Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cool It: A Book Review

First, I apologize for any grammar or spelling mistakes. My main computer is still broken so I have to type this up while using a projector on a white wall. Which mans proofreading basically consists of the auto-proofreader because it's near impossible to see text.

So I recently had – got – to read the book Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming. The book is essentially this:

  1. Climate change is man-made (anthropogenic, not anthropomorphic. Literally every time from my first misuse of the phrase in an Environmental Ethics course I consistently confuse the 2).
  2. Climate change has mostly negative effects (but they aren't as bad as most people believe)
  3. The most effective solution is a slight carbon tax along with extremely heavy investment into R&D for new low-carbon sources of energy.
The book has a lot of great points and it is interesting. It's more or less what I read one reviewer said: if you're going to read one book about climate change, don't make it be this one; if you're going to read 10 books about climate change then you should include this one.

The book has a lot of good points although I don't completely agree with it. For example, because the average income of a person is projected to rise, the author concludes that the income in all countries will rise. I don't think that's a safe assumption but that assumption is what goes into some of his arguments.

For example, malaria infection rates increase when the temperature increases. Hence, global warming means more areas are susceptible to malaria infections. But the author concludes that because average income will go up that that people everywhere will get the ability to prevent and treat malaria infections.

It's a similar thing with the idea behind coping with rising sea levels. He argues that 1`) sea levels have risen a foot – the expected rise over the next century or so – and that there were no calamities as a result. Rising income means rising technological progress and capacity to build things like coastal defenses. So he argues that rising sea levels will be mitigated through increased income. But, again, the problem is that increased average income doesn't mean everyone experiences a rise in outcome.

He also tends to downplay the fact that these changes are permanent. That a rise in, for example, ocean levels means there will always be people having to deal with higher levels.

Another one of his arguments is that it's more effective to use social policy in a lot instances. So, in what I'm learning is apparently the go-to example for a lot of environment economists, he argues that we should stop subsidizing coastal flood insurance. He has a point of course: tax subsidies encourage people to do more of an activity, if the activity is living somewhere you'll get flooded then we would expect more people to do that.

But approaching that issue from the macro standpoint isn't enough. Because some people will be unable, financially, to leave their homes and move inland. So if we remove those subsidies then we get a good macro response but only at the expensive of the lives of the people who stay behind and can't afford flood insurance.

That seems to be what rubs me the wrong way about a lot of the book. Or to put another way: in the trade off between equity and fairness he falls more into the equity side while I fall farther in the fairness side. It's still an interesting book that's informative. But I tend to disagree a bit with the conclusions.

Friday, October 12, 2012

More Romney/Ryan and talk about reality, opinions, and assumptions. Very long, but it has a summary!

Note: this was meant to be a reply to a comment. But it's about 3 times over the size limit for the comment section so I had to post it this way. Here's the comment, originally from the post immediately before this one.:

"have made a strategic choice to ignore one reality and substitute their own. That's frustrating because A) it's so obviously wrong, and B) so many people appear to think that's a good idea. It's baffling"

Obama has been doing this for years and is doing his best to down grade America to the same level as third world countries, but you're more concerned about Romeny messing up the percentage of money that PBS gets. That's what baffles me.

Well, I think you're wrong. I'll try to explain why and you can tell me what you think. Also, this went way longer than I intended, so there's a summary at the end. There are 2 basic methods for advocating political issues. 1 method is to disagree over something using a shared reality. So, for example, one could say: 

I think:
1. Obama's healthcare reform (PPACA) represents an inappropriate overreach of the federal government.
2. While the health insurance market currently (pre-PPACA) is bad, PPACA is not the best way to go about fixing it and in fact is an undesirable thing overall. 

And that's fine. I think the above statement is wrong but it's dealing with facts. It's a situation where there are real things we agree on and differing opinions based on those things everyone acknowledges are real. But there's a second way to say things, I'll use a similar example from the above argument, this one has the crucial differences that I'm trying to elucidate:

I think:
1. Obama's healthcare reform (PPACA) represents a government takeover of healthcare.
2. PPACA is a socialist program.
3. It creates a death panel: a board of bureaucrats who will be rationing health care (a situation which does not exist now).
4. The healthcare market is fine pre-PPACA. We have great healthcare! In fact, no one dies from lack of health insurance (note: I'll talk more about this one in a bit).

That argument deviates from reality. It's no longer opinions based on real things, it has become opinions based on falsehoods. The government is not taking over healthcare, it's not a socialist program, while literally everything is rationed (i.e., there is only so much "stuff" in the world and health care is no exception) the idea of a death panel is false (although that doesn't mean the opposite is true: there will be unlimited care), and the healthcare in the US pre-PPACA produced horrible results for much higher amounts of money than similar countries. 

When someone puts forward and argument of the second sort then the conversation is already over. There's no way to disagree and yet become better informed, or better understand their position, or even - gasp - examine the beliefs we hold going into the conversation (I'm talking more about this in the blog post I'm writing at the moment, specifically Romney/Ryan vs talking with extremely conservative Econ professors). In other words, when someone uses an argument of the 2nd sort then they're not showing interest in having an honest conversation whereby each side fairly examines the issues at hand. 

The assumptions behind some of the opinions are falsehoods, that's what I mean when I refer to not abiding in a shared reality. To go back to the last point in the second argument: Mitt Romney two days ago suggested that no one in the US dies from lack of health insurance as part of an argument against PPACA. The actual number is between 45,000 and 48,000 per year. In other words, Mitt Romney is claiming that 45,000 to 48,000 is 0. And he's hoping other people allow themselves to believe it! 

That's a perfect example of what's so soul-grating about Romney/Ryan. It's not that they have opinions different from mine, it goes beyond that. It's not that Romney is against PPACA, it's that one of the assumptions that's built into his opinion is that 45,000 to 48,000 is equal to 0. When someone expresses an opinion which is based on a clearly false assumption then it's frustrating to me. And when people are persuaded to hold opinions based on assumptions like 45,000 to 48,000 is 0 then it's even more perplexing

That's why, for example, I think your comment shows both types of opinions. You say that Obama has been doing what I'm accusing Romney of doing. Well, that's fine. I think you're wrong but that's an opinion based on actual performance. It's your opinion based on real assumptions (e.g., Obama is President, Obama has a performance record, you're aware of his record, etc). 

But the second part is clearly false. It's bizarre to claim the President has spent his time in office trying to turn the United States into a 3rd world country. I mean, for starters he could have just allowed the financial sector (and thus the world's financial sector) to implode and allowed us to enter into a depression. He wouldn't even have had to do anything! He could have simply allowed the consequence of what his Republican predecessor had done. I mean, it's just obviously totally wrong to claim that Obama has been actively trying to make the United States a 3rd world country. And what's frustrating isn't that I think that opinion is wrong, I think plenty of opinions in the world are wrong and that doesn't bother me, it's that the assumptions built into the opinion are clearly false. 

In other words, to break it down a bit:

1. Obama did XYZ
2. XYZ are actions one would take if one wanted to turn the United States into a 3rd would country
3. So, Obama is trying to turn the United States into a 3rd world country. 

The conclusion isn't the precise thing which frustrates me, it's the premises. It's believing that he's done things which he hasn't, and not believing he's done things which he has. We can break down the Romney healthcare argument as well: 

1. 0 people die from lack of health care in the United States
2. If 0 people die from lack of health care then it's not a major problem
3. If it's not a major problem then PPACA was bad
4. Therefore, PPACA was bad. 

Again, it's not the conclusion which is frustrating. It's the assumption that 0 people die when the number is 45,000 to 48,000 in the United States per year. It's clearly a false assumption and therefore shouldn't be held or espoused to be true. 

Finally - I know... - that's the sort of thing I refer to when I say we don't share a common reality. I guess reality in this context could mean something like "reality is a set of shared assumptions upon which we all form differing opinions". From the extremely basic (e.g., the Earth is more or less round, the sky looks blue, gravity is real, etc) to the more complex (a study done by Harvard on the number of people who die in the United States each year from lack of health insurance is reflective of the correct number). With the really basic there are no problems aside from people taking Intro to Philosophy and thinking getting high and saying "dude, is the world, like, real?" is philosophy. But with the latter there have been a lot of problems. 

And, I'm sorry, but the problems have been overwhelmingly on the Republican side. They "don't let [their] campaign be run by fact-checkers". They claim 45,000 to 48,000 is 0. They claim their budget is "too complex to run through the numbers right now" and when basic addition and subtraction says it doesn't add up then they claim they'll hammer out the details later. They insinuate that going after something which is .00012% of the federal budget is an effective way to cut spending. They've left the arena of having differing opinions on real things and instead created their one reality, one where 45,000 to 48,000 is 0 because that helps their argument, one where addition and subtraction can be overcome by getting elected, one where .00012% is actually 1-5% or even over 50%. I just don't see that from the other side. 

Well, to be fair, I do see it in the various clips which inevitably get shared - but only by white conservatives, which is weird - of a black person saying he supports Obama because the President is giving him something. Those are always accompanied by comments along the lines of "see! this is why people support Obama! lazy black people looking for a handout from me" and probably an anecdote like "I was at the store and saw someone use SNAP and then get into an expensive care - SNAP is broken and a waste". And always a few self-congratulatory "all people would be conservative if only they were hardworking, hardnosed, realistic people - the proof is this video of a lazy [black] person saying that he's voting for Obama because he wants free things". I think it's safe to say that the people in the "Obama's giving me a car; I'm giving him my vote" have pretty effectively left reality (or, base their opinions on obviously untrue assumptions). 

But that's different from, for example, the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates centering their campaign around the same reality-eschewing methodology. And that's just not something I see happening when it comes to Democrats in general or Obama specifically. One could try to make the case that they do, but I'm pretty skeptical that one could make a decent case and I'm near certain that no one could make a good case that they do it with equal fervour.


I know I said finally already. It probably gave you false hope. But really, this is the appropriate place for finally! 

I believe I told you, but it may have been a long time ago, that I use StatCounter. I have a sensitive ego and I like to know people are reading what I write. Anyway, StatCounter shows me the city, state, computer OS, browser type, time, etc, of everyone who loads any page on my blog. It also usually shows any referral link, for example Facebook or Google or whatever which is pretty cool IMO. I say all this because I originally couldn't figure out how precisely to get my point across. For example, my first attempt at a reply was just over 500 words and this one is clocking in at near 2200. 

I say all that because I saw that you were frequently checking back to see if I had replied, so I felt an obligation to make my best attempt at clarifying why A) I think you're wrong and B) why the gist from what I was trying to say wasn't simply that Romney was saying something untrue. It goes a lot deeper and wider than that, but I think that's a good starting point or example. 



I define reality, in this context, as something like: "a set of shared assumptions about the nature of the world". The Earth is more or less round, the Sun gives off heat, gravity is pulling us down, etc. Then there are more complex assumptions: studies done by Harvard are generally accurate, the role of the government should be limited to property rights and national defense and contract enforcement, the Obama administration's handling of Mubarak leaving Egypt prevented unnecessary bloodshed in an inevitable revolution, etc. 

We of course base our opinions on all of these sorts of assumptions. And assumptions on assumptions on assumptions and so on. There are 2 ways of disagreeing: 1 is to have differing opinions on the same basic assumptions, the other is to have differing opinions based on wildly different basic assumptions (i.e., one opinion is necessarily based on a false assumption and is therefore the wrong opinion). 

The Romney/Ryan campaign is a great example of the second sort of opinions. They've based their campaign on obvious falsehoods. For example, saying that 0 people die per year from lack of health care in the United States and using that assumption as part of an argument against PPACA. The actual number - the assumption based in reality - is 45,000 - 48,000 per year. So that's an example of abandoning reality and making up their own reality (one in which 45,000 to 48,000 is sometimes 0). 

It's that abandoning of reality that's frustrating. It's not holding opinions different from mine, it's not the conclusion of the argument (PPPACA is bad). I disagree with the conclusions and opinions of Romney/Ryan, but hey I disagree with a lot of opinions. To paraphrase Rick Perry: "that's an opinion that's out there, and its got some gaps in it". But differing opinions don't frustrate me - loads of people abandoning reality and basing opinions on clearly false assumptions does. I fundamentally don't get why they don't see reality for what it is. And I also don't get why the care so little about what reality actually is. 

22 million people think .00012% is greater than 50%. Because they haven't bothered to find out the first number, they just sort of feel in their gut that it's bigger than 50%. That's an abhorrent opinion to hold! When I see Romney insinuating that the unknown number is significant then I see Romney furthering a clearly wrong opinion based on obviously false assumptions. Everyone should see that and I can't figure out why they don't. 

And Romney/Ryan do this all the time and millions of people are OK with it. Heck, they welcome it with open arms! They embrace a false reality and yet continue to abide in this one. They hold obviously wrong opinions (e.g., 45,000 to 48,000 is 0, .00012% is greater than 50%, basic rules of arithmetic can be overcome by electing Romney/Ryan, etc) and I can't figure out how or why.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Romney, Ryan, TSA, Reality, PBS

This is going to be brief (edit: should have been brief), I have to leave for class pretty much immediately.

I ran across this article on Gawker while eating breakfast (well, if ramen noodles and coffee counts as breakfast). The takeaway is that the TSA did some bad things to a woman dying of cancer. Specifically, they treated her poorly, punctured a saline bag, and generally were as invasive as possible while completely ignoring the idea of privacy or dignity. Then the A TSA spokesperson sent out an email that said:

"We work to make our screening procedures as minimally invasive as possible while still proving the level of security that the American people want and deserve,"

And it's a glaring ballsy example of completely ignoring reality and just saying what you want people to think is real. It feels like they skipped the traditional step of trying to persuade people of something (e.g., adding something like "out of X million passengers we only have Y complaints" or "we have extensive training for handling how to deal with cancer patients, if it was mishandled then the fault is of the local supervisor and we will deal with it appropriately" or whatever). Instead, they've skipped right to the "X happened? Nope, X doesn't happen" stage. They've gone past trying to convince people of something and instead just straight up skipped to flatly denying the obvious truth which prompted the whole thing in the first place.

It seems like that's happening more and more. And people seem to be accepting of it as if it were normal. As if the idea of honesty, or more precisely the idea that reality is non-subjective, is unnecessary. A great current example is Mitt Romney. For example, here is a link to an article showing 27 lies Romney said during the latest Presidential debate. And yet Romney "won" the debate. Again, it seems like the idea that reality is non-subjective has gone out the window.

That might not bother me so much if so many people weren't stupid, but more accurately weren't just wrong. Because if we accept the idea that truth is relative, that one can simply boldly lie and that's accepted because the truth aspect of words are superfluous, then we lose something valuable. Another example: there was a poll taken about what Americans think the share of the federal budget that CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) receives.

Forty percent of those polled believe funding the CPB receives takes up 1 to 5 percent of the budget, 30 percent believe public broadcasting takes up 5 percent or more of the budget and 7 percent of respondents believe the non-profit receives 50 percent or more of the federal budget.

And you know Romney is aware of that. Around 22 million people think that CPB receives half or more of the federal budget. That's mind-bogglingly stupid! The number is around .00014 of the budget. And we have the Presidential candidate for the Republican party capitalizing on that stupidity, ignorance, and an unbelievable level of apathy, by telling bold faced lies and "winning" the debate as a result. There's something wrong when that happens.

Or when Paul Ryan spends years trying to redefine rape as "forcible rape". He's on the record, it wasn't some sort of mistake, he spent years advocating for that change. It's not hard to figure out why: it's insinuation that non-forcible (whatever that's supposed to mean) rape isn't "real" rape. It's a pretty shitty stance to take. But recently he flatly denies precisely what he's spent years advocating! He doesn't deny it in the sense that "I was wrong; my views have evolved" rather he simply changes the subject and says "rape is rape, that's the end of the story". This isn't a unique example. Rather, it's indicative of a trend particularly among Romney and Ryan and the Republican party as a whole, it's frustrating when vast amounts of people manipulate or allow themselves to be duped into thinking their reality is something entirely different from how it is.

It's incredibly obvious that both Romney and Ryan, and increasingly society as a whole (see TSA), have made a strategic choice to ignore one reality and substitute their own. That's frustrating because A) it's so obviously wrong, and B) so many people appear to think that's a good idea. It's baffling - and I'm now late for class.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Childish Gambino and the Classroom

If you've never listened to Childish Gambino then I highly recommend giving him a listen. It's Donald Glover's stage name, he also plays Troy Barnes on Community. There's one particular song that's struck me lately: That Power. A YouTube link. Also, a link to the lyrics.

The whole song is wonderful but one part in particular seemed relevant for something that I realized today:

[T]his is a story about how I learned something and I'm not saying this thing is true or not, I'm just saying it's what I learned. I told you something. It was just for you and you told everybody. So I learned cut out the middle man, make it all for everybody, always. Everybody can't turn around and tell everybody, everybody already knows, I told them.

I realized I was slowly adopting a related sentiment in the classroom, particularly in the Spanish classroom. There are people in there who speak Spanish much better than I do. My writing is better than my speaking since the Internet enables one to write anything to any audience at any time. Anyhow, I try to take every chance I get to volunteer to do things like read even though that then gets critiqued. Similarly in another classroom, when the professor asks a question and everyone is silent then I'll volunteer an educated guess if I have one. I've noticed that we all know the people who have no idea what's going on. It's sort of like a perversion of Abraham Lincoln's (?) maxim:

"Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt"

Fellow students seem to think that if they're silent then they're perceived as being wise. But that's not the truth - we're all pretty much aware of how much material each person knows. Particularly in the Spanish classroom! When one is called upon to read the word "ciudad" (roughly: see-yoo-dth-a-dth) and they pronounce it "key-ooh-dad" it's pretty freaking obvious their Spanish speaking skills need a lot of work. And they won't get better by keeping silent.

So I've realized that's better to make my Spanish failures "for everybody, always" because A) that's how we actually get better and B) "then everybody already knows, I told them". I didn't intentionally decide on this strategy, rather I think the song helped me subconsciously choose it. Either way, I care for it and for the music of Silvio Rodriguez.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A story in Spanish

We had an assignment in Spanish, we received it the day before the final exam. Something like "write about Daniel and Sandra, they meet on vacation and fall in love then leave and go back to their respective cities". The resulting story I produced amused me greatly. The translation, at least the translation I meant, can be found after the story. 

Also, it sounds much more clever in Spanish. Not just because writing it itself feels like an accomplishment, but also because of things like Vazquez meaning shepherd. And there were a list of several phrases I had to use and a number of different tenses I had to use so, alas, I couldn't maintain full creative control. Does that make me brethren with Dan Harmon? Not for me to say, so I won't say no.

Daniel no está in ese cuento, pero Rodrigo Rodriguez está aqui. Sandra es Sandra Vazquez. Rodrigo Rodriguez es de David, Panamá. Sandra Vazquez es de Santa Marta, Colombia. Ellos son en un vacacional in España. Momentos, ellos en un oscuridad bar de humo. Se habla español. Se hablan.

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Hola chica. Me llamo Rodrigo Rodriguez. Mi apodo es "Hot Rod". ¿Qué pasa?"

Sandra Vazquez: "Hola. Mi nombre es Sandra Vazquez. Ese es un nombre ironico porque soy un pastora."

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "¿Hablas con personas sobre Jesus Cristo?"

Sandra Vazquez: "No. Tú eres estúpido. Soy una pastora ni una clériga. ¿Hablas español?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Sí, pero estoy burracho. ¿Y tú?"

Sandra Vazquez: "No."

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "¡Debe!"

Sandra Vazquez: "¡No puedo! Se hablan."

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Lo siento. Por favor, bebe."

(Después de treinta minutos.)

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "¿De dónde eres?"

Sandra Vazquez: "Soy de Santa Marta. Santa Marta es en Colombia. Tambien, me gusta divertirse."

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "¿Quien no les gusta divertirse?"

Sandra Vazquez: "¿Y tú? ¿De dónde eres?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Soy de David, Panamá."

Sandra Vazquez: "¿El nombre de tu papá es David y tú es de Panamá?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "No. Tú eres estúpida. Soy de la ciudad David; el nombre de la ciudad es David. El nombre de mi papá es Rodrigo. ¿Hablas español muchacha?"

Sandra Vazquez: "Sí, pero estoy burracha. No es la primera vez. Caminé a la baño a las diez de la noche, y ahora es las diez y medio de la noche. En aquel momento necesito caminar otra vez."

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Sal al baño."

(Después de treinta minutos.)

Sandra Vazquez: "¿Qué pasa?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Pensando a año pasado. Tenía un empleo de la Servicio Nacional Aeronaval en Panamá. Estaba piloto."

Sandra Vazquez: "¿Qué ocurrió?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "A dame. Lo siento, hablo inglés y español. Una chica; su nombre es Brigid O'Shaughness. Ella estaba bonita y peligrosa. Ella fue muy peligrosa."

Sandra Vazquez: "Y... ¿Qué ocurrió?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Ella disparó a mi. Ella robió de mi."

Sandra Vazquez: "¿Y entonces?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "¡Entonces corría!"

Sandra Vazquez: "Necesito dormir. ¿Desee tu mañana?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Sí. ¿Ojalá a las diez de la noche?"

Sandra Vazquez: "Sí."

(Mañana, Sandra Vazquez y Rodrigo Rodriguez se reunen.)

Sandra Vazquez: "Te amo."

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "¿Por qué?"

Sandra Vazquez: "Porque tu eres un chico mal."

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Es la verdad. Soy un chico mal. O in inglés: "I'm a bad boy". Pero necesito voy a mi casa mañana."

Sandra Vazquez: "No necesitas vas hoy."

(Nota del editor: inapropiado.)

Un mes en futuro, Rodrigo Rodriguez hablando con Sandra Vazquez. Se miran por la cámara web. Este es la última ves se hablan.

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Tengo un novio. Estoy homosexual."

Sandra Vazquez: "Tengo una novia. Estoy lesbiana."

Ambos: "Adios. Vaya con Dios pecador."


Daniel is not in this tale, but Rodrigo Rodriguez is here. Sandra is Sandra Vazquez. Rodrigo Rodriguez is from David, Panama. Sandra Vazquez is from Santa Marta, Colombia. They are in a beach vacation resort in Spain. At this moment, they are in an obscure smoky bar. Spanish is spoken in the bar. They (Sandra and Rodrigo) are speaking to each other.

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Hello girl. My name is Rodrigo Rodriguez. My nickname is "Hot Rod". What's up?"

Sandra Vazquez: "Hello. My name is Sandra Vazquez. It's an ironic name because my job is to be a shepherd.

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "You talk with people concerning Jesus Christ?"

Sandra Vazquez: "No. You're stupid. I'm a shepherd, I'm not a member of the clergy. Do you speak Spanish?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Yes, but I'm drunk. What about you?"

Sandra Vazquez: "No."

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "You should!"

Sandra Vazquez: "I'm unable to! We're talking with each other."

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "I'm sorry. Please, drink."

(After 30 minutes.)

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Where are you from?"

Sandra Vazquez: "I'm from Santa Marta. Santa Marta is in Colombia. Also, I like to have fun. [note; not part of translating: we had to include the phrase "me gusta divertirse" which is roughly "I like to have fun".]

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Who doesn't like having fun?"

Sandra Vazquez: "And you? Where are you from?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "I'm from David, Panama."

Sandra Vazquez: "Your father's name is David and you're from Panama?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "No. You're stupid. I'm from the city David; the name of the city is David. The name of my father is Rodrigo. Do you speak spanish girl?

Sandra Vazquez: "Yes, but I'm drunk. It isn't the first time. I walked to the bathroom at 10pm and now it's 10:30pm. In another moment I'll have to walk again."

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Leave to go to the bathroom"

(After 30 minutes.)

Sandra Vazquez: "What's up?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "I'm thinking about last year. I was employed at the National Sea and Air Service in Panama. I was a pilot."

Sandra Vazquez: "What happened?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "A dame. Sorry, I speak english and spanish. A chick; her name es Brigid O'Shaughness. She was pretty dangerous. She was very dangerous."

Sandra Vazquez: "And... what happened?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "She shot at me. She injured me."

Sandra Vazquez: "And afterwards?"

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Afterwards I ran!"

Sandra Vazquez: "I need to sleep. I wish to, will I see you?

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Yes. God's will permitting at 10pm?

Sandra Vazquez: "Yes."

(Tomorrow, they meet up.)

Sandra Vazquez: "I love you."

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "Why?"

Sandra Vazquez: "Because you're a bad boy."

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "That's the truth. I'm a bad boy. Or in english: "I'm a bad boy". But I need to go to my house tomorrow."

Sandra Vazquez: "You don't need to go today."

(Editor's note: inappropriate.)

One month in the future, Rodrigo Rodriguez is talking with Sandra Vazquez. They are looking at each other through a webcam. This is the last time they will speak to each other.

Rodrigo Rodriguez: "I have a boyfriend. I'm gay."

Sandra Vazquez: "I have a girlfriend. I'm gay."

Both: "Goodbye. Go with God sinner."

Monday, August 6, 2012

I just don't get it.

There's something wrong with the world and I don't know what it is. Perhaps I simply shouldn't turn on HBO and see se7en when I can't sleep.

I don't know the word I need. Triviality? Banality? Evanescence? That emotion evoked when looking at a photo album of someone's vacation and while you couldn't care about the fish they caught using a special fishing rod in Jamaica but you nod and feign interest.

Somehow most people have figured out how to be content thinking:

At work I prepare chicken sandwiches which usually isn't hard but sometimes if the wrong manager - Dave, man he's so horrible, you know he only got the promotion because he's related to someone? - is working then sometimes it's hard but that's not because preparing the chicken sandwiches have become more difficult rather it's harder to because harder to work when someone is suuuuch a micromanager and doesn't just let you do your job, I mean I've been preparing chicken sandwiches for almost a year now which might seem like a short time but really it's a long time because all the contents come pre-packaged and there's even timers and everything, the key is to keep rotating the oil otherwise the chicken sandwiches will be soggy and who wants a soggy chicken sandwich? plus even the good manager - Dan, he's so awesome like he "gets it" he knows that letting me just do my freaking job is the way to manage - will get mad at you if you let the chicken sandwiches get soggy, most people wouldn't care but I really love my job because of the people - the people is what makes a job worthwhile if you ask me, I once worked at Whataburger and the people there were just terrible, worst job ever - but they also care about making sure the chicken sandwiches aren't soggy in fact I once had a woman bring back her chicken sandwich because it was soggy and she said she would never buy from us again although we all know she will because the chicken sandwiches are almost never soggy thanks to me.

It's like everyone is caught up in a system where 95% of the thoughts expressed are nonsense thoughts that everyone expresses. The triviality is just shocking. I mean, I had someone once suggest that we get rid of NASA because "the cold war is over". We're sentient animals trapped on a rock in a tiny corner of the galaxy and they're content to say "hmm, I better not let this chicken sandwich get soggy" before heading home and doing it all over again. I had another one suggest that "we should never question the right thing to do because we should already know it". The lack of caring about anything meaningful is flabbergasting.

I just can't understand the fascination with trivialities while ignoring everything that (should) matter. It fundamentally doesn't make sense. Although, again, maybe my perspective at 5:40am is different from one later in the day.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chick-fil-A; Living in Texas

Chick-fil-A is still, thankfully, in the news. As such it's one of the things that people talk about while waiting for class to begin. But because that means shortly after sunrise at 7:45am, I rarely have the energy to bother to argue with 20 people who disagree.

1. This isn't new news
2. This isn't discrimination
3. People have the right to say what they want
4. I don't care; their chicken taste good in mouth

These seem like very curious responses. Inscrutably curious indeed.

At first I agreed with response 1. I thought it was a sort of statement on how odd it is that certain things tend to rise into the collective consciousness when the underlying issue had been there all along. It wasn't until later that I realized it was intended to mean "this issue has been there for a long time, therefore there's no need to address it". Which is just... an odd response once you think about it. One thing does not follow from the other.

Or take response 2. It generally takes the form of "they still sell their products to gay people so what's the fuss?" I don't understand what prompts that either. It's possible for a business to engage in bigotry while selling products to the people they're supporting discrimination against. No one ever claimed that Chick-fil-A refuses to serve people based on their sexual orientation (although why that's a metric that comes into many people's mind is somewhat troubling). The issue is that they influence the government to prohibit marriage equality. That is the discrimination referred to. The odd state of affairs where the government is prepared to grant marriage licenses, then stops to check to make sure their sexual orientations are opposite. "Would you like to start a family and marry your loved one? Oh, sorry, one of you needs a wang otherwise we just can't do it :/".

Response 3 is just plain weird. It seems very obvious that, yes, people have the right to have opinions even when those opinions are bigoted and discriminatory. I'm glad we have that right. But there's an apparent difference between "the government can't take away my right to free speech" and "no one is allowed to disagree with me because Free Speech". It's a tactic that's more often in Internet forums that in college hallways. And yet that distinction appears lost to, well, almost everyone I've talked with or overhead. Just because someone is legally allowed to express an opinion, or to influence the government to discriminate against people, doesn't mean that everyone needs to say "well, it's legal, so really we legally can't consider the content of their speech".

To be honest, response 4 is the worst. It's the Britta of responses. Being wrong is one thing, choosing to life your life in such a way that you don't care about the rights of others is another thing. It's exemplified by the fact that someone said "can you believe that it's mostly straight people disagreeing with Chick-fil-A?" Followed by collective astonishment. That people only care about the rights which affect them is rather depressing. It wasn't too long ago that I wouldn't be expected to share a water fountain with some of my classmates, the fact that it's expected I would say "well, I've got the good water fountain so really it's fine" is just depressing.

Apparently my local Chick-fil-A has to schedule a lot of people for double shifts because they've been swamped. Which is the meta story for all of this: a member of the 80% of the population complains about being victimized by the 20%; they take a "brave" stand for what the law already is; they claim they're willing to suffer the consequences; they actively push for the government to enforce bigotry; members of the 80% celebrate the government enforcing bigotry by buying more from the business; the right wing complains they're being victimized further.

I just don't get it. And now I'm 10 minutes behind in my morning schedule. But hey at least I'm slightly more centered mentally.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chick-fil-A; Marriage Equality; Critical Thinking

With Chick-fil-A and the general rise of gay/human rights, it often seems like people are talking past each other rather than being clear. When we do that, we get bizarre spectacles like people cheering the fact that Sarah Palin posed in a picture with a bag from Chick-fil-A. We get words like tolerance, rights, equality, all thrown around without taking a step back and asking what those words really mean. Because if we misuse them then, again, rather than a constructive dialogue we see people talking past each other and that's sort of distasteful.

In life, we have a marketplace of ideas. Everyone has the right to enter the marketplace with any idea they like. Everyone does not, however, have the right to have their idea "bought" by others. So, for example, I have the right to say that I don't care for Justin Bieber or his music. Other people disagree with me, hence Justin Bieber becomes a celebrity. Or, I have the right to argue that the Democratic party is better than the Republican party. That isn't the same as saying that I have the right for everyone to agree with me. We have the right to enter the marketplace but not the right to have everyone else agree with us.

We choose our ideas from the marketplace. We pick which ideas we want and which ideas we don't want. That can be framed positively (i.e., the Democratic party is better than the Republican party) or negatively (i.e., the Republican party is worse than the Democratic party). By picking one idea over the other, we are effectively discriminating against the ideas we dismiss. (Note that discrimination in this sense is very different from discrimination against people. )

Side note: we can either have our minds and reason do the picking or we can allow some authority to limit the ideas we're exposed to. I very firmly believe that we should trust our own reasoning. We should allow, for example, arguments to be made that deny the Holocaust. We air those arguments, see that they don't up to reason, and dismiss the idea. That's how we maintain freedom and autonomy. We don't ask for the government to protect us from being forced to think about new things - reason is the gatekeeper rather than government censorship . We should welcome unpopular ideas that make us think. Holding a consistent set of beliefs throughout one's life is, at least according to the Christian Bible in 1 Corinthians 13:11, sub-par.

At any rate, we the people pick winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas. We can't have all winners by definition, that would leave us with nonsense ideas like "marriage equality is good and marriage equality is not good" or "Justin Bieber is a good singer and Justin Bieber is not a good singer". We all pick from the marketplace which ideas we choose to hold, the idea is to use reason to pick the correct beliefs. The process is just like any other marketplace. We examine the goods presented and choose which to possess.

Throughout most of the 20th century in the United States, the marketplace has said that we should not have marriage equality Therefore the people who believe we should not have marriage equality have had their opinion “winning”. They've been content that the set of beliefs they've chosen from the marketplace are a popular set of beliefs. When this happens you aren't forced to examine your beliefs. For example, I believe slavery is wrong. I've also never seriously sat down and tried to read arguments for and against slavery. That's an example of a belief which is widespread thus I've never had to confront the dissenting idea.

Lately, the idea that marriage equality is wrong has been losing ground in the marketplace. More and more people (including myself, given that my first post was against marriage equality) are choosing pro-marriage equality. This means they're "discriminating" against the idea of being against marriage equality. We could use the same language to say that throughout most of the 20th century people were choosing the idea of anti-marriage equality were "discriminating" against the idea of being for marriage equality. Because the nature of a marketplace of ideas means that some will win while others are "discriminated" against and lose. This process of competition – embracing some ideas while dismissing others – is how we reach any and every belief.

When someone is used to holding a popular set of beliefs then they can forget all of this and believe that their ideas are inherently worthy of being chosen as correct. Again, back to my example of slavery. Another reason I haven't seriously looked into it is because it genuinely seems self-evidently the proper belief. I can't (completely and honestly) set aside my belief that slavery is wrong and examine the issue.

That's a flaw. Because thinking that some ideas are above examination is erroneous. It simply isn't the case. All ideas are competing against each other - we argue for ideas based on their merit which produces winners and losers. Just because someone happens to be living in a place and time when some beliefs are widespread doesn't change the principle of examining our beliefs.

Lately, and thankfully, marriage equality is an idea that's been winning a lot. It's been fascinating to watch the response! The people who disagree with the idea have gone from:
  • Not needing to argue for the idea
  • Arguing for their idea based on its (alleged) merits (i.e., "marriage equality will tear apart the United States)
  • Arguing for their idea based on taboo evidence (i.e., the idea is supported by a religious text therefore you can't argue with it)
  • Arguing against the idea by saying that if their idea doesn't win then they're suffering discrimination.
It's fairly easy to see why the third one comes last, as well as why it's so appealing. The idea of marriage equality hinges on what discrimination means. When one has no arguments left then one can claim that they deserve to be right, or else their being discriminated against. Cue "tolerance" "discrimination" "bigotry" all misused. If someone can make the case that disagreement is off the table, then by default they've won. I don't think that strategy has a very long shelf life, but it's definitely re-emerged since Chick-fil-A made their case (using step 2: wrapping their idea in the out of bounds arena of religious belief).

The idea of anti-marriage equality is still competing in the marketplace. I don't begrudge the people who agree with it. I think they're wrong *but this is what it means to participate in that marketplace*. Taken strictly, the idea of being against marriage equality is discrimination in the sense that all ideas entail discrimination, that is: *discrimination against other ideas*. But we can't stop there, we have to look at what the idea in practice will entail.

What makes things like anti-marriage equality different is that when the idea is practiced it means *discrimination against people*. Just like, for example, the idea of prohibiting racial marriage equality. Taken in one sense the idea entails as much discrimination as the idea of allowing racial marriage equality. Both ideas mean discriminating against the other idea. But, again, what makes the idea different is that in practice, prohibiting racial marriage equality means *discriminating against people*.

This is why we can't refer to discrimination in one sense (i.e., in the marketplace of ideas) and say it's the same as discrimination in another sense (i.e., possessing fewer rights as a person). To spell it out a bit, we can't say:

Person 1: I think the idea of prohibiting marriage equality is correct
Person 2: I disagree, I think the idea when put into practice means discrimination against people
Person 1: Aha, you just discriminated against my idea! So I guess the score board is even and my idea isn't discriminatory.

It makes no sense. But I think it stems from using the word discrimination inaccurately and being used to your ideas being accepted as right at large. So when you have to defend those ideas you feel like you're under unfair attack in the marketplace of ideas, when in reality everyone is always under attack because that's how reasoning works. When you're used to winning then losing makes you feel like you're a victim. When there's a gap between "I believe XYZ" and "most people believe not XYZ" then you search for an explanation. An easy one is that you're a victim - most people would believe XYZ like you if only [liberal media, stupidity, brainwashing, Obama's speech giving skill, etc] wasn't unduly influencing them.

All of which, I think, lead us to absurd conclusions like cheering Sarah Palin for buying a sandwich at Chick-fil-A. We see Chick-fil-A support an idea (marriage equality is wrong) and we conclude that anyone who doesn't support that idea is discriminating against Chick-fil-A. As if everyone has an obligation to buy a product and believe an idea or else they're discriminating.

Well, the idea (marriage equality is wrong) in this case is incorrect. (Read: this statement is discrimination against an idea which is inherent and necessary in every idea.) And the idea that marriage equality is wrong is discriminatory. (Read: the idea, when practiced, prohibits people from practicing their rights which is a bad thing.) As such, I can argue for my idea and include the fact that the other idea is discriminatory. Because it plainly is.

So let's continue to have a national discussion on marriage equality. Let's continue to discuss the issue on its merits, as we should all issues. But let's not say that having that discussion constitutes discrimination against people. Because, and this is the wonderful news, you can't forever stop people from having that discussion.

(Begin rambling.)

Well, I suppose the Texas Republican Party is doing their best to stop people participating in the marketplace of ideas. It turns out that if you educate kids incorrectly then you can keep them from thinking for themselves. To quote from their (since changed) platform:

"Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."

If we teach abstinence only then we can ensure that many young people get pregnant. If we can take away their legal right to abortion then we can ensure that many low-income young women become single mothers - bonus points for shaming them. If we can keep from giving them aid or health care then we can ensure that they stay poor their entire lives. If we can teach kids that they should have "fixed beliefs" and that challenging those "fixed beliefs" is dangerous then we can ensure they'll be unable to think. If we teach kids that science should be denied based on a collection of ancient scrolls then we can ensure they won't ever find the joy of scientific discovery. If we teach kids that evolution is "just a theory" then we can ensure they'll distrust science. If we can import low wage jobs then we can ensure the poor stay poor. The overall key is to start early and remove the tools that allow people to function in a marketplace of ideas. That way they'll accept what they're told; they'll effectively censor themselves.

To think a former politician purchasing a chicken sandwich with the intent of keeping people from getting married is... is even a thing. It takes a lot, but we can produce people who simply say "I believe what I'm told because I know I'm right" and be OK with that. To intellectually neuter a generation of people. To teach them that examining their beliefs is a scary thing the government needs to protect them from. To be comfortable that not only is an unexamined life worth living, but rather only an unexamined life is worth living. That's scarier than a Dalek because it takes away the only tool we have in life: our reason. Anyway, clearly I've rambled.

If no one gets anything else out of this, don't confuse discrimination in the marketplace of ideas (a necessary tool to be a thinking person) with discrimination against people. The words may be the same but they refer to very different things and using the ideas interchangeably is not reasoning clearly, for the people purposely misusing the words it's not reasoning honestly.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Louie Gohmert: separation of church and state responsible for movie theater shooting in Colorado

Hero terror-baby fighting news now: Congressman Louie Gohmert makes strong bid for Moronic Imbecile of July.
 Congressman Louie Gohmert had some remarks about the recent shooting in a movie theater in Colorado. Per the course, prep the crazy:

“You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of a derelict takes place,” Gohmert said.
“Some of us happen to believe that when our founders talked about guarding our virtue and freedom, that that was important,” he said.
“Whether it’s John Adams saying our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people … Ben Franklin, only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, as nations become corrupt and vicious they have more need of masters. We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country.”
Ernest Istook, the host of the show and a former Oklahoma congressman, jumped in to clarify that nobody knows the motivation of the alleged Aurora gunman. Gohmert said that may be true, but suggested the shootings were still “a terrorist act” that could have been avoided if the country placed a higher value on God.
“People say … where was God in all of this?” Gohmert said. “We’ve threatened high school graduation participations, if they use God’s name, they’re going to be jailed … I mean that kind of stuff. Where was God? What have we done with God? We don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present.”

The people who wrote the constitution really screwed the pooch on this one. If only they had realized that allowing religious freedom would result in a mentally unstable person shooting people 224 years later! They were so close to producing a good document, it's a shame they lacked the acumen that Louie "terror-baby fighter" Gohmert has

It's hard to know where to start other than just generally mocking him. Consequently, I've come up with some appropriate monikers: 
  • Louie "the superman of schizoid" Gohmert
  • Louie "the advocate of asinine" Gohmert
  • Louie "the bastion of batty" Gohmert
  • Louie "the keeper of the kook" Gohmert
  • Louie "the congressman of cretinous” Gohmert
  • Louie "the vindicator of vacuous" Gohmert
  • Louie "the warrior of wacky" Gohmert
We have something like 350,000 Christian churches in the United States. There's somewhere around 242 million Christians (78% of the population) in the United States. Evidently, 78% of us are being persecuted by being unable to use the government to impose beliefs on others - the worst kind of persecution! I genuinely don't get a lot of things, and I don't understand how someone can look at that and conclude: 
God's sitting up there (apparently he isn't omnipresent, and leaves) ready to intervene and prevent all tragedy. However, He isn't doing that because the United States isn't a theocracy. He has left the United States, presumably during the rosy fictional past when there was no violence, and would really like to intervene but, really, it's our fault He isn't. He only listens if the government uses force to make everyone practice a certain denomination of a certain religion in a certain way. [Thankfully, Louie "the benefactor of bonkers" Gohmert is ready to tell you how, pro-tip: be a wealthy white male.]
Therefore, the solution to all of our problems is to turn the United States into a theocracy. Because a quick glance at the history books tells us that violence is non-existent in theocracies.
I don't understand that. 

I's an incredibly scary set of beliefs. It's also a set of puerile and absurd beliefs, but scary nonetheless. It doesn't even make sense. It's sort of like when I try to listen to someone speaking a foreign language. I know it makes sense to them, but it's just a disconnected series of sounds to me. (With the difference being that foreign languages actually make sense, Louie "the sympathizer of simple" Gohmert doesn't actually make sense.) 

Beyond that, the principle of religious freedom is a good principle. The problem that Louie "the medalist of meaningless" Gohmert has is understanding that principles actually have significance. You don't hold on to principles until you realize you dislike the outcome and then discard them. Well, I mean Louie "the accomplice of absurd" Gohmert does, but people shouldn't. Principles have significance

We stand by principles even when they occasionally produce an undesirable outcome. We don't use the word to mean "whatever gets me what I want". This seems to be lost on so many people, particularly conservative politicians. This is why we allow the KKK to have a parade. Not because we endorse the KKK, but the principle of free speech is valuable and deserves to be protected.

Even if Louie "the paladin of the preposterous" Gohmert wishes that the United States become a theocracy, surely he should be able to see that abandoning the principle of religious freedom is harmful. Opening the door to the government telling people which religion to practice - and how they should practice it - is a very dangerous gambit that wouldn't end well. It would take away your freedom rather than expanding it. Again, I'm befuddled why this isn't obvious.

Incidentally, religious freedom is (it's hypothesized, probably, many think) the reason why Christianity is so widespread and alive in the United States compared to Europe. Europe took the route of establishing state churches and endorsing a particular religion. Those religions became stagnant because there was no evolutionary pressure on them to change. Whereas in the United States anyone could form any religion which caused religions to compete for members. When competition happens, you see the final product which is more desirable to whatever the intent (in this case: active membership) of the thing is. It's sort of ironic. Who would have thought that separation of church and state and evolutionary mechanisms would have created something like the situation we have now.

Anyway, the founding fathers were so close to allowing the United States to be magically violence free. I just wish Louie "the sponsor of screwy" Gohmert could go back in time. Seriously, I wish other people had to deal with him.

I loathe him; I yearn for someone to beat him in the upcoming election.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

CNN Sucks; The Truth Isn't a Consensus Game

I made the mistake of watching CNN this morning. Usually that only means being made aware that an international news agency is choosing to report on some inane thing like a cat show or a new yoga pose. Suffice it to say that I miss their old morning show American Morning which was actually occasionally informative (the wikipedia page says "American Morning focused on the news more than many U.S. morning shows" which I suppose explains A, it being watchable on a news channel and B, CNN ending it). I digress; typically watching CNN merely means bemoaning the degradation and painful dumbing down of CNN, as if they're appealing to children and they've decided to treat their channel like a grocery story checkout line magazine: cheap, disposable, able to digest while comatose with Cheeto fingers.

Today, however, is Sunday. Which means they try to bring out their big boy shows. Forget inane things like new yoga poses, they say, we're taking an objective look at serious news! Huzzah! The problem is that they don't only fail, they also do so much damage that in the end it would literally be better if the TV screen was merely blank (as you can be assured mine currently is).

CNN has this odd idea that objective journalism means having two sides of a story state their claim. I can understand why someone who doesn't think about what journalism or objectivity means might read that and think it's a good tactic. But that tactic is essentially saying that every issue has two sides and we're free to choose what the truth is. It's transforming the truth into whatever people say the truth is.

Some things are true and some things are false. This claim doesn't seem like it should require a defender. And yet it does. You absolutely cannot create a culture whereby truth is determined by what people say the truth is. That's some sort of foreign garbage world that strips away everything that's valuable about the search for any truth.

Either anthropogenic climate change is happening or it isn't. Either evolution is real or it isn't. Either the Big Bang happened or it didn't. Either President Obama was born in Hawaii or he wasn't. (Thanks to the Law of the Excluded Middle, which incidentally is integral to the problem of future contingents which addresses/attacks the idea of free will.)

Truths about our world do not rely on people affirming them. The truth couldn't care less whether no one knows, some people know, or a lot of people know. It's entirely irrelevant - it doesn't matter how many people deny the truth; sounds made by Homo sapiens while on a small rock spinning around a star doesn't actually change the truth.

When we try to discover what the truth is we can be aided by what other people say the truth is. But please, please, don't think that the truth is true because people say it. That's not the way it works outside of dystopian novels. Please don't confuse an aid for our mammalian brain with truths. CNN, please stop actively eroding the critical thinking skills of people who make the mistake of watching your show. Please stop pretending the truth is whatever people say the truth is. It's damaging, and I find the idea personally offensive.

Finally, a quote from Christopher Hitchens:

"My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass."

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Time-Locked Into the Human Condition

I wrote this for a class recently. The prompt was along the lines of discussing time through stories.

The human condition is marked by deficiencies. We have a psychological need for understanding our place within the context of how we naturally perceive time as flowing. That is: the past once was but is no longer, the present is, the future is not yet but will be. We live with the decisions we have made and anticipate future decisions which have not been made. Thus both the past and the future are treated as pseudo-existing in some way which is less real than the present.

The true nature of time may not be this way. There is a movement among physicists that time is more properly perceived as part of a “block universe”. This view suggests that the past is just as real as the present is just as real as the future – there is no “flow” of time. This is the “eternalism” view of time (Dowden pp. 150). But whatever the true nature of time, humans are doomed to experience it as a flow. That experience leaves us with needs.

There are two facets to our needs in this regard. The first is the social aspect addressing the issue from the perspective of society, and the second is the psychological aspect addressing the issue from the perspective of an individual person. We can glean insight from analyzing humanity through how we act as a group as well as how we act as distinct persons within a group.

In the social aspect, stories largely satisfy this need by providing role models for individuals to emulate. Stories have served this function since ancient times through examples like “the perfect husband” in the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu holy text. Ancient mythology is often still used as a source of role models for many people in contemporary society. When one speaks of Job, the listener is probably already aware of the story of suffering. When one wears a “What Would Jesus Do” bracelet, there is no confusion about the distinction meant between a Hispanic person named Jesus and Jesus of Nazareth as depicted in Christian mythology. Humans have formed groups and created stories for the individuals throughout all of human history.

There is no need to limit the focus to ancient mythology; stories are still being created which provide role models to emulate. For example: the rate of people wanting to join the Navy as Naval Aviators rose 500 percent after the film Top Gun was released. Top Gun provided the role model of Maverick as an ideal of bravery, courage and confidence. Because people were presented with those ideals they changed their course of action in an effort to live up to those ideals.

The second way of looking at the need is from the psychological standpoint, from the perspective of an individual person. We need to learn how to attain meaning in a life which has an end. Because this need is part of the human condition we have many stories to show us comfort and wisdom.

Sometimes they tell us that our life doesn’t end – these are largely religious stories. The need can also be satisfied through stories which show us characters which face the end of time and work to prevent that end, symbolizing our own secret desire to beat death. Or stories which show us characters which have somehow lost the meaningfulness of time and the experience serves to show us just how valuable time is.

There is a common thread throughout these sorts of stories. They generally take what’s first perceived as a weakness – life is futile, fleeting and meaningless – and turn it on it’s head to produce a story which tells us that it’s very fleeting nature of time which makes it so incredibly valuable.
In the television show Angel, the main character says it thus:

If there is no great glorious end to all this, if - nothing we do matters, - then all that matters is what we do. 'cause that's all there is. What we do, now, today. I fought for so long. For redemption, for a reward - finally just to beat the other guy, but... I never got it.
The theme in this excerpt, and in the stories we are examining generally, is that by accepting the frailty of life we are able to truly value life.

To get a better understanding of precisely how stories do this, and how it relates to the role of stories in our culture, the role of time, and the role of humanity coping with the human condition, we’re going to be examining 4 stories. First, it is important to understand that when stories are referred to as mythological it is not a pejorative term. A mythological story is one which is spiritually or psychologically meaningful, the term does not pass judgment on the truth value of the story. The stories are:
  • The mythological stories in the Christian Bible as understood by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS)
  • The mythological stories in the Christian Bible as understood by the Jehovah's Witnesses (JW)
  • The fictional story explained in the film Groundhog Day.
  • The fictional story explained in the television show Doctor Who, specifically the two-part episode “The End of Time”
The first is a religious story. It’s the understanding of the LCMS based on the Christian Bible. It’s an amillennialist position, meaning that the portions of the Christian Bible which refer to Christ having a literal 1,000 year reign on Earth is properly interpreted as symbolic. The reign is introduced in the Christian Bible in Revelations 20 (NIV)
They [martyrs] came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
They believe that the reign is a spiritual reign rather than a physical reign. Thus they embrace the idea of eternal existence in a form similar to this existence but also different from this existence. They also do not believe that how we spend our time on Earth (when it comes to behaving morally) is enough to guarantee an eternal life of bliss. They teach that while everyone has an eternal existence, not every eternal existence is desirable.

The LCMS does adopt the basics of general Christian eschatological (“a belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind”) beliefs. This is to say that the Christian God (properly conceived as part of the Trinity) will bring all true Christian believers into Heaven where they will live in bliss for eternity. And an adverse fate awaits people who are not true believers: they will suffer an eternity of conscious torment in Hell.

LCMS has formed their beliefs on the state of persons after biological death based closely on the Christian Bible. One of the key verses is Mark 16:16 (NIV): “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”. The word “saved” in this context refers to God saving a person from Hell. As Romans 6:23 (NIV) says: “the wages of sin is death”. Death in this context does not refer to biological death, rather it refers to death meaning Hell. This is clarified in Revelation 21:8 (NIV):
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and the liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.
This idea that the default destination is Hell is reinforced in Revelation 20:15 (ESV): “And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire”. So the LCMS believe that persons are inherently deserving of leaving this reality and entering into one where, according to Revelation 20:10 (NIV), “They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever”.
The other side of this belief is that those who follow the necessary steps are destined for Heaven. The idea is clarified in Psalm 16:10-11 (NIV):
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Keeping in mind that death in the following context refers to a second death (i.e., existing in Hell), the idea is further clarified in 1 Corinthians 15:26 (NIV): “The last enemy to be destroyed is death”.

Interpreting the Christian Bible in this way leads to an overarching story that the best way for humans to cope with experiencing time is to realize that this existence is only temporary. That the moral rules of nature, given to us by the moral law-maker (the Christian God), are set up in such a way that persons deserve eternal punishment without the law-maker intervening on their behalf. This means that the common notion that biological death means an end to experiencing time is false. We can escape the second death (Hell) but only through following the proper steps. This leads to an interpretation of John 3:16 (NIV) that when it says “whoever believes in [God] shall not perish but have eternal life” that while not everyone will have eternal life (i.e., not everyone will experience time in Heaven for eternity) that everyone will have eternal life (i.e., continue to experience time for all of eternity).

By contrast, the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) consider themselves to be millennialists. They base their beliefs on the Christian Bible, but they interpret it very differently from how the LCMS interprets it. JW believes that Christ returned in October 1914, but that Christ returned invisibly. They chose that date based on Christian Biblical chronology, specifically Daniel 4.

Because JW and LCMS are based on the same book they’ll share many characteristics. For example, both believe in the Christian God. They have different perceptions of God, however. LCMS theology teaches that God is properly understood as part of the Trinity (that is: God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) while JW theology teaches that God is properly understood as one being. LCMS teaches that God is omnipresent (present everywhere) and omniscient (all-knowing) while JW theology teaches that God is one being who is not omnipresent and not omniscient.

They also differ in their eschatological beliefs. JW theology teaches that 144,000 people will ascend to Heaven to live in bliss for eternity, that practicing JW believers who aren’t chosen to be among those 144,000 will spend eternity on a Paradise Earth, while people who haven’t been chosen to ascend to Heaven or experience a Paradise Earth will simply cease to exist. By contrast, LCMS teaches that all who have accepted Christ will be saved. They clarify by saying in the Doctrinal Issues – Salvation portion of their website:
Paul is not contradicting his continual emphasis in all his writings, including Romans, that a person is saved not by what he does, but by faith in what Christ does for him. Rather, he is discussing the principle of judgment according to deeds. Judgment will be rendered according to one's deeds in the sense that the good works of thebeliever give evidence that he has faith. Good works, which are seen, give evidence of faith, which isunseen.
So religious stories, at least the ones this paper will be addressing, tend to meet the psychological need by believing that the end of time – whether viewed through the perspective of an individual as a coherent biological being or through the perspective of ongoing human experience – is not necessarily the genuine end of an individual experiencing time. The individual suffers biological death and yet the soul persists. Ongoing human experience now takes place in a place of bliss rather than strife, but it still continues in a different sort of way.

The idea that we as persons persist after our biological death stands in sharp contrast with a materialist perspective. The materialist perspective is that “Everything that actually exists is material, or physical” which means that souls do not exist, God does not exist, the phrase “life after death” is self-contradictory, and so on. While the term religion can be notoriously difficult to precisely define, most religions reject a materialist worldview. They usually accept that material physical objects exist, but also that the spiritual exists. As an extension of this, they treat a materialist conception of time, and understanding time, as being being a less-than-full accounting of the nature of time in relation to persons experiencing time.

Religious stories about vary in their details but they overwhelmingly have a theme of accepting that our biological bodies and their existence are real but that something like a soul exists in addition. By inserting the concept of something in addition to the physical body they are opening the door to an individual experiencing biological death without experiencing true death of the self. They introduce a new twist: time doesn’t end; whether that’s desirable for you as an individual depends on how closely you’re following the rules.

They also help people learn how to behave. By codifying a set of laws and adding an addendum that the reward for following the rules is eternal life, and that the punishment for not following the rules is eternal punishment, they become very powerful tools when shaping people's behavior.
Interestingly, they can shape people's behavior even if the person is not a believer but merely has been exposed to these stories. For example, one study suggests that when voters are near churches that they are more likely to profess a belief in God and more likely to give conservative opinions (ABC News). The link between stories and human psychology appears to be a fundamental link that significantly affects us. More importantly, these stories change the concept of time in order to change how people view time and consequently how to use time.

The third story is the film Groundhog Day. This story is different in that rather than a divine intervention warning of a future event, the key revelation in our comprehension of time comes without warning and without any description. Humanity doesn’t ascend to another level of reality, nor does time reach an end. The story describes the protagonist as a shallow person who isn’t appreciative of the gift of time. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this quickly is to say that the protagonist holds the opposite of the perspective advocated by the character Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek: Generations:
Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives, but I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment because they'll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived. After all, Number One, we're only mortal.
The protagonist of Groundhog Day rather views time as a background in which one operates egotistically.

Groundhog Day eliminates the invisible privilege that we, and the protagonist, experience. The film forces the character to relive the same day constantly, some estimates have put the time experienced as long as 10,000 years! So it takes away the meaningfulness of time for the main character.
Instead of presenting time in the traditional linear fashion, it presents time in a very cyclical fashion. It highlights the mundane uses of time which we take for granted and makes it so that the very mundaneness becomes the most significant thing in the world. It is a way of demonstrating meaningfulness in life by changing how we perceive time.

This is different from the religious stories in that they essentially say “this life is meaningless
The End of Time is a two part episode from the television show Doctor Who. It is epic and expansive, but I want to focus on one episode. In the Doctor Who universe there are alien races. One of those races are called the Time Lords. They are very similar to humans (i.e., they are persons, they appear in a human body, they eat and drink, etc) but also different (i.e., they are near immortal, they have two hearts, etc). The show exploits those differences to shine new light on human experiences. For example, the Time Lords can regenerate under most circumstances. This is an incredibly helpful device for the mechanics of producing a show about one person which first aired in 1963. More than that, it is helpful because it presents death in a similar light as many of the religious stories. Which is to say that death occurs but that the common notion of death as ending life is incorrect.

When a Time Lord is set on the course of events that would traditionally result in death (i.e., fatal but with the clarification that it is not necessarily going to be fatal) they engage in a process of rebirth or regeneration. Their physical body is transformed into a new adult physical body and yet the Time Lord retains his or her essence. The Time Lord, for example, retains memories and yet adopts a new personality. One of the recurring lines in the show demonstrates that they have no control about choosing their new body when the Doctor announces “I'm still not ginger!”.

This is similar to the religious stories because the person (not human, but person) experiences the end of his or her biological death – what traditionally means the end of experiencing time – and yet his or her essence exists after biological death. It is different in that the religious stories rest on the idea of humans moving to a new reality, while the Time Lords stay in their reality. There are small comparisons to changing reality since one's reality is largely determined by how one perceives reality (i.e., a person with a happy personality will perceive reality in a more positive light, a tall person will perceive reality from a slightly higher position, and so on) but the essential notion of transitioning to a new reality is lost.

There is also a comparison between Ecclesiastes 1 and one of the general themes of Doctor Who. The exact age of The Doctor is unclear but he has said that he has lived several thousands years and on another occasion 953 years. His experiences during those years – specifically his losses – have given him a wise and often tragic perspective. This is mirrored in Ecclesiastes 1:16-18 (NIV):
I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief
There is a parallel between the two stories in that they both include figures who have experienced time – and not merely passively experienced it, but rather fully lived it – and accordingly have wise perspectives on the meaningfulness or meaningless of this existence. The religious stories conclude that the wise perspective is that this life is without meaning, or at least that this life derives meaning from another life. Doctor Who concludes that while life can be tragic, and existence absurd, that striving to make life better for others is the most meaningful way of using one's time.

In the episode we are focusing on, almost the entire Time Lord race is trapped inside a “time bubble”. They are unable to come out of it and into the world except through ending time. They exist, but in a different dimension where they are unable to interact with the rest of reality outside their bubble. They are “time-locked” into their own existence.

They find a loophole and find that they are able to interact with the outside reality through a subconscious message with one of the only two Time Lords who are not trapped in the time bubble. The problem is that by breaking out of the time bubble they will be destroying Earth and its inhabitants thereby ending time from the perspective of humanity.

The protagonist of the show, known simply as “The Doctor”, is faced with the choice of bringing his race back into existence from the time bubble and ending the ability of humans to experience time, or allowing his race to be sentenced to an eternity of being trapped. One of the common themes throughout the show is the loneliness of The Doctor so the idea of having his race back is very attractive. But, in the end, he chooses to send his race back into the time bubble and thus preserving the ability of humans to experience time.

All of the stories take different approaches to highlighting the necessity of humans spending their time wisely. The religious stories call attention to the fleeting nature of time (as experienced by an individual) by contrasting it with the idea of eternity. Groundhog Day accomplishes the same thing by taking away what is significant about time: our ignorance of future events and ability to make choices changing the future. The End of Time does it by presenting The Doctor with something he deeply needs but can only achieve at the expense of the ability of humans to experience time.
The stories have a recurring theme of demonstrating some sort of impending doom: being sentenced on Judgment Day, brought about by biological death; being forced to relive the same day eternally; the end of humanity brought about by inaction on behalf of The Doctor. And then they demonstrate how this doom can be averted: following the proper steps; becoming a better person; sending the Time Lords back into their time bubble. It is a combination of first demonstrating some need and then providing a way for individuals to meet that need.

What allows an individual to use a story to meet that need is the ability to draw a correlation from the story into a need that is already present. This requires a slight qualification in that the religious stories present themselves as literally true while the other two stories present themselves as fiction. But what gives meaning to a mythological story is that it is meaningful to humans sharing this existence not whether its claims are ultimately true. So in one sense mythological stories are meaningful because they provide instructions relevant for the next life, but in the sense I am using the word they are meaningful because they give meaning to humans in this life.

Religious stories provide insight into the nature of the cosmos, ethics, the meaning of the concept death and generally providing guidance and comfort – or fear, but that is just as consequential – to humans. We have an innate need to understand what causes things to happen. This specific need manifests itself both in the how and the why. For example: how do tornadoes work (i.e., what is the description of the natural process) as well as why a tornado struck one house and not the other (i.e., why did the natural process behave that way instead of another?). So while humans do not have an innate need for, say, the name of God, they do have an innate need which is satisfied by religious stories which include details like the name of God. They create a need to satisfy in the sense that they create the proper steps one needs to take to avoid Hell. But in the course of satisfying the need they have created, they satisfy other needs inherent in the human condition.

The same applies to the fictional stories. In Groundhog Day they create the need for the protagonist to break out of the cycle of repeating the same day, and they satisfy that need by having the protagonist become a better person. This is meaningful because humans already have an inherent need to deal with repeating days (that is: existence) and an innate need to understand how one should behave towards others. The film makes a comparison between the need created and the need inherent, and then provides the solution to both needs: existence isn't futile, and we should treat people with kindness.

In Doctor Who they create the need of saving humanity at great cost to The Doctor. It presents the choice of fulfilling the ultimate desire at great cost to other persons, or to act selflessly and deny one's own desires in order to benefit other persons. This ties into the human need to understand selfishness and whether time is best spent helping others or fulfilling our own selfish desires. In addition to the general theme of the episode, a portion of dialogue between The Doctor and a human named Wilfred. Wilfred chose to enter into a small radiation chamber which is about to be filled with radiation. The only way out is if The Doctor enters the adjoining radiation chamber and locks himself inside. The Doctor has a choice of allowing Wilfred to be killed by the imminent flood of radiation or absorb it himself, but if he absorbs it himself then he will have to regenerate. While he won't lose his essence, he will lose his personality which is a large part of his identity.
WILFRED: Look, just leave me.DOCTOR: Okay, right then, I will. Because you had to go in there, didn't you? You had to go and get stuck, oh yes. Because that's who you are, Wilfred. You were always this. Waiting for me all this time.WILFRED: No really, just leave me. I'm an old man, Doctor. I've had my time.DOCTOR: Well, exactly. Look at you. Not remotely important. But me? I could do so much more. So much more! But this is what I get. My reward. And it's not fair! Oh. Oh. I've lived too long.WILFRED: No. No, no, please, please don't. No, don't! Please don't! Please!DOCTOR: Wilfred, it's my honour. Better be quick. Three, two, one.
The Doctor has faced the larger issue of sacrifice and now is presented with a smaller scale reward. Wilfred is old, he chose to enter the chamber, he is a human. The Doctor just saved the human race; he deserves a reward not death.

So while Doctor Who has created a need in the sense of impending doom of humanity and then the death of Wilfred, that need is mirrored in the pre-existing human need of learning about selflessness. In both instances The Doctor freely chooses to sacrifice – both the return of his race and then his identity – on behalf of others. The ultimate desire is shown not to be fulfilling a selfish desire, rather the ultimate desire is to freely sacrifice on behalf of others. It is only through sacrifice that we can achieve meaning in life. This satisfies the inherent need of humans to learn how to achieve meaning in life.

There is also a more general need innate in humanity: the need for life having significance. Religious stories tell us that this life is significant because how behavior and beliefs will influence ourselves after we undergo biological death. The details vary, to be sure, but that is the gist. This is particularly present in the theology of the JW. They emphasize evangelizing based on Matthew 28:19-20, when Jesus of Nazareth said:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
They emphasize that using time meaningfully means, to a large degree, spreading their religion.
Groundhog Day satisfies this need pointing out that being able to experience time is a privilege. By taking away that privilege it uses contrast to demonstrate the significance of experiencing time. We see the transformation of the character from egotistical and unable to appreciate life, to egotistical and still unable to appreciate life (once he is in the loop), to selfless and finally able to appreciate the gift of time's apparent flow. It directly addresses the difficulty of finding meaning in a finite life by showing how undesirable an infinite life is.

The End of Time illustrates the same need by setting up a scenario in which a powerful moral person is forced to choose between humans experiencing time and something he needs. It is a bit different in that the protagonist is not strictly speaking human, but it is fairly obvious that The Doctor is meant to represent humans. By making his choice and sacrificing so much he is able to help others appreciate the gift of time.

The other common thread is that these stories generally rely on privileged information. This takes the form of privileged experiences. In the religious stories the privileged experiences are caused by the divine, and the authors of the Bible are privy to the information. By sharing that information with people who lacked the experience, they are able to help them learn what is important about life and how we spend it.

The fictional stories also rely on privileged information. In The End of Time, The Doctor is the one who has access to special information. The sort of privileged experience is a bit different in form, however. Rather than being told something from an outside source the privileged experience comes from a combination of his wisdom from living for such a long time as well as his capability. He is not told some sort of information per se, he is able to form an informed judgment based on his uniqueness as compared to humans. In Groundhog day the main character clearly has access to information that the other characters lack. Specifically, he is able to know what will happen during the day that he is reliving as a loop.

The stories differ in their methodology and intention. But they all highlight something intrinsic to humanity – we experience time as flowing, filtered through our ignorant mammalian brains – and use it as a way question how we should view time in the context of experiencing time. Although we only examined this phenomenon through 4 stories, it is present in many stories. It is a unique way in which humans produce material to help ourselves deal with the absurdity of the human condition: deficiencies and the need to address those deficiencies. To quote Christopher Hitchens:
"I know what's coming, I know no one beats these odds. It's a matter of getting used to that, growing up and realising that you're expelled from your mother's uterus as if shot from a cannon, towards a barn door studded with old nail files and rusty hooks. It's a matter of how you use up the intervening time in an intelligent and ironic way. And try not to do anything dastardly to your fellow creatures."
Even though everyone can not be right simultaneously on precisely how we should appreciate the gift of experiencing time – or if the “barn door studded with old nail files and rusty hooks” even exists! - it appears to be a timeless fact that every thinking person will spend time struggling to find an answer if not The Answer.