Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Free Will

Scientific American has a great article about free will. Basically, most researchers generally lean towards a formulation that we do not have free will in the classic sense. Frequently, the argument that we "could have acted differently" is not true.

Unfortunately, these crude descriptions of complex freedom concepts have a strongly negative effect on people. Basically, they can't handle the truth. Nietzsche would be so happy.

Don't worry, everyone. Free will exists. The problem that we have is where the concept of "free will" exists. It exists above the underlying causes that result in "me." We can take this example to an atomic level and argue that everything that will happen is predetermined in the giant billiards game that is atomic interaction because causes and effects have predetermined courses of action. That still doesn't negate free will. Free will exists above atoms. It is a product of those atoms. On a human level, I do have free will to act however I choose to what I encounter. The fact that previous variables have an effect on that choice does not negate free will.

I am the culmination of every moment, both internal and external, in my life. Those moments must have an effect on future moments. I might choose to murder someone, say a black man, because I'm racist. That racism was caused by my family environment to a great degree, but just because it was the primary influence on my decision to hate black people and thus murder one does negate my choice at that time. Morals, much like free will, exists above the underlying variables that define a human. It was still morally wrong for me to kill the man. Having influences on my choice does not make the choice any less a choice.

Looking at humans as the culmination of everything that had come before also negates the Hitler experiment. If we define "Adolph Hitler," simply saying "the German fuhrer during World War II" is inadequate. We would have to define Hitler as "the man who existed who underwent every event as the entity labeled 'Adolph Hitler' by other people." That means that ANY change in his past destroys what we call Adolph Hitler and creates a new one. The new Hitler may be very similar to what we call Hitler, but it would be different. For example, our Hitler took a poop at 3:32pm, on October 22nd, 1933. If we go back in time and clog the toilet, thus preventing him from pooping at that time, we have destroyed Hitler.

Also, saying that killing Hitler would have stopped WWII is entirely wrong. Hitler got many of his ideas from the Thule Society, and Germany was filled with anger and poverty after WWI. In much the same way that a person is a conglomeration of variables, as is a group of people. Germany very likely would have gone to war, anyhow, just with a different leader. WWII would have been entirely different.

We are what we were. Choices are essentially comprised of things that have gone by, because what is a choice but the application of the past on an unknown future?

The words "free will" are nonsensical. What we want free will to mean is beyond the limits of language and understanding.

Choice and free will are necessarily above the underlying concepts that comprise a human. Interaction, past events, and neurophysiology are all parts of free will. We cannot apply it to its own underlying principles. For example, we describe things as "smooth" or "rough." We cannot use those words to describe the atoms that make up materials that we then describe as smooth or rough. Those words require atoms to exist.

Scientists say free will probably doesn't exist, but urge: "Don't stop believing!" (Scientific American)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The New Poor

The NY Times is running a series of articles titles "The New Poor" and chronicling the ever-more-depressing state of the American economy. Stories like this one hit home very hard for me, because when I was younger both of my parents were in some serious financial straights. I remember answering the phone repeatedly to deflect bill collectors. I remember the lawyers. And I remember the eventual bankruptcy.

The problem is, whether free-market whack-jobs want to admit it or not, a side-effect of our capitalist economy. My dad calls it "The Land of the Vultures." When you fall in a strongly capitalist society, the vultures descend upon you. Bill collectors, hucksters, financial companies who make all their money from late fees, etc. These are the people and companies that literally make money from your suffering.

Once you fall, you have to, like an antelope on the savanna, be extremely careful. You never know where a lion might lurk. The problem is not that the lions are out there, the problem is that the lions are dressed like other antelope. They actively attempt to hide what they are. Worse still, they only attack if you're injured to begin with! Credit card companies, shitty car loans, bank fees, check-cashing companies. Any one of these can bring you down. The lion removes its disguise, and before you know it, you're down, the lion is gone, and the vultures descend.

This is one of the issues why the angry white men who scream and holler about free markets and whatnot on Fox News don't understand. They've never fallen. They don't know what it's like to be in the land of the vultures. They've never been on capitalism's shit-list.

I've grown more liberal as I've aged. Maybe because I've seen more friends in the land of the vultures and have grazed it myself. I'm still very strongly a free-market advocate. I think it's quite obvious that the American economy, for all its faults, is the best economic model on the planet. I just think that minor tweaks to issues at the extremes, where the vultures live, can make it even better.

Peddling Relief, Firms Put Debtors in Deeper Hole (New York Times)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Pledge

Notice anything... missing? Perhaps something that may have been added in 1954?

Libertarians are Morons.

Libertarians are morons, and I generally think myself one. I consider the goal of government is to obviate itself and this is a philosophically unavoidable conclusion. That being said, this article is just retarded.

Did this study control for economic status, which is positively correlated with both a conservative viewpoint and IQ level? Did it control for age? Did it control for ANYTHING aside from college education? Which, according to them, is unimportant. They highlight a study that shows that once IQ is controlled for (they used a TEN QUESTION vocab quiz as a proxy for IQ... yeah) education drops to second in a question of economic knowledge. Sooo, basically, people who read a lot know more than those who don't. Alert the media.

And how about mixing in a few pro-progressive economic questions, as opposed to economic questions that are all frequent talking points on Fox News? Moreover, we all know how complex questions given forced simplistic answers always leads to usable data.

As I said, I'm in many ways a libertarian, which is one of the hardest viewpoints for others to understand since government is so omnipresent in the lives of pretty much everyone in existence, but facile, methodologically crap research like this does the position no service. The Caplan & Miller paper it cites can be found in no journal, and it sounds suspiciously like the argument that school benefits stupid people because it rewards diligence, and intelligence is what really matters. Yep. If you're a conservative who flunked out of college, don't worry! You're actually the smart one. Unlike those liberal, commie professors.

This shit got mentioned in the Wall Street Journal. That's why I don't read it, anymore.

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? (Wall Street Journal)
Economic Enlightenment in Relation to College-going, Ideology, and Other Variables: A Zogby Survey of Americans (Some Guy)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Black Culture

I've been thinking about popular black culture and the negative ideal that it has spawned. There seems to be no need to go into the particulars of it, Bill Cosby has that covered, so instead I'll jump right into my thoughts.

I'm beginning to change my mind about popular black culture. One time, not that long ago, I was positive that black culture in the US was a terrible phenomenon that disregarded its heritage and history of the struggle for equality in a violently antagonistic society. Many historians have written about it, and I even had Bill Cosby on my side. And did you ever see the Cosby Show? That guy was right about everything!

But I have come to the realization that a lambasting of pop-black culture is contempocentric. Yes, it seems terrible, now, but what about in the grand scheme of things? Gangsta' culture has been around for barely twenty years! Even in human terms, that's nothing. If a person is a troublemaker for a few days, we don't then generalize that into her entire psyche. We frequently use the word "stage" or "phase." Sociologists will also describe society going through the same sorts of things, just over longer periods of time.

I have begun to think that popular black culture is an important and positive step in the development of "black" America. Basically, for the first time in history, blacks were allowed to act badly. Before this, if you were a black man acting badly, you were either killed or immediately thrown in jail. The incredibly intelligent, upstanding people who were the vanguard of civil rights movement had to be that way. If they were anything but irreproachably dignified they would have been ignored or branded as just some upstart nigger. If anything, we should be happy that our society has finally gotten to the point where blacks can act badly.

Is there racism in this process? Of course. We end up with police profiling, and white kids wanting to be black, and, well, you get the picture. We still have a label that we're using to describe blacks, as opposed to them just being people who are black. Black people breaking the law, as opposed to just people breaking the law. Black college graduates, as opposed to simply college grads. That's somewhat disheartening, but when racism is so deeply ingrained in our culture, our society, even our very population distribution, we're going to have to go through many phases before it's entirely expelled. As for now, I think that Cosby shouldn't be upset. His generation and the generations before him fought for the right for blacks to be fully actualized people in society, and that means being complete assholes, just like the rest of us.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

It's the Gays!

In late 2005, I predicted that we would have nationwide gay marriage within five years. We're nearing the five year mark with nothing yet, so I was a bit early in my prediction.

But research like this indicates that I may have not been all that early. Maybe seven years.

I find this very encouraging. Generally, views like this are difficult to get rid of. Look at the civil rights movement. That was FIFTY YEARS AGO, and we're still dealing with the expulsion of those biases from our system. Of equal importance was the way some of it had to be expelled; the government had to literally force people to accept blacks. We are not a terribly smart species.

As such, dogmatic views, especially those rooted since childhood, usually die with the generation. You hate your parents, and reject a few things about them, but accept a majority. Your parents die, and so dies the few views that your generation rejected. Even seemingly massive cultural shifts end up with people who are eerily similar to those who came before. Look at the hippies, the supposed counter culture who rejected everything that their intolerant, square parents had advocated. What did we get out of that? Yuppies and people who were actually more conservative in many ways.

So it's with great happiness that I am digesting the thought that, with enough exposure, even deeply rooted bigotry can be, at least somewhat, quelled.

Gay? Whatever, Dude (New York Times)

Socialist Conspiracy!!!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Rational Consumer? Pah!

In economics, there's this concept called the rational consumer. Basically, it states that all economic agents (people) are rational and will do what's best for them, or, at the very least, what they think is best for them. This concept scales up to groups of people and corporations. In fact, this very idea was at the heart of Alan Greenspan's behavior as the economy heated up and the real estate market became quite obviously over-heated. He assumed that banks would never drive themselves to ruin, at least not in large numbers. He has admitted that he was wrong.

But even outside of such grand economic examples, we find other areas where the rational entity just doesn't seem to fucking exist! Exhibit A: Wal-Mart. Wally World was aware of widespread gender discrimination in 1995, and was warned about their exposure to a possible lawsuit. For six years, they did nothing. Nada. Squat. Then, shocker, in 2001, just such a lawsuit was filed!

It really makes you wonder. Is this theory completely off base? Does the rational consumer actually not exist? Because remember, this aspect of classic economic theory assumes that nearly everyone is rational, and only very few are irrational. I'm beginning to think that it's the opposite.

Report Warned Wal-Mart of Risks Before Bias Suit (New York Times)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Daily Show

In this clip of the Daily Show, Stewart goes up against the president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks.

First off, the man complains about expansions in power under the Bush administration. Funny, considering that both Dick and Lynne Cheney are senior fellows.

The point that annoys me is that they BOTH discuss the concept of a liberal conspiracy and use the liberalism of professors as evidence that there is a group out there attempting to corrupt our students.

First, I never met a professor who was the super-liberal socialist that Brooks seems to see as the enemy. Without polling data of academics with widely known questions, I consider it a straw man not worthy of consideration.

Second, this study shows that even if the professors are trying to indoctrinate their students, they aren't succeeding.

Liberal ideals are a symptom of youth, not professorial manipulation. Everyone thinks that they can change the world.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Arthur Brooks Unedited Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Arthur Brooks Unedited Interview Pt. 2
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Do Liberal Professors Indoctrinate Students? (Outside The Beltway)