Saturday, April 21, 2012

Arnold Schoenberg Ode To Napoleon

Points Made In a Blog War Earlier Today

I assume when people say they believe people are merely material objects, that there is no free will, that there are no inherent rights, that there is no divine spark in people, when they either elaborate or endorse ideological systems that have no room for those metaphysical holdings that make human beings more than just objects and when their subsequent acts treat people like objects that those acts were the result of their stated beliefs.  That is especially true when they claim the status of science for those beliefs, denying they are beliefs but claiming they are reliably known.

What evidence is there that professed Christians who kill people and rob the poor are motivated by the words of Jesus and his closest followers, who taught against doing those things?  There is every reason to accuse "christians" who do those things of failing to follow the teachings of a man they claim to believe is God. There is no reason to accuse materialists who treat people like objects,  to use or kill them of failing to treat people like material objects.


The choice of voting is a matter of predicting behavior, at least when considered rationally. You think that I should take a chance that people who say that people are merely objects and that free will, inherent rights, are delusions etc. don't really mean it and won't act out of that often vigorously held position. I'd guess they'd have a reason for saying what they did and it was among the best predictive factors in guessing what their behavior will be.

And I expect some religious believers really have a reason for saying what they do, perhaps even those who have a very hard time consistently overcoming their selfishness and that they're at least as likely to have their belief influence their future behavior as materialists are. My guess is that believing there is are divinely ordered moral laws with real consequences against selfish behavior is probably more likely to produce good behavior than believing that there is no such reason to not be selfish.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Stella Chiweshe: The Speech

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Caught In The Sealed Maze of Materialism

Ever since I first found out how capitalism worked, seeing how it institutionalized greed and exploitation, I've been a socialist.   That would be a socialist, not a Marxist.   And, due to the utter confusion of the term "socialist" I've got to point out I'm definitely not a Fabian*.   I'm a socialist who believes that the workers should own the means of production and that that ownership should never be allowed to leave the hands of the workers who use those means to produce what is produced.   My friend at my former blog pointed out that my socialism was more in line with some branches of anarchism, though I'm anything but an anarchist.   As I mentioned, neither am I a Marxist.   And here, just for fun, I'll mention that Marx declared he wasn't a Marxist either.   Howard Zinn's guess at why he said that sounds plausible to me.

This morning, following up links on lefty blogs, I came to this rather dismal post  at Lenin's Tomb giving a wonderfully baroque exposition of why ideology is a material substance.   If you want to peruse it in all its tortured citations and reasoning, go ahead.   I doubt you'll profit from it, you'd probably get more of use from picking through the dry bones of the Abhidhamma  on some esoteric  point of Buddhist dogma more profitably gotten from some simple statement of the Dharmapada.   It's absolutely nothing.  I wouldn't insult the Golden Rule by involving it in a hands down comparison in its favor on the basis of the observation of actual life as compared to the vanity of  ideological romance. 

Here's the comment I left there after reading through it.  

If this is true, there isn't any difference between one ideology and another, they're merely different products of different chance factors of material causation.  There isn't even any reason to adopt one over the other because whatever decision is made is merely another product of material causation.   You may as well be a Republican-fascist as anything else.   Even the idea that your conclusion carries anything like truth or is anything like an objective picture of material reality is illusory.   

Why would you think your conclusions could escape the materialist substrate that you conclude your ideological opponents are a victim of?   No, that's silly, if your materialist ideology is the product of your peculiar line of causation, as you say your opponents' ideologies are, its being materialist isn't any reason to assume it's any more accurate.  Materialist ideologies aren't uniform and there wouldn't be any way to judge one as being more realistic than another one.

You've only sealed up any escape from a maze with no center and no goal.   There isn't any more reason to live in that one than there is to spend your life playing a video game.    I'd rather take a chance on your materialism being an academic delusion, even if what you're saying has some chance of being true. 

* Fabianism is a rich snob's idea of "socialism" from above, preserving upper class belief in their own virtue and the depravity of the poor.   It's among the more putrid uses of the word.   I'd be in favor of coming up with a different word to name my kind of socialism but that's not in my hands. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Giving Excuses To Alcoholics As They Destroy Themselves

One of my brothers drank himself to death last year,  he'd had a long and horrible history of alcoholism and he was under treatment for almost the entire time.   His was the second disastrous experience my immediate family had with the mental health industry,  he had sought what he believed was the scientific route of treatment, psychiatry, psychology.    Obviously, it was entirely ineffective as he died.   Being a good atheist he rejected AA as being religious.   In the last several months of his life, as he sank farther into chronic drunkenness and his life was falling apart, I looked in vain for one of the alleged non-religious alternatives to AA only to find that, as so many of the "Humanist" anti-religious help groups, it was a Potemkin false front.    I found a grand total of one "contact person" listed in my state with no contact information given.   That was in contrast to well over a dozen AA groups, some of them reportedly quite secular, within easy driving distance of his home.  But, as I said, being a good atheist he rejected each and every attempt we made to help him find a group compatible with his credo.

Alcoholism, being a topic of pressing interest to me and having, by then, had quite a bit of experience with how horrible and encompassing a disease it was,  I got involved in several arguments about it on some leftish political blogs.   I heard all the same lines about AA that I heard coming out of my brother's mouth and more.  That it was "statistically" no better than doing nothing, that it was a religious cult, that it blah, blah, blah.    The greatest accomplishment of the "Humanist" -atheist  party line on AA seems to be to have provided people with a horrible, self-destructive addiction which is extremely difficult to recover from a series of excuses to not try to stop.   Oh, and there were assertions about the alleged atheist alternatives.   I think I might have asked for some evidence that those really existed at one point,  I don't recall any evidence given.    Last year also being the year when Ken Burn's "Prohibition" was shown on PBS,  I outraged a number of people by saying that the worst thing about prohibition was that it didn't work.   Just in passing, it's so funny to find out how easy it is to say the forbidden among the self-appointed "free thinkers".

I have to confess that my experience of last year has influenced my thinking that pop-atheism is anything but a force for good in the culture.  There is a reason that in 2012 you find atheists congratulating themselves on beginning to form charitable groups of the kind that religious people have organized for thousands of years.   I won't, though, be holding my breath to find out if they develop into anything more than the phony shell that the atheist alternative to AA has been.   I doubt it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Life Isn't A Machine It Is Not Book Keeping It Isn't A Circus Act

Note:  This was first posted at my first blog on September 3, 2006.  It is reposted here as a commentary on NPR's new discovery of reporting.

As used in the context of politics and social life, “balance” is a very strange word. It’s an even stranger virtue. The assumption that finding a balance is the same thing as being correct is part of the automatic standard operating settings of our country. It is one that is accepted without question.

The “balance” fetish sees society and politics as if they are a revolving machine that will fly apart if some kind of mystical governor doesn’t keep things in a state of equilibrium. While this is, I contend, just more of the absurd habit of seeing all of life in terms of mechanics there isn’t any reason to think about public life in those terms. It is an unthinking response that has some dangerous political consequences. What “balances” democracy, equality, freedom? You can balance many things but you can’t balance reality.

The most important political use of this “balance” comes in the context of news reporting and the parasitic limpets attached to it, opinion “journalism”. In that context something called balance has replaced the reporting of facts*. It used to be that a reporter was required to get two independent sources to verify the truth of what their primary source had said. Now, instead, they just have to get a second opinion and that opinion doesn’t even have to present facts in refutation, it just needs to refute. The excuse is that the “reader will get to decide who is right”. Well, I’m very sorry to have to say that I’ve decided that is a lie, a cheat and a fraud entered into for reasons of laziness, cowardice, economy and ideology.

The function of good journalism is to present verified facts that a reader or listener can reasonably rely on at least contingently. A reporter has to do their job well enough to go past the point of presenting a false dichotomy which the reader then chooses a side to be on. This wasn’t always done honestly but it used to be done a heck of a lot more often than it is now. It’s not an unimportant matter, the news is a lot more earthshaking than presenting a choice between clear or cream soups.

The excuse that the “reader gets to decide” is fundamentally dishonest. Presumably a reporter will know a lot more than the readers will even after reading the results of their work. Not even an unusually long report will have enough information for someone to form an opinion. But that question shouldn’t even enter into the business of reporting the news. The reporter is the one who gets to decide but news decisions can’t be a matter of pro or con, it’s a decision about what is supported by the facts as they have it in their power to discover them. If the reporter fails in that task it is up to the editor to decide that they haven’t got the goods yet.

I first started noticing this kind of phony balancing act back in the 70s in response to the already years long effort by conservatives to destroy journalism. It was a cowardly capitulation to an organized effort to paint an objective media as liberal.** The media began by “balancing” their straight news reporting with stuff from the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institution, The Heritage Foundation, and the Cato whatever. Have you noticed much in the way of ‘balance’ in the direction of the left, that is other than the typically soggy Milquetoast from the likes of the Brookings Institution? And we see today that the usual panel of talking heads on TV has one or more obvious right-wing representatives to “balance” one reporter.

With this decay of real reporting there has been the rise in several levels of “opinion” journalism, complete with excuses within the profession for why they are exempt from accurately presenting facts or even telling the truth. Analysis, op-ed, focus, feature columnist, right down to the lowest of the low, the pundit; the presentation of opinion by these entirely biased and interested parties is almost certainly cheaper than supporting a reporter through the difficult and expensive task of trying to uncover hard news. It is certainly more certain what the point of view expressed will be.

A democracy can withstand wars, depressions, insurrections, plagues and many other calamities, it cannot withstand the ignorance of the People. It cannot exist if a majority of its people believes that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and so the invasion was justified. It cannot stand if the majority of people know more about what goes on in Hollywood than inside the government. It is a measure of the failure of our news that Americans, with the most elaborate media structure in the history of the species are inadequately informed on issues they need to know in order to govern themselves.

I don’t believe in a right to be ignorant but like all opinion what I think doesn’t matter. But unless someone can find an alternative explanation I’ll have to believe that if people choose ignorance they will always lose their rights. People who are ignorant are unable to resist those who would manipulate them and exploit them, even without an effort to impose a dictatorship, they will likely stumble into one. Similarly, if the media chooses to pander to the least common denominator, if they seduce the population with infotanement for their corporate interests they don’t exist as a free press. A free press is always in danger of having the exercise of its freedom taken away from it. If they only report corporate propaganda they will find, in the fullness of time, that they are not allowed to do anything else. A free press is fully dependent on an informed and free electorate. Our media hasn’t given up free speech with a gag but with a simper.

* There is another aspect of this avoidance of news reporting posted at my first blog.

** A couple of years ago there was a letter in the Boston Globe, I believe in response to a story about David Horowitz’ McCarthy style efforts against college teachers. It was the most succinct and sensible answer I have ever seen to these charges. The letter said that College teachers tend to be liberals because they read a lot.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Industrial Advocacy of Ideology Is A Malignant Force

The phenomenon of ideology as a commercial opportunity and a generator of celebrity seems to be very little noticed.   The creation of entire industries by lobbyists, media flacks and hacks, and theme bloggers and their aggressive insertion of bias into intellectual life and politics seems to me to cry out for serious investigation.   One of the most important and potentially malignant roles of these ideological industries is their power to bend the media.   The various industries that push ideological positions on the "Constitution"  and "The Bill of Rights" are some of the most seriously dangerous.   That which includes the Federalist Society and corporate funded ideological efforts is a clear and present danger.   The Cato Institute seems to be one of the weirdest of these industrial efforts in that their research "papers" which, strangely, never seem to fail to support their preexisting  ideological positions are taken as definitive by such parts of the media as NPR.   That real life continually generates evidence that those positions are horse feathers never breaks through the pose of authority that is an basic part of the snake oil show that these industrial advocacy organizations are.

I don't believe for a minute that most of the hired hacks and flacks believe all of what they say,  they are paid to lie when that's what is either commercially or ideologically useful.   I doubt that a lot of them would fail to move over to the other side if that side paid better and provided more to them.    As it is, making a career of lying benefits them and doing it on one side is easier for them.


About A Blog Anniversary  

Along with its potential to promote some important voices, blogging has allowed many otherwise forgettable people to become celebrities due to their ideological advocacy.   In some cases it appears to allow people who would, otherwise, be unknown associate professors in obscure universities to become famous merely through their advocacy of ideological positions.   That's especially true of right-wing ideologues,  many of whom don't even need that level of bona fides to set up shop as an instant expert for purposes of financial reward.   But it's true of those setting themselves up as being on the left as well.   Apropos of my blogging last week, of particular interest to me are those who peddle materialistic clap trap and set up a following on blogs which declares that anything that deviates from that materialism is uncool and a betrayal of all that is respectable.   But, as I've said, my chosen theme is why liberalism has failed and is in danger of dying.

Three years ago I read an online magazine post that asked two of the independent leftish bloggers I followed about the decline in independent blogging.   They both reported a decline in their readership and, also, their financial position due to that.   It was about the same time that I noticed an ossification into a position of ideological correctness on those blogs, one far more than the other, and also the concentration of their commenting communities into a tightly definable in crowd.   I've also noticed that happening on science themed blogs to an even greater extent and even earlier.  The house ideology of materialism at those blogs seemed to be the reason that ideological deviation, even slight deviation from the common received POV  were not allowable.   I used to welcome going to political blogs as a breath of fresh air after some of the brawls at those places but the atmosphere at the political blogs is often as stale as on the science blogs these days.   The heady freedom of thought at the fondly recalled Media Whores Online and on the leftist blogs that held through about 2007 has declined into ideological conformity on way too many of them.

Maybe there is something like a natural life cycle of blogs that is represented in this phenomenon.   Maybe the commercial necessity of servicing a reader base leads to blogs becoming rigidly ideological.   I wouldn't know as nothing I've ever written has attracted a wide reader base.   I try to avoid taking ideological positions because they become institutionalized and all human institutions carry their own limits and their own defects.   About the only ideas I've considered as absolute in my blogging are that living beings are not objects, that it is wrong to treat living beings as objects and their lives must be treated as important.   Politically, that leads to the position that people, whatever else they are,  possess free will, inherent rights and real equality.   I hold that human experience and human history provide evidence that those are real and important and effective in giving people power to do good that definitively overrules any kind of assertion to the contrary.   Those positions have led me, inevitably, into conflict with the materialist, pseudo-leftist fashions of many bloggers and their commenting communities.   I think they account for a lot of the more thoughtful commentators on blogs who have left the blogs they used to frequent.

I doubt that leftist blogs will play an important role in the continuation of liberalism into the future because too many of their owners and commentators  really don't believe in liberalism, they believe in some libertarian pantomime of liberalism.   The resultant positions often amount to a hollowing out of liberalism from the bottom, leaving a weak libertarian surface that has no political force behind it.

Liberalism is incompatible with materialism, I doubt it can be made compatible with it.   I doubt that the contemporary fashions that go by the name of liberalism and leftism will have the energy behind it take do that most radical of all actions,  change the laws and the culture to make life better.   Materialism contains the poison of disbelief in those things which have powered liberalism to success in the past.   The fashionable poses that are what remains of the cultural habits of that liberalism are ineffective.

Will a real liberalism arise to replace the wreck that is seen everywhere?    That's one of the most important political questions that goes unasked,  that, I'm certain, is a forbidden topic on the self-promoted leftish blogs.

It is corporate interest that funds the right-wing ideology industries, the left doesn't have  that funding source and it never will.  The left used to be powered by moral force,  by its fundamental morality of equality and equal rights.  Like it or not, liberalism is absolutely dependent on some rather complicated metaphysical foundations that are incompatible with materialism, scientism and, let me be frank, the new atheism.   That is what it has, the intellectual positions of liberalism either serve those or it devolves into inequality and the negation of rights.