Why I am a Socialist.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve argued for communism, socialism, anarchism, science, evolution, global warming, beards, men wearing earrings, etc. I cannot tell you because I don’t know the number myself. It is probably somewhere between hundreds and a gajillion. Perhaps even as many as a zillion. (gajillion < zillion?)

I am a committed socialist. And that is what this essay will be about. It is interesting that there are people in this world who look at any socialist that is around my age and assume that it’s some sort of “phase” or passing fancy. “Oh, he’s just in college. They all explore those ideas. He’ll come around.” Now that I’m thirty, multiple degrees in hand, I am only more firmly committed, however.

It is probably important, at this point, to explain just what I think a socialist is, since there are so many misconceptions of what a socialist actually is and is not. So here goes: I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that societies function much more effectively when people work cooperatively and wealth is distributed, more or less, evenly. This also means that I am convinced that the more polarized and consolidated wealth becomes, the more unjust, and less coherently, a society will function.

Why do I think this? There’s a part of me that screams that it is self-evident. But I know that is the least effective way to argue for it. Believe me. When I was a freshman in college, it was an instinct. I knew it because it just seemed right. A part of me smelled it and my subconscious evaluated it and it just made sense. As I aged, and read more books, the arguments for it coalesced in my higher brain. Perhaps I’m hardwired for it. As a humanist (another topic entirely) I do believe that if everyone gives the idea of socialism a fair chance, they will see its merits. Socialism is a philosophy of cooperation rather than competition. It’s a philosophy of justice for the many rather than the few.

For instance, it is profoundly unfair that even a misdemeanor violation, which carries the smallest fine, can be a nearly insurmountable obstacle to a working-class family and yet for a wealthy teenager, it’s an undetectable bump. The solution is so simple it’s idiotic: sliding-scale fines.

This is not to say that I do not believe in some meritocratic ideas. It seems to me that there is nothing inconsistent with being a socialist and feeling that certain privileges ought to come for those who contribute the most to society. Those who share of themselves in the best ways. But this ought to be within reason. Yachts, for instance, are ridiculous unless communally owned. Learjets even moreso.

Which brings me to the crux of the issue: wealth and income distribution as it currently stands. Some statistics, bulleted for ease of absorption (2007 numbers):

  • the top 1% of Americans possess about 35% of all the total net worth in the US.
  • the next 19% of Americans posses a further 50%.
  • combined, the top 20% possess 85% of the total net worth of this country.
  • elementary school mathematics tells us that the bottom 80% of Americans possess but 15% of the pie.
  • for more (including the fact that the bottom 90% possess 75% of the debt) click here.

And so I ask you, whoever possesses the eyes reading these words: do the top 20% of Americans deserve it? Do not answer right away (even if your answer is no). Really think about it. Look at a CEO of a multinational corporation whose annual compensation might very well be millions of dollars or more. Does he work harder than a bus driver? Than a factory worker? Than a teacher? Is there something about this CEO that makes him more deserving of such a ridiculously humongous piece of the pie?

There are arguments that might say yes. For instance, the CEO of GE, Jeff Immelt, has been compensated to the tune of $25,413,891 since he took the job in 2001 (as of 2009). It is, perhaps, interesting to note that 44% of that was from ’08 and ’09. He has earned almost half of his fortune in the years after the housing bubbled exploded all of its sub-prime juices over America’s middle class like an over-ripe zit. It can be argued that, since he is the CEO of the largest corporation in the world, and that it employs 287,000 employees (as of 2007), that perhaps there is some justification for it. Having to head up such a monolithic corporation has got to be a difficult and challenging task. (All numbers compliments of Wikipedia)

There are some reasons why I feel this logic is flawed, however. Consider that the median income (the income that splits the country so that half earn more and half earn less) is around $44,000 per year (as of 2004; I’m certain it must be lower by now). In 2009, Jeff I. was compensated 5.5 million. He made 12,500% more than a teacher (since teachers are typically paid based on the median income of their region). Put another way, a teacher makes eight tenths of one percent of what Jeffy made in 2009. Does he deserve to make 12,500% more than a teacher? Does he work 12,500% harder? Are his responsibilities 12,500% more important than educating 35 students at a time every year?

Don’t say no yet. Consider what it takes to run GE. He is the CEO, the figurehead of the largest corporation in the world. Does he actually have a hand in managing those 287,000 employees? Hell no. He doesn’t know 99% of their names. He doesn’t interact with any of them. His job is to deal with big-picture stuff. Mergers and acquisitions and such and very rarely does he deal directly with the workaday employees of the company. What I mean is (and this is just an estimate) 99% of the real work that GE does is performed by the other 99.999999% of the company (estimate). And so does he deserve it?

Consider also that he is a human being. Take away the charimanship, the learjet, the mansion(s), limos, sports cars, exotic pets, and you have a biological entity, an animal, a beast that is no better or worse than my 5th grade teacher (yo, Mrs. Putnam!). He does a job, a hard job, I don’t doubt, but there is no fucking way that it is harder, more challenging, or more important than a teacher’s job. At the very least, it is not 12,500% harder, more challenging, or important. Indeed, it is absurd to even consider such an idea.

And Jeffy-poo is just a multi-millionaire. A billionaire is (and this is just a guess) about a thousand times more wealthy than a millionaire. Mark Zuckerberg has a net worth of over 5 billion dollars. The average net worth of an American family is about 93,000 dollars (yeah, just that). He’s worth 5,376,300% more than you if you are a normal American.

Remember, Mark Zuckerberg is just made of meat. There’s nothing special about him except that he had an above-average intelligence and computer programming skill and one very clever idea. That’s it. And yet, somehow, he is worth 5 million percent more than you.

Okay, so the other argument against socialism is basically two things: USSR and China. Well I have one response to that argument: The USSR and China are not and were never actual socialist countries. They were dictatorships right from the start. Lenin screwed up. He silenced the press and set the stage for Stalin. Mao was…smart, but flawed as well. They did not actually ever make the real transition to communism that Marx spoke of.

What I espouse is a transition to socialism that does not have to be problematic or painful. And here goes: in theory, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a debt-based fiat currency like the US dollar. It just has to be utilized properly. Consider the Brazillian Real. In the United States, we don’t even have to transition completely from a capitalistic system.

The problem with the US economy has nothing to do with the country being broke. There are tons of dollars. It is just locked up in personal fortunes where it just sits there. These wealthy people at the top make money faster than they can spend it, and so they hoard it. It’s just numbers that sit there. The fact of the matter is, the US economy only actually functions when people are spending money. Right now, nobody is spending money. The wealthy aren’t spending it because they are hoarding it and everybody else just simply doesn’t have any money.

Solution and transition to a socialist economy:

  • Raise taxes (a lot, like all the way up to 80%-ish) on individuals who make more than a million dollars a year
  • Close tax loopholes on corporations so they can’t get away with paying no taxes.
  • Expand the Earned Income Credit to include middle-class families
  • Spend, spend, spend on social programs, grants for entrepreneurs, public safety net, education, education, and education.

Better yet, levy a huge tax on wealthy people, take all that money that you get a result, and then burn it (or in the case of the US dollar, which is really a digital currency, hit delete). It amounts the same thing and sends a better message.

And so there it is. I am a socialist. Here is my reasoning. It is perhaps true that I wrote this more for myself than for you, but I hope you liked it.

ihr habt noch Chaos in euch

Not An (explicit) Argument for Evolution

Darwin was never actually put on trial for his beliefs the way Gallileo was. Or, I should say, Darwin was never put on trial for publishing his beliefs as Gallileo was. At least, not in a literal sense. In many ways, Darwin is the most vilified scientist in all of history and his ideas are continually being put on trial today.

All over the world, science is having a very difficult time convincing people of anything. Hell, there are those that believe that relativity is not supported by evidence. Rela-fucking-tivity! Follow that link at your own risk. It is literally mind-blowlingly insane. As if Special and General Relativity weren’t the backbones of modern macro-physics.

I had an argument recently with a young-earth creationist. The problem I was having was explaining that there is literally a mountain of evidence that supports the theory of evolution. Indeed, all of modern biology depends on it. Every legitimate article about biology incorporates some aspect of evolution into its discussion. Here, here, and here are a few from just this week. Granted, all of the links are to sciencedaily.com, but all of the studies being reported on are from San Diego, Oxford, and Heidelberg. The point I was trying to make was this: if the theory of evolution is so specious, then why do nearly all biologists (people heavily trained, well-read, and highly intelligent) act as though there isn’t even a question about evolution’s validity?

The thing that gets me, and perhaps this is the crux of the issue, is that conservative creationists literally do not care what the evidence says. They will not listen to reason in this matter. And I can’t fathom it. The bizarre mistrust toward science on the part of conservatives is truly one of the greatest mysteries facing our species. They say things as though they are facts and offer up little in the way of actual argumentation. And the other conservatives around them say things like, “Well said.” and “I’m so proud of you for sticking up for your beliefs.” This whole thing is bizarrely reinforced by a combination of mass psychosis and a “preaching to the choir” mentality. They silence or ignore anyone who doesn’t agree with them and that is that. There is no reasoning with this kind of attitude.

I have been asked why this bothers me and this is a difficult question to answer. It does bother me. That much is certain. One reason might have something to do with my education. I am trained in philosophy and rhetoric and bad logic sounds like a metal rake being dragged across a chalkboard. I literally cannot ignore it without a strong cognitive dissonance. I feel a deep need to correct people when they are committing a logical fallacy. Perhaps there is some psychological label that could be applied. I’d love to hear it. Regardless, I have a new job and I have been having to censor myself a lot lately, and it’s actually been causing me a non-negligible amount of stress.

Another reason the whole thing bothers me might be the fact that these wingnuts are trying to introduce legislation to heap this garbage into the minds of our nation’s children. Sometimes it is successful. And even when it isn’t, they are completely undeterred. They often get defeated in the courts. But that doesn’t stop them. There is a very strong movement in this country that is trying to shift our paradigm in the direction of a theocracy. They won’t be successful, but they sure as shit will obfuscate the issue as much as they can, which has its own set of problems.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that as of 2010, only 16% of Americans believe in evolution with absolutely no intervention on the part of a deity. A surprising 38% believe in a theistic evolution. It’s a compromise that I would certainly be willing to work around. I do not hate this idea nearly as much as I do the 40% or so that are hard-lined creationists.

Another reason the whole thing bothers me might have something to do with the fact that creationists often think they are being novel or clever or have found a new proof or some new reasoning that solidifies it. What they don’t realize is that scientists, philosophers, and atheists have been studying these arguments a lot harder and a lot more rigorously than they have. Atheists are far better versed in religious “logic” than they will ever be. We know, for instance, that there are only three (3) actual arguments for the existence of a supreme being. All other arguments are variations on the basic three (cosmological, teleological, ontological). We also know every argument against evolution by heart. They can’t convince us that it doesn’t happen because we know what they’re going to say before they say it. We have heard it all before, considered it, and destroyed it with our logic smashers. They just refuse to listen.

I have no illusions about this blog post converting anyone. Indeed, the dozen or so people that might actually read it through will be all, “fucking right!” and “Damned straight!” and no creationist will ever actually reach this sentence. This is mostly due to the fact that my pool of readers is very small (I’m working on it). But it is also because creationists do not read stuff like this. And perhaps that is the last reason this controversy bothers me. Aside from bad logic, brainwashing children, and the self-delusion of cleverness, it’s that they will not listen to anyone who disagrees with them. They initiate arguments, and then when you disagree with them, they just say, “Well, we all have a right to our opinion.” A creationist will never consider your argument carefully, logically, or systematically. They will never say, “You have a point.” And they will never, ever, ever say, “Wow, I think you might be right!”

es schenkt sich immer

Hidden Doorways a Reality?

shanter_prime_web

Click on the image to see it full size. I’m working on a new theme for the blog so that I can include larger format images. It might take some time.

This is pretty much exactly what would happen if William Shatner came ’round to tea at the Prime residence.

So I realized today that I have no really good reason for using Optimus Prime as the subject of so many of these comics (if you can call them that). Perhaps it’s that I see him as the sort of ideal outside observer. An alien not of us, but very sympathetic to us. He likes humans in a way that is not patronizing or insincere. He shows us–the inferior race–a kind of respect that is rare between humans.

Prime is the perfect idealist. His most famous quote (from the comics as well as the various Michael Bay films) was, “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.” On the one hand, it’s the sort of magnanimous statement that gives a person shivers, especially when uttered by the always earnest Peter Cullen. But it’s also, when one really deconstructs it, astonishingly prejudiced against beings that are less than sentient. Regardless, I’ve always wanted to identify with Optimus Prime and I respected his sage wisdom (and awesome robot-fu) as a child.

Perhaps I use him in so many comics because I happen to own an Optimus Prime action figure myself, which makes it easy to photograph him from any angle I want. Do you know how hard it is to find a photo of William Shatner in the perfect pose?

The subject of ‘Hidden Portals’ was spawned by a headline that I saw on Science Daily. It’s one of those headlines that really plays tricks on a guy like me. I read something like this and I get really excited. I imagine, of course, teleportation (something that would really put GM out of business). And, thus, that’s the idea that I explored in my art project.

But that’s not exactly what’s going on in the article. In fact, the article is further misleading in that, try as I might, it’s difficult to figure out what, exactly, these researchers actually accomplished. Upon further research into the matter, it turns out that what they have created is not an actual, workable prototype of a hidden doorway, but instead have built a functional conceptual model of a doorway that does not permit electromagnetic waves to pass through it, but would allow other entities (say, a person) to pass through. A mirror that you can walk through.

It’s actually really cool. But this is the thing that’s frustrating about science sometimes. They’ve proved that it’s theoretically possible, but they haven’t actually built it yet. My question is, of course, why the hell not?

It’s a curious thing about science. In fact, it’s the critical difference between science and applied science (i.e. technology). What use has a scientist for technology except as a way of furthering our understanding of the world? They’ve proved that it’s possible to build the doorway. In a sense, it doesn’t matter to the pure researcher that it ever actually gets built. For the pure researcher, actually building the device would only be important if it could be used in further research. This might be an oversimplification of the pure researcher, who is, of course, only human, but the point remains.

Technology, like for instance these new metamaterials involved in the creation of the hidden portal is, essentially, a means to an end. And I don’t mean this lightly. “Means to an end” is a concept that bears considerable weight to a philosopher. Technology is a means to an end. And it is nothing more than that. To a scientist, the end is knowledge and understanding. To everyone else, the end is often creature comfort or experiential. We use technology as a means to the end of enhancing our individual lives or the lives of others. Both are perfectly reasonable ways to use technology.

Without letting this become a lecture on ethics, I think I’d like to bring this whole thing full circle.

I’d like to bring this around to what I find so interesting about Optimus Prime. He is, in a sense, a piece of technology. But he is also a sentient being. He is the ideal exemplar of a higher being that treats lower beings with dignity and respect. He is a piece of technology that doesn’t treat humans as a means to an end. They are an end in themselves. To be treated as an end and not a means. That is the true meaning of “freedom,” folks.

Now, if only someone would build some mirror-portals so that I could buy one.

Freiheit ist nicht frei.

Why sexual reproduction is so popular

transformer_reproduction

There are organisms that reproduce sexually and there are organisms that reproduce asexually. The former outnumber the latter by many orders of magnitude. Hell, even plants have sex on a pretty regular basis–though it’s a sort of kinky, bee-assisted sex. The question is why? Asexual reproduction is far more efficient than its more popular cousin.

In New Zealand, scientists found an astonishing opportunity to test one hypothesis. Snails are known to reproduce both sexually and asexually. In the fresh waters of New Zealand, both types of snail live side by side. So they could watch, over time, the changes in populations.

Here’s the thing. Evolution is affected by pressures. Behaviors and adaptations result for many different reasons, but the need to survive appears to be the primary factor in most adaptations–there are exceptions to this, of course. And so, the fact that sexual reproduction, which is terribly inefficient, is more popular than asexual reproduction is something of a mystery. Aside from the fact that it’s more fun.

They hypothesis that these researchers in New Zealand were testing has to do with parasites. Parasites infect all organisms. Consider that a population of snails that reproduces asexually essentially just clones itself off ad infinitum. Every child is genetically identical to its parent. It inherits all of its parent’s strengths, and, more importantly for this discussion, all of its weaknesses.

The offspring of a species that reproduces sexually is genetically unique, as it’s a sort of random mixture of its parents’ genes. So what’s a parasite likely to have an easier time with? A species that’s always the same, with the same defenses and the same weaknesses to exploit? Or a species whose members are always going to be different, have different chemistries, have different defenses?

The study showed that the population of asexually producing snails showed a marked reduction over time as a result of infection from parasites. The sexually reproducing snails showed a far more stable population trend and far less susceptibility to infection by parasites. The evidence seems to show that the evolution of sex was influenced strongly by parasites.

The thing that I find interesting about these findings is what they mean when examined in light of other things that we know about sex evolution.

Consider: Sex evolved as a defense against parasites. Once it became established as the dominant reproductive activity, sex took on a life of its own.

Peacocks have these long, ornate tails that serve absolutely no survival purpose whatsoever. They are purely a result of sexual selection. They are used to attract a member of the opposite sex. In fact, survival-wise, peacocks must strike a delicate balance between ability to attract mates and ability to escape from predators. The tails are a hindrance in a survival situation, but they ensure that their genes will be passed on. And so there are two completely separate pressures affecting the size of peacock tail feathers. One pressure creates a trend toward a smaller tail and other toward a larger, more showy tail. A very interesting tension.

But then look at humans. We are interesting because, not only are we social creatures, but we are also sentient. The most intelligent species on this planet. Sexual selection in humans is a far, far, far, more complicated affair than even that of peacocks. Look at the bizarre and strange rituals that humans adopt. Look at the prejudices, the tragedies, the arguments, the problems, that all arise as a result of a defense mechanism against parasites.

Sex brings out the absolute worst in humankind. I suppose it wouldn’t be poetic if it weren’t also true that sex can bring out the absolute best in humans as well. Poetry and literature as we know it would probably not be possible if it weren’t for sex.

I just got married. I couldn’t be happier about it. I don’t necessarily believe that monogamy is the only way that humans can (or should) interact on a sexual level, but I have made a choice to join in that sort of relationship. The fact that we can choose what sort of relationship we want to be in is probably one of our biggest problems because anyone that wants to have a different sort of relationship than what is deemed normal is often ostracized or worse.

Perhaps the best literary example of what came about as a result of sex is the Trojan War. Imagine it. Helen of Troy. The “face that launched a thousand ships.” And also spawned one terrible Wolfgang Petersen movie. All of that, because of parasites.

Maybe the Transformers are better off without it.

Maybe not.

Liebe ist in Ihrem Herzen.

Why Humans Suck Compared to Dinosaurs

dinodebate

A while back researchers located some dinosaur burrows in Montana. Of course, this proved that dinosaurs exhibited a burrowing behavior when the need arose. Just recently, further burrows were discovered in Victoria, Australia. The important thing to take away from this is that it shows a similar survival behavior from different species from different hemispheres. 110 million years ago, the Earth was a warmer place, but when Australia used to be situated at the south pole, it still got pretty cold in the winter. And apparently this was how they kept warm.

They were small dinosaurs, which makes sense. Comical as the image of a T-Rex burrowing into the soft sand of a riverbank is, it probably didn’t work that way.

The above cartoon is, as usual, my way of trying to be funny. Whether it’s successful or not, is not my call, but what I like is the idea that dinosaurs might compare survival adaptations, defenses, weaponry, in a civilized tone. It’s an anthropomorphism, which is the main point here. A similar discussion most certainly did occur between dinosaurs, but it probably would have been much more violent and probably involved the T-Rex trying to eat the Triceratops (though there is some debate over whether T-Rex was a hunter or a scavenger or both).

The thing is humans have three or so key survival adaptations: opposable thumbs, upright stature, gigantic brain. Each of these things is a tremendous liability in other ways, however. For instance, our upright stature makes us slow runners. Our huge brains mean our head are big which makes human childbirth a harrowing and very dangerous activity.

So basically, when one is trying to make the argument that humans are the pinnacle, the zenith, the ultimate, in biological evolution (or creation), they have to acknowledge the fact that humans have problems. We really have no natural weaponry, no defense against cold, our immune systems suck, we’re not strong, fast, or agile. All we have is our brains and our ability to use tools.

Dinosaurs were the most successful animals to ever walk the planet. They lived for millions of years. Bipedal man has been here for about five hundred thousand years and homo sapiens for only about a hundred thousand. We have a long way to go before we are even in the same league as dinosaurs. If anything insects (cockroaches, for instance) are the most successful animals currently creeping across this world. Crocodiles, sharks, and other similar species are far older than humans. Turtles live longer.

I mean, if your standard is simply “ability to survive,” then humans suck. We have a very high opinion of ourselves and it’s utterly undeserved. That’s the funny thing.

Again, this is from a survival-ability standpoint. Obviously we’ve made more art. We have language. We have “civilization,” whatever that means. And I think a pat on the back is well deserved. Maybe a polite, quiet round of applause.

Good work people. Keep it up for a few million more years and we’ll really be something. Just don’t screw it up in the meantime, alright?

Glück.