Sunday, 30 April 2017

Zombie Mentality

The zombie mentality, is how people become susceptible to programming through becoming team supporters.

Another way to describe this is speaking to the echo chamber. Basically, people like to join communities that just repeat their preconceived view right back to them. (It's the echo chamber...get it?)

A simple example of how they do this is by subscribing to non challenging Facebook groups.

The point isn't to question their own presuppositions. Rather, its to learn easy talking points to further entrench them.

Claims of fake news or spin, to avoid debate, is yet another rendition of the zombie mentality. Appeal to conspiracy theories, particularly when its for the political aims of ones team, is similar. These are the crutches of those looking for ways out of doing the hard work of really thinking about issues.

Why think, when positing there are aliens in the Federal Reserve, will solve all the problems much more easily for you.

Don't misunderestimate the zombies

There was probably a time when I and many like me assumed such people couldn't derail the system. We were all just proven wrong.

(The most ignorant, uneducated and hateful among us, can very well dictate the future for the rest because the authoritarian has a ready made zombie army of the easily manipulated to do his evil bidding...)

Yellow Journalism

“Journalism that is based upon sensationalism and crude exaggeration.” Google define.

I don't know if the foreign sources flooding America with fake news is quite what I'd call yellow journalism yet; but, clearly it has become entertainment based. Perhaps that's because so many politicians are professional entertainers now.

That is, the “sensationalism” is in what's being covered: The crass, entertainer, who's gained a whole lot of power.


Simple question. If America destroys Mexico's economy will that lead to fewer Mexicans wanting to go to America? Just a straight forward example of how Xenophobia eats itself.

War Rules

In the entry "Just War" two types of just war topics were mentioned. The kind that talks about justification for war, and the kind that talks about ethical practices during war.

During this entry I will just sketch out a few points about that second kind of Just War discussion.

One of the thirty or so Republican candidates made a very interesting comment, which was repeated during several rallies, that went something like this: Torturing and killing POWs is a very good idea.

I think the point he was trying to make was that America was perceived as soft because it didn't kill and torture captured enemies.

POWs vs Combatants

Now, this is where I run into my first puzzled question about the comments made.

Did the candidate understand the difference between POWs and non uniformed combatants? Whether he did or didn't leads to somewhat different conclusions about what he was trying to say about military issues in general.

First of all, POWs are uniformed soldiers. Their uniforms are to clearly identify themselves as participants in the war. According to the rules, when captured they are to be put aside until the end of the war when they will be released to continue life as usual.

Combatants, on the other hand, are involved in the fighting despite the fact they did not identify themselves with a uniform. Because they are rule breakers, they can be executed without trial.

Some western countries will still hold a tribunal to decide the fate of the non uniformed combatant; but, now this is the legal process of the country that's determining things, not the Geneva Conventions.

The United States currently has rules trying to bring parity in its treatment of POWs and combatants. That is, it basically tries to treat combatants under all the same guidelines it treats POWs.

This is easier said than done though. And, I'm not just talking about emotions on the battlefield. Combatants, by playing outside the rules, put everything in a much more complicated place. When should they be released for example?

There is no official cease fire or peace treaty, when those being fought are indistinguishable from common criminals. Their leader often isnt some head of state who can even sign such treaties.

So when does the endpoint of the fighting come? Should they be released, as POWs might have been, in a parallel universe, where all the fighting took place between uniformed soldiers?

Thoughts on our candidates pronouncements

With this bit of preamble out of the way, let's consider our candidate again. My instinct is to assume a person has the most intelligence, and is taking the strongest version of the position that can be interpreted from his words.

Given that, I'd assume he knows what POWs are, and he has thoughtfully come to the conclusion, that torturing them with pigs blood, and then executing them, exactly as he described it at the many rallies he spoke about it, is indeed a great idea.

This means, he wants to torture uniformed soldiers, who clearly identified themselves during the fighting and then have them executed.

Ill stand by something Sun Tzu said, since he has clearly shown himself to be the most respected military theorist throughout history. I will try to explain his reasoning as well.

Treat captured soldiers with dignity and respect.

Sun Tzu understood that every moment you are fighting for something during the conflict, you are doing things that hurts or helps your ultimate goal, to win, in both big and small ways.

To get people to support you. To get the enemy to lose its confidence against you. These all flow from the nuances of the leaders decisions.

What better way to get the enemy to lose his fighting spirit against you, then to make it easy for him to give up.

Because, as Sun Tzu said several times, the way to control your enemies behavior is by constantly offering them a way out.

For the sake of this posting, it doesn't matter who that republican candidate was. But, it's very clear they were very unwise, and unthoughtful about issues of war and prisoners.

However, the rules of war, and applying ethical standards during war only seem like BS to the most ignorant about war. Because once they dismiss these options, they have removed tools from their tool kit, right when they needed to have the most strategic possibilities open to them.

And, as we all know, whoever takes over the leadership of the US will be facing war and combat decisions, every single day of their presidency.

Verify But Never Trust

It never ceases to amaze me, how little most people believe in logic, reason or the scientific method. 

Whether they are arguing for or against religion. No matter what political position they hold, there are very very few people who take these things all that seriously.

Carl Sagan said in Contact, you basically had five percent of the world, offering all kinds of technology, progress, thoughtful debate etc. , which the rest of the world benefited from; but, that other 95 percent could take everything down without moments notice. 

I'm far less skeptical about just how big a threat the dumb people are to the world than Sagan was; but, then again, they did just put a guy in office, who says global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese. It is definitely enough to make me stop and think about the lessons of the novel, Contact, one more time...

Understanding Marx' Flaw

Marx was part of a wave of thinkers, of which I'd include Freud. These were the early social scientists, who got us to take one framework, and then translate much of the social goings on, in terms of it. It is a credit to Marx, that through descriptions based on class structure, economics and some his theory was convincing enough to lead those applying it to believe it described human life.

Reductionist Approach

But the theory's very inception contains its most critical flaw: Namely, its approach is fundamentally reductionist. Marx, and most of the thinkers that follow him ultimately fall to taking a more explanation and trying to explain a more complicated aspect of human life with it.

Let's give an example. Suppose you have a factory worker, who upon pay day, buys a new truck with the money he's earned. The factory worker gets in his new truck, thinking he's quite happy with his new toy. The Marxist hears the word “happiness” and shakes his head somberly, realizing its his job to pop the workers bubble of delusions.

He proceeds to list the social methods of indoctrination that were used to teach the factory worker  to love trucks; like the big monster truck rally he attended last summer.  The poor factory worker, the Marxist explains, internalized values which inflated and exaggerated “trucks” into a much more important thing than they really are. These “lies” or “false values”, notes the Marxist, serve the purpose of keeping the poor factory worker in the bonds of slavery.  He will keep working for the evil factory, to earn money to buy a truck, which really has no value at all really. Just some fake thing taught to a naive worker.

“But I'm happy,” says the factory worker, “and your theories don't explain it,” And, that of course is the problem with  the reductionist approach right there. The Marxist framework, as complicated as is it, isn't nuanced enough to explain the human feeling of happiness. The factory worker feels it very strongly as he drives his new truck home, dreaming of screaming machines, from last summer's monster rally.


We've spoken a few times about transparency. About how it affected the financial crisis and its role in corruption. But, I'd go a step further in speaking of its benefits because, at the end of the day, it is about being connected to the truth.

Obfuscation. How's it working out for you?

We currently live in a world where obfuscation and “fake news” are the weapons of the day. As if, clarity is some kind of problem, if people have it with regard to your political opponent. Why is it if people are against this or that political leader, they cant just say the truth about the person, or their reasons for not liking them? Its as if the lie to one's self, is as important as the obfuscation to others.

Occam's Razor

Occam's razor is one of the weapons you can use to fight conspiracy theories and other types of obfuscation because a lot of the time, although consistent, the conspiracy story just has way too many vague complicated points that are hard to explain.

One of the 911 truth theories, for example has the US government hiding two or three hundred people on a desert island. Its never even explained why they would want to keep these people alive. The vagaries and unanswered questions can kept being made to “connect the dots” with more vagaries and long winded theories and the ultimately reason why this can't work for the logical thinker has to be: the increasing lack of clarity in this approach to explaining things.

But, at the end of the day, I think the most important tool in being a force for clarity and transparency, is to pursue your political goals, without using obfuscations, or conspiracy theories, you don't understand yourself. It's almost as if its becoming a civic duty to get people to stop polluting the rhetorical airways.

Social Contract Theory

Social contract theory has a certain practical purpose in ethics. It allows the theorist to give a kind of explanatory foundation for their ideas. Over time, I have found that this is indeed a most useful purpose for giving a foundation to my own ideas about society and politics.

I should say, upfront,  I have borrowed from both John Locke and John Rawls; but, my idea about how to use social contract theory differs from both of them.

What is Social Contract Theory?

My version of social contract goes like this: The government's role is two fold: 1. To protect rights and freedoms. 2. To maximize utility. Note, the difference between my position and utilitarians: Maximizing utility is second in  importance compared to protecting rights and freedoms. (I do agree sometimes 1 and 2 can be the same.)

Social Contract Theory as a way of showing the benefits of government  

For the sake of argument, social contract theory here means the minimal benefits of government. For example, I might say: If we didn't have government, we would have problems, x, y and z, and therefore the benefits of entering the social contract is a, b and c.

But, it's important for me to explain that I do not see the social contract as only a relationships between people and their government or people and their sovereign. Rather, I see it more like a foundation for ethics between people, including, when they form governments.

So in an ethical conundrum, a person might use this outline as a basis for figuring out how to treat someone else. (It need not be a relationship between government/sovereigns and individuals. It can also help sort out relationships between individuals.)

Why are rights primary? Why not be a utilitarian?

Making rights primary is just a stop gap measure to insure the basic “rights of man” and fundamental dignity is guaranteed. It is also understood that there is going to be situations where this will decrease utility for everyone as a whole.

The concept “not proven” in criminal court as an example

The concept “not guilty” or “not proven” is an example of this ethical principle in action, in western courts. If you have a jury that thinks the person being tried committed the murder; but, they don't believe the prosecution demonstrated their case, its very important they declare the case “not guilty” or “not proven”. While its true, they knowingly let a murder go free, the idea of continuity of protecting rights, being the higher value, was maintained.

The OJ Simpson murder trial was an example of this. Several of the jurors who gave interviews, after the case was closed, said on the one hand they believed he really did kill his wife. On the other hand, they did not believe the prosecution did not demonstrate it. There was only one truly ethical, and legal choice in that situation, and I think they made it correctly: NOT GUILTY.


I want to take a stand for the right/left dichotomy. Too many people are attacking it, based on what I believe to be pretty dim witted ideas. An example of such an argument we heard in the US 2016 election, is that GW Bush and Hillary Clinton are “the same” therefore there is no right left problem that describes modern politics, etc.

I think this kind of argument, that pretends to gloss over the differences between different party representatives, is pretty artificial. I understand, however, the point of the people making it, is to dismiss the positions of both of them...They tell themselves this is part of tearing down the system, I guess, of standing against the “establishment”. You can probably guess I don't see much substance in these would be terrorists; but, that doesn't mean I don't take them seriously. It's impossible to ignore them after they put Donald Trump in office, after all. It's just that opposing them will not ultimately be based on reasoned arguments, since that isn't something this movement currently responds to.

It's also beyond the scope of this blog to go any further in refuting them just now.  Rather, let's consider why there is still a substantive difference between right and left:

Redistribution is a pretty fundamental difference 

We live in a society where disparity between rich and poor is growing. Whether, we should be taking from the rich, and giving to the poor, is the basis of the difference that still exists between the right and left side of the political spectrum; and, I think its a pretty fundamental one.

Both sides see their position as rooted in “fairness”

The “right” sees redistribution as unfair, or perhaps even theft and the “left” sees inequality as unfair. They want to “redistribute” wealth from the poor to the rich. The problem then, is that fairness can not decide this issue. It's a political problem that is truly deeper than an appeal to that particular value.

At this point, each side would have to reach beyond their fairness arguments to explain their position, for or against redistribution respectively. And that is the place where ideology truly begins.

Question Everything

Is too much self questioning a bad thing?

There is a fear people have that questioning everything will lead to relativism. This kind of person “values” deeply held beliefs that are difficult to challenge; and, they don't want to lose them.

These deeply held values can be arrived at in different ways, however. The person that questions everything, can have deeply held values too. That is, the ones that withstand the fire of his scrutiny and self questioning.

The person who has “deeply held values” based on avoiding questions, is the dogmatist, in other words. And, if they fear losing their values, you have to wonder why that is as well. Maybe they never had them in the first place.