The Mind of the Universe

I try to articulate this idea but I keep getting bogged down in details or getting lost down tangents. So let’s just dive in and see if we get to the other side.

It’s about Humanity… Hmm, I should say sentient life to be accurate. Humans just happen to be the species I’m aware of. But, I’m kinda starting at the end here so we should back up. We need to talk basics, which means physics.

Gravity makes the solar systems an inevitable fact. Mass attracts mass, it creates stars which burn and heat the planets that formed from the accretion disc surrounding the stars. It’s neither chance nor up to the discretion of some higher being; the planets and stars will form. Physics makes it so.

And likewise with biology. We may not have evidence of life on other planets but there doesn’t appear to be anything special about earth. It’s extremely likely that life will happen when it’s able to. Replicating chemical structures become persistent by adapting to changing environments. They are resilient because they adapt to their environment, while also maniputlating that environment. On a micro scale, it’s very, very hard to wipe out life on earth. 

Sentience/consciousness is a byproduct of the mind. It’s maybe not a necessity but it’s very useful to the creature in question. That’s a variable, but what is a logical progression of physics is Memetics. The same way self replicating chemical structures persist in surviving, so do mental replicators. Where larger animals exist, minds exist, and where minds exist, the ability to learn will be hugely important. The first species to create internal memetic structures in their mind will dominate their planet (whether it’s good for the animal in question is debatable). Communicating thoughts to other minds, whether through sound or writing or even some form of telepathy, will create a new branch of evolution. The Meme.

Our growth in technology, in power, is Memetic. Therefor, it is an inevitable conclusion of the universe. Another step in the progress of the universe. It is not the “purpose” of the universe though. One must not fall into the trap of egoism, we are not the endpoint. Merely the furthest step we’re aware of. The universe will always be far bigger than our meager rock.

It is also not to say we will continue to our currently imagined future. We may not have found evidence of life because it never breaches the light barrier. Given that limitation, it’s incredibly unlikely to create any civilization larger than a solar system. Communication is nearly impossible from one habitable planet to the next. So most life lives and dies on its homeworld.

Some would say it’s sad to accept that. But really, it’s the same as accepting your own mortality. The earth is mortal just the same.

In Defense of Taxes

We agree there are “social goods” which require a collective effort to complete (like roads, hospitals, infrastructure, etc). If not, we must have a different conversation before this one, probably about the issues surrounding anarchism/libertarianism. It doesn’t matter what in particular needs this effort, simply that there is something is enough. We must then form a body to collect resources, in a fair way, from everyone. That’s taxes.

We vote in a flawed, yet democratic way, to decide how that money is spent. Even in the most idyllic of democracies, people will have a portion of their money spent on things they disagree with. Accepting compromise is a necessity of any democracy. That doesn’t mean we’re completely stuck with this situation, there’s a partial solution.

The government allows you to choose which social good your money goes to but then charges you a premium. You agree to put more money into society in exchange for having some control over its usage. This is charitable donations. The idea is that all charities perform a similar social good as the government. Many focus on alleviating the effects of poverty on specific groups, tending to the sick/injured, dealing with disasters, or foreign aid. These are all things the government would have to do if a charity didn’t. A tax deduction on donations allow you to claim a percentage of your donation. You have diverted some of the money that would have gone to the collective pool into your chosen social program. So long as it’s always just a deduction based on a fraction of your donation, you’ll be paying more money into the ‘social good’ then you would have with straight taxes. Additionally, the government can encourage certain charities by modifying what that percentage is based on the type of charity.

This is also why voting is important, regardless of your political affiliation. Your money is being spent by people and you really should try to influence how it’s used. Whether you believe in starkly honest voting or strategic voting, you definitely can’t sway the usage of those funds by not voting.

I’m well aware donations can be gamed by the rich/corporations to reduce their taxes. False charities and loopholes allow abuse. This isn’t a flaw with the idea itself, merely a facet of any human created system. There are always cracks in the machine.

Angles

GEB

The cover of Godel, Escher, Bach is a shape which shows three different letters from three different axis. It’s a visual metaphor for a cardinal point of the book: truth can be viewed from different angles without each one contradicting the others. The shapes exists in a solid form but viewing it necessarily flattens it (whether shadows, or printing it to a cover or viewing it from your 2D optical nerve). We know the flattening happens so we shouldn’t ignore the differing perspectives but combine them into a greater image.

Reality itself is the same but to the nth degree. There are countless dimensions to see the shape of the universe, not just 3.

I came across an instance of this recently when reading a book on human society. It defined religions as a system of human norms & values combined with a belief in superhuman order. Non-theistic/Pan-theistic Buddhism is then a religion, as are modern political ideologies. Contrast that with the definition you’ll get in a basic philosophy of religion class; that it’s belief/worship in a superhuman power. It would reject (some of) Buddhism because it lacks gods or other supernatural powers. Both definitions have merit depending on what you want to discuss. This new (to me) view is very helpful when talking about the social usage of religion. It provides a useful contrast when analyzing the evolution of dominant memetic structures. The power, control, and divisiveness of modern politics is sensible when compared to early Christianity. The political left has been as schismatic as early catholicism. 

Nazi Punching

There’s this meme I’ve seen going around about punching nazi’s. Some use Captain America comics from world war two, others explain it from the antifa punk side, and the rest are more general arguments in favour of using violence against fascists.

I’m a pacifist. Well mostly, I don’t have the absolute conviction of some pacifists. I feel that violence can become necessary, but it’s something we shouldn’t celebrate. Hurting and killing people over ideas is never good. At best it can be an unavoidable better option than being passive. So I’m not going to claim an absolute argument against “punching a nazi” but I definitely think people are making a mistake in arguing in favour of it. Here’s three reasons

You’re not good at Violence:

Violence is an easy option because it’s simple. It doesn’t require the nuance that dialogue does. The problem is that it doesn’t convince anyone of your point. The best you can do is silence your opposition. So if you advocate violence, realize that’s the end goal you’re seeking. And getting to the end is what I see as problematic. See, imagine this idea you have for a “Nazi”, try thinking of what their sensible response would be. It’s violence. Once you bring violence to the table, that is what will be passed back and forth. They will not respond with more talk, they will fight back. And what you now have to ask yourself is, are you prepared to win that fight? The vast majority of the ‘progressive’ movement are people who prefer talking to fighting. The punk/antifa groups are the exception but I’ve seen way more people not associated with them arguing for it. These people are good at talking. The fascists are the ones more likely to be good at violent intimidation. So if you bring violence, you’ve helped them. You’ve made it easier for them to win.

Captain America was fighting a war:

All these memes showing the Captain fighting Nazi’s; it’s war propaganda. We have a general agreement that it was a justified war. I’m not arguing against that. What I want to point out is that by sharing these, you’re advocating war. Few of us have directly experienced the tragedy that is a war. We experience it through books and movies and games. These are notoriously bad for glorifying war and glossing over the horrendous acts. Acts committed by both sides; the allies killed many, many civilians in their bombing raids. Some would argue they were all necessary to win the war. Some would argue against it. Either way, people in charge of the war were deciding to kill innocent people. That’s never good. When you forget that, that’s when you lose your soul.

Furthermore, what many are forgetting is that Nazi Germany was a country. You can effectively wage war on a country. The fascist groups we’re opposing are not foreign nations, they’re internal groups of people. If you use world war two as your shining example, realize you’re advocating for civil war. That’s an even uglier situation, more brutal and tragic than a standard war. The death toll and damage to your country would be catastrophic.

Talk to people who’ve survived these wars, ask them if it’s worth it. If you don’t, you may have more blood on your hands than you want; your opponents, your allies and all the bystanders caught between you.

Why are you listening to Hitler?

The worst meme I’ve seen is this quote, attributed to Hitler, about the rise of the Nazi party: “Only one thing could have stopped our movement – if our adversaries had understood its principle and from the first day smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement.”

On researching this, I found the original version of the quote too: “Only one danger could have jeopardised this development – if our adversaries had understood its principle, established a clear understanding of our ideas, and not offered any resistance. Or, alternatively, if they had from the first day annihilated with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement.”

The larger context was that he believed they could have been stopped with violence OR if they hadn’t been attacked in a mild fashion. They were hurt mildly and that allowed them to grow, to feel they were being persecuted. So with full context, no, Hitler wasn’t telling you to cheer on petty violence.

But really, I don’t want to engage in this.

I don’t give a fuck what Hitler thought. Why do you think it’s a good idea to listen to Hitler? At what point did you decide violent sociopaths were full of good advice?

Understanding ones enemies will help you defeat them. That is not the same as taking their opinions as fact. He was a violent sociopath. He believed he could have been stopped through violence. Of course he said that! To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Violent people believe in violence. Don’t become them. Don’t quote their stupidity.

Stop quoting Hitler.

A final note.

Bayard Rustin was a gay, african american on the forfront of the the civil rights movement. He was also pacifist during world war 2. He protested the internment of japanese citizens and he went to jail for refusing to fight the nazis. That man was incredibly brave. We need pacifists like him.

Once more unto the Breach

Enter the Trump Presidency.

I’ve stayed silent about him for some time now. During the election process, especially early on, I got the impression he was being confrontational and offensive to get attention. I try not to talk about blowhards like that because it helps them. The more people talk about him the more attention he gets. We’re past that point though. We have to talk. He’s gotten an absurd amount of power and it’s not okay.

But let us take a step back first.

I’ve avoided politics in my writings, but also in my life. Of course I have many political ideas and I like to debate with people on them. Real low level politics are life, you can’t avoid that. It’s just that I’ve been actively disengaged with the big picture. I avoided getting involved with organizations and with movements. This isn’t something I’m proud of, nor is it something I’m especially ashamed of. We should all strive to do good in the world and it’s up to the individuals to decide what form that takes. There’s more problems than any one person can possibly face, so we pick our battles. Personally, I found politics to be far more draining of my energy and good will than most things. If you can’t guess from my writings, I don’t fall into a mainstream viewpoint. I’m actively frustrated by political parties and organisations. In some cases it’s not entirely their fault, the system itself is set up in a combative fashion which forces any successful group to adhere to a toxic mentality. The Us-vs-Them thing. The antagonistic, divisive, polarizing tactics. It’s not something I can agree with. So I tried for non-mainstream parties. Political people on the fringes are even worse because they’re actively divisive towards anyone with beliefs that are not “exactly correct”. The in-fighting is mind numbing. So I gave up. I focused my energy on those people I could directly engage with. Actually being able to have a conversation with someone makes helping them exponentially more effective.

Yet despite all that I’m coming back around.

We’ve been building towards a big shift: war or some global catastrophe, whether famine, plague, or other. If we had a strong moral leader, this event could be spun into a good thing. We could have been steered to something greater. Maybe a societal shift in how we treat our environment or in our inequality issues.

But no. Now the odds are on a tragedy.

America is bereft of a positive leader. Learning the history of the Roman Empire, both the fall of the united east/west empire and the subsequent fall of the eastern half, has been startling educational. Their president is reminiscent of the entitled and violently stupid later emperors. The ones who managed to squander the treasury, destabilize the borders, and wreck the legal system, all while playing a populist rhetoric of helping the common people. It’s scary to see how bad this collapse could become.

This generation will bleed. We will suffer and struggle but we will survive. Many common people survived both world war 1 and 2. The bloodshed was monumental but they survived.

As will we.

Three generations and we forget. Average lifespan skews the absolute number of years, but it’s the generations that count. The children who grow up in the shadow of tragedy know to not repeat it. Their children are a step removed from it, they learn of it as an idea. They start to glorify the violence, to forget the pain. When they have become old, their is no one to remember. The children of the children become adults who have forgotten why we remember.  

I can’t say for certain this president will be important in and of himself (important can be good or bad, I’m talking impact). I have my doubts about how he will be written into history. What I can tell for sure is that he will be a catalyst. The “cause” will be our societies neglected problems.

The lessons we have forgotten and the ones we have yet to learn.

Building our City

I’ve been working construction for the past 6 years. Big building kinda stuff, not single dwelling homes. Often it’s been government funded projects or large towers. Sometimes the things I work one conflict with my personal ethics. Gentrification is a problem in my city and these towers may be making it worse. There’s also government funded things that I don’t like the purpose of. But nonetheless, I feel a sense of pride at having worked on them.

It’s definitely not tied to the actual end result because as I stated already, I’m not always a fan of why the the thing is being built. Obviously it’s preferable when my ethics line up with the project. I briefly worked on a radio-pharmacology expansion for a local hospital. That’s something I’m happy to have worked on. Of course it was my first job, so I can’t really claim too much credit for it.

But I digress.

I enjoy these projects because of the size and scale of them. It’s having a direct hand in building my city. I feel more intimately connected to my home. These structures that make up our city are monuments to our progress as a society.

In the ancient times it would have been temples to the gods. Now it’s towers for business, with the great corporations names emblazoned on the top. Both structures are monuments to the elites arrogant belief in their own ideology. As a crafter I am in tune with those same builders of old (well the ones who weren’t slaves). The craftsmen who were prized for their skills. It’s unlikely they all believed devoutly in the old religions, but they harbored at least some beliefs. Worship has been safer than the alternative throughout most of history. The same is still true. We builders of the modern age must channel our forebearers when we trust in economics.

~~~

Cities are monuments to capitalism. The size and cost of a buildings is the plumage of a bird of paradise. They waste millions of dollars on displays of wealth, when millions of innocents die.

A piece of work I’m particularly proud of is a large chandelier I installed downtown. From talking to my bosses they estimated it was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just the chandelier for a lobby. It’s main purpose wasn’t even to provide much light, it was principally decorative.

People are in terrible poverty very near that building. Walk a couple blocks from that job site and you’d see it. Yet a chandelier is installed that’s worth more than multiple people’s average  annual income. How to we justify this?

We don’t.
Not really.

It’s not a rational thing. It’s part of our confused concepts of justice and ownership and “fairness”. We’re all entitled in our own ways, even if we have a decent concept of morality. There’s an element of double think going on, of having morals and willfully ignoring them.

I’m reminded of the double-think required to be patriotic and moral.

True Patriotism, the kind that actually serves a positive purpose, has a dual nature. It’s a shame and a pride. And that’s how it should be. You have to feel both. You should feel pride in the progress your country makes because you are a part of it. A minute cog is still necessary for the larger workings of the national organism. Even if you hate the idea of it, you cannot be truly removed from nation states. The only option is to accept one, embrace it and try to do some good with it.

The flip side of Patriotism is patriotic shame. This is why I’ve always hated it, because so many “patriots” ignore this half. They don’t accept the wrongs done by their country. Most modern states have been involved in some horrendous acts; institutional racism/sexism, non-consensual medical experimentation, genocide, war crimes. No country is fully innocent, so recognize the flaws and work towards something better. If you stop feeling shame you’ve decided you no longer need to improve. Morally.
Unacceptable.

So reject that idea. Feel shame. Feel pride. One forces you to see your mistakes, the other allows you to see a better way to be. You amplify the good parts of your nation but you never stop talking about the shameful acts they’ve committed.

Words as Wisdom

How is our definition of a word related to what it actually categorizes? If you take a hundred people and ask them what being a genius means you’ll get a diversity of answers. Many find it difficult to pinpoint, so alternatively you can ask them who they would count as a genius. Assuming you ask enough people, they’ll end up listing some similar people, but the fundamental meaning being why could be different. A concept like genius isn’t the same as the concept of an apple. One has a real world counterpoint, the other is a social creation. A meter or a gram or a second are all based on real world physical phenomenon. There’s a reference point to compare your results too. Abstract concepts have no basis beyond the human mind.

I’m not attempting silly word play here, I want to get at the substance of how we think. So often we blast through life thinking we can communicate effectively. We blunder around and assume it’s everyone else not understanding us properly. If only I could make one more point, I’m sure they’d believe me. This arrogance doesn’t come from thin air, it’s because we lack an understanding of our medium. The act of talking is given such a bad rap. We see it as ineffective, as being cowardly, or as a recipe for future disasters. Physical actions are when you really get stuff done. Talking is the weak man’s weapon. When you denigrate a skill it doesn’t get studied by people; they don’t teach it to the following generation. We collectively get worse at it.

We’re in no danger of losing our ability to speak, the arguments I’ve heard for that are linguistic arrogance (like saying internet slang is damaging the english language). What we do lose are the nuanced skills inherent in language. Our words have meanings that are assigned by us, but at the same time they arise in a totally organic fashion. One person can’t decide to change the meaning of a word. Until others accept the definition you’re simply misspeaking. You’ll think you’re saying one thing and they’ll understand it as something else. Every word is defined by a staggering number of people, all choosing what the word will mean, but because there are so many, it becomes organic. Like the evolution of an animal in nature.

I support the efforts of some to change our language for the social good. The internet has shown many attempts to remove the antiquated gender binary from casual speech. That’s a good use of meta-language knowledge. It’s guiding our language to make it easier for us to communicate with one another in a way that is relevant to our current lives. Going back to the first word I mentioned, “genius”, it may have it’s own troubles. I read a piece the other day pointing out that when asking the general populace to name people who are geniuses, there’s a racial/gender bias in play. This is just a correlation so it may be due to any number of factors, but it’s worth looking into. Is there a hesitation to call a woman a genius or a non-white person?  When we’re so unaware of exactly what constitutes genius, we’re leaving a grey area where traditional prejudicial beliefs can hibernate and hide from scrutiny.

Being active with structuring ones own words can backfire though. When you’re trying to simultaneously integrate new words into your speech as you’re trying to convince someone of your points, you can fail at both. When the meanings of words get tangled up in the content of speech, you get confusion. One person may be arguing over the what a word “should” mean while the other is wanting to discuss the concept itself. I’ve heard/seen this happen many, many times. Both sides end up butting heads and not understanding each other. Both sides think the other is “crazy” or “dumb”. Neither is true of course, it’s just miscommunication.

Decide what you’re going to argue before you start speaking. If you want to discuss how we use our words, then focus on that. If you want to the real things, then do that. Don’t try to juggling the two topics. You’ll just drop them both.