Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

It’s not about Jesus

I wrote something to an acquittance of mine, Anna L Davis, in response to a post she wrote and it got me thinking.  I thought about the degree to which being part of a church is not about Jesus.  Anna spoke of a group of former prostitutes who know try to lead other prostitutes to Jesus.  For whatever reason (My morals, of course, intrinsically compromised by my atheism) I don’t like prostitution and I think it is good for women to be lead out of it by people who have been there, regardless of motivation.   She mentioned how she would like to see more of this sort of thing.

I don’t think she will.  Christianity is dying in the west, at rate of about 1% per year.  Do you know what the fastest growing religion is? Wicca. The number of people who identify as Wiccans is doubling every 30 months. (Ref)  So, I offer to concerned Christians everywhere my little guide book to how to keep your church from going the way of the brontosaurus.  You can get Wiccans and other Neopagans (people who believe a fairly arbitrary re-imagining of neolithic and bronze age paganism, only without the blood sacrifice.) to go your church and stay there.

Its profoundly simple, actually.  White suburban does not equal Christian.  Tell me which picture is a group of Christians….

I like how the photo of the Christian teens (it’s taken from the Youth for Christ web page) uses careful lens flash to make the token black guy the whitest one there.   So tell, me what exactly have the goths done wrong here?  They are dressed as modestly as the Christians.  There is no more hair dye, and no more make up on the right then on the left.  You can’t see any skin really, no naughty words, no pentagrams.

But you know, don’t you?  You know instantly they aren’t Christians because they don’t look white bread enough.  Wicca takes these people with open arms.  Wicca says “Your uniqueness is blessed”.  The Christians say, through a tyranny of frowns and subtle digs, that these people aren’t right, no matter how much they love Jesus.  I know someone is reading this and saying “Oh NO! Not I! I would love these people into Christianity. How long could person come to your church dressed like this before someone felt the need to say something to them?  If Christianity wants to exist in another 50 years, then it needs to stop acting like being a Christian means having a Christian image, and needs to start acting like the inside is more important then the image….

Or be content with young people leaving droves from the  hypocrisy.

P.S. If you got this far without ever realizing that only God can see the heart and the group on the left could be Satan worshipers and the group on the right could be local Baptist teen group then you don’t need me to tell you what the problem is.

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December 9, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Christianity, Government, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Audacious Man

I will write my paradigm paper, really. I’m just busy.

A specialist will always beat a generalist in a specialized challenge.  The only time a specialist losses to a generalist is in general challenge.

Specialized challenge: going really fast in a vehicle around a highly embanked well paved track. Winner: race car. Loser: tractor.

Specialized challenge: pulling 40 tons of grain over wet sod for 2 hours on 3 gallons of diesel. Winner: tractor. Loser: race car.

The only time a generalist has chance is when the challenge is general.  This is why we use main battle tanks and not light, medium, and heavy battle tanks.  Battle is a general challenge so a force of all general tanks beats a force of an equal number of special tanks, unless there are special circumstances. Same goes for airplanes.  We are increasingly moving away from force of fighters, attack planes, ground support planes, and light bombers to a single multirole plane which isn’t quite as good of a specialist as any of those, but over all wins the general challenge.

A human, verses any animal specialist will always lose. Apes are better weight lifters, dolphins better swimmers, cheetahs better runners, fleas better jumpers.  We don’t haves as good as hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, or seeing as a veritable zoo of various species. We have one specialty:

We create.

We make tools to make tools to make tools.  Everything we make is a tool.  No other species specializes does creation like us.  This is one of the most important ideas in the world.  This means we are at our most human when we are creating. The “best” human is not the one who knows the most facts, or has the most stuff, or can influence the most people.  The most human human is the one that is the most creative.   This is the human most useful to any society when the game changes, though also the most likely to change the game.

What does this mean? My thanks to Xenophanes for expounding on this back in 500 BC:

The Ethiops say that their gods are flat-nosed and black,
While the Thracians say that theirs have blue eyes and red hair.
Yet if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw,
And could sculpt like men, then the horses would draw their gods
Like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape
Bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own

And so the Gods of people are…always…creators.

Who is more audacious, the man who believes there is no God, or the man believes his god must be just like him?

December 6, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Christianity, poetry, Politics, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How I became a happy Atheist

Every year after my birthday, I try to reassess my life. I write down this reassessment so I can read it. I’ve found my memory slants things in my favor and only by writing down my thoughts can I later be sure of exactly what I was thinking at the time. So this post is primarily for me, put out publicly for anyone who might be interested. In essence, I’m reintroducing myself to myself. If you want to get to know me again, this would be a good thing for you to read, if you don’t there won’t be much you haven’t heard already.

I spent most of my life with what you might call a divided self. To some people, I was a good and serious Christian, to others I was a very liberal Christian, to myself I could be either of those two, but there was also a private life hidden from both my serious Christian friends and my nominally Christian friends. There were two parts to this private life as well: there was young man that desired nothing but the satiation of the flesh, and finally caught in the tension of all of this and man who truly hated his very life, and struggled constantly to avoid physical self harm and deep feelings of worthlessness. I was deeply ashamed that I, a Christian felt that way and struggled as much to keep people from finding out how I felt like trash as I did to overcome those feelings.

It made for a complicated life. I thought my parents were the greatest parents on earth and I loved them. At the same time, sometimes I hated them so much it was purely my fear of the punishment of God for disobeying them that kept me at home much past my 16th birthday. If I was going to choose one word to describe my young adult and adult years it would “confused”. I was never sure who was the real me: the serious Christian, the liberal Christian, the sex freak, or person who was prevented from suicide purely because whenever he put a gun to his head he saw his family around his hospital bed as he was in a vegetative state, clucking their tongues and saying “Couldn’t even get that right, could you?”

I was always on the look out for someone who had the answer of how to live the Christian life. I wanted to truly be a Christian more than anything on earth. Adolescent angst turned into adult depression. Frequently, I would wake up before my alarm went off and stare at the ceiling trying to will myself into facing another day of failing to be the man I was supposed to be. Usually I could. Sometimes I could not, and it cost me more then one job.

This would lead me to join a radical Pentecostal group who claimed to have a corner on knowing God. Some would call the group cult-like, and perhaps it was but, in the end it was good for me. For the first time in my life I was honest with people about the feelings I had about myself and others. There was an enormous rush to being that intimate with people emotionally. The feeling, though sexless, is not entirely unlike the feeling of being courted. (I’ve talked to a few cult survivors who say this remains a feature of their live that they now miss.) When the novelty of those wonderful feeling wore off however, I was largely the same person. This became an increasing source of frustration. Further, the church talked a very radical, revolutionary game, but when I started to ask hard questions about when this so called revolution would start, I was ostracized.

A pivotal moment in all of this, was falling in love with my wife’s best friend. Of course, being 24 and her being 22, part of these love feelings including an intense and acute desire to make love to her. Which at first, made me hate myself more then I knew was possible. It would hardly seem that this could work for good? But it did. Through long conversations with my wife about my feelings, we came to the conclusion that it wasn’t feelings that were wrong but the actions you took with them. That being the case, I just ignored the sex drive and enjoyed loving someone. Always I had seen my desire for sex with a woman I was not married to as sick and twisted, and myself as perverse for having such feelings. Now, I accepted those feelings and enjoyed them but chose not to act on them. This was the beginning of a life of much less self hatred.

This new life of believing that I was worthy of love changed what I expected from a church. I now wanted to be treated as a peer. This didn’t sit well with the somewhat cult-like church we went to. The last straw was when I quit my job (to avoid temptation, long story) and no one would help us. Further, I was reading the Bible as a whole document looking for the whole story rather then reading individual passages to see what I could make it say. Our church wasn’t even close.

We had moved to the inner city to be closer to the people we were supposed to be saving. I sat on the stoop listening to the gun fire and the sirens. I realized that every stupid thing I had ever done was because I thought someone besides me would take care of me, yet here I was unemployed in the projects of Kansas City. I had a high enough ACT score to get into MIT and I was waiting tables and living three doors down from a crack house.

I decided I would start taking care of myself, and that such a thing would glorify God. I also still wanted to help people in the inner city, and it looked to me (after 2 years of hearing about transformation that I never saw) that hard working people getting money into the crappy schools would go a lot farther then prayer meetings.

I joined the Air Force (same pay as the other branches but least chance of getting shot and most time at home). I joined a very sincere Christian who had reached one simple conclusion: If one was going to consistent with ALL of scripture instead of just the parts they liked, then God was a radically different person then most people thought.

It’s unfortunate in many ways that I deconverted after joining, because I think a lot of people have the idea the military experience is what made me an atheist. Not at all. I joined, as I said, primarily to make enough money to make a difference. I came into the military a Christian. It was not the Air Force life that deconverted me but careful study of Scripture and the history of the early church.

That study lead me to believe that one of three things must be true (1.) There is no God. (2.) There is a God but he actively hides from those who seek him (3.) There is a God and I personally can see no evidence because he doesn’t want me to. In any of those three cases, this life on earth is the highpoint of my existence as I am either bound toward nothing or hell.

Logic says to believe the idea which requires the least invention to work. I could invent a God that cannot be found with the scientific method, or say there is no God. I chose no God. I prayed a final prayer, “Lord if you are real, I came to this conclusion with the brain you gave me and the best facts I could get. If you are real and I am wrong, then please keep my daughter and don’t hold my sin against her. I’m going to be true to myself and admit I don’t see you.”

After this, everything got better. (A subject I have blogged on extensively.) I didn’t ache inside because I wasn’t failing anymore. I stopped pretending I was a Christian, so now I had one kind of friends: the kind that liked me for me. Three months later, I woke up and was getting ready for work. I felt strange and it took me some reflection to realize why: I couldn’t remember the last time I woke up so depressed that I couldn’t go to work.

I didn’t immediately “come out” as an atheist. In my life I have been many things and what I am really excited about today is not something that will necessarily have great meaning to me in 6 months or a year or 5 years. I quietly worked out things. One of the things I really struggled with was the meaning of life in the absence of God. Christianity is a pre-packaged world view, the paradigm equivalent of a Lunchable. Atheism is merely a theology. Eventually, two things would move me. The first was existentialism. Sadly, since most existentialists are big philosophy geeks, existentialism has a huge image problem. Existentialism does not say that life is meaningless (that would be nihilism), on the contrary existentialism says life can have great purpose: the purpose you give to it.

This helped me understand some of the great confusions of my life. What meaning did my relationships have? The meaning I chose to give them. Guilt I had carried over an ex-fiance for years melted away. But what of the indifferent universe that I now believed I lived in? Well, when I spoke of this to the very wise Doctor Karen Stollznow, she said, Israel, rocks and trees may be indifferent, but we as humans are generally surrounded by human beings who are as authentic parts of this universe as the sun or the earth. Because people can make the choice to care, the universe is not indifferent.

During this period (around this time last year) I began to really hate my parents. I was profoundly bitter with Christianity and I blamed my parents for raising me in it. That was stupid. We’ve talked since and worked it out largely. Though not bitter, I remain slightly miffed at Christianity. I’m 29 years old and it has only been the last few years that I have had a normal sexual relationship. I’ve been in a sexual relationship since I was 22, however it wasn’t normal or healthy until fairly recently as atheism and existentialism helped me come to healthy view about myself. Sex is not very important to some people and incredibly important to others. I am the latter, and it irritates me that I spent the first 25 years of my life when unhealthy, ineffective thoughts and actions regarding sex because of Christianity.

A note here, when I say “Christianity” I am not referring to a code of ethics based on the Gospels, but the unique expression of American, politically conservative protestantism as I understood it. I have talked to many people since deconverting that managed to believe psychologically healthy things as well as Christianity. They managed to believe everything I do, yet do so with a paradoxical belief largely at odds with scripture. More power to them, I’m not mad at them anymore either. (For awhile I was jealous of their ability to keep all the pleasant trapping of Christianity without the madness, but I’ve come to accept that they can do it and I can’t)

This is largely the complete story of how I got to where I am. Next post I will tell you myself (and you all) where here is.

November 27, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Christianity, Religion, Science, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Open marraige contintued,

In my last post, I told a story.  I told the true story of how I came to no longer see open marriage as evil. Included in that story was the fact that ultimately, my wife and I don’t have what most people call open marriage.  I told this in story form, because I thought it would help people identify with what was going on.  It would show them a journey that made a little more sense of how a person who used to be a Christian came to think open marriage could be an option, before he de-converted.  Instead of making it easier for people to understand I seem to have made it harder so let me try again, laying out the principles I wanted to make clear last time.

First off, all marriages are open. There is no magical force imbued in the marriage license that “closes” your marriage.  Every person in every faithful marriage is so for one reason only: their feelings.  Even if a person says “No, no, no! I am faithful out of a sense of duty!,” it is their feelings about duty that make them think duty is a worthy reason to be faithful. If they felt duty was a pointless concept, they wouldn’t believe it was a worthy reason to be faithful.  Being faithful is choice every married person makes every day, based on how they feel about it at the time.  As such, ALL marriages are open because everyday, either partner can sleep with whoever they want, whenever they want,   The fact that most people chose not to says that most people feel that the consequences are greater then the benefits, not that marriage is magically a “closed” relationship.

Second, if any readers are familiar with personal property rights, they will know that what makes private property “private” is not only the right do do what you wish with it, but also the right to exclude others from doing anything with itMarriage is as much about who is excluded and from what as who is included.  This is why marriage is a legal status, and not just a relationship one.  The government is aiding the contract holders (the married people) in enforcing their legal right of exclusion of all others.  Because of the difficulty in pinning down anything else, legal marriage is what defines this right of exclusion primarily on the act of coitus.

The problem is when people carry the legal definition as a relational definition, because sexual monogamy is a road, not a point. The confusion is because sexual intercourse and sexuality are not the same thing.   Most married people have a huge problem with their spouse having sexual intercourse with someone else.  Very few married people have a problem with their spouse speaking to someone else.  However, whats the line between chatting and flirting?  Not a whole lot.  When does flirting (which implies a lack of serious interest) become dirty talk?  And at what point does dirty talk become virtual sex? Where is the line between a friendly squeeze and a grope?  When does a pat (noun, usage 2) become petting? (usage 2)  When does chit-chat become opening your heart?

My point is not that by creating infinitely fine gradients the difference between behaviors is erased.  For instance, there is huge difference between chatting and phone sex, and everybody knows it. My point is that each couple has to determine how far down the road of non-monogamy is “too far” for their individual relationship.  You will find few people to whom fidelity means merely refraining from coitus. (Bill Clinton famously among them.)  This is because despite popular usage the word “fidelity” has no intrinsic connection to sex. Webster’s says fidelity means faithful.  So what does Webster says faithful means? Steadfast in affection or allegiance, firm in adherence to promises or in observance of duty.  Even the dictionary confirms, couples work out what faithfulness means in their own relationship.  As long as you adhere to the promises you made to your spouse, and observe the duties that you agreed to, you are being faithful.

There are intimacies of different kinds, including but not limited to emotional and physical. Since marriage is about excluding others as well as about including one, each couple has to work out where that line is crossed and others aren’t being excluded anymore.  I know couples where each person doesn’t have any opposite sex friends because, for them, even a friendly conversation crosses the line of exclusion.  I know couples where each person doesn’t look at pornography or read romances because, for them, that crosses the line of exclusion.  I know couples that don’t sleep with people of the opposite sex until their spouse has met them because, for them, that crosses the line of exclusion.

Stereotypical open marriage means at least one spouse sleeping around with the consent of the other spouse.  My point was not that that is something positive, but that I no longer see it as something implicitly negative .  My claim that it is not bad does not mean that I am saying it is good. I am saying, above all, that fidelity is something every couple gets to work out on their own terms, and no person has a corner on what a “good” marriage is.

So, having realized (1.) Every relationship is open anyway. The legal status of marriage does not change this fundamental reality of relationships.  (2.) Every couple has to work out their own working concept of fidelity together, respecting both voices.  (3.) As such, a loving, healthy, and respectful marriage can include another person.

Understanding that lead to make the MAIN POINT OF THE WHOLE BLOG: “Love fearlessly.”  Don’t let the fear of intimacy, be it of the emotional or physical prevent you from making the choice to fall in love with someone–just keep your spouse aware the whole time of what is going on. You are being faithful as long as you don’t cross the line of exclusion.  When your spouse says “stop” because you hit that line, then stop, and you remain a loving, faithful spouse.  Cross it and you are unfaithful, because when your spouse asked you not to, you did anyway, not because of the nature of the act you were asked not to do.  No person has a right to say where that line is but you and your spouse, so don’t fear crossing anyone’s lines but the one you and your spouse marked out and said “This is ours.”

LOVE FEARLESSLY! That was the point.

Now, a note here on my marriage: The legal status of our marriage is merely a tax shelter; it has no say whatsoever on what makes marriage sacred to us.  Sacredness comes from feelings.  Whether you believe your marriage is sacred because of your feelings about a deity or because of your feelings about yourself and your spouse, either way the sacredness comes from your feelings.  My wife and I consider marriage a partnership, a meeting of equals for mutual gain.  We hold our marriage as sacred.

We decide the “line of exclusion” on a case by case bases after much discussion.  If either partner says “I don’t feel comfortable with X” then X stops. Because to us, the day we desire an act with another person more than the whole hearted approval of our spouse, our marriage dies.  The tax shelter would live on, but the sacred union dies.  To me that is the only moral foundation for our marriage.  When I talk about “open marriage” that is the context I am referring to.

And a note here on open marriage.  Other people can define “sacred marriage” how they wish, but I find the way most people live out open marriage would absolutely not be sacred for me.  In most of the open couples I have meet, the man can have sex with whoever he wants, and the woman (if she is allowed to have sex outside the marriage at all) is only permitted other women.   If I were to live that way, I would be lying to myself and my wife to make such a life appear sacred to me.  I can’t say that is the case for other men.  But again, when I talk about “open marriage” the normal version is not what I describe. I call our relationship open because we don’t rule out or accept behaviors with others based on a preconceived notions, but on a careful study of facts, our emotions, and mutual consideration and meditation.

Will our marriage go toward the ultimate conclusion of openness with either of us actually having coitus with another person (assuming I am not bound by the UCMJ at the time)?  I doubt it in the extreme.  But, the point is, it would be ruled as crossing the line of exclusion by both of us, after long discussion and consideration, and not by one person for the other, and most certainly not by arbitrary social limits drawn by strangers about certain acts regardless of context.

I say again, LOVE FEARLESSLY!  Please, if you didn’t read anything else, or don’t remember anything from this, remember this:

Love everybody.  Fall in love whenever you can.  Sometimes you will run into fences, like being straight and/or married.  Those fences are there for a reason, don’t cross them.   Sometimes you might need to move a fence out a bit, like saying its OK to have emotional intimacy.  Sometimes you will get hurt, or run into consequences and realize you need to move a fence back a bit.   The important thing is not the fences.  The important thing is this: Don’t let the fear of hitting the fence keep you from loving people.

November 7, 2009 Posted by | Christianity, feminism, Politics, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Feminism and me

So, I mentioned previously that I am trying learn about feminism.  My wife is taking a minor in woman’s studies for her associates degree because (aside from the fact she is truly interested) it’s a study path that gives her the most credits transferable to her bachelors in political science. So, I’ve been reading her textbook and some of the recommended supplementary reading.

So, here (at my currant level of ignorance) is my opinion of feminism.  First off, I think feminism makes a lot of valid points.  It asks questions that it wouldn’t occur to most people to ask.  For instance, most people are probably aware that women, in general make about 75% of what men make.  Some people are aware that women primarily make less because they work less hours, for fewer years, with more frequent career and work site changes.  Adjusted for this, you would find that women make 93% of what men make.

Feminism, looks to the fewer hours, for fewer years, with more frequent career and work site changes and says, but why? Because we have a two tier job market: One tier for people who have no other imperative responsibilities but servicing the job (most of whom are men), and a second tier for people who might need to change hours, or be absent from time to time (most of whom are women).  Now, lest you think the first tier exists to provide good employment, it doesn’t.  The high wage earning man can be fired at any time.  No, the first tier exists to service the industry, and the second tier exists (with poor wages) to subsidize the industry of  first tier and not the people in it.  Factories can’t keep churning if the (predominately men) on the line have to nip off to pick up sick kids.  Nope, thats the woman’s job.  Women make less because if they don’t take crappy jobs that let them take care of the kids in addition to work, their husbands will get fired.

Bravo feminism! I would have never noticed that on my own.  The perspective of women showed me something I, as a man, would have never thought of.  It turns out that there is a lot more flexibility of hours (and far less hours all together) in Germany and France, and better social protection (ie, getting paid even when you can’t go to work) yet according to the UN and CIA those countries have as-good-or-better a standard of living as the US.  So, a system with less hours, more flex, and more social protection doesn’t even have to hurt.

But then, I randomly run into these perspectives, under the umbrella of feminism, that are just bat-shit insane. Notably, that Marxism could fix everything if it was just given the right chance, that the phrase “blaming the victim” is a magic spell that can be invoked in any context to absolve the victim of any responsibility whatsoever* and that a the media, and not a person’s choice to believe all outlets of the media are a fount of truth is the cause of bad self image.

*I note here, there in some cases the victim has no responsibility; Rape is such a case. Child abuse is such a case.  Poverty is not. Poverty has many causes, some are systemic but some are personal.  The people of the US, and the government they elect has not even scratched the surface of the systemic causes of poverty, but that policy failure does mean that we can ignore the personal issues.

I am glad there are feminists out there, and their probably needs to be more.   I think feminism is imperative to the healthy functioning of democracy. If I had a sum of money to give away, I could give it to some feminist agencies with clear conscience.  I support the goals of the movement.  I support the spirit of the movement.

But if Marxism is the answer, what was the question?

October 18, 2009 Posted by | feminism, Government, Politics, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Slice of life, Transportation, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Health-care Debate IX

So, I was asked on the last post, what DO I support…

I believe in freedom, as defined by the Wiccan Rede: “If it harm none, do what you will.”

One of the freedoms we have is to buy and sell and start and stop business.  That’s a free market and it works like this: if there is demand, then the market supplies it.  The higher the demand the higher the price.  This makes sure the supply is never exhausted, because the higher the demand is the more the supply is rationed by price.  Its self regulating, efficient, and simple.  The only problem is amorality: the free market only follows the back half of the rede “…do what you will.” and completely ignores the the first part.  It’s self regulating nature does not include moral regulation. The free market is just a tool; it can be used for constructive or destructive purposes or for just sort of plodding along.

If all free markets were perfect markets, the market would need little moral guidance.  Simple things like: “You can’t buy or sell people” or “Only certain parties can buy and sell substance X” would be all the morality the market would need.  Perfect markets mean all actors are rational, there are no hidden costs, and the buyer and the seller both have all the information they need to make a rational decision.  The problem is, “free market” means free to be a perfect market, or a highly imperfect market.

Remember that a perfect market requires rationality of all actors?  What about when the market actors are highly irrational? In a disaster the price of staples tends to skyrocket in a free market.  Now, in a perfect market this would be a good thing.  Raising the price would ration access to the supply, ensuring that vital commodities only go those who really need them and preventing the exhaustion of supply.  Unfortunately, the first thing to run out at ground zero is rationality.  The people who can afford the goods at any cost by all of them (far more then they need).  They sit on top of their horde, and no one else gets any.  (This is why the government often controls prices and access to goods in an emergency.).

In fact, I think I can make the case that irrationality is the cornerstone of the free market.  There is no real, functional difference between a Chevy and a Pontiac, but people pay more for the Pontiac because they are irrational.  People pay hundreds of dollars for Nike shoes that cost the Nike corporation a few dollars to produce because they are irrational.  Brands, in general, are irrational.  People will tell you “I like this brand because it stands for X,Y, and Z.”  Actually it doesn’t.  Every brand stands for the exact same thing: money for the owners.  That’s it, nothing more nothing less.  Various CEO’s have actually been taken to court for trying to say they had a responsibility besides money for the owners.  The stock holders always won.

Because of irrationality, the free market fails to do what the perfect market does: lower the price to the lowest level the producer can sustain.  Instead, the free market produces a ladder of products with the cheapest and lowest quality going to the poorest and the most expensive and highest quality going to the rich.  In most of what we do, this is perfectly fine.   Jim Beam bourbon is about $15 a 3/4 liter.  Jack Daniels about $20, and thats just fine.  I absolutely support a free market for booze, because it’s not something anyone actually needs anyway.  I support a free market most of the time.  When it evolves to a perfect market thats even better, but often people are too bloody irrational for that.  That’s fine too. Freedom means the freedom to be irrational.

I think, however, that health-care is good case for government involvement.  This is because the ladder will apply to health-care.  The rich will get the very best doctors, and the poor when they can afford them at all, will get the very poorest.  I think that such a situation is immoral.  It’s fine and dandy for the rich to get the best houses, cars, TV’s and booze, and the poor to get the worst.  It’s not so fine for the poor to get the worst health-care.  I think it is immoral for people to have to die or suffer just because they are poor.  I also think, in general, it is immoral to take people’s money even if you are doing it to help others.  In the end, I think it is more wrong to let the poor suffer and die then to let the rich keep what they worked for.

Thus, I support a national health care plan.  Research shows the single payer model to be the most cost effective, so that is the model I support.  So, would I vote for the Obama plan were I allowed to?  Absolutely not.

Any program which requires a large, strong, national government must be in violation of the constitution, if not in letter, then in spirit.  As a result, it will be a bass-ackward band-aid whose form is characterized by what is necessary to pass through the constitution and not what is best for the American people. I cannot support any national plan, or any national goal, in the absence of 4 things: a new constitution, Condorcet voting, proportional representation, and a national assembly.

The current constitution is made for a weak, small federal government.  If we need national health-care, and I think we do, we need a new constitution which produces a cohesive, rational, strong, large, federal government.

Condorcet voting: a strong, national government and the constitution which allows it can be a great assistance to the people, or an unholy terror of the Soviet type.  The only way to keep the government, by, for, and of the people is democracy, and Condorcet voting is, frankly, more democratic.

Proportional representation is the same.  It gives more voice to more people, and helps keep multiple parties.  Condorcet voting is pretty useless if there are only two contenders for every election.

Finally, a national assembly.  National programs need to be overseen by leaders elected nationally, not a national collection of leaders elected locally.  All legislators need to be elected by Condorcet voting, and the Senate needs to be elected in a coast-to-coast popular election.  Baring these changes, placing the national health-care in the hands of the existing system would be a cure fare worse then the disease.

Remember the bridge-to-nowhere? Get ready for the hospitals for no one.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Government, Pharmacology, Politics, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Health-care debate VII

Do we want to fix health care? Health care is a cross roads where health-care providers, health-care consumers, health-care insurers and government all meet up. I can not talk about reforming those things without getting into pretty serious conversation what government’s role in society is, and here is my “simple” answer…

Government has a legitimate monopoly on force. If the mafia says “Give us 30% of your paycheck, every paycheck, to spend on protecting you and if you don’t we will take your stuff and/or lock you up in a small room with highly abusive people,” we would call that a protection racket, a form of organized crime. The reason the government is allowed to do this, and other groups are not, is because the government has a legitimate monopoly on force.

Under normal circumstances, a person exposes themselves to force by contract. Your collectors have the right to take your stuff if you don’t pay because you signed a contract saying it was OK. The fact that you have many contractors to choose from and that you enter the contract of your free will, makes this type of force self regulating and legitimate.

Government, on the other hand has this right regardless of contract, and there is no competition. So, in the absence of voluntary contracts serving as a control to the force, freewill is expressed through democracy.

However, democracy requires a system in order to function well. The simple will of the majority for every government tasking would be disastrous, even it it were logistically feasible. Fifty-one percent could (and would) use their power over the government to use the government’s monopoly of force to seize the money and resources of the remaining 49%.

Also, the fact that the government has monopoly on force doesn’t mean the government is the best instrument to accomplish every job. Socialism basically means the rich pay more taxes and the money taken from the rich provides for the poor. In a totally socialist state, the government would make all economic decisions for the people. Historically, this works very poorly.

Americans, justifiably proud of their economy, often complain about socialist economic control. However, if people take the time to think, few people really want a totally capitalist society, in which the supply of anything is controlled only by market demand, and not by the government’s monopoly of force.

Prescriptions are a good example. In a totally capitalist society, people could buy whatever drugs they wanted. The supply of drugs would be controlled completely by the demand for them. However, we impose non-market control over drugs, denying people access to drugs regardless of their demand because, in this case, capitalism harms rather then helps society.

Why? Because capitalism is a means to an end and not an end to itself. Capitalism is great at providing a variety of products, and using competition to drive the price of those products down, but capitalism, like many tools, is without morals. It is neither good, nor bad; it just is. Sometimes we stop capitalism from working on moral grounds.

The military is another good example. Bill Gates pays about 15 million times more taxes than the average American. Yet, he receives exactly the same level of military protection as the homeless who live nearby. That is socialism at its most basic. Yet few Americans clamor to have the US military dismantled and replaced with competing mercenary bands. We turn capitalism off and utilize the government’s monopoly of force when it seems that taking unequally from all to provide equally to all is more moral than not. In a totally capitalist economy, the rich would have the best police, the best roads, the safest airplanes, just as in our current economy they have the best cars, the best houses, and the safest neighborhoods.

Morality is the test. The poor people in a police district get the exact same protection as the rich in the same district, flying first class is just as safe as flying other classes, and the military protects us all to the same degree regardless of income, because we have decided to tax those with money, to pay for a service for all.

The government has a responsibility to protect its citizens, thus everybody pays what the government thinks they are able, to receive the exact same level of military protection. This does not mean there is a universal right to military protection, for there is no such thing as a right to a service when no contract has been made; it simply means the government has a responsibility to provide the best military the people will fund.

Health-care is no different. The government has a responsibility to protect the lives of its citizens. If 50,000 people a year die in attacks, the government acts through the military. If 50,000 a year die in traffic accidents, the government acts through the Department of Transportation. If 50,000 a year die from inaccessible health-care…well then let’s not do a fucking thing because that would be socialism?

My. God. Obviously, morality calls for the limited suspension of capitalism in this case. France has the the highest value health-care on Earth. In a few other countries, people pay less but get far less (Chad for instance). In most other countries people pay far more and get a bit less. There are three keys: (1) There is a single payer (the government) for everything; (2) The book keeping is state of the art; (3) The doctors strike regularly.

It’s that simple. In response to the will of the people, the government sets price caps as low as possible. In response to the health care providers, the government raises price caps. Between the two, the providers get the incentive they need to stay in the market, and the people get what they need to be able to afford health care.

And it will not work in the U.S. for just as simple a reason – we lack the sort of democracy that allows it. In the U.S.’s single-member-district plurality representation, it’s all or nothing; 100% or 0%. That simply will not work for government price fixing. Let us suppose the Republicans side with the doctors, and the Democrats with the “more-for-less” voice of the people.

When the regime is Republican, the doctors will do well. When the regime is Democrat, the doctors will do poorly. In a society like France’s, the doctors will always win something, but never as much as they ask for…every year. The people will always win something but never as much as they ask for..every year. In the U.S., doctors will spend 4-8 years going broke followed by 4-8 years of getting paid. Though this averages out to the same thing, the fact is after 8 lean years, doctors will be leaving the field in droves. The profession of medicine cannot survive the zero sum game (0% or 100%) method of democracy; it needs proportional representation.

If we really want health-care reform, we need to partially socialize medicine. If we want that, and we want crops of new doctors to replace the retiring ones every year, we must have proportional democracy.

Proportional democracy, however, only works for large bodies of many representatives, like the House. For things like the Senate, or the Presidency, we still need to vote for one person. No matter how democratic the House, unless the Senate and the President are elected differently, we will have made huge change with no positive effects. The two-party system would still rule the executive branch and the Senate.

For these, we need a Condorcet vote. In this system, the voter rank candidates, and the overall winner gets the seat. This breaks the back of the two-party system and puts the President and the Senate in the same democratic boat as the House.

Without these, any attempt at health-care reform is so much verbal masturbation.

September 27, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Christianity, Government, Politics, Religion, Science, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Health Care Debate VI

So, one of the things I thought about as I was siting in my car seat, either watching barriers shoot (by far to close) or stuck in traffic, was the American health care system.

In post five, I said health care is a real problem in the US and needs a solution. A gave a solution, but it was so cursory as to be nearly comic. (Like a three step process to getting the moon: 1. Build rocket, 2. Load up and launch. 3. Land on moon.) I wanted to go into detail, but I simply don’t have the time it would take to write a book about it. Here is my less summarized than before, but still highly summarized problem. (The solution in the next blog.)

I’ve come to think, after much reflection, that problem is not health care. The problem is Americans. We have the 2nd most expensive socialized health-care per capita GDP on earth, yet it covers only a 1/3 of our citizens. We have the 1st most expensive private care per capita GDP on earth, yet have the lowest age of mortality and highest infant mortality in the western world. We have highest medical costs, bar none, on earth, yet the leading cause of death cancer caused by tobacco and heart disease due to diet and inactivity. We have all of this…and yet at least half of Americans don’t think there isn’t a problem.

Most Americans are stupid. We have only two possible causes for any undesirable behavior: internal and external. I find the idea that Americans are genetically inferior to people of other nations ridiculous, so that just leaves external. What could be acting from the outside in of whole nation to make Americans so politically stupid?

Let me pause for a moment, to say that I love my country. It’s not a perfect place, but I love it worts and all. I’m not so naive to believe that the election of single black man to the highest office in the land eliminates racism. I see private, quietly expressed racism nearly everyday I am work. The fact remains however, only three generations from one of the most homicidal racial slave systems on earth, a black man as president is a good step. It doesn’t solve inner city poverty. It doesn’t change the fact that schools with mostly black kids get a fraction the funding as schools with mostly white kids, but you will not see an outcast on the Diet of Japan, or Jew as the president of Egypt in three generations. America, ultimately, does many thing better then any other nation on earth.

But in the American democracy, there is a corrosive element that eats away at the will of the people constantly. It’s called the two party system.. In turn, the two party system is what causes this uniquely American stupidity.

I could go on about how two party systems prevent any real change (which they do), or why the left and right of the Communist party in China represent more choice of ideals then the Democrat and Republican party (which they do) but thats not the important part. No matter how bad the collusion between our politically parties, or between those in power and those with money is, democracy has an amazing power to right such wrongs, and in a way the people support. While the US does have systemic problems, the existing system has the capacity for self correction…but it’s only as good as the people voting.

The two party system putrefies the minds of the people. It reduces every discussion of shade and color of meaning into single binary choice of black or white. It turns every attempt at discussion into a cosmic battle of good and evil, characterized by a double false dichotomy. “False dichotomy” in argument refers to painting a bleak picture of you opponent’s viewpoint to make yours look better by comparison. In the two party system, both the viewpoints provided are absurd. One side is the bastion of all freedom, happiness, and light, the other a hotbed of evil, conspiratorial lies, and ill will. One side is God, the other side is Satan. 100% or 0%, with no in betweens.

In that environment, there can be no discussion, no debate, only people screaming slogans. The two party system is often defended with the statement “Well, it’s a good system, because it tells both sides of the story.” That single statement shows the mental atrophy that a two party system exacerbates: the idea that all meaningful thoughts on a subject can reduced to two viewpoints. Obviously it’s better then a single party system, but thats damning with faint praise. (Two steps removed from anarchy! Go team!)

Such simplicity is seductive. You don’t need to worry about how or why. You don’t need to think. You just need to know which of a pathetic two options you choose. This brain rot affects other things besides politics. Auto accident policy is the same. Pretend you are going down a road and the person in front of you slams on the breaks to turn right. You hit their car. It is 100% your fault. Why? Yes you were following to close, but couldn’t it be even a few per cent the other drivers fault breaking irresponsibly? (Which is how most traffic law is set up in Europe.)

The first step in my little “How to fix health-care” post was “Tort reform”. The 0%/100% fault system rears it’s ugly head hear as well. If you have a pool in your back yard, it must have fence of certain opacity and height, because it is an “attractive nuisance”. You must do this, because if someone gets into your pool without it, you are 100% at fault and they are 0%. That’s stupid. At the same time, the law was put into place to right the wrong of people putting things very dangerous to children in their yards with no protection whatsoever, an environment where the pool owner had 0% fault and small child was 100% at fault.

The real answer to tort reform is a society that recognizes partial fault. I think a two party system trains peoples minds to be incapable of functioning in the gray areas that make up real life. The real cause of the American health-care failure, is Americans incapacity for rational thought, followed by an inability to turn rational thought into rational policy.

September 27, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Christianity, Government, Politics, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The coming blue funk

Ok, so I am almost done with my Health Care V post.  It’s a honking 2k words and I need to edit the crap out of it.  I’ve actually found some false conclusions and mis-facts that I hadn’t caught the first time, but I will probably leave those in because the concepts are right, and the type of polishing I need to do will probably be part of larger project where I rewrite the whole US system. It probably doesn’t have a chance of getting published but I would like to do the kind of editing that published work gets, so you all get the 2nd draft instead, in a couple more days.

Being a full time student has changed the way I view the passage of time. My life is broken down into 8 week blocks, and I can keep alot better track of when I feel good and when I feel like crap.  I am nearing the end of pretty pleasant 3 weeks.  This Monday I just couldn’t get excited about going to work.  The day drags on, I seem to get head aches easier, and I am tired all day, but then can’t sleep when I get to bed.  The petty irritations of social interaction with strangers weighs on me.

Times like this…

are when porn seems like a great idea. Porn is a substitute but not a very good one.  The way I feel after hitting up porn because I am sad is the same I way I feel when I haven’t eaten all day and late in the night eat a bag of Dorittos.   Satiated, but still empty.

are when I wish I could go home.  I’m not sure why, but I checked out when I was around 15.  My parents did their best to make a home, but from about 15 all I could think about was leaving.  I’ve been on the run from myself every since.  It’s only been very recently I decided that when my enlistment is up I am going back to Iowa and I am going to build a real life there.

are when I wish I could still pour my soul into a six string the way I used to.

are when I wish I could be as broken on the outside as I feel on the inside and be taken home by a well meaning woman to sleep pathetically beside her. Me feeling blessed by her presence, and her by my tears.  It’s a primal feeling that I can never entirely shake.  It’s not about sex, just acceptance.  (The strength of that feeling is why I don’t get drunk, and why I don’t frequent bars, btw.)

are when I wish I could still go the community art class I took in highschool, and turn out delightful abstract nonsense on the potters wheel.

are when I wish the claims of religion had evidence, so I could believe them.

Some of these things have consequences I will not risk.  Once upon a time, these feelings made it hard for me to hold down a job, but I’ve learned to live with them.  It is rare, this early in my blue swing that I will wake up tomorrow and feel better.  Once this starts it takes about two weeks to work out.  But, it will get better.  There will be moments of dark clarity, moments of where melancholy poetry is possible, moments where, because of frailness a single kind word will carry me up to the sky.

It’s not bad to be me.  Sometimes it’s just harder than others.  I will not say there is something wrong with me because this happens to me.  I’m not damaged, just different.   Sometimes I look at sunrise and I see the glory of a new day.  Sometimes I look at sunrise and I try and find those happy hopeful thoughts, but all I can feel is the pressing blackness of another day of struggle.   Regardless of whether I see darkness or light, I’d rather be the me I am then try to be someone else.

Maybe that someone else, that perfect Christian self who didn’t feel those ways was the person I was running away from for all those years, and “home” was wherever I didn’t think I had to keep up the masquerade.

September 1, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Christianity, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Slice of life, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Health Care Debate IV

The purpose of market is to provide a place for the producer and consumer to form voluntary contracts. The market has no intrinsic morals and only one rule: the best deal. The producer makes supply, the consumer makes demand. Between them, and the competition of various producers to provide for various consumers, this constant desire for the best deal drives price ever downward. It rewards the most efficient producer and the most efficient consumer alike. It’s almost a kind of magic.

Market failure doesn’t refer to a total break down of the buying and selling but a break down of the magic, of the automatic best deal for everyone. It’s not discrete point, but direction the market can go. The opposite direction leads to the perfect market. It too is not a destination but a direction, the ideal by which markets are judged.

A perfect market consists of a few key principals, describing the market as a game it looks like this: (1.) Rationality of all players in the game. (2.) No hidden costs to any move. (3.) Enough players that no single one can steer the game by their behavior. (4.) something all the players want to play with [demand] (5.) Freedom to play or not play at any point (6.) No barriers to entering or leaving the game (7.) No barriers to any player about information on any other player.

How does the medical industry fail these criteria?

Rationality of all players in the game

(1.)Well, first of all, the medical consumers are highly irrational. Short term fun at the expense of long term health is not rational, yet 80% of heat disease alone is preventable. Throw in smoking, obesity, diabetes, etc, and the single greatest killer is short sightedness. In a perfect world, doctors would serve as check on this irrationality, but the fact is, doctors are over-treating (which gets people killed) because of their fear of litigation.  The consumer is crazy and so is the producer.

No hidden costs to any move

(2.)The whole field is full of hidden costs. From regulations you never heard of to taxes you can’t imagine, the medical field is a minefield of hidden costs.

Enough players that no single one can steer the game by their behavior

(3.) Well, about half of the cost is payed for by one player (gov-care), and up to 70% of the remaining half is payed for by one company per area.  Normally, this would be called oligopoly, but honestly, its worse than that.  Because the first half is the government, its more like a oligopoly on the second half and monopoly on the first.  Under normal circumstances, even if a player owns 50% of the total market, that player can rarely take away your organization’s legal right to exist, or place members of your organization under arrest. The government has what is known as a monopoly on force. Monopoly represents a market distortion. Force, on the other hand, represents the nonexistence of market.  The foundation of market is people forming contracts of their free will, ie, without threat of force.

Something all the players want to play with [demand]

(4.) Demand, we’ve got. Sort of. The fact is, while doctors may not be the paragons of reason we hope, the producer side (as is typical in other industries) is better at being rational then the consumer side. If nothing else, it’s better organized. The consumer demand is health, not care. But doctors have no economic incentive to pursue health. They have need to produce care. So there is break down between the needs of the consumer and the ability of the producer to meet that need. Note, I am not saying there is a conspiracy by doctors to keep people sick. Doctors are like most people: there’s a few true saints, a few evil bastards, and lot of pretty ethical folk.  But the fact is, we must relay on doctors’ moral incentive and not their economic incentive to provide us with health. Systems work better when the two incentives are the same.

Freedom to play or not play at any point

(5.) This one absolutely does not apply. Playing in this case means the freedom to form or not form voluntary contracts. If the consumer doesn’t enter the market he suffers or dies. At the same time, if the producers do not enter the market many suffer or die. Further, hospitals must provide emergency care to everyone, regardless of ability to pay.  On the insurance side, insurers must provide insurance to at a loss to certain high risk people. They must by law.

No barriers to entering or leaving the game

(6.) Well, the barriers to entering the game are enormous. Lets say we want to start a tiny private practice, with very limited services. First, the price of becoming a MD is between $175K and $200K. Then, the first year cost for 1600 square foot commercial space, a receptionist and tech who makes no benefits is about $250K­. So, minimum startup cost is right around half a million dollars. Nor can hospitals simply exit the market, they provide a community service and without them people will suffer and die. Insurance is the most heavily regulated industry in the US, so even if cash on hand was not a problem the regulations would be, but in any case, and insurance company must have the cash on hand to pay out all claims if they were all called at once. The startup costs for an insurance company are in the tens of millions.

No barriers to any player about information on any other player

(7.) This is the worst. Insurance companies use hundred page contracts written legalese on purpose, to hide the information the consumer needs to know. At the same time, insurance fraud is a huge expense, because people aren’t honest with the companies either. If people are totally honest with doctors, their premium could go up. Conversely, if doctors are honest about risks with patients, the patients will simply go to another doctor who paints a rosier picture.  Again, the moral incentive is diametrically opposed to the economic one.

All in all, it’s a wonder health care is as cheap as it is. Again, I’ve hit over 1000 words, so I will post my solution(?) later. Thanks for reading all, feel free to weigh in on any of this.

August 30, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Government, Pharmacology, Politics, Religion, Science, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment