Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

The Skeptics Constitution

I’m a  big believer in the theory that you really learn the ins and outs of something by trying to do it or model it yourself.  To better understand politics, I’m trying to write my own constitution.  It’s shockingly difficult.  I mean, I did expect that it would be hard, but this is crazy.  One of the first ideas I had to let go of was my theory of no contraband.  My basic thought here was guns, drugs, and pornography. I know some conservative person just read this and is now convinced, more than ever, that I am rapidly going to hell.  Allow me to explain.  

I don’t believe in bad objects.  I believe the morality of an object is decided by its use.  To try and legislate against an object, instead of its use is to say to the world at large, “You’re all either to stupid to use this responsibly, or just plain evil.  Either way, you couldn’t possible use this object morally.  No one could!  So the object is banned, banned I say!”  I think that is wrong and sort of stupid.  

Let me make a parallel to free speech.  True free speech means speech you don’t like.  It’s that freakin’ simple.  Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, they all believed in a kind of free speech!  They all believed they should be free to say whatever they wanted.  It was the freedom of others to speak they made illegal.  Because we, and the people we agree with, want to be free, we grudging accept the fact that everyone is going to have to be free, and we tolerate other’s ridiculous babble so that we allowed our Righteous Pulpit of Truth. 

Free ownership is the same.  Free ownership means some people are going to own things some people don’t like.  Again, communist tyrants and the kings of old were very pro-private property: the party or royals should be free to own anything and maybe everything. The people, not so much.  Since we all want to own things that some people aren’t going to like, we must grudgingly accept the fact that everyone is going to have to be free, and we must tolerate others ridiculous and vile possesions, so we may keep our treasured and divine baubles. (To the moralists who might think they don’t have or want any offensive possession, I remind you that every religion’s holy book has been banned in part or totality at one time or another.)

I always thought it bizarre that people I knew who were the most pro-gun seemed to support any new anti-drug law which came down the pipe. My father is rabidly pro gun ownership, believing any restriction at all on gun ownership is a plot to disarm law abiding people and take over the country.   But, on the other hand, I remember Dad explaining to me once that even though some people might have the self control to use, rather than abuse drugs, most people would not.  Their abuse would cost society in lives, crime, and money.  Thus it was better to have drugs be illegal.  “But, Dad, if that’s true of drugs why not guns?  I mean some people might have the self responsibility to use rather than abuse guns, but most people wouldn’t.  Their abuse would cost society in lives, crime, and money.  So shouldn’t guns be restricted?”  

Oh no, he assured me.  Gun crime was lowest in the places with the least restrictions on guns, proving guns had a positive effect on society.  “But wouldn’t legalizing drugs have the same effect?  Where we have drug dealers now, we’d have tax paying pharmacies.   Where criminally supporting addicts need to steal thousands of dollars now, they’d only need to steal tens of dollars for the same high.”  

We never did come to see eye to eye on the issue.

I still see it the same way, though.  Guns can be for recreation and utility.  They can provide a fun afternoon of target shooting, put meat on the table, money in the economy (in the form of hunting licenses, boat licenses etc.) and they can save your life from an attacker.  That’s using a gun.  They can also be abused. They can rob a bank, terrorize your fellow man, kill someone accidently, or even murder.  Drugs are the same.  They give people something to gather around, they numb heartache and physical pain.  Many can be grown in your backyard and sold (if legal) at a farmers’ market.  They can also kill, drive to desperate acts, and destroy families.  Use or abuse, the choice is up to you.  

And I think porn is the same.  Porn can be an outlet for the outlet-less, a fun way to kill an afternoon, a business opportunity, and, if both partners enjoy it, a relationship builder.  It can also be an obsession, a perversion, a gateway to far more damaging behavior, an avenue to exploitation, and, if both partners don’t enjoy it, it can eat a relationship alive. 

So my original idea, to prevent the government from promoting the freedom of one group to dislike something over the freedom of another to like it, was to simply remove all laws defining “contraband.”

Congress shall make no law forming any contraband of any kind.

My theory was that, yes, this would allow people to own crazy, dangerous things, but; (1.) You can already own anything you want in any society. Illegality just makes the profit margin thicker for the seller because it does nothing to decrease demand, but increases the scarcity of supply; (2.) Making it legal would decrease demand because it’s not as cool anymore; (3.) Just because something is legal doesn’t mean you can get it.  Cyanide is deadly and dangerous, but legal.  It’s used in some welding operations. Anyone can get it, they just have to have the right bits of paper first; (4.) Just because something is legal doesn’t mean you can afford it.  It’s not illegal for a person to own radioactive material, for instance.  There’s some in your smoke detector.  But the price to quantity ratio makes it unlikely that anyone will do anything antisocial with it; (5.)  We tend to misunderstand risks of legality all the time.  Car’s kill around 50,000 people a year in the US alone.  Auto accidents are the leading cause of death for people under 40.  Cars are legal and kill in the tens of thousands.   Treehouses (stats on treehouses as a cause of death, anyone?) are illegal in many cities.  

It’s a good theory on all of the above points.  I don’t believe in punishing people for the capacity to do wrong which certain objects might give them.  You shouldn’t prevent someone from owning a gun when there is no reason to believe they won’t use it responsibly.  You shouldn’t prevent them from growing poppies or weed or owning a car or having a treehouse because they are assumed to be responsible and free until they prove they are going to use their freedom to harm others, instead of just themselves.  

The problem is an odd and specific one; items, the creation of which requires breaking the law, but are not stolen.  Example one: bits of an endangered species.  So, you go to the store and you buy a white tiger robe.  You didn’t kill a white tiger; the poacher did, and once the tiger was dead, it’s not like you could make it alive by not buying it.  If there is no contraband, then a person cannot get in trouble for owning a white tiger robe, only for killing the white tiger to get it.  So, supply is illegal, but demand is fine.  

There is a solution to example one.  All free game belongs to the people, whose right over it is administered by the State. (It’s already that way in New Jersey, by the way.)  Then, owning it constitutes owning stolen property, as such, it can be seized, and returned to it’s rightful owner, and the un-rightful owner held to various consequences depending on their level of involvement in the original theft.

Example two is a bit more evil: child pornography. While I believe that any consenting adult should be able to see (and do) pretty much anything regarding another consenting adult, the sexual exploitation of children is never acceptable.  Applying a parallel of example one doesn’t work, because even if all children are the property of the state (a profoundly lousy idea) the image of a crime is not identical to the crime.   Owning a stolen tiger pelt is not the same as having a picture of someone stealing one.  

My basic theory was that property is not good or bad, but can only be used for good or bad, but this sort of falls apart with child pornography. There is no good side to child pornography.  There is no way to “use” rather than abuse it.  For it to exist something unconscionable must happen.  How can a society embrace the freedom of adults to own what they wish, and follow the general truism of the amorality of tangible things, and yet keep this one thing contraband?

My answer is this: what makes child pornography is wrong is the exploitation.  The photo is amoral. The evil is the exploitation which went into making the photo.  As such, the real problem here is one of exploitation.  Pornography of a non-consenting adult is no more and no less wrong.   That being the case, exploitive pornography is treated as any other evidence of a crime (in this case rape).  The holder of the evidence is accused as an accomplice to the crime until they can provide evidence otherwise.  Child pornography is especially evil, but we need not throw out due process to pursue and punish it.

November 17, 2008 Posted by | Government, Politics, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thoughts on the election

Pretend a man walks up to you on the street.  He holds up a bat.

“I’m going to brake your left kneecap or your right kneecap. Which do you want me to hit with the bat?”

“Neither,” you reply. “I don’t want you to hit either of my kneecaps.”

“Well, too bad,” he says. “You have to chose which kneecap I’m going to hit.”

“But I don’t want you to break either of my kneecaps!” you yelp.

“Look,” he explains, “I have to break one of your kneecaps.  There’s nothing you can do about that, but I am trying to be nice and let you choose which kneecap you want broken.”

“It’s going to be horribly painful!” you yell.

“Well, yes, but it can be slightly less painful emotionally because of the choice, you know,” he replies.  “I’m giving you a choice here, you don’t have any right to complain.”

“I DO TO HAVE A RIGHT TO COMPLAIN! YOU’RE GOING TO BREAK MY KNEECAP!”

He clucks his tongue and cracks you across the nearest kneecap.  It shatters instantly, and you fall on the ground writhing in pain and screaming.

He shakes his head as he walks away. “I just can’t abide people who refuse to vote and then complain about the results,” he says to himself as he walks away, bat in hand.

September 5, 2008 Posted by | Government, Politics, Religion | , , , , | 2 Comments

Godless heathens sin less

This blows my mind.  Instead of blogging about it like I normally do, I just wanted to present the article in it’s entirety here.  So direct from the London times…

RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.

The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

“The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”

Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions.

He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.

The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from “ uniquely high” adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.

Mr Paul said: “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.”

He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added.

Mr Paul delayed releasing the study until now because of Hurricane Katrina. He said that the evidence accumulated by a number of different studies suggested that religion might actually contribute to social ills. “I suspect that Europeans are increasingly repelled by the poor societal performance of the Christian states,” he added.

He said that most Western nations would become more religious only if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existence of God scientifically proven. Likewise, the theory of evolution would not enjoy majority support in the US unless there was a marked decline in religious belief, Mr Paul said.

“The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.

“The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”

April 29, 2008 Posted by | Government, Politics, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Americans Hate Freedom

I realized something today.

Americans hate freedom.

Now, this statement will offend some. They will cry out, “We are the freest nation on earth,” “Americans love freedom,” and “Americans love freedom so much they will fight for the freedom of others.” I say, bologna.

As to the first: “We are the freest nation on earth.” How would one measure that? Well, how about percentage of the population incarcerated? Communist China has a population of 1.3 billion with 1.5 million in prison. America has a population of 300 million with a total of 7 million in prison. (1.) The US has more people in prison, both as a percentage of the population and as raw numbers, than any other nation on earth. The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. (2.)

Perhaps it could be measured by the amount of red tape through which people have to wade? Well, the tax code (which is not even considered part of the enormous US legal code) is 13,458 pages in total length. (3.)

Well, perhaps, our constitution would tell us. Our first Amendment promises us, among other things, free speech. However, according to Brandenburg vs. Ohio, the Federal government is allowed to stop speech which will result in lawlessness. (4.) Boy, that would make it hard to organize the Boston Tea party, wouldn’t it? Also limited by B vs O is speech which hurts peoples feelings and speech which causes discontentment with the existing government. Second amendment? Superseded by US Code Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 44. What about the 3rd and 4th Amendment? Canceled by eminent domain. (Yes, I am aware that the Bush signed a law that says owners must receive just compensation. How do we figure a fair sale price for that which is stolen?) 5th Amendment? Still good. Except for the eminent domain part. 6th Amendment? Speedy Trial. Need I say more? 7th Amendment? Still good. 8th? Not so much, if you end up as an American citizen in a black site prison (5.) (6.) 9th Amendment? If we don’t follow the constitution, why would rights listed elsewhere be followed? 10th Amendment? Thats, funny. That would mean that any federal power not mentioned in the US constitution belongs to the states. Like the alphabet soup of Federal agencies that dot our political landscape, for instance.

So, pretty much the whole Bill of Rights has gone down the crapper. What about the “War for Iraqi Freedom”? Don’t we love the people of the world so much we will fight for their freedom for them? See, that’s kinda funny, to say “fight for their freedom for them” We go to someone else’s country and say, “We are free. You will be like us, and we will smart-bomb everyone who disagrees.” If you are not free to disagree with the occupying US government, exactly how much freedom are we exporting? You can’t fight someone else’s war for freedom. Not won’t. CAN’T. Freedom is a choice. You can’t make someone be free. It’s like a toddler with a gun saying “Have fun, or else.” Not much fun is it?

If you look at a pie chart of government expenses (Provided conveniently by the US accounting office.)

Federal Budget Pie - where it goes

the government's deceptive pie chart

So, you can see that at least 50% of the spending of the government is social programs. However, the truth is somewhat higher. Many things which you might not consider social programs at first blush, in fact, ARE social programs. The Department of Agriculture administers the Food Stamp program, the WIC program, and makes subsidy payments to agri-industry. $17 billion to Cargill for instance. Not to bad for a company that made $88 billion in sales and is the second largest privately held company on earth. (7.) (8.) Things like that make the above charts a little optimistic.

After spending around 20 to 30 hours (over severals months) here it seems the cost break down is more like 70% handout, 15% defense, 10% debt, and 5% all other federal costs. But, I digress. An examination of social security is sufficient to make the point that Americans hate freedom. The purpose of social security is to take a portion of your income for the rest of your life to pay for the current users. When you need the system you trust that your kids and any recent immigrants will make enough money that their income will pay for your RV. There is a name for an investment system where each set of new investors pays the dividends of the previous investors. It’s called a Ponzi scheme. What if you don’t want to trust a bunch of strangers and the future economy to provide for you? Well, you can still do your own retirement… while paying for everyone else who doesn’t. You can’t love freedom and social security! If you love freedom, you have a problem taking money from other people against their will for yourself, and you have a problem having your money taken away from you to give to other people. Love of freedom and acceptance of coercion can not dwell within the same heart.

So, I conclude, Americans hate freedom. We love coercion. We love it with every part of our hearts. We love telling others what they must do so much, we will surrender our right to decide what we want to do. I could go on and on. But this is only the setup for what I really wanted to talk about today, which is WHY American’s hate freedom.

I can only come up with 2 basic reasons that a person would hate freedom:

1. Freedom is hard work

and

2. Fear of responsibilty.

(One) breaks down into hard physical work and hard mental work. Imagine a person who is not very smart and not born to money. If they want to retire they will have to work many, many hours at unrewarding jobs for many years. They will have to live in bad parts of town (to have low rent) and never drive a new car. This is hard, and not fun, but not as hard as the mental part. The poor person who is trying to save does not get to buy whatever they want, they have to think about every purchase. If they are unintelligent, this will be very time consuming, and again, not enjoyable. They will have to chose work carefully to not spend too much time and money getting to work everyday. They will not be able to vote for whichever politician they like, for they will have to consider things very carefully before they vote or their hard earned money will go away.

(Two) This one is about fear. A person who loves freedom has no scape goat. When they suffer from heart disease at the age of 29, they cannot sue Krispy Kreme. They cannot blame bad parenting, or poor schooling. They can only say, “I did this of my own freewill. I alone am responsible and I alone bear the consequences.” This is anathema to the average American.

I say again. Americans hate freedom and love coercion. Americans hate freedom because they are lazy and afraid.

Now this presents me with a conundrum. All my life I have studied the form of government. I mistakenly thought the important part of government was the form. I realized this was false with the following thought experiment: Who rules more democratically? The king who fears revolution or the president who does not? Obviously, the ruler who must obey the desire of the people or lose his job rules more democratically. The form is meaningless. People who love freedom will self correct any error in form. People who hate freedom will bring coercion upon themselves.

The question facing all government, be it family government of children, church government, or national government is not, “What is the form?” It is this: how do we make people love freedom? The purpose of government is force. (I hear liberals whining about this. I say to them, “Do you think people would pay for those social programs you love so much if no one made them? Government is force.”) Since you can’t force someone to be free, government can do nothing to encourage freedom other than allow it.

But where does that leave me, the little man who wants to make the world a better place? How can I personally encourage freedom? I can’t force anyone to take it. I can’t talk about it for if people desire freedom only because of my words, they aren’t really free.

The only answer I know is this: I must be free. I must enjoy freedom whenever I can. I must fight for my freedom and allow others to do the same. People can then see my life and choose whether they like what they see or not.

March 17, 2008 Posted by | Government, Politics, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment