Saturday, April 26, 2008

First Principles: Necessary Evil

As a matter of principle, I believe that telling someone what they must do, or what they may not do, is an evil act. I believe that forcing the course of someones life to a path someone else has chosen for them is evil.

I am, however, a believer in the concept of necessary evil.

Some acts, which would be entirely unacceptable in a perfect world, must be taken in the real world, to prevent a greater evil.

I think that this is an essentially unarguable point, except from the mental gymnastics crowd, who will talk themselves into believing anything (these people really creep me out). Of course, this leaves the door wide open to do anything, and claim it is 'necessary' by one justification or another. To provide extreme examples, the Nazi's talked themselves into believing that wholesale murder was right, the Soviets just talked themselves into believing it was needed; the difference is pretty academic to the people in the mass graves. And whilst the extremes are overused so much that it is hard not to just dismiss arguments based on them out of hand, it is worthwhile to look at what the extreme results of a philosophy are, to determine both whether it is a usable philosophy, and perhaps what steps are needed to keep it from moving to the extreme.

In the course of thinking about this, I have come up with a basic test to determine where an otherwise wrong act is acceptable.

1. Is there a real, provable need for action? Not something that can only be shown by complex verbal judo or double speak or emotional maneuvering, but something directly and plainly provable.

2. Will the act correct the need? No bait-and-switch fancy footwork.

3. What will be the other consequences of the act? There are always other consequences, it must be known that they are less damaging than what we are trying to fix. Certainly, the secondary consequences should be as minimal as possible.

4. Is this the least wrong solution available? This is not a simple decision, and absolute certainty is generally is usually not available, but it can often be seen that some responses are drastically worse than others.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

First Principles: Responsibility

Not all that long ago (in a cosmic sense), in my rambling philosophical musings, I came across a notion that changed a great deal about how I view... well, everything. I cannot imagine that this hasn't been stated before by someone smarter and more eloquent than me, but I have never heard it put directly into these terms before.

Power is responsibility. Responsibility is power. They are not related concepts, they are two ways of looking that the exact same thing. They cannot in any sense be separated. If you have power over something, you are responsible for it. If you do not, you cannot be responsible for it. You can be blamed for it, but that is not in any way the same thing.

This likely seems to most to be self-evident, but few people I have raised the subject with have really considered the ramifications.

If you take responsibility for your life, you will inevitably develop control over it. And control is just another word for power. If you look at your actions and their consequence, and know them as your own, you will learn from them and improve.

If you deny responsibility for your life, you cannot control it. How can you learn from the consequences of your actions when you deny that they are related to your actions?

If you hold someone else responsible for your life, you are inevitably giving then control over your life. How can they be responsible for it if they do not control it?

Viewing the world through the lens of this philosophy has lead me to revise many thoughts and beliefs I once held, and added much clarity to others.

A final thought : Expecting someone to fix your life is making them responsible for it. Making them responsible for it requires that they control it. Consider this carefully before you expect the government to fix your life.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Me and Racism

I am what I would describe as 'racially ignorant'. Unless you tell me what racial group you are in, I am unlikely to be able to tell on my own unless it is real obvious. To the extent that I think about it at all, this seems appropriate to me. Certainly, I have no interest is changing this state of affairs.

Long about ten years ago I met a girl 'T' in a sort of friend of a friend kinda way. We started hanging out regularly (2 or 3 nights a week) going to bars and whatnot. A few months into this, we ran into some people who had gone to high school with her, and some odd references to race were made that left me completely baffled. I actually thought I had misheard. Later I asked her, and it turns out she is what most people would call black.

She has one white parent (really white, as in can't get a tan) and one black parent (darker than most American blacks). For some reason that I still do not understand, this makes 'black' in most peoples eyes. Inasmuch as I care about such things, I always thought she was Italian or something. Really, it never occurred to me to actually think about it. After I found out, the only real thought I had about it was a general amusement that I couldn't tell.

I do not ever recall ever being told anything about race by my parents. By a kind of osmosis I absorbed the attitude that skin color was only as important as hair or eye color - you might find one or another more personally attractive, but the notion that it could be relevant to anything important was just ridiculous. My mental image of a racist was pretty much some three tooth inbred with an incomprehensible southern accent and only a passing acquaintance with bathing.

When I went to high school, there were a few kids who were 'black' (that I could tell), and a couple of 'Asian' kids(again, that I could recognize), and a couple of mixed race girls (twins and hot). Don't ask me how many kids were 'Hispanic', I can never tell. Note that I went to a fairly small rural school, so these numbers probably represent the racial makeup of the area fairly well. Racism was simply not done at my school. The only racial comments I can recall ever hearing were Sean's comments on how amusing it was to watch white people sunbathe. There was a general attitude, never really expressed but well understood, that anyone who made a racial insult would be promptly beaten badly by pretty much everyone who heard it.

When I was about twelve or so, I was down in LA with the family visiting friends and relatives. One of my Moms friends had a son a year older than me, so whilst the Mom's were talking, we headed out into the neighborhood to entertain ourselves. Down about half a block away, he pointed out a house to me and informed me that a Mexican family had moved in, and that he was occasionally shooting out windows in their home and car with his slingshot to try and get them to leave. The reason he gave for this was that Mexican families moving into the neighborhood
meant Mexican kids, and that meant the formation of white gangs and Hispanic gangs. Since dealing with that would be a pain, he wanted them to leave. (Note that I am translating this from the perspective of an adult, his explanation was not so clearly put). The thing that struck me at the time was the lack of any malice in it. He did not seem to dislike them at all, it was the practical results of mixing that he wanted to avoid. I was, to say the least, confused as to how to view this. Was it racism? If not, what do you call it? But it lacked the mindlessness and hate that I associated with racism. From an adult's point of view, I can look at the likely results and say that it was a really counterproductive solution.

After I graduated, I moved out and got a job at a retail store. My first supervisor was Robert, who was obviously enough black that even I could tell. Robert was what I would call 'good people'. A little bit after I started, Robert moved into the maintenance department, because oddly enough the janitors were generally the highest paid hourly employees at this company. The current supervisor of the maintenance crew was a guy called Shorty. He was a fifty-something ex-con who had spent more than half his life in prison, and he was openly and unashamedly racist. The whole store held their breath waiting for the explosion, because while Robert was a good guy, he wasn't the type to take grief from anyone. But there was never any problem. Shorty actually liked Robert. He justified this by saying that he did not think of Robert as being black, because Robert was a good guy. Shorty's attitudes towards blacks were based on prison life, the most racist environment you will ever hear of. What Shorty disliked was not the color, but the behavior he associated with it. Note that it never seemed to cross Shorty's mind that the white people he knew in prison had more in common with his view of blacks than the general back population did. Again, I had to ask myself, is this really racism? The fact that when he actually met a member of the race in question, he judged him as an individual rather than by race argues against it. But it sure sounded like racism.

At the same job we had a woman who worked in one of the clothing departments. She was, to put it simply, a BITCH. She did not do the work she was assigned, sneered at her boss, and was generally just a really unpleasant person to be around. Nobody liked her, and in many small ways, they showed it. So she sued for racial discrimination. From what I heard, she ended up getting a $20K settlement.

This type of stuff made up my experience with racism up until a few years ago. Most of the examples of racism I had seen were sorta marginal("kinda-racism") and I had seen a few cases of minorities playing the racism game to get what they wanted. I had developed a small notion that minorities see racism more than it exists. When someone is rude to them, they see it as racism, where if the same person is rude to me, I just think they are a jerk.

And then.....

I have a friend of a friend who went camping with us. We are all sitting around the campfire and he mentions at some point that he hates blacks. Not that he said it that nicely. My initial thought was that he was like Shorty; racist in theory but not in action. I would generally file my response to this as "You have a right to your opinions, even the stupid ones". Then he proceeds to tell us what he considers an amusing story about harassing a black guy he just happened to walk past in Walmart. What the hell?
I liked this guy, and it is not in my nature to like most people. He's kind of a laid back, funny guy. He works for a living and seems to treat his family well. And then he says this.
Now, I mostly don't care what opinions people have. People say all kinds of things they don't really mean, or haven't thought through. What people do on the other hand, I pay a lot of attention to. And this is just beyond any excuse. Needless to say, I do not hang out with this guy anymore. I don't want to know him.

Just knowing there are people like this out there forces me to take racism a lot more seriously than I did before. I still believe that some people overplay the issue for personal gain, but quite frankly I do not see that as even being in the same ballpark as someone who threatens and harasses people because of what color they were born.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The War on Guns: What Orwell Meant by "Pro Choice"

OK, I think the anti-abortion protesters get pretty obnoxious, and I disagree with them in general, but this is downright wrong.

The War on Guns: What Orwell Meant by "Pro Choice"

Media Bias

Talk about media bias against guns, and many people look at you like you are some 'conspiracy nut'.
Oh Really?

Asset Seizure

An issue that I ran across while surfing tonight is asset seizure. I've seen a bit about it before, a reform law made the ballot here a few years back to try and reign it in.
The basic idea behind asset seizure is that money gained from a crime, or thing bought by that money, or things used in the commission of a crime are seized by the police or feds. This was made legal in the early 80's as part of the 'war on drugs'. Most folks, upon hearing about it, would agree that this is a good idea. Why should a drug dealer get to keep the money they make illegally, right?

Not often mentioned is the fact that you do not have to be convicted or even charged with a crime. You do not have to be caught in the commission of a crime. You do not have to have a criminal record. As far as I can tell, all that is required is that a law enforcement officer feels that he/she has probable cause to believe that you will commit a crime. For example, there are several cases where traveling with a 'substantial' amount of money was enough in and of itself. According to what I've been able to find, around 80% of people who have their assets seized are never charged with a crime. If your money or property is seized, you have to take the government to court. They do NOT have to prove that the property is in any sense illegal, YOU have to 'prove' it's not. The system is set up to make this as hard as possible; you have to post a bond for 10% of the value of what was seized (think what that comes to if it's your home) and hire a lawyer ($5000 - $10000). You have ten days. While trying to figure out how to survive without your home, car, savings, etc. As far as I can find, getting your stuff back is vanishingly rare.

"What about my constitutional rights" you ask. "Isn't there an amendment in the bill of rights specifically banning this?"

Yes, yes there is. Much good it will do you. The law gets around this by claiming that you are not being charged, your PROPERTY is what is guilty. I am not joking or even exaggerating. This is the exact justification.

I am not adding a bunch of links because I don't want to look like I am cherry-picking. If you want examples, just do a search for "asset seizure" and you will find more than you wanted to know.

On link I am adding is to the Cornell Law web site, which has a thorough but readable overview of the laws.

Friday, January 18, 2008

What the heck.

Recently I have been getting more into reading peoples blogs, which never really interested me much before. My job involves sitting at a computer all day (actually, three computers) and work has been slow. So I browsed. And then I was hooked. On humor, politics, and even just the accounts of peoples lives.

I started reading humorous blogs, and then wandered a bit into the political. At first, I naturally gravitated to blogs from people who have similar views to my own, because let's face it there is something rewarding about someone saying what you think in a new or clever way. But while it is easy and fun to read stuff you agree with, you don't really learn much that way, so I started looking for people I don't really agree with (that aren't full-on loons) to try and understand why they look at the same world I do yet come to such different conclusions about what is right and wrong about it, and what to do about it.

Along the way, I have found that my beliefs are changing, become more fully realized and more broadly based. I also discovered that my political views actually dropped rather neatly into a well defined category, which was actually a shock.

The point of this blog is mostly to articulate what I am finding out, so that I can see what holds up when I see it from the outside, and what needs to be rethought.

Who knows, someone may even read it. If you do read it, comments are welcome so long as they are constructive. Rants, insults, and thoughtless tirades will be deleted without apology - regardless of whether or not I agree with your position. If you want to say that are all *&!$%#*, feel free to do so - on some other blog.

Also, please do not use foul language in your comments. I will try to do the same, which will be torture (I am a trashmouth) but some people whose opinions I respect do not appreciate it, and I do not want them feeling uncomfortable; at least not with something as pointless as cussin'.