Archive for January, 2015

About Philosophy, Religion, and Faith

January 20, 2015

From a conversation on a Facebook group dealing with why religious belief persists:
I understand your comment, my friend, but I can’t agree. I understand that there are many things unseen, but attributing them to a deity doesn’t work for me. Too often, that explanation has been simply wrong.
The more we learn, the more concepts that have persisted because of ‘faith’ are debunked. Why, then, should we have faith that things in future will be different, not understandable?
Consider for a moment the concept of believing that some entity organized the universe.
When people knew nothing other than the ‘Earth’ and ‘the Heavens’, one could accept that perhaps magic was involved. Magic, defined in this context as not being bound by what we call natural laws, e.g. the laws of nature as we understand them. But we now know there’s much more to the picture than that. The sources of current religious belief, faith, come from a society that knew little to nothing of our true place in the universe. Whether Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, all of them are rooted in the writings, the codified beliefs, of thinkers whose background was herding, farming, fishing, and handicrafts. Of a people who simply ignored what didn’t fit, who claimed that such things were the will of the deity, hence not to be understood by humans even though, basic to that belief, is the concept that humans are the image of the deity.
If that’s your philosophy, that all this order has to be by design, I can’t argue with that. But…
If we disagree, why should we stoop to some level that’s not based on philosophy? Why should we enslave, murder, torture because someone believed differently?
Nothing in that basic belief requires that. Nothing in that system excuses murder, torture, rape, slavery.
But those things have been with us since first we climbed down out of the trees. Why?
THAT I attribute not to belief, but to systems of organized religion. Systems with a few ordering the many how to believe, how to think. And inevitably profiting thereby. For every starving philosopher of religious thought, there are a dozen priests of some ilk profiting. Living well, even as the ones who provide that good living are impoverished.
Little by little the evidence builds.
You’ve had dinner with us before, my friend. Enjoyed the turkey, did you?
That turkey, presumably, is different. We benefited from someone who slaughtered the beast so we could have Thanksgiving dinner. Cows, pigs, fish…
We’re supposed to be superior. We think, we feel.
Yet we now know how similar we are to those other organisms. We know that animals can even catch ‘human’ diseases, that humans can catch ‘animal’ diseases. We share genes.
We’re all part of a huge biosphere, a mix of genes that sometimes we share, sometimes we don’t share. Just a few genes more or less changes us from chimp to human or gorilla. Or pig.
If a pig is slaughtered, is he transported to heaven? If a dog dies, does it go to heaven? Dogs think, dogs feel, dogs communicate.
But we’re told that only humans have a soul. That the soul embodies those things, the ability to reason, to feel, to make choices.
That we can treat other animals as we do because they lack this soul.
Really?
Do we not see evidence, clear and indisputable evidence, that those lesser animals grieve when a close associate/family member dies? Do whales not grieve, do they not understand the concept of death and regret when it comes? Do they not sacrifice themselves to save their offspring?
They do.
Only faith insists those things aren’t so.
Its why faith is not enough for me.
I DO have faith of a sort, except it doesn’t depend on organized religion.
I’m a part of a greater whole, humankind. I share genes from the human gene pool. My genes are not unique, but the combination I currently possess is unique.
When I pass, those genes will still be there in the human genome. My particular combination will go on, at least in part. Children, grandchildren, descendants, they’ll possess a tiny bit of what made me what I am.
I hope that greater whole persists for a long time, but I understand that ALL species before humans have gone extinct or at least branches of those species/particular genomes have vanished. Yet their genes persist, even today. That turkey had genes that once, reshuffled, were part of dinosauria.
Of humans, H. sapiens sapiens.
Me.

Challenges

January 12, 2015

A discussion has been ongoing regarding whether Roundup (glyphosate) and GMO food plants designed to tolerate it are dangerous. I wrote this response:
Pesticides ARE bad for the environment. That general statement can go all the way back to DDT, neonicotinoids, others. What seemed benign at first had unanticipated side effects.
Not all had to do with pests or food resources. Remember PCB’s?
The ocean is a soup of microscopic bits of plastic. More plastic, in larger bits, circulates in the world’s oceans, waiting to fall apart and contribute to that soup. Problem solution, none in sight.
Plankton in that ocean is one of the sources of oxygen. So are forests. We’ve cut them down, turned some into farmland for mega-farms which can only produce through chemistry. Problem solution, several possibilities, none of them immediate.
We’ve pumped up paleowater faster than it can recharge. Solution, massive desalination. Short term, expensive. Food prices, water, sewage, all will cost more in absolute terms.
Long term result, increasing saltiness of the oceans; by irrigation, we leach salts and soluble chemicals (including pesticides) into the oceans. Gone fishing in the Thames lately? Or any of several other rivers around the world. How about the Baltic? Even the cod fishery on the north Atlantic banks, the one that once sustained a fleet of Portuguese fishing boats and ships. Gone, maybe never to return.
Solution? Massive use of greenhouses, possibly. Fish farms too. Raise shrimp in the desert, in places like New Mexico. Not imminent, and temporary anyway. How many greenhouses would it take to produce enough food to feed twice as many humans as there are now? How big would they have to be? Could they be made proof against natural disasters? Can we link fish farming to hydroponic farming? Unknown.
We’ve used nuclear plants to generate energy. They’re dangerous. See Chernobyl, the Japanese disaster. Smaller plants are less dangerous, but more expensive. And ALL of them generate waste material. That’s stockpiled in huge amounts here and there. Solution, none that’s feasible other than close them all down. Even then, that area won’t be usable for the foreseeable future. We’re stashing ever more spent fuel rods and hoping that technology will eventually figure out what to do with them. They’re poisonous and radioactive, and they’ll be dangerous for millions of years. Hope is not a solution, yet we continue producing more of the spent fuel rods.
Climate change: Here, now. Storms, weather pattern shifts, melting of ice to release stored freshwater, ocean rise. Solution, none that’s immediately practical. Whether my own solution is as good as I think it is, we’ll likely never know. Politically, we lemmings will keep going until we’re gone.
We as a species have grown to the point that a natural environment can no longer support our numbers.
So we change the environment.
In the short run, those changes are beneficial.
How many are beneficial in the long run?
Natural systems are, or were, self-regulating over time. The changes we’ve made are not.
Uncontrolled adding of glyphosate and other plant poisons is just another change. Plants will attempt to adapt to this stress as they have to all the others. How can you possibly believe that change will be beneficial in the long run?
We’re forcing change in the natural plant genetic supply. Some genes are being favored by the conditions we put in place, others suppressed. All, so that people can continue to breed uncontrollably. Solution? None that’s immediate. Just possibly that natural world has a solution. You won’t like it…if you’re one of the very few survivors left, trying to escape from a ruined, poisoned world. Given a million years or ten without humans, the planet might possibly recover.
But in the short term, we’ll eat our packaged food and discard the plastic. Eventually, it’s buried in a landfill or finds its way to the oceans. We’ll watch our big-screen TV’s and argue over inconsequentials, we’ll pave over more farmland for apartment buildings or parking lots.
We invented sustainable farming, a long time ago. No pesticides. No fertilizers, other than natural ones where what we consumed was recycled. We humans at that point were part of a mini-ecosystem that worked, indefinitely. Animals, plants, bacteria, natural weather cycles, all those things could go on for generations.
But we largely abandoned that. Killing a chicken or a cow for meat, icck. Let someone else do it, we’ll get our meat from the supermarket and complain that it’s not nearly as good as free-range or grass-fed is. All colored and antiseptically packaged in more plastic. It’s the 21st Century way.
Oh, and a lot of that stuff you consume, it’s made in Bangladeshi sweatshops or grown in Mexican fields where the people are no better than slaves. At least slaves were provided for instead of being turned out when they could no longer work those long hours in the fields. But hey, so not our problem; is that on sale this week? Gotta save those pennies for a new car, bigger, faster, whatever. Or a spare; what if this one breaks? Can’t do without my car, you know. And pave that road again, potholes are so uncomfortable. More roads too; it’s unconscionable to have people waiting for HOURS on the freeway, having to run the engine to keep warm or keep cool, depending, while the gridlock is cleared away.
Cities…the country is boring, all those farmers who work all day and only go to sleep at night. No parties. No concerts, no shows, why, even the movies aren’t first-run!
Those cities are sustained by rivers of things. Aqueducts to bring in water, power lines to bring in electricity, pipelines to bring oil and gas, trucks and trains bringing in food and taking away waste. So long as everything works, great. In the short term. Hmmm…all those bridges are getting older. Roads need reworking too. Railways are aging and not enough money is being spent on maintenance. Solution, none. More people will need more cities. Less farmland. Hopefully, technology will provide a solution.
If you see GMO’s and Roundup as the problem, seen in isolation, the argument above might make sense. But seen in the context of history, of past problems, of accidents even when things aren’t terribly dangerous by design such as oil well blowouts, a different image emerges.
But if you’re still not seeing the larger challenge, I’m wasting my time.

Revolution, by Constitutional Means

January 2, 2015

It’s time.
Consider the following: John Boehner was elected easily by one small district in Ohio. Yet during the last Congress he effectively disenfranchised a majority of voters in the entire nation. How could he do that?
As Speaker of the House, he represents the Republican Party. That party held control of the House of Representatives despite receiving fewer votes nationally than did the Democrats. How? Through gerrymandering of districts, redrawing lines so that a particular party would be able easily to hold a majority of votes. Result? By employing something called the ‘Hastert Rule’, Boehner brought to the floor for votes ONLY those bills that a majority of Republicans favored. I think he set this aside twice during that two-year period.
Democrats, despite having received more votes, never got to put forward bills they favored, never got to respond to voters who’d sent them to Congress. Disenfranchisement.
Not to claim that Mr. Boehner is particularly corrupt; he’s no more corrupt than others in a system which has itself become corrupt.
Leaders in both Houses of Congress permit ‘amending’ of bills after they’ve passed through committees. As a result, big banks can have their employees write major portions of a bill to regulate their own behavior, send them (along with a campaign contribution) to a Representative who’s holding his hand out, and see the rules they’ve written be added to a must-pass bill. Whereupon it will become law, even though the original bill had to do with funding of the government to avoid shutdown.
The framers of the Republic made a mistake; they never saw the rise of party dominance nor the day when politics became a profession instead of a duty one did part-time. As a result, a small fraction of people from a relatively-tiny district sends someone to Congress who will control the destiny of the nation.
The district/state that elects and reelects those professional politicians doesn’t pay their salaries, we the taxpayers do. Despite the relative few thousand who send them to Congress, they pass laws affecting all of us. We face taxation or exemption from taxation without representation.
It’s time for a national referendum for all members of Congress, Senator or Representative.
This is the change I propose:
At the bottom of the ballot would appear a list. “Shall Senator Foghorn be permitted to represent the nation in the Senate?” _______ (Yes)
Note that the default position is “No”. Unless a majority of voters check that yes box, Foghorn will be required to resign at the end of the calendar year. Even though he might want to run for office again, even though he might have an enormous war chest to finance his campaigns, if he can’t convince more than half of the nation’s voters, he’s a former Senator. Ditto Representatives.
I suggest that the same be applied to Supreme Court Justices as well. Let the bar be set at the same level, 50%. To maintain some vestige of continuity, perhaps only half the justices would face a referendum in any election year.
Rationale: The current system is not serving us well.
So how do we force Congress to listen? Take up our trusty muskets and march on Concord Bridge?
No. There’s a better way.
The oligarchs own our politics, they pay those Senators and Representatives. Let THEM force change. Start with a nationwide strike. No one goes to work, no one goes shopping. If no change, repeat the following month. Then perhaps repeat once a week if necessary.
Just say no. We won’t take it any more.
Use the initiative to send a Constitutional Amendment laying out the above to Congress and require, on pain of dismissal, that they press to make it part of the Constitution. Then publicize this widely, so that politicians will be forced to act.
A second part of the systemic revolution has to do with how Congress does business. It’s currently corrupt, systemically corrupt. Those who wield power in Congress, the major party leaders, allow the corruption, even wallow in it, because they profit from it. So change the system of unlimited ‘amendments’ that have nothing to do with the bill under consideration. Force all votes, especially votes having to do with taxes or exemption from taxes to be public by roll call, so that anonymous yeas and nays be eliminated.
This is the best way to reform our nation.
Radical? No. I’ve long admired Lincoln, and I think he would approve.
Let government of the people, for the people, by the people, be returned TO the people.