Glorifying Violence

Why is it that a brutally severed human torso is acceptable for public broadcast so long as any female nipples are covered? What kind of sense does that make?

Crime shows vie to show new and more graphic violence in each episide. You can witness body parts being stabbed with random implements and watch the person die then re-live the scene with moving models showing exactly which organs are pierced along with squelching sounds and catchy music. 

It no longer suffices to kill a single victim or mundane cause of death. It has to be exceptionally horrifying. We have to have serial killers who off people creatively, like drilling out their spleens with a rusty paddle bit after weeks of feeding them rotten eggs and spiders.

We can watch people tortured, bloody battles fought, and whole planets annhilated for our amusement and we hardly think anything of it. But less than two seconds of a real live female human nipple appears on the screen and people lose their collective minds.

What is so particularly offensive about genitals? Surely we have by now seen far uglier and perverse things many times over. Any episode of Criminal Minds will provide examples. Half of us have a penis and most of us like them, but you show one on TV and suddenly it’s a national emergency. Broadcasting affectionate lovemaking on national television would cause a firestorm of epic proportions.

We claim that such censorship is intended to protect children. Protect them from what exactly? The body parts in the mirror? “You can do that when you are older, kid. It can be a beautiful thing. For now you can only watch other humans be dismembered.”

How is it okay to show a child the darkest imaginings of human nature we can contrive while hiding the most delightful and natural aspects of what it means to be human? Why do we shrink from displays of affection between lovers and seek to show the worst and most hurtful human behaviors?

Is it more harmful to see people  have consentual sex than a rape? Can you guess which one gets depicted more?

Is it worse to show a person being burned or licked from head to toe?

This is wrong. It would be far better to show real human love in all its varied imperfect beauty than the violence and horror we are encouraged to consume.

Demonizing body parts has clearly failed to make us better people. Perhaps we should try shaming ignorance and dishonesty instead.

Living Off The Land

There was a time when there was an inherent ‘Plan B’ for almost anyone. Given all sorts of possible disasters, a person could load up their family and a few posessions and drive up past the end of a dirt road. There, they could stake out a future in the wilderness and make due with what they could catch, gather and kill for quite a long time.

I’m here to tell you that that window of opportunity has closed. This is no longer a viable ‘Plan B’ for anyone that doesn’t own a really large plot of land with fences around it and sharpshooters to protect it. In short, unless you are already rich and have the means to bug out to another country anyway, you are screwed.

First off, there is insufficient unoccupied land to support a hunter-gatherer lifestyle for humans. Nearly all the productive land has already been turned into cities, farms and suburbs. The remainder is almost all sufficiently desolate that the heat, cold and lack of water will make it uninhabitable for all but the most hardy and fit. (i.e. maybe one in a thousand people)

Second, Even those who have personally and recently hunted and butchered an animal for food are going to find that that skill set isn’t going to be that useful. If Armageddon started today, one of the first things that would happen would be a huge traffic jam up every back road, scenic byway and 4×4 trail in the land.

You can bet that every bit of furry wildlife in any wilderness area accessible to humans (which is pretty much everywhere) will be executed within a the first few months. There are too many mouths to feed and too little protein per square mile when all the folks with guns and ammo and half a plan leave town at once.

Before long, the biggest threat will be from other humans trying to take your food, your supplies and even your life. Even presuming you can get over this hump, you’ll find that the lack of medical care and clean water will soon become primary problems rather than conveniences that are taken for granted.

Like all rules, there will be exceptions. Don’t count on being the exception. Your best bet is to work hard to make your community self-sufficient, to volunteer for the common defense and to oppose all calls for rule by force and suspension of civil rights.

This is Going to End Badly

I’m no psychic. I’m just concerned that things have gotten badly out of hand and there may be no way out without some pretty ugly conflicts.

In years past, anti-vaxxers were a small subculture of homebodies trading vinegar toxic cleanse recipes in the back alleys of the internet. No one took them seriously because they weren’t a big enough influence to be a threat. As the pandemic came and lockdowns started, anti-vaxxers started railing against vaccine efforts and championing alternative treatments.

MAGA hat wearing acolytes have had quite an emotional rollercoaster in 2020. They went from haughty disdain of BLM to rage and fear of the new ANTIFA boogeyman; then from denial the panemic was real to denial that Trump lied about its severity; then from fear of election fraud to fury over baseless claims.

As 2020 wore on, internet hucksters and conspiracy nuts piled on and amalgamated with the above groups to form Q-anon. And where they went one, they went all. The echo chambers of the far right and fringe views became a rapid breeding ground for fantastic stories of every possible form of evil done by elites that control the world.

Some were radicalized enought to storm the capitol building in an effort to stop the certification of the vote.

Many more are convinced that the medical community means them harm or is at a minimum incompetent and won’t take the vaccines, preferring instead whatever flavor-of-the-month treatment is currently being touted on alternative social media. And they keep believing it despite hospitals filling to capacity with COVID-19 patients and none with vaccine side-effect patients

Many still claim the election was fraudulent, despite all claims failing in court and republicans getting elected on the same ballots.

It gets worse. As frightening as all this is, it is a pale shadow of what is being passed around in growing and increasingly warped alternative-internet. This space, once reserved for only the outcast ideas that society has rightly rejected, has festered into a living horror that has infected the minds of people we once thought were stable and sane. Somehow, all critical thinking has been suspended and anything, so long as it can fit a narrative where elites do evil and control everything, is accepted and passed along. I suppose it’s rewarding, in a way. Those in the alter-net get to know stuff and they can feel superior to everyone else, who are all just shills or dupes.

The real problem is that wrong information leads to improper decisions and bad outcomes. The pandemic has now claimed 1 in 500 Americans, in no small part due to the constant stream of misinformation pouring out of the alter-net. The viral subculture lurking in cyberspace has evolved to kill in the real world.

I am afraid that the genie can’t be put back in the bottle. A reckoning is coming. I don’t know when or how, but I don’t think anyone is going to like the outcome.

Thou Art God

No. Really. The power of a god, to an individual, is proportional to their ability to impact their life. I suggest, then, that everyone is more powerful than any god, real or imagined, from that person’s perspective.

Look back. Who has made the biggest impact on your life? Who pulled up the bootstraps and got you back on your feet? Who made the hard choices and who put in the work and kept on grinding to reach your goals?

Heresy, Right? Perhaps not this time. You don’t have to reject god(s) to accept that you have more power than them from your perspective. Let me explain.

Divine influence may exist. There are thousands, perhaps millions of personal testimonials to that effect. People of (almost) every religion claim experiences of personal divine influence. Even accepting each experience at face value, we still don’t know which deity did the deed, or indeed if a deed was done.

Which God? Suppose a Catholic has a strong urge that tells them to ‘turn left’ while driving down the road. They comply and are narrowly missed by a drunk driver rather than killed in the collision. How does a Muslim interpret these events? A Mormon? A Wiccan? A Zoroastrian? Which God/force/etc. saved them? All of them? None of them? The only conclusion that we can draw is that God(s), if they exist at all and assuming ability to reason, do not want us to know.

We don’t know. We have tried and failed throughout history to find proof that God(s) exist. We have created lovely logical arguments, but each has been shown to include all too human error. God(s) are a mystery and it seems that it is either a deliberate one or none exist at all. The more knowledge we gain and more of the world we can explain, the less we can attribute to the acts of deities. Earthquakes, strange lights in the sky, sickness and drought all used to be the exclusive domain of God(s). Now God(s) are banished to pockets of scientific ignorance. We have gotten so good at understanding our world that divine influence has become nearly impossible to distinguish from chance.

It doesn’t matter if God(s) exist. Looking broadly over the reported lives of humans and in light of the endless surveillance and recording technology has enabled, it has become clear that God(s) use their power so discretely as to be objectively undetectable. The ability of a God to directly impact your life can only be measured by the difference between the results of their acts and random chance. If we cannot tell the difference, then their effective power over our lives is zero.

Our acts matter. The same person who avoids a car accident by divine influence, by feeling the vibrations around them, or by pure blind chance probably also got up that morning, combed their hair, showered, made breakfast and set off to work. These simple acts have a bigger impact on their life, on average, than car accidents. They may also have fought off a depressive episode or taken their insulin or a hundred of other critical steps to keep their life on an even keel. Suppose they hadn’t. Suppose they lay in bed and refused to act. The results vary, but none are good. Our acts have power that is almost never zero.

Thou Art God. You have more power in your own life than any outside force. Your continual decisions to act or not act in each moment have more influence on your life than people, governments, or even God(s) ever will. You may not be divine or perfect. None of us are. But, you are unavoidably the God of your own life. Act like it.

Bodily Integrity

“My Body, My Choice.” has become a catch phrase of both liberals and conservatives recently. Far from an indication of some new unity of purpose or compromise, it is an ironic sign of how polarized politics have become.

On one side, you have the political left claiming that people, specifically women, have the right to decide what to do with the reproductive systems of their own bodies and therefore it is not within the government’s charter to limit abortion. Conversely, they also support new mandates for vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the other side, you have the political right claiming that the new vaccine mandates violate people’s right to bodily integrity and therefore it is not within the government’s charter to enforce them. Conversely, they support abortion laws as necessary to protect the ‘rights of the unborn’, which they clearly feel trump a mother’s rights to bodily autonomy.

Is this pure hypocrisy? How can the same right mean completely opposite things to different people? In situations like these, it is useful to take a step back and look at a wider view.

Bodily integrity is not inviolate. Governments regularly infringe on personal rights of bodily integrity for a variety of reasons. Each of these reasons generally boils down to the benefit and/or protection of the populace as a whole or other individuals.

Forced blood draws and strip searches regularly violate bodily integrity when the state determines that the individual has likely committed a crime and evidence of that crime is needed. Laws against euthanasia and requiring seat belts and helmets also violate the right of bodily integrity.

Is this okay? It can be argued that all of these are wrongful interference by government and that bodily integrity should trump such needs of society. What about mask mandates? Is it acceptable for an infected person to go about infecting others and risking their lives at will?

A compromise is required. The inviolability of any right must be tempered by how much impact the excercise of that right will have on others and the society as a whole. Viewed through this lens, what to make of the partisan arguments above?

Abortion. Even if you assume that the unborn are indeed people at some point in their development, the rights of one person do not trump the rights of another. You cannot force a mother to carry their baby in an effort to save that baby for the same reason you cannot force a person to donate bone marrow to save another. When opposing rights are equal, the state has no responsibility or authority. This issue is very complex and such nuance should not be glossed over. However, the argument serves well as a basis for comparison to the argument for bodily integrity as it relates to vaccines.

Vaccines. There is a clear public threat and safe and effective mitigation methods. The state has an obvious responsibility and authority. The same logic applies to mask mandates.

A wider perspective shows the claims are far from equivalent. From afar, one is a clear mandate to governmental action and the other is narrow victory for proponents of government inaction.

Liberty itself is the real issue. One person’s choices often impact others. It is inevitable that personal rights will come into conflict any time more than one person is involved. It also doesn’t take much looking to find other areas where personal rights come into conflict. The higher a population’s density, the more often such conflicts will arise. Viewing these issues with an even wider lens may again be useful.

A global perspective. It is an uncomfortable fact that each new life brought into an already overtaxed and collapsing global ecosystem is a burden rather than a blessing. If the common good is the real goal, responsible governments should be encouraging abortions and providing free birth control to everyone on the planet. If vaccines and masks save lives, then by the same logic they should be banned. From the widest view, both partisan arguments are wrong

But that’s immoral! Of course it is. We cannot coldly argue that deaths are necessary and aborting foetuses is for the common good. We also cannot ignore the titanic wave of death and misery that will befall our entire race if we continue to do nothing about the death spiral of our ecosystem.

Bodily integrity is a noble goal and should be protected to the extent possible. However, the extent possible grows less and less each year as our population expands and our planet’s delicate balances are destroyed. It is and must be a secondary issue.

Corruption

Corruption is humanity’s greatest problem. It is the reason for more unnecessary misery than anything else. It destroys fairness, eliminates justice, engenders graft, creates abuse and kills trust. Corrupt societies cannot cooperate effectively and must depend on coersion instead. This handicaps the society and productivity falls. With all these negative impacts, why does corruption exist at all?

The root of corruption is in human nature. People tend to take advantage whenever they see one. This isn’t an evil in itself. We always use whatever influence we have every day to make our lives better.

Competition between advantages is inevitable. Some acts will benefit one’s self at the expense of others. This too is not an evil in itself. Life is often competitive, but only a child makes a fuss about someone else getting the last doughnut. Humans enjoy and celebrate competition. Look at the popularity of professional sports. Many of the games we play have a zero sum. Humans generally recognize that mutual benefit is often preferable, yet our minds are still captured by those who risk their lives and fortunes in competition with others.

We could define corruption as the acts of individuals who show a consistent pattern of taking advantage at the expense of others. It sounds reasonable, but this is an oversimplification and rarely seen in reality. Other people quickly recognize such individuals and they eventually become ostracized and their influence curtailed. Effective corruption requires more than just one person to participate in it.

Another necessary element that enables corruption is the human tendency to form groups. The superficial reason we self-organize into groups are varied and complex. However, it can be assumed that advantage is the root motivator. This is both normal and generally healthy behavior. However, the participants in any group tend to behave differently toward those within the group than to those outside it. This is tribalism – an us versus them attitude that naturally arises in human groupings. Corruption’s first act is to exclude outsiders.

Can we suppress our tribalistic instincts? Perhaps not. At best, we seem to be capable of mentally expanding our tribal group to include the whole of humanity. Even then, we are susceptible to pulling in the fences around our nation, our family, or whatever group we identify with whenever we are under stress or threat.

Human groups tend to have structure and power becomes concentrated in few leaders by multiple followers. Such power structures are all around us, from the basic family unit, to corporations, to massive treaty organizations between nations. Again, we build these structures based on perceived advantages.

Concentration of power allows small groups to wield influence over large ones that would be otherwise unattainable. It is inevitable that some decisions that those in power make will benefit some over others and will be made based on the preferences and advantage of the powerful. Corruption is thus born.

Influence is advantage is power is corruption. We all posess power in exactly the proportion we have advantage and influence over others. We are all corrupt in the same proportion.

Money is power. It’s become a cliché because it is perfectly true. More than simply a medium of trade, it allows one to trade nothing – an idea, a piece of paper or more often than not a number in an account – for a real thing or action. Now, getting something for nothing would certainly be a form of power, but that isn’t quite what’s happening. 

Money is not real. But it is a concrete idea that exists in multiple minds – a shared delusion. This delusion allows even complete strangers to perform the most powerful human act: cooperation. Collaborative effort is the productive force behind all of our greatest accomplisments.

Money is advantage. Sufficient quantities of money can buy almost anything. Food, sex, property, justice, even loyalty can be bought. The more money you have, the more influence and advantage you have. The concentration of money is the concentration of power.

Force is power. Nothing is more effective in getting what you want than threatening to take away everything someone has with a gun, a bomb, a stealth fighter or a nuclear weapon. Force has been the deciding factor in more of history than any other type of power.

Advantage is power is money is force is corruption. They are equal. When you are talking about humans, they are the same thing in different orders of magnitude and different faces. Absolute power does not corrupt absolutely. Absolute power is absolute corruption. The only way to minimize corruption in power is to avoid concentrating it in the first place. 

How corrupt are we? For this we can look to another cliché. Follow the money. What you will find is that a handful of individuals now control the vast majority of all money and in the world and thus the corporations that produce almost everything we need, desire and use. These corporate puppets now have so much influence that they can write their own legislation and expect it to be passed with hardly a finger raised in protest. When you can get anything you desire for sufficient quantities of an idea (i.e. money) you have absolute power.

Our judicial and political systems are fully corrupt too. For example, when an average person goes to court without a lawyer, they almost invariably lose. The rules of litigation have become so arcane that only those within the legal profession understand them. This is advantage and power. Lawyers become judges and politicians and thus become the ones who then make the rules for courts to enforce. This is a self-reinforcing feedback loop that keeps those with power in power.  

What do we do? Can we organize our society in such a way that power remains with individuals? Democracy and communism actually share this goal and both miss it by differing degrees. The problem, again, is that concentration of power is the mother of corruption. The collapse of communism was inevitable because it had no mechanism to correct its own corruption. Democracy is little better. The longer a democracy exists, the more corrupt it becomes as various groups figure out ways to make it work for themselves to the detriment of everyone else. 

Anarchy then? Every man for themselves? No. All concepts can be taken to an illogical extreme. The only solution to corruption is to prevent and to dismantle all concentration of power, but we still need to be able to cooperate. My experience has been that all organizations begin to lose effectiveness when they expand beyond a particular size or do not share common goals. That may be a useful guidepost.

Money is the root of all evil. The final cliché. Though it isn’t the root – it is equivalent. Money is power is corruption is evil.

Money plus power plus influence equals corruption. It’s a simple mathematical equation. To avoid the evil of corruption, it is the concentration of all forms of power that we must resist.

We need a new idea. Nothing we have tried works and keeps working. No power structure can avoid concentration of power, so it seems that power structures themselves should be avoided. We need a voluntary charter. A shared set of ideas that allows us to cooperate with each other without requiring yeilding our influence to powerful authorities. I’m afraid I don’t have the answer and it’s possible there is no answer. It’s worth trying though.

Monogamy

It’s not for everyone. Specifically, sexual monogamy is not normal.

Clearly, serial sexual monogamy is the socially accepted norm in western society, but that norm has been gradually weakening for decades. In a 2016 poll, only 56% of Americans claimed to want a completely monogamous relationship. Why?

Some statistics: About 62% of marriages end in divorce. Also 60% of men and 50% of women admit to having extra-marital affairs. Despite the fact that actual sexual monogamy is present (on average) in about half of marriages, only about one in four marriages end due to marital infidelity. This suggest that non-monogamy also goes unnoticed, is tolerated or is consensual in the about 40% of all other marriages.2

How is that possible? How can the demands of western cultural norms be so far from the reality that exists behind closed doors? It turns out that western culture is indeed the exception rather than the rule, but it’s our views on monogamy that are out of the ordinary, not our tendency to live outside it.

Humans are naturally non-monogamous. Researchers have found that sexual monogamy is practiced by only a few dozen out of four thousand mammal species and in human cultures only 43 out of 238 societies practice monogamy.1 According to genetic studies, monogamy only became prevalent in human populations 10,000 years ago. Human beings are clearly evolved for multiple simultaneous sexual relationships.

The Americans abandoning monogamy in full view of the public do so not as a deviation from their nature, but as a return toward it. I suspect it is also, at least in part, a laudable rejection of the inherent dishonesty necessary to maintain secret affairs.

Some will disagree. Particularly, those in the religious right will (and do) vilify and castigate anyone who dares step out of the sanctified (or just sanctimonious) one-man-one-woman atomic family model. But the evidence we have is not at all on their side of the argument.

References

1 Barker, Meg and Langdridge, Darren (2010). Whatever happened to non-monogamies? Critical reflections on recent research and theory. Sexualities, 13(6) pp. 748–772.

2 One quarter of the 62% of marriages that fail is about 15%. Subtracting that from the average of men and women admitting affairs (55%) yields an infidelity figure of approximately 40% in the remaining (successful and non-successful) marriages.

A 9/11 Perspective

20 years ago today, like pretty much everyone else, I watched the events of September 11th 2001 in shock and disbelief followed by horrifying realization, sadness and anger. In the days that followed I cried with the families and loved ones looking for answers and clinging to hope. I looked desperately for answers on the TV and the internet. I cheered at the many stories of heroism and at each person rescued from the rubble.

Like many, I bear the emotional scars of the attacks and feel them most keenly today. Also, like many, I was greatly comforted by the incredible outpouring of unity and kindness that swept over the nation. For a brief time, we put aside our differences and worked together.

As anyone who pays attention to history might expect, we screwed that up pretty horribly. We overreacted in every possible way. Under the banner of increasing our security we began widespread surveillance of our own populace, built a whole new governmental department, enacted pointless travel inspection procedures and sent our armed forces to invade Afghanistan in hopes of capturing or killing the one man we determined was the mastermind.

Still hurting from 9/11 we allowed ourselves to become convinced that WMDs in Iraq were a threat and allowed our government to launch another invasion there. How embarrassing to find no WMDs there after all. It’s hard to imagine how we could make such a mistake. It’s almost like there was an ulterior motive.

Not content to stop at two terrible mistakes, we allowed our military to occupy both countries with no plan to withdraw for years and years spending trillions of dollars and killing and wounding thousands of our own citizens.

Perspective is a wonderful thing and a terrible one. Looking back on the events of 9/11, it is hard to conclude anything other than the simple fact that they weren’t that bad. Yes, they were terrible beyond imagining at the time, but what followed was far worse.

Just counting dead bodies reveals the harsh truth. 9/11 claimed 2,977 American lives. Afghanistan claimed 4,096. Iraq has claimed 4,431 so far.

As a nation we’ve sacrificed our privacy, our economic might, our integrity, the lives and health of our armed forces and our our ability to reason for the false promise of safety.

Madness. How many of us can claim to be as deeply scarred by the 930,000 excess American deaths over the past 17 months? That’s a 9/11 death toll every day and a half for over 500 days. Can we explain that fact away with the lack of fiery explosions on TV? Is it because the enemy is us?

We have clearly lost our perspective and the faith that many had in America has been slowly ground into dust. When waving flags, repeating lies and screeching about freedom while undermining the rule of law and our basic institutions is what now passes for patriotism, you have to admit something has gone terribly wrong with the American experiment.

The Elephant In The Room

Clearly, there is a partisan divide between those who take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously and those who wish to minimize it. Social media is flooded with memes frantically exchanged from every direction. Desperate people mourning the dying or dead. Tired caregivers pleading for relief. Skeptical homebodies ready to storm the capitol (again). Blatant liars offering questionable solutions. Demands to recognize the rights of individuals as more important than the collective good.

It’s time to give all sides what they want. It is time to not just allow a ‘back to normal’ for America’s right wing, but to encourage it. Let them gather together without any limits – give the unvaccinated all the personal freedom they could want.

Meanwhile, everyone else does the now unthinkable. They go into full lockdown. 21 days. That’s all it will take. End 99.9% of transmission in the vaccinated subset of the population. It will take planning and forethought and probably massive public and or private funding, but zero contact for three weeks is absolutely doable. All that is really needed is a well communicated plan. The motivation is already there. We are all tired of this and looking for a way out. This is a way out.

In the interim, the medical community gives priority care to the vaccinated (and unable to vaccinate) refuses it to all others. (This is a sticky point, but absolutely necessary.)

Subsequently, all COVID medical care is then limited to vaccinated individuals and no-fault cases as determined by a review board who’s only duty is to ensure those who have willingly endangered others receive no covid related care.

The vaccinated populace must also refuse all contact with unvaccinated individuals, enforced by a simple, 100% voluntary database and easy to use smartphone app. Violators will be placed in the ‘no covid care/avoid contact’ category in the database.

Unvaccinated individuals will be encouraged to meet and celebrate their social victory at big, nationalistic super-spreader ‘patriot parties’, as part of the public/private funding noted above. Country music stars mixed with a few less flamboyant pop acts will be the headliners.

The pandemic will burn itself out in a few months as those left out scream about the injustice of it all.

Hint: Justice was the issue from day one and the pseudo-conservative right has clearly failed the most important civics test of our time.

Traitors

Lindsey Graham – S.C.
John Barrasso – Wyo.
Marsha Blackburn – Tenn.
Roy Blunt – Mo.
John Boozman – Ark.
Mike Braun – Ind.
John Cornyn – Texas
Tom Cotton – Ark.
Kevin Cramer – N.D.
Michael D. Crapo – Idaho
Ted Cruz – Texas
Steve Daines – Mont.
Joni Ernst – Iowa
Deb Fischer – Neb.
Charles E. Grassley – Iowa
Bill Hagerty – Tenn.
Josh Hawley – Mo.
John Hoeven – N.D.
Cindy Hyde-Smith – Miss.
James M. Inhofe – Okla.
Ron Johnson – Wis.
John Kennedy – La.
James Lankford – Okla.
Mike Lee – Utah
Cynthia Lummis – Wyo.
Roger Marshall – Kan.
Mitch McConnell – Ky.
Shelley Moore Capito – W.Va.
Jerry Moran – Kan.
Rand Paul – Ky.
Rob Portman – Ohio
Jim Risch – Idaho
Mike Rounds – S.D.
Marco Rubio – Fla.
Rick Scott – Fla.
Tim Scott – S.C.
Richard C. Shelby – Ala.
Dan Sullivan – Alaska
John Thune – S.D.
Thom Tillis – N.C.
Tommy Tuberville – Ala.
Roger Wicker -Miss.
Todd Young – Ind.