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Listserv: A Theory on the Basic Nature of the Universe

 

A Theory on the Basic Nature of the Universe

October 25, 2003

It’s been a while since I talked about physics, so I’d like to present my pet theory on the origins and the fundamental nature of the universe. To explain it, I will use four helpful analogies: a shattered pane of glass, a spider web, a drop of water, and a computer-generated fractal.

The explanation starts at the pre-big-bang singularity. It does not have to be the popularized version of the “big bang,” but it is some sort of point-like singularity. Initially, the singularity comprises the sum total of the universe – the rest is not just “empty space,” but empty in a fundamentally different way, as I will explain. The common question presented at this level is “why” the singularity is there. There is no “why” – the question of “why” only applies to volitional (human) action. Existence exists – there is no alternative. The only valid question is not why but “how” – and while this is an important question, it is outside the scope of my theory.

At some point, the singularity “explodes.” Although I say “at some point,” the concept of time only applies to change, and because there is no change prior to the singularity, it marks the beginning of time. Thus far, my theory has been consistent with the popular big bang version, but here it begins to diverge. By “diverge” I don’t mean that it contradicts with the big bang, but that it describes the universe at a much more fundamental levels than atoms or even subatomic particles.

The basic building blocks of the universe can best be described as “super strings,” because just like common strings, they connect discrete points together by a thin line. In fact, the (extremely small) diameter of the strings is the basic physical constant of the universe. The “strings” connect every single particle in the universe to one another. In fact, the interconnections between the strings [i]are[/i] the basic particles of the universe. Consider a pane of glass that is shattered by some small object. The cracks proceed outwards from the center, forming a spider web-like network of cracks. The points where the different cracks meet form the basic existents of our universe. Now imagine a drop of water into a body of water. When it impacts, the drop sends concentric waves radiating out at a specific speed. Just as glass and water conduct the change at a certain velocity that corresponds to their physical nature, so do the super strings. That speed is what we know as the speed of light, and it measures the speed at which the universe expands. The universe is thus a sphere of finite size, with a radius equal to the distance light has traveled since the beginning of the expansion — approximately 13 billion light years.

The strings conduct vibrations just as normal matter does. They have specific frequencies and amplitudes that represent the energy generated in the original bang. The vibrations they carry may be converted into new strings or vice versa – allowing matter to be converted into energy and back. Because the energy cannot be dissipated into any other particles, (there are no other particles) it is gradually converted into more and more string-connections (or “cracks” in the glass) until the universe becomes a uniform, extremely complex network. This is equivalent to the “heat death” or eventual entropy of the universe. (What happens afterwards is outside the scope of my theory, but a possibility is the web collapses onto itself to start a new round.)

The interactions between the strings explain the basic physical forces of our universe – the nuclear, electromagnetic, and gravitational attraction and repulsion of the particles made from the string interconnects. Because the string is like a web, the motion of any one particle affects every single other particles in the universe – but the change is propagated at the speed of light. This explains the so-called “ether” theory of space-time, by describing how the fundamental forces are able to act at a distance.

Now regarding the “random” pattern formed by the strings: it is not at all random. That is, the structure of our universe is a string-generated fractal pattern than can be reduced to a few simple string properties, but aggregates together into very complex patterns. If you have ever seen a Mandelbrot fractal pattern, it is the same idea. Simple rules can generate highly complex patterns at large scales. If there were multiple “bangs,” but the properties of the strings remain the same, the same universe would be created each time. This means that there is no “quantum uncertainty” at the basic level. The strings interact in an entirely causal manner according to their properties.

A side note: if it were possible for a number of strings to separate from the main cluster that comprises our known universe, than that cluster would in effect become a completely independent system, with no casual link to our system. (I don’t say that it would be “it’s own universe” because “universe” denotes everything that exists, including multiple independent clusters.) It is even conceivable that there exist many such systems in the same space, since the strings are small enough to allow many coexisting system. (To say that they could become “entangled” is taking the string analogy too far.) This is merely arbitrary speculation, but the point is that the strings are the basic causal link between all known existents. The string patterns (including spaceships) cannot travel outside of them or outside of the sphere comprising the expanding universe.

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Listserv: The Anti-Conceptual Mentality

 

The Anti-Conceptual Mentality

May 3, 2003

(This is a reply in an ongoing debate on capitalism.)

You accuse me of seeing the political and economic landscape of the world as two stark opposites: capitalism vs. socialism. According to you, my mindset does not allow me to see the “benefits and harms” of each system, or that no such thing as capitalism or socialism really exists: each is simply a convenient model for the groups in power to perpetuate their class/race/gender/ethnically based status. The origin of this view can be attributed to what Ayn Rand described this view as the “anti-conceptual mentality.”

A century of progressive education has crippled generations of students who are afraid to think because they have been taught the uselessness of their own mind, and the primary result of this education is the influence of an anti-conceptual mentality on all academic fields. This mentality is based on a particular view of concepts – or rather the rejections of concepts as such. It takes the perceptual level as given, and refuses to look any further or derive any universal conclusions from observations. Such a view deals solely in concretes: it takes the immediate, directly perceivable empirical evidence as only kind of knowledge possible to man. Directly perceivable objects such as “apple” and “hand” are not distinguished from higher concepts such as justice, jealousy, love, and freedom. The anti-conceptualist’s conscious mind stops at the perceptual level – it recognizes sensations and physical objects, but refuses to draw abstractions and form higher abstraction from lower ones. In short, the anti-conceptualist cripples his mind by destroying the very ability that distinguishes humans from animals – the ability to think in terms of ideas.

Because the anti-conceptual mentality is unable to draw conclusions from perceptions, it reduces the mind to dealing with particular events as disconnected and independent perceptions, without any notion of the “big picture.” However despite the best efforts of the anti-conceptualist to reject his mind, all human action requires some kind of thought – but without the ability to think in terms of ideas, the anti-conceptualist is reduced to vague and disjoined bits, vague and contradictory emotions jumbled together by his subconscious that provide no guidance for the future.

The consequence of this mode of thought on politics and economics (with similar influence on all other areas of human knowledge) is to destroy the very idea of political or economy theory and splinter it into the empirical study of particular instances without any connection to a larger theory or question of “why?” or “what for?” The modern economist or political scientist takes as a given all the subconscious and semi-conscious assumptions that are required before one can answer any particular question and attributes them to subjective traits of his culture or society. For example, a political scientist will ask, “How can we make bureaucracies more responsive to the public?” and then will examine specific programs and crunch numbers to reach conclusions that are narrow and tentative. (I am being generous – many political scientists ask questions that have very little bearing to reality and do not even attempt to reach any kind of useful conclusions.) He will usually not ask “Why is this question important? How does it tie in to the proper function of government? Should bureaucracies be responsive to the public? How are government bureaucracies different those found in business? What is the fundamental nature of government? Why do we need government at all? If we need it, what form should it take? What is a democracy and is it really a good model for government? How does my thesis tie into this larger big picture?”

Obviously, a political scientist cannot answer all these questions is a single paper – but he must consciously acknowledge what his premises are, and form a rational and hierarchical basis for them before he can claim that his thesis has any general applicability or larger lesson beyond the scope of the particular concretes he is studying. Just to know what questions to ask, he must first know what questions are fundamentally important to human life and which are trivial. (Or in the unfortunate modern connotation of the term, “purely academic”).

To understand a single one of the concepts he must define – say, democracy, the political scientist cannot simply observe various democracies and passively and unthinkingly understand what the word means. Understanding requires one to single out the essential elements held in common between various democracies and to discard the unique or non-essential characteristics. Democracies differ in their wealth, freedom, size, form of government, and longevity, but the share the essential characteristic of public influence or control over the government. One cannot say “one of the flaws of democracies is that they are short-lived and violent” because some have been short lived and others have peacefully persisted for centuries (assuming we take democracy to mean “representative government” and not “mob rule”). Thus, social instability and violence cannot be an essential characteristic of democracy. Likewise, one cannot make the absurd claim that poverty is caused by capitalism simply by observing that some nations called “capitalistic” have poverty. It is true that many nations with varying amounts of poverty have varying amounts of capitalism – but they also have varying amounts of redheads, bald men, and national monuments. To make a judgment, one first has to determine the essential traits of capitalism (individual rights, especially well protected property rights) and the essential aspects of poverty (low standards of living) and then determine the relationship between them, ceteris parabis. To even apply the example I just presented about democracies to capitalism requires certain fundamental assumptions and higher-level abstractions about the nature of knowledge and the relationship between a concept and a particular instance thereof.

Without the ability to operate on a conceptual level, what does the subjectivist see when he tries to determine the nature of capitalism? Only various instances of societies with various levels of freedom, various unrelated and related characteristics without any unifying or essential traits. Some vague idea forms based on the observation that “capitalism” is related to capital investment and Wall Street, which leads to other associations of “robber barons,” Henry Ford, corporate welfare, Reagan, greedy CEO’s, Enron, “exploitation,” and a dozen other disjoined associations and unidentified emotional responses without any unifying connections. As long as he deals with people whose minds are in a similar state of disarray, the anti-conceptualist feels safe. Without any ability to form connections or make judgments about his own or other’s views, he must necessarily be a subjectivist, always relying on the consensus of some collective to provide his reality, and always making compromises. At best, he pays lip-service to principles he is unable to define or justify, always vulnerable to any religious or secular authority possess an air of confidence and finds a convenient scapegoat to justify whatever atrocity he has mind. However, when confronted with someone who thinks in terms of ideas and ideals, he first attempts to discredit his opponents mind, and if unsuccessful, results to panic, evasion, or outright hostility.

Returning to the original accusation leveled against me, I proudly admit that I see the sad state of the world as the conflict between two forces: freedom versus slavery, individualism versus collectivism, capitalism versus god/state worship, the proud spirit of individualism and entrepreneurism versus the forced labor of communalism. I am an Objectivist because I believe that there is such a thing an objective reality, and it is in my power to know it and to act on it and that my survival depends on it.

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Listserv: Evolution and Thermodynamics/the Natural Universe vs. God/Quantum Universe/etc, etc,etc

 

Evolution and Thermodynamics/the Natural Universe vs. God/Quantum Universe/etc, etc,etc

March 11, 2003

In order to have any semblance of a proper philosophy of science, we must acknowledge the validity of our senses before deducing anything else. A child learns to rely on his senses before he learns to speak, and it takes a modern philosophy professor or a quantum physicist to claim otherwise. The claim that the senses are valid simply means that “whatever we perceive, we perceive it as such” – not, “however we interpret what we perceive, is what reality is.” The validity of the senses is axiomatic – it is logically impossible to have an “invalid sense.” If you see the sky in shades of red, and everyone else sees in shades of blue, your senses are just as valid as anyone else’s – only yours are biologically distinct in that they transmit light differently. Whatever you perceive, you perceive it as such. The biological function of the senses is automatic, but the function of your conceptual faculties, which interpret and integrate your sense-data to form a comprehensive model of reality is not. It is only in the interpretation of your sense-data that you can err.

The second important idea to realize is that reality exists independent of our perception of it – the sky is a certain color no matter which color you perceive it to be. Some people’s physiology is such that it looks blue, other’s such that it looks gray, but the nature of the particles bending the light as it passes through them doesn’t change according to who is looking at them.

Once you understand that reality exists independently of our perception of it, and can only be perceived according to the particular nature of our senses, the question becomes how to form universally and objectively valid ideas about reality and share them with others. This is simple enough regarding seeing different colors. The colorblind can understand the nature of the color spectrum and the color-seeing can wear gray glasses. In the same way, we can understand many things that no human can see – aspects of existence that are not directly observable by the senses. Tools like microscopes, telescopes, and X-ray radios are used to study the aspects of reality that we cannot perceive directly. A deeper and deeper understanding of how the universe works is gained by an increasingly complex understanding of physical laws on multiple levels and scales of reality. Advanced mathematical models allow us to predict and confirm the behavior of objects that cannot be directly or indirectly observed, and understand behaviors that are to complex to be grasped directly.

Our scientific advances have allowed us to understand reality on many levels, but some subjectivists claim that the “true” nature of reality evades us, since just as Newton was not aware of relativity, and Einstein not (initially) aware of quantum physics, our current scientists are not aware of the “true” stuff composing the current particles. However, all knowledge is contextual. Newtonian physics is as true in the context of ordinary sub-luminal matter as relativity is true in the context of non-quantum objects. False ideas in a given context are still false: you are wrong if you claim that the earth is flat because you have an understanding of “earth” and you are wrong if you claim that evolution is false if you have the concept of life on earth existing where it did not before.

The validity of the above statements depends on the round-earth theory and the theory of evolution being true, of course. At this point, let’s define what a “theory” and a “fact” are in the scientific meanings of the words. A fact is any statement about reality – and since reality is absolute, facts must be true or false. The statements “the earth is round” and “the earth is flat” are both facts – but the first is true, while the second is false. The theory of a round earth was formed after many observations came together to form a concepts – the idea that the earth is round. This concept was validated by various experiments and observations, and then a theory was formed. As Stephen J. Gould explains: “facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don’t go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them.”

OK, so what does the philosophical rant above have to offer science? Well, philosophy cannot tell you that E=mc^2, that the speed of light is 299,792,458 m/s, or even that energy is always conserved. Philosophy is impotent to discover how reality works, but it can tell you that it does work. It cannot tell you which theories are true, (contrary to what the Greeks thought) but it can do is rule out theories that are logically impossible, and hence must be thrown out. For example, an object cannot be one thing and another at the same time, if the properties are contradictory because A cannot be A and non-A at the same time. A particle cannot exist and not-exist at the same time. A photon cannot change locations based on your knowledge of its location if there is no causal link between the two. All these contradictions must be immediately thrown out if science is to be distinguished from mysticism and subjectivity. Even the slightest voluntary deviation from logic destroys the whole concept of science because the entire idea of scientific knowledge depends on the fact that logic is true, and a thing is what a thing is. If we say that a particle can exist and not exist at the same time, we cannot claim that a ball cannot be both red and blue at the same time. If we say that the laws of causality change according to our perspective of a photon, then we cannot claim that the laws of gravity are unchangeable either. The universe is either causal or not. Scientific knowledge is either a logical, non-contradictory pyramid of an ever-more sophisticated conceptual model of the world, or it is a jumble of contradictory and rationalistic ideas. Scientific disciplines are part of one, integrated, understanding of reality, not contradictory islands of rationalistic models.

Many people would jump at the above statements with questions like “What about light? It’s both a wave and a particle!” or “What about Schrödinger’s cat? We don’t know it’s location until we open the box!” or “What about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle? We can’t know the location and velocity of a particle at the same time!” (Actually, laypeople usually misapply all of these examples to mean much more than the actual theories, false or not ever intended to say.) My reply is that once you gain a proper philosophical understanding of science, all these “dilemmas” become moot. To use an analogy from economics, I cannot tell you just how a private healthcare system would be more efficient than a socialist one, and I cannot tell you just what policies private schools would adopt that would make them better than government ones, but once you understand the inherent superiority of markets over central-planning, you stop asking these questions and leave them to the entrepreneurs in medicine and education to figure out. Likewise, I know much less about quantum physics than economics, and cannot possible disprove every bogus theory out there, but once I understand the philosophical basis of science, I can leave the details to the physicists to figure out, and judge for myself when their ideas are contradictory because of a false premise.

Actually, I can probably reply to all the common misconceptions about quantum physics, but don’t judge the ill merit of the theories by the quality of my replies – my philosophical point stands whether or not my knowledge of physics is correct or not. I will briefly reply to three for now – evolution/creationism, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and thermodynamics/First Cause.

Regarding creationism, the whole notion of creationism as a valid “science” should be dismissed as easily as the claims of the Flat Earth Society. The difference between creationist pseudo-scientists and real scientists is that creationists pervert the scientific method by rejecting the need for evidence. No argument will sway their position because their beliefs rest on faith, not evidence. For creationists, the Bible is the absolute authority, and all scientific evidence to contrary is rejected or ignored. They seek not to discover truth, but to prove a belief they hold on faith, disgracing the word “science” by selectively presenting “facts” that “prove” their case. A real scientist will discard even a treasured, life-long pet-theory when presented with convincing evidence to the contrary, but these mystics are not interested in discovering the nature of reality, only furthering their religious dogma. Because no amount of evidence will convince someone who holds his beliefs on faith, we can reject their claims as soundly (and on the same basis) as the flat-earthers.

Note one of the creationist’s favorite tactics: the claim that “evolution is only a theory.” Of course it’s a theory! So is the claim that the earth is round, that the sun will rise tomorrow, and the idea of creationism itself. Remember the distinction between facts and theories I gave above. They are not different levels of certainty but different concepts entirely. The “theory” of creationism happens to be groundless, while the theory of evolution is supported by an overwhelming amount of evidence, just like the theory that the sun rises every day because the earth rotates around its axis.

Now, the application of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle to mean that knowledge of “true” reality is not possible. It is not my intention to present the scientific principle itself here – you should learn that on your own. Briefly, it is the idea that it is physically impossible to measure both the exact position and the exact momentum of a particle at the same time. The more precisely one of the quantities is measured, the less precisely the other is known. The reason is that measuring the position of a particle changes its momentum, and measuring its momentum changes its position. This is a claim about our ability to precisely know the location of a particle – it is not, I repeat not a claim that reality is subjective to observation, or that the position of an object cannot be known — we simply say that we can only know both the location and velocity of an object within some minute degree of error, and that is an objective fact. Since our measuring tools are rather primitive by sub-atomic standards, this will not a problem for a long time to come, if ever.

Now on to thermodynamics and the notion of the First Cause. First, we can easily dismiss the creationists who claim that ever-more complex life cannot arise because of the laws of thermodynamics. They are grossly, and I mean GROSSLY misapplying the laws, and I will leave it up to you to find out what the laws actually are. (Just do a quick search on Google) Life on earth is possible because earth is not a closed system – it is powered, in a very literal sense, by the sun. Life itself is a mechanism (one of many) of for a cycle of various elements, such are carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen in a path towards greater and greater entropy. It is my understanding, that life on earth is the most efficient system of energy conservation in the entire known universe, and perhaps in the entire universe itself. The progress of more and more complex life-forms is also a progression of ever-more efficient life forms, culminating with perhaps the most efficient energy-consumption entity in the universe – man.

If I may go off on a wild and speculative tangent (skip this paragraph if you don’t want to be confused), the more productive we are, the more efficiently we are distributing the energy and elements created by the sun (and many other stars.) In a very real sense, productivity measured in dollars is equivalent to efficiency measured in energy consumption. Some may claim that the mass-consumption of fossil fuels contradicts this view, but even if true (there are a number of reasons why it is not, if you think about it) such a spike is only a temporary glitch in a cycle of greater and greater organization. If my theory is correct, and the evolution of humans (and perhaps other sentient species) continues as the universe increases in entropy, an asymptote of ever-more efficient consumption of energy and ever-increasing entropy will continue towards an asymptote until either (a) entropy wins out and intelligent life ceases in a sea of background radiation (b) intelligent life wins and near-infinite computing power is possible or (c) the two balance out — which is effectively is the same as (b.) At this point (sometimes called the Omega point) near-infinite computing power is possible, and it’s possible to recreate the entire universe at any previous point in time, including yes, Greg’s idea of a virtual universe that we live in now. This can happen whether the universe continues to expand forever or collapses back onto itself – the asymptote will either be reached on the event horizon of the collapse or in the infinity of the expansion. (I don’t think we live in a “virtual” universe though – at least there is no evidence to believe that, as I reject the subjectivist theories of the bogus quantum physicists. It may be true, or not, but until we have evidence of such a computer reality, there is no point speculating about it. There is actually good reason to suspect that even if we did live in such a universe, we would never know it, and I can get into that if you want.)

Back on track, there is the notion of God as the First Cause. First, the notion is self-refuting. If the existence of an entity requires it to be created, then the existence of the creating entity requires a creator. In other words, if the known universe requires a creator, then God must live in a meta-universe that requires a creator too. The theist claims that the chain cannot go back ad-infinity, but even if true, this is not cause to violate his own rule. If you understand the word “universe” as “everything that exists” – call it a “meta-universe” if you want, and the break in logic becomes evident. If you reject logic, then you cannot claim to have a logical argument for God, and hence have no business trying to convince anyone of anything. (I hope everyone in this group realizes the self-contradictory nature of rejecting logic.) On a side note, even if an entity started the causal chain, there is no reason to suspect that it is self-aware and cares about humanity, much less that it is anything like the God of Religion

There is an even more basic argument against the First Cause argument though – the fact that infinity does not actually exist in reality. If you understand the Objectivist view of concepts (and if you don’t, go read a book as I’m not going to try to explain it all here) you should know that all entities, including the universe must have an identity. Infinity, other than as a mathematical abstraction, does not have an identity, and therefore does not exist in reality. This is a hard concept to grasp, or at least it was for me, so bear with me. For example, take time. Time is simply a relative measure of change, and cannot be measured “absolutely” without referring to a reference point. If there is no change, then there cannot be not time. So, for example, if the pre-big bang universe was a single, unchanging singularity, then time quite literality did not pass until after the Big Bang. Likewise, in any number of periodic events, we can grasp any two points in the chain, but not the chain as a whole. In the set of all positive integers, we can measure the distance between any two numbers, but we cannot measure from zero to infinity. Likewise, in the chain of time, we can measure any two points in time, but not the whole chain. Thus, the causal chain is not an infinite regression, but can only be understood in finite amounts.

That is all for now. Let me know if I did not explain anything sufficiently, or if you want me to expand on any ideas. BTW, I am working on a comprehensive theory on the psychology of happiness and depression, that I will post it or a link to it whenever it’s ready. It will contain a reply to Greg’s arguments, among many other things.

–David

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Microsofts and standards compliance…

Here is a quote from an email I sent out on the Brazos Valley Web Design listserv regarding Microsoft’s lack of compliance with the W3C standards:

I think that it’s helpful to realize that Microsoft’s browser is in effect a de-facto standard, which by overwhelming user preference is preferred over the W3C-compliant Mozilla. If you think of MS as the U.S. and W3C as the U.N., it’s easy to see that the “consensus” of a bunch of undemocratic, oppressive regimes is not any more valid that the individual judgment of the freest, richest nation on earth. The analogy is better than you might imagine, since both the US and MS are being derided precisely because of their virtues (freedom and successful products) by nations/companies that are failures precisely because of their flaws (tyranny/bad products.)

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Rant on "structural racism"

The following post was inspired by the fine folks at the Atheist & Agnostic listserv:

It seems that everyone who has replied to my recent posts so far is stuck in the racist mindset. Black’s must obviously favor taking all the government’s money and steal…err, “redistributing” it to themselves and letting al the black criminals out of jail, and unenlightened whites who do not realize that they are racist (and just don’t know it) are only interested in keeping their “superior social status” and perpetuating “structural” racism. “Enlightened” whites like the fine young gentlemen debating with me however, have become wise to the situation and engaged in trying to get all the white people to loathe themselves and blame themselves for their ancestors mistakes.

I don’t suppose it has ever crossed your mind that it’s possible to look at people by what they believe in and how they act rather than judging them by factors outside their control. I don’t suppose you would realize that to a color-blind person, (of any race or creed) it doesn’t matter what the race of the criminals in prisons is, as long as they are guilty, and it doesn’t matter what color a college student is, as long as they are qualified.

To a person who views other people as fellow human being, rather than rival racial factions, it is completely irrelevant what the ratios of blacks and whites and Asians in the prison and universities is. To a non-racist, it’s really completely irrelevant what the racial proportions are in any category. Where there are social problems, you address them as social problems, irrelevant of whether they are “black” or “white” problems.

Not being racist yourself is not going to make other’s stop being racist, but it WILL end it on your part. Trying to “compensate” for white racism by encouraging black racism is only going to prove that you still see people as tribes and collectives rather than individuals. Joining the NAACP is only going to show that just like the clansmen of the KKK, you only see colors, not people.

Let me re-emphasize something very important: if you view people as individuals, not races, it is COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT whether “structural” unequalities exist. The entire notion that all institutions should mirror society in their racial proportions is based on the racist idea that race is the primary defining factor of people, not their own identity. Eventually, by teaching others and being an individual yourself, racial divisions in society will disappear. However when or if they do is completely irrelevant, because the whole notion of “getting back” for past discrimination is inherently racist itself. You CANNOT make up for slavery by giving a black man now a job he doesn’t deserve, and you share NO RESPONSIBILITY for past discrimination, EVEN IF you benefit from starting off in a higher position. Two wrongs don’t make a right, especially when you are not “righting” anything by being a bigot yourself.

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Listserv: Memorizing vs. Learning

Being inspired by other people’s ideas and not having any of your own are two very different things. I have many heroes and sources from which I gain inspiration and material to further my own ideas and actions, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The key difference between the copy-cat and the independent thinker is that the copy-cat is capable of merely reading and memorizing words and phrases. He never develops the critical thinking skills needed to analyze other’s ideas and compare them to personal experience and the rest on his knowledge. Rather, he merely memorizes them, stuffing them into an ever-larger closet full of contradictions and inconsistencies.

The errors of such a process becomes obvious when such a person attempts to apply his knowledge to answer a question which involves arranging the ideas he already holds in a new way: because he never learns to relate ideas and concepts together, he is unable to do anything but spit out the same old lines he has memorized word by word.

For example, a student may take a programming class and memorize all the commands of a language and all the functions needed to accomplish certain tasks, but ask him to write a program using the most basic of these commands, and he will be completely helpless unless he has learned the relationships and meanings of the commands and functions. Likewise, many students study arithmetic, geometry, algebra, calculus in their education, but without integrating and learning the meaning and inter-relationships of these subjects, they will be unable to solve the most basic mathematical problems in real life. They will study history not as a chain of causally-linked events and trends, but as unrelated dates and actions, and science not as integrated and related fields, but as abstract, trivial, and independent areas.

It is not surprising then, that such people will view philosophy not as an integrated, and hierarchical structure, but a series of abstract questions, to be solved by logical calculus or left open with a big question mark.

The person who actually learns, rather than merely memorizing is not only able to relate existing knowledge and apply it to new situations, but more importantly, he can critically judge the ideas of his teachers, no matter how well-regarded they may be. Most students take their professor’s ideas at their word, either neutrally memorizing material and spiting it back out, or finding something instinctively wrong with ideas (perhaps because their parents, peers, or preacher told them otherwise) but being unable to say just why because the professor’s words are just as un-integrated as their previous knowledge. So, they put a question mark on the whole thing, and adopt a general apathy and equivocate all ideas as just “opinions.”

This, then is the general stupor in which most we find most people today, and it is the direct result of an educational system that fails to provide students with the critical thinking skills (despite a superficial dedication to it) needed to integrate and evaluate knowledge.

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Listserv: Pythagoras, not Prozac!

 

Pythagoras, not Prozac!

11/6/2002 1:15:12 AM

I have gotten a lot of flack from people who say that I don’t understand the validity of depression as a serious physiological illness for which drugs must be taken, and that I don’t have the expertise to say why anyone is suffering from it. This is not true.

I consider depression to be a real and serious psychological disorder, which is often caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Specifically, a disruption in the natural production of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine (which are produced by the amino acid tryptophan) causes a break in the normal transmission and activation of brain sector that allows us to feel happy, sociable, excited and such.

Prozac and other anti-depressants sometimes are successful in restoring normal neurotransmitter production, though they are only temporary cures, and depression returns (sometimes much worse) when the drug is removed – unless seratonin production is restored in the meanwhile by the body itself.

For some people (I am not qualified to give numbers) Prozac (and like chemicals) is the only method available to restore normal brain function, and there is nothing wrong with using it for that purpose. However, my argument is not addressed towards those people. My argument concerns individuals who’s philosophies (remember, a philosophy includes a person’s entire approach to life) cause their brain to lock up and shut down and induce depression artificially. When Prozac is used by such people it is sometimes effective in creating a semi-permanent and addictive high, but the long run effects are extremely harmful, as I will explain.

First of all, the maintenance of the body’s psychologically relevant hormones and chemicals is related to many controllable physical factors, such as diet, exercise, and significantly, exercise of the mind. Studies show that both physical and mental workouts increase brain cell regeneration rates and dendrite growth, and the general efficiency of the brain. These are significant externally controllable “all-natural” factors that along with diet and rest can have a significant positive (or negative) impact on depression. However, my argument is not primarily about these alternatives to dangerous chemical anti-depressant.

The proper function of the brain is to allow the mind to function properly. The proper function of the mind involves taking raw sense-data inputs, processing them into shapes, objects, and sensations (the sensual level), converting the data into concepts (the perceptual level), then relating the concepts to one another(the conceptual level), so as to create a model of reality, create and apply value judgments to possible alternative actions, and then choose a course of action that has the best probability of achieving the individuals values. (Obviously, there is much more to this, and I will write a thesis on it some day, but for now, I’ll stick to the mind as it relates to depression.) So, the brain and body is the hardware, and the mind is the software – and the proper function of the software depends on the proper function of the hardware – and vice versa, since the hardware is wired to develop areas the mind focuses on and waste away the areas that are not used.

Where does depression and happiness come into the equation? The initial observation is that depression serves a valuable purpose – evolution has been such that a balance of sadness and happiness is present in most advanced mammals (including humans, of course) and serves a valuable purpose. What is that purpose? The purpose of happiness is to release neurotransmitters in response to successful actions (therefore the successful achievement of values) to enforce the brain paths (or whatever the specific mechanism is) that led us to the successful action in the first place. The purpose of sadness is to destroy the brain paths that led us to failures (and unachieved values.) This process is crucial to all advanced life forms that have the ability to learn in any way shape or form. (Humans have some unique abilities in this area, but this is another topic.)

What causes depression then? It is the failure of the process of serotonin (and other chemical) production in response to successful achievement of values. When this is not a natural chemical imbalance, it will be for one of two reasons: our methodology is incorrect (this can usually be auto-corrected) OR that our values are incorrect –that is, they do not meet the criteria for “good” values, as described in my previous email: they are unachievable, inevitable, contradictory, etc. Successful actions require that proper values and proper methodology (which are really aspects of the same thing) be accepted. “Good” values allow for self-correcting methodology – also known as virtues, examples of “basic” good values include rationality, integrity, self-honesty, and skepticism. These lead to good higher level values such as honesty, self-reliance, reason, and confidence. The specific values are not key to my theory other than that I believe that Objectivism is the philosophy that best maximizes good values – but whether you disagree or agree with me on that point does not affect the fact that certain values are superior in leading to self-corrective methodology (socially recognized as good and/or moral actions.)

So, the point of describing the process above is to point out that certain values need to be present consciously, and subconsciously (as integrated into your basic thought-process) in order for the mind to function properly, and the balance of neurotransmitter production to be maintained. The great danger of anti-depressants and other stimulants is that they stimulate the mind completely arbitrarily, without regard to whether the pathways they are encouraging are those that lead to good or bad actions and values. The general effect of prolonged use is to diminish our ability to think — to reason and evaluate actions in the process described above. For a well known example of this, take drug use. Pot heads and alcoholics feel good all day long, but (unless your daddy is president) that usually leads them to lose all ambition and generally stop caring about their life. Not that there is necessarily something inherently wrong with enjoying yourself every now and then, but habitual use destroys our mind’s ability to function. Bad values (and bad philosophies that lead to those values) do the same thing.

What is a “bad philosophy”? The most common example is the person who gets his values randomly, absorbing fragments from his parents, his church, his peers, media, etc – without ever integrating it all in any way. To some degree, this describes the great majority of people alive today. They live their lives in a daze, unable to choose the course of their live by consistently working towards self-chosen goals. They are apt to follow any leader with a message like sheep because they cannot make any independent values of their own and would rather have someone else think for them. They cannot enjoy their successes because contradictory values tell them that it’s both good and bad to achieve something on their, that it’s both good and bad to make money, that love should be unconditional, yet we love some more than others, than logic is useless, yet some actions seem to be logical and some don’t, that all values are relative, when certain values inherently “feel” better than others.

This mindset often leads people to give up on values entirely and become nihilists (usually implicitly, without even knowing what the word “nihilism” means.) Of course, nihilism is just another value to the mind, which tries, unsuccessfully, to integrate it into your trash pit of conflicting values and ends up locking up, the cogs hopelessly unable to decide on a course of action because thinking itself becomes feared. Such a person is unable to maintain proper levels of serotonin production (not to mention many other chemicals we do and don’t know of) and subsequently becomes depressed. I have seen this happen in many people – some who I have known well, some who I have not. I myself went through a period of depression just once in my life — during my junior year of high school and can affirm to this process.

Thus, proper function of the mind is dependent on proper values. The most important condition of values is that they are consistent. This means that they must be integrated so that that are non-contradictory and directly related to real-life experience. If values are not integrated, we will be unable to fully enjoy the pleasure that comes from successful actions, and if the values are not tied in reality, they will never be achieved, since we do not know what it takes to care them out in daily life. Unlike animals, who’s values are entirely integrated and consists of the single command “SURVIVE!”, human values are self-chosen and often oppose our physical survival (not always bad) and our rational mental function (always bad.) Implicit rejection of the function of the mind (as in most people) is bad enough, but the “post-modern” explicit rejection of the mind (aka “materialist behaviorism” in psychology) in favor of a robotic, chaotic animal is a betrayal of the worst kind, because it destroys our own ability to reason and correct improper values. It is what Ayn Rand called the “blank out” – the refusal to focus, and fundamentally, the refusal to think. When it becomes a way of life, it is no wonder that depression is the result in so many people.

–David

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Listserv: On the Nature of Free Will and Volition

 

The debate between free will and determinism is one of the most ancient in philosophy and has led to many misconceptions about what the various positions are. For this reason, before I go into explaining just what free will is, I have to cover what it is not. The major positions on the nature of volition can be described as determinism, indeterminism, and self-determinism.

Determinists claim that the nature of the universe is such that it is governed by certain universal scientific laws, so that each action is caused by a specific prior cause, and human action is no exception. They claim that the human mind is also governed by these rules such that no alternative course of action is possible to humans other than the specific and unique set of prior factors that caused that human action to be made. Thus, human choices are not “free” because they are determined ahead of time by whatever environmental, social, genetic, biological and any other unknown factors caused such choices to be made. Accordingly, men cannot be held morally responsible for their actions, since they have no more control over the causal chain of events in reality than anyone else.

One example of an argument for determinism is a man who must choose randomly between two eggs laid in front of him. He thinks that he chooses an egg randomly, but the determinist would say that the choice is actually because of some unknown factor – for example because one egg is minutely closer to him. Besides, the determinist would argue, when the man chooses to pick one egg, could he randomly choose to do something else? Could he choose instead … to kill himself? To jump of a cliff? No, the state of his mind is clearly not such that he would not act in this way, and the same goes for his choice of one egg and every other action: they are all determined by whatever prior factors that caused them to happen.

The determinist would say that whether the human mind operates by random firing of neurons or strict logic is irrelevant: both are governed by specific prior causes, and even if science could show that human choices were caused by random firing of neurons, the choice would not be “free” because it would not be “chosen,” independent of prior factors. In fact, to the determinist, free will would not be possible under any condition: if it was caused by prior causes all choice would follow the strict laws of causation, and if it was independent of any prior causes it would have to be random, and hence not “chosen” in any meaningful way. A skeptic could argue that just as one does not know what side a coin will land on when flipped, we do not know what people are going to decide ahead of time – but the determinist would reply that just because we do not know all the aerodynamic and structural factors that affect which side a coin will land on, does not mean that the flip is truly “random” as given enough information, would could determine the outcome of a flip ahead of time – and likewise for the choices made by a human mind, which we would be able to predict given enough information on its workings.

The classic reply in favor of free will to adopt some sort of indeterminism: that is claim that free will involves some sort of exception from the rules of causation. Traditionally, God has played this role, providing some sort of mystical “staging ground” for choice to occur. Rene Descartes took a more extreme position and argued that the mind exists on a separate plane from the body, and more recently, quantum physics and chaos theory have provides excuses to “escape” causation and allow a possible for “free” choice to occur. Both of these notions are nonsense. If a human choice is independent from any prior factors grounded in causation then it must be random, and randomness is in no way a “choice.” Whether God or quantum physics is the excuse, it is not viable to claim that human choice is independent of prior cause, and yet not completely random. As Baruch Spinoza said, “’it makes no sense to view God as the cause of all things and, at the same time, to believe that humans possess a free [will].”

The self-determinist position rejects both of these views. Affirming free will does not involve a rejection of causality in favor of a magical mechanism for human choice, but an affirmation of the process of volition that is the process behind all human choice. The self-determinist position rejects both the notion that any supernatural forces are involved or that any other cause of action is possible other than that which is determined by whatever laws, known and as yet unknown governed the workings of the universe. No “alternative world” where different choices were made is possible because the mind is not excused from the same rules that govern all other matter. Rather, “free will” refers to the uniquely human process of volition that allows multiple courses of actions to be considered and evaluated and one selected.

Human beings are thus unique in an important way: the process of volition, which makes them different from both inorganic matter as well as other forms of life, and allows for caused, yet free choices to occur. This definition of “free will” is not arbitrary but implied in the notion of “will” itself. When men commonly refer to human “choice” they are not rejecting causality but referring implicitly or explicitly to this process of volition. Volition is “free” in the sense that each individual must independently choose to think, as the choice to think or not is the primary choice and source of volition. This choice is not random, and certainly not independent of physical laws, yet it is a process unique (as far as we know) to human beings. The choice to think is not “free” in the sense that it is independent of prior cause but free in the sense that every individual must choose for himself to think or not, and suffer the consequences of his choice. Animals do not have such a choice: their actions are automatic and governed by instinct. For example, when a dog misbehaves, we punish it not because we hold it responsible but to change its action, but when a human acts in an immoral way, we hold the person as morally responsible: as culpable for their basic choice: to think or not. In other words, humans have a unique ability to project what the world be like given various courses of action (or inaction) and choose a course of action that leaves the universe in a more desirable state than the one prior to their action.

The skeptic will claim that human thought is not fundamentally different from a car: after all, we turn a key and the car either starts or not, depending on whether reality is such that the process of causation leads to an engine starting or to the battery being dead. In the same way, the determinist will claim, the human mind will either make the right or wrong choices, depending on what prior state it is in. However a car and a human mind are fundamentally different: the ignition process is a rigid mechanical chain, whereas human thought (when one chooses to think) involves a process of evaluation and conceptualization, (creating “models” of reality) which considers multiple possible avenues of action and allows for an evaluation of the consequences of each choice. To claim that starting a car’s engine is the same as choosing to think is to claim that a car can evaluate whether it is low on gas, and then decide to start or not depending on a variety of such factors. Of course a human may design such a car, but the evaluation to include such a feature still rests with the human, not the car.

The objective definition of free will then, rejects both the mystical mind-body duality and the strict physicalism of post-modernism. It holds that the nature of the human mind is unique in that it allows due a process of volition, by which arises from the structure of our brains and is readily apparent by introspection. As Leonard Peikoff says, “A course of thought or action is ‘free,’ if it is selected from two or more courses possible under the circumstances.” Of course only one course of action is always actual, but nevertheless numerous courses of action are considered and evaluated in the process of thinking.

While the evidence of free will is readily apparent to introspection, one can only analyze the roots of decisions to a certain level. Decision making is not an infinite regression of choices, but is based on a fundamental choice – to focus. On other words, our fundamental choice is to focus (and think) or not (and remain in a daze) and the choice must be accepted as a given, readily apparent by introspection, but not derived from any other choices, as there can be none. The implication of free will is that individuals can be held morally liable for their actions, because unlike animals, they have the ability to rationally consider the implications of all their actions instead of acting on their urges or whims.

While the determinist position generally accepts the possibility of thought, it rejects the possibility of true choice, negating the possibility of more responsibility. However the determinist position is contradictory and cannot be logically held. By saying that humans should “pretend to have free will” the determinist accepts that all human thought requires choices to be made between various possible choices. (Possible to the mind considering them, that is.) He implicitly accepts the correct definition of volition while rejecting its logical consequences. The determinist cannot even argue that he knows his position is true – after all, he is only arguing for it because of prior environmental factors, not because it is independently true or false. In short, in arguing for determinism, the determinist implicitly accepts the opposite of his position.

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Post: Anti-Discrimination Statues and “Gay Rights”

From: Agnostic & Atheist Student Group Discussion List
[[email protected]] on behalf of David Veksler
[[email protected]]
Sent: Wednesday, September 11, 2002 9:33 AM
To: [email protected]
Subject: Re: Anti-Gay Laws in FloridaIn response to the Observer article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,788607,00.html
notice that the actual content of the bill is only mentioned once, and very briefly: “voters in Miami-Dade county will decide tomorrow whether to repeal existing anti-discrimination laws” — the rest of the story is spent rooting for the gay lobby.

Ignoring the motivations of the people behind the movement, and focusing on the actual content of the legislature (which is what matters, after
all) I can say that I fully support repealing ALL anti-discrimination bills.

If I am running a business, and I am a smart businessman, I will want to have a friendly, work-conductive environment, where people focus on doing their job, not promoting their sexuality. Just like any heterosexuals, I’d expect any homosexual employees to dress and act business-like, and I won’t hesitate to fire any that don’t, by cross dressing in flamboyant outfits, promoting political agendas during work, etc. In other words, I don’t care which sexual orientation you are, as long as you do your job well — and this benefits me, my business, my other employees, and the economy at large.

Now, if for whatever reason I did care not to hire any gay/black/female employees, I’d be harming my own business first, by creating a standard for employment that was not reflective of the actual qualifications of the people I hired, and in a free market, I, along with any other bigoted businesses, would go out of business. Not only that, but if the public had any decency, they would not frequent my business, and certainly the excluded minorities (or majorities, as the case may be) would not, bankrupting me in any competitive economy.

When the government creates anti-discrimination statues, it does not actually stop me (as a business owner) from being racist, bigoted, etc. Rather, it creates a very arbitrary standard, which can only be widely enforced by the imposition of quotas. Liberals like Clinton have presented dozens of arguments as to why quotas don’t have to be quotas, but it’s impossible to escape that basic fact. Quotas ARE racism. They take away free choice, and replace is with rigid laws that promote once race at the expense of another. They ignore the important qualifications of a person and focus on irrelevant factors. As far as discrimination goes, quotas are far worse than private racism in hiring, because private racism tends to be solved by the marketplace, while law-mandated racism perpetuates itself much more readily. In fact, in many, if not most places in the pre-civil rights south, state laws forced private business to exclude/segregate blacks, and as soon as they had the opportunity, many businesses worked together to end statues mandating separate restrooms, etc to lower their costs in cities like San Antonio, Atlanta, etc. In the end, a shift in thinking begun by such people as Martin Luther King, Jr. ended racism in business, not government action. Government action has perpetuated legal racism in private and public enterprises in a larger scale than ever before in history through affirmative action, anti-discrimination statues, and the actions of various agencies, not to mention cooperating with racists such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who extort millions from decent companies with threats of “exposing” non-existent discrimination with the support of the FTC and various other government agencies.

Racism is wrong and immoral, but so is government control over private enterprise, which inevitably creates a much bigger problem than existed in the first place. If politicians want to end racism, they should promote policies in government that focus on hiring people solely based on their qualifications, and leave the business community alone to do the same. If either one does not, they will only suffer the problems that come with any other form of racism.

–David

[Follow up]
About marriage, straight, gay, or otherwise, government should have nothing to say on the matter.

Marriage is a contract between two people, not a contract between two people and their government. As far as government is concerned, it should be like any other private contract, and government should not step in and regulate it either way. For tax purposes, the law should not favor either married or single couples, unlike its current policy of favoring and taxing marriages simultaneously.

If private business wants to recognize certain contracts for the purposes of giving benefits, they may do so — or not — either way, all my arguments from the previous email will still apply.

The only remaining question is what benefits should partners of government employees receive, but I’d say that you should not receive any extra free benefits just for being married — if an agency wants to give spouses benefits; they should allow you to claim any one person as the recipient.

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Listserv: The Virtues of our Time: Collectivism, Nihilism and Pragmatism

 

August 11, 2002

The Virtues of our Time: Collectivism, Nihilism and Pragmatism

By David Veksler

American politicians today generally act on the dominant philosophy of the day, which can be described by three main values: collectivism, nihilism, and pragmatism. These values directly contradict those held by the founders of the United States: individualism, moral objectivism, and principled action. While both conservatives and liberals accuse each other of immorality, the loss of traditional, rational values in favor of a bankrupt “postmodern” philosophy has lead to a contradictory, inconsistent, and ad hoc policy that is the primary cause of most of the problems America faces today.

Collectivism is the idea that groups, not individual people, are the only proper beneficiaries of values. It states that your identity as a human being comes from involuntary or voluntary membership in various groups – such as society, race, “culture” or even sexual orientation. It then states that the only or the primary recipient of one’s labor should be this group, rather than yourself. In politics, this means that “serving your country” is more important than the services your government is supposed to provide you, namely protection from the criminal elements of the world. This view was summarized by JFK as “Ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country.”

Both conservative and liberal presidents frequently espouse this ideal. For example, in promoting volunteerism, President George Bush said: “Citizen service is the very American idea that we meet our challenges not as isolated individuals but as members of a true community, with all of us working together. Our mission is nothing less than to spark a renewed sense of obligation, a new sense of duty, a new season of service…”

The basis of this view is that a collective of individuals is more than the sum of its parts, and that by belonging to a collective, a person can acquire special rights and obligations he would not have otherwise. The clear implication of collectivism is that the individual becomes secondary to the group, and in fact becomes its tool rather than an end in himself. Implicit in collectivism is the idea that collectives can think, benefit, and obtain rights just as individuals can. Collectives are even attributed personalities called “culture” that everyone within it is expected to embrace. Each member of a collective is responsible for its failures, and everyone is to be praised if any one person in it accomplishes something. Anyone who pursues his own “selfish” interests, or has goals that differ from the “collective’s” is deemed a traitor to his society, country, race, and so on and usually faces dire consequences. Reality is rejected in favor of the consensus, and truth becomes relative to the purposes of the collective.

The opposite of collectivism is individualism. Individualism declares that each and every man may live his own life for his own happiness, as an end to himself, neither sacrificing himself to others, nor others to himself. It rejects the view that a group of men has special rights and that a “public good” exists by declaring that there is no collective stomach or a collective mind because only individuals can benefit from any good, and only individuals can think. Individualism is the idea that groups are simply a collection of individuals, and any rights claimed by them derive directly from the rights of the individuals composing such a group. As Thomas Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The only associations that an individualist values are those voluntarily chosen, not born or drafted into.

Any good stolen from a man for the sake of “society” cannot be shared with society as a while, but must be given to other individuals, benefiting some at the expensive of others. Likewise, an invention is not the result of “collective thought” but of innovation and originality on the part of its creator. He may have built on the ideas of others, but his invention represents his own original, independent thinking, from which he has a right to profit without having to share the values the inventor receives with others. Politically, the result of such as principle is capitalism: a social system where the individual does not live by permission of others, but by inalienable right. The inevitable result of collectivism on the other hand is socialism: a system where the individual is only a tool to serve the “social good” – and because there is no such thing a collective benefit, the profit of the politically well-connected looter at the expensive of the productive worker is the inevitable result of any collectivist system.

The second major trait of “post-modern” political thought is nihilism. Nihilism assumes that there are no objective values independent from one’s thought, but that values are derived solely from whatever means are necessary to achieve one’s immediate goals, whatever they may be. This means that there are no objective or universal standards which everyone must observe, but only the immediate actions needed to accomplish one’s passing whims and fancies. Embracing collectivism, nihilism states that any arbitrary values chosen by culture or individuals are an absolute, independent of the actual benefit or harm they may have on one’s life. In short, nihilism takes the stance that values are not physical, but mental entities – that they are not derived from reality but whatever random goal your mind comes up with.

The opposite of nihilism and subjectivism is moral objectivism – which states that values are in fact derived from reality, not random whims, and that the facts of reality, not culture or consensus determine right and wrong. Moral objectivism states that there are certain necessary values, such as food, shelter, and other material goods that man needs to obtain to survive. The rejection of objective, rational values is the primary cause of the rise of crime in America.

The state of public education is a perfect example of the natural consequence of collectivist, nihilist values. Educators correctly state that self-esteem is crucial to children’s development, but they take away the means to attain self-esteem by claiming that it comes from cultural and racial group association rather than individual achievement. They cripple the ability of children to set goals and motivate themselves by preaching that serving society through community service, rather than self-motivation and hard work, leads to success. They reward students for C’s as well as A’s and teach that all that is needed to be happy with oneself is to be oneself, whatever that means, rather than work at setting and reaching goals. Furthermore, by claiming that reality and morality is subjective and dependent on cultural, social or personal opinion, that logic is useless, and that confidence in one’s opinion is “close-minded” they cause kids to follow the inevitable consequences of such an ideology. When social approval rather than individual accomplishment is the only standard of value children have, peer approval becomes the ultimate goal, and kids seek it by open sexuality, drugs, or violence because it is the only means they perceive of being recognized in the collectivist system their schools put forth.

Pragmatism follows naturally from nihilism. It is the idea that men do not need to follow absolutes or principles, but should act only on the immediate needs of any situation. As president Bush recently said, “I’m so pleased that a member of my Cabinet came. I picked a good man when I picked the Secretary of Education. I didn’t pick somebody who dwelt on theory.” The rejection of “theory” is the rejection of the idea that any choice has any implications to consider other than the immediate consequences. Bill and Hillary Clinton are the typical products of such “post-modern,” unprincipled thinking. Both Clinton and Bush welcome the Arab dictators and urge compromise with PLO terrorists when they need to please the oil interests, just as warmly as they welcome Israeli leaders and the praise the cause of Zionism to please the Jewish lobby. That Bill Clinton would retaliate for terrorist attacks with one or two missiles fired into the desert so as not to offend world opinion, ignoring the kind of message it would give to terrorists, and then lobby and claim that he “would personally grab a rifle, get in a ditch and fight and die” to protect Israel demonstrates this unprincipled and pragmatic mentality. In her campaign for Senate, Hillary Clinton solicited campaign contributions from racist, anti-Semitic Muslim groups right before speaking at Synagogues in front of welcoming crowds. President Bush is only a marginal improvement. Initially strong in his anti-environmentalist stance, and support of business, he wavered and conceded whenever he saw his poll number sag. Then, despite his lip service to free trade and free market, Bush supported steel tariffs, subsidies to farming interests, and a huge “economic aid package” that passed just as the economy was starting to recover from an overly controlling government that caused the depression in the first place. Recently, he has curbed efforts to pursue terrorists abroad as coalitions composed of less-than democratic nations have faltered – exemplifying the collectivist notion that a moral judgment can only be reached by a social consensus, and wavered in his support of Israel’s right to self defense to please European and domestic critics.

The opposite of pragmatism is principled action, the view that decisions must be made in accordance to established, universal principles, because ad hoc, pragmatic action will lead to contradicting and self-defeating policy. For example, while Alan Greenspan recognizes that setting interest rates to be too low will over-encourage investment, create economic instability and lead to recession in the long run, he still engages in short term “emergency” inflationary measures that caused the investment spree of the late 1990’s and consequently, the recent financial depression. This is equivalent to obtaining huge credit card balances to fulfill “immediate needs” –ignoring the need for long term saving and planning and the consequences of permanent debts. However, politicians claim to be immune from principles that apply to individuals as if policies that are bad for individuals can me made good by volume. Turning to foreign policy, in his campaign, President Bush claimed to follow a principled policy by claiming that “The first question is: What’s in the best interests of the United States? What’s in the best interests of our people? When it comes to foreign policy, that’ll be my guiding question: Is it in our nation’s interests?” However, Bush has acted otherwise, retaining an unnecessary military presence in Bosnia to please European allies, while mounting a weak and incomplete response in Afghanistan and trying to attain a “consensus” before taking any military action, sacrificing America’s security for to please the whims of both our allies and enemies. Most recently, faced with growing criticism of pursuing the countries that sponsor terrorism, the president and congress have endorsed a campaign against businessmen to distract the nation from their foreign policy and economic failures while giving traitors generous plea bargains. Interestingly, both democrats and republicans have been united in their condemnation of CEO’s as “greedy crooks”, requiring more and more government oversight so that they can better “serve their country” (and maybe keep a little bit of profit in the process) while debating if any response at all should be mounted against nations that sponsor terrorism.

Thus, the guiding philosophy for politicians on both sides of the spectrum is collectivism, nihilism, and pragmatism, while the classical liberal values that this country was founded on is sometimes given lip service, but largely forgotten. The resulting consequences have been clear – a faltering economy, emboldened and unchallenged enemies abroad, a failing educational system, and an increasingly invasive, controlling government. The only way out of the current mess is to once again embrace values that promote the individual’s “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” adopting an objective morality, and a policy that is based on principle, not momentary pragmatism.

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