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Archive for the ‘Philosophic Ponderings’ Category

(originally published May 26, 2009 @16:12 EST)

All day long yesterday for Memorial day I found myself recalling various men I have felt proud to know in my lifetime and the stories they would tell; at fishing camp, at hunting camp, around campfires, over beers, among friends. Stories of their time in the service and in some rare cases of their times on the front lines. (although those recollections were more frequent in the old timers, and even then generally focused on things that had happened only to them)
It didn’t occur to me to pass any of them along until this morning, so I thought I would go over some of them in brief to share their tales (as I recall them) and pass them along.

So here’s to Reese from Sheep’s Pasture, to the stories he would tell of a bunch of young marines trained in Florida deep in the everglades running on unseen boards made to resemble walkways in rice paddies, feeling their way with sticks and risking splashing down with not only the murky waters, but the gators hiding within.

US Marine Patrol

US Marine Patrol

To stories of young leathernecks going on first leave after having it drilled in their heads for weeks that they were the meanest, roughest, toughest, baddest sons of bitches to ever walk the face of the earth – and to the stories of the fist fights and timely flights (from authorities) that soon ensued.
Here’s to the young marine finally coming home after his tours in Viet Nam in a full leg cast who got off the plane to see his family across the tarmac and becoming delighted, only to be confronted head on by two dirty, long haired protesters who spat in his face screaming baby killer.
And here’s to the two cops who scooped him up after he busted the first one’s face open while balancing on his crutches and was already going after the second, who in spite of the screams from the activists to “arrest him!”, brought him through the security entrance, smiled and said “semper fi brother, now get the hell out of here or we ‘will’ have to arrest you”
(Reese told no stories of the time between basic and coming home – Rest in Peace)

Here’s to Smitty, also from fish camp at Sheep’s pasture, a thin older gent who told us of the time he was brought before his superiors for a samurai sword he had found. It turned out to be an officers sword that he had picked up after entering a cave to see a smiling Japanese soldier holding his hands up in the air saying in broken English “I surrender” – and here’s to the fellow soldier behind Smitty that caused him to look down only to see the tip of a Thompson open fire from where it had been inserted under his arm, and to the hand that grabbed the back of his neck to fling him back out of the mouth of the cave just as the grenade the Japanese officer was holding in his upraised hand fell free and detonated.

Okinawa Beachhead

Okinawa Beachhead

To the story he told of when the zeros buzzed the Okinawa beachhead and he took (he thought) two shots in his arm, to the medic that bandaged him up and secured his arm to his side so he could, with the help of another soldier that was wounded in the opposite arm, still manage to assist in moving wounded on stretchers for the remainder of the hours of fighting that ensued. Only after which did he think to seek out a field surgeon to actually get treatment, where they discovered the third shot that had gone right through his lower abdomen.
Upon hearing the shot was more than 4 hours old and seeing where it passed, the triage nurse pronounced him essentially ‘already dead’ and went to attend to other ‘more hopeful’ patients. Obviously he was not about to settle for this and had to argue considerably to even be treated due to all the other wounded on the beach. He was made to wait even longer and eventually wheeled in to a dirty side room, given no anesthesia, cut the length of his side and ‘sloshed back and forth’ with a liquid poured into the incision that he described as having the look and smell of urine. (it wasn’t, but was some low-frills antiseptic that they could justify ‘sparing’ on a ‘dying man’)
He showed us the scars including the marks where they had sewn him back up with wire staples, as they didn’t want to waste any sinew on him either, hoping to spare it for men they actually thought could be saved.
And here’s to that stubborn man who passed out only to wake up 3 hours later in a hospice wing of a makeshift tent, damned them for leaving him to die and walked back into the OR where he finally received proper sutures and ultimately got a real bed in intensive care to continue his recovery.
(rest in peace Smitty! And thanks for the hand made net, it’s still one of my most prized possessions)

And here’s to Kenny from Spud farm who told us of how he was on board the USS Franklin when a Japanese Kamikaze nearly broke her in two.

USS Franklin listing

How he and some of his shipmates had to navigate a catwalk on the backside of the control tower to avoid the flames, suspended on nothing but a 6″ ledge more than 4 stories above the ocean. About how he turned just in time to see one of his best friends for the very last time falling to the ocean below after a secondary explosion shook the whole ship.
Here’s to the three hours he spent in near freezing waters after the second kamikaze hit sent him into the frigid waters as well. And to the simple apple that helped keep him alive – as when he would grow tired and almost give up, he would see the apple bobbing 2-3 wave crests away, just briefly enough to give him something to keep swimming after.
Here’s to the guys that eventually showed up to scoop up the dead bodies onto their already overflowing flatboat, only to tell Ken that they would send a crew back for him as they had no room. And here’s to them agreeing to pick him up after hearing him say “if you do that, you’ll be picking me up instead along with the rest of the dead!” (try to imagine that ride back, where the only room is on top of the bodies!)

Here’s to Mike who’s story I almost didn’t want to include as I didn’t want to make him look bad, but the state of mind it details I doubt anyone reading could imagine doing otherwise.
Still trying to shake off the experiences of combat, he decided to accept an invitation to ‘relax’ by going hunting on a friend’s private property. As he walked to his blind, some ‘slob’ who was trespassing and poaching on this friends private land, apparently thought it was a good idea to shoot at any sound of movement.
Being fresh out of the service, Mike told us (trying to be funny but still showing in his face how much it disturbed him) the sound of the shell hissing by his head caused instinct to take over and the next thing he knew, he was hiding behind a 5″ ball of dirt and had emptied his shotgun in the direction of the fired ‘near miss’. (fortunately enough missing as well)

US Marine Escort near Baghdad

US Marine Escort near Baghdad

(thank you Mike for teaching me your variant of Darwin’s rule, “people that are prone to do stupid, dangerous or self-destructive things…. should!”)

Here’s to my cousin Jim who also didn’t go into a lot of detail about his experience in Iraq, but did comment on the frustration he and his other marines had when coming within sight of Baghdad during Desert Storm – only to be pulled back at the last minute. I still remember the certainty in your words back then that “we should have been allowed to finish, we’ll only end up having to come back”.

To my namesake Webster Abial Wood who dodged musket fire and cannon balls at Gettysburg in the war to preserve our union. Who at first I wondered about his ‘bravery’ as he was a member of the drum core and played the fife in the 24th Michigan band.

Thomas Nasts Drummer Boys

Thomas Nast’s Drummer Boys

That is until I read more on the civil war… about the battles on fields covered in white smoke from black powder muskets and cannons. Story after story where men wrote in their diaries of looking to their immediately left and immediately right to barely make out just one of their fellow soldiers through the smoke and to hear the pace of the drum to match their steps as they had been trained. The drums marking the pace to keep the line in step, the steady beat as a heart to the line signifying their ranks had not been broken. And the stories of returning fire where the sounds of the ‘enemy’ drums and the bugles on the other side of the field often gave you the only point of aim through opaque clouds of smoke.
To stories of friends, neighbors and brothers meeting as opponents in our nations bloodiest war, but still being civil enough to pass letters, foodstuffs and other token items in small boats across the blood stained rivers separating their lines after the sun set and fighting subsided for the night.
And to the knowledge of Webster leading the army band for the melancholy honor of playing for an assassinated president’s funeral procession in Illinois.

Here’s to my grandfather ‘Woody’ who also didn’t speak to much around me about his time in the first world war while in the Navy. But who raised my father and consequently passed on to me an understanding of the values that made this country great and an appreciation for the men that helped make it that way.

—-

You may have noticed by now what I already eluded to. These men would tell stories of the good times, of the times before the war or immediately after. Of things that happened only to them where they got out alive in spite of adversity. But many of such a story would bring up a name, or refer to a person and the story would finish, the men would either bow their heads or stare off into space and go silent for a long time. After which they would turn to one another as only their fellow veterans could understand, raise their glasses “To them!”

There was yet another theme that ran through the stories as well. I ran across an interesting quote yesterday from none other than George Orwell:

All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.

All the men I named believe in their country, treasure their freedom and would fight for it with their lives. Some of them signed up voluntarily out of a sense of duty and honor, others out of little more than need and no where else to go, and still others were drafted and answered the call. None wanted to repeat their ‘unspoken’ experiences, but I have no doubt any one of them would join up with such a cause again if the need arose and our country was threatened.

But don’t be mistaken!

The only man standing is in a wheelchairAs every one of them told their stories, it was easily understood. When they were in the line of fire, on the front lines and in the middle of a firefight, they no more fought for ideals of freedom or country then they did out of a sense of duty or honor. No, they fought for their fellow soldiers – their friends, and for the hope that someday soon they would be home with people they loved.

So most of all, here’s to the men I never met, to the stories I never heard, to the laughs we never made about the good times. Here’s to the horrors I never learned from those that did return, from the stories they kept to themselves and their sleepless nights. Here’s to the silent moments, the hung heads and the solemn toasts. Here’s to the old man in his dress uniform shedding a tear over some memory only he holds – always trying to keep it out of his mind but making sure he never forgets. Here’s to the unknown soldiers in the unmarked graves on battlefields far away, and to the events that never made best sellers or Hollywood movies.

I never met any of you, never heard your stories but be damn sure, I will never forget you!
unknown_1777892b

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The Machinery of Freedom?

Lately I have engaged in a number of arguments with people supporting anarcho-capitalist notions. Many of the most extreme of these not only will throw out ambiguous desires for no government, but some of them have stumbled upon a few obfuscatory references to support their claims – or so it appears. Many those immediately point to the same video on youtube (The Machinery of Freedom).

mof

I’m reluctant to post a link to that post, because it’s a bunch of nice sounding rhetoric that makes the ideas of the Anarcho Capitalists seem workable – or at least sound more appealing. From what I understand, it’s an excerpt from a book (?) of the same name. I will admit I have not read the book, as of yet, I see no compelling reason to do so, especially if this excerpt is a representative example of the kinds of arguments the book attempts to make. The video in particular is talking about how police and courts can be handled by private ‘agencies’ like insurance agencies but with policing powers.

My take on ‘Anarchistic’ (non) government

Let me take an aside for a moment and speak to my own opinions of Anarchistic systems I have heard proposed and what I assert the consequences would be. In general, any time in history an anarchistic system is either established intentionally or results consequentially anywhere that a prior existing ‘government’ system (tyrannical or representative), the inevitable result in virtually all cases is for the society or region to fall quickly into tyranny. About the only exception to this is ‘frontier’ states where a migration of people are in the process of moving in, and the government they came from eventually moves in with them. (in other words, the desire is to bring not only themselves, but their culture and the means to maintain it with them)
As a result, I assert that the only time an anarchistic system can exist is when any other form of government is impracticable. Namely when the population is so low and the people are so spread out that a formal government is not only something that would be unfeasible, but is mostly unnecessary.

Some banter around words like ‘anarcho-socialism’ which is even more of an absurdity. A pseudo-marxist voluntary system where everyone just gets along and shares out of their love of the common good. (Whenever I hear this one, I start looking to see if the person is wearing Ruby slippers and chanting “There’s no place like social utopia… There’s no place like social utopia…”)

The basic conclusions that I arrive at whenever I examine suggested ‘anarchistic’ systems is that they will degrade into uncontrolled in fighting between ‘factions’ that spring up – aka ‘tribalism’ and ad-hoc governments will start to spring up despite any desire forbid governments (or certain types of them) to exist. Ultimately, the most brazen and charismatic leaders of these tribal factions will begin to gain a power base which will cause others in less powerful factions to side with the few remaining. The more brutal and irrational, without a basis of rules, will be the one that wins and it will either be beholden too or have to outright attack those with the most wealth first in order to achieve it’s ends. And those ends are tyranny rampant with brutality.

To the credit of the ‘anarchist’ thinkers, I am prone to agree with them that government based systems are also prone to a slow creep to tyranny regardless. But I’m also prone to think that a properly formed government will last far longer and produce better results than any ad-hoc system which is what ultimately results from any anarcho-based system. The best argument I ever heard in favor of anarchy was someone that didn’t describe it as lack of organized government, but a lack of ‘rulers’ – based on the original etymology of the word. At least the view is honest. (although the individual that communicated this to me was one of the ones that forwarded me the link to the video mentioned above)

So what about these Agencies?

In regard to the system outlined in the video itself (and any closely related to it), upon watching the whole thing, my most immediate questions are:

  1. how is that not going to continually erupt into conflict when two (or more) ‘competing’ agencies are marketing their ‘services’ to different groups with different interests and goals?
    and
  2. what is going to prevent that from eroding into serving primarily the ‘clients’ with the biggest pockets and/or most friends?

posseI used to bring up examples of the old west, and while I understand that the stories of the shootouts were more the exception than the norm, the nature of the law being somewhat ‘flexible’ based on whoever had the most gumption and the biggest posse was the only ‘working’ example of what they were talking about that I was aware of. And there were enough examples in the old west of that system failing to reach proper ‘justice’ and thus not being as ‘peachy’ as they describe it. So i always challenge people supporting such ideas to give a ‘working example’.

The honest ones will try to suggest, that just like the minarchism (which is what I support) in the US, it’s a bold, new idea that has never been tried but should be. The less honest will try to point to places where the anarchistic nature of the (lack of) government was simply a consequence of the nomadic or spread out population involved. One such example someone raised was Greenland – I looked it up. As soon as the population started to rise, the imperial influences in Europe came in and enacted a totalitarian regime.

Has it really never been tried?

But as I watched that video, something about what they were describing sounded familiar. And not from the old west. But at first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I ended up watching some portions of it a couple of times and finally it hit me. It has been tried. A lot. The thing that I couldn’t hit on is that I had this impression in my head – it came initially as just a hunch, but once I realized the nature of what they were describing, I realized there were examples of it – that the only way there can be ‘multiple agencies’ in a single region is if the agencies have very similar goals and if those agencies have formal agreements (i.e. “government”) between one another not only as to how they will pursue those goals to mutual benefit, but to address what to do when their goals come into conflict.

Any other instance of multiple agencies with competing goals being in the same geographical region, as I was inclined to think, break down into endless conflict or results in the multiple agencies drawing lines in the sand based on whatever geography each of them can secure and defend. And even then, the feelings of resentment from their ‘customers’ carry on for years, even decades and centuries and conflicts at their borders generally continue with that resentment. People who used to live on one side of the line want back what they had. People who were moved against their will want to strike back.

Then the money and influence is also exemplified over and over again. Agencies as they describe, do in fact pander and cater to specific desires of the ‘customers’ they claim to represent. If those in charge of an agency, once confined to a given set of geography, feel bold enough, they will even turn on their customers and use the power they have amassed for their own ends. And even when this doesn’t happen, money and influence constantly peck at the doors and convince some running or working for the agencies to suit their needs above the needs of the rest of the ‘customers’.

History is the evidence

No, the anarcho-capitalist’s “agency” approach isn’t anything new at all. They just fail to see how the mixing of opposed ‘customers’ does turn into an endless shootout. It’s happened. In Israel. In Ireland. In Rowanda. In Korea. In Viet Nam. In Cambodia. In Eastern Europe.

If you haven’t figured it out yet yourself, the corollary is international politics. And ask anyone if they want a system that mirrors the one that spawned holy wars, inquisitions, imperial conquests, world wars, nuclear cold wars, etc. I have a feeling, anyone with a brain will say ‘NO’!

international

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walkie talkie kid

I don’t recall my elders ever commenting on me using my walkie talkie too much growing up. Of course, there was a problem with using walkie-talkies too much. The battery life and the range were both greatly limited. But I got to thinking about playing with walkie-talkies as a kid today after thinking about how many of the older generation now express concern over the younger generation spending too much time playing with cell phones.

One of the most frequent comments I hear is generally along the lines of “we did just fine without cell phones” and tends to involve side references to how, instead, they went outside and played or would actually go interact with their friends in person. Fair enough criticism and one that I considered (and still do consider) has some merit. But not so much since I thought about the walkie-talkies.

Sure, there were other devices that we had, some of which equally raised hackles in our parents and their friends. My brother was obsessed with his Coleco electronic football game for a while as was I with the racing game. In high school, some of the nerdier guys I knew all got HP48c scientific calculators and used to spend hours trying to program rudimentary software into them to do a plethora of inane things hardly worthy of the time it required to achieve them.

“Look, I wrote a program last night that tells me the time in Shri Lanka!”
“And we need to know the time in Shri Lanka because why?”

But the closest analog to the modern cell phone has to be the walkie-talkie. For those of you that might be from my generation or slightly before, you probably know what I’m talking about even if you haven’t considered the comparison. The first thing you did after making sure they worked – a process that generally involved about 20 minutes of tinkering with batteries, switches and buttons – was to hold them next to one another pressing the buttons on each at once. This usually produced a loud squalk which could sometimes pre-occupy those kids new to the concept of audio-feedback for another 30 minutes. But once the initial fascination with the devices and the feedback subsided, the ultimate use of hand-held walkie-talkie radios was finally put to the test…

And without question, that involved getting out of sight of one another. Walkie-talkies made no sense what-so-ever if you could hear the guy talking within earshot. It didn’t even make much sense if you could see what he was doing, especially because the most common subject of conversation amounted to “what are you doing?” and the corresponding response. Needless to say, the nature of the ‘walkie talkie’ was to be out of line of sight from your friend. More often than not, the bulk of the first few weeks of playing with walkie-talkie radios involved an endless series of tests to see just ‘how far out of sight’ you could get from one another and still be able to converse. Once the initial fascination with wireless communications settled down, then and only then would you try to figure out things to do that did not revolve directly around the concept of getting-as-far-away-from-one-another-as-possible.

Another common practice, and one that would also generate concern from parents would be if and when two kids in close proximity could figure out how to use the walkie-talkies to converse while still in their own houses, especially the privacy of their own bedrooms. While this too caused concern with parents, it was generally not over the devices distracting from other activities — well that is except for the most common activity that generated the concern, going to bed instead of talking on the damn radio all night!

walkie talkies

As I mention, the devices were limited though, so there was not nearly as much concern. If you talked in them too much, the batteries went dead and getting mom or dad to buy you more batteries was an effort that became more difficult with increased use of the radio and increased frequency of need for new ones. So ad-hoc communications such as with the modern day cell phone and the advent of built-in rechargeable batteries was extremely limited. Of course, you were also limited to just talking and then only half-duplex. (read: one side conversing at a time) And as already mentioned there was only a limited range. If your friend went to the mall, you would be lucky if you could hear him transmitting past the top of the street corner. (though that did not stop us from trying, especially in the aforementioned ‘range testing’ phase)

There is also the very real concern today that a cell phone can connect to an internet full of all sorts of other influences. While many walkie-talkie devices were defaulted to channel 14 on the citizen band (CB radio) which was also used by truckers, truckers also tended to be more polite to kids on CB in those days and any nefarious behavior, if and when a meager walkie-talkie signal actually got heard by an adult, involved the adult telling the kid to knock it off!

Thinking back, however, if there had been any way for us to play games directly on those walkie talkies, we would have utilized it. If we could have talked farther than to the next block, we would have reveled in it. (hey, I became an Extra class amateur radio operator in my teens – I actually DID it) And if we could have sent text over them, we would have done that too. (the best we ever had was the occasional walkie talkie with a second red button that could send a morse code tone)

Thus, I think it is fair to say that for my generation (and those immediately before) who enjoyed things such as walkie talkies, we do not have much cause to complain – or at least to complain too loudly. Envy, perhaps. But complain? No!

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ImageI’ll never forget when US Airways flight 1549 had to do an emergency belly landing in the Hudson river and no one was injured. Shortly following the event, a whole lot of people started clamoring about how it was ‘a miracle’ or that God definitely played a role in getting all those people to safety. My inbox was no exception.

Such things tend to frustrate me because it shows the blatant confirmation bias of the religious thinker. No one questions that ‘God’ steps in to do the ‘good’ outcome but they do not also apply that similar thinking to the ‘bad’ outcomes any more than they think the same ‘God’ would have played a role in causing or should have played a role in preventing the situation in the first place.

For example, do you suppose that anyone on board was ‘cursing’ God when they thought they were going to die? Or what about passengers or witnesses to crashes where no one survives? Well, obviously, that is just part of God’s plan then right? It’s a mystery!

Such thinking is not only inconsistent and intellectually dishonest, it distracts from the real heroes doing real things — real people! — who are contributing to great outcomes. To more than one person who sent me the ‘miraculous’ assertion, I had but one response:

Yes, I am sure that God personally intervened to make sure that all of those passengers and crew as well as the people on the ground were not harmed.
I’m sure that the years of training and calm headed, quick thinking of the pilot and the flight crew played absolutely no role in keeping the jet from crashing.
And the air traffic controllers using the world’s most advanced and coordinated air traffic system, radar technology, two-way radio communications and direct lines to multiple airports across the northeast didn’t have anything to do with it.
Nor did the years of development and advancement in aircraft design, technology and safety measures contribute in any fashion.
The flight attendants, their years of training and their similar cool thinking keeping the passengers calm and following safety procedures that have been practiced and rehearsed had nothing to do with it.
Not to mention the passengers themselves for following instructions and remaining so calm and working together.
No one on the ground in New York city with a cell phone, similarly developed through years of technology utilizing one of the most advanced telephone systems in the world calling upon seeing the plane going down did anything to help.
The 911 operators utilizing their refined network of emergency resources and vast network of trained emergency response procedures obviously did not contribute.
Nor did the quick response of the harbor authority and their rescue vehicles that rushed to the aid of the plane once it was safely upon the water.
Obviously it was all God’s work.

Now I’m sure you’ll probably say ‘well, God created all those things’ or that he had a hand in carrying them out. But I’m just curious. If God really wanted to make sure all of those people were safe, wouldn’t it have been far easier and less trouble in the long run….

…. if he had just moved the goose 3′ to the left?”

WSIDAirplaneGeeseinFlight

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the-angry-mob

There are a number of folks who have disagreed with some of my statements and some of my methods. I treat the absurd with absurdity, I ridicule the ridiculous and whenever someone is being obtuse to the level of it being profane, I response with the acute use of profantity – e.g. ‘Fuck that shit!’

con-man4When debating particular ideas, concepts and the corresponding societal movements that all-too-often spring up as a result of them, I tend to be rather particular to not only attack the ideas themselves, but to then specifically condemn the people that ‘follow’ such ideas.

Whenever an idea exists, not based primarily on the self-evidence that is good or right, but instead leans upon consensus as a means to gain prominence, there is inevitably some charismatic figure making a good pitch leading the charge. It is the general practice of others when addressing such ideas being broadcast from a primary source of one or a small number of individuals, to attack the source. The problem is, the ideas don’t exist on evidence, they exist on consensus. The slickest con-man in existence is entirely irrelevant if no one swallows his magic elixir!

More specifically, whenever anyone is making a claim that will not stand on it’s own, it can only stand as a result of others supporting it. It can only resonate in society if a ‘mob’ gets behind it and forces it to become an actionable reality. Thus whenever anyone claims to support the idea, they aren’t simply supporting the assertions of the charismatic figure, they are taking on those assertions and becoming the means by which they achieve relevance.

Furthermore, were there not so many willing idiots, there wouldn’t be a market for the snake oil salesmen to begin with!

Let me give an example to get to the heart of what I mean. Someone comes up to me supporting some statist idea that the government should be empowered to collect taxes from me under threat of force. Those who disagree with my methods are making an assumption that the individual is simply enabling the use of force by not standing in the way of it being carried out. They aren’t the ones directly responsible because it is someone in a statehouse somewhere that proposed it, and it’s someone in a police force somewhere that will enforce it and make it actionable.

But in reality, especially in any society with representative governance, such ideas will never ever exist unless a significant enough number of people – individuals – either support it or allow it. Whether it be authoritarian concepts of statist politicians or similar principles being stated from pulpits by evangelical preachers, the ideas themselves are irrelevant until individuals make them actionable.

philosoraptor-choose-not-to-decide

To quote RUSH from the song ‘Free Will’,

“If I choose not to decide, I still have made a choice”

In other words, as the passive thinker stands there and tells you “I think this politician is right when he says you must be forced to help others” or “I think this preacher is right when he says you should not be selfish and sacrifice for the needy”, the most important part of either of those sentences is the first two words, “I think”. They are in essence telling you “You need to be forced to comply with what ‘I think'” – supporting the third party is simply a convenience to that individual in that someone else is energetically telling them ‘I’ll happily force them on your behalf!’

Thus, I don’t play nice with such people. If you say you support someone else doing me harm – you, in my mind, are saying harm should be done to me. If you help propel ideas to prominence that only propel to prominence because people like you help them get that way, you are the one making the concept actionable.

I still hold the statist or the theist responsible for promoting bad ideas and will challenge them regularly on the falsity, absurdity and profaneness of those ideas, but it is the individual that ‘believes’ the bullshit that I hold the MOST responsible for it’s existence!

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lightbulb-idea

A few absolutes about human ideas…

  1. If you can conceive of it, chances are someone has already thought of it before.
  2. If you try to do anything about it, someone will claim they thought of it first (whether they did or not) and try to stop you.
  3. If you try to build it, some union boss is going to say you need to do it with union labor.
  4. If you actually build it, some advocacy group is going to claim it is dangerous to the environment, harmful to children, unfair to minorities, etc.
  5. If it turns out to be beneficial, some religious group will say it’s a miracle and try to give the credit to their chosen god or gods.
  6. If it is cutting-edge, some other group is going to say it’s evil and try to get it banned, protest your workshop or declare a holy/social war against you.
  7. If it is useful, someone in the military is going to try to find a way to weaponize it.
  8. If you created it for a specific purpose, someone will eventually find a way to misuse it regardless of how many warning labels you put upon it. (See #7 & #12)
  9. If it can be used in any way to hurt somebody else (see #4, #7 and possibly #12) then someone will use it that way on others despite the labels and warnings in #8.  Refer back to #6 for the consequences.
  10. If you try to sell it, someone in China will quickly make a knock-off version of it for less.
  11. If it makes money, someone in government is going to find a way to tax it. If it makes people’s lives simpler and easier, someone in government will require 14 forms to get one and further regulate it to make it more difficult and complicated.
  12. If people buy it, someone will eventually find a sexual use for it.
  13. If you make it durable, someone will find a way to break it.
  14. If it makes you rich, some liberal is going to say you exploited your customers, workers or the environment getting that way.

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The following is an example of an extreme allegorical situation. In that it is an extreme, it serves only as an example scenario to examine a moral premise under more contrasting circumstances.

Imagine you are taken captive by a group of thugs. You are with someone you truly care about deeply and someone who is just a good friend. One of the more sadistic of the thugs tells his comrades to hold you at gun point and to shoot any of you if you ‘try anything funny’.
He somehow managed to figure out that you were closer to one of the people you were with than you were to the other, so he grabs the person you care deeply about and holds his gun to their head. He then reaches down to his belt with his other hand and pulls his knife out of it’s sheath and throws it to your feet. Then he commands you to slit your good friend’s throat or he is going to shoot the person you care deeply about in the head.

What made me bring this up was a combination of a number of people around me arguing in favor of pragmatic decisions combined with a quote I had on my facebook some time back:

“I have learned that I have it in me to be a prick to people who earn that treatment and deserve it, but I do not have it in me to do the ‘wrong’ thing regardless of what someone else does.”

I left the above scenario intentionally unqualified for the most part, but assuming you are well overpowered and doing anything other than what you are told is going to end up in at least the person you care about being shot in the head, and resisting or trying to fight back may well result in all of you ending up dead.

Do you pick up the knife and cut the throat of your friend?  What about if it was someone you didn’t even know well? Would that (or should it even?) make a difference in your decision?

Sometimes using an ‘extreme’ scenario puts things in better focus by drawing the contrasts more vividly between moral rights, moral wrongs, causes and effects. Let’s examine some of the things that are either specified, apparent or implied by this scenario.

  1. Regardless what you do or don’t do, you are being commanded to take a given course of action by someone who is a sadistic thug
  2. This thug wants you to kill someone, something you (should) know is morally wrong
  3. The thug is counting on you to follow his orders because he is holding something you care about ‘more’ hostage to get you to do harm to something you care less about, presumably for his own amusement.

The other thing that made me think of posting this scenario was a quote someone posted today from John Galt’s radio broadcast from the Ayn Rand book, Atlas Shrugged:

“Now that you know the truth about your world, stop supporting your own destroyers. The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it. Withdraw your sanction. Withdraw your support. Do not try to live on your enemies’ terms or to win at a game where they’re setting the rules. Do not seek the favor of those who enslaved you…theirs is a system of white blackmail devised to bleed you not by means of your sins but by means of your love for existence.” – John Galt [from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged]

The point of this analogy is to point out a very extreme case of pragmatism. The reality of the situation is that when you deal in evil or attempt to deal with the irrational, you have no reasonable expectation of a result. If you cut the throat of your friend, not only have you committed a moral wrong, but you only have a passing assurance that no further harm will come to you or the person you care about. All you have done is ‘buy a little time’ while demonstrating that under extreme enough of circumstances, you will do what you are asked to do so long as the stakes are high enough for you to not be willing to accept a potential alternative.

I’m sure most of you can guess as to the other reason I am posting this example. Some of you may think this example is too extreme to be relevant. I admit it is extreme, but only for the sake of pointing out the factors involved in more vivid detail. If a thug holds those you care about at the point of a gun, it is the thug that will bring them to harm one way or another, whether you willingly go along with their insane demands or not.

It is the thug that takes away your choice in such a situation. It is the thug that puts you at risk. It is the thug that poses the threat to the life of the one you love. It always was and it always will be — until you pick up the knife! The question is whether you become evil along with them for the sake of expedience. The question is whether you end up with blood on your hands.

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I direct this post specifically at those individuals saying they intend to vote for a Romney presidency either primarily to defeat Obama or for those who cannot cite any valid, unequivocal reasons that they have any cause other than an Obama defeat as their primary purpose. This includes those of you that say trite little phrases like ‘a vote for a third party is a vote for Obama‘ or that call people names for considering a third party vote without making any valid arguments other than an alleged Obama win as cause for not doing so.

The Three Imperatives

So let us say for a second that you are right. Or at least that your claim has validity to it. What you are saying carries with it a couple of imperative premises. Imperative, for any unfamiliar with the term, means ‘absolutely necessary or required; unavoidable‘. This means that the claim that a ‘vote for a third party is a vote for Obama’ requires that certain things be true or at least highly likely. There are three specifically that I would like to point out first.

If you are saying that a vote for a third party is a ‘vote for Obama’ than it is not simply an implication, it is an imperative that you think such a vote would otherwise have been a vote of support for the most likely candidate ‘other’ than Obama. In our current two-party system, this means the Republican candidate whom this time around happens to be Mitt. In other words, by making your assertion, you are saying that support for third party candidates (such as Gary Johnson) are going to, or at least more likely going to come from what otherwise would be a likely Republican base. (again, this is not an assumption, it is an imperative based on that claim)

If you can’t cite worthwhile reasons to vote ‘for’ Romney – or worse, you admit fully that your support of Mitt is primarily based upon a desire to ‘defeat Obama’, then there is also an imperative in that line of reasoning. That being, you assume 4 more years of Obama will be very bad, will damage the country, will do harm to the country’s future, etc.  You are in essence saying that anyone who supports ideas similar to yours would be foolish and self-defeating to do anything that might help Obama have more years in office.

Finally, the third imperative in this statement is related to the likelihood of Obama winning. If Obama was perceived by all to be as awful as you claim he is, to be doing as much potential damage as you say, and if the Republican alternative is that much more superior, then people should be voting for Romney by default anyway. The election should be an open-shut Romney landslide.

But to say that third party votes will so damage Romney’s chance of winning that it will ensure an Obama win requires another thing to be true: Romney does not inspire nearly enough enthusiastic support as would be required for a landslide Obama defeat. Or in other words, Obama’s chances to win are pretty good despite your claims that his presidency is so horrible.

A Reasonable and Likely Assumption

Another implication that is not quite to the level of an outright imperative, but which seems to be suggested by the existence of those three imperatives is those supporting Obama are either too stupid to know better (in significant enough numbers to still give him a good chance of victory based on the third imperative above) or, more likely, Obama is a slick politician who is very good at using politics, manipulation, corruption, deception and whatever other means he can utilize to get himself support. And even if your worry is simply that the main stream media’s biases will simply support and promote the democratic candidate to make up for such short comings, the same reasoning below still applies, only to the media machine instead of the Obama campaign staff.

Although I am sure anyone that fits my description in the first paragraph probably considers the former to also apply, any with any integrity will also admit that they think the latter is also something they believe or assert as a truism for our current President. Based on this assumption and corresponding evaluation of Obama as a very slick political opportunist, this brings me to the purpose of this posting.

If Your Assertion is Correct, Watch Obama!

If what you say is in fact true, that a third party vote (for someone like Johnson) is in fact a vote to get Obama re-elected,  then it stands to reason that getting more people to support Johnson (and therefore ‘not’ support Romney by your own reasoning) is in Obama’s own interest.  If in fact it is correct that Obama is an unscrupulous, political opportunist then he and his campaign/handlers will use whatever means he can to improve his chances of being elected. In short, if your assertion is correct, then if Johnson continues polling in states above 10% (such as he recently did in his home state of New Mexico) such as to make him more a more significant alternative than most third party efforts, then it is in the Obama campaign’s best interest to help him get to 15% to get him into the debates so more people will see him and (by your reasoning), more Romney voters will filter off to Johnson.

So, watch Obama. If Gary continues to show increases in the polls, and your assertions hold any validity to them at all, then Obama should start finding ways to get more attention on the Libertarian candidate. If not, then you are as full of crap as your assertion that anything other than a ‘vote for Obama’ is a vote for Obama.

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Last night I had a dream. I was sitting in a park minding my own business when up walked none other than President Barack Obama. Before I could say anything, he began to speak.

“I understand you don’t like me young man,” he said reaching out his hand.

I just sat nonplussed and responded, “To be more accurate I disapprove of you.”

Seeing I was not going to shake his hand, he held it out a moment longer than eventually pulled it back with a slight ‘hmm’ sound then resumed speaking with his political smile.

“Well, I would like to try to change your mind. As President of these United States I would like to offer you anything you desire that is within my power to grant.”

I looked up at him a second to see if he was serious, then looked around to see if perhaps it was some kind of hidden camera prank, then looked back at the President. He seemed quite in earnest. After I pondered his intentions a bit longer, he finally asked again, “Well, what would it be?”

I took in a deep breath and said simply, “No.”

“No?” he asked, “You mean to say I offer you anything you want, anything that is within my power to grant you and your answer is no?”

“Yes,” I said, “my answer is no. But if you are sincere in your desire for me to have such a favor, I will tell you what…,” and I reached into my pocket and pulled out a pen and a small pad of paper I carry around for scribbling down writing ideas.

As I started to write, the President tried to peek out of curiousity, but catching my attention and causing me to pause in my writing, he quickly resumed his smiling stance patient but curious to see what I was up to.  I eventually finished writing and tore off the sheet and handed it to the him. It read as follows:

To whom it may concern:

Today I offered a young man by the name of Scott Webster Wood a favor of anything I had within the power of my office to bestow upon him for the purpose of trying to gain his favorable regard of me and my administration. This young man refused my offer.

He refused it on the grounds that he does not approve of my administration, it’s policies or even my holding this office based on the nature of those policies. Therefore he considered me neither worthy, nor holding the appropriate authority to grant such a privilege onto him in the first place.

But it was my sincere intention to grant this favor. So should this man ever return to the capital seeking fulfillment of this favor, I would like to ask humbly that you take it under consideration should any of my successors be found sufficiently worthy by this young gentleman after my term of office has expired.

Sincerely,

X______________________________
President Barack Hussein Obama

When it appeared he had finished reading, I told him, “Now all you need do, if your offer was in fact sincere, is sign your name down there at the bottom and shove that somewhere in the drawer of that big HMS desk that you love to put your feet up on all the time.”

Obama just scoffed, then began to laugh, crumpling up the piece of paper and throwing it on the ground before walking away spouting only the word “Fool!” I went back to minding my own business.

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(excerpt from a non-rationalist’s journal)

December 25th: Today someone gave me a smart phone for Christmas. A delightful thing it is, and so full featured. I imagine it will take me quite some time to figure out all this thing does.

January 2nd: Still nursing my New Year’s hangover, still trying to figure out this phone. I was reading today about all the intricacies involved in how the touch screen works.

January 3rd: Went to the mobile app store online. Holy bajeezuz are there a lot of apps! There are things that will do everything short of the dishes on there!

January 8th: I got down into the internals on my new phone this morning. Was amazed to learn that the operating system alone in this thing takes over 250 characters of memory to store. This is unfathomable!

January 12th: I am utterly overwhelmed by my new phone. I have concluded that it is far too complex to have ever been designed by man! There is just far too much complexity in the totality of this thing to ever have come to exist as in it’s current configuration through individual effort. I can’t fully determine how it came to be, but it must have been aliens or super beings of some sort.

January 13th: I informed my friend Bob of my theory about my phone. He became incensed, called me incredulous, and started ranting on about research and development processes spanning hundreds of years and other such nonsense. I pointed out many details of the phone and it’s so-called ‘technology’ and asked him point blank how such things could all manage to come to be in just such a way as to be so well suited to a device like my phone. He had no significant answers. Ha!

January 18th: Bob came over today with a video. He thought it would break me of my designer theory about the phone. The video seemed to show people in Korea (or maybe it was China) assembling devices such as my phone. It was interesting, but I argued that even if it was legitimate, just because man could learn to construct such a thing in no way explains how it’s complexity originated! It only proves man can reproduce the design.

January 24th: Bob tried to be sneaky today and took me to some computer company today when we were supposed to just be having lunch. He had some systems analyst guy drone on for over an hour about development process and showing me articles on wikipedia about the history of something called ‘compilers’ and ‘object orientation’. He said some nonsense about things called ‘open source communities’ that he alleged made small additions and changes to something called ‘code libraries’ over large spans of time.
It made little sense to me but I had been reading in more detail about the screen in this thing and stumped them both when I asked them to explain how all the interactions of laminating and ‘material composites’ and matrix-wiring networks, internal clocking, plasma bubbles, LED arrays and all the rest could come to exist just as they are to produce a single pixel on a screen that responds to just the touch of a finger! They had no answer, of course!

February 3rd: Ugh, Bob was back again. He shows up with three young college kids and a stack of books and papers that would fill a small library.

He tells me that he paid the three undergrads to look up any and all information they could on the process and chain of technologies that led up to any facit of smart phone technologies that they could find. He claims that he still didn’t find it all but now I have twenty, 4′ high stacks of books and papers cluttering up my Foyer. Like he expects me to read that? As if!
I think he’s just trying to obfuscate the issue. I told him as much! And to get out of my house at once and take his refuse with him. He grabbed my smartphone from my hand and hurled it at me hitting me right in the eye before stomping out of the door leaving all of the stuff! I guess I’m going to have a lot more for the trash man this week…

February 8th: I was trying to avoid Bob but couldn’t help passing him today on the way to the market. I told him I tossed out all the stuff. He just looked at the bandage over my eye and said something about “hmmm, it suits you!” I have no idea what he meant and he walked away before I could ask him to explain himself.

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