Voting Pro

Rights ought to be simple to explain, fundamental to living as a human among other humans, and applicable equally to all persons. They ought to describe the things you don't have to seek permission to do and the things one may never do to another.

And neither of the major parties gives a damn about them if you look at their actions rather than their rhetoric.

The simple kinds of rights: life, liberty, property aren't sexy. No one talks about them much. They don't slice people into voting blocs that take to the streets. They are a subtle sort of thing you only notice when they are absent.

A rare event in American elections occurs whenever you choose to vote for a candidate because that candidate most closely represents your values. The "pro" vote. Most of the time we get convinced that defeating a candidate is more important than who gets into office.

But consider who benefits by getting people to think that every election balances the nation on a knife's edge. Consider who gains when you put principle aside, time after time, to deal with each threat of disaster. And, looking back from a point years in the future, consider what would we give to have voted our values all along.

We can choose the game we are playing. And if we do, we can honestly tell ourselves, "this is not a problem I will struggle with. I'm playing the long game. I'm voting 'pro'."


Gary Johnson Makes Pitch to Burned Sanders Supporters

Complex and Simple: Immigration and Economy

As we consider the referendum in the UK on whether to leave the European Union, let's consider a couple of definitions:


Complex, adjective

  1. composed of many interconnected parts; compound; composite: a complex highway system.
  2. characterized by a very complicated or involved arrangement of parts, units, etc.: complex machinery

1: adjective 1. composed of many interconnected parts; compound; composite: a complex highway system. 2. characterized by a very complicated or involved arrangement of parts, units, etc.: complex machinery.

Simple, adjective

  1. easy to understand, deal with, use, etc.: a simple matter; simple tools
  2. not elaborate or artificial; plain: a simple style
  3. not ornate or luxurious; unadorned: a simple gown
  4. unaffected; unassuming; modest: a simple manner
  5. not complicated: a simple design
  6. not complex or compound; single.

As an Engineer, looking at things as systems, my mind hones in on interconnectedness. Simple means independent and not interconnected. And Complex denotes interconnected and intertwined.

Immigration and Economy: Intertwined

Some people assert that the Brexit referendum is about immigration and xenophobia, not economics:

Others make strong arguments that it's about the economy and sovereignty.

I observe that I couldn't find any pure articles containing only economic arguments for leaving. Thus, I suspect that the voices talking about economic reasons tend to be the more rational side of this debate.

Also found on the side of the discussion in favor of leaving, are charicatures of xenophobic white people written by their detractors. I have no opinion on whether this is true, who is right, and who is wrong.

I tend to notice the complexity of the discussion. Economics and immigration will always be complex/intertwined so long as you have a Welfare State. With a welfare state in place, there isn't a way to talk about immigration that doesn't include consideration for people who intend to immigrate and to contribute nothing to the society.

Even if used your imagination to remove the welfare state from the picture completely, for example by denying welfare benefits to new immigrants, the governemnt would still have a lot to figure out. For consideration: what happens to an immigrant fails to thrive? Homeless people, whether citizens or not, tend to become something the government has to deal with.

Do we expect that immigrants that left everything behind are able to stand up and trive immediately in a country where they may not speak the language? It's not likely. I can tell you for certain that my family benefitted from foodstamp programs for some part of the time my parents were trying to figure out their new life in America after fleeing a Vietnam that had recently fallen to the communists.

My little thought experiment suggests to me that immigration is untetherable from economics no matter how we slice it. Because being in a country and trying to live means being an actor in the economy. But that doesn't mean that a Welfare State has no role in xenophobia. I still maintain that it makes the situation worse.

Selection for Desirable Traits

The first chapters of Ender in Exile, by Orson Scott Card include an e-mail epigraph discussing trait selection in space colonization efforts:

" history shows us, when colonization is voluntary, people will self-select better than any system.

It's like those foolish attempts to control immigration to America based on the traits that were deemed desirable, when in fact the only trait that defines Americans historically us 'descended from somebody willing to give up everything to live there'...

Willingness is the single most important test..."

Contrast that with this visual:

"Make America White Again," says the billboard of a restaurant-owner in Tenessee which lays bare the entitled attitudes of some people who don't seem to understand this: just because you were lucky enough to be born on the right bit of soil doesn't make you any more deserving to be here than a person that left everything they owned behind for a chance to live in freedom. You may have a right to be here, but whether you morally deserve it or not is up to you (and we are not impressed).

The essence of the United States of America ought to be the spirit that created it: Liberty. We couldn't have it where we were born so we came here to bring it into existence.

The people who fight tooth-and-nail to get here deserve a chance to try to make their lives work here. What if we let in anyone who wanted to come from anywhere so long as they didn't come here to be a drain? I think this would be easier if we didn't try to make the government into this entity that is supposed to take care of us all.

The government cannot simultaneously be the protector of liberty and the coercive tax-collector for handouts. Giving euphemistic names such as "social contract" and "social safety net" doesn't change the coercive nature of it. You don't pay taxes, you go to jail. You don't like the recent tax hikes? Pay for a lobbyist.

This isn't the essence of America. It is a perversion of it.

So what would be more consistent? Essentialize the government to the protection of rights and minimal administration. Move ALL of the welfare programs into private not-for-profit concerns that are voluntarily funded.

Then maybe, we would have a shot at being able to say to the world with a straight face:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Try reading that aloud, by the way. They are some powerful words.

Tyranny: "cruel and oppressive government or rule."


"cruel and oppressive government or rule."

The opposite of a "Live and Let Live" philosophy is one of tyranny. Tyrants rarely include "tyrant" in their self-conception. They think they are doing good by changing the world according to some ideal. But neither "the greater good" nor some idea of "the will of God" transforms tyranny into liberty. Oppression can never be individual freedom.

When we consider the maxim that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions", we should remember that both of the justifications itemized above are often used to force others to behave in certain ways. Entire countries have become enslaved by regimes expounding these exact justifications.

Organized religion tends toward tyranny unless specific effort is made to banish it. (Incidentally, this is true of organized government). You can see the difference between the ones that make the effort and the ones that do not. Consider the stark difference of modern day Buddhism as compared to the Roman Catholic Church of the middle ages.

Political Islam, also known as Islamism, makes no effort to banish tyranny. Neither does certain variants of American Christianity. They are the forward deployments of the forces of tyranny.

They deserve our rebuke and our material opposition. These are the enemies of liberty until they work to banish every vestige of Tyranny from their ethos.

s/Islam Is (No){0,1} Religion of Peace/Stop Arguing About What Islam Is/

If you've read my thoughts on the meaninglessness of labels such as ‪#‎Islam‬, you can see through the fog of war: Islam isn't one big monolithic thing and to say "Islam means Peace" is a meaningless subterfuge about nothing in particular.

Because of my unusual ideas about labels, I find a title such as Gay Muslim: Islam Is No Religion of Peace to be guilty of inviting the wrong kind of conversation. The article is a good read, by the way. More reinforcement that Islam is a manifold of subcultures trying to find their way in the world. But the gay subculture stands in stark contrast to outsider notions of how conservative the religion looks on average.

The article also reinforces this: Ideas Kill. Not directly, but by the people who act because they are emboldened by them. Self-loathing and mortal sin, combined with a few carefully placed notions of what it takes to achieve redemption seems to be particularly deadly in consequence.

It still comes down to this for me. If I view adoption of some dangerous ideas as a problem inherent with Islam, I feel like there's some panel I have to take it to for approval. I have no standing to challenge Islam nor any standing to ask Muslims to reject things they consider their identity. No way in. Access denied.

But I don't view it like that. My view is that there are bad ideas in the Muslim zeitgeist and some that have demonstrably bad outcomes. And we don't have to ask people to reject their identities to challenge some of their notions. Identities can be revised and refined and essentialized. If enough people who call themselves Muslims reject an idea, value, or custom, then the definition of muslim changes. End of story.

Now... If we as non-Muslims are moved to try to take down the bad ideas, "Us. Vs. Them" isn't going to work.

How do we influence the other whom we hold in judgment?

Answer: We don't even try. Judgment is final.

But, say instead... I view my brother as mistaken: overtaken by a bad idea that he is acting to perpetuate and spread... do I then see an opportunity to share a different way of seeing things? Possibilities abound.


Sects and Violence — Francis Luong

Gay Muslim: Islam Is No Religion of Peace - The Daily Beast

Sects and Violence

I want to talk today about what "Islam" means. I am not a muslim and I am a complete outsider. I see danger in some ideas associated with Islam and beauty in some of the ideas. I see people saying Islam is peace. And I see mobs and violence associated with it. And so I think it's long overdue to ask whether we are all referring to the same thing when we refer to "Islam".

From what I can see, Islam means peace to most Muslims I know. And to some Muslims, it means violence visited upon other people for various different reasons: some political, some moral, always opportunistic, and always justified by some grandiose vision (a story). And the latter part is a bit sticky since the spectacle and tragedy creates a more vivid impression in the mind than the many Muslim neighbors we know and work with.

Let's Talk About Sects, Baby

Let me tell you about a trick of the human mind. It is a tendency for non-Muslims to think about Islam as one enormous monolith with complete homogeneity of belief and action. But Muslims are 1.6 Billion+ in number. And the idea of one great Islam doesn't withstand scrutiny.

Every religious or philosophical movement has within it a manifold of sects. People just can't seem to agree on things. Take any belief system and you can break it down to subgroups based on the disagreements.

To provide specific examples, I have collected here an accounting of the major religions I could think of and their sub-sects scraped from Wikipedia:

  • Chrisitanity: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical,...
  • Judaism: Rabinnic, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Humanistic,...
  • Hinduism: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, Smartism,...
  • Buddhism: Therevada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Zen,...

And as for Islam? Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Salafi, Wahhabi,...

There are no incidents of complete uniform belief within any belief system. Humans are messy, sloppy creatures subject to entropy. Our brains are meat-machines driven by huge variations in chemistry. Fuzzy logic? check. Non-logical leaps? check. Context-dropping? check. Mistakes of thinking? check. Hormone-driven teenagers? check.

You know why clear thinking is beautiful when you hear it? Because it is rare. Reason is slow and requires discipline and it is always impressive to hear an idea that is simple and clear and true.

Aside: Beware of Mob Think

There is a sort of situation worth mentioning where uniformity does arise... where an idea can become so loud that it drowns out other ideas. When human beings are in a mob driven by fear and anger whipped into a frenzy, we have shown ourselves to be capable of frighteningly uniform non-thinking. The Rwandan genocide comes to mind. Nazi Germany comes to mind.

People are capable of their ugliest actions when they blindly react rather than stepping back and thinking about things rationally, and acting accordingly. And, in the case of Rwanda and Nazi Germany, both resulted in the creation of cultures that slaughtered unimaginable numbers.

Labels Fail Us

Back to the main point. The labels: Islam. Muslim.

There is a visual that Sam Harris mentioned in his chat with Neil Tyson about what a Christian imagines when they find out that a person can be painted with the term "Atheist":

they think they know a lot about you based on your admission that you are an atheist... It's almost like you're in a debate with someone and they draw the police crime scene outline of a dead body on the sidewalk and you just walk up and lie down in it... that you just conform perfectly to their expectations of how clueless you must be of their context.

Don't we do this with "Islam"... just a little? We imagine Islam as one thing. We imagine Muslims as one people who conform perfectly to some expectation.

The labels fail Muslims and the labels fail non-Muslims alike. The labels expose non-Muslims to the mistake of thinking in "Us vs. Them" terms with Muslims as the other. And the labels expose Muslims to taking a defensive posture where "We are under attack" by an unjust world who will not accept them. The labels expose Muslims to having their fear and frustrations manipulated.

But these are just stories and they are divisive ones. These are the ones that deliver us into the hands of Neo-fascists. And we don't want those hands anywhere near us so it's time to abandon these stories, which divide us.


Beyond Us Vs. Them

We need some new narratives to give us hope and something to strive for.

Instead of Us vs. Them... What if we just thought of this whole mess as a bunch of people with a bunch of mixed-up ideas and some of them are poison?

Rather than considering Islam as one set of ideas interpretable only one way, we can remember that ideas are subject to fashion trends. They are subject to trending upward or downward at any given point in time.

Here are ideas I would love to see trend upward:

  • Non-Muslims reflect and realize that Muslims are our neighbors and friends and co-workers. Most of them want to live their lives and raise their families. We act accordingly. We love our neighbors.
  • The world notices that Muslims have their versions of Goebbels and Hitler. And the world will need to put these tyrants down in exactly the same way: total war ending in unconditional surrender. This is the only way to defeat evil that has decided to wage war: Force met with overwhelming force.
  • Muslims embrace freedom of speech and dissent by all, especially other Muslims, and Non-Muslims unilaterally choose to stop disrespecting Muhammad because it's nearly always a gimmicky cheap shot that is not doing anybody any good.
  • Muslims come out in support of liberal values. We will support and encourage these people because they have right on their side. Further, we work to encourage the conservatives among Muslims to respect the rights of all human beings alike (male, female, gay, straight), just as we do with non-Muslim conservatives. Live and let live becomes the universal norm.
  • "Islam means peace" becomes a statement of intention... a movement and a mantra owned by Muslims: they are defiant, vocal, and visible movement of the majority.
  • Secularism: All people of all religions work to keep their religions separate from the state. There are no state religions. Just respect and protection of rights for all beliefs and creeds.

The only way we can do this is to see the bigger "Us". We, as humans, need to see Universal principles describing fundamental rights. In other words: the conditions under which we are able to live with one another.

We don't need to be innovators who must define fundamental rights for the first time. We have the shoulders of giants to stand on. But as I said, ideas are subject to fashion and we do have to keep these ideas trending upward. It's constant upkeep... yes. There is no magic bullet to make humans respect rights for all time.

But it's good work if you can get it. And as always... Discipline Equals Freedom.

Playing the Long Game: Attacking Liberty's Antagonists

One of the key takeaways from reading The Aristotle Adventure is that people tend to suppress ideas that they find threatening. And the forms that the threats take vary in subtlety and violence.

  • Direct physical threats to books are rare.
  • Physical threats to people by mobs, assassins, and inquisitors was much more common
  • Other forms of threats included: ostracism, ex-communication, denial of access to books (this is back before public libraries) and other scholars, loss of income, banishment, and intereference with careers.

In the 1800 years that the works of Aristotle had to survive, they had to be copied by hand again and again in order to do so. The printing press was not invented by Johannes Gutenberg until 1450. Before this, copying was a tedius, error-prone, and expensive process. As a result, the subtle challenges listed above present severe existential threats to a body of work.

Many of the tactics listed above are archaic. The Catholic church of current day doesn't have the pervasive influence on government that in the days of monarchy based on the "divine right of kings," following fall of the Roman empire through the Renaissance and the Scientific revolution.

Of the subtler tactics listed in the final bullet, many of these can still be employed in our current day and age in university settings, and government research institutions, and the think tanks funded by the government. (I'd say they could also be employed in corporations, but most corporations are pragmatic rather than ideological). Ostracism, loss of income, and intereference with career are all real threats that can be used against a person that a bully wants to silence. This helps to silence one speaker but The Internet has made it harder than ever to silence someone completely. Although I suspect that most of us feel pretty frustrated with how to make oneself heard in all of the noise.

In spite of how hard it is to be silenced completely, the work to maintain the current state of liberty is still crucial. We must fight to keep what we have attained by aggressively exposing and denouncing those who would hack at the support pillars of free speech.

We can also fight by choosing better stewards for the machinery which protects our liberty. The source of many attacks on freedom of speech come directly from government.

The administrators of government have unique privileges to arrest people, tax them, and drag them down with legal or regulatory procedures. They have many levers of intimidation. They can do so for seemingly arbitrary reasons. This is why we want the most long-sighted stewards that are willing to take the job making leadership decisions in our governments.

Government shouldn't just be a job with prestige. It should be a sacred trust.

This is also why we do not want anyone with a tactical ideological agenda in power. A tactical ideological agenda can come from religious sources but can also originate from any kind of pseudo-scientific notion that attempts to survive challenge by any means other than reason. For the latter, imagine a new economic order or social justice agenda.

(side note: I'm all for efforts to connect people and foster acts of kindness, but I prefer these to be organized independent of the government and without government funding)

What I'm saying in short is that to vote "on the issues", for a candidate whom will do whatever it takes to get some thing done is to play a dangerous game with a system of safeguards which is responsible for protecting us all from the ugliest and most opportunistic power mongers.

We should be voting on fundamentals. This will do the most to protect the foundation of our liberty: the freedom to hold an idea, to express it, and to act upon it so long as you do not violate the rights of another.

Here is the guidance from the founding fathers as I understand it in simple fundamentals: Limit the exercise of government power to ensure the maxiumum liberty of choice and action to each person.

Although NONE of the top 3 Presidential candidates are exponents of this kind of restraint, this is what we need to look for and support even if they belong to a third party. It's time to fire the two largest political parties in the USA. They do not care about liberty.


Many of these notes are from The Aristotle Adventure, by Burgess Laughlin.

News is Not Information And Liberty Needs Church/State Separation

It's easy to view #muslims as a monolithic other. But 1-billion plus others is a lot of people.

Agreement is Rare

I want to take us into a thought experiment in the lives we know best... our own. Consider any ism that you have ever been a part of. Libertarianism, Vegetarianism, Christianity-ism.

Now take a random sample set of yourself and any 1 or 2 other people whom you can think of that have self-identified under that label.

Then ask yourself the question: "did we agree on everything that fell under the principles of that ism? Did we agree on how those principles translate into action?"

No matter what ism, you will not find 100% agreement on principles and implications. The more people you add, the lower the overlapping level of agreement in the massive venn-diagram.

One Billion Ideological Carbon Copies?

How then does this apply to a billion such people? It becomes impossible to believe that they see exactly the same things as true and important and worthy of action. Except for the sorts of things that most human beings have in common:

  • we want to live our lives
  • we look out for the well-being of those we care about

We, as non-muslims, can take a moment to fully take in the heterogenity of the full body of muslims. Not all of them will be conservative or bigotted or sexist. Some of them may not even care about politics: live and let live.

Ideas come and go in perpetual motion and there is constant change on which ones are fashionable.

Our mainstream media do a bad job of representing reality in a statistically correct way. Anything that gets reported on seems to be statistically prevalent to our easily-fooled psyches. People who want to just live their lives are not news. People getting along with one another is not news.

We have this conception that "news" is information. And while this is true, as far as statistical impressions go, it is total misinformation.

Regardless, I'd like to take heart in the news story listed below under References (1), "Tunisian Islamists Ennahda move to separate politics, religion".

The separation of church and state is a fundamental principle with huge implications to liberty. Every innovation, including the ones made in the realm of liberty, begins as heresy against the mainstream fashion that came before. Heresy is attacked with prejudice by any state that is involved in policing your ideas.

We must support the freedom to express ideas and therefore we must support any effort no matter how small toward states and political movements that compose themselves as independent of religion. We must support secular politics and we must denounce and resist any effort to marry state with religion as an attack upon our lives and liberty.

So what can we do?

People in the mainstream media can certainly do something: stop putting forward the loud obnoxious conservative bigot muslims as their "authentic" voices. You are not an authority on one billion plus people.

People who are not media can stop watching CNN and Fox News. They are not in the business of informing you. You are not "learning" when you hear their interpretations. Remember: They are in the business of selling your eyes to advertisers.


1: Tunisian Islamists Ennahda move to separate politics, religion | Reuters
2: Maajid Nawaz