Nowhere

You got to go
Nowhere seems nice
That death wish means
Nowhere is where you end

Junkie is just a bag of bones
and meat waiting… spiraling down
waiting to be thrown away

You say you know what’s good
You say you got shit down
But truth is you don’t know shit

I see myself in you, I see your pattern
It’s like looking in a mirror
It makes me angry

I can’t help you live
I can’t let you drag me down
I can only watch you die
From a safe distance

Nowhere is where you end
Nowhere is where you’ll be
This is the last you will see me

I don’t care about video games (anymore)

I’ve played video games of one sort or another from a very young age. I remember when my grandparents bought my family an IBM PS/1, and I played some really basic games on that computer when I was around the age of 7 or 8. Even before that, at Christmas time I would go over to the grandparents and me and the other kids would play Track and Field and Duck Hunt on the NES that they had purchased, which I was only allowed to use on special occasions. My gaming life really took off when I finally convinced my parents to buy me a console, a Sega Genesis, a 16-bit system that included the greatest video game ever made in my opinion, NHL 94. Around that same time, as the PS/1 was outliving its usefulness, again my grandparents bought my family a Gateway 2000, with a beastly 75 mhz Pentium processor. I was able to play games like Mad Dog McCree and get on Prodigy or AOL and even play the occasional game online. Not long after, one of my best friends, who was also a neighbor, somehow managed to convince his mom to get him Warcraft II, and I also managed to get the game (I don’t remember if I just borrowed it from him or what), and we would tie up both our home’s phone lines as I would dial his modem and we would play head to head Warcraft battles lasting hours. These matches would of course get interrupted any time one of our family would pick up the phone to make a call. I really loved PC gaming as a kid, and it continued as I got older. I also kept up on console gaming as well… even while I was playing sports practically full time, I was staying up til 1 or 2 am on school nights playing video games. Outside of playing youth sports as a teenager, video games were my number 1 hobby.

I would call my relationship with video games obsessive or even addictive. This relationship continued all throughout my 20s and early 30s. As I got older, this relationship got more and more unhealthy. PC, hand-held, and console games were the primary way I filled my time, along with plenty of alcohol and drugs. I watched fewer and fewer movies and spent most of my time couch-bound. I’ve never exercised consistently since I got out of school and stopped playing sports. I would also smoke cigarettes fairly obsessively as I took part in this past-time. When I was unemployed for long stretches I would just play games most of the day and get wasted. Not exactly a productive use of my time, I know. Eventually, Hearthstone came around, and I started to play it obsessively. I was never that good at it due to the negative headspace I was in, but I played it for basically a year straight, non-stop, at the expense of nearly any other gaming experience. The only time I would pick up another game is if a friend was in the room with me and wanted to play a fighting game head to head, or something like that. Eventually, my relationship with Hearthstone soured, I had used it to fill a void in my life, and after spending far too much time and money with it, my play eventually tapered off. This happened because I got clean, and I got a good job that kept me busy 30 hours a week. Eventually, after losing a match in Hearthstone made me too angry one day, I dropped it completely.  I’ve now gone 6 months without picking it back up, despite the sunk costs I have in that game with hundreds of hours played unlocking a multitude of useless digital bullshit in that game. I’ve thought of selling my Blizzard account but truthfully I have no desire to use my Blizzard account ever again or even come close to playing Hearthstone ever again. It completely crowded out my enjoyment of video games and became a sick compulsion for me.

Since I stopped playing Hearthstone, I’ve only picked up one other game, Magic 2015, which I only play occasionally. I get more enjoyment watching others play it and comment about it on YouTube, personally. Since I stopped playing Hearthstone every day my use of other video games has still not returned to normal levels. I attribute this to getting clean, getting a good job, and attempting to be more social with people in person, rather than living 90% of my life in front of a TV or computer screen. Whenever I think of playing a game or picking something up I start to get nervous because I feel incredibly burnt-out. I certainly enjoyed playing games in the past and feel I generally got my money’s worth in terms of entertainment value, but on the other hand I’m starting to look at it as a massive waste of time. The joy I used to get from gaming is mostly gone. I look at the use of time spent gaming as a chore or a burden now, especially since I have found more interesting things to do with my life. I don’t know, it’s weird and somewhat hard to explain, but I’m trying to change my patterns of activity and thinking into a more positive direction, and one of the ways I’m doing that is basically by only playing games a few hours a week, if that. I just don’t care about video games any more.

Free Will or Determinism?

All too often I feel that formal philosophy presents arguments based on the assumption that two different viewpoints are necessarily opposed to each other. The idea whether human action is based on free will or determinism is presented as a binary set, with the thinking being that it must be one or the other. I know I’m not alone in saying this, but I believe the answer lies somewhere in between. Life isn’t black or white, or a set of absolutes dictating what we know to be true. There are shades of grey. The right answer is not always apparent. As we learn more about science we peel back another layer to get a closer look at reality. As we delve deeper we uncover even more mysteries and more unanswered questions. I think that’s exciting, the proposition that there is still so much to learn about the natural world. Back to the question: are we free to control our actions as we wish, or are our actions a product of deterministic forces in a universe completely beyond our control? I believe it’s too simplistic to say either or, I believe both arguments are partially correct.

It appears that we make choices. Decisions and choices are pretty much what life revolves around. As I experience my own conscious mind on a daily basis I feel I am presented with a set of choices in each encounter with the world that I’m involved in. The notion that I have free will is a very strong one, personally, because I feel it gives me agency. Yet as more scientific discoveries about the body and brain are made, the argument for determinism grows stronger, casting doubt on the concept of free will. The idea that we are largely influenced in our lives by our genetics has only really come about in the last 70 years. The concept that in many scenarios the brain triggers a reaction before we can even consciously process it is an even newer discovery. Is it arrogant to think we have free will? I don’t think so. I still believe we have free will, even if we somehow know physically before we consciously make a choice. That physical knowing that takes place in the brain is a product of our upbringing, our life experience, our personality makeup and our genes. Even though we still have a choice, we are largely unaware of all the forces that drive us into a circumstance where we are forced to make that choice.

Determinism also raises a host of legal issues as well. If it can be proven we really aren’t in control of our choices, how can we legally convict someone for murder if we can scientifically prove they are technically not responsible for their actions? It’s clear that the notion of free will is actually rather integral to most of modern society. The entire market economy relies on individuals making choices about how they are going to spend their resources. The entirety of criminal law rests on the principle that individuals must be held responsible for the choices they make. Interestingly, some nations make an exception in the case of insanity, and refer people to treatment rather than prison as a result. If it could be proven that no one is truly responsible for their actions in the free will sense, what happens to criminal law? I think as a practical matter, we must look at human action through the lens of free will.

Comfortable is bad

For too long I’ve been comfortable with failure. Comfortable with mediocrity. Comfortable with boredom. Comfortable with not taking risks. Comfortable with stagnation. An outside observer might call it laziness, but it’s more than that. It’s a fear based decision-making process. By putting off any and all decisions, I effectively decide by wasting time until the decision is made for me by self-created circumstances. I’ve avoided growth because I was afraid of change. I don’t want to live like that anymore.

In the last 9 months I’ve become much more focused on achieving goals and making progress in my life. I’ve changed a lot of things as a result, but confronting my own negative patterns of thinking and acting is the hardest part of this process.  These patterns have been ingrained in me over most of my life, so escaping them is harder than I thought it would be. I now appreciate how difficult it is to change my outlook and perspective, along with these patterns. My main mode for doing this has been by taking positive actions in my life to get me feeling better about myself. One goal has been to repair and renew existing relationships with people I care about, as well as foster more relationships with new people, to make myself more open and vulnerable. Getting to know someone isn’t hard, but letting someone else get to know me has always been a struggle. I used to be better at it when I was younger, but as fear invaded my thinking over the years it became more and more difficult. The barriers I’ve created for myself are pretty neurotic, it’s like an unfunny Woody Allen movie in my head all the time.

Another part of this process is catching the lies I tell myself as they happen and challenging them on the spot. This forces me to confront my own bullshit. One of the things I avoided doing for years was writing. I used to love to write. I would blog every day 10 or 12 years ago, and it came effortlessly. As I got further and further away from that, one of the lies I told myself was that I couldn’t write, that I had nothing to offer, that my creative spark was gone, so what was the point? I have made it a goal this year to write with something approaching regularity. I can’t challenge these lies I tell myself simply by out-thinking my own brain, I have to take action to produce the evidence that stands in sharp contrast to those lies. That evidence is now here on this blog, and by doing this I really have improved my own outlook and my sense of self-worth. Which might sound crazy to you if you are well-adjusted and already like yourself, but for me it has been a struggle and being able to write again is a big deal.

The goal with this blog is to just write about whatever interests me, or whatever’s on my mind. The goal is not to cater to an audience or even for other people to read this stuff. I’m working on improving and refreshing my writing skills and rebuilding my self-confidence in my ability. To be completely honest, I don’t care if anyone reads this stuff. If someone does and likes it, that’s just an added bonus. So far so good.

There Is No Why

There are questions religion, and theology in particular can’t answer. At least in my opinion, they can’t answer them. They attempt to answer these questions, and I believe that they fail to. The classic question “why do bad things happen to good people” comes to mind. One could also ask “why do good things happen to bad people.” It seems just as relevant in light of how the world actually works. The ancient Greek thinker Epicurus worded the dilemma of evil this way:

“The gods can either take away evil from the world and will not, or, being willing to do so cannot; or they neither can nor will, or lastly, they are able and willing.

If they have the will to remove evil and cannot, then they are not omnipotent. If they can but will not, then they are not benevolent. If they are neither able nor willing, they are neither omnipotent nor benevolent.

Lastly, if they are both able and willing to annihilate evil, why does it exist?”

Of course, as humans we have to agree that evil is even a real thing. We have to accept that evil exists and is a force in humanity. We have to agree on an acceptable definition of what activity or behavior is evil. Humanity does not have this agreement, different cultures have different values, but most cultures at least have a conception of evil, even if they disagree on the definition. Some extreme religious cultures view blaspheming God as evil and deserving of death, while other cultures (I would argue more civilized ones) would view the killing of a “blasphemer” as evil or immoral. Anyone that accepts the concept of evil and also believes in God is confronted with the Epicurean dilemma, even if they might not directly acknowledge it. In philosophy this is known as The Problem of Evil. Attempts to answer this problem have been made over the many thousands of years, usually by people trying to justify a belief in God.

I believe this happens because as humans we have a strong desire to answer the question “why?” Why is the world this way? Why would God allow this? Why do bad things happen to good people? In a way I am asking why. Why do we need to know why? The stand-up gag about a 3 year old constantly asking his dad why is a classic bit in comedy. I would say our desire to know why is not merely strong, it is pathological. This desire has driven most of Western thought and science. We want to understand our world. Not every philosophy or culture assigns as much importance to the question why, however. Buddhism sees no need to explain the nature of God or the origins of the universe. To know why in these cases is simply misguided desire and a waste of time. In a way Buddhism is disputing the notion that there is always some answer to the question why.

Sometimes, I believe, there is no why. Because we can view cause and effect in nature, allowing us to make scientific discoveries about how things work, we wrongly assume that cause and effect is a principle that applies everywhere. We may learn one day how the universe came into existence, and in a way that answers why, but in a way it does not. If we never make contact with a God or gods, we can still ask, what is the purpose of this universe, why are we here? I doubt there is any answer to this question. There is no why. There is no greater purpose or answer to discover here. We exist, we came into being, and it is up to us to assign our own meaning to this existence. On a personal level, I don’t find any need to have some made up story about God’s plan for the world or the afterlife to find meaning in this world. There is meaning in struggling to survive in this harsh universe, to make our mark that we existed and flourished in spite of the odds.  The very concept of existing and discovering more about our world and the universe is exhilarating to me, and I don’t need any greater meaning or purpose than that.

The Republican Suicide Pact on Immigration

Estimates vary, but there are probably between 18 and 21 million illegal immigrants residing in the United States today. Official estimates say the number is between 11 and 12 million but that estimate is heavily disputed. Very few reasonable political solutions have been offered for fixing this state of affairs. Democrats have proposed legalization of these immigrants, by offering them a legal process whereby they can become tax-paying citizens. Many Republicans, especially on the far right of the party (largely the Tea Party membership) are vehemently opposed to any path to citizenship, and favor instead mass deportation and building a huge border fence across the entire southern border of the United States. This situation has created a major problem for the Republican Party, in terms of demographic appeal, especially for its presidential candidates. The Latino minority voting population in the United States now accounts for 11 percent of all eligible voters.  The Tea Party’s extreme position on immigration, which the Republican party is tied to, is extremely unpopular with the Latino voting bloc. The recent fights over immigration and the rhetoric from the Tea Party has only served to further alienate Latinos from the Republican Party.

The Republican positions on immigration create a very difficult problem for any candidate running for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. In order to win the party’s nomination, candidates must appease the Tea Party wing and appear “tough” on immigration. Namely opposing a path to citizenship for immigrants and speaking in favor of this nebulous idea of “protecting the border” or some such nonsense. Without doing this, a candidate’s chances of winning the Republican primary are slim. The problem for the candidate is when they get to the general election. In order to appeal to the ever more important Latino bloc, a Republican candidate, to have any hope of winning the general election must appeal to some percentage of Latino voters. This means taking a more moderate tack on immigration. This will, of course, open them up to attacks of being a flip-flopper, and may cause many in the Republican base who are extreme on immigration to stay home on election day.

The Republican Party is increasingly viewed as the party of old white people. The recent highly publicized killings of unarmed black men by the police have highlighted just how out of touch most of the Republican Party is with the African-American community. They have succeeded in totally alienating African-Americans from the party by constantly defending egregiously violent cops at all costs, by trying to maintain the racial status quo in this country, and by constantly attacking Obama with criticisms that to many are just thinly veiled racism. Whatever hope they had of gaining votes from this critical voting group is long gone. The Republicans are about to make the same mistake with the Latino community, depending on who wins their nomination. As much as I dislike Jeb Bush, he is one of the few sane voices in the party on immigration. The Republicans, through the sheer force of demographic trends and by their own actions, have ensured that in the future they will be a permanent party minority. If that means fewer wars in the Middle East, and fewer tax breaks for billionaires, then I’m all for it.

Robots and the Basic Income

Robots will replace much of the workforce in the next 20 years. Predictions vary, but as automation technology and software improves, more and more jobs will be replaced by robots. There is a strong business incentive to replace workers, skilled or unskilled, with robots and software. This is because software, or robots, require minimal maintenance, and do not require a salary or benefits of any kind. The potential costs savings to businesses are enormous. It’s important to note that both skilled and unskilled labor will be replaced by robotics and software. Higher skill jobs like attorneys, insurance adjusters, or accountants could easily be replaced, as well as lower skilled jobs like cashiers, drivers, call-center employees or janitorial workers. Most forms of labor outside of creative work or work that requires direct person to person interaction is a candidate for replacement by technology. This process is already well under way, and the replacement and loss of these jobs for the human workforce is probably inevitable.  One consequence of this process is that unemployment on a global scale will probably increase.

While many see the coming increase in automation as inevitable, very few people are offering up any kind of plan for how to address the job loss that will result from this automation. The workers displaced by the advancement of technology will need money to live, and will need alternative ways to earn money. I get the feeling that the super wealthy are not particularly concerned about this problem. Indeed, most of them only seem concerned with increasing their bottom line. A permanent underclass of 30% unemployed, or possibly more, could be formed, and my guess is many of them still wouldn’t care, since they can all afford private security and their own fortresses in an increasingly destabilized society, a society collapsing due to massive unemployment.

This coming situation calls for what is known as a basic income, minimum income, or citizenship dividend for all citizens, rather than means-tested welfare that countries like the United States currently use today.  A set amount of tax free money would be given to each person on a monthly or yearly basis, sort of like a permanent stimulus. Any money earned on top of this by an individual would be taxable. This would give each individual enough money to live on their own, and also allow them the flexibility to pursue alternative means of earning money, be it through creative work, or pursuing an education in a new field, acquiring new job skills online, or any number of other activities. As a starting point, it would encourage most people to want to earn more as a way to improve, build a savings, own a home, buy a car, and take part in the consumer economy. It would allow people at the bottom of the economic totem pole to spend money, and would help drive the economy, especially in the USA, where nearly 75% of the economy is powered by consumer spending.

Naysayers may argue that it would be too expensive, that giving everyone $15,000 or $20,000 a year is fiscally impossible, but that is a lie told by austerity hawks whose primary goal is to further enrich and protect the wealthy elites that run the world system. The fact is, we can easily afford a basic income, especially compared to how much money the Federal Reserve has generated for the banks, or how much was given to Wall Street for the bailout in a single year. The bailout for the banks and the automakers was for hundreds of billions of dollars, and in 2008 and 2009 alone, the Federal Reserve gave $13 trillion dollars to the banks, primarily to Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Merrill Lynch.  $13 trillion in two years. Imagine if that money had been put in the hands of regular consumers, education, and national infrastructure. The impact would have been enormous. Instead the money went to the wealthiest people in society, and went to managers and bank executives in the form of bonuses.

 

A basic income could actually result in a net cost savings for the government, because it could replace the complicated welfare and social security system bureaucracy, where everyone simply gets a check or electronic deposit based on carefully monitored economic need. Means-tested welfare as it is administered today keeps people in a poverty trap, because if an individual earns too much money then they lose their government benefit. It encourages people not to work or save money. It requires a massive bureaucracy to make sure everyone follows the government’s ridiculous rules. A basic income simply issued to all people would make all of that unnecessary. Skeptics say it is impossible and violates basic tenets of human nature, that people need an incentive to work. Well, it’s already been tried, and it worked quite well.

The time is now to seriously consider implementing a basic income, for everyone.

Religious Freedom or Religious Tyranny

Recent events involving how the world’s two most dominant religions, Christianity and Islam, treat gay people have brought the question of religious freedom to the forefront. Christians in the United States have been in the news lately for denying service to gays, most notably some bakeries, a pizza place, and an auto mechanic. In the Muslim world in some places gays are being murdered simply for being gay, such as in Iraq in lands controlled by the terror group ISIS. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the death penalty for homosexuality is sometimes applied, and is an accepted part of the law. In lieu of the death penalty, other harsh punishments can be involved. These intolerant behaviors are usually defended against critics by making claims to the need for religious freedom, the ability to exercise one’s belief, and the requirement that we tolerate religious belief. Ironically, we are asked to tolerate what I view as intolerance. These situations raise a host of questions, which I will try to sum up briefly: Should religious people be free to exercise their beliefs? When does that exercise of religious belief negatively impact others, and how should the law be applied to exercises of those beliefs?   Where do we draw the line?

Continue reading Religious Freedom or Religious Tyranny

Criticizing Religion Is Not Hate Speech or Bigotry

As the new atheist movement has grown on the internet over the last two decades, religious people are increasingly referring to any criticisms of their religions as hate speech or bigotry.  This has created a situation where the religious, especially in the West, have become unwitting allies of the cultural Left, as the religious are making a specific claim to moral relativism to shield themselves from criticism. Any criticism or critique of religion is bigotry because everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs and you must “respect” those beliefs. I submit to you that religion should not be immune from criticism, and that it is extremely harmful when it is. So first let’s look at the definition of the word bigot, according to Merriam-Webster:

a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group)

A key feature of a bigot is someone who strongly dislikes or hates a group that is different from them. Today, people (usually Social Justice Warriors on the internet) are conflating bigotry with any and all criticism of an idea or group of religious people. If we are not allowed to think and speak critically about any and all ideas, then we are truly lost as a society. There are big consequences for this attitude, especially as they relate to the principle of freedom of speech, and how important that is for living in a free society. Furthermore, describing criticism of religion as hate speech implies that this speech should be banned by the law and simply disallowed. This to me seems to be one of the worst consequences of adopting moral relativism and cultural subjectivity as the most important aspects of someone’s worldview, and is extremely harmful to freedom of speech, a founding principle of a free society. The notion that religion or other ideas can’t be criticized is also harmful to society in general.

Protecting unpopular or controversial speech is essential to protecting freedom of speech for everyone. Whether you like someone’s speech or not, as long as that speech does not incite violence or harm to another person, it is allowed. This principle in freedom of speech is essential to a free society. If people cannot speak openly and honestly about what they believe for fear of reprisal, then they are not truly free. The ability to criticize bad ideas and bad governments is essential to maintaining that freedom. The term hate speech itself implies that some speech should be banned, violating the principle of freedom of speech. Unpopular or controversial speech needs to be protected because it is the most likely to be attacked. When someone says something I don’t like, I should not have the ability to take away their freedom or their life for it.

Religions or ideologies that make claims about the supernatural, and then try to apply their beliefs to the law deserve criticism and scrutiny. If religion can’t be criticized it makes it that much easier for them to take control of the cultural narrative and apply their beliefs to the law in spite of dissenting opinions, which have been silenced. Any criticism is shouted down as bigotry or hate speech, and critical thinking goes out the window. I don’t want to live in a world where that is the case. I want to live in a world where there is a marketplace of ideas, with the best ideas rising to the top. If your ideology or religion cannot take criticism, then it doesn’t belong in that marketplace.

I believe that the primary reason all criticism is attacked in this way is because religion can’t take criticism, it is designed to be accepted uncritically by the populace and believed in with a strong emotional fervor. Attacking any criticism as bigotry or hate speech shuts down the criticism, deflects it, and short circuits critical thinking in the minds of many listeners. People who are taught that all beliefs are equal and that you must respect all beliefs are prevented from thinking critically about ideas. Beliefs don’t deserve respect or special treatment, they deserve analysis. Criticism of an idea or belief is not bigotry. It doesn’t necessarily imply hatred or dislike of a person, it simply means that I don’t agree with your idea and here’s why. I choose not to believe it because of the following reasons. That’s not bigotry, that’s not hate speech, that’s common sense. The bottom line is, if your beliefs can’t stand up to scrutiny and can’t handle criticism without shouting the critics down, or worse even resorting to violent retaliation, then your beliefs probably don’t deserve to be taken seriously.