Sunday, July 4, 2010

Transfer of Writing; Bye

I no longer have an interest in being a *formal* intellectual activist, so from here on out this blog will be inactive but open for its archives, at least for now. Trying to maintain two blogs as different as Benpercent and Musing Aloud is like trying to maintain two different mental systems. I don't like the intellectual split required in the thinking for my posts. It makes the writing seem like work, and that's no fun. Making the identification that I don't want to become a writer has, regrettably, had a significant impact on my views on my writing and my willingness to maintain good habits. I've even noticed a laziness welling up in me to leave rather bad sentences in my recent posts simply because I don't care to strive for excellence in this area all the time, but I should change on that. (<<< A bad sentence!)

The most significant factor in this decision, however, is the project I've mentioned at my other blog. In case you missed it, I've noted that I'm undertaking a months long project to remedy a problem that is interfering with my learning, productivity, and emotional health. It's developed to the point that most of my consciousness is often diverted into concerns regarding the solution to this problem and visualizations of the joys of successfully solving it. I speak of the problem and project in vague terms since secrecy is vital to the efficiency of the solution, especially since the solution is taking months to implement. Once it's finished I'll construct a detailed explanation at my other blog, but right now it's indeterminate as to the actual time-frame. Given the proper circumstances it can be completed in 1-3 months, but I'm waiting for a certain something to occur before that time span (or "waiting period") can be considered in effect. The uncertainty is agonizing, but the success of this project means a major step forward in my life, so I'll just have to shut up and put up until then.

This does not mean I'm giving up activism. Given my interests, I will try to blend it into my personal writings over at Musing Aloud; only I don't plan on writing formal academic essays. The only subjects covered would be that of personal interest or impact to me, whether it be a career development or my fears over foreign policy.

So don't expect any more new writing to show up here. The purpose of this blog now is to simply have searchable archives. Follow Musing Aloud if you wish to keep track of new content. See you there.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Future

Check out my other blog to see what's been going on in my life to hold me from writing, and to see what changes I plan on making to both my lifestyle and writing habits.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Burden of the National Debt

I am still very ignorant about economics -- I have only read Economics in One Lesson so far in my studies -- but I would still like to raise a moral question I have in regards to the debt of the United States.

It is without question that the United States is in a massive amount of debt and that the politicians will incur yet more. Unless the appropriate measures are taken, the US may experience total economic destruction. My question is: To how much of the debt does the United States have a *real* obligation to pay back, and from whom?

One thing that disturbs me in discussions about the debt is when people break it down to how much each individual citizen (born and yet to be born) will have to pay in order to pay back the debt in full. I know that in my personal situation, and in millions of others, I have not elected to take part in these financial "contracts" with other countries and whatnot. For the most part, if not entirely, the politicians have incurred debt with money that either wasn't theirs to begin with (taxes), money that has no value (fiat), or money that doesn't even exist. Unless I'm improperly taking this literally, I think it amounts to nothing in the moral context since these contracts were formed without the participants' permission.

As a parallel, take the imprisonment of the American Japanese during WWII. After they were released, if I recall correctly, they had to start over economically since their property had been distributed. In truth, while it would certainly be a mess to disentangle, the Japanese victims should have gotten their property back since having had it stolen from them does not mean that their right to it had been eliminated. While the new owners may have been innocent in receiving the property, their innocence does not mean they have a right to that property since it was distributed by an entity which had no right to distribute it in the first place.

To apply this to the national debt, is it not the case that the debt cannot be morally satisfied by taxing citizens? To force someone into a contract is a contradiction which invalidates its standing. I understand that the debt must be paid by somehow since it has been incurred, but I don't understand how it can be paid back by moral means.

All I know is that when the government interferes into the economy it leads to messes like these that are difficult to intellectually dissect.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Specialize or Generalize?

For the past few days I've been contemplating the appropriateness of my current blog theme. This week someone commented on a blog and stated that very few blogs perform very well at general themes, and that got me to thinking about how well it is that I pull off my theme of epistemology, ethics, and politics. When I think back to what kind of posts I have written, I noticed that at large I do not consistently generalize; instead I have "trends" where I tend to post articles centered around one subject for a while before I move on to the next. As evidence, take my posts on the medical care debate. This blog does not specialize in medical-political issues as, say, FIRM does, and yet when one considers just how consistently I've focused on that issue one could accidentally get that impression.

Furthermore, because of these trends I end up neglecting the other portions of my theme as a result. In focusing on the medical care issue so much, when is the last time I've written a technical post on epistemology? I can't remember the last time I've issued an analysis of my local political situation (never you mind the fact I've quit following it in exchange for an interest in federal happenings). In short, I'm beginning to think that by adopting a general theme I may be stretching myself too thin, therefore becoming a jack-of-all-trades and master to none. While it is a nice prospect to attempt to become a master-of-all-trades, it is simply impossible, and I would rather become masterful in a few things than mildly competent in everything.

I think I'll begin giving serious consideration to changing the theme of this blog. As implied in my post about my central purpose, I'm in a developmental phase in my life. For months I was at a loss as to what goals to pursue since I finally realized I didn't want to dedicate my life to writing (and I held onto that idea for years), and with the identification to how much I'm beginning to value nutrition and cooking my life is gaining direction again. Perhaps I should change my theme in regard to those interests. Last year I wrote an article that would indicate such a theme. I don't know; much thinking needs to be done.

At first glance, I'm considering perhaps simply narrowing the focus of my current theme: Rather than write about epistemology, ethics, and politics in every area of life, I could focus on them as they apply to nutrition and cooking (saving recipes for Musing Aloud, when I get to that point). I'm not sure. Again, more thinking needs to be done.

(As for Musing Aloud, I won't be rethinking or tampering with the theme of that at all. I love the way it is, and I think it works perfectly. It has increased my motivation to post since I'm focusing on myself as a whole person as opposed to some isolated portion of my intellect. I've got to admit: I'm the most interesting person I have ever met. As such, MA will continue on as it is. )

I welcome and encourage reader input on this issue. What do you think of my blog as a *whole*? Do I skip around in subjects too much? Do I try to cater to too many different audiences?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Obamacare Passed: Now What?

According to Yahoo! News Obamacare has passed the senate and will now be sent to the President for his signature. If you're a long-time reader of this blog you know I've been following this issue for several months since it was born, and it is certainly sickening to many to see that the efforts to prevent this legislation from going through have failed.

But strangely enough I'm not offended in the least by this event. If anything, I find that my resolve has been boosted as a result.

As I stated in my last post no matter what the outcome is the opportunities to help bring about a rational culture is neither lost nor finished. The passing of this legislation, in fact, may be a golden opportunity for philosophical activism. The latest Rasmussen report, which has been updated since my last post, now indicates that even more voters oppose the plan and even fewer people support it, now resulting in a 13% gap. Even with the 3% margin of error that is still a dramatic split. Given this, do you think that America is going to sit idly by and accept its "fate"? I doubt it. I predict that the legislation will go into effect even despite current procedural difficulties, but I also believe that Americans will be more receptive to Objectivist ideas than ever, and in the long-run it's the ideas that matter.

This could be a significant advantage. You know the saying "You can't tell a kid not to touch a hot stove"? The meaning of this saying, in the context of its example, is that you cannot teach a kid that touching a hot stove is bad for him unless he has a conception of what it is to be "burned." Once he gets burned is when he'll learn that it is not good to touch a hot stove. Of course we could have avoided such a legislative outcome in America if the culture had a better epistemology, but instead we now may have the opportunity to touch a hot stove with both hands on the burners, and our bodyweight bearing down on top. Given the inevitable failure that's going to occur of Obamacare people are going to be looking for answers again. As a reminder, here's a sampling of what failures are going to occur not just as a matter of the concrete effects of this particular legislation, but rather as a matter of principle given the nature of this type of legislation and all others like it:

1.) Rationing and long waits; shortages: Since health insurance will be extended to all it will inevitably lead to a decline in efficiency since there isn't an equal increase of service providers to accommodate the soon-coming deluge of demand. When you tell someone they can have as much of something as they want at no cost then they have a perverse incentive to take more than is rationally justifiable or to be reckless; people will start going to the doctor for things they otherwise wouldn't if they were making the decision based on their finite supply of money ("Hmm, I've got a cold. Better go see the doctor.").

And if that weren't sufficient on its own to cause inefficiencies and shortages, there is a likelihood that a significant number of doctors will leave the medical profession as a result of this legislation, thereby decreasing available service providers and further undermining the medical industry's ability to accommodate demand. What people seem to forget to take into account when considering lowering the payments of doctors or insuring more people is the nature of the doctors' job: not only did it take years of practice, learning, and hard study to bring them up to the level of competence they have achieved, but there is also the risk inherent in their work that they have to deal with. They could err and accidentally give themselves an illness or fatal disease (e.g. by accidentally being pricked by a syringe), or, worst yet from a psychological standpoint, they could cause a patient to become sick, sicker, or even to die. It is a very stressful job by its very nature, and when politicians put upon doctors more work and risk for lesser reward the likelihood is that many doctors will soon find their work just isn't worth the effort anymore, and so will quit.

2.) Skyrocketing costs: This is a complex area, but the economic effects of this legislation could not only exacerbate the depression (if it be a depression) we're already in, but also make it last the rest of the time this legislation remains in effect. The above mentioned increase in demand will obviously drive up costs to astronomical levels. Doctors quitting will contribute to expenses even more. Ignorant politicians dictating medical decisions, the new taxes, the establishment of new government agencies, and so on: Even more.

Another thing that has been misunderstood in the debate is the actual nature of insurance itself. The reason you insure yourself is to protect yourself against risk, not so you can just withdraw money whenever your situation necessitates it, without having paid into the system first. Insurance companies charge their costumers a certain amount so that they can pool the money and make it available to whatever costumers submit a claim and satisfy the criteria for being awarded money; otherwise it would be impossible for the companies to exist. Regulations have lead to today's unaffordability. What are companies to do if laws mandate which conditions and treatments they *must* provide coverage for, regardless of whether or not the particular costumers agree to pay for it, or even need it? Raise prices, since covering a broader spectrum of things means the companies has to satisfy a potentially greater number of claims in that regard. What are companies to do if laws mandate that they accept any and all applicants regardless of preexisting conditions and as soon as they submit an application? Raise prices, since the company needs to build itself up so it can pay out the claims, as it is taking on greater risk. What are companies to do if politicians enforce price ceilings? Withdraw from the particular markets that have such regulations, since insurance companies need a certain amount of funding in order to maintain a resource pool large enough to satisfy its costumers. What happens if all these past mentioned laws become national federal law? Insurance companies jack up their prices even more, or go out of business. With Obamacare we may see not only higher prices, but also the possible elimination of private insurance through economic suffocation.

3.) Possible further governmental intrusions: As I've mentioned on this blog before, an egg company in the United Kingdom had one of its commercials, known by the phrase "Go to Work on an Egg," censored by the UK government since it was deemed as promoting an unhealthy lifestyle, and was therefore a potential risk for increasing medical care costs (conventional nutrition again). Under this same justification the American government could impose further controls in other areas of life as a response to the failures of socialized medicine, stating that such measures would "cut costs" or "increase efficiency." Remember the proposed ban on butter? What about the proposed ban on salt, which has been taken seriously enough to be made into an official bill? There's already extreme restrictions on raw dairy products.

And so on and so forth. (For an excellent and thorough analysis on why socialized medicine is a failure on principle, distinct from any concrete instance of it, consult Moral Health Care vs. "Universal Health Care." It's from a subscription journal, but this particular article is available in its entirety for free.)

What the Democrats have passed through last night will inevitably blow up in everyone's face if put into effect, and it's still a question as to what degree it will go into effect, if it goes into effect at all. From what I gather from my reading, there's still plenty of complicated issues unresolved: some states are passing legislation to nullify parts of this legislation, or are even going so far as to sue the fed; Republican John McCain has mentioned an intention to attempt to repeal this measure, there's constitutionality concerns about some aspects (such as mandatory insurance), there's the soon-coming public outrage, and so on. As I said above, things are not lost yet; there's golden opportunity abound.

While I understand that some may be disenchanted and demotivated today, I feel reenergized and full of resolve. To quote Betsy Speicher: "Reality is always on the winning side."

I cannot help but exclaim "en guarde!"

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Big Sunday Vote

True to my word, I have managed to send a letter to my representatives every single day this week. They weren't all lengthy, some in fact simply told them to vote no on Obamacare, but the point in my sending such a quantity of letters was to make obvious I wasn't going to forget this issue and become indifferent to how my representatives voted on the matter. Here's the letter I sent off today, which I believe will be the last one this week:

Dear [representative],

Tomorrow is the big day: The vote for Obamacare. As you know, I am against it in every form and degree. Are you still dedicated to a "yes" vote? If so, then you have lost any further consideration from me towards you as a future candidate.

I only have one life to live, and I won't be having any people deciding for me how it should be lived. What goes on with my insurance plan is between me and my insurance company, not me, them, and some bureaucrats. What goes on in my doctor's office is between me and my doctor, not me, my doctor, and some bureaucrats. I should be free to cooperate with them on mutually beneficial terms -- or to not deal with them at all if I so wish. I eternally resent that you and other politicians in Washington believe it's alright to force me to buy a product I may not want or may be unable to afford (insurance) and to **dictate** the terms on which I am allowed to cooperate with insurance companies and doctors. This is not merely impractical in regards to health issues, but also IMMORAL. To live my life I need to live according to my own judgment, and you guys right now are working to nullify and make it useless in regards to medical-economical matters. I will never forgive nor endorse what is going on. Believing morality to be on MY side I will have motivation and resolve to ever dispute this legislation if it comes to pass, for however long it remains in effect. Again, I only have one life to live and I'm not going to let YOU waste it.

So what's your vote going to be? Remember, you are, right now, responsible for what happens to not merely your constituents, but the millions of people that make up the United States. If you vote with the majority, then you are equally responsible as the other politicians in bringing forth whatever consequences may arise. Think wisely, and make sure your vote is something you can take credit for, rather than blame.

Vote no on Obamacare. It's immoral that it violates individual rights by *forcing* people to buy products, join programs, pay money, and adopt procedures against their will. It's impractical in that this legislation is merely a variation of medical care systems we have seen fail so many times in other countries, resulting in longer waits, higher mortality, and increased suffering.


From what I understand, tomorrow is supposed to be the day for the big vote. As far as I can tell, things are still up in the air as to how it will turn out, so take the time to contact your representatives!

Furthermore, it's still uncertain as to what would result in either of the alternate outcomes. If the legislation is passed, then it's still not the end of the world since the overwhelming public opposition will certainly not lead to the nation acquiescing to the outcome; it's probable, if not certain, quite a spectacle could occur if the legislation passed, and that would be a stellar opportunity for activism. But if the legislation should fail then it's must be made clear not to consider it too big a success, since a man who truly believes that his actions are condoned by morality will take a greater effort than the mere defeat of a bill to make him lose his resolve, and since American culture is currently saturated with the kind of morality that is being used to justify this bill there is little to stop it from being resurrected and brought to vote again. In either situation, our work to support a rational culture is neither lost nor finished.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Modern Paleo Launched

Diana Hsieh has launched a new website called Modern Paleo, a blog and information center run by advocates of Objectivism. The e-mail list OEvolve is one of my favorite places to spend my time on the internet, so I hope this site lives up to expectations! It includes new e-mail lists, a blog that is to be run by multiple authors, a good collection of paleo resources, and more.

Go check it out!

The End

Paul Hsieh of FIRM has noted that this week will be the critical week for health care legislation. He has given permission for the contents of his post to be distributed, so I will do so here:

This upcoming week will be the critical week in the health care fight. Speaker Pelosi is expected to start the process for the House to hold its final vote to approve the Senate bill. The vote will probably take place at the end of this upcoming week.

Right now, they are probably still a few votes shy of the majority they need:

"Dem House vote-counter lacks health care votes now"
Associated Press, 3/14/2010

"Can Nancy Pelosi Get the Votes?"
Michael Barone, Wall Street Journal, 3/11/2010

This is an extremely risky move by the Democrats. Normally, a Speaker wouldn't plan on voting on such major legislation unless he or she was sure of having enough votes.

But the Democrats are also (correctly) concluding that time is not on their side. They have made the calculation that if they push for it now, then maybe then can squeeze out the last few votes via a combination of threats and bribes. For example, they have "sweetened" the deal for the wavering moderates by promising billions of dollars of new student loan subsidies.

On the other hand they recognize that if they wait much longer, then when these wavering Congressmen go back home for the Easter recess, they will get an earful from their constituents who are strongly opposed to the bill, and they'll lose even more support.

Hence, from the Left's perspective, it's now or never.

From our perspective, this means three things:

1) We are winning. We have a chance to defeat this terrible bill.

In particular, do not get discouraged when you read the inevitable news stories about how the Democrats are "close to getting the votes" or how Pelosi is "confident she'll have the votes". She has to exude an aura of public confidence, otherwise her coalition will quickly unravel.

Polls repeatedly show Americans opposed to ObamaCare:

"Why Obama Can't Move the Health-Care Numbers"
Rasmussen and Schoen, Wall Street Journal, 3/9/2010

Similarly, head counts of House Democrats also show that they don't quite have enough votes yet:

"Scrambling for votes, Democrats face uphill climb to pass healthcare reform"
The Hill, 3/13/2010

"The Hill's 'Whip Count' on ObamaCare –- as of 3/13/2010"

If they had the votes, they'd have already passed it by now.

2) We must keep up the pressure.

The Democrats are pulling out all stops to find some way to get this through now, before the critical Easter recess.

At this point in time, the single most important thing you can do is tell your Congressman to vote "NO" on this bill:

This is especially important if your Congressman is one of the undecided or swing votes on these "Code Red" lists:
Tea Party Patriots Code Red Alert

But even if your Congressman is a firm "Yes", it's still important to let them know. If even the liberal Democrats from "safe" seats consistently hear that their constituents are against it, it will give the wavering moderates more political cover to vote "No". They can then tell Pelosi, "Even your constituents hate this thing -- there's no way I can support it".

*** Our counter-pressure is our best weapon against the pressure that the statists will exert on these wavering Congressmen. ***

Your letter doesn't have to be long or eloquent. It just has to convey certainty, passion, and moral conviction. Something short and simple like:
"Please vote NO on this terrible health care plan! If you vote yes, you will destroy the ability of me and my family to receive good health care in the future. This is personal! If you vote yes, we will never forgive you for hurting our lives and trampling on our basic freedoms."
(Of course, you may wish to adapt that to suit your own style and values.)

Feel free to use all contact methods -- phone, fax, and e-mail. And please feel free to contact them multiple times over the upcoming week. In this context, repetition is a virtue!

And of course, if your Congressman is a probable or firm "No", then thank him or her for his position. They also need our moral support.

3) If you have friends or family in other parts of the country, tell them to do the same thing and contact their Congressmen.

If you need intellectual ammunition for them, one of my personal favorites is from the AFCM website:

"Fifty Fallacies About Health Care" by Richard Ralston

Jared Rhoads' Lucidicus Project also has a good set of OpEds.

And of course, FIRM has its archive of articles and OpEds.

I personally think that the most important thing we can do in the next few days will be to directly contact our Congressmen and have friends/family do the same. LTEs and OpEds will still be important, but not as much as before. (That said, I'm still going to continue writing and/or disseminating some of my earlier writings to people I know around the country.)

This is the endgame, folks. Most political observers regard the health care bill as a 50-50 "toss-up" or "too close to call". It really could go either way. What happens this week will determine the course of this great country (for good or for ill) for decades to come.

Your voice could be the critical difference in swaying the right one or two minds. If you value your lives and your freedom, the time to speak up is now!

(Anyone is welcome to forward or repost this to any appropriate recipients or venues.)
I'll make an effort to e-mail my representatives every day this week. What will you do?

Friday, March 12, 2010

First Butter, and Now Salt?

Some of you may have heard that the mayor of New York a few weeks ago put forth the "suggestion" that restaurants reduce the amount of salt used in food preparation out of concern for health. Now it has come to the point that a legislator has come up with a bill in this regard, not to reduce salt but to ban it. A couple months ago I made mention of a call for a ban on butter from a doctor. Well, do we see now that we must take even the most comical of suggestions seriously?

I agree with previous speculation that the chances of this bill passing are excruciatingly low, but it is nonetheless the case that an absurdity has come closer to passing. Unless the philosophical ideas about the proper role of government are changed there is nothing to prevent this bill from being resurrected.

While this may predate the legislative endeavor, comedian writer Tom Naughton has written an excellent analysis on this subject, taking care to examine both the practical consequences if such a suggestion were carried out and the nutritional science behind it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Health of the Hadza

Stephan of Whole Health Source has written an interesting post on the contrasts of modern living against the culture of some primitives. However, I believe this post to erogenous in diagnosing current problems and that it encourages the emulation of impractical habits.

Due to some technical errors I was not allowed to post the comment I originally wanted. I managed to get my comment below 4,000 characters, but still it would not accept it, so here's what I posted in its place:

Interesting, but I think you're stepping out of your specialization here. Biology and nutrition can explain a lot, but not that which is within the jurisdiction of philosophy (ethics) and psychology (emotional health).

In truth I believe the stress of modern living is not caused by modern living itself, but rather irrational ideas regarding modern living. To take your example about people being stressed by being subordinate to other people, emotions are such an individual experience that we cannot generalize from any one instance. A person who hates his job and resents his boss will necessarily feel stressed as a result and will probably suffer negative physiological effects, but the exact opposite would be true for the person that loves his job and values his boss. In the former case we cannot blame modern living for the person's stress, but rather his ideas.

It is irrational ideas, not modern living, that causes the stress.

P.S. Is there a glitch in Blogger that prevents long comments from being posted? I originally wanted to post a much longer comment, but it would not accept it even as I got it under the defined character limit.

Here's what I wanted to post:

I think you are stepping outside the appropriate specialization. Biology and nutrition can explain a great deal, but only to an extent. While it may account for some parts of mental health, as certain practices and diets can have effects on brain development and chemical balance, it cannot account for all of it, because at some point one steps outside the realm of physical science and into the realm of philosophy and psychology. I think this is an instance of such. Forgive the length of this comment, but I believe it is important for understanding the nature of the error.

Most importantly, I think this post neglects the nature of emotions, though I assume you believe in the impact on health one’s consistent emotions can have. The nature of our emotions is determined by our ideas; our emotions are the physical response to our evaluations of things. Therefore the nature of our ideas can contribute significantly to how much stress we bear.

Take the amount of free time available to the Hadza. While this appear ideal for some this would be extremely stressful for others. A person who takes an Adam and Eve view on what composes an ideal life and the nature of work may find the existence of the Hadza to be ideal since so much free time is available, but for a man who absolutely loves his work and routinely stays up late in order to keep at it this would be hell, therefore adding a negative impact on health.

This applies in many places. A person who resents his employer will necessarily dislike his job and feel stressed by it, but a person who loves his job, values his employer, or both will find that his job provides an emotional benefit in addition to his financial sustenance and may enjoy health benefits on top of all that. The issue of emotional evaluations as they apply to health is so individual that we cannot generalize from any one experience.

Furthermore, remember that the Hadza are primitive, which comes with major risks. They have no warfare, but what prevents it? Feeling good and sharing emotions with other people cannot be a sufficient defense against possible future warfare. Emotionalists, people that believe emotions can provide knowledge of existence, cannot rationally convince other people of their conclusions since their conclusions are isolated entirely within emotions. ("For those that understand no explanation is necessary; for those who do not none is possible.") An emotionalist therefore either has to suffer the stress of being impotent to persuade other people, except for people who share his emotions; break off from the group, or use physical force in order to make people adhere to his conclusions in physical action, which would inflict stress on everyone. The Hadza lack a rational ideology, so they put themselves at immense risk for stress if a significant number of people disagree in their conclusions about what is right. While the Hadza may now be enjoying peace, it is fragile and virtually unsustainable. Only in a rational society where men share a rational morality, a rational epistemology, and explicitly agree that force is an improper way of dealing with men can there be a sustainable peace and minimal violence.

To summarize, the fallacies are 1.) applying the wrong scientific methodology, 2.) neglecting how emotional responses come about and how individual they are, 3.) making a generalization off your own individual experiences, and 4.) neglecting what risk the Hadza are at for being a primitive culture without a rational ideology.

It may seem as though I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but my purpose is to make explicit that this conclusion about a primitive culture has the potential to add more stress than eliminate. In short, I think the real problem is that our culture adheres to irrational ideas regarding modern living and takes up stress as a result rather than modern living itself causing the stress. As stated above, opposing views on work will lead to vastly different emotions and physiological responses depending on what view is held. We must hold responsible the true culprit, irrational ideas, if we are to advance towards a healthy solution.

Due to the debate that went on in the comments Stephan has posted a follow up piece on how commenters have been engaging in a false dichotomy between miserable savages and Garden of Eden primitives, and I agree that it is a false dichotomy, but I still believe that his original post still makes an incorrect diagnosis.

Without a rational philosophy, man is helpless to sustain himself. Without a rational epistemology he will have no way except by luck to identify what foods are good for him, and without a rational morality he has no way to determine the practical way to live, alone and with others. The Hadza may be enjoying good health now, but can it last?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Political Sacrifice and the Permanence of Laws

From We Stand FIRM I learned of an article from Mark Steyn that states that the political price, being voted out of office, may be worth it to the Democrats in order to pass the controversial and unfavored medical care reform bill. Morality is a significant motivating power for men if not the most significant. As quoted (paraphrased?) before from Noodlefood: "Men are willing to create hell on earth if they think it's moral." We have already seen in the middle east how men can be willing to go so far as to commit suicide when they think their actions are moral.

Though the one thing I would like to elaborate on in this post is the fallacy noted by Paul Hsieh in the last paragraph of his FIRM article: treating the laws of men as equivalent to the laws of nature. I've seen some people prone to making this error.

The fallacy entails that a person treats the laws (political sense) enacted by man as if they were the equivalence of the laws (metaphysical sense) of nature, thereby meaning that the laws of man are immutable and will remain in effect forever. This ignores that men have free will and can choose their courses of action.

Just because the Democrats may be willing to sacrifice their political careers in order to pass a piece of legislation unfavorable to the public does not mean that the legislation will remain in effect forever or even for a long time; it may not even go into effect at all. Given the proper education and philosophical foundation a culture can be nurtured so as to reject these kinds of measures in any degree or variant.

At this point in the debate I'd say that we may speculate about the chances of or difficulties inherent in passing this legislation, but if it does pass I think it remains indeterminate how the American people will respond to it. Given that there is such a significant amount of opposition to this legislation (53% according to the latest Rasmussen poll), how do you think the public would react if the bill were passed against their wishes? Certainly not with a "Shucks! We lost! Well, I guess we'll just get used to it!" In the scenario of the bill being passed it would be extremely likely that Congress would have an almost complete turnover, and it also wouldn't be far-fetched to assert that there would be demand for a repeal of the law, but right now there's little evidence to derive any conclusions from.

Whatever does happen, we must remember that the results are not absolutes set in stone that will last forever and ever. If the legislation passes, then there's still hope for repeal, education, and activism; if the legislation fails, then we must continue work to advocate a rational philosophy so that the legislation doesn't get revived in some other form, which would be inevitable in the absence of such support. Right now things are up in the air.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

McCain Abandons Supplement Legislation

Interesting development in regards to the The Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010 (S. 3002) mentioned a few posts ago: John McCain, the person who originally came up with this bill, has abandoned it.

This does not mean that the bill is finished, since it can still be passed, but to be ditched by its own father is a telling sign. Don't forget to write to your representatives.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Possible Research Orientation?

I'm in the process of my first official college research paper, and I'm doing, well, awful. I hate doing parenthetical citations since I believe it's distracting to the reader, but then again I'm awful at in-text citation since it messes up my style and I end up being very redundant and reusing phrases over and over again. But still: Justice is a very big value to me and I worry all the time about making explicit, public distinguishments between other people's thoughts and my own. Give credit where credit is due.

As such, I'm contemplating adapting a formal citation method to this blog in order to practice my skills, as I think it would be of vast intellectual benefit. This particular blog, as opposed to Musing Aloud, is purposely more formal since I use it for intellectual activism, so placing superscript citations at the bottom wouldn't be disruptive to the theme.

I don't have any plans for incorporating this any time soon since I still need to purchase the proper resources and study them -- and that may be a while since I'm focusing my limited funds on groceries due to my being unemployed -- so don't go about anticipating it, but don't be surprised once you see me start doing it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

One Size Kills All

From Citizens for Health I learned that there is a new health-related bill that poses yet another significant threat to our lives, The Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010 (S. 3002). If passed this bill could financially destroy brands of supplementation and cause others to be prohibited by law, decrease the effectiveness of some products by prohibiting certain ingredients, make it more difficult to find useful information by requiring the companies to document non-essential information, and increase prices by imposing new operating costs. A nutritional company named Life Extension offers some very insightful anecdotal evidence about how the FDA abused its authority in the 80's by forcibly taking their supplements:

I was in a Walgreens last week picking up some pictures, when a recorded voice came on to the store’s speaker system announcing the heart healthy benefits of fish oil and CoQ10.

This brought a flashback to the year 1987 when FDA agents stormed Life Extension’s premises and seized these supplements, along with a brochure that described how they could help protect against heart attack.

Accompanied by armed US marshals, I vividly recall FDA agents ridiculing me about the concept that fish oil had any relationship to cardiac disorders. The sad fact in this story is the millions of heart attacks suffered by Americans because the FDA had the power for so long to censor the truth about omega-3 supplements. [Underlines changed to italics.]

Read it all.

This reminds me of John David Lewis' article about little dictators, about how laws like the one above create people who act like miniature dictators since they have the means to exercise government coercion and thus can enact their whims at will. If the above bill becomes law, not only will we suffer the practical consequences I listed but many more little dictators will also be born and unleashed into the world, causing further suffering.

And aside from all of the above, this also allows us to see the consequences of a moral-economic principle: the suffering that is caused when it is believed to be morally proper for the government to force everyone in the nation to comply with the judgment of a few bureaucrats.

In one of my earliest essays, The Sisyphean Judgment of Politicians, I detailed why politicians are doomed to failure as a matter of principle when they try to force their judgments on their constituents. Most essentially we must remember that politicians are specialized in the enactment and enforcement of law, not in nutritional study, environmental science, economic policies, and so on. Since they are not properly specialized for the tasks they undertake it follows that they cannot be expected to make specialized decisions properly. When a bureaucrat does make a practical decision in these fields we can view it literally as a matter of luck, as the odds heavily favor that they're taking on more than their skills can handle.

Because of our bureaucrats' lack of specialization and their forcing their judgment upon everyone, everyone suffers as a result when their judgment happens to be wrong. As Life Extension pointed out, millions of people may have suffered from heart disease because the bureaucrats in the FDA had the power to seize omega-3 supplements, thereby forcibly preventing consenting costumers from purchasing a product that would preserve their health, maybe even save their life. In a free economy the situation would be different: the failure of one man would serve as knowledge for other men on what not to do, and the totality of the nation would not have to suffer for the misjudgment of a few.

The danger of blanket judgments will only increase if the above act is passed, as the consequences of giving the FDA more power will be to make supplements more expensive, less effective, and less available nation-wide. The justification for the bill is that it will help make it so that only safe supplements will be available, but do we really want to the entire nation to be follow only a single standard of safety chosen by a few bureaucrats? We must reject this on moral and practical grounds, that we have a right to cooperate with each other as we deem profitable, without coercive interference, and that no politician can properly make the decisions for us.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Battle Resumes

One evening while I was in class I observed the spectacle of two fellow classmates advocating -- and yes, in these explicit terms -- the government taking over the medical industry and the elimination of free markets. I am not accustomed to seeing socialist (or communist, or Marxist, or whatever) positions expressed out in the open, and I prepared to pose some Socratic questions to learn their justifications for these positions, but given the immaturity of one person and the potential hostility of the other I opted to stay out of the conversation and offer no body language (e.g. head shaking) that would incite a response. I am not afraid to support my own convictions in the open, but given how many rude arguments I have gotten into I prefer to be careful with whom I debate.

This situation does, however, light an incentive for me to resume posting on the current health care debate, though I'll be careful to make it an isolated issue rather than focusing on it as if it were the theme of this blog.

The excellent Paul Hsieh of We Stand Firm has written a detailed analysis of a presenter at the health care summit (?) and discusses why the debate must move onto moral grounds.

I forgot which author on NoodleFood stated this, but to paraphrase: Humans are willing to create hell on earth -- if they think it's moral. So long as we dwell on petty economic issues in the health care debate it will always be the man with the sanction of morality that will have the upper hand.

Do Americans truly believe that it is moral for non-medical expert politicians to dictate the actions of professional doctors? for the people who produce in industry to be taxed to pay for all this lest they be fined or imprisoned? for anonymous bureaucrats to decide which Americans can and cannot receive certain treatments? This is where we must direct our thoughts.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Saved? According to Whom?

According to Yahoo! News Obama has been reported as stating the now one-year-old stimulus package saved the economy and has helped avoid a depression.

Absurd. As has been noted before it is logically impossible for the government to stimulate the economy since it cannot create monetary value; only transfer it from here to there. If Obama is correct (and that is extremely dubious given his complete lack of credibility, as noted in Lies Against Reality parts I and II) that his stimulus plan has caused approximately 2 million people to retain their jobs then it is also true that he has caused approximately 2 million people to lose their jobs since the stimulus money is composed entirely of tax money. Obama's efforts are worse than useless.

Regarding Obama's statement that he has helped the U.S. avoid a second depression, I previously noted in Another Successful Reality Evasion Maneuver by Pilot Obama that one is at liberty today to say whether or not America has avoided a depression since the concept is not precisely defined; that is, it has not been given strict standards that give us the precise measurements that would determine when a depression is officially present. As of right now the concept is merely a vague approximation used to describe an economic situation that is more intense than a recession, though exactly how much more intense is what is unknown. For what we know we could be in a depression right now but not really aware of it since our present standard of living does not give away to national suffering so quickly.

Without objective criteria the line between a recession and a depression is very fuzzy.

These claims are without justification from logic or economic principles, and should be immediately dismissed. Let us not forget that the Great Depression lasted for over a decade when it could have died out as a recession in a handful of months, due to all the "stimulating" of the economy done by FDR. How else will Obama choose to "save" the economy during the rest of his term?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Dairy Police

Building upon what I stated about the proposed butter ban, humorous writer Tom Naughton (creator of Fat Head) writes about the various legal absurdities regarding the selling and purchasing of raw milk products.

Again, while such things may make us snicker (which is only exacerbated by Mr. Naughton's writing style) this is a thing we should take seriously: politicians, believing themselves to "know better" than their constituents, far too often go on to force their constituents to adhere to their judgment, or else.

I find this personally upsetting since, thanks to my local politicians, it is made harder for me to maximize my health by the means I judge most appropriate, and whatever means still happen to be available to me are more expensive than they should be. I've come to detest Michigan for both its cultural and culinary atmosphere.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Platonistic Consistency

If you can recall, over at my brother blog Musing Aloud I asked the question as to whether or not the philosophy of Plato might be to blame for politicians going forward with their agenda despite massive public opposition towards them. Myrhaf over at The New Clarion presents us with an excruciatingly insightful post titled The Perks of Power which is a good elaboration and further concretization of the points I mentioned in my own post.

In short, the "hypocrisy" that political commentators love to point out about certain politicians and public officials isn't true hypocrisy; it is entirely consistent with their worldview. By holding the belief that there is a specific individual (revealed by revelation) supernaturally ordained to lead, they believe themselves to be above the dictates of the rules they call for since they're the ones that make the rules. Since revelations aren't valid means of cognition, you end up with the result of multiple public figures believing that they had the revelation that they are the chosen one and therefore above the rules. (Paraphrasing Leonard Peikoff: how does such a person know his revelations are true? He feels it. How does he know his emotions have truth value? He feels it.)

Such "hypocrisy" is going to continue to be a regular occurrence in politics until bad philosophies are uprooted.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Butter Ban" Not a Laughing Matter

As has probably been deducted from my readers who have read my first Power of Epistemology piece it is clear that I reject the Standard American Diet. I do so in favor of the "Paleo" diet. I thought it might of interest to incorporate some dietary politics into this blog given my interest, though, to stay relevant to the overall theme of epistemology, ethics, and politics, I will not do such things as examine the merits of nutritional findings or display recipes (I might do the latter for Musing Aloud).

* * * * *

According to Daily Mail Dr. Shyam Kolvekar is calling for a ban on butter and is suggesting "healthier" substitutes such as margarine for the purpose of reducing incidents of heart disease.

The absurdity here is obvious and does not require lengthy discussion given the context of this blog: this doctor is proposing an impractical, immoral law that would utilize physical force in its enforcement, all on the basis of the evidence-less theory that fat consumption causes heart disease. The cruel irony is that the doctor's suggestions for healthier substitutes would actually increase heart disease rates, as the human body isn't meant to handle such large amounts of vegetable fats as would be present in a tub of margarine, thereby leading to adverse effects (obesity, dense LDL cholesterol, etc.). If such a proposal were enacted it would be promptly contested by a black market and would result in greater heart disease rates in law-abiding citizens.

But as absurd as this proposal may seem -- enacting a law prohibiting a food substance absolutely! -- we must be extremely careful not to brush it away nonchalantly. Here we must keep two sayings in mind to remind us of the danger. The first is by Ayn Rand: The uncontested absurdities of today are the slogans of tomorrow. (Quotation marks omitted in case of inaccuracy.) For number two I do not know the originator, but paraphrased: No idea has ever been so absurd that some philosopher did not take it seriously. The point of these two sayings is that ignoring an absurdity may be all it requires for it to become culturally accepted, and nothing is so ridiculous that at least one person won't seriously entertain it. If we dismiss and laugh at this "butter ban" then we could put ourselves at risk for seeing it come to pass.

And we do have evidence that such a thing could come to pass if uncontested, even in the United States. In the same country where this proposed ban originates, the United Kingdom, there was an incident where an egg company had one of its commercials censored ("Go to Work on an Egg") because the government agents thought it promoted an unhealthy way of living and judged it morally appropriate to silence them. In my very own America the selling of raw milk would be banned almost entirely if it were not for the random states that keep it legal and for the legal loophole that allows a person to drink milk from their own cow (thereby leading to the development of "cow share" programs). Naturally fed meat (e.g. grass-fed beef), although this may be unintentional, has largely been driven into unnecessary scarcity by way of the government subsidizing grains, thereby making it an artificially cheaper stock feed. And so on.

From these we observe that some governments are actively willing to exert force in the name of "public" health, that there are laws already banning some food substances, and that even random bad economic policies (grain subsidies) can have a dramatic impact on diet via unintended consequences (grain-fed beef becomes more common than grass-fed). So it is in all seriousness we must take this proposal, for the laws of the same nature already exist and there are people present to take it seriously.

Most of all, the philosophy is there, the systematic worldview that gives ideological justification for such actions. In today's culture -- worldwide, not just in the United States -- Altruism is the dominant code of morality, and within that code of morality lies the tenant that it is proper to deal with men via physical force in order to uphold morality. Knowing that every law is backed up by physical force, take for evidence when a politician enacts a law and gives it an explicit moral endorsement. It is here we must wage the battle to win not only against this proposal, but against all proposals of this nature.

The reason why I bring this topic up to begin with is to put forth that while on the road to statism some very absurd proposals may pop during the meanwhile, but it does not change the fact that it's a symptom of statism. Aside from this "butter ban," I have also noted other absurdities. Dan Kildee proposed that destroying property would help Flint's economy, but no evidence was given for why this would be. Senator John Kerry proposed giving bail-outs to the newspaper industry, but a shallow examination of basic economic principles reveals that such an idea could never be helpful, thereby indicating Kerry's intention may be to influence the speech of the papers (censorship). And so on. I'm not sure if this is a credible source, but apparently there are laws that go beyond extremes in absurdity, such as it being illegal to peel an orange in a hotel room or to walk on your hands on a crosswalk.

All of these laws may make us smile and laugh when they pop up, causing us to dismiss them as unserious, but if we ignore them for so long and find ourselves without control of our lives -- then we won't laugh.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Enshrine Mediocrity -- and the Shrines are Razed"

Over at my Posterous account -- which is for my college course and exists solely for homework -- I have managed to write a post that may be of interest to the readers here. Most of the posting at that account will more or less be aimed only at fulfilling technical requirements, so I do not recommend actually following that account. If I write something that may be of interest, I will be sure to link to it from here or Musing Aloud, whichever blog theme is appropriate.

I thought about pasting the whole article here, but I think that could get me in trouble since the article may be property of my college, so I'll link to it instead.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Your Faithful Leaders

Myhraf informs us of a political incident that could be used to symbolize politics as they stand today.

I actually feel a sense of disturbance at this. How could he have the audacity to do it so openly in front of so many witnesses and yet have the security that he will likely not get punished for it? Because that's our culture today.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

An Epistemological Exercise for Your Approval

Here's a problem I could really use some input on. Ever since reading Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology I have been concerned with making sure my conceptual equipment is explicitly grounded in reality; that is, that I am fully aware of what the concepts I use mean and that I know how I can be certain that I have inferred the correct meaning.

The means I have established to that end is a rather complex vocabulary exercise that I assign to myself as a part of my grammar studies. I do the assignment in two parts, taking one day to write up the homework and another -- though not days next to each other -- to reread, review, and think about what I have written. It has done well for the trip down the road to certainty, but I think it could still be optimized, so I would like to submit its specifics for your approval. I will explain the exercise step by step and then give two examples from my homework assignments. First, what the process is:

  1. First, look up the word in the dictionary and copy verbatim the appropriate definition.

  2. Second, identify whether or not the concept is perceptual (i.e. whether the concept denotes something that is part of physical reality). If the concept is not directly perceptual then identify what unfamiliar concepts serve as its units, and if one is familiar with the concepts then instead move on to step three.

  3. Third, write what the concept actually denotes. For instance, if the concept were "tree" then one would write "A physical entity," or if the concept were "green" one would write "An attribute."

  4. Fourth, list any extreme contrasting or closely related concepts for comparison purposes. For example, for "rage" one could write "angry" as being a similar concept and "euphoria" as being a direct antonym.

  5. Fifth, write a sentence employing the concept.

  6. Sixth, record whether or not the concept is entirely meaningful. I do this so I know at all times what confuses me and what I'm certain on.

  7. Finally, jot down any notes, concerns, or whatever. This is an optional step that can be incorporated anywhere in the process, multiple times if need be.

Some examples, first starting with a perceptual concept. Notes in square brackets indicate editorial content not in original homework:

  1. Vituperation > /Noun/ Bitter and abusive language. [Concise Oxford American Dictionary.]

  2. Height: Perceptual. Language is an audio-visual format of concepts. [Human language is accessible by the five senses, which is what makes this a perceptual concept.]

  3. Denotes: Language with an emotional attribute and intention to harm [emotionally].

  4. Similar: swearing, cursing.

  5. [Sentence omitted.]

  6. Fully meaningful?: Yes

  7. Note: Duplicate of concepts already existing; differs only in connotation.

And an abstract one:

  1. Addendum > (Plural: -da, -dums) An item of additional material, typically omissions, added at the end of a book or other publication.[Concise Oxford American Dictionary.]

  2. Height: Abstract. Requires understanding of the abstractions involved in the information in the publication. [This concept is abstract because there is no physical existent or phenomenon known as "addendum." One may object by bringing forth a book and tapping the bottom of a page where there is an addendum, but that would be incorrect. What would exist in physical reality is ink and paper, not a physical manifestation of the concept addendum.]

  3. Denotes: Additional information added at the end of a published work. [Simplied definition.]

  4. Similar: Additional

  5. Sentence: How frustrating it is to have sat and read a blog post for an hour only to read in the addendum that the article is factually wrong.

  6. Fully meaningful?: Somewhat.

So are there ways that the reader thinks I can improve this process?