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.

If you like what I write, please share it, hit a 'like' button where you saw it so more people will see it, and spread it around.

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.

If you like what I write, please share it, hit a 'like' button where you saw it so more people will see it, and spread it around.

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...