How to be Successful

Do you want to be filthy rich and powerful beyond your wildest dreams?

There is a simple formula.  Just follow as many of these basic rules as you can and you’re guaranteed to become unbelievably successful.

  • Be a white (non-hispanic caucasian) male
  • Be born into wealth and power with plenty of advantages and opportunities (old money and royal blood is helpful).
  • Have many immediate and extended family members in positions of private and political influence.
  • Be born and raised in a powerful industrial nation.
  • Be born in the Fall with September being optimal, but don’t overshoot and get born in the Winter.
  • Be sure to be born to parents with a genetic predisposition for mathematic skills.
  • Be born with and develop early in life specific personality traits.
  • Have a healthy mother who exercises, who eats nutritional foods, who doesn’t drink, and who breastfeeds you.
  • Don’t be born in the inner city or other places with heavy pollution.
  • Be your parent’s first child and encourage your parents to make you some siblings but not too many if your family is poor.
  • Have a tall symmetrical body and generally be physically attractive according to both biological standards and Western ideals.
  • Have a precocious sense of ambition and intelligence.
  • Get a M.B.A. and make sure you get your master’s degree from an Ivy League school.
  • If you go to Yale, try to get accepted by the Skull and Bones which has the most exclusive membership in the world.
  • After college, get a job with Goldman Sachs.
  • Plan on having a major professional setback early in your career to create a proper sense of fear of failure that will haunt you for the rest of your life.

If you find it difficult following these simple guidelines, there are two other options.

  • Get adopted by parents who fit the above descriptions.
  • Marry someone who fits the above descriptions.

(sources: herehere, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, hereherehere, here, here, here, here, here, herehere, and here)

Sling Blade meets Naked Lunch

“He’s just a boy. Mmm hmm….”
“What in the hell you doin’ with that gun? ”
“I don’t rightly know. I just kinda woke up a-holding it.”
“What the fuck you think he’s doin’ with that gun?”
“Some people call it a gun.  I call it a fire stick.  I aim it’s about time to do our William Tell Routine.”
*Bang*
“Hmm… I shouldn’t done that, he was just a boy, poor little feller.”
 
 – – – 

 “Now, repeat after me: A dimwitted southerner is the best all-round cover an agent ever had.”
“I’ve heard it said that a-way.  Hmmm, biscuits and bug powder.”
“Say, mister.  Could you rub some of that mustard on my lips?”
“Hmm… funny.  Not funny ha ha.  Funny queer.  Reckon I’ll have to get used to looking at homo-erotic bugs.”
“Guess you will.”
“Reckon I’ll have to get used to them looking at me too.”
“Better go get your things.’
“Ain’t got nothing but that pillowcase.”
“What’s in the pillowcase?”
“Hmm… reckon it’s the remains of my last writing machine.”
“Better go get it.”
“All right, then.”
 
 – – –

“They say you murdered your momma. Is that true?”
“Hmm… reckon it wadn’t an accident.  Hmm mmm.”
“If you had it to do over again, would you do it the same way?”
“I reckon I would.”
“I’ve been killing my own mother slowly over a period of years.”
“Hmmm?”
“Well, not intentionally. I mean, on the level of conscious intention, it’s insane, monstrous.”
“Reckon I hear’d ya say it.  Hmmm…”
“Not consciously. This is all happening telepathically, non-consciously.”
“Whad’ya mean?”
“If you look carefully at my lips, you’ll realize that I’m actually saying something else.”
“I like the way you talk.”
 
 – – –
 
“What is the purpose of your visit?”
“I aim to kill you.”
How do I know you are really a killer?
“Well, I have a slingblade.  Hmm.  Some people call it a slingblade.  I call it a head chopper.”
“That’s not good enough.  Show me.”
*whack* *whack*
“Am I dead yet?”
“Almost.  Hmm mmm.”
 
 – – –

“Welcome… to the mental institute.”
“Hmm… mental institute.”

Glenn Beck’s Anti-Atheist Rantings

I wasn’t in the mood to blog, but I noticed a video of Glenn Beck (here and reposted below).  It’s hard to feel apathetic while listening to Beck and I don’t mean that he inspires me.  I genuinely try to listen to his message and not judge too quickly.  Despite my annoyance, I do want to understand what makes him tick… and what makes him interesting to so many people (whether they agree or disagree with him).

I appreciate what he says the most when he is talking about libertarianism which seems to be the most clear when he is talking to libertarians.  I can tell how much he wants to be accepted by libertarians and it brings out the reasonable side of his personality.  He is actually capable of cogent arguments on occasion despite his typically relying too much on emotional persuasion.  However, he goes into righteous ranting mode anytime he brings out his religious patriotism… and what amount of reason he does possess quickly goes out the window.

Some video responses:

The guy in the last video has some strong opinions about Beck, but that isn’t why I included it.  I noticed some interesting points mentioned by one of the commenters and wanted to quote this person.

alphacause (1 week ago):

If anyone of Glenn Beck’s idiotic followers is watching this, let me educate you. First, it is an elementary fallacy to take an isolated incident like this, and presume that this is the norm. As lamentable as this tragedy is, it does not underscore any true epidemic of violence in this country. Secondly, if the increase in secularism corresponds to a rise in crime rates, then the FBI crime statistics should reveal this. But they DONT reveal this.

In fact the FBI crime statistics reveal that violent crime has actually either stayed relatively the same, or is on a downward trend. Just Google FBI violent crime statistics over the years and look at the first few links. Also do a search of violent crimes by state, and you will find that many states in the Bible Belt have just as high crime rates as those in more urban and secular areas; and sometimes they have more crime.

Glenn Beck is merely sensationalizing a regrettable incident. It should also be noted that African Americans generally go to church more often than people in white communities. Furthermore, if Beck ever actually ventured out of his posh and cloistered neighborhood he would know that if you ask any gang member, almost all of them have a belief in God, and in fact display prominent religious paraphernalia such as the Virgin Mary.

Apparently belief in a higher power doesnt make gang members more moral. Probably, just as in the case with Islamic suicide bombers, religious beliefs make them more comfortable with they idea of dying for stupid reasons.

Two issues that Beck brought up are (1) the rising numbers of “religious nones” and (2) the “In God We Trust” being taken off of our money.

Okay, first issue.  Beck is woefully incorrect about equating “religious nones” to atheism and to anti-religious sentiments.  The religious issue is complex anyhow and even some religious people are atheists.  As for “religious nones”, it simply means someone doesn’t identify (fully or at all) with any particular organized religion.  I’m a “religious none” who is an extremely spiritual agnostic.  What polls show is that American’s have a growing sense of informality about religion and are more willing to mix-and-match.  Americans may mistrust religious authority figures and hierarchical religious institutions more than they used to, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have more mistrust towards a higher power or towards their personal sense of spiritual truth.  So, some “religious nones” are atheists and some aren’t.

The second issue I don’t know too much about.  I hadn’t noticed “In God We Trust” disappearing from money.  From a quick Google search, all that I can tell is that Beck might be referring to the new dollar coins.  They still have the religiously patriotic motto, but it’s on the edge of the coin.  However, the original (albeit unofficial) motto of our country (E Pluribus Unum) is also on the edge of the new dollar coins.  The religious right think it’s sacrilege because “God” might get rubbed off of the edge of our coins.  This is unlikely for the new dollar coins because few people actually use them (I’ve been a cashier for years and it’s rare when someone gives me one).

Anyways, this is the type of issue Beck likes to rant about.  When you look into it, there is no substance.

Let’s be clear that “In God We Trust” has only been our national motto since 1956.  I find it interesting that the American government decided to officially declare allegiance to God only after having dropped atomic bombs on two large cities filled with innocent civilians.  Was the Congress feeling some guilt for an action (decimating cities) usually reserved for the biblical God?  The founding fathers didn’t put it on our money.  It only first appeared on some US currency during the civil war (another era of religious patriotism).

It’s interesting that Beck also brings up the Battle Hymn of the Republic which also was written and became popular during the civil war.  The civil war was not only the most divisive time of American history, but a time when massive numbers of Americans were being killed by other Americans.  Now, there is religious patriotism for you (yes, both sides invoked God to support their beliefs and actions).

Anyways, there is nothing less Christian one could do than put God’s name on money.  Jesus himself distinguished quite clearly between God and Caesar.  The fact that we have God on our money simply shows how corrupt of a country we’ve become.  As an example, the Baby Boomers were the first generation to grow up with “God” printed on all of their money.  What kind of moral character did the Boomers have?  They have been a politically divisive and opinionated generation.  The protests that they were involved in (whether as protesters or as police) were some of the most violent protests in American history.  Also, I’ve heard that more wars were started during the time Boomers have been in political power than anytime before in history.

Let me share specific statistics.  From the Wikipedia article on Crime in the United States:

Since 1964, the U.S. crime rate has increased by as much as 350%, and over 11 million crimes were reported in the year 2007 alone.[10] Crime in the United States has fluctuated considerably over the course of the last half-century, rising significantly in the late 1960s and 1970s, peaking in the 1980s and then decreasing considerably in the 1990s.

So, almost in direct correspondence crime rates increased massively right after “In God We Trust” became our national motto, and it was declared as such right in the middle of the Baby Boom.  The Baby Boomers grew up bottle fed on this post-war patriotic religiosity.  How did it affect them?  From the Wikipedia article on Baby Boom Generation:

In 1993, Time magazine reported on the religious affiliations of baby boomers, stating that about 42% of baby boomers were dropouts from formal religion, a third had never strayed from church, and one-fourth of boomers were returning to religious practice. The boomers returning to religion were “usually less tied to tradition and less dependable as church members than the loyalists. They are also more liberal, which deepens rifts over issues like abortion and homosexuality.”[9]

Now, compare that to Generation X that followed.  Generation X grew up with less overt religiosity.  As older GenXers were coming into positions of power during the 90s, they began influencing society and they helped the technological boom.  What else happened?  Crime began to decrease for the first time since “In God We Trust” became our national motto.  Our national allegiance to God led to almost a half century of sky-rocketing crime.

There is no correlation between religious moralizing done by conservative Christians and actual moral behavior.  From religioustolerance.org:

There is consensus that the overall U.S. divorce rate had a brief spurt after WW2, followed by a decline, then started rising in the 1960s and even more quickly in the 1970s, then leveled off [in the] 1980s and [has since] declined slightly.”

Those are general statistics and there are many factors to consider.  Still, like crime, divorce rates increased after “In God We Trust” became our national motto.

The slogan: “The family that prays together, stays together” is well known. There has been much anecdotal evidence that has led to “unsubstantiated claims that the divorce rate for Christians who attended church regularly, pray together or who meet other conditions is only 1 or 2 percent. 8 Emphasis ours]. Dr. Tom Ellis, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council on the Family said that for “…born-again Christian couples who marry…in the church after having received premarital counseling…and attend church regularly and pray daily together…” experience only 1 divorce out of nearly 39,000 marriages — or 0.00256 percent. 9

A recent study by the Barna Research Group throws extreme doubt on these estimates. Barna released the results of their poll about divorce on 1999-DEC-21. 1 They had interviewed 3,854 adults from the 48 contiguous states. The margin of error is ±2 percentage points. The survey found:

bullet 11% of the adult population is currently divorced.
bullet 25% of adults have had at least one divorce during their lifetime.
bullet Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, and much higher than Atheists and Agnostics experience.

 George Barna, president and founder of Barna Research Group, commented:

 “While it may be alarming to discover that born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is that when those individuals experience a divorce many of them feel their community of faith provides rejection rather than support and healing. But the research also raises questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families. The ultimate responsibility for a marriage belongs to the husband and wife, but the high incidence of divorce within the Christian community challenges the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriages.

According to Divorce Magazine, divorce rates peaked in 1981 and are presently at the lowest they’ve been in a long time.  Not only are divorce rates the highest following the post-war patriotic religiosity but highest amongst conservative Christians who preach family values.  More from religioustolerance.org:

Barna’s results verified findings of earlier polls: that conservative Protestant Christians, on average, have the highest divorce rate, while mainline Christians have a much lower rate. They found some new information as well: that atheists and agnostics have the lowest divorce rate of all.  George Barna commented that the results raise “questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families.” The data challenge “the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriage.” 

Donald Hughes, author of The Divorce Reality, said:

“In the churches, people have a superstitious view that Christianity will keep them from divorce, but they are subject to the same problems as everyone else, and they include a lack of relationship skills. …Just being born again is not a rabbit’s foot.”

Hughes claim that 90% of divorces among born-again couples occur after they have been “saved.”

Furthermore, atheists and agnostics have the lowest divorce rate of all!

Age group % have been divorced
Baby boomers (33 to 52 years of age) 34%
Builders (53 to 72 years of age) 37%
Seniors (above 72 years of age) 18%

 Many seniors were married in the late 40’s or early 50’s at a time when divorce rates were much lower than they are today.

 People specifically married prior to the Congressional declaration of “In God We Trust” have the lowest divorce rates and it has only begun to decrease again in recent years.

What about teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases?  From the Wikipedia article on Teen pregnancy:

In the United States the topic of sex education is the subject of much contentious debate. Some schools provide “abstinence-only” education and virginity pledges are increasingly popular. A 2004 study by Yale and Columbia Universities found that fully 88 percent of those who pledge abstinence have premarital sex anyway.[57]

The conservative Christian belief in teaching abstinence and nothing but abstinence is a complete failure, just as much of a failure as Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign.  Schools with abstinence only programs have the highest rates of pregnancy and STDs.  Of course, some of this is caused by the sexual revolution and sexuality in the media, but my point is that it was the patriotic religiosity that preceeded the sexual revolution and contributed to the social atmosphere that led to the it.  But how does this compare to other countries?  From the Wikipedia article on Adolescent sexuality in the United States:

Every year, an estimated 1 in 4 sexually active teens contracts an STD,[9] and teen pregnancy is 2 to 10 times more prevalent in the United States than in other similarly developed countries.[10]

The United States is the most conservatively religious industrial nation and yet has one of the highest rates of certain immoral behaviors.  Obviously, righteous moralizing is far from helpful.

The percentage of teenagers who report they are currently sexually active has also been dropping since 1991. In 1997, only 37% of females and 33% of males who reported ever having had sexual intercourse said that they had sex in the past 3 months.[28] By 2005, the overall percentage of teenagers reporting that they were currently sexually active was down to 33.9%.[1]

So, the generations following the Boomers were raised with less traditional Christian values.  Atheism, agnosticism, and “religious nones” have been increasing with the post-Boomer generations.  Directly correlated with this are the rates of decreasing extra-marital sexual behavior among teens.  The ironic fact is that, even though abstinence had recently been increasing, abstinence only sex education has been far from proven effective.  From the Wikipedia article on Abstinence-only sex education:

Abstinence-only education has been criticized in official statements by the American Psychological Association,[16] the American Medical Association,[17] the National Association of School Psychologists,[18] the Society for Adolescent Medicine,[19] the American College Health Association,[19] the American Academy of Pediatrics,[20] and the American Public Health Association,[21] which all maintain that sex education needs to be comprehensive to be effective.

The AMA “urges schools to implement comprehensive… sexuality education programs that… include an integrated strategy for making condoms available to students and for providing both factual information and skill-building related to reproductive biology, sexual abstinence, sexual responsibility, contraceptives including condoms, alternatives in birth control, and other issues aimed at prevention of pregnancy and sexual transmission of diseases… [and] opposes the sole use of abstinence-only education…”[17]

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “Abstinence-only programs have not demonstrated successful outcomes with regard to delayed initiation of sexual activity or use of safer sex practices… Programs that encourage abstinence as the best option for adolescents, but offer a discussion of HIV prevention and contraception as the best approach for adolescents who are sexually active, have been shown to delay the initiation of sexual activity and increase the proportion of sexually active adolescents who reported using birth control.”[20]

On August 4, 2007, the British Medical Journal published an editorial concluding that there is “no evidence” that abstinence-only sex education programs “reduce risky sexual behaviours, incidence of sexually transmitted infections, or pregnancy” in “high income countries”.[22]

A comprehensive review of 115 program evaluations published in November 2007 by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that two-thirds of sex education programs focusing on both abstinence and contraception had a positive effect on teen sexual behavior. The same study found no strong evidence that abstinence-only programs delayed the initiation of sex, hastened the return to abstinence, or reduced the number of sexual partners.[23][24] According to the study author:

“Even though there does not exist strong evidence that any particular abstinence program is effective at delaying sex or reducing sexual behavior, one should not conclude that all abstinence programs are ineffective. After all, programs are diverse, fewer than 10 rigorous studies of these programs have been carried out, and studies of two programs have provided modestly encouraging results. In sum, studies of abstinence programs have not produced sufficient evidence to justify their widespread dissemination.”

Joycelyn Elders, former Surgeon General of the United States, is a notable critic of abstinence-only sex education. She was among the interviewees Penn & Teller included in their Bullshit! episode on the subject.[25]

Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that abstinence-only sex education leads to the opposite of the intended results by spreading ignorance regarding sexually transmitted diseases and the proper use of contraceptives to prevent both infections and pregnancy.[26]

These are just trends and it’s hard to know which correlations may or may not imply causation.  The data isn’t always clear and much more study is needed to understand which programs work best, but my basic point remains true.  Simply put, religious moral claims have no basis in real-world scientifically proven facts.  From the Wikipedia article on Sex education:

Abstinence-only sex education tells teenagers that they should be sexually abstinent until marriage and does not provide information about contraception. In the Kaiser study, 34% of high-school principals said their school’s main message was abstinence-only.

The difference between these two approaches, and their impact on teen behavior, remains a controversial subject. In the U.S., teenage birth rates had been dropping since 1991, but a 2007 report showed 3% increase from 2005 to 2006.[28] From 1991 to 2005, the percentage of teens reporting that they had ever had sex or were currently sexually active showed small declines.[29] However, the U.S. still has the highest teen birth rate and one of the highest rates of STIs among teens in the industrialized world.[30] Public opinion polls conducted over the years have found that the vast majority of Americans favor broader sex education programs over those that teach only abstinence, although abstinence educators recently published poll data with the opposite conclusion.[31][32][33]

Proponents of comprehensive sex education, which include the American Psychological Association,[34] the American Medical Association,[35] the National Association of School Psychologists,[36] the American Academy of Pediatrics,[37] the American Public Health Association,[38] the Society for Adolescent Medicine[39] and the American College Health Association,[39] argue that sexual behavior after puberty is a given, and it is therefore crucial to provide information about the risks and how they can be minimized; they also claim that denying teens such factual information leads to unwanted pregnancies and STIs.

On the other hand, proponents of abstinence-only sex education object to curricula that fail to teach their standard of moral behavior; they maintain that a morality based on sex only within the bounds of marriage is “healthy and constructive” and that value-free knowledge of the body may lead to immoral, unhealthy, and harmful practices. Within the last decade, the federal government has encouraged abstinence-only education by steering over a billion dollars to such programs.[40]

[…] In a meta-analysis, DiCenso et al. have compared comprehensive sex education programs with abstinence-only programs.[49] Their review of several studies shows that abstinence-only programs did not reduce the likelihood of pregnancy of women who participated in the programs, but rather increased it.

The most significant fact here is that there is evidence that abstinence-only sex education may lead to increased teen sexual activity.  The facts speak for themselves.

If that is what religious patriotism has to offer, I think we as a society should try something else.  The GOP and evangelical Christianity had a lot of political influence during this half-century period.  There is a reason that people are now seeking change and so elect Obama who is a liberal Christian with a progressive vision.

As for Beck’s religious patriotism, I have a hard time figuring out how that fits into his libertarianism.  He was arguing that atheism was leading to violence.  As the statistics above show, there is no evidence for this argument and there is no evidence that Christianity inspires Christians to live up to a higher standard of morality.  But Beck is free to have an opinion on the matter even if it’s completely baseless.  The problem with his view is that the biggest proponents of libertarianism are atheists.

This next video shows him speaking with a Christian and then speaking with a Randian libertarian.

The Christian guy blames Obama’s healthcare plan on atheism (which is very odd considering Obama’s Christianity) and Beck seems to agree, but then Beck tries really hard to find agreement with the libertarian.  The libertarian even points out how Beck’s view of Christianity has no basis in historical Christianity.  Beck’s response is that it’s fine that this guy is an atheist, that they don’t have to agree on everything.  He says he even admires Rand accept for the atheist part… which makes no sense since Rand was strongly against religion.  Beck’s trying to bridge these views seems either desperate or bassackwards.  Why is this libertarian’s atheism perfectly fine with Beck when Beck in the other video claims atheism is destroying America?  He can’t have it both ways.  Is he being irrational or is he being a hypocrite?  Or is he just plain schizophrenic?

Let me point out another aspect that demonstrates the lack of substance.  Beck brought up the Battle Hymn of the Republic in reference to the schoolchildren singing a song to President Obama.  The right wingnuts got all crazed about America’s children openly showing respect to the American president.  I really don’t have much opinion.  I was forced as a child to dress up as a boy scout and sit in the front row to show reverence to Ronald Reagan.  It didn’t warp my tender young mind or convert me to conservatism.  The silly part of this criticism of children singing a song to Obama is that it’s been done before.  Just 3 years ago, schoolchildren were singing praises to the First Lady at the White House and they were doing so at the behest of President Bush (see here).

“Our country’s stood beside us People have sent us aid. Katrina could not stop us, our hopes will never fade. Congress, Bush and FEMA People across our land Together have come to rebuild us and we join them hand-in- hand!”

And talk about cult of personality:

Speaking of kids being taught to worship a President?

Not new with obama. Here’s an article about kids singing to Reagan: http://articles.latimes.com/1996-12-14/l…

This guy remembers being made to sing a song about Reagan: http://gatheringofthevibes.com/forum/sho…

OMG!! Here’s a whole elementary school in Wisconsin named after Reagan! http://www.nbexcellence.org/schools/rr/ Call the police!!!http://www.pbvusd.k12.ca.us/schools/reag…

OMG! Here’s one in Bakersfield California!

OMG! Another in California: http://rre.leusd.k12.ca.us/ http://cedarparktex.com/schools/reagan-e… http://reagan.leanderisd.org/

OMG! Texas!

IDAHO!! http://www1.nsd131.org/mainsite/schools/… Home of the RoadRunners!http://www.rogers.k12.ar.us/schools/reag…

Arkansas:

California again: http://www.kingsburg-elem.k12.ca.us/Reag…

California: http://www.cusd.com/schools/reagan.htm

California: http://teacherweb.com/CA/SangerRonaldRea…

Indiana: http://www.brownsburg.k12.in.us/reagan/

Nebraska: http://mps.rres.schoolfusion.us/

Do you need links to Ronald Reagan High Schools in San Antonio, Milwaukee, Florida, and North Carolina? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Reag…

Finally, I would be remiss to ignore middle schools: http://reagan.gpisd.org/ http://www.dixonschools.org/buildings.ph…

Gosh, it sure is an awful thing when kids are taught to respect presidents, isn’t it???

Oops, let me rephrase that … it’s fine when they’re taught to respect a republican president, but it’s awful when they’re taught to respect a democrat.

 – – –

Here is another video of Beck that demonstrates the delusion he lives in.

In the first video Beck was complaining about the “religious nones” as the fastest growing category.  In this last video, he was arguing that most Americans’s are God-fearing patriots just like him.  He constantly jumps back and forth from his attitude of “the media doesn’t represent us” and “we surround them”.  These two attitudes don’t perfectly fit together.

Some of the examples he used were the media focusing too much on protesters, but protesters are just ordinary people.  If protesters had lots of money and influence like Beck does, then they wouldn’t be on the street trying to get heard.  Beck is the mainstream media he complains about.  The guy gets more attention than most movie stars.  Who in the mainstream media was playing a video of violence?  Yep, Beck.  He does accurately point out that the problem with contemporary entertainment/news is that it sensationalizes, but in his fear-mongering and conspiracy ranting isn’t he the most sensationalistic pundit in mainstream media?

When Beck’s sensationalism turns towards fear-mongering, I feel utterly disgusted by his behavior and I find it hard to have much respect for him.  But he can be a silly guy which combined with his sensationalist tendencies can make him seem a bit loony at times.  If Beck’s ratio of silliness to seriousness was much higher, I’d actually have more respect for him.

Here is a rather humorous video montage of Beck.

So, where did Beck’s weird behavior come from?  Well, he began as a radio talk jock and that does seem to explain it somewhat,  I found this video of his radio days to be quite enlightening.

To get back to the issue of mainstream media, here is another video where he is complaining about what gets covered in the news.  I don’t know the entire context for this video, but part of his focus is on atheists not deserving the media focus they get.  This is rather ironic considering how much media attention he gives to atheists.

Okay, okay… so, how does Beck represent the average American?

His show is relatively popular, but that doesn’t mean his view represents most Americans.  The number of his viewers only represents a fraction of a percent of the American population.  And guess what?  The majority of American voters voted for Obama who Beck likes to criticize.  How is that populism?  Having a popular show isn’t the same thing as being a populist.  Seinfeld and Roseanne were popular shows; Star Trek and Stargate were popular shows; and these shows were far from the message that Beck preaches.  Besides, not everyone who watches him believes all or even most of what he says.  Going by the blogs and videos, many people who watch his show on a regular basis are his critics.  Heck, as a Mormon, he doesn’t even represent the majority of Christians.

Here is a video that analyses Beck’s “populism”.

During times of conflict and stress, pundits like Beck pop up in US media and they rant for a while.  People want simple, clear black and white answers during tought times.  But when the times become better, such pundits are forgotten again.  So, by being loud and divisive, he has been able to draw attention to himself.  Also, he’s worked in the entertainment industry for years and he knows how to entertain.  So?  Whatever he may be, he is far from being the voice of the average American.

He does touch upon a raw nerve in the American psyche and so it’s important to listen to him if only for that reason.  Even so, his opinion is just an opinion.  There are many other commenters who also resonate with many Americans… for example, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.  Even just considering the average American libertarian, I suspect that Bill Maher is more representative than is Beck.

RE: I am a Pseudoskeptic

Here is a post by a person who thinks of themselves as a skeptic and is humorously accepting the label of pseudoskeptic.

I am a Pseudoskeptic by Troythulu

I disagree with him to an extent in that I’m quite critical of what I deem as pseudoskepticism.  I don’t, however, disagree with his skeptical attitude to the degree it’s genuine.  My only issue might be that it seems he may have more faith than I do in the objectivity and effectiveness of science.  I do love science and the potential of science… with emphasis on the potential.  As I see it, science in general is still in its infancy.  I suspect it will be a long time before humans begin to have a clear appraisal of reality… if ever.  Assuming the human species will survive, the science of the future would be unrecognizable to contemporary humans.  As a wise man once said, a highly developed technology would look like magic to us.

My view presented below is what I wrote in the comments section of the above linked post.

 – – –

I’m neither a pseudo-skeptic nor a Neo-Velikovskian.  I’m not sure if I’m in between those ideological extremes or simply outside of this categorical division.  The labels I prefer are Fortean, Zetetic, and Pyrrhonian skeptic.

Similarly, I don’t consider myself either atheist or theist.  I sometimes think of myself as an agnostic gnostic which is a position that allows for both the rational and non-rational sides of human experience.  At other times, I think of myself as a militant agnostic: I don’t know and neither do you.  My problem is that too many people, whatever their ideological persuasion, are too sure of their opinions.

As for logic and science, I’m for applying such things when and where they’re applicable.  But they aren’t always applicable.  For instance, if you remember a dream, neither logic nor science will likely be able to offer you much understanding.  You can choose to dismiss the dream as nonsense which is your choice, but this would be an avoidance of the complexity and strangeness of human experience.  Even in waking life, odd things happen all of the time that can’t be easily explained.  Even when there are possible explanations, there is a difference between proposing a hypothesis and explaining something away.  Pseudo-skeptics would rather apply logic and science selectively… and so would the Neo-Velikovskians.

I’m from the school of thought that thinks everything should be questioned and doubted.  Nothing is sacred, not religion and not even science.  Look at all sides, consider all possibilities, verify all evidence.  Everything should be brought to the table: hard science research, social science surveys, demographics, anecdotal evidence, Einsteinian thought experiments, unusual personal experiences, intuitive insight, critical thinking skills, philosophical ideas, theoretical frameworks, socio-historical context.  Et Cetera.  But, more important than anything, what is required is infinite curiosity and wonder, an unfailing desire for truth and a willingness to follow the evidence where ever it leads.  All assumptions and ideology must be left at the door.

Also, never bow down to any authority.  Don’t accept what someone says simply because they claim to be an expert.  The moment anyone claims anything, no matter how respectable they may seem, immediately consider all possible criticisms.  Always look for the spin, for the vested interests, for the beliefs taken as facts.  Continuously search for the alternative perspectives and try to find the outline of truth amidst the fog of opinions.

In the end, be intellectually humble.  Realize how little you know and further realize how infinite the universe is compared to your tiny primate brain.  Realize that human knowledge is constantly changing and that much of what is conventionally believed to be fact at present (including mainstream scientific theories) will be proven wrong or severely inadequate in the decades and centuries to come.

And be practical rather than idealistic.  Don’t make religion or science into a belief system that answers all doubts.  To the extent any theory is worthy, it is because it works.  The ultimate purpose of a theory, including scientific theories, isn’t it being absolutely true.  Rather, what matters is if it works.

As for science, Newtonian physics have been proven wrong in some ways and yet it still works as a model of prediction.  It’s an imperfect model, but it’s usually good enough for the purposes of taking action in the world.  As for religion, it too has practical effects.  There is truth in religion for those with discerning minds.  Some things are real and yet can’t presently be explained by science.  For example, UFO experiences, religious experiences, and traditional folklore all follow similar patterns.  These patterns exist within the human psyche across cultures.  In some sense, they’re real.  Any particular explanation of them may be wrong, but what is clear is that science hasn’t figured it out as of yet.  Yes, there are scientific hypotheses, but a scientific hypothesis is far from being a scientific theory.  I look forward to a time when some of these hypotheses can be tested.

Debunkers vs True Skeptics

When sceptics fight back by Arran Frood (BBC)

Conspiracy theorists have used the internet to co-ordinate increasingly slick attacks on the accepted versions of events, but now a group of scientists and sceptics has decided it’s time to organise and fight back.

There are three issues.

First, just because someone’s view is outside of the mainstream it doesn’t mean that therefore it’s false.  There are many alternative views even within science, and many accepted theories were dismissed when initially presented.  Besides, not all scientific theories have been absolutely proven, and many things that were once thought to be true are later disproven.

As for the government, politicians and other officials are known to lie all of the time.  The military can keep largescale activities secret for years and even decades.  You have to be absolutely naive to believe everything the government tells you.

The ability to question and doubt conventional opinion is a part of critical thinking skills.  Instead of telling people what to think, teach them how to think.

Second, it’s true that there is a loony fringe of alternative thinkers.  On the other hand, there is a loony fringe of debunkers.  As far as skeptics go, Randi isn’t the most respectable.  Many people have been highly skeptical of Randi’s million dollar challenge.  True skepticism cuts both ways.  Skepticism as ideology is dangerous to freedom of thought.

If you want to understand the complexity of skepticism and alternative views in science, then you’d have to do some reading.  I’d suggest two books: George P. Hansen’s The Trickster and the Paranormal, and Chris Carter’s Parapsychology and the Skeptics.  Or if you’d rather read something shorter, there are many articles to be found online such as those on Hansen’s website.

Third, I think it’s unhelpful to try to force the world into polarized categories.  Reality isn’t either/or.  Any group that takes an ideology to an extreme will feel alone and isolated.  This is as true for sceptical extremists as it is for religious extremists.  Generally speaking, extremism isn’t an admirable trait when it comes to critical thinking skills.  Polls show that the numbers of people identifying as atheist or agnostic are growing.  When asked what religion people identify with, there is an increasing number of people who choose ‘none’.  At the same time, the majority of people have had some kind of spiritual or paranormal experience (or some experience they don’t think can be fully explained by conventional scientific theories).

In conclusion, skepticism is helpful and a worthy attitude.  But it needs to be kept in balance with other factors.  Obviously, skepticism without open-minded curiosity is rather bland and I would add blind as well.  The ability to imagine new possibilities and to temporarily suspend disbelief are extremely important.  Anyways, if you’re going to be a skeptic, then go all the way.  A skeptic who doesn’t turn their skeptical gaze back upon themselves is a narrowminded fool.  Always question your self first (Mathew 7:5 – “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”).

I’m not worried about this simplistic polarized thinking.  It’s no different than the theist vs atheist debate.  The agnostic sits on the sidelines and laughs at both of them.  As for the defenders of science, I could care less about those who feel haughty in their self-righteousness.  The Forteans, Zetetics, and Pyrrhonian skeptics will keep the pseudo-skepticism in check.

 – – –

I’ve written about this subject a number of times.  The following are two posts from my Gaia.com blog.

More About the Paranormal

Hansen speaks to these issues.  Objectivity, verifiability, and repeatability aren’t easily applied to the paranormal, but researchers have attempted to do so.  Some are satisfied with the evidence and some aren’t.  […]  How are lived experiences proven?  Well, very little of even our “normal” subjective experience is provable.  As for the paranormal, it all depends on what kind of evidence you consider acceptable. 

People have seen lights and when they investigated discovered crop circles.  Crop circles are just more complex forms of fairly circles that have been observed for centuries in corollation with fairy lights.  My brother visited with friends a place where orbs (ie fairy lights) were known to be common.  They saw the orbs and the orbs approached the car and hovered around it.  Even scientists have observed orbs, but no one agrees on what explains them. 

Pilots have seen ufos and they were observed simultaneously on radar.  There are a fair number of radar cases.  Why is there not more evidence?  For one, I’ve heard that pilots are discouraged from reporting ufos.  Also, some evidence gets destroyed because people fear ridicule.  Vallee started out as an astronomer but later became a ufo researcher because he personally observed astronomers he worked with destroying video evidence (here is an interview with him where he speaks about this).

Rupert Sheldrake was describing a dialogue he had with Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Sheldrake: “This depends on what you regard as extraordinary”, I replied. “Most people say they have experienced telepathy, especially in connection with telephone calls. In that sense, telepathy is ordinary. The claim that most people are deluded about their own experience is extraordinary. Where is the extraordinary evidence for that?”

(Sheldrake describes how he tried to bring up his own rearch about telepathy, but Dawkins refused to discuss it.)

And something I wrote in a comment to that post:

I like the idea of piling up the anomalies.  That is my basic viewpoint.  Parapsychology hasn’t “proven” anything, but it has provided some anomalies.  Eventually, if enough anomalies pile up, it will create a critical mass forcing a paradigm shift.  As I see it, parapsychology research is still in its infancy despite it being more than a century old.

About the Newtonian paradigm of mainstream science, I think that is very true.  The Newtonian paradigm has practical usefulness for research in most fields.  Since there isn’t much connection between most fields and post-Newtonian paradigms, my guess is that most research scientists don’t consider theoretical complexities of quantum physics.  Even paranormal research have mostly ignored theoretical issues and I doubt that many paranormal researchers are educated in quantum physics.  All of science has a whole lot of catching up to do.

I suspect that if convincing evidence of the paranormal is ever found, it will probably be in the field of physics.  Basically, mainstream scientists will only be convinced by evidence by mainstream science, and yet parapsychology isn’t considered mainstream and so its evidence isn’t acceptable.

I was thinking about Dawkins telling Radin that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.  Radin pointed out that it depends on what one considers extraordinary, but there is a further problem with Dawkin’s statement.  Parapsychology gets very little funding and so is unable to do the largescale research that is necessary to produce “extraordinary” evidence, but its mainstream scientists such as Dawkins who argue that parapsychology doesn’t deserve funding because it doesn’t produce “extraordinary” evidence.  So, Dawkins’ statement is disingenuous because he really doesn’t want parapsychology to produce extraordinary evidence. 

It reminds me of CSICOP, the skeptical organization by various mainstream scientists (incuding Dawkins).  The problem with CSICOP is that it isn’t headed by scientists and the scientists who support it have no professional experience with parapsychology research.  CSICOP has no peer-reviewed journal and doesn’t support research even in disproving the paranormal.  Hansen says that CSICOP did do some research early on, but it ended up proving what they were trying to disprove and so they never did research again.  Worse still, they use their influence (via mainstream scientists) to keep parapsychologists from getting funding.

I am curious about the possible connection between parapsychology and quantum physics.  Lynne McTaggart speaks about the connection in her books, but as she isn’t a scientist I don’t know how biased her presentation might be. 

I’ve heard that there is nothing paranormal because its a false label.  If the paranormal exists, then its normal.  I agree with that as far as that goes… I really don’t care what one calls it.  Anyways, normality is kind of a relative concept.  I’m sure quantum physics seemed a bit paranormal to Newtonian scientists.

ENACTIVISM, INTEGRAL THEORY, AND 21st CENTURY SPIRITUALITY

Enactivism questions the traditional assumptions of science and so blurs the boundaries somewhat.  Varela was influenced by phenomenology, and Hansen says that ethnomethodology was similarly influenced.  Ethnomethodology (along with sociology of scientific knowledge and studies of experiment expectancy effects) puts the scientific endeavor into a very different context.

p. 280: “Ethnomethodologists took as their subject matter the interactions of everyday social life and how people make sense of them. That sounds innocuous enough, but ethnomethodologists probed foundations.  They recognized that for orderly common activity, people must share a large body of assumptions, meanings, and expectations, though these are not consciously recognized.  In order to make them explicit (i.e., bring them to conscious awareness), breaching experiments were invented, and those involved violating, in some way, typical patterns of behavior.” … “These breaching experiments have commonalities with anti-structure and the trickster; they all violate boundaries that frame experience.”

p. 281: “Ethnomethodologists pointed out that one is part of that which one observes, i.e., one participates in processes of observation.  The issue of participation has some intriguing connections.  At least since Levy-Bruhl’s How Natives Think (1910) it has been associated with the non-rational.”

p.282: “Mehan and Wood say that their theoretical perspective “within ethnomethodology commits me to the study of concrete scenes and to the recognition that I am always a part of those scenes.  Social science is committed to avoiding both of those involvements.”  They are correct, but few social scientists wish to acknowledge the consequences.  The abstraction and distancing found in all science endow a certain status and privilege from which to judge and comment on others.  In order to maintain that position, scientists must not get too “dirty,” too closely associated with their objects of study.  Ethnomethodologists understand they necessarily participate in the phenomena they observe.  Mehan and Wood comment that “Ethnomethodology can be seen as an activity of destratification.”  This destratification is a leveling of status, and that is also associated with limimal conditions (a.k.a., anti-structure).  Thus social leveling via participation and reflexivity has been recognized by theorists from entirely separate disciplines, demonstrating its validity.”

The last part about the leveling of status directly relates to the Trickster archetype, and status relates to hierarchy.  Scientists often are seen as final arbiters in many matters, and traditionally science saw itself opposed to nature, above the object it studied.

Also check out this other blog post of mine as an example of a topic that exists at the edge of mainstream science:

Astrological Evidence?

For more information, see these Wikpidea articles about various issues involving science, knowledge, biases, and critical thinking skills:

Psychological Research: Uncertainty and Spirituality

How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect by Benedict Carey

Along with being insightful and informative, this article is also well written.  I always enjoy a good article, but I must admit I’m particularly happy whenever I read about research comfirming my own intuitions and observations.  The article is about how people respond to the unusual, the uncanny… those things that can’t be immediately explained or fit into past experience, into conventional categories of thought.

“We’re so motivated to get rid of that feeling that we look for meaning and coherence elsewhere,” said Travis Proulx, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and lead author of the paper appearing in the journal Psychological Science. “We channel the feeling into some other project, and it appears to improve some kinds of learning.”

Researchers have long known that people cling to their personal biases more tightly when feeling threatened. After thinking about their own inevitable death, they become more patriotic, more religious and less tolerant of outsiders, studies find. When insulted, they profess more loyalty to friends — and when told they’ve done poorly on a trivia test, they even identify more strongly with their school’s winning teams.

In a series of new papers, Dr. Proulx and Steven J. Heine, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, argue that these findings are variations on the same process: maintaining meaning, or coherence. The brain evolved to predict, and it does so by identifying patterns.

 So, the same psychological mechnism that lead to personal biases also leads to innovative thinking.  I’ve often thought about those two things separately, but I hadn’t considered their connection.  I think I understand the connection though.  The key isn’t fear.  Rather, the key is uncertainty which may or may not be caused by fear.  The type of person open to uncertainty (thin boundary types) are more likely to respond to uncertainty with curiosity (even to the point of inentionally seeking out situations that encourage uncertainty)… and thick boundary types, being less open to uncertainty, are more likely to respond with fear (thus desiring to avoid and dismiss uncertainty).  However, the psychological mechanism is similar and everyone has their limits on how open they are to uncertainty (and people are more open to certain things or situations than others).

Researchers familiar with the new work say it would be premature to incorporate film shorts by David Lynch, say, or compositions by John Cage into school curriculums. For one thing, no one knows whether exposure to the absurd can help people with explicit learning, like memorizing French. For another, studies have found that people in the grip of the uncanny tend to see patterns where none exist — becoming more prone to conspiracy theories, for example. The urge for order satisfies itself, it seems, regardless of the quality of the evidence.

Yes, a useful point to make.  It’s not helpful to provoke confusion in others in the hope of encouraging learning ability if you aren’t simultaneously teaching critical thinking skills.  On the other hand, critical thinking skills without innovative thought is equally problematic.

Religious Experience Linked to Brain’s Social Regions by Brandon Keim

The article is discussing the research of Jordan Grafman.

People who reported an intimate experience of God, engaged in religious behavior or feared God, tended to have larger-than-average brain regions devoted to empathy, symbolic communication and emotional regulation. The research wasn’t trying to measure some kind of small “God-spot,” but looked instead at broader patterns within the brains of self-reported religious people.

[…] Grafman suspects that the origins of divine belief reside in mechanisms that evolved in order to help primates understand family members and other animals. “We tried to use the same social mechanisms to explain unusual phenomena in the natural world,” he said.

I heard an interview with Grafman last night which is what led me to this article.  In the interview, he explained his theory in more detail.  He mentioned that primates bond through intimate contact.  This is still important to humans, but intimate contact isn’t practical when dealing with a larger group.  Humans had to develop more efficient ways of creating social connection.  In particular, speech became very important for humans.

What fascinates me about this research is that it implies that those who lack spiritual experience will will probably have less ability towards empathy, symbolic communication, and emotional regulation.  This relates to research done on boundary types which confirm these findings.  A thin boundary person feels less separate from others.  So, they will have a better sense and understanding of the other person.  This is important because, as George P. Hansen writes in The Trickster and the Paranormal, thick boundary types are the people who are most likely to attain high positions in hierarchical organization (which means practically all major organizations from corporations to governments, from scientific institutions to educational institutions).  Thick boundary types have most of the overt power in society despite the fact that most of the population has much thinner boundaries than they do (and more spiritual experience, empathy, etc.).  This might answer the question of why our political leaders are so willing to send other people’s children off to die in foreign lands.

The emotional regulation aspect is a bit surprising.  People of extreme thin boundaries can have some psychological issues such as nightmares.  However, considering the average person rather than extreme examples, maybe increased emotional regulation can be explained by the other two abilities.  If someone is highly empathetic, then they’ll be more emotionally self-aware.  If someone is more capable of symbolic communication, then they’ll be better able to come to terms with psychological experience.

Very, very interesting!

John Bior Deng: Racism, Classism

This post is some commentary that initially was a part of the post John Bior Deng: R.I.P..  So, my thoughts here are about the social context of a white officer shooting a black homeless guy.

 – – –

Racism is very central to this topic, but it’s mixed with classism… and the two can’t be entirely separated.

Would Bohnenkamp aggressively confronted a clean-cut white guy in a business suit if that person had dropped a bottle?  Probably not.  Would Deputy Stotler have shot a clean-cut white guy in a business suit if he was holding a knife after being beat up by a homeless black guy?  Probably not.  If this case had been investigated by an all black (or even just a mixed race) group of officials instead of an all white group of officials, would they have written a different report about the justification of a white guy shooting a black guy?  Probably so.  If Deputy Stotler had been a black guy who shot Bohnenkamp because he was beating up Deng after disobeying his commands, would racism have been considered more seriously by the all white investigators?  Probably so.

People constantly complain any time race is brought up, and it’s almost impossible to explain racism to someone whose racism is unconscious.  We’re all prejudiced in various ways.  It’s just human nature.  Are these racism deniers ideologically motivated?  Are they being disingenuous?  Or are they some combination of naive and ignorant?

Polls show that a large percentage of people believe that racism is an issue in the US and that a large percentage perceive racism in themselves.  Think about that, and then consider that the extremely racist people are the ones who are least likely to admit to it (even on a poll).  Research has even proven people are racist.  It’s mostly unconscious, of course… even for those who are aware of racism.

Psychologists have studied in great detail how people form social identities, how people create a sense of belonging, and how people exclude those who are different.  Humans (like any other animal) identifies with those who are most similar to them.  Studies have shown people tend to have spouses and friends who are like them.  People tend to help and hire those they can relate to.  This is commonsense (which just so happens to be supported by science).

Even if a police officer intentionally tries not to be racist, he is still going to profile.  It would be difficult to do his job without profiling.  If Deputy Stotler hadn’t profiled Deng and Bohnenkamp, he wouldn’t have been able to act.  He had limited information and had to make a quick decision.  He was forced to simplify these people in front of him into stereotypes according to his cultural biases and past experience (we all do this all of the time and research shows that first impressions don’t easily change).  Anyways, he isn’t going to stop in that moment to ask himself whether he is being racist… but it’s obvious in hindsight that his judgments were influenced by various prejudices.

I don’t know how such implicit racism can be changed.  Maybe it never can be fully ended.  Still, there seems to be something worthy in at least just being honest about it.

Let me go into more details by citing some sources.

I was listening to an interview of Dan Ariely who is the author of Predictably Irrational.  He pointed out one particular statistic which is significant.  Different type of people were tested on honesty.  Police officers only came out as average on honesty (meaning they’re no more trustworthy than the rest of us), but police officers perceived themselves as being more honest than others (which implies that officers are better than average at ignoring, forgetting, and/or rationalizing away their moments of dishonesty).  So, if the police are as honest and dishonest as the rest of us, then what is the norm (and shouldn’t we expect officers to be above the norm)?  Here is an article about the commonality of dishonesty in everyday life:

Dishonesty in Everyday Life and its Policy Implications by Nina Mazar and Dan Ariely

My point being that the police aren’t above the typical self-deceptions, rationalizations, and situational morality that are common to all of humanity.  The police aren’t, by virtue of their profession, therefore moral exemplars for all of us to blindly trust.  We should question the actions of police as we would question the actions of anyone (be they rich or poor, black or white).  Therefore, in an incident involving the police, the witness acounts given by the police should be given no more weight than the witness accounts by the general public (but I’m willing to bet that most investigations do give weight to the former).  The question of honesty vs dishonesty is very relevant to racism because there isn’t as much overt racism these days, but racism still has great influence on us as individuals and on society as a whole.

Here We Go Again by Charles M. Blow

It doesn’t have to be that way. Most Americans know that racism is an issue in this country. The question is how much (that’s where the arguments start) and if — and to what degree — that racism animates critics of the president.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in January found that 71 percent of whites and 85 percent of blacks think that racism in our society is at least somewhat of a problem.

How much discrimination is there? The world may never know, but we admit that we misjudge it.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted in January of last year found that 60 percent of whites agree that they underestimate the amount of discrimination that there is against blacks and 59 percent of blacks agree that they overestimate the amount of racism against them. How can we measure truth when everyone’s twisting it?

A better question might be how much racial prejudice are people aware of and willing to acknowledge.

An ABC News poll released in January asked, “If you honestly assessed yourself, would you say that you have at least some feelings of racial prejudice?” Thirty-eight percent of blacks answered yes, as did 34 percent of whites.

Then the question becomes whether this racial prejudice plays a part in the opposition to the president. Again, it’s impossible to know, but a 2003 study by Rice University researchers and published in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies offers an interesting insight into its potential to be present: “One of the greatest challenges facing black leaders is aversive racism, a subtle but insidious form of prejudice that emerges when people can justify their negative feelings toward blacks based on factors other than race.” Sound familiar?

I put in bold a very important insight.  On the Iowa City Press Citizen online comments section, people constantly talk about taking care of the problem with public housing on the South side.  It just so happens that many black people happen to live in that neighborhood.  It’s useless for people to deny racism because most biases work unconsciously.  Going by the statistics, I feel particularly mistrustful of anyone who outright denies racism.

The Deng case has to be understood in the lager context.  America, obviously, has a long history of racism which lingers on.  However, the larger national context relates to the local context.  Iowa City isn’t just mostly white but also mostly upper middle class (I’ve heard it’s the highest concentration of educated people in the US).  At about the same time Deng incident, another supposed homeless guy (who was white) died by falling from a construction site.  What became clear was that some people considered the homeless to be less worthy than other citizens.  Some people even expressed happiness that there was less scum in the world.  It was questionable whether the other guy was even homeless as he was a local guy with family in town who may even have been working at the construction site, but the paper labelled him homeless and so he officially was.  To be poor, homeless or simply a minority is to stick out in this town.  You’re inevitably going to get more attention including attention from the police.

The racism/classism issue became even more clear with the news reporting (and online comments) about violence in one part of town.  Relative to many places, the violence was extremely minor and it was only a few troublemakers who were causing most of it.  But, to many Iowa Citians, this was a crime wave that was destroying our entire world, our safe little haven.  The blame was rather distorted because people don’t bother to look at facts, but fear without facts just makes some people feel even more certain (and makes them louder) about their opinions.

The problem that was focused on was public housing.  Despite the fact that public housing is based on laws set at the state and national level, people wanted to blame the evil liberals on the city council.  I find that rather funny.  Last year, 2 white professors were charged with sexual misconduct (both which led to their suicides) and at that time the evil liberals at the university were blamed.  It’s always the liberals fault in this town.  Furthermore, last year a white banker was caught stealing money which led him to kill himself along with his family and a white mother killed her children.  Did any of the fear-mongerers now complaining about the poor and homeless ever complain last year about the crime wave of upstanding white citizens?  No, they didn’t.  Did the people now arguing for a curfew for teenagers argue for a curfew for middle-aged people?  No, they didn’t.

This is a topic that could be written about endlessly and deserves much deep consideration and analysis, but I’ll end it for now.  For more of my thoughts, the following are some blog posts of mine inspired by these recent local news events:

Officer Shoots Homeless Man: Comments

Homelessness and Civilization

Cultural Shift: Generations, Race, Technology

If you wish to study the issue of racism for yourself, Wikipedia always a good place to start (as always check out the links at the bottom of the Wikipedia pages):

Racial profiling

Race and crime in the United States

Race and inequality in the United States

And here are some interesting articles about unconscious prejudices:

Scanning Brains for Insights on Racial Perception by David Berreby

Harvard’s baby brain research lab by Roger Highfield

The Implicit Prejudice by Sally Lehrman

Researchers Try to Cure Racism by Brandon Keim

Noam Chomsky: Comments, Videos

Noam Chomsky is my most favorite political analyst.

He is not only extremely intelligent and learned, but deeply insightful and he has a delightful way of bluntly stating the obvious.  He is typically very serious and even-handed.  There are few thinkers who I feel I can trust to the extent I do with Chomsky.  His agenda is just to tell the truth to the best of his ability.  He doesn’t rant.  He doesn’t try to manipulate the facts or emotions.  He doesn’t simplify complex subjects to talking points.  He’ll calmly listen and respond.  He doesn’t tell people they’re liars, but he’ll clearly and strongly point out a lie.  He simply calls a spade a spade and he does so in a calm reasonable voice.  He is the extreme opposite of a loud pundit.  He doesn’t even try to be entertaining.  His only purpose is to speak the truth.

And his presence is so fatherly, something like a wise elder.  He doesn’t tell people what they should do, but there is such an absolute moral sense about him.  You know what he believes and there is no doubt that his beliefs are grounded in profound principles that he has thought out very carefully.  Despite his often unexpressive demeanor, you can tell how much he cares.  He wants to effect people, but he never talks down to people.  He is a tireless researcher and speaker.  He has dedicated his whole life to explaining to others his understanding of the world.  There is a steady persistance about him.  He has been doing this for decades and he hasn’t slowed down.

He is an extremely respectable intellectual.  There was a time for about a decade or two where he was the most cited intellectual in the world or something like that.  He is a major critic of the US government, and yet in the patriotic aftermath of 9/11 his book about it was on the bestseller list.  However, if all you pay attention to is mainstream news media, you might not even know Chomsky exists.

Still, I don’t agree with him on everything.

For example, he once said that it didn’t matter who killed Kennedy.  I think that is a dismissive statement and he normally isn’t dismissive.  Also, it’s either a very naive or careless statement.  It does matter.  But I think I might understand his reaction.  He doesn’t like conspiracy theories.  He is a man of facts.  Even when speaking about a topic that is far outside of the mainstream, he has his ducks in a row and he’ll meticulously explain it in detail.  He might not like conspiracy theorists, but he has one thing in common with them.  He is just as mistrustful of big government and he knows they’re up to no good.  Maybe it’s because some people tend to lump conspiracy theories with alternative theories in general, and so Chomsky wants to distance himself from the morass of speculations.  His saying it doesn’t matter could be interpreted two ways.  First, he mentions that people die all of the time which is true.  Assassinations are constantly happening and some of them with the help of the CIA, but Americans generally don’t care.  Secondly, there are some questions that can’t be answered and speculation distracts people from more tangible issues.

Another example is his attitude about pornography.  He compared it to child molestation and third-world wage slavery.  I think those aren’t helpful comparisons, but I generally understood his point.  Just because someone agrees to something doesn’t make it right.  Even children may agree to be molested if you give them candy.  Even poor people will agree to dangerous and demeaning working conditions simply for the opportunity to get off the street or to feed their family.  People agree to all kinds of things, but there are problems to considering overt agreement (or lack of overt disagreement) as moral justification.  Agreement is often coerced, but agreement is only meaningful if it’s free.  Also, sometimes people need to be protected including adults.  And to a degree this all applies to pornography.  Chomsky sees it as degrading.  This view is a bit simplistic, but it’s somewhat reasonable.  I’m sure many people in the porn business are taken advantage of and manipulated, but that is true in any business.  I don’t know why pornography is worse than any other job where one sells one’s body.  I think selling one’s mind is even worse.

Anyways, those are minor criticisms.  Here are some wonderful videos of Chomsky (the last two are a bit humorous).

Re: Is Conservatism Brain-Dead?

Is Conservatism Brain-Dead? by Steven F. Hayward (The Washington Post)

Over his decades as a columnist, lecturer, TV host and debater, William F. Buckley Jr. lost his cool in public only once — when he threatened to sock Gore Vidal “in your goddamn face” on the third night of their joint appearances on ABC during the ill-fated 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Three nights on a television set with Vidal might drive anyone mad, yet Buckley also tangled with the roughest players on the left, from Jesse Jackson to William Kunstler, with unfailing composure.

But suppose that instead of his formal addresses and his weekly “Firing Line” show on PBS, Buckley had hosted a talk radio show 15 hours a week for 20 years, or hosted a nightly hour-long cable news show, sliced into six-minute segments. One can imagine him archly sniffing: “You can’t possibly immanentize the eschaton in six minutes!” But one can also imagine him overexposed, spread thin chasing the issue of the moment and perhaps losing his temper now and then — in short, less the man of style and ideas who inspired two generations of conservative thinkers and more just a populist shock jock with a funny prep-school accent.

That is quite insightful.  The medium is the message.  It reminds me of Noam Chomsky’s criticisms of mainstream media… which reminds me that Chomsky was interviewed by Buckley once.

That is an extremely intelligent discussion.  It makes me sad that we don’t see this kind of thing these days.

During the glory days of the conservative movement, from its ascent in the 1960s and ’70s to its success in Ronald Reagan’s era, there was a balance between the intellectuals, such as Buckley and Milton Friedman, and the activists, such as Phyllis Schlafly and Paul Weyrich, the leader of the New Right. The conservative political movement, for all its infighting, has always drawn deeply from the conservative intellectual movement, and this mix of populism and elitism troubled neither side.

Today, however, the conservative movement has been thrown off balance, with the populists dominating and the intellectuals retreating and struggling to come up with new ideas. The leading conservative figures of our time are now drawn from mass media, from talk radio and cable news. We’ve traded in Buckley for Beck, Kristol for Coulter, and conservatism has been reduced to sound bites.

A conservative movement that had intellectual respectability?  I’m all in favor of that.

Of course, it’s hard to say whether conservative intellectuals are simply out of interesting ideas or if the reading public simply finds their ideas boring. Both possibilities (and they are not mutually exclusive) should prompt some self-criticism on the right.

Now, there is the million dollar question.  There have been some great conservative thinkers, but where are they now?  Assuming they presently exist somewhere in the background, why is the conservative mainstream (and mainstream media in general) ignoring them?

Conservatism has prospered most when its attacks on liberalism have combined serious alternative ideas with populist enthusiasm. When the ideas are absent, the movement has nothing to offer — except opposition. That doesn’t work for long in American politics.

The late Irving Kristol, who appeared on TV about as often as a solar eclipse, spoke to this point when he remarked that even though Sen. Joe McCarthy may have been a “vulgar demagogue,” at least the public understood that he was anti-Communist. “They know no such thing,” Kristol said, about liberals.

I disagree with such black and white thinking, but it’s a reasonable argument to make.

Yet it was not enough just to expose liberalism’s weakness; it was also necessary to offer robust alternatives for both foreign and domestic policy, ideas that came to fruition in the Reagan years. Today, it is not clear that conservative thinkers have compelling alternatives to Obama’s economic or foreign policy. At best, the right is badly divided over how to fix the economy and handle Iran and Afghanistan. So for the time being, the populists alone have the spotlight.

Exactly!  Obstructionism isn’t a wise course of action either for the Republican party or for the country.

It’s tempting to blame all this on the new media landscape. The populist conservative blockbusters of today have one thing in common: Most are written by media figures, either radio or TV hosts, or people who, like Coulter and Malkin, get lots of TV exposure. The built-in marketing advantage is obvious. The left thinks talk radio and Fox News are insidious forces, which shows that they are effective. (Just ask Van Jones and ACORN.) But some on the right think talk radio, especially, has dumbed down the movement, that there is plenty of sloganeering but not much thought, that the blend of entertainment and politics is too outre. John Derbyshire, author of a forthcoming book about conservatism’s future, “We are Doomed,” calls our present condition “Happy Meal Conservatism, cheap, childish and familiar.”

The media is definitely partly to blame.  There is a power struggle in the media for decades and this has been magnified by the quick shift in technology and demographics.  There is a fight going on and some of the players are ruthless.

The blend of entertainment and politics is not unique to the right (exhibit No. 1 on the left: “The Daily Show”). And it is perfectly possible to conduct talk radio at a high level of seriousness, and several talkers do well at matching the quality of their shows to their intellectual pedigree. Consider Hugh Hewitt (Michigan Law School), Michael Medved (Yale Law School), William Bennett (Harvard Law and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas) — all three of these brainiacs have popular shows on the Salem Radio Network.

Presenting political commentary in an entertaining form isn’t a problem.  However, the public (and the media itself) has become confused about what real news is.  Partly, the media corporations just want to make money and they’ve been pulling money out of the serious journalism because they don’t think the public wants it.  Are they correct?  If the public wanted it, wouldn’t the advertisers be there to support it?  I don’t know.  Personally, I’d like to see more intelligence and insight in the media (be it presented as entertainment or not).

Beck and other conservatives can start by engaging the central argument of the most serious indictment of conservatism on the scene, Sam Tanenhaus’s new book, “The Death of Conservatism.” Tanenhaus’s argument is mischievously defective; he thinks the problem with conservatism today is that it is not properly deferential to liberalism’s relentless engine of change. In other words, it is an elegant restatement of G.K. Chesterton’s quip that is it is the business of progressives to go on making mistakes, while it is the business of conservatives to prevent the mistakes from being corrected. That won’t do. A conservative movement that accepted Tanenhaus’s prescription would be consigning itself to be the actuary of liberalism.

That might be so.  However, I think idealistically both parties should be responsive to eachother and work together towards the public good.

But Tanenhaus is right to direct our attention to the imbalance between the right’s thinkers and doers. The single largest defect of modern conservatism, in my mind, is its insufficient ability to challenge liberalism at the intellectual level, in particular over the meaning and nature of progress. In response to the left’s belief in political solutions for everything, the right must do better than merely invoking “markets” and “liberty.”

I wish public debate happened on the intellectual level.  The major criticism from the left is that the right has abandoned the moral highground when it comes to intellectuality.  The conservatives have labelled  the liberals the intellectual elite and embraced anti-intellectualism.  A truly sad state of affairs. 

Beck, for one, is revealing that despite the demands of filling hours of airtime every day, it is possible to engage in some real thought. He just might be helping restore the equilibrium between the elite and populist sides of conservatism.

Beck offering equilibrium?  He is the most populist of the pundits.  Beck is fine for what he does as a self-portrayed populist, but I wouldn’t look to him to save conservatism.  I’m not dismissing Beck.  He seems moderately intelligent and some of his views even seem reasonable.  I accept that he may have some worthy insights and I understand why others are attracted to him, but he is no where near comparable to Buckley in terms of intellectual respectability.  If the hope of conservatism is dependent on people like Beck, then conservatism is in real trouble.