Philosophy Tuesday

As I’ve noted here before, there is great clarity that comes from comparing who we proclaim ourselves to be (or to be about), and looking at what our actions, or the results thereof, say about what’s ACTUALLY going on.  And what’s going on right now is really showing us a very stark view of how authorities view and treat people, to the tune of 422+ incidents of overreach, brutality, and aggression* that have hurt, injured, and even killed people they supposedly swore an oath to protect.

And with that comes a hard look at how we let things get to this point.  And what to do about it.  Be ready, for the tactics and fallacies are going to get deployed real fast, in thick clouds (and yes, that imagery is not chosen by accident), trying to excuse these actions.

Especially when it may be coming from within.  So let’s look at one of these fallacies in detail, because by doing so we can both recognize it when being deployed against us, and moreover inoculate ourselves from ourselves, from our own internal monologues that may also attempt to dismiss, or minimize, some of all that is going on.  And it is the No True Scotsman fallacy:

“No true Scotsman, or appeal to purity, is an informal fallacy in which one attempts to protect a universal generalization from counterexamples by changing the definition in an ad hoc fashion to exclude the counterexample. Rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule – “no true Scotsman would do such a thing”; i.e., those who perform that action are not part of our group and thus criticism of that action is not criticism of the group.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman] **

This is, of course, nicely related to the “few bad apples” trope that is so readily trotted out.  (which, by the way, notice A) always only seems to get applied to one side of someone’s preferred group, ie, “our side has only a few bad apples, while the other side I am more than willing to tar with a broad brush and apply a single action/trait to degrade a whole group, and B) ignores that the complete saying is “one bad apple spoils the barrel.”)  But my own variant of it comes in this form:

“No climber/paintballer would ever steal my wallet.”

This comes from my days of playing paintball and, later, going to climbing gyms.  There were times where there were no lockers available, or place to stash something, or should I lock my car, or any of those kind of moments… and my mind would head straight into that fallacy:  “Well, I’m a good person, and I am a paintballer, so therefore paintballers are good, and besides, I’ve met a bunch of them, and they seem all like fun friendly people, so clearly I’ve got nothing to worry about…”  The same went for climbers.  “We’re all cool dudes and dudettes, all is safe.”

Fortunately for me, my wallet, or anything else, was never stolen.  But I’ve known others who have had things “walk away” in those kinds of situations, and I’ve been overcharged or otherwise tricked by paintballers and climbers alike.

This is a great example of what’s known as “positive bias” – instances of our hidden prejudices that favour those we have an affinity for, or an identity towards.  This quick piece on NPR is a great primer.

With these biases we can so easily deceive ourselves.  Especially as often we will do anything to avoid something uncomfortable.  Or to avoid a new truth that challenges us and our reality and our identities.  And this fallacy is an easy one to reach for.

But eating bitter is where true growth can happen.

 

* Keep scrolling in that thread — it’s a long list to get to 422+.  There’s also a spreadsheet here:  https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YmZeSxpz52qT-10tkCjWOwOGkQqle7Wd1P7ZM1wMW0E/edit#gid=0  All noted and saved for posterity, so that it cannot be forgotten or denied.

** Also, if you aren’t familiar with all of the logical fallacies, they are mightily powerful to learn about.  Here’s one site that does it in a lighthearted fashion:  https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/  and the more extensive wiki article:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies

It’s Tuesday

I really don’t know what to say.  I don’t know what more could be said that already hasn’t been said, and by many voices and in many more eloquent ways.  And maybe it isn’t a time for me to say much, but instead to listen.

And to that, listen… if this anger is a surprise to you, then I assert you have very likely been either willingly disengaged or deliberately dismissive and smug.  There is a lot of shit happening to people for no (real, justified) reason, a lot of disproportionate infliction of suffering, a lot of power plays and asshattery and sycophancy and pathological hording and so much treatment of others as nothing but pawns and expendable nothings, led by psychopaths who have closed themselves off to human connection.

I even spoke about it just a couple of weekends ago, about myself being table flippy from all the f-ed up parts of our systems that have been made worse and put onto stark display during the ‘natural’ event known as a pandemic.  And how much of that is supported by and held in place by our systems and how much we need to step up and speak up and especially to march to the ballot box and get our hands dirty in wrenching those systems back to serve us and not us serve a system that is designed to only serve a few.  And to that I still hold – step up, wrest control, and point things towards a world that works for everyone, with no one left out.

(And, of course, step one is to recognize that everyone includes EVERYONE.  There are no “that group/race/nationality/fandom/whatever over there are lazy or stupid or evil or lesser than or etc.”  I often think that should go without saying, but, of course as it turns out, it isn’t so automatic.  To many people, their so-called superiority is so much a part of their identity and they are willing to, and even hoping and wanting to, inflict and harm and fight and kill for it.  This is immoral, corrupt, depraved, and an absolute sin.)

But even then I must remember that I get to speak here from a platform of privilege.  I’m table flippy about many shitty things and about people being shitty, but some of those really shitty things I have the absolute luxury of not having to face.  Of not having to worry about.  Of not even having to think about them if I choose not to.

And so there is the moment to choose.  Choose to listen, to think about them, to reckon, and to support the voices, the actions, and the people who are leading things towards equity and justice.  With an absolute emphasis on the listening part, and to listen hard.  To read accounts like the one below, one filled with nothing one might consider extreme or outright cinematic, but the general, daily, so-common-it’s-in-the-background-but-it’s-always-there-like-a-sword-over-your-head experience of living in a system that is geared to make you and keep you a lessor (and potentially dead).  I likely won’t ever have this experience, but I can imagine it, and I must imagine it and listen to it and let it in.  So that I can be a more open person for having done it.  To ensure I account for any of my hidden biases (and remove them wherever I can).  And to be rightfully angered so that I never step over this kind of shit and let it slide.

This needs to end.

Please read this account by Asha Tomlinson, as reported on the CBC:  https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/raising-young-black-man-1.5594179.

 

Voices in Unison

Maybe it’s the environmental regulations that are being abandoned.  Maybe it’s the armed thugs who barged their way into an active legislature without being, at the very least, surrounded by SWAT if not arrested and hauled away.  Especially given that unarmed marginalized groups have largely suffered much worse while protesting peacefully, often while on their own land.  Maybe it’s that large corporations received huge sums of relief while small businesses continue to be shut out in the cold.  Maybe its that those same corporations have been blithely rewarding their shareholders and CEOs with record profit payouts while paying their employees poorly and, most certainly, not building a reserve to bridge this exact kind of downturn.  Maybe it’s that the tippy-top earners have seen their wealth grow by 200+ billion in the past few months while 36+ million people are suddenly unemployed and waiting for relief that may never come.  Maybe it’s the states that are purposefully ending their emergency orders in order to prevent people from collecting unemployment.  Maybe it’s the companies who call their employees ‘heroes’ but then turn around and refuse to pay them a living wage or to even give them proper protection.  Maybe it’s that trillions continue to be spent on military adventurism yet they resisted tooth and nail to spend anything to help the homefront.  Maybe it’s that there has been more domestic deaths now than there were in some of those wars (or things that started wars).

And maybe it’s just the general ineptitude, narcissistic nepotism, and the absconding of responsibility while claiming all the glory.  May you would just like leaders to be competent, thoughtful, and to, well, actually lead.

Maybe it is any of those things, and more, that have you, on some days, wanting to flip a table.  Yeah.  I feel you.  I’m there too.  This crisis has not only exacerbated the f-ed up parts of our system(s), but even more so has made them eminently visible.  It’s enough to sap one’s feeling of agency and the will to do right in the world.

But there is a salve.  While there are many conversations to be had to change the narratives we hold around these issues, it is equally and more worth remembering that these are and are held in place by systems, and specifically they are systems shaped and driven by policy.  And policy can be changed.  We have a kind of superpower we sometimes forget, and it is called the ballot box.   But, like everything else, it is only power if we use it.

If you live in the USA, please check out this YouTube channel aptly named:  How to Vote in Every State 2020.

And know that it may not be easy.  From closing polling places to misleading mailers to gerrymandered districts to limits on absentee ballots to onerous and unnecessary ID laws to dark money groups to all sorts of things, there are many forces trying to limit our voices.  And that doesn’t even count the day to day difficulty of managing work and childcare and everything else that renders our time a precious commodity, and adds to the strain of going to one of those limited voting spots and actually casting a ballot.  Democracy is being limited (and to be clear this is primarily and especially being done by right wing interests and legislators) because the less that we speak, and the less that we can speak, the easier it is for them to hold onto power.

Which is why it is important to start planning now.  Doing the work to register now so you can find what’s needed before the deadline comes.  Making plans with friends, family, co-workers now to ensure things will be covered that day such that and will you have a much higher chance to reach the poll to cast your ballot.  And maybe even to prepare some backup plans.

All so that we can get out there and get legislators and executives – nationally, stateside, and locally (All are important!  Most of what affects us on a day to day basis happens at the local level!) – to alter policy and set up the systems that work for the most good for the most people, moving the needle towards a more just, verdant, healthy, and equitable future.

Philosophy Tuesday

Einstein is reported to have been very much enamoured with compound interest.  While it is unlikely that he – despite the memes floating around – ever proffered any highly quotable declaration on the subject, compound interest is quite a potent thing.  When the growth of something builds upon its previous growth, which then builds further upon that growth in turn, the results pile on real fast.

So it goes not only in the world of finance and savings accounts but also when it comes to all realms of self-cultivation, and in several ways.  For starters, as we develop our mindfulness and work to create clearings from old (and usually unintended) patterns, views, and straightjacketed ways of being, it becomes easier to do more of the same.  With less crud in the way we move more quickly, discover insights more quickly, and develop ourselves more quickly, further compounding our skills in mindfulness and in the arts of living and being in the world.

Even greater are the specific, measurable, as lived results that, as we create those clearings and unleash our agency, power, freedom, self-expression, and peace of mind, naturally show up in our lives.  All those things that we want build up on themselves, creating a compounding train of ever greater results and ever more of what we want.  And when something goes awry – for that is inevitable – we’ve got both the mental/spiritual clarity as well as a nice foundation upon which to remain mindful and thus able to deal with it with proper equanimity and while never denying our humanity.

And humanity is the pinnacle of this compounding greatness.  For just as easily as we can see how the positives in our lives can and do compound, we can easily recognize, get present to, and be willing to confront that negatives can also do the same.  A bad break here can all to readily lead to further bad breaks and downward spirals.  It may have happened in our lives, it may be happening now, but even more than that, it can happen to any of us.  And with that realization we can forestall our judgement about ourselves and, especially, about others.  When we see people down on their luck or struggling or acting out of sorts, who knows what paths were compounded from years ago?  Who knows their starting place?  Who knows what compounded itself downward?  And the same goes in the other direction too.  A single break or a position of privilege quickly pushes these two realms apart.  Neither our nor any one else’s position on the economic/social/etc ladder is ever a pure reflection of either morality or worthiness.

With this in mind we get to synthesize and compound all of the above, taking agency and working on self-cultivation to build ourselves and our lives (and the lives of those around us) while never losing sight that chance and happenstance is never far away, influencing outcomes and ready to put a thumb on the scale.

When we look at our designs for ourselves and the world and when we look at what we want to create and leave behind, we can ask “what do I want to compound?” and go from there.

Strike the E and the P from their name

At this point, I’m fully expecting mustache twirling.

The EPA, under direction from the current administration, suspended its enforcement of environmental laws.

Not just some of the laws and regulations – effectively all of them.  No monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, reporting, or certification obligations.  So long as the company says that it was due to COVID-19 and provides supporting documentation to the EPA upon request.

As if the EPA would request it.  Because there’s no end date set.

Even after the fallout from COVID-19 is done, this can stay on.

Plus the EPA has clearly stated that it won’t pursue penalties if companies break the rules.

There are not even any provisions to take action should a company do something egregious or if there is immediate threat to health – at best the EPA has said they would tell “state authorities.”

This is beyond reprehensible.  They are using the cover of a crisis to cause active and ongoing harm to people, to people’s livelihoods, to the future.  There could be another Cuyahoga River incident tomorrow, and they would shrug.

This is not good.

 

(And just to be sure both sides of their moustaches gets attention, they also just dropped fuel economy standards.)

BailoutBS

So wait.  In the last 5 years, airlines spent $44B on stock buybacks.  That’s 96% of their free cash flow.  Plus billions more on dividends.  They did not improve their services, nor improve their structure, nor, and this is the biggie, did they save anything for the inevitable downturns or other acts of woe.*

They act fiscally irresponsible, line their pockets, impoverish us, and now they want a bailout?  They have the audacity to ask for a bailout?  A bailout that is essentially in size of what they spent on buybacks?

This is why good governance is important.  This is why oversight is important.  This is why societal involvement and accountability is important.

THIS is why your/our vote matters!

 

* Nor, of course, did they boost their employee pay, or working conditions, or aid the consumer in any way… but that’s a whole other story.

** As a whole, the top 500 companies spent $5T on buybacks + dividends vs $4.5T in earnings — they are willingly and wantonly enriching themselves while foisting their liabilities into debt and the public trust & our pocketbooks (by both charging more and paying employees less, plus foisting costs into the environment into which we all live).  All aided by the recent tax code “revision” (read: giveaway).

 

#cdnpoli

Hello my fellow Canadians!  As we travel towards the polls on October the 21st (you are intending to cast a vote, oui?), once again I would like to bring my experience as a current expat to bear and provide some perspective on one of our national political parties, namely the Conservative Party of Canada.  Living as I am right now in a country that, at a federal level, has been pursuing many of the policies of the Conservative Party (or, perhaps more appropriate to say, the Conservative Party has been all to happy to crib from and adopt the policies from down here), I have a close(r) view of the impacts and end results of these policies.

To which should be our focus.  Like all elections, this one is about policy.  It is not about popularity or pageantry, it is about the theories and temperament of governance, the passing of bills, the direction of our laws, the shaping of our systems, and, most importantly, the results thereof.

And the results of the policies and politics favoured by the Conservative party (and their Republican role models) are not great.  In so many ways and by so many measures they have not brought and do not bring what is best for the country, its lands, or most of its people. Continue reading

Quote of the Day

“I saw Activision’s statement about why they “broke up” with Bungie over at GameSpot, but it’s like…  more than seven billion wasn’t “enough” according to the onyx spire they worship.  I don’t think they can be trusted to determine what constitutes enough.

I own a company, I understand that they have to make money, but the top of that organization is completely divorced from every other part of it.  It’s sick in the particular, unaccountable way that is an accelerant to revolution.  The people who generate the wealth they bathe in are so abstract as to be inconceivable.  I have some experience with this; there are people who will pulp you to get a “good year.”  One hesitates to suggest that they serve Evil Gods, you know, far be it from me to make a moral pronouncement, but their purposes are inimical to human flourishing.  The human being, essentially considered fungible and endlessly replaceable in its capacity to generate value, exists nowhere in their calculus.

The parable of the golden goose has endured for a reason, and that is because none of these motherf’rs ever seems to learn it.”

Tycho (from Penny Arcade)

The poison chronicles

“The lack of regulation meant that companies could pretty much put whatever they wanted into food with no fear of being held accountable. “[Food] wasn’t safety tested, because there were no rules requiring that,” says Blum. “It wasn’t labeled because there were no rules requiring that anyone tell you what was in your food. And it wasn’t illegal even if you killed someone.”

Companies were adding copper to vegetables to make them look greener and 20 Mule Team Borax to butter as a preservative—assuming it was butter and not beef tallow or ground-up cow stomach dyed to look like butter. Spices contained things like ground coconut shells, charred rope, brick dust, even floor sweepings. Honey was often little more than dyed corn syrup. The phrase “a muddy cup of coffee” might date back to this era, when ground coffee typically contained dyed sawdust, tree bark, or charred bone, and fake coffee beans were made out of wax and dirt. “I’m especially bitter about this, because I love coffee,” says Blum.

Dairy suppliers were among the worst offenders, adding pureed calf brains to milk to make it look more like rich cream, thinning the milk with water and gelatin, and then adding dyes, chalk, or plaster dust to correct the color. Worst of all, they added formaldehyde—then widely used as an embalming fluid to slow the decomposition of corpses—to milk as a preservative. (The additives were given innocuous names like Rosaline and Preservaline.) Hundreds of children were sickened, and many died, from the tainted milk. Formaldehyde was also used as a preservative in meat.

That was the driving force behind Wiley’s radical “Poison Squad” project. (He actually referred to it as “hygienic table trials”; journalists gave it the more colorful moniker.)  He recruited several young men to be his guinea pigs—all of whom signed waivers—and provided them with three healthy square meals a day. The catch: half of them also were given capsules containing borax, salicylic acid, or formaldehyde. Wiley started with the borax, thinking it would be the safest additive, and was alarmed at how quickly his squad members sickened.

The results convinced Wiley that federal regulation was necessary to protect American citizens from the dangerous and fraudulent practices of food suppliers. Naturally, industry leaders pushed back against Wiley’s proposed legislation. The National Association of Food Manufacturers formed around this time, along with chemical industry manufacturing associations, as companies pooled their resources to oppose the ominous specter of government regulation. They even instituted a smear campaign against Wiley. One trade journal called him “the man who is doing all he can to destroy American business.”

With Roosevelt’s support, Congress finally passed the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.”

— excerpt from this great article at arstechinca

It’s amazing to me that this was just over a hundred years ago.  That until then you had to spend time and effort and worry to check every thing and even with that work could never know for sure if what you were getting was what you thought you were getting and you or others could easily be sickened or maimed or die.

It’s also a great story about the scientific method, of curiosity, of rigour, of courage in the face of opposition, and a commitment to your fellow human beings.

Definitively makes me want to read the book about Dr Wiley.