The Buried Lede: “This will be unpopular: The Bible and the Koran and the like are the original “fake news” sources.”
“Facts” are extremely complex things; to understand that is to begin to think about philosophy and theories of mind.
The vast majority of advances in knowledge are going to tech. And tech can only build tools, it can’t navigate ethics and meaning and justice.
And despite what the tech focused world says, or the religious focused world, there can be expertise in things like ethics, meaning and justice. In law and economics and statecraft. Those things can be studied, understood, improved.
We’ve assumed that religion would fill that role; but religion is dead, it isn’t growing. And the very inability we have to point out errors in religion, the rewards we give out to bad thinking by labeling it a “Right” has, in my estimation, set the foundation for a world where “facts” can be anything you choose.
And lest I pick solely on religion, the same holds true in any communally reinforced grouping of ideas. Progressivism, Conservatism, Socialism, Energy Healers, Reiki, etc.
If the very foundations of existence can’t be questioned, if we must accept as valid all beliefs, if we are unwilling to point out bad thinking in the core beliefs of individuals, is it any surprise that we now have a population, Right, Left and Center, who are woefully unskilled at detecting bullshit? Both from others, but more importantly from self?
This will be unpopular: the Bible and the Koran and the like are the original “fake news” sources. But we don’t call it out, and therefore, the vast majority of humanity’s foundation of knowledge is based in fake news.
So, tech built the internet which disseminates vast quantities of information, but humanity doesn’t yet understand the foundational issues of knowledge. Opinion isn’t knowledge. Belief isn’t knowledge. But information is now in the hands of everyone, and everyone believes they are right, that they have knowledge. But knowledge, facts, truth…these are complex topics.
The idea that knowledge acquisition isn’t considered a skill, that it’s simply thought of as the discovery of new information, freely available to any and all, and that the opinions of any and all have merit, has brought natural human division to new depths. We now have burger flippers and hairstylists and Lawyers who think they are experts in global trade and economics and politics and race-relations, and they are driving the world. Into a ditch.
The internet brings this all together in a mirror image of the primordial soup from which we arose, into which we now descend.
During my exit from Mormonism and for a few years after, I engaged in intensive discussion and study on the questions of God, Faith, Religion and Philosophy. One of the more influential thinkers I encountered in that journey is a man named Lincoln Cannon. Mr. Cannon remains committed to the LDS Church and Mormonism, and provided a foil by which many of my views of mormonism specifically and religion generally could be tested. He pushed me to learn and to grow.
In the ensuing years, Mr. Cannon has founded The Mormon Transhumanist Association. In that effort, Cannon seeks to find common ground between secular technologists who seek after The Singularity and his chosen faith.
Seemingly to that end, Mr. Cannon produced what he calls The New God Argument. It’s purported to be a logical argument for faith in God. The form of the argument leans heavily on The Simulation Argument by Nick Bostrom. I’ve watched this argument develop over the years, and noted as Cannon presented it in various forums, and published it in various journals.
I’ve long wanted to do an analytical review of the argument. And now I have.
The “New God Argument” by Lincoln Cannon purports to be a logical argument for faith in God. It is modeled after Nick Bostrom’s Simulation Argument. In this paper I do an analytical review of the New God Argument including the sub-arguments: The Faith Assumption, The Compassion Argument, The Creation Argument and The God Conclusion. I analyze the logical structure of the arguments and seek to determine if they are valid and sound. Finally, I make a determination as to whether or not the entirety of the New God Argument holds. I have analyzed version 3.3 of The New God Argument.
Read it here:
The following is consistent with the principles of capitalism. The economy must match the values of the community in which it resides. Those community values are defined in the Constitution both of the Federal Government and the State Government. The economy must also benefit the community as a whole; the existence of a stable market requires the existence of a stable government and a stable community. This proposal maintains focus on a market economy, rooted in the notion of a fair market.
If the cost of living in a given community is $30,000, the AVERAGE wage in that community would be $1,500,000. Want a raise?
There is a fallacy known widely as a free market; free markets do not and cannot exist; they are theoretical. Absent regulation, a market will tend to favor the powerful and diminish the weak; over time, this will destabilize both the community and the economy. If free markets were to exist, they would naturally approximate what I have outlined below. The degree to which an economy veers from what I have outlined below is the degree it differs from a theoretical free market. Contrary to popular belief, the approximation of a free market requires rather than abhors regulation. Put another way, Libertarianism is the opposite of a free market.
The primary goal in the following economic model is to produce a bell-curve distribution of wealth and income. If a free market were to exist, it would naturally produce this bell-curve distribution. Read more
In 2013, I supported Kshama Sawant in her race for Seattle City Council. I’m not a socialist, but I was convinced that she represented enough of our shared values that among the mix of nine city council members, she’d help create space for a more progressive agenda. And, I was largely pleased with how that worked out.
It’s obvious that Kshama won and retained her seat in large part due to support from many Democrats, like me, who are also not socialists. We created a joint coalition, relying on shared values.
Kshama Sawant was afforded a platform for her views on the backs of Democrats. We helped elevate her voice. And, I think many have been thankful for the efforts she’s made.
But perhaps it’s time to cut ties with our friend?
Now she’s using that platform to malign and misrepresent the Democratic Party and our Nominee for President. Rather than acknowledging that we have shared values, that we can work together, she’s become a leftist demagogue, using hyperbole and ad hominem attacks to further her own agenda.
If Kshama Sawant cannot recognize that we have more to gain by working together to defeat Donald Trump and to move our shared values forward, then it is time for Democrats to work to remove the platform that we helped build for her. If she can’t acknowledge the coalition that has helped her in her cause, if she can’t return the favor, then it’s time to end the coalition.
I grew up with an ideologically pure belief system. For years, good/evil were pure concepts for me. Defined by this belief system, I could categorize anyone very quickly, and place them on a neatly defined spectrum.
That all came crashing down, as do many notions of purity, once the reality of the world beats us up a bit.
“Democracy” gets thrown about by all sides in American politics. But for all the accolades we heap upon it, there’s one thing we rarely talk about: Democracy is NOT pure. Pledging to be in community with We The People means pledging to be in community with people you not only dislike, but people you loathe. It means working with those same people in a system of give and take. It means a life-long commitment to compromise and persuasion.
Hillary Clinton is a politician. Of course she has an ideology. But she’s chosen to sacrifice a bit of her purity in order to work in this system. So, when she gets asked about things like gay marriage or even war, she analyzes her answer in terms of what is politically possible. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t have an opinion about what is “right” or “wrong”, but she recognizes that few swords are worth falling on in such a system.
This, to me, is strength of its own kind. This is sacrifice of a particular nature.
You may hate this “system” of governance. But the irony is, absent electing a dictator, absent supporting an authoritarian model of government, there’s no substantive alternative to it.
I don’t “hold my nose” to vote for Hillary, even though my personal political opinions are well to the left of hers; I admire her for the hard work of placing herself in a viable position to help move this Country ever so slightly to the left. Because 3 degrees in the Left direction for the next 8 years is extremely valuable.
Meanwhile…I support Pramila Jayapal for Congress in the 7th. The real work of Revolution is built from the ground up; not the top down.
Note: On September 6, 2016 I published a companion article to this titled “Proposal for a Fair & Dynamic Market-based Economy”
We The People of the United States have come together with a defined set of six shared values: a more perfect union, justice, domestic tranquility, defense, welfare and liberty. (See Foundational Values: A More Perfect Union).
Our chosen economic system, Capitalism, must serve those values. Does it? Currently, no.
A common understanding of capitalism is that it will do exactly that if the “invisible hand” of the market is operating effectively. Given the assumption that people are created equal, in an effective market-based system, we should expect a natural distribution of wealth. Such as this:
How Are We doing?
Compare that ideal to reality. Here’s our current distribution of wealth:
As an overly romantic kid, I spent a good portion of my youth wearing bulbous headphones, analyzing the lyrical content of pop music. I once passed an entire family vacation listening to “Bennie and the Jets,” trying desperately to both memorize the lyrics and comprehend their meaning. The weird and the wonderful.
Religious leaders were scaring kids with stories of Satan-controlled rock stars and a nefarious tool called backmasking. Ironically, this made me certain the prophets of pop had access to deeper understanding. All I had to do was decode the hidden messages!
The influence of my sweet satan seemingly made me vulnerable to overwrought orchestrations of infatuation. Songs were my education in love. Imagine my joy when dad drove home in a new Chevy van! The things I imagined.
Over time, I began to develop a bullshit meter. For example, was there really a Mandy in Mr. Manilow’s life. I had my doubts.
How Much Do You Feel?
Ambrosia is the fabled food of Gods, famously used by Athena to affix beer-goggles on the suitors of Penelope. I knew nothing of Homer as a pre-teen. For me, Ambrosia was simply a band who understood true love and heartbreak, just like me. I bought all their singles.
Years later, I happened upon those 45’s, inserted the required yellow adapter (a satanic symbol for man on man on man love action) and began anew to analyze the lyrical content of their hit “How Much I Feel.” It’s widely counted as a beautiful blue-eyed soul love song. Even Casey Kasem thought so. But, is it?
Less than thirty-seconds in, the bullshit meter lurched full red. I grabbed the needle so quickly it sounded like tires screeching round Dead Man’s Curve. How Much I Feel? This guy was a lying, cheating bastard. Let’s break it down.
[Note: each lyrical section of the song is presented in a short audio clip. Click on the triangle next to the title to play it.]
I don’t know how this whole business started
Of you thinkin’ that I had been untrue
So, his girlfriend (wife?) suspects infidelity and confronts him. His response is classic misdirection: turn the accusation back on the accuser. The question is shifted from whether he cheated to why she doesn’t trust him. See how that works?
Ask: Could a woman ever be appointed to lead your religion? Should they?
Mitt Romney is sexist. He adheres to a philosophy, Mormonism, which denies women equal rights. Mormon women are not allowed to hold leadership positions within the church and forbidden ordination into the priesthood.
Similarly, before 1978, the Mormon church did not allow black men to hold the priesthood. Had they not changed that position, Mitt Romney would have no chance to run for President; he’d rightly be branded as racist; that he’s not being asked to reconcile his sexism in a similar fashion reveals a troubling double standard.
Sexism isn’t sexy, it appears. Racism? That’s hot. Homophobia? Get a room. However, when it comes to the most dominant form of inequality, many seem complacent.
The foundational Mormon treatise “The Family, A Proclamation To The World” holds:
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.
Mitt Romney’s vision of a healthy society puts men in the boardroom and women in the bedroom
Here’s how the Mormon Church practices this: Women are not allowed to hold the priesthood. Women are not allowed to hold any position of leadership over men. Even within the Mormon organization for women, they are not allowed to set their own budgets or to structure their own teaching materials. Women are not allowed to bless their babies, or even to hold their babies while they are being blessed.
Asking whether one believes in God is a nonsensical, and ultimately, meaningless question. One would not ask “Do you believe in King?” God, like King, is a title, a political office. What matters is not belief in the existence of a being who claims the title, but rather, agreement with the political philosophy of any being who would assert power over us.
What is Post-Atheism?
I’ve coined the term Post-Atheist to convey moving beyond our current understanding of the title of god and our relationship to it. The common questions about god are nonsensical (do you believe) and impossible for finite beings to rationally consider (e.g. debating the attributes of god). Further, belief in a being is a simplistic calculation; more important is agreement with that being on fundamental governing principles.
Would the existence of an all-powerful creator automatically bestow a right to authoritarian rule? Of course not, just as my power to create a child does not bestow upon me a moral right to authoritarian rule.
Rather than our being defined by a best-guess at the existence of a powerful being (atheist, agnostic, believer), it is more important to define what is and is not acceptable behavior from any being who would seek our participation in their community.
Do you believe in God?
This question is nonsensical.
“God” is a title. Titles are descriptive appellations which convey rank, office, or status. For example, “king” is the title of a person holding a political office. A king may also have a personal name; e.g, King George.
Like king, god is a title. Defined generally as “the one supreme being, the creator and ruler of the universe,”1 the title of god conveys rank, office and status.
“When people began living in settled agricultural communities, social reality shifted deeply and irrevocably. Suddenly it became crucially important to know where your field ended and your neighbor’s began. — Christopher Ryan, Ph.D. and Cacilda Jethá, M.D. in Sex At Dawn”
Whosoever Looketh On A Woman
As we closed our eyes for the congregational prayer, I could feel the closeness of her skin, electricity arcing as from one lead to another. Right hand folded tightly under left arm, index finger extended slightly. A hoped for inadvertent touch.
That act, however innocent it may seem, had the potential to cost me everything.
Three weeks previous, my mission companion and I were shopping at Sears in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. I needed another white short-sleeved shirt, having lost one to bicycle grease.
As I turned to the counter, a moment cliches are made of: Eyes locked, time slowed. She smiled, I blushed.
It was easy to imagine that I had never seen a more beautiful woman.
In the history of pick up lines, this had to be among the worst: “Have you ever heard of the Book of Mormon?” I haltingly stammered, words fighting others I’d have preferred.
To match the ideals outlined in the U.S. Constitution, we must define and measure our values.
We have already defined our values. We do not yet measure outcomes.
Science is the only tool capable of abstracting human experience over populations, allowing us to know whether we are achieving our goals.
By choosing not to measure, we violate basic human rights and empower the strong over the weak, the majority over the minority. This threatens to make meaningless our chosen values.
Therefore, Science should be a human right.
Government and The Moral Landscape
Sam Harris recently published a controversial book titled The Moral Landscape, wherein he argues that science can answer moral questions:
Questions about value—about meaning, morality, and life’s larger purpose—are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures. Values, therefore, translate into facts that can be scientifically understood.
Stephen Gould provides a common dissent:
Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people…The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner.
I side with Harris.
Most criticism of his position rests in a critique of Utilitarianism; an ethical position that holds the right course of action is the one that creates “the greatest good for the greatest number.”
Harris, by presenting his theory abstractly (“some science somewhere could do this”) and by responding to the abstract criticisms of his opponents, actually misses the strength of his argument when applied to practical use.
What else are we doing than safeguarding the well being of individuals when we form governments?
Harris’ theory can be grounded in Governance. U.S. Democracy, for example, is functionally utilitarian.
What else are we doing than safeguarding the well being of individuals when we form governments? In this light, arguments about whether we can define and measure moral positions are nonsense; we’ve been attempting to do so since the beginning of recorded history. We’ve just been doing it poorly.
If, as Harris’ opponents argue, this endeavor is impossible, then we should immediately dispense attempts to define communal values and form governments.
Diamond Life: Heaven Help Him, When He Falls
October 1984 | 2:30 am | Provo, Utah
Lying across a sturdy sofa, empty lobby of a dormitory, Brigham Young University.
Eyes smudged with eyeliner, highlighted hair tousled, bleached white 501s.
I’d been at The Star Palace, a refuge from the adjustment of moving out of Seattle and into Pleasantville. “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?” I danced. Hard.
My best friend back home was black. We frequented black clubs, listened to black music. There’s no “black” in Provo. I adapted; rather than rock steady to the Whispers, I swayed to Swing Out Sister.
In a malaise of misfit and dried sweat, I was watching Night Tracks, a late night music video show.
He’s laughing with another girl,
playing with another heart.
Placing high stakes making hearts ache.
He’s loved in seven languages.
Jewel Box life, diamond nights and ruby lights,
high in the sky.
Sight: red lips, black hair, freckled brown skin.
Sound: delicate piano, driving bass, salvific sax; creating structure to protect, wings to carry a voice soft and soaring, mysterious and familiar.
Heaven help him, when he falls.
And fall I did. No help from Heaven.
I’m leaning against a bar, swirling Johnnie Walker Black on the rocks and reading Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage” when a woman approaches with a scowl and purpose. “Empty that bag and prove to me that you need to carry everything in it” she demands, handbag slung defiantly over her shoulder, arms crossed. “You should not be carrying a bag; men don’t wear purses.”
One might expect such a confrontation would catch me off-guard, but this interrogation is common. For the past 15 years, I’ve carried what is derisively referred to as a man bag.
More frequently than it should, this accessory elicits stares, comments, scorn and on rare occasion, compliments. In the seeming view of many, my bag further erodes the lost beacon of masculinity, the fall of the Western World.
For me? It’s just a bag. I’ve come to see it as a Rorschach Test that reveals more about others than me.
With deliberate movement, I take another swallow of scotch, set the tumbler down slowly, and ceremoniously two-hand lift my black Ferragamo onto the counter, exhibit A in this darkened courtroom drama.
Ask: Was the Mormon Church wrong to deny priesthood to black members before 1978?
The official policy of the LDS Church is that the racist practice was commanded by God, and not a result of racism among its leadership.
The Church has never apologized for the practice nor specifically repudiated racist teachings by LDS prophets.
Mitt Romney is skilled at evading this point, aided by general misunderstanding of the LDS Church.
He should be able to unequivocally denounce the racism of his church and of his past. He hasn’t.
During his 2008 campaign, Mitt Romney appeared on Meet The Press with Tim Russert. This specific question arose, and Russert came close to getting it right. Watch the clip:
At the end of that section, Russert asked:
“But it was wrong for your faith to [deny priesthood to blacks]?”
“I’ve told you exactly where I stand. My view is there’s no discrimination in the eyes of God and I could not have been more pleased than to see the change that occurred.”
What’s critical here is to note what Romney did not say; Russert asked “was it wrong?” Romney evaded. No apology. No repudiation of the Church or its racist practice.
Earlier in the interview, Romney states:
“I’m very proud of my faith, and of the faith of my fathers. And I certainly believe it is a faith, uh, well it’s True and I love my faith. And I’m not going to distance myself in any way from my faith.”
He will not separate his position and the position of the Church. The church has not apologized for the racist practice, nor will he.
David Frum reversed his position on gay marriage. Conservatives would have you believe that the case for or against it requires a review of evidence.
In framing his reversal this way, he’s misrepresenting his previous position, and glossing over the deeper question: is conservatism capable of producing coherent policies in a nation whose foundational values include equality, justice, and union?
Conservatism has been wrong on the most fundamental questions of human rights. The questions of slavery, women’s right to vote and interracial marriage were not decided by weighing evidence, and neither is the question of gay marriage.
David Frum, a conservative columnist, recently admitted “I Was Wrong About Same-Sex Marriage.”
In linking to his article on my facebook page, I stated:
“Oops! David Frum tries to backpedal his previous opposition to gay marriage. What he doesn’t understand is that this is an indictment not just of his previous position, but of conservatism generally.”
A friend asked about my strategy of chastising a person who has come to agree with me on one of my core issues. “Why not just pat him on the back and welcome him into the tent?”
David Frum didn’t invent his opposition to gay marriage ex nihilo; his core principle, conservatism, predictably led him to make this fundamental mistake.
In his reversal, Mr. Frum states:
“…the case against same-sex marriage has been tested against reality. The case has not passed its test.”
Frum’s conservatism seems to suggest an evidence-based requirement of change, and yet his position is not now nor ever was informed by evidence.
In his former arguments, Mr. Frum wasn’t asking that gay marriage be tested; quite the opposite. He and most other conservatives have viciously fought any attempt to grant rights to homosexuals.
To claim now that gay marriage has been tested and found innocuous is to subtly, but importantly, misrepresent the prior position. What is more important, it’s an attempt to ignore the core problem, which is the philosophy of conservatism.
My theory of Progressivism holds that knowledge improves over time, allowing us to better understand ourselves and our environment. Knowledge is advanced by individuals through both free and systemic inquiry. I encourage change through the application of better knowledge, resulting in a more perfect union.
My theory of Conservatism, by contrast, places value on past knowledge, emphasizing culture, history and authority (god, religion) as the source of knowledge. Conservatism suggests the status quo has been earned, and change should be resisted. It seeks to maintain our union as a function of what is or was, rather than what might be.
We infrequently seek to understand the philosophical rationale for our actions, most often choosing positions based in a near-term calculus of that which we desire.
This article is meant to represent my current thinking on my own political philosophy. I recognize the choices I make, that my position is not mandated by facts, but rooted in desire.
We hold the power to choose our path, or to have our path chosen for us. I choose to value progress over conservation.
The United States has a single foundation: The Constitution. It outlines our legally shared values:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Any appeal to principles not contained herein are not shared values. For example, we are not a biblical nation. We are a Constitutional nation. Argumentation of law must only appeal to legally shared values.
During each political season, we are inundated with campaign slogans and rhetoric which appeal to foundational American values. We hear reference to our being a Judeo-Christian nation, appeals to biblical authority, nostalgic recounting of the founding fathers’ personal beliefs, or even the eulogizing of small-town American values. The values of some Americans are identified as real, while others are demonized as un-American.
From this basis of branding values, many attempt to both discredit the ideas of others and to lend authority to their own. Their position is necessary, they’ll argue, given the core values they’ve defined.
The problem? Frequently these defined foundational values are not legitimately shared. Agreeing to a shared set of values is fundamental to any productive argument. Discussion of a topic, absent agreement on the foundational values, is most often pointless.
Imagine a bicycle built for two; if the riders don’t agree on the purpose or direction of travel, their odds of arriving at a mutually acceptable place is unlikely. If one rider attempts to define his own values as universal, in this example by seizing the front seat of the bicycle, they’ll simply be imposing their non-shared value on the other. Their values, then, are no longer shared, they’re authoritarian; one party attempting to force their values on the other.