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.

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.