Saturday, September 27, 2008

More thoughts on the McCain/Obama debate

In lastnight's debate, Obama's comment, that "the first question is whether we should have gone into the war in the first place," really tore open one of the key differences between candidates. Not on a matter of policy, but at the much more fundamental (and crucial) level of logic and problem-solving.

This was McCain's response:

The next president of the United States is not going to have to address the issue as to whether we went into Iraq or not. The next president of the United States is going to have to decide how we leave, when we leave, and what we leave behind. That's the decision of the next president of the United States.

What a genuinely oblivious thing to say. It articulates everything about what's wrong with so many military leaders like McCain: don't worry about what led up to the problem, just fix it. They're quick to tell you what the problem is, and how to solve it, but there's no interest in WHY the problem exists in the first place. Without understanding the WHY of the problem, you can't even begin to talk about a solution. It's like you drop a ball into a maze and you're trying to get the ball through to the other end, without actually looking at the maze.

So, this notion McCain has that the next President doesn't need to think about what went wrong in the first place, he just needs to fix it? Congratulations, jackass. You just demonstrated how all your experience is nullified by someone who knows how to think.

I'm so glad Obama understands this.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tonight's McCain/Obama debate

Both candidates have this misguided idea that sending more troops overseas is a valid solution to our foreign policy issues. This is one of the things about Obama that puts me on my guard, but McCain's collection of stupid ideas win my contempt by knockout. He continuously talked about "victory" in Iraq, and how he would make sure that we left "the winners." To talk about victory in this context is completely meaningless.

A relevant distinction here is the Deleuzian one between striated and smooth space (or Spinoza's distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic properties): the former refers to physical attributes that can be measured in the world; the distance from Leavenworth to St. Louis, the length of my cell phone, the number of terrorists in Iraq. The latter applies to attributes that aren't physical, and can't be measured in the same way (some would argue these qualities can't be measured); the quality of art, how much you learned in Astronomy class, terrorism itself (as a force).

Just what does McCain's vision of "victory" in Iraq look like? Killing the terrorists? If terrorism is the problem, it won't be solved by killing (or even marginalizing) terrorists. That's an attempt to eliminate an intrinsic quality by getting rid of extrinsic properties. You can't striate smooth space. Terrorists aren't the problem. The ideologies that breed terrorism are the problem. You can't get rid of an ideology simply by killing the people who adhere to it. The longer you try, the worse it's going to get. How about this, for a change: stop thinking with your adrenal glands and start thinking with your frontal cortices.

Or does victory look like a successful counterinsurgency? If the definition of an insurgent is a citizen who forcefully opposes an unjust regime or an unjust occupation, then a counterinsurgency is immoral by definition. It's imperialism on its face.

Neither of the candidates seems to realize that our current approach is wrong to begin with. Not only morally, but it fails logically.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Think morality comes from religion?

You must answer the Hitchens Challenge:

Saturday, June 21, 2008

How can ANYONE take Dinesh D'Souza seriously? (Part 1)

This is a debate between Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything) and Dinesh D'Souza (What's So Great About Christianity) from October of last year. Dinesh D'Souza is one of those people who thinks that by talking about theology they're doing legitimate philosophy. Christopher makes it a point of saying D'Souza is one of the "most formidable opponents" he's ever debated "on any subject." I do hope he was only trying to emphasize just how awful his other opponents have been, because D'Souza is nothing more than a polished rhetorician who buys his own arguments.

This is a very entertaining debate, but it's the intellectual equivalent of a squash match in wrestling. Virtually everything D'Souza says is wrong, on several levels.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

I'm writing up my own responses to everything D'Souza said, because there is so much more wrong than what Hitchens addressed. I'll post it when I finish writing it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Friday, June 13, 2008

On The Line

I fucking love this song, even if it is cliché city. You gotta love the master at work.

Michael needs to get off his ass and finish the new album. He's worse at putting things off than I am. Then again, he's better at putting things out than I am.

On that note, I should get off my ass and record all the new stuff I've been writing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Vince McMahon gets Rickrolled

Lmfao! This is the funniest shit in the world.

Vince McMahon gives away a million dollars every week on RAW (not at once--varying portions of it go to different people throughout the night), but the first winner he called lastnight totally Rickroll'd him Vince's reaction is priceless.

This incident already has its own section in the Wikipedia entry

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Thoughts on justice

First, I think it's helpful to recognize the difference between what's in the mind and what's in the world. By "what's in the mind" I mean the mental models we build to represent reality... things like math, logic, language, scientific laws and theories, etc.

For example: the equation for a planet's orbital velocity is V=2πr/P - it's not that this equation actually exists, in the world, and that the planets just try really really hard to keep up in the right direction, at the right speed. The equations are something we create to describe what the planets are doing. We keep using them only so long as they accurately predict what's going on. You hear people talk about how the universe is so wonderful to operate according to these laws--but the laws are merely constructions of our minds that we map onto reality. Reality doesn't obey the laws; the laws obey reality.

By that same token... we don't discover these models; we create them.

And while we, you and I, don’t typically create scientific laws or mathematical models, we all create our own models—narratives—mental representations of how the world works, why things happen, and even what happens. These narratives are our unspoken, foundation-level beliefs upon which all other beliefs are built, and experiences interpreted. Since our narratives are so foundational, we hardly even think to question them—we just accept them. The problem is that mental models are mere representations of reality; rarely do they reflect it. To the degree these models are inaccurate, everything that is done with them and on their foundation will be equally problematic (at least in potential). So, it’s absolutely crucial to a) recognize our narratives, and b) think critically about them, and revise them where they need revision. That is, if you accept the premise that our narratives should reflect reality, rather than merely paint a picture--or, better yet, a caricature--of it.

Part of most everyone’s narrative is this notion of justice—that there’s some ontological balance that gets shifted out of order when someone does something wrong, and it can only be brought back into balance by doing something harmful to the offender (I don’t just mean physical harm—also things like jail time, fines, etc.). The unspoken, unchallenged ideas that make up this narrative include 1) a person’s actions influence what they deserve, and 2) if someone does something wrong, they deserve to “pay a price” for their wrongdoing. We accept these maxims almost universally.

I think they need further evaluation, and perhaps revision.

2 follows from 1. So if there is no justification for 1, 2 disappears. So, let’s take 1, “a person’s actions influence what they deserve.” The word “deserve” is typically used to refer to a person being worthy of either reward or punishment—it’s a concept of reciprocity. But underneath this lies another premise: A1) people have complete freedom of will. This is an idea I’ve argued against. And without that premise of free will, this maxim doesn’t work. Even if you do grant total freedom of will, the idea of reciprocity is still problematic. First of all, “worth” is not a real essence that exists in the world; it’s a mental model. Like all mental inventions, it could be otherwise; and like all things that could be otherwise, it could be better. Why do we even need this model of reciprocity/worth to begin with?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Taking on new mediums

I'm working on a video for my song, "Caffeine, Nicotine, Nazarene," which will be posted on YouTube and elsewhere.

Hear the song here.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy Darwin Day!

Today is Charles Darwin's 199th birthday.

Other things that happened on February 12th: the birth of Lincoln and the death of Kant, making this both a day of celebration and a day of mourning.

Happy Darwin Day!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The value of the so-called "impractical"

A few months ago I took my mom to see Monday Night Raw in Topeka. While we were there, we ran into a woman who was in my Ethics class at KCKCC (let's call her "D"); we got to talking about our majors:

D: I'm finishing my journalism degree. Yep, that's what I want to do. Are you still in school, Chris?

Me: I started at KU this semester.

D: What are you majoring in?

Me: Philosophy.

D: Oh... so what are you gonna do?

Me: I don't know yet. Really, I'm not worried about a career right now; first and foremost, I want an education.

D: I'm not saying it's a bad thing, it's just that--going into philosophy--you really limit your options. You're not going to have a lot to choose from.

Perhaps the biggest problem with America's college (and overall education) system is that it's centered around vocation rather than higher learning. The mentality seems to be: you go to college, so you can get a degree, so you can get started on a career. This is not the value of a liberal arts education.

In his Rules for the Direction of the Understanding, Descartes wrote:

"Indeed it amazes me, how most people study with the greatest diligence the customs of men, the properties of plants, the motions of the stars, the transformations of metals, and the objects of other such disciplines, while at the same time almost no one gives thought to good sense, or to that universal knowledge, although as a matter of fact all other things ought to be valued not for themselves but because they contribute something to it."

Aristotle said that it is the job of the philosopher to theorize about all things; echoing the above sentence from Descartes. A good philosopher doesn't limit his studies to any one particular field, since his concern is not necessarily with the field itself, but with what the field contributes to that "universal knowledge;" that general understanding of the world. The value of a philosophical education is that it arms you with the most core, fundamental reasoning skills--it arms you with a foundation of understanding upon which everything else you learn is built. And without that initial foundation, the structure in question will be riddled with all kinds of problems.

To put it tersely (and bluntly), having a lot of information, or knowing a lot of facts, is useless if you can't think properly about that information. Having all the dots in front of you will likely lead you down the wrong path if you can't connect them. That said, here is the value of philosophy: it's the one area of study that teaches you how to think, rather than what to think. That "how" is all the difference in the world.

The claim "philosophy really limits your options" is actually rather absurd. Philosophy can do nothing but broaden them. On the contrary, it's dedicating all your learning to ONE NARROW FIELD that limits your options. As a journalism student, the only thing D will ever be able to do is journalism. But as it turns out, many of the best writers have been philosophers, specifically because of their philosophical background. Philosophy of science is every bit as important (if not moreso) than science itself, simply because it's philosophy that enhances and directs every crucial paradigm shift; not only in science, but in every area of our understanding.

Aristotle wrote about the liberal education as a distinction between free men and slaves. Where liberal education treats men as ends in themselves, "illiberal education" (vocational) treats them as means; training them, like slaves or domesticated animals, to perform some specialized function. Essentially, one becomes trapped within their specialty.

This is not to diminish the value of vocational education; but it is to say that it should be our secondary concern. Without a good foundation, a knowledge of how to think, we have nothing upon which to build our structures of facts, information, and skills. Philosophy is unique in that it gives us that foundation. Someone properly educated in philosophy (even self-educated) has the potential to excel in life, in ways no one else can.

My philosophical education is not a burden; it's not limiting and the only way it could narrow my options is if I had no dots to connect. So, my answer to D's question ("what are you gonna do?") is the only one I can give: "with a degree in philosophy, I can learn, do, and excel in whatever the hell I want!"

Hitch on Books & Ideas

Part 1 -

Part 2 -

Part 3 -