Wednesday, August 09, 2017

A shot of truth from the mouth of a dead man

You should know that I'm going to start this post with a quote from an atheist:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or 
grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a 
service and information economy; when nearly all the 
key manufacturing industries have slipped away to 
other countries; when awesome technological powers 
are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing 
the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the 
people have lost the ability to set their own agendas 
or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, 
clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our 
horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable 
to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, 
we slide, almost without noticing, 
back into superstition and darkness.
Hits pretty hard these days. Here's some more frightening text, from an article posted just last week:

This Is How Your Fear and Outrage Are Being Sold for Profit

Our cable news driven "Sound Bite" mentality is starting to wear thin -- right through what might have at one time been the logic circuits of our brains.

Chances are you are not aware of your own tilt towards some kind of internal bias. Maybe you think all people of a particular party are wholesome while the rest are enemies of the state. Or of your own belief in Christianity for example. Maybe you stupidly think that everyone who professes a leaning toward say being a democrat is somehow totally in favor of all regulation, no matter how bloated or stupid that regulation is. Spoiler alert -- I lean left, I'm for more regulation of our financial / wall street institutions. Yet still, I'm not about to believe something stupid like "all regulations are great!". I'll leave that judgement for the idiots that have to simplify everything without getting a close look at the real problems.

I have a bias -- you have a bias. Sadly, our biases are not necessarily equal. Let's take science for example. I was describing the general theory of relativity to a Christian acquaintance one day and he interrupted me -- "I don't believe that." His bias toward accepting the general theory of relativity came from an inherent belief that things must be as described to him in the Bible or -- who the heck knows? I sure didn't have the ability to reach into his cranium and force his puny mental faculties into order. I tried though.

Me: Did you use GPS today to navigate anywhere?

Relativity Disbeliever Yeah, why?

Me: Good thing your GPS "believes in the theory of relativity", because it's kinda core science behind how it works...

The point is this -- a bias against scientific discoveries or science in general is forming in our country. People in power are able to set real policy regardless of what is being measured, and Sagan was right on with his prediction. Our biases are being used to build real political action, and it's not good. It's not good for our world today and it sure as heck isn't good for the world our grandchildren are growing up in.

I urge you to find more diverse news sources if you don't understand just how bad it is to "not believe" in things like Climate science -- hell, how about birth control for crying out loud? What just went down in Texas is a harbinger here -- they cut funding for teen pregnancy programs and -- guess what? Yeah, teen pregnancy is higher in Texas. The only good news out of this is that overall the nationwide trend is toward lower teenage pregnancy -- hardly comforting in the context of the desire for some to cut the funding though. So maybe you think people that make immoral decisions like having sex out of wedlock need to be punished? You think you're morally superior by forcing a new kid into the world with a teenage mom? Does that make sense to anyone?

Oh, that's right, we were talking about how the inability to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, weren't we?

Carry on.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Peril Sensitive Sunglasses...

Long ago, there was this guy -- Douglas Adams was his name.

Don't Panic!

I learned about Douglas from my brother Dan. He talked about this crazy story called "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (HG2G) I remember him telling me about it -- a story where the world ends and this one remaining human, Arthur Dent, has to hitchhike his way from there on out. He's one of only two remaining humans in the universe. Read the book (don't watch any of the movies, BTW -- just my opinion).

I remember it distinctly, because at the time I thought: "What a depressing story". Amazingly though, I would eventually read the HG2G. Adams would become one of my favorite authors and his work would have a profound impact upon me. If you haven't read it by now, I sincerely must prod you. You see, it was written before the Internet -- and it supplies cultural beacons and jargon that we take for granted today -- stuff that underlies much of what you perceive as the Internet.

Stuff like universal translation, wireless transmission of data and complete mayhem related to an ever-changing world are so broadly outlined (And more importantly, lampooned) in HG2G.

And then there's the Glasses

One of the characters in the book has a really neat pair of glasses -- they're sensitive to peril. You read that right -- they can tell when danger is near. The character (and here the reference is both descriptive and formal), Zaphod Beeblebrox, wears the glasses because he doesn't want to freak out when peril is near.

So, what do they do? When danger is nearby, the glasses black out the lenses. That way the wearer can't be alarmed by the imminent peril approaching. This works wonders for Zaphod. You'll have to read the book for more on the subject. I can vouch that the story and dialog are legendary.

And then there's this thing today...

I find that there's a moral equivalent to these glasses today. That there's a whole section of the population that's been willingly blinded by obvious peril. That they're wearing these glasses, ignoring the obvious markers for eminent collision with reality.

I just finished watching "The Big Short", for reference. If you get a moment, it's on Netflix, and very much worth the time. The main takeaway from the movie is that there were a very small number of people that could see the eminent collapse of the housing bubble (and all of the derivative instruments attached). No one around them wanted to see what they saw. Very few listened to them. They talked a lot in the movie about how it's very hard to believe in a falacy when you don't want think that the obvious (and depressing) outcome is possible.

The population around them were wearing their glasses. They were willingly closing their eyes and effectively wishing the big money monster away -- all the while, some people with calculators and a willingness to stare ugly reality in the face were bracing themselves for the obvious collision. In the movie, they end up making some cash by the way -- although they portray them as reluctant heroes.

What you have today is similar. You have a group of people that won't face the obvious. They want to believe that somehow the ugly monster in the room is just going to get tamed at the last minute. That the moral deficiencies are somehow worth it in the context of the greater good (to be clear here -- for one brand of belief versus another brand). That the day of reckoning will not come.

These people haven't taken the time to do some simple research into the past track record. They have willingly put their glasses on, ignoring the obvious peril -- hopeful for some magic to make it all get leveled out before the plane crashes into the mountain.

The problem with Peril Sensitive Glasses: They Don't Work

Like the vast majority of the people in "The Big Short", people are going to find out that willful blindness can lead to an embarrassing and surprising failure. As comic as the analogy is, it breaks down rather badly when applied to real-world situations.

Zaphod's Peril-sensitive glasses are about to fail. The light of truth is slowly uncovering more and more things these days. The false narrative that many hoped to project is being exposed. For some, it was a beautiful lie. So much power and promise from something -- just a few minor issues could be overlooked if everyone would just hang onto those glasses! Mind you though -- the glasses are about to fail, still.

I find it ironic, still. I wouldn't know about those darn glasses were it not for some curiosity and some prodding by my brother. I gave up on the notion that the plot lines of the story would be depressing (as crazy as it sounds, HG2G is extremely funny, albeit in a rather dark and chaotic way). I was willing to look past my expectations and I'm richer for it.

I stomped my own pair of Zaphod's glasses, in other words, and never really looked back.

There's more irony here, but I've talked enough. The world is set to make it's own chaotic and darkly humorous story, and that's enough, don't you think?