Monday, May 30, 2011

Immigration Is Good

This is the kind of information that needs to be disseminated far and wide in this fucked up country.

IMMIGRATION IS GOOD! If it wasn't for immigration, the United States wouldn't be the United States. We wouldn't have Chinese food, or Italian food. We wouldn't have Wall Street, or modern philosophy. There is no aspect of our life that hasn't been touched by immigrants! From our diets, houses, and technology, to the way that we dress and talk. The US is the greatest nation on Earth precisely because we've been filled by the globe's best and brightest for the past two-hundred years.

Myopic, racist, bigoted, xenophobic pricks have attacked every major immigrant group in history! The Irish and Italians were literally beaten to death in the streets. Our reactions to outside groups has been one of the worst manifestations of our worst characteristics.

It's ironic that those who are most likely to hate immigrants are also those most likely to get angry at the idea that their "daddy was a monkey," all the while they act like a bunch of angry, shit-throwing, violent, horrible, animalistic chimpanzees.

Just go fuck yourselves, you pieces of shit. I mean this in every way possible; The world will be better off when you are dead, and your house is inhabited by an immigrant who has actual skills.

70% of Science Award Finalists Are Children of Immigrants (

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Great BBC Protestant Documentary

The flow of great documentaries out of the BBC is seemingly endless. I just finished watching Niall Ferguson's Civilization: Is The West History, which was problematic, and I already find this one.

I like this one more, but it still falls for what I consider the fallacy of causation. I take a sort of James Burkeian perspective, which I consider the correct perspective, that there is no linear causation in history. There are webs of causation. So to say that the Protestant Reformation was the root of all of these things is an inaccuracy.

Regardless of that almost exegetical issue, I find this documentary, and its presenter, really compelling. They present the effects of the Reformation entertainingly, while not sacrificing information density.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Where Do We Stop?

The single biggest issue in academic philosophy is where we stop our quest for justification. While I don't think that some set of the population will ever quit, if for no other reason than to justify their paychecks from the university, it is time for us as a group to quit and move forward with some necessary assumptions.

I'll call this The Philosopher's Manifesto, for lack of a better title.

I got to thinking about this because of religious philosophy's attempt at undermining my confidence in my own beliefs so as to place it on the same, irrational level as religious belief. This question invariably results in absolute skepticism, negating everything, which just makes it stupid.

Basically, me believing my senses is foundational. Not foundational in the philosophical sense, since this doesn't indicate truth, but foundational in that if I reject my senses, I'm left with nothing. And if "truth" insofar as my senses are concerned results in consistent experiences, then that truth is as good as we can ever get.

I see the list of safe assumptions thusly:
  • My senses are reliable representations of themselves. As in, if I am seeing red, I know that I am seeing red.

  • There is a world "out there," and this world is "real."

  • Our senses are an imperfect representation of what the world truly is.

  • We can never determine what the world truly is. This is a metaphysical reality to which we have absolutely no access.

  • Philosophy is an attempt at determining the "real" nature of the world. This cannot be achieved, but much like absolute zero, we continue to try.

  • There is no homunculus. I do not have sensations, those sensations are literally a part of "me."

  • The assumption of the existence of other minds is reasonable, but dangerous. It can lead to overreaching assumptions about other people being like me.

  • With other minds assumed, I can rely on their testimony to add weight to my beliefs about my own sensations, since I assume that their sensations are similar to mine.

  • I now have to two forms of verification. Internal: I can look at a ball, see that it is red, put it away for a day, examine it again and see that it is still red. And external: I can look at a red ball, say "red ball," and see if others agree and say "red ball."

This seems like a pretty good foundation to go forward. Descartes' obsession with determining that the world isn't an illusion ultimately determined nothing. Even IF the world is an illusion, as long as it's consistent, we're fine. Remember, the reason why the Matrix wasn't good and real is precisely because it wasn't consistent. If it had been, we'd be totally fine living in it. And the "real" world, outside of the Matrix, was only real because it was consistent. How could they know that the "real" world wasn't another illusion?

Answer: They couldn't. So why bother?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Atheism Is Not Fundamentalist

In the current philosophical debates on religion, most respected apologists realize that there is no way to justify religious belief. Instead, the focus is on trying to reduce the foundations of everyday belief.

Essentially, they argue "Yes. I have no reason to believe in God. But YOU have no reason to believe the world. So our beliefs are, in fact, on equal ground."

Little do the religious nuts who espouse this belief know, they're right. They aren't right for the reasons they think, though. They think that they've reduced our perceptions to a fundamentalist belief, but they haven't.

Our sensations are forced upon us. They are us. I (Aaron) am my sensations. I am my beliefs. I am a complex construct that includes beliefs and sensations. I have no reason to believe that sensations are true in some metaphysical sense, they simply are.

For example, my sensations are frequently "wrong." I say wrong in quotes because right and wrong are subjective based on experience. For example, I might look off in the distance and see a tall man, but when I get close to him, I find out that he is, in fact, short. We would say that I was wrong in my initial conception of his height. But I wasn't. At that moment, I saw a short man. That's the only truth that there is.

We can try to argue that there exists some truth outside of our perception, and I actually find that somewhat compelling, if not really cogent, but we can never achieve that. Whereas religious believers feel that they are right, I do not. I am keenly aware that what I see is not a foundation for truth.

If we assume the existence of other minds*, our perceptions are above religious dogma. Not only are they forced upon us -we do not choose to see- but they are highly reliable from person to person. When I seek scientific support for a belief, I can point to the evidence and others will agree that I am pointing at evidence. Religion absolutely does not have this.

If we assume that we have no reason to assume other minds, and their testimony is useless to determine justification, thus returning our perceptions and faith to similar grounds, we are forced into absolute skepticism. At that point, yes, our confidence in our senses is zeroed, but our confidence in anything is zeroed. The religious have reduced their own beliefs to meaninglessness. They are still fools for believing their creed.

But even here, I am not a fool for believing my sensations. They are the only thing that I have. They are imperfect, but they are something. The reason why religious arguments are correct is because science and antitheism are dogmatic in that they hold that truth is good, non-truth is bad. This is a dogma.

There is good reason for this dogma, though. Namely, truth and belief are the wellspring from which our action flows. We don't know what truth is, since we are limited by our senses in determining it, but it is the best course we have. For example, if someone throws an orange at me, I will duck. My sensations told me "it is true that an orange is flying at you." I act based upon that, and I do not feel pain.

But since our sensations cannot be trusted, we might have been hit by the orange and not known it. We don't KNOW. We don't know if we're actually acting. The argument is vaguely circular, in that we're relying on sensation to confirm the validity of our sensations. But to deny our sensations pushes us, again, into absolute skepticism.

And, again, that absolute skepticism reduces religion to the same position of non-justification. I might be a fool, but you're an even bigger one because you believe more unjustified things than I do.

So, yes, atheism, antitheism, and science are predicated on the dogmatic belief that truth is better than non-truth. Everyone recognizes that the best we can really hope for is justification, and that justification is a circular system based upon reciprocal validation of sensations. But while the scientific argument falls apart on "Yes. I would duck if an orange was thrown at me," religion broke down LONG before that. As far as I'm concerned, science is way better off.

*: I've talked about this before. Other minds is the problem that we do not know that other people have internal worlds similar to our own. For all we know, they are advanced robots programmed to act like humans. The assumption that others have minds seems to be inborn, as experiments continue to indicate. This is the root of our ability to "get inside someone else's shoes." It's guessed that those who lack this inborn mechanism (or mental organ or module, whichever term you like) are what we call autistic.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Civilization: Is The West History

Niall Furgeson, who has said some really stupid stuff in the past, has produced a 6-part documentary series that I think is rather good. As far as British productions go, it's not up there with Connections or anything, but still very much worth a watch.

He makes a lot of sweeping declarations in this series with which I completely disagree. I also don't like his usage of the terms "killer apps" and "west." The former sounds too much like a desperate attempt to be hip, and the second term is one that I find incorrect at its core. How is he defining the west? Are we just a group of people? He seems to indicate that the west was defined by ideas that allowed it to dominate. But now, large parts of the world have appropriated those ideas. So isn't the west still winning?

If we are simply talking about groups of people, then the fluidity of population groups that's allowed in the modern world renders labels difficult. And if ideas are equal, saying that China will "defeat" the United States is silly. Whichever country has the largest population will necessarily have the largest economy.

We can extend the argument even to "western" civilization, today. For example, is the United States defeating Japan, Sweden, or Germany? We have the bigger economy. We're producing the most shit. But it's absurd to say that we are beating them.

My argument is in essence semantic. The West could never be consigned to history if the West's ways are what dominate the entire planet. That is unless we're defining the West as nothing more than a group of people, and today, defining culture, country, and society as simply a group of people is ignorant.

He starts the series with some sweeping statements which I think are unsupportable, but then backs off a bit and it becomes much more an entertaining journey through history. He then returns to sweeping statements in the last episode, where he argues that the Protestant work ethic, work hard and don't spend it, is what put England, the US, and Germany on top of the world.

I find this thesis absurd. I think the "killer app" for America, Britain, and Germany was the abandonment of royalty. This fosters a belief that you too can succeed and reach that brass ring. The more hope people have for being rich, the harder they're going to work to reach that goal. It's this that helps to explain why the biggest difference between the US and Europe, the sheer number of our successful start-ups, are done by those who are not religious.

It also explains why so many movers and shakers are Jewish. Or why Japan, once stripped of the focus on the group and the emperor, became an industrial powerhouse in twenty-five years, and why China is doing the same thing. It wasn't protestantism, it was a belief that you can succeed. People in China worked their bloody asses off long before the west came 'round, only now, that work helps them and not others.

I also laughed at is claim that China is importing Christianity. About 12% of believers are Christian, which works out to about 3% of the population. And since we have no data, we don't know when these people started believing. Religion was once banned, and Christianity has a habit of being strongest when it's under attack. Chinese religion is wildly difficult to measure, but the one thing we can be sure of is that Christianity is dwarfed by Buddhism, Taoism, and even explicit atheism.

I do find his insight about multiple churches competing for followers compelling, though. The only addition that I have is that protestantism had little to do with it, it was the huge expanses of land that frequently separate settled areas. This allowed multiple types of churches to spring up. In Europe, the population was much denser. Again, this helps to explain why religion is strongest in the more rural areas of the US; areas with farms, and the out-there areas of the American South West.

Feruson closes by voicing his fear that the west is losing its edge. He says some frighteningly Randian things about the importance of property rights, which highlights a big issue I had with his overall concept. He thinks that the United States became dominants because people could become land-owners and thus voters. He assumes that land was valuable in the US like it was in Europe, which I think is wrong. Land the US was worthless. The issue was that in Europe, there was no land. It was all taken up. Land was valuable, money wasn't, because you knew that your land would always produce more.

In the US, this was reversed. Yes, people could become land-owners, but it was what happened after land acquisition that was actually important: the vote. The land itself simply came along for the ride because people thought that land was valuable. That was of course, until they came here and found out that even being a land-owner sucked. Being the money holder is what became important in the US, which again helps to explain the rise of Jews in the US. They had a lot of money.

He takes a swipe at governments who "violate our property rights" to tax us and "waste our money." Again, sounding dangerously Randian, here. What rights? How are they violated? Is the money actually being wasted? How is it being wasted. This was a massive statement to make that he just casually tosses out there.

Property isn't important. It's only seen as important because there's so damned little of it in Europe. And by that, I mean the assumption that people need to be land owners to succeed. Are property laws important? Yes. Of course they are. But they're just as important as any law about shit that is "mine" or "yours."

When Ferguson remains conservative in his statements, the documentary is at is best and most credible. When he gets sweeping, it falls on its face.

Friday, May 13, 2011

What Does This Smell Like To You?

"The Evolution 525 uses a highly stable linear power supply rather than an inferior switching style to ensure more consistent and reliable disc drive operation. Separate power for the drive mechanism, digital circuitry, analog, and video circuitry prevents interference. A custom-wound toroidal power transformer, 10 times larger than those found in typical players, provides tremendous current reserves and assures low-noise analog stage operation. Extensive multi-regulation delivers rock-steady power to all gain stages, ensuring maximum dynamic impact."

If that paragraph aroused you a little bit, you might well be an audiophile. It is the description of the power supply for a CD/DVD player from Krell Industries. It costs $14,000. You are paying $14,000 for something that does nothing more than play CD's and DVD's. Think about that.

I love audio equipment. I have about $3,000 worth of audio/video junk in my living room and add more every year. But at the same time, I have nothing but distaste for the bulk of the "audiophile" world, since it's primarily very expensive snake oil about which men get self-important. I say men, because I don't think that there is a single female audiophile on Earth.

There is a significant amount of substance to audiophile equipment. Anyone who's ever listened to the output of $10,000 amps knows full well that the money is going somewhere. The argument at that point becomes whether there's any difference between a $30,000 amp and a $10,000 amp. I know that there is a difference, but worth thousands of dollars? Not on your life.

So the audiophile equipment makers rely on fancy words to make their shit seem reasonable. It's here that they reveal themselves to be just another watch. Watch? Yes. Men can buy watches that cost millions of dollars. You have not encountered insipid, shallow, self-important blather until you've had an overly-entitled man talk to you about the technology that went into his watch. The watch example is more salient to more people because watches and personal ornamentation are more widespread, but the underlying principle is the same. For the same reason the average person would shoot someone who tried to talk about their Rolex, the average person would shoot someone who wants to talk about their $30,000 amplifier.

Back in the day, there was more substance to audiophile hardware. Alloys were crap, connectors were poor, we didn't understand the technology as well as we do, today. But that was an analog world. There was a waveform that went from the media to the speakers, and every step affected that waveform. Today, there is no waveform. There are ones and zeroes. Those ones and zeroes remain identical at every step. But an audiophile company can't live on amps alone. Oh, no. So it must conjure up products that people will buy more often, like receivers and players, and it must likewise conjure up claptrap to go along with them so you don't feel like you're simply being taken for a ride.

Nothing in the opening paragraph has any substance, and it takes very little analysis to come to that conclusion. It's written like the word spaghetti from an electrical engineers mid-term paper. I asked what it smells like to you, because it smells remarkably like bullshit to me.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Hooker Teacher and America's Sex Shame

The Hooker Teacher has written an article for Salon. In it, Melissa Petro describes how she, holder of dual Masters degrees, was revealed to have a past as a stripper and prostitute. Since her past has been revealed, and after being fired, she is entirely unable to get a job.

The degree of the online shaming, and even some of the comments on Salon, reveal in stark contrast what's wrong with America. We are sexist. We are sex-obsessed. And we are disgustingly moralistic.

Prostitution remains a heartbreaking problem not only because it is illegal when it shouldn't be, but because even if it was legal, our culture still shames it. We still look down upon it. People doing it want to keep it secret for fear of events like this. That might not be legal ostracizing, but it is cultural. And that cultural bias will find its way into police work, and prostitutes won't get the protection that they deserve, thus furthering pimps and sex worker violence.

And don't think for a second that this sort of reaction would happen to men who were revealed to be porn stars or prostitutes. For them, culture might see it as a bit seedy, but still well within the boundaries of male behavior. No. Only women are sluts. Men are studs.

This illustration of our sex obsession is also infuriating. Look at religion, look at television, movies, and schools. We are FIXATED on sex. It's everywhere, and nowhere is it more explicitly obsessed over than in the moralistic halls of religion. We can't get enough of it and yet we hate it, and we really hate anyone who doesn't engage in the same self-loathing as us. As such, prostitutes, who, being women, should be especially self-loathing, are looked at as literal pariahs.

This reminds me of the secretary who was recently outed as an ex porn star by a student. The fact that the student tried to blackmail her and demanded sexual favors (this kid was fourteen, mind you) was seemingly missed in the media's focus on her being a porn star. The secretary was fired, because obviously enjoying sex in the past makes you evil.

The root of this problem is male dominated religion, of course. Men are obsessed with porn stars and prostitutes because of the sexual aura around them. I obviously have no support for this theory, but I suspect that religion's obsession with sex is because western religions were started by ugly men who couldn't get laid. Thus, they hated what they couldn't get. That's pretty basic psychology, and I'm simply projecting on those in the past. In fact, the only major religious figure of whom I can think that apparently could get laid was Augustine.

I can also point to current-day cults and micro-religions. Ever notice how they all have a serious focus on sex, and the leader is always a guy, and that guy seems to frequently get in trouble for weird sexual behavior? Yeah.