularity. And we have already seen that subjective experientiality and arbitrary will are functions which can exist in such little complexity as is offered by the human brain. With this much complexity, it can be inferred that the hyper-singularity would be conscious, would experience, and would have a will, and on a level that you and I cannot even imagine. And it is infinite, and so its inward pressure and density would constantly drive it into outward expansion, branching off, fountaining energy from itself in plumes that would become whole universes, infinitely aware of these branches on both the macro whole, and the tiniest of the micro scale. Such a being would have no need, only giving, only generosity, only expression of itself creatively. Perfect knowledge, infinite power, perfect love. Sounds an awful lot like God to me.

5. Is there life after death.
5. No. That contradicts the definition of 'dead'. If it's dead, it isn't alive. But what most people mean to ask by this question is if our sentience, our conscious experience and will, continues in any form after the body dies. And if our sentience is a function of the universe then the components in which our sentience functioned still exist even after death, even though they might no longer be together or coherent, nor may they ever be again. When we die, whatever we were is still out there, it just isn't what it was when we were alive. To fully answer this question requires actually understanding what sentience is and how it functions. But I don't doubt for a moment that this can be done eventually. Because we already know that sentience, whether it is a physical or metaphysical thing, interacts with the physical universe. If it interacts with the physical, it can be identified and studied.

6. Can you really experience anything objectively?
6. Yes. You are doing it right now. Those sensory signals that are being filtered through your nervous system? That's energy, and you are experiencing it objectively, though still qualitatively. If we can experience one sort of energy, we can experience other sorts, too. But that all goes back to how the mechanism of sentience works. See previous rant.

7. What is the best moral system?
7. This is admittedly not an easy one, and I can't give a universal moral or ethical standard from which the answer to every possible conundrum can be derived fractally. Yet. But what I can give is hope for possibly someday finding the answer, starting back at sentience again. Sentience, and the critical mass of sentience which is sapience, are what give us a notion that morality or ethics should even be a thing in the first place. (I distinguish morality and ethics, the latter being what is acceptable to do, the former being what is optimal). We experience qualitatively and will arbitrarily, and we know that others do, too. Therefore we conceive of these things called 'rights' in which we are entitled to experience and will, and so are others. This is the basis of ethics, that we are entitled to act according to our sentient nature, experiencing and expressing ourselves, so long as we do not impede others from doing the same... which sound a bit like the Non-Aggression Principle. But that's just a starting point. To derive from that a full ethical system, and a full moral system, would take a great deal more work and research, and probably a better understanding of sentience. But I don't think it's impossible.

8. What are numbers?
8. This is just question 1 restated, and the answer is basically the same. Energy. Energy is quantum, and has both a particle (digital, definite, unit) nature, and a wave (analog, vague, proportionate) nature. Numbers as we know them are a manifestation of this nature. Energy, therefore numbers. And since energy is the building block of everything, numbers therefore explain everything. Every interaction between particles is a calculation done in the quantum computer that is the universe. A side note: if we really want to find out what sentience is, I suspect we ought to be looking into those calculations, and into wave-function collapse. We describe it as random, but perhaps a better description for it might be... arbitrary. Just a thought.

Okay, so I lied. It turned into a book. My bad.

So, that's it. Please feel free to comment if you feel I'm in error, especially if I've made any factual errors. I like considering new information and looking at all the angles.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Problems and Opportunities

There are two types of problems which exist. There is the kind that foreshadows success, and the kind that foreshadows failure. The first is like a mountain that must be crossed , beyond which lies a fertile country. The second is a void from which nothing can come. And when facing a particular problem, it can be very helpful to know which type it is. Life can be fairly overwhelming when you are getting hit with problem after problem, but knowing what you're dealing with can take some of the stress out of it.

And let me say, I've come to absolutely love the first kind of problem. I get excited when I discover one, because it is an opportunity. Mind you, solving such problems aren't always easy. Sometimes they can be extremely frustrating and take years of work to overcome. But, what's awesome about them is they can be overcome, and when they are, good things happen. Such problems are not impediments to success, they are the path to success. They are what make success at anything possible. Success is essentially the solving of one or more problems.

One of my mad projects, possibly my most central project, is a language based on mathematics and logic. It has been a long, frustrating, off and on project that I have worked on for many years. In making it, I have encountered many problems, and every time I solve one of these problems it typically reveals many new ones in its place. For many, this would be enough for them to give up and find a less aggravating hobby. But every time a new problem pops up, I find myself feeling giddy, because when I solve that problem I am one step closer to making that language a reality. Each new problem is an opportunity to move forward. And move forward I have – compared to even a year ago I have made measurable progress that has recently lead to the first usable forms of that language. I still have a mountain of problems to solve to make it work, but I know that these problems mark out the path to making my vision become a real thing. Those problems are the path to success.

So, what about the other kind of problem? The one that is just an empty void, and foreshadows failure? Well, those aren't always so pleasant to have, but they do have a silver lining. When you identify that you really are at a dead end and no good can come from continued effort in a particular direction, you have a wonderful opportunity. That is the opportunity to back up and change direction. You can save yourself loads of heartache and disappointment by identifying when there is nothing to be gained by carrying on with what you are doing. You can stop wasting your effort on what won't bear any fruit and start focusing it on something that will. This isn't always an easy thing to do. Sometimes it might mean giving something up that you wanted and admitting that the effort you made to get it was wasted. Sometimes that might represent years, or even a lifetime of personal investment. But, if you are indeed dealing with a dead-end problem, you wouldn't have gotten it anyways – or if you did, the price would have made the gain a loss. But when you give up chasing something that you can never have, or beating your head against a wall that will never budge, it means you now have the opportunity to go after something new, and you might just succeed at it.

The key, of course, is not confusing these two types of problems with one another. And this can be very difficult. I don't have an easy answer or a step-by-step guide on how to tell them apart. It can sometimes be hard to tell that dead-end job apart from the one that just requires a lot of effort to move forward, but will truly reward you down the road. It can be hard to tell the person who you can help from the person who will just drag you down with them. It can be hard to tell the visionary idea from the fanciful daydream. The mountain might be high and difficult to climb, so you don't know that the reward is in fact beyond it. The void might be foggy and shrouded, so you can easily deceive yourself into thinking it is solid ground. As hard as it is to tell them apart, sometimes just knowing that there are these two types of problems can help us feel them out. We can prepare ourselves to act on both possibilities.

Don't give up just because the going is difficult and the reward seems far off. And don't keep going when it's clear you're chasing false hope. Don't waste your energy doing what won't bring results, and don't waste your energy not doing what will. I don't say that as a good example of this myself, but I say it to myself as much as to everyone reading this.

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

This is not a good thing

There is something important that needs to be addressed. Recently, as most of you know, there was a shooting in Las Vegas where Jerad and Amanda Miller killed two police officers on their lunch break in a CiCi's Pizza, then walk to a nearby Walmart where they ordered everyone out of the store and killed a third person who was carrying a concealed weapon and attempted to confront them. Police arrived at the Walmart to confront the shooters, a shootout between them commenced, and the couple eventually committed suicide (although some reports suggest that Jared may have been killed by police). Jared and Amanda Miller have since been identified as anti-government activists. Their cry as they entered the Walmart was, "This is a revolution."

While this event troubles me, there is something that troubles me even more. And that's the reaction I'm seeing to this shooting from a number of other activists, who appear to be supportive of the killing of these police officers by these two idiots. I've seen it on several sites and pages that I frequent, but it might be exemplified best by an article I found posted on CopBlock's Facebook page by Christopher Cantwell, entitled "Dead Men Don't Start Revolutions" (CopBlock has since removed the article from their page). In this article, Cantwell criticizes the Millers for drawing bystanders into the shooting and for killing themselves, but at the same time says that they were perfectly justified for killing the cops, because according to him, "It is by definition, impossible to murder an aggressor. It is an act of defensive, retaliatory, or preventive force, not aggression, to do violence to people who have no doubt harmed peaceful people, and will no doubt continue to harm peaceful people. Every free man, woman, and child has every moral and ethical right to use violence to put a stop to such threats, and the world is a better place without these two police officers victimizing the public." And in the Facebook post linking to this article I saw several assenting comments to this point.

For those not familiar with Cantwell, he advocates violence as a necessary tool to bringing an end to the police state, and openly admits that he celebrates the death of cops. And he isn't alone, as I'm seeing a frightening number of activists sharing his sentiments. Not all by any means, but a sizable group of those whose comments I have observed. Let me be clear that employing violence as it is necessary for defense against aggression is completely appropriate. And Cantwell certainly tries to hide behind a distorted view of defense to justify his position.

An act of aggression by someone does not automatically give you the right to take their life. For one, it is arguable that most people have, at one time or another, acted in aggression to one degree or another – which would make most people's lives forfeit. If someone steals a pack of gum from your store, that doesn't give you the right to shoot them in the back of the head as they run away. It does give you the natural right to use necessary force to stop them, apprehend them, retrieve your gum, and bar them from ever entering your store again. Shooting the fleeing gum thief would be murder by any reasonable standard, and therefore it is possible to murder an aggressor. The objective of defense is to preclude an imminent act of aggression, to stop one in progress, to obtain reasonable assurance that it will not occur again, or to procure reasonable restitution for the act – it is not to kill the aggressor, get revenge, or 'make an example' out of them.

An aggressor who is not currently in the act of aggressing has the natural right to a fair trial and due process. They have the right to face their accuser, plead their case, and have it be considered impartially and objectively by their peers. The have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Denying them of this right is itself aggression, and taking their life in the process is murder. So even if you make the case that these officers had committed acts of aggression while on duty, and even if they were preparing to go back and do the same, shooting them while on their lunch break was just plain murder. It is unjustifiable use of violence, and it is aggression by any sane definition. Defending their murder is advocating aggression.

Police aggression is a problem, and one that needs to be dealt with. But it can't be used as a rationale to justify the killing of random cops. The Non-Aggression Principle implies that every person has the right to self-defense against an aggressor, or to defend another consenting party from the same. It does not grant you automatic and complete ownership over the rights and life of the aggressor. That is turning the NAP on its head to justify aggression. And when you twist law to unjustly deny a person their rights or to assert ownership over them or their life, when you arbitrarily inflict your judgments on them without due process of some sort, and when you unilaterally proclaim that everyone in a certain class of people is worthy of death, there is a word for that – statism. These are basically the same kinds of tactics and attitudes used by police and the government to oppress people. If the state is an arbitrarily appointed body that inflicts its rules on others through aggressive violence, then these so-called 'anarchists' who advocate such violence are nothing more than statists who are fooling themselves, and they are no different than the police they so hate. That includes Cantwell, who calls himself an anarcho-capitalist. The path that they are taking is one that, if they succeed, will inevitably replace the current rule-by-violence system of government with a brand new rule-by-violence society of a different sort. Just where the violence is more decentralized, at least in theory.

The violent revolution these guys are calling for is a bad idea for practical reasons, on top of the ethical reasons. It's very bad tactics to go after your opponent where they are strongest, and there is no point where the state is stronger than in the arena of violence. They have gotten quite good at it. Go study out the 2003 invasion of Iraq some time and look at the casualty figures. Less than 200 lost their lives on the coalition side, whereas Iraqi forces may have suffered as many as 30,000 fatalities. That's a huge margin between the two sides. And now they have drones and all sorts of other new toys they didn't have 11 years ago. If you are foolish enough to go pick a fight with a force like that without comparable training and equipment, your Darwin Award will be well earned. By all appearances, the powers-that-be want a fight. They've certainly militarized the police enough to seem like it. It would be very convenient for them to get rid of political dissenters and an excuse to crack down martial law style.

And that's what concerns me the most. If these idiots continue to promote violence, and if more violent attacks like those committed by the Millers take place, then it is likely to result in a crackdown from the government, police, and even military that could completely undo all of the work that activists across the country have been doing to pry us free from government-by-violence. People are making headway, more people are waking up and becoming aware of the problem, but all that could be undone overnight if some gun-toting whack-jobs hand the powers-that-be enough evidence to convince the people that everyone who opposes the government is a dangerous violent lunatic, and thus gets the public support necessary for such a crackdown. You want to see a ban on guns, militarized police searching house to house across the country, and full on martial law? Violence and promoting violence will help ensure it. Personally, I'm in no hurry to see that happen.

If ethics are not a good enough reason to support nonviolent civil resistance, then tactics should be. From a tactical standpoint, it is usually the best policy to focus on your adversary's weak points. And with the shamefully low approval ratings of our government, its deflating air of legitimacy, increasing unrest, the broken election system that ensures two-party rule, the broken legal system, the sinking economy, growing disenfranchisement with the public, and overall government dysfunction – it should be painfully clear where the weak points are. Civil resistance is very effective at striking those weak points hard, and, contrary to the ignorance of some, has been sufficient by itself to topple many a tyrannical government in the past. If you have doubts, I encourage you to read "From Dictatorship to Democracy" by Gene Sharp. This book will explain civil resistance and its advantages in dealing with tyrannical governments better than I ever possibly could. Frankly speaking, it's the only tactically viable path to ending rule-by-violence I have yet seen.

CopBlock, to their credit, has removed Christopher Cantwell from their team. This was the right thing to do, and as far as I'm concerned, it vindicates them of any wrong in this matter. CopBlock, here, has been a good example of how to deal with those calling for violence. And I think we should all follow this example. If we can agree that rule-by-violence is wrong, intolerable, and must come to an end, then we should speak out against anyone promoting, justifying, or committing acts of violence, except in defense. If they won't see reason, then we shouldn't associate ourselves with them, or any group or organization which does, lest it damage the legitimacy of our own positions. I believe we need to make a deliberate point of drawing a clear and well-defined line between those who advocate non-aggression, and those who advocate using violence to enforce their will on others. Because the media and the powers that be are already trying to lump us all together and use this shooting against us. And that is not a good thing.

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Recommended viewing:
So You Want to Topple the US Government?
Revolution: An Instruction Manual

Monday, June 9, 2014

The crux of the problem

I've heard the question asked before, "What is the most pressing threat that we currently face?" And I usually hear things like 'greed', 'poverty', 'loss of rights', 'corruption', 'war', and an endless list of other answers. Despite the diversity of answers given to that question, most of them have a common theme: The paradigm of one party imposing its will forcibly, directly or indirectly, onto another party.

Think about it for a while. Why is government corruption a problem, except that the government is passing laws on behalf of special interests – laws that are then forced on you with penalties for failing to comply? Why is greed a problem, except that the banks and corporations have used their wealth and clout to force a large degree of dominance and control of the economy, and therefore the livelihood of millions? Are your civil rights being violated? Afraid they are going to confiscate your guns? Concerned over the increased reports of police brutality, no-knock raids, and police militarization? That's the government using force against you or threatening to do so. Tired of toxic chemicals being pumped into the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat? Those toxins are a force being exercised against us, often without our consent. Tired of the government spying on your phone calls and online activity, invasively searching you at airports and elsewhere, all the while refusing to be transparent and accountable to the public in its own activities? That's all force in one form or another. And unless it is a defensive action, what is war but using military force to impose the will of one country onto another? Even problems which don't necessarily stem from this situation, such as disease or poor education, have solutions frustrated because of the meddling of governments, corporations, and other groups that use their power to exacerbate the matter. I can keep going down the list if I need to, through issues at federal, state, and local levels, and show how most of them directly result from one party initiating the use of force against another to accomplish its own ends – but I hope you get the idea.

When force is used against someone in a way which harms them, their person, their liberties, or their property without their willing consent, that is violence. Violence does not need to involve shooting, bombing, or beating someone – it can be the use of threats, intimidation, fraud, coercion, deprivation of needs, or any number of other indirect methods. Violence can be justified when used defensively in response to another act of violence. But when violence is initiated against someone else, when it is used by one party to force its agenda arbitrarily onto another, that is wrong by any sane ethical standard. It is rule-by-violence, and it is the most pressing issue we currently face, because it makes all of the other problems possible, or worse than they need to be.

Rule-by-violence is very prevalent in our society, yet it is rarely acknowledged and so rarely questioned. We overlook it as 'normal', or make excuses for it because it's carried out by the will of some majority, according to some law, or for some greater good. And yet, it should be the top issue on every one of our lists, regardless of our political affiliation, whether we consider ourselves 'liberal' or 'conservative' or 'libertarian' or 'green' or whatever. Whatever your issue, if it is a legitimate issue, it can be traced back to this. We should all be in agreement that rule-by-violence is an unacceptable way to govern a society and working together to do everything in our power to bring that paradigm to an end. So why aren't we?

Well, there's a catch. Almost everyone objects to having the agenda of someone else rammed down their throat by force, but many people are more than happy to give their assent when their own agenda is rammed down the throat of someone else. When the politicians of the day force oppressive laws on us, instead of questioning a system that authorizes them to do this, we put in new politicians that use the same abusive power in ways we find more palatable – or at least we think they will be more palatable. Those same politicians inevitably abuse that power and put the boot of authority on someone's neck. Perhaps not ours, but someone's. We perpetuate the system of violence ourselves and empower politicians, governments, corporations, and others to subjugate us. We authorize them to do it to others, then others authorize them to do it to us, and all the power trickles up until these 'public servants' have effectively become our rulers. In order to be part of the solution we have to stop being part of the problem. We have to give up this insane idea that we can make others do things our way at gunpoint just because a majority votes on it, a law is passed, or someone with some clout thinks it's a 'good idea'.

Until this paradigm changes, don't expect things to improve in any meaningful or lasting way. You can vote in 'good' politicians until you are blue in the face, but in a system so susceptible to abuses of power it is inevitable that those inclined to misuse that power will find ways into positions of power. The system itself has to change. That's a tall order, but there is simply no way around it. If you think there is, you're living in a dream world. The only way that we can bring an end to rule-by-violence is to demand it together in one voice. It is going to require that people of every walk of life, every race, every creed, and every political leaning put their differences aside and unite on this single point long enough to affect real change. And that can happen if we decide to make it happen. It has already happened once, briefly, when the US government tried to go to war with Syria and the American people put their foot down. We can do it again. We have to. Because the alternative is a slow slide into overt tyranny, and the loss of every ounce of liberty that those who came before us fought, protested, and died for. The alternative is leaving a future for our children where they are told how they must live their lives at gunpoint, where their rights are not protected, where government protected corporations control their access to goods, services, and jobs, and where liberty is just something they pretend to have in history class and on the 4th of July.

We can't change the nation until we change ourselves. We can't solve problems with the same kind of thinking that created them.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dissecting minimum wage

I want to step back and look at minimum wage. At the time of writing this, Seattle has just enacted a $15 minimum wage, and of course the internet is going wild with debate on the matter. I find that there are valid points on both sides of this debate.

I hope most of us can agree that people have an inherent right to work in order to survive, to maintain a decent standard of living, and to better themselves. To do that, they need to gain from that labor what is adequate to meet those needs. Every person willing to take responsibility for themselves and work should be able to do so and have those needs met through their labor. Every person in poverty should be able to work their way out of it, even with the limited means and resources that usually accompany true poverty. Poverty is a debt, and like any debt it should be self-amortizing. And it is only right that a person should have recourse to defend themselves against predatory or exploitative employment practices. Ideally, one would simply look for work elsewhere via the free market, but when circumstances make that difficult or impossible, holding a person's need hostage in order to coerce them into lower wages is a form of violence, and should be considered unacceptable for any civilized society.

However, when you implement a minimum wage as a solution you create a multitude of problems in the process. The two objections I hear most often are increased prices and decreased demand for labor (ie: fewer hours and fewer jobs). I've heard many arguments for and against these objections, but truth be told I haven't really followed up on them, simply because they represent an economic drop in the bucket.

What does concern me is inflation. If you give people more money they are likely to go out and spend it. Demand will increase, prices will increase proportionately, and the market will correct for the minimum wage increase. Note that this price increase is due to demand, not due to the cost of paying employees minimum wage. Ideally, with demand increase a supply increase should follow and the economy would begin a cycle of recovery... but with the economy being strangled by large firms and corporations that have increasing control over supply, and tightening regulations which sets the entry requirements for new competition increasingly high, it is highly unlikely that a proportionate increase in supply will follow. So, when the market corrects, that $15/hour will have a value close to the $7.25/hour we have today. This also has the nasty side effect of eating up all of the raises accumulated by employees over that time, as the value of their wages drops and puts them essentially back to where they started, at the bottom rung of the ladder. As a wage sla... er, wage earner myself this would particularly irk me.

If this was the long and short of it, we might conclude that, despite its side effects, the minimum wage is necessary to ensure that people can make a living and better themselves – except that the minimum wage doesn't even address the real problems. A minimum wage doesn't put any new wealth into the economy, it just spreads the existing wealth around more sparsely. Someone might argue that this could be useful for freeing up wealth that's gotten 'stuck' somewhere, say... with the top 1%. However, the reality is that a minimum wage is powerless to make them give up their piece of the pie, leaving the consumer and the market as a whole to bear the burden. Otherwise you wouldn't see executives getting increasingly bigger bonuses in a recession.

The problem isn't that people aren't making enough money. We have tons of money, more than any time in history. The problem is that our money is losing value because it is increasing in supply at a faster rate than the real, physical wealth that backs it, which are the goods and services on the market. And the wealth that exists, people at large possess a smaller and smaller portion of it. Most of what they do possess depreciates in value and does nothing to generate wealth or better their condition. We have little ability to generate wealth on our own, and so depend on large firms to generate it for us and decide how much they want to share. Physical wealth, comprised of real goods and services, is the capital that drives the economy, allows for growth, and puts food on a person's table. Currency is just the middle man. There is a wealth vacuum among the lower and middle class, but a disproportionately abundant supply of dollars, and the minimum wage does nothing to address this.

The worst part of the minimum wage, however, is the intrinsic nature of what it is. It is getting between two people making a private agreement and dictating to them the terms on which they must agree... at gunpoint. If the employer refuses to comply with the minimum wage, and similarly refuses to comply with whatever penalties are placed on him by the government as a result, they will shut down his business. And if he refuses to be shut down, then men with guns will show up to do so forcibly, and probably to arrest him, and they will use whatever means they have at their disposal to force his compliance. There is no way around this. A minimum wage is violence. Coercing employees into accepting a lower wage against their will is also violence, and employing some kind of minimum wage against an employer doing this might be justifiable as a defensive action. But to use a minimum wage proactively, to blanket it across all employers regardless of circumstances, is to initiate violence against otherwise peaceful persons and violate their right to free association. That is, by any sane ethical standard, wholly unacceptable. For me, this is the last nail in the coffin to the idea of a minimum wage as any kind of solution for ensuring that people can earn an adequate living for themselves.

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Alright, I'm doing this.

Well, I've thought for some time that I needed to start a blog. With my tendency to spew rants on Facebook, and elsewhere, which can take me hours to compose and are read by maybe ten people, it makes sense to concentrate some of those rants into one place instead. I've dragged my feet on making this blog, mostly because I couldn't think of a name for it that suited me until now.

I've chosen "Step Back and Look Again..." because it summarizes what I've been doing for the past decade, the past three years in particular, that has led me to the place I am now. When I turned eighteen, some thirteen years ago, I had a very narrow view of things. A change in circumstances gave me the opportunity to change that and begin to expand my own awareness of the world around me. As I did so, I found many of the ideas I held to so confidently began to crumble as they were put to the test by others and by real world situations. I also discovered that I had a very bad weakness of letting others pressure and influence me, which made me very manipulable and caused me a great many problems.

However, internally I was asking many questions and probing the ideas others pushed on me from different perspectives. My doubts and frustrations reached critical mass about three years ago due to a situation involving some particularly overbearing individuals, and where my wife was dragged into the mess as well. She gave me the push I needed to put my foot down once and for all. Since then, I have very purposely been stepping back and reexamining everything I thought I knew, and on every subject matter.

I have found myself very dissatisfied with the answers most people give when posed with questions on philosophy, ethics, politics, economics, religion, and even many practical matters. There is often wisdom to be taken from their answers, yet I usually find them incomplete in their scope and perspective and contaminated with subjective interpretations. What I intend to do here is to take a step back and look at things with as much objectivity and as broad a perspective as I can manage with my own limited knowledge and capabilities. I don't want to tell people what to think, per se. There are plenty of people out there doing that already, and the last thing I want is for someone to blindly take me at my word. But if I can expand people's perspective, including my own, and get them to think for themselves instead of picking from the usual multiple-choice list of answers, I will be happy with that.

I am a random person with many irons in the fire, so my topics will likely change often, and don't expect an update schedule. I'm experimenting here to see how this goes. So, if I have caught your interest, check back now and then and see what happens...