Venezuela, Trump, and Sanders

In response to a long-time work friend on the Bookface:

Venezuela is an interesting Ghost of Christmas Future for societies which do not make banishment of force against any individual (tautologically, the smallest minority you can create) its highest priority.

When, instead of protecting rights, government acts as the violator in the name of "equitable distribution of revenues", the government violations of individual rights will not likely stop at force against the rich and wealthy.

You are correct about the current president. He is a danger to us all. However, this may also have proven true of a President Bernie Sanders as well. That is the important idea to consider.

Neither the Democrats or the Republicans are principled about using force to protect rights rather than to violate them. Nor do they have clear principles about what is or is not a right. The will of the majority does not create natural laws.

Going back to your original thought... I will try to appreciate this day. It is easy for me to get there mentally because my parents left behind everything they owned to escape the Viet Cong and come here. And today I celebrate the life of my paternal grandfather. Much love.

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

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.

Islamism and Donald Trump: How to Shine a Turd -- From The Email Files

The following is from an e-mail I wrote this morning to a long-time friend of mine who was lamenting about the way Muslims are covered by media.  I find my friend very easy to talk to and the words flowed very easily so I thought I'd capture what I said on my blog.

I imagine your level of frustration is very high with the media.  As is mine.  I barely consume any news these days.  I scan headlines though so I can tell you that David Bowie and Alan Rickman died this week.  But that's about it.  
My tendency these days is toward long-form content by people who are intellectually honest, like the Dan Carlin episode I tweeted at you.  Yes, these people have a much smaller audience than Fox News, but their impact is much deeper I think.
As for the response to Muslims in the media, I agree that the response is utter hyperbole.  
I have to view Donald Trump as a symptom of the problem more than a prime mover of it.  Ayn Rand, for all of the ways you can disagree with her, once said that Politics is the last branch of philosophy and politicians are the people who "cash in" on the ideas that are already present in a society.  They don't as much move the ideas.
What is the root cause?
I have recently arrived at a conviction that people are hungry for an honest conversation about Islamism.  I have come to view Islamism as fundamentally no different than Communism or Fascism, all of which carry out actions to impose a totalitarian (all-or-nothing) political system upon others.  Some people are willing to carry out actions which harm others, and some are merely reformers with strong beliefs, and some are people who just "vote their conscience".
But there is one non-fundamental respect in which Islamism differs from Communism and Fascism.  People are worried about being racist or anti-religion if they criticize it.  And people definitely get smeared for valid criticism.  The result is that the level of intellectual honesty out there is low and the level bullying is fucking unbelievable.  (see also: which makes the case and presents evidence that the account @xtc_uk seems to be a smear account run by some douchebag named @MoAnsar).
So the well-meaning and intelligent people like you and me tend to be largely silent about it until something big happens in the news.
The intellectually honest conversations about what happens to individual rights under islamist policy are hard to find.  Instead there is a lot of hot air.  On the right you have the real bigots and xenophobes making noises that indicate a general disregard for anyone's rights.  And on the left, you have the reverse racism of low expectations, which, ironically supports conservative views provided that they are part of some "authentic" culture.  (A view I acquired from Maajid Nawaz's argumentation).  These people all resort to smears and bullying.
It is this vacuum which makes it possible for a tool like Donald Trump to say stupid racist shit and to come out of it seeming more honest and shiny than the rest of the yahoos on stage.  It's only by contrast that this effect occurs.  When measured on an absolute scale, he's utterly inflammatory and will have no regard for our institutions if elected President.
You may have noticed that I am somewhat vocal lately myself on Islamism.  I hope that I am not making an ass of myself.  But I am trying to make a practice of talking about hard things and sharing along the intellectually honest bits of conversation.
I think conversations of cultural change within a community are hard to have even without pressure from the outside because identity issues come into play and there's always the question of whether you are abandoning something fundamental.  Well... There are people that simply don't want any debate to happen and some of them are the bullies I referred to who do their best to smear and shout down anyone who criticizes and calls for change.
I'm acting on this premise:  What if we could influence that just a little?  If non-muslims in the west could stop their part of the smearing and shouting down... perhaps the debate could ensue among Muslims, and the loud and influential regressives in Islam could see their influence diminished.  And that might be enough for me to feel just a bit better about the direction that the world is heading.
I got on a bit of a tear there.  Hope you found it interesting.