Thursday, November 26, 2015

Falsifying Solipsism

The reason solipsism presents an inky philosophical problem boils down to the same reason that many other ridiculous dilemmas present problems. There is a (very common) fallacy going on where language is being given primacy over concepts, and concepts over what is existentially real. That is, we coin a word "X" based on some superficial observation or convention, then ask "what is X?". As if this word is somehow an existential thing. It isn't. Yet when we deal with philosophical problems we too often deal in words which we create, then try to backtrack and find some existential or objective conceptual substance to them. Or worse, we throw the words out there and assume they are objective and existential without even questioning it. But it just doesn't work that way. Many philosophical dilemmas, from Theseus' Ship to the entire field of Epistemology, are founded in this erroneous and fallacious way of thinking. And solipsism is no different. Solipsism, at its essence, is the idea that one's self, or one's mind, is the only thing you can be sure exists. And it's tricky to falsify only because the words "self" and "mind" are not objectively nailed down, but left open to interpretation. Therefore – when one attempts to put forth the obvious evidence that there appears to be an external world which cannot be directly manipulated by the mind, and from which the individual receives input which did not come from their own mind – the ambiguity in the definitions of 'self' and 'mind' allow the solipsism apologist to move the goalpost. They can claim that part of the mind is "locked" or "subconscious" or otherwise inaccessible to the direct experience or manipulation of the individual. And at this point we are stretching and expanding what a mind or self "is", because we started with the words, not existential things – yet we are treating those words as if they have intrinsic existential properties. If you start with things that can be empirically observed and objectively defined, assign those things terms, and use those terms to define solipsism, then falsifying it becomes trivially easy. I can observe that I have qualitative, phenomenal experiences. And I can observe that I react to those experiences, exerting an arbitrary will from what I experience. So from these observations I have empirically observed two things: 1) A function of qualitative and phenomenal input and arbitrary output which is experienced. I will define this as "consciousness". 2) That there is an object experiencing and participating in this function, which is me. I will define this as "self". So the self (as I have defined it here) has an input-output function called consciousness. From this, we will define an objective form of solipsism: ¬ there exists ¬self. Or, more plainly, nothing exists besides the self. To falsify solipsism, we need only to prove there exists ¬self, or that something besides the self exists.
For the input part of my consciousness to receive input (qualitative, phenomenal experience), there must be a source of that input. That is, an output. In a solipsistic universe, the only possible source of output would be the self. And the self does in fact have an output in the consciousness function in the form of an arbitrary will. The problem is that we receive input which is clearly not our own arbitrary will. We receive input which is different from and foreign to the output of our consciousness. We can observe this. You are observing it right now. Most of the sensory input you are currently experiencing is not being consciously willed into existence by you. You may be acting on it with your will, but it keeps acting on you regardless of your will, and it may behave in ways contrary to your will. Since we receive input which was not an output of the will – that is, of the self – that means this input must have been an output of something ¬self. This proves, empirically, logically, and undeniably there exists ¬self, that something other than the self exists. And this therefore disproves the original statement of solipsism: ¬ there exists ¬self.
You of course could revert back to some other statement of solipsism, or some other definition of the self, and proceed to move goalposts and create ambiguity. But if you do, then what are we even discussing? Anyone can make up a word and an idea and keep it vague enough to allow it to evade all analysis. But in doing so, you have removed all substance and validity from that idea itself. It may defy analysis, but it also defies usefulness and applicability. What, existentially, does a vague definition of solipsism even imply? What force does it carry? Exactly none.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Lessons in Bias from 9-11 and Dihydrogen Monoxide

Well, it's September 11th again. If you didn't look at your calendar, you could probably tell easily enough from glancing at any social media feed. Today is the day everyone makes sure we never forget what happened on September 11th, 2001. And rightly so. What happened that day is infamous for a reason. 2996 people prematurely lost their lives on that day, and thousands upon thousands more have perished since then as a direct result of what happened that day. We should remember that day. And, just as importantly, we should have a thorough understanding of what happened.

Most people are at least vaguely aware of the conspiracy theories surrounding the 9-11 attacks and the 9-11 truth movements that have brought them to light. For a very long time, I didn't take those movements and theories seriously. They seemed completely bonkers, like complete hogwash. But when I learned that someone I respected held to those theories, I decided to at least hear their case out. I didn't make it past re-watching the video footage before I knew something wasn't right. Back in 2001 when the attacks happened, I wasn't as well versed in physics as I am now. Simply watching the way the towers fell within the context of what happened offended my understanding of physics so much that I was compelled to start asking questions. And I quickly found myself unable to believe the official story anymore.

To be clear, I don't know what happened on 9-11. Was it an "inside job"? And if so, who was involved? I don't know. What I do know is that the official story is impossible, and there is a lot of evidence to support that those airplanes had a lot of help in the form of demolition equipment in order to bring down those buildings. Beyond that, I refuse to jump to any conclusions without hard evidence. But there is some compelling evidence that suggests various culprits, including some within government.

If you want to see why I disbelieve the official 9-11 narrative, I would refer you to the mini-documentary 9/11 - Echos of Darkness by StormCloudsGathering, as well as his latest video which was released today. I also encourage you to check out the YouTube channel Physics and Reason, which addresses the issue from a straightforward and easy to follow scientific perspective using experimentation and empirical evidence. But convincing you that the 9-11 story we've all been told is bullcrap was not my main reason for this article. There is something even more important that I want to address.

In addition to 9-11, there is no shortage of causes and conspiracy theories out there. Some of these are legitimate, and some of them are not. And it's become quite apparent to me that, whether it's the official narratives or less mainstream accounts, people do not choose what to believe based on evidence, reason, or fact. Rather, people choose what to believe based on what they want to believe, and based on the biases they embrace in order to protect what they believe from any evidence to the contrary.

Those who are dissatisfied with the status quo, the government, the corporate dominated economy, and the system as a whole tend to be more inclined to believe things which would incriminate that system and the entities which comprise it. Those who believe in that system, however, tend to be more inclined to dismiss anything which might incriminate it. Liberals are more likely to believe a narrative that paints conservatives in a bad light or incriminates their policies. Conservatives are more likely to believe any narrative which does this to liberals. Whatever cause or ideology someone believes in, they will almost always accept information which upholds what they believe and reject information that doesn't. This is called confirmation bias.

There is a satire/troll page on Facebook which centers around a campaign against a chemical called dihydrogen monoxide, also known as hydric acid. This chemical is rightly cited as being the cause of untold deaths in the US and around the world, and as being present in everything from acid rain to industrial runoff. It is also known more commonly by a different name: water. The point of the dihydrogen monoxide page is to illustrate how easy it is to take true facts and present them in such a way that it produces misleading information. I'm a big fan of the page myself. It's obvious satire, but apparently not obvious enough for some.

Recently, dihydrogen monoxide memes have been showing up on the pages of various March Against Monsanto pages and other non-GMO and pro-natural pages. They seem to be posting them in all seriousness, taken in by this troll campaign against water just because it sounds like something that supports their worldview. I find this both hilarious and sad. Sad because it is an example of information being accepted and held on to without scrutiny or thought on the part of those accepting it, simply because it suits their confirmation bias.

Please note that I'm not trying to discredit March Against Monsanto or the non-GMO movement. I have many sympathies with their cause, I support GMO labeling, and I have a lot of concerns over GMO foods. I'm merely using March Against Monsanto as an example. This phenomenon is not limited to them by any means. It's all over the place, spanning all ideologies, movements, and cultures. Whether a cause can be considered good or not, chances are good that many within it accept information that supports their worldview with minimal scrutiny. The ideas they are accepting may not even be wrong. But, because of their biases, they have no defense against any that are. And, as a result, many stupidities are able to creep in to otherwise sound movements, derail their intellectual integrity, and ultimately destroy their credibility.

This is a huge problem. And I'm not immune to it myself. It was my own bias that made me dismiss claims that the official story about what happened on September 11, 2001 is bogus. Before I could examine those claims objectively, I had to tear down those biases. And I have tried my best to make a conscious effort to identify and confront my own biases on every front. It's an ongoing effort that is by no means complete. Often, the problem with bias is that we are blind to our own. And it can be a very uncomfortable and humbling process to expose your own biases so you can see them, admit to them, and ultimately part with them.

But it is the problem of confirmation bias that prevents so many people from being objective about so many situations. It has led to a lot of ridiculous conspiracy theories and ridiculous official stories alike. It's the type of thinking that produces the crazy, way out there tinfoil-hat types and the sheeplike fools who accept what their television tells them without question. They are one and the same in their way of thinking, they just differ in the content.

So, this September 11th, with the world slowly marching towards disaster and sanity running in short supply on all of the various sides, I want to encourage you to do one thing: question yourself. Question your thought process and your conclusions. Question why you believe what you believe. And question deeply. And don't ever stop. Even when you feel satisfied that you have seen past your own biases, when you are certain of your own objectivity, that is the time to be questioning yourself the most aggressively. A little bit of self-doubt is healthy when it spurs you to more self-awareness, so long as it doesn't prevent you from being certain and assertive when you need to be. In fact, such doubt and questioning can ultimately lead to greater certainty as the biases are refined from your thinking.

With the world becoming increasingly like tinder, ready to go ablaze both at home and abroad, I cannot emphasize how important it is to think beyond the polarizing narratives and biases that are driving the various sides in conflict. It might be our only hope for averting disaster. Revolution begins within, with the overthrow of our own broken mindset. We cannot change the world until we first change ourselves.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

An Overview of Countereconomics

A friend and notable activist just asked me a while ago what my idea of countereconomics is. As I contemplated his question, I realized that the answer was going to be far greater than the scope of a single Facebook message, and would require far more effort than something only one person was going to read warranted. So, I'm putting my answer on here for everyone to read.

For those not in the know, countereconomics is a form of civil resistance which involves circumventing a state-imposed economic system by engaging in economic activities outside of that system, to the end of furthering the subversion of that system. This doesn't necessarily involve anything illegal, and it can be something as simple as two people growing a garden and trading the produce with each other directly – as opposed to selling it to a store or in some venue where sales tax is collected. But more on the specifics later. First, there are some preliminaries to cover.

But before we can even talk about countereconomics, we have to talk about the more fundamental paradigm that underlies it: the paradigm of empowerment and disempowerment. Empowerment is what enables us to do things and to exercise our rights, and disempowerment is the lack thereof. Any action you take, you can only take because you are empowered to take it. If you build your own home, it means that you must have the know-how, the physical abilities, and the resources to build it. If you bake a pie, it means you know the recipe for a pie, have the physical ability to do what is necessary to bake it, have the necessary utensils and facilities to carry out the operation, and have access to the ingredients. Even simple things most people take for granted require empowerment. Walking requires a functional set of legs, strength, balance, and the neurological ability to make it all work together – and there are many people who lack these things. There is also such thing as psychological empowerment. Someone with an anxiety disorder may not be empowered to do things you find simple, and by no fault of their own. Even exercising the right to your own life and self requires empowerment – food to provide your body with the nutrients and energy to function, and the ability to protect yourself from things and people that might snuff out that right. This empowerment does not originate from within, it has to be obtained or received externally. And not everyone is empowered to empower themselves in every way. Empowerment is everything, but it is so rarely talked about or thought about in a fully pragmatic sense. And that is why I've taken this whole huge paragraph for it. It is imperative to thoroughly understand this principle. (It really deserves its own article.)

Statism, rule-by-violence, corrupt economic and political systems – at the end of the day they are all empowerment problems. It's all about disempowering people in general and empowering a select few, thus allowing the few to control and exploit the many. And most of these systems work from both ends. On one hand, they might use force and pressure to take power away from people. On the other hand, they use propaganda and bribes to convince people to surrender their empowerment all on their own. This is how statism works in all its forms.

If statism is disempowerment, and empowerment is the opposite of disempowerment, then what is the antithesis of statism? What creates empowerment for the many and disempowers the rulers who would subjugate them? I would assert that the antithesis of statism is cooperation.

Cooperation is simply when two or more people work together, uncoerced, for mutual benefit. Or, that is to say, mutual empowerment. It requires that two people take responsibility for themselves, to the degree that they are empowered to do so, and work together without being forced to. And this is the exact the opposite of the state in three ways: 1) It empowers the individuals instead of their rulers by allowing them to be dependent on themselves and one another, instead of some other party, to provide for their needs and wants. 2) It requires individual responsibility instead of deferring that responsibility to the state. No more wondering who is going to take care of you. No more, "They should really fix these roads!" followed by begging those in power to act. Instead, you and your community work together, pool your resources, and fix your own roads. 3) It takes the violence and coercion out of the equation.

Cooperation is more than the antithesis of the state: it is the antidote to the state. It takes the power, responsibility, and necessity away from the state and puts it back in the hands of the individual, robbing the state of its leverage, its legitimacy, and the resources it needs to survive. Because the state requires the support, finances, and labor of the masses in order to stand, but cooperation diverts that support, finance, and labor back to the masses themselves. It's supporting your neighbor, financing your community, and laboring together towards a common goal. Cooperation, when practiced broadly, effectively renders the state obsolete and irrelevant, starves it, dissolves it, and perpetuates itself as it replaces the state. For this reason, cooperation is to the state what fire is to wood.

So, when am I going to start talking about countereconomics? I already have been, and for some time now. Cooperation is the fundamental mechanism and essential form of true countereconomics. Countereconomics doesn't even necessarily have to involve trade, although trade is likely to be a major element as it is a form of cooperation when it takes place without coercion. But whatever form countereconomics takes, it must inevitably involve cooperation, and empowering individuals, in order to be effectual. Because the goal of countereconomics is the empowerment of individuals and communities and the disempowerment of rulers and their institutions.

So how can you conduct countereconomics? That depends what resources you have available. The essential element is empowering and working together with others, especially in ways that helps them become less dependent on the state, corporations, etc; and more inclined to participate in the countereconomy. If you know how to grow food, bartering or giving away what you grow is a good start. Teaching someone else to grow food is even better. Working together with that person you taught in order to sell, barter, or distribute that food and teach even more people, while including people with other skills, trades, and abilities and helping them do the same – that's hardcore. From there you can branch out, expand into nearby communities, form networks, and move chunks of the economy out of the bank-corporate-government controlled realm bit by bit.

This isn't limited to food of course. It applies to anything: fixing cars, digging wells, making jewelry, giving rides to people who need them, going shopping for the elderly, painting houses, cleaning trash out of ditches and gutters, playing music, teaching kids math, etc; And the aforementioned patching of roads, like they are doing in Detroit. Do as much business locally as you can and buy from co-ops when you can find them. Build networks and expand beyond the bounds of your community. Acts of charity also gets special mention, because that is reaching out to the least empowered and empowering them. If you have a small farm, consider hiring a homeless person to help you out in return for food, and teach them your skills while you are at it.

Countereconomics also has one distinct advantage over other types of resistance: you don't have to "convert" someone ideologically to get them to be part of the countereconomy. Just like the CEO of a major corporation doesn't have to get someone to agree with him politically in order to get them to support his business: he just has to convince them to buy his product. A countereconomy is a product. If that product is shown to others to be desirable or beneficial, chances are they will buy some of it. Your neighbor may not agree with the assertion that the system is corrupt, but they might be more than happy to buy eggs laid by your chickens for a lower price than they can get at the grocery store. If you provide benefit to someone's life they are going to be much more likely to listen to you. That's why the state gets followers: it offers people enticing benefits as bait.

I should also point out that countereconomics doesn't mean that you have no dealings with the current corrupt economy. You may work a job and get paid in dollars because it's the only way you can currently get by. Or you may even find yourself having to accept government benefits to survive. That's okay. Things suck right now, and no one has the right to condemn you for this. I received food stamps for years because I couldn't make it without them, but I used that extra income to improve my situation until I was no longer dependent on the government to put food on the table.

I have been without food stamps for nearly two years now. I still work a job, as my personal resources are limited, and even in a best case scenario I will have to acquire and use dollars for some transactions. And of course, I still drive on government roads because that's the only option I have to get from place to place. But I am trying to use what resources I have to reduce my dependence and look into alternate sources of income, monetary or otherwise.

That is to say, I'm pulling wealth from the system and looking for ways to consolidate it outside of the system. It's a long, slow, tedious process since I'm currently by myself on it where I am. But I have made progress. I am using what I have to empower myself so I can empower others.

And it really all comes back to empowerment. You want a revolution? Don't go trying to force someone else to do what you want them to. Instead, find someone to empower. Find something to give to or trade with someone else. Find a homeless person to feed, a snowy walkway that needs shoveled, or a single mom working two jobs who needs a babysitter at odd hours. Even if you can't help directly, maybe you know someone you can, or maybe you have something to give or teach that would help them help themselves. Teach others that they can provide for themselves and each other outside of this broken system, and condemn that system every step of the way. This is how you start it. It might become more complicated along the way, nothing like this is ever "that simple". But if we are serious about changing things, this is how it's done.

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." ~Buckminster Fullur

Monday, July 13, 2015

9 ain't special

So, I have seen this video circulating around of recent. Go ahead, watch it. It's some high-school level math that apparently reveals some profound secret of the universe. And it is complete crap. The math is accurate enough, but the conclusions are demonstrably bogus. And I intend to lay it to rest below.

The basic premise of the video is as thus: That the reason there are 360° in a circle is not arbitrary, and that the number 9 simultaneously stands for everything and nothing, thus having some "divine symmetry" of some sort. For those who don't want to watch the video, it makes the following claims using the following proofs:

• A full circle is 360°. 3+6+0=9. A circle divided in half is 180°. 1+8+0=9. If you continue these divisions, the pattern holds: 1/4 of a circle is 90°, and 9+0=9. 1/8 of a circle is 45°, and 4+5=9. 1/16 of a circle is 22.5°, and 2+2+5=9. Etcetera. No matter how many times you bisect the circle, the digits always add to 9.

• A similar pattern is seen in regular polygons. An equilateral triangle has 3 angles of 60° each. 60×3=180. 1+8+0=9. A square has 4 angles of 90°. 4×90=360. 3+6+0=9. A regular pentagon has 5 angles of 108°. 5×108=540. 5+4+0=9. A regular hexagon has 6 angles of 120°. 6×120=720. 7+2+0=9. And so forth.

• The sum of all single digits, excluding 9, is 36. 0+1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8=36. 3+6=9.

• Adding any single digit to 9 will produce sum that, when its digits are summed, is the original number you added to 9. 1+9=10, and 1+0=1. 3+9=12, and 1+2=3. 5+9=14, and 1+4=5. 9+9=18, and 1+8=9.

Therefore, 9 is special and has some mystical, divine significance. It simultaneously represents everything and nothing. Yadda yadda.

For the record, I'm not entirely a skeptic when it comes to the whole "sacred geometry" thing. Except for the "sacred" part. There are a lot of genuinely profound and interesting mathematical truths out there, in which are contained the secrets of how the universe works. Like the golden ratio. Study that thing some time.

But there is also a lot of crap out there. To say there is a fine line out there between numerology and genuine mathematics is an understatement – the line is big, bold, and well defined. And that line is when we assign arbitrary significance to something that it doesn't inherently have. Usually because we are unaware of what is arbitrary and what is objective. In this case, we have a clear example of this.

The "proof" demonstrated in this video has a problem. The problem is that it attempts to prove that 360° is not an arbitrarily chosen division of a circle by using an arbitrary number base. That is, it uses the base-10, or decimal, number system as the crux of its proof. And our use of the base-10 system is entirely arbitrary in itself. So we are trying to prove something to be objective using an arbitrary standard.

So, I decided to use the base-16, or hexadecimal, number system, run the math through it, and see what happens. For those not familiar with it, hexadecimal simply means that, instead of 10 possible single digits, there are 16: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, a, b, c, d, e, and f. And instead of each digit representing a power of 10, each digit represents a power of 16. So a=10, b=11, c=12, d=13, e=14, and f=15. Once you reach a second digit in hexadecimal, you start counting powers of 16. So 1016=1610, 1116=1710, 1216=1810, and so forth. (Those little numbers mark which system the numbers are in for clarity, but will only be used when necessary. 10 means base-10, and 16 means base-16 respectively.)

In base-16, 36010 is written as 16816. So, here is the same math as above run in hexadecimal:

• A full circle is 168°. 1+6+8=f. (Remember f=1510) A circle divided in half is b4°. b+4=f. If you continue these divisions, the pattern holds: 1/4 of a circle is 5a°, and 5+a=f. 1/8 of a circle is 2d°, and 2+d=f. 1/16 of a circle is 16.8°, and 1+6+8=f. Etcetera. No matter how many times you bisect the circle, the digits always add to f.

• A similar pattern is seen in regular polygons. An equilateral triangle has 3 angles of 3c° each. 3c×3=b4. b+4=f. A square has 4 angles of 5a°. 4×5a=168. 1+6+8=f. A regular pentagon has 5 angles of 6c°. 5×6c=21c. 2+1+c=f. A regular hexagon has 6 angles of 78°. 6×78=2d0. 2+d+0=f. And so forth.

• The sum of all single digits, excluding f, is 69. 0+1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+a+b+c+d+e=69. 6+9=f.

• Adding any single digit to f will produce sum that, when its digits are summed, is the original number you added to f. 1+f=10, and 1+0=1. 3+f=12, and 1+2=3. 5+f=14, and 1+4=5. f+f=1e, and 1+e=f.

Therefore, this isn't some special intrinsic property of the number 9. By switching bases, we can see 15 (represented as f) exhibiting all of the same properties. What do 9 in base 10 and f in base 16 have in common? They are both the final single digit in their respective bases. This is why you can sum all of the other digits in their base together, add the digits of the sum, and get the final digit of that base. It is also why you can add any digit to them, add the digits of the sum, and get the number you added to it. When you try this in other bases, such as base 8, this all works the same way.

However, when you try the math with the angles and the regular polygons in base 8 it doesn't work. And there is a reason for this. 9 and 15 have one more thing in common: 360 is divisible by both of them. 360/9=40. 360/15=24. This is why the math works with them when they are the final digit of their base. The final digit for a base 8 system is 7, and 360 is not divisible by 7. 360/7=51+3/7. However, when you cut a circle into units that are divisible by 7, say, 700 units, the math again works. All of the digits in the bisected circle or the sum of the angles of the regular polygons add up to 14, which is written as 16 in base 8, and 1+6=7. So the pattern still holds.

In conclusion: 360° is entirely arbitrary. It was arbitrarily chosen by the ancient Babylonians (or maybe someone else), possibly because they had a base 60 number system and found 360 easy to work with (360 is also divisible by 60). There is no objective basis for that choice, at least as far as anything intrinsic to math. The only thing that makes it seem special is that it happens to be divisible by the largest single digit in our own chosen base system. And the only thing that makes 9 special is that it is the largest single digit in our chosen base system, which itself is arbitrary. Base 16, base 20, base 60, and other systems have been and are used around the world. I'm a bit partial to base 16 and base 210 myself. 9 is a perfectly lovely number, but it doesn't hold within itself profound secrets of existence. Or at least if it does, this video didn't demonstrate it.

There is some really fascinating math out there. But it is important to recognize where math ends and arbitrary interpretation begins. It is also important to be lucid about what is objective and what is not. There are so many things people take for granted in this world as just "the way things are" as if it were the only possible way it could be, when really, someone simply decided it should be that way, and that decision was entirely arbitrary. I cannot understate the value of becoming aware of the things in our lives which fall into this category. It will change the way you see everything, and for the better.

Bonus: For those who have not already done so, check out Wolfram Alpha. It helped me crunch some of the numbers for this one and is a wonderful tool for all of your math and information seeking needs. Bookmark it. Doooo ittttt!!!!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Concerning the TPP

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been a topic which has bubbled around the internet for a while. I admit, I've been uncertain about it myself. As with most such issues, there are always lots of allegations which may or may not have any substance to them. With all of the issues out there, the TPP was mostly drowned out.

Recently, however, with StormCloudsGathering finally resurfacing after a long hiatus and putting out a video on the TPP, I decided it was probably worth giving a serious look at. It didn't really take me long to confirm that his concerns were founded on fact.

Primary concerns include:

The language of the bill itself being kept from the public.

Corporations paying lawmakers to fasttrack the bill.

And the most concerning part, the one I actively care about, is the "Investor State Dispute Settlement" clause, which creates international trade tribunals with the power to undermine the sovereignty of nations, their laws, and the people who comprise those nations. It would be rule by judges, and international judges at that.

(You can read the leaked partial draft of the TPP here.)

And deliberations on fasttracking this bill are apparently going on right now in the House. So, I'm urging people who recognize this as an issue to put the pressure on those in DC. Because this is a potentially serious issue.

As such, I sent this e-mail to my region's own representative, Vicky Hartzler:

I am not sure what your position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership is, but I am writing you to urge you to consider the situation carefully, and to oppose the TPP until such time as the language of the bill is made public in its entirety, and until it can be assured that it will not compromise the sovereignty of the People of the United States over ourselves and our country.

I am very much in favor of cultivating international trade that might stimulate the economy and create jobs. However, this bill concerns me both because of the secrecy surrounding it, the fact that it's language has not been made public, and the indications that it will set up international trade tribunals that can overrule national sovereignty and law. This is alarming to say the least.

If government is to be derived from the informed consent of the governed, and if we are to be a country of the people, by the people, and for the people, where the sovereignty of self-government is to be maintained, then it is imperative that any law or bill which might compromise this be accessible to public review and scrutiny. Or else, self-government is lost. Compromising self-government is not an appropriate or effective way to stimulate the economy.

I urge you again to oppose the TPP, pending that it's language would be released publicly and it be made certain that it will not compromise national sovereignty.

Thank you.

If she responds back, I will post it below for all to see.

Update: The TPP Fasttrack, which would disallow debate and amendments, putting it to an up and down vote, has been defeated in the house. That doesn't mean it's over. They can still repackage it and try again. But, it does mean that they have to take a strategic retreat and lick their wounds first.

Update II: It's complicated.

Update III: I finally received the following generic e-mail back from Rep. Hartzler:

Dear Mr. Brown,
Thank you for contacting me regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also sometimes referred to as "fast-track authority." I appreciate the time and effort you took to share your concerns with me on this vital issue. I value your input and welcome all comments so I can stay informed on the issues most important to the citizens of Missouri's 4th Congressional District.

First, it is important to note that TPA and TPP are two separate issues. As you may know, TPA lays down the negotiation perimeters and objectives desired by Congress for any trade deal the administration may negotiate in the next five years to ensure the United States secures the most effective trade agreements possible and the people's voice is represented during the process. TPA's guidelines provide greater transparency to the negotiating process by empowering Congress to participate directly in the negotiations, if desired, and to conduct vigorous oversight of the process to hold the administration accountable.  

TPP, on the other hand, is the name of the trade agreement between the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Japan, Singapore, and Vietnam which has been under discussion for a while but is not yet finalized. The agreement hopes to focus on emerging trade issues and the creation of a new global trade standard for tariff and nontariff trade barriers. If the TPA bill passes, it will govern how the negotiations are finalized on the TPP deal and others in the future with other countries.

TPA gives Congress the ability to see the negotiating text throughout the process with the authority to ultimately kill the deal if they do not find it to be satisfactory; to receive detailed briefings of the proceedings; and to be afforded the opportunity to attend negotiating rounds. Additionally, TPA protects U.S. sovereignty. Just as importantly, TPA requires that any proposed deal be made public for at least 60 days – giving the American people a chance to see for themselves what any deal will contain and voice their opinions accordingly – before Congress votes to approve or disapprove of the deal.  I am confident TPA will help deliver the strongest possible trade agreements that will boost American exports and benefit American workers, manufacturers, farmers, ranchers, and job creators.

Ninety-six percent of the world's customers live outside the United States. In order to create more high-paying jobs here at home, we need to sell more American-made products and services overseas. That means tearing down barriers to American exports.

Trade has a huge impact on our nation's economy. In Missouri, trade supports over 800,000 jobs, and enables it to export roughly $23 billion in goods and services annually through more than 900 exporters. Through lower trade barriers, these opportunities will only grow as more of our products reach more consumers. Additionally, by laying down strong and enforceable rules through TPA for our trading partners, American workers will be given the chance to compete on a level playing field. If we don't expand our opportunities through trade agreements, other countries (like China) will fill the void.

I support free trade, but it must be fair. American workers are the backbone of our great country. They can compete with workers anywhere in the world when they are given a level playing field. I will continue to advocate for common sense legislative provisions that bring fairness to American trade policies. Unfortunately, there are consumers and markets across the globe that still cannot be accessed by American sellers because of high tariffs, quotas, and other barriers to international trade. It is time to knock down those barriers. 

While I have heard from many constituents on this issue, it is unfortunate that many have heard misinformation regarding TPA and what is accomplished through the perimeters Congress puts on the administration and how a trade deal is negotiated. That is why I have included a link to a "Myth vs. Fact" sheet on my website that I hope you will find useful:  "Setting the Record Straight on TPA" 
Please know that as trade negotiations move forward, I will monitor the terms and conditions of any agreement to ensure that America's best interests are met and that American industries are fairly represented. As always, I greatly appreciate your concerns and perspectives. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future on other issues important to you and your community. It is a privilege to be your voice in Congress.
With best regards, I remain,

                                                                                   Very truly yours,

(Note that I did not include the irrelevant PS or her custom signature graphic, the former because it was irrelevant, the latter because I didn't know if reproducing it would be considered an issue or not.)

Make of it what you will, but it basically seems to boil down to "my mind is made up, you're wrong, and I'm right, so I'm going to correct you and you should take my word for it".

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Autism Awareness Day

Today, April 2, is internationally known as Autism Awareness Day. I've never really paid much attention to Autism Awareness Day before because, in the past, I've never really known much about autism. Most of what I thought I knew came from depictions of autism in the media, articles on the subject, anecdote, and the very few brief encounters I've had with autistic children. Those unsatisfactory sources led me to envision autism as an unruly, hyperactive child who is completely socially detached, throws violent tantrums, and is more or less mentally handicapped, with parents or caregivers who struggle and grieve trying to deal with them. Some of the information I had come across even suggested that people with autism don't understand that other people are actually alive or conscious, only themselves. They didn't recognize people as people. For whatever reason I never questioned this image of autism for a long time, perhaps because I was too distracted by topics I found more interesting or relevant. I never thought too deeply about what autistic people go though, what life is like from their perspective, or what happens to those kids when they grow up. I was aware of autism, but my awareness was superficial.

To make a long story short, my distorted image of autism was challenged on several fronts some time back. Not strongly, but just enough to get me asking questions and looking for the answers. I learned that autism wasn't at all what I thought it was, and that I had many gross misconceptions about it.

I've learned that autism, at its core, is more or less a social learning disability. Many social skills and abilities that most people take for granted, such as understanding the meaning of someone's facial expressions, don't come naturally to people with autism. Many people with autism struggle with interpreting nonverbal and indirect forms of communication, such as facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, subtext, sarcasm, and figures of speech, though many can learn to master some or all of these. Often, they will take things literally, or at least their first instinct will be to take things literally. Social rules, such as those which determine what is and is not appropriate in a given situation, can also be difficult for an autistic person to grasp. This isn't because they are stupid. It's like being colorblind in a world where everything is color-coded. They just don't naturally see or pick up on these things. Another way to put it is to say that autism is to social skills what dyslexia is to reading. People with autism can often learn how consciously to recognize and interpret some or most of these social rules and cues, but some will find this extremely difficult and make limited progress no matter how hard they try. And while it is possible for someone with autism to become reasonably adept in social situations, for most, social situations are like feeling your way around in the dark in a booby-trapped labyrinth.

Along with the social stuff, autism is characterized by what the DSM refers to as "restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities". This can include strong, focused, narrow, or obsessive interests or hobbies, adherence to rituals or routines, or repetitive sensory-seeking behaviors (often called "stimming") such as hand flapping, rocking back and forth, finger rubbing, pacing, or any number of other things. Many people with autism are also extremely oversensitive or undersensitive and indifferent to various kinds of stimuli, such as sounds, smells, tastes, textures, heat, cold, pain, and so forth. Too much sensory stimulation can become so overwhelming that it overloads the mind to where it can no longer function and shuts down most or all non-essential functions.

Some forms of autism include delays in speech and communication abilities, others do not. Some autistic people are mentally handicapped, some are of average intelligence, and some are absolutely brilliant. Some hit all of their developmental milestones on time or early, speak and write very well, do well in school, and find themselves leading productive and independent lives. Some can pass as 'normal' perfectly when they want to. And some may require help and care for their whole lives. Autism comes in many varieties and effects each person differently, even those who have the same variety of autism. There is no stereotypical autistic person. But all of them face significant challenges, whether openly or silently, which are not easily understood by those who don't face those same issues.

But, underneath all of the 'symptom' stuff, people with autism are still people. They are not stupid, broken, or "missing pieces" (at least not any more so than the average person). They have feelings, though sometimes those feelings work a bit differently. They have hopes, dreams, and aspirations. They get lonely and want to be loved. They care about others and are every bit as capable of moral and ethical judgement as anyone else. They want to understand the world they live in and themselves, and many are quite a bit more introspective and metacognitive than the average person. There are actually perks that can come with autism, and this is being recognized more and more. Many with high-functioning forms of autism can be very productive and successful, with analytical minds that excel at pattern-recognition, trouble-shooting, and logical thinking. The autistic mind processes and sees things differently than most others do, and this is not a bad thing. Sometimes it's just the perspective needed. Some employers are recognizing this and purposely hiring people with autism for specific jobs.

When I realized I was wrong about autism, and what I thought autism was, I took the time to learn the truth and correct myself. Because, the thing I hear most from the autistic people I've talked to is that other people simply don't understand. They just want people to understand them and what they deal with, and accept them for who they are, differences and all. But the problem with correcting your own errors and learning the truth is, sometimes, you find things you didn't expect to find. Sometimes the rabbit hole goes down further than you thought it did. Or maybe, somewhere in the back of your mind, you knew where it was going, but you didn't really want to believe it. Because it could irrevocably change the way you see everything.

The more time I have spent reading about autism, talking to people with autism, listening to them, and learning, the less it seems like I'm learning about some group of people and their challenges, and the more it seems like I'm looking in a mirror. The more it feels like my life story is being told back to me through the words of countless others. The more I can relate to their struggles. In fact, for the first time in my life, I feel like there are others who really actually get what I go though, and understand the crap that I've dealt with and have rarely talked about with others, since others don't seem to get it.

I haven't come to any conclusions lightly, or without a great deal of scrutiny and review. Especially given the nature of those conclusions. But the more I look at myself, both now and as I was growing up, the more apparent it becomes that I, myself, almost certainly have mild autism – what they would probably have diagnosed as Aspergers Syndrome before the DSM-V mucked with the terminology. I had been very hesitant for some time to say this, especially publicly (I've talked to a few people about it). But as the evidence keeps stacking up I'm no longer able to achieve the level of denial necessary to avoid this conclusion. All of the signs and symptoms are there, and quite clearly. And it makes everything, the past 32 years of my life, and all of the crap I deal with to this day, make much more sense. I've always known there was something different about me. I've always felt like everyone knew something I didn't. Like I was always lagging behind others in everything. Like I was always the "c" of an "a b" conversation. Like even in my closest groups of friends I've mostly been on the periphery, unable to really be on equal footing with others. Now I finally understand why.

Since I keep letting it slip to people, I figure there is no real point at keeping this under wraps anymore. I don't really want to do that anyways. As I've become more aware of what autism really is, what people with autism really deal with, the stigma of the word has dissipated for me. I don't feel ashamed or embarrassed about it. And I don't want it to be an elephant-in-the-room kind of thing that people are afraid to bring up or ask me about (or even joke about in a respectful manner), as if I might get offended by it. Plus, I'm tired of carrying this around and trying to keep it to myself. I'm not looking for attention or sympathy or whatever, but I think it's better to be out in the open and honest about who you really are. So, I'm putting it all out on the table, for better or for worse, come what may.

In past years, Autism Awareness meant to me a passing awareness of someone else's problems. Kind of. Because on some level, I think I suspected. There were clues, and I did notice them, but I wasn't ready to accept them. Now, to me, Autism Awareness means self-awareness. It's amazing how much you can learn about something when you realize you've been living it for 32 years, seeing it from the inside. It's my intention to seek a clinical evaluation as soon as I can afford it, though that might be a while. Probably a year or two. In the mean time, I still want to be open and honest about where I am in all of this. I want to help other people understand and maybe clear up some misconceptions and distorted images, not just for my own benefit, but for the benefit of others too.

Thank you all for taking the time to read this. If anyone has any questions or feels some point needs clarification, please just ask. Thanks.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A bit of reflection and reevaluation

So, for the past month, I've started writing several articles, and envisioned several more. I started writing Ethics Part III, and envisioned using it as a springboard to talk about the Police State and what has been happening in Ferguson, New York, and across the country. I've had some new insight on a theory I call Wealth-Energy Equivalency, and the economic implications of it, and I have been wanting to do an article on it for a long time. I've had idea after idea, but I've also had some other, more personal things on my mind which have stopped me from putting them into article form. Mostly, because I have become aware of an issue in my own writing and communication style.

I've always known that I have a tendency to be 'wordy'. Brevity is not my forte. As a result, I will often go back over whatever I write and 'trim the fat' to make it shorter and more concise – with varying degrees of success. But I have recently discovered some things about myself, and about other people, which have brought to light a deeper issue. People, by and large, do not think the way I thought they did. And, more specifically, they don't think the way I do. I'm not merely saying that other people have different opinions, values, experiences, aptitudes, and perspectives than I do. That should be obvious to anyone, because everyone is different. I'm saying that the way I file and process information in my mind, the actual mental functionality, turns out to be markedly and fundamentally different from the way most other people do, and I was never aware of it. And this, of course, has been reflected in my communication style. I made the faulty assumption that other people did, or at least could, digest information in more or less the same way I did.

Please don't misconstrue this as a snobbish statement. I'm not meaning to imply any superiority or inferiority here – only difference. There are advantages and disadvantages to this difference. And the basic difference seems to be in the role of the subconscious. I have learned that many people, seemingly the majority, do most of their thinking in subconscious leaps and connections. It seems to be the 'default' way that people think. I... don't exactly do this. My thinking process tends to be very conscious, very systematic, and very detailed. I make intuitive leaps, but even these are very conscious and deliberate things, and I can easily follow and cross-examine the reasoning associated with them. However, this also means that thinking about anything, for me, requires intensive levels of concentration and can be quite demanding of my attention. If brains were cars, the average brain would be an automatic transmission and mine would be a stick shift.

Because my brain tends to be conscious and meticulously systematic in its processing, the way I see things can be very different. Specifically, my idea of simplicity is very different from other people's. If someone were to ask the average person for the simplest possible definition of a car, they might say something like "A machine that people use to go from one place to another." That's very simple for most people. It isn't very wordy, it uses simple language, and it gives the big-picture idea of what a car is. But for me, this isn't simple at all. To me, the above is so ambiguous and frustratingly complex as to not even qualify as a definition of a car. The word 'machine', for instance, is so general that it can refer to just about anything, from a wheelchair ramp to robot. And does a car cease to be a car if it isn't being used to go from place to place? Is it is what it is because of what it does, or because of something intrinsic to it? And this is not even touching on details like how it moves, what it's made of, how if functions, etc; which are all essential to defining a car and contrasting it from other things such as a chariot or an airplane.

Please understand, this is not me overthinking the statement. This isn't some way that I choose to view it. This is how my brain processes information. It is the only way I know how to think. I now know there are other ways that people process information, and I can sort of emulate them indirectly (at least well enough to come up with the above example), but I'm overall not very good at it (it took me an entire days worth of pondering to formulate and settle on the above example). My brain simply does not subconsciously make many indirect or generalized connections the way other people's brains apparently do, but it is in turn great at consciously making direct and logical connections and refining out the details and patterns that other people have great difficulty with.

I understand things from the bottom up, taking the details and the simplest equations from which the whole is fractally derived and using them to piece together the larger picture. The 'big picture' way that many other people seem to see things is extremely difficult for me to wrap my brain around. When I see the 'big picture' it is indirectly as a fractal of the fundamental details. That is to say, to use an analogy: I cannot see the forest, but I can see the trees, and I can understand the forest only by observing the trees. And, more importantly, I see the minute and exact details which define a thing, from which the whole is derived, as being of crucial significance. And this has been the crux of my own difficulty. Because, as I have learned, others often do not. Such detail, to them, is boring, trivial hair-splitting that seems irrelevant to the 'big picture' idea. "Who cares if that tree is a conifer, it's a forest!"

And so, my attempts at communicating ideas, I have realized, are not always as effective as I'd like them to be. I look back over this very article as I write it, and I see within it many examples of this. If I tried to fix them, I would end up trashing the whole article, rewriting it a million times, and failing at it in the end (a process I have often gone through). And it is for this reason that I feel I need to reevaluate. I'm not quitting the blog (though posts may be more infrequent), or withholding commentary elsewhere on the web, but I know I need to find a better way to convey ideas to people so they are easier for them to digest, even if that means using a different medium. This will be a learning curve for me. And, by the way, I always welcome feedback.