08 November 2011

Comment on the Penn State child rape scandal

Being a football fan, and knowing a few PSU alumni. . . and having had some people confide in me some similarly sad stories, it's hard for me to stay silent about these sorts of things.  I just suck at denial; I have to confront.  I'm actually rather surprised at how few forums are discussing this; maybe it's because it's just too depressing to think about?  Well, suck it up.  Even if you read the grand jury report, all you're getting is the nauseating details.  That's nothing compared to having your dignity shredded into a pile of ground meat by a rapist.
Anyway, while people's thoughts should really focus on the victims and the attacker, this is really turning into a story about Joe Paterno*.  That's unfortunate but unavoidable, as he is the face of the football program.  The rest is kind of cut-and-dry, anyway, even if it's far more important.  There just isn't much to discuss.  The accused has a right to due process; the victims have a right to justice.  Justice won't heal the wounds, but it needs to be done.  The political fallout is trivial in comparison, but tricker and much wider in scope.  It's also relevant, because the depth of the scandal is probably why it was buried in the first place.
So I guess the story goes that a visibly distressed assistant told "JoePa" he witnessed one of his coaches with a young boy in the shower room. . . but left out most of the details.  This was after a prior, similar incident was reported some years ago.  And JoePa reported it to his superiors, and considered that due diligence.  After that. . . nothing happened.  Well, nothing to anyone important.  The coach just continued to rape young boys for years while JoePa focused on football.  So some are defending him, asking what else he could do.  Others are calling him a monster, saying he should be fired for enabling the abuse.  The real out-there ones are close to saying he's just as bad.
OK, for perspective, he didn't enable anything.  He did report it.  He didn't hurt anyone directly, and there's no evidence whatsoever that he was apathetic about it -- although he did seem to have stuck his head in the sand and wished it went away.  He didn't report the police.  Some asked what the police would do; after all, from JoePa it'd be heresay.  He didn't even have any details on the matter.  They couldn't start an investigation, could they?

BULL.  FUCKING.  SHIT.

First, this is Joe Paterno for crying out loud.  He could call the fucking Governer of Pennsylvania at 3AM if he was serious enough, and he's smart enough to know it.  Second, he had direct access to an eyewitness.  Even if he didn't know the details, hear the words "coach" and "young boy" and "shower room" from a visibly shaken assistant and what other fucking details would you need to hear??  He could have easily arranged a meeting between the assistant and the police.  And who the hell reports a crime to their boss?  "Uh, hi Mr. Lumbergh, um, one of the guys in my department just witnessed a possible sexual assault of a minor.  I was just wondering, would HR be cool with that?"  What the hell!  This is what 911 was invented for, and he treats it like an administrative problem.  There was PLENTY JoePa could've done. I'm also not thrilled that he released a politically mealy-mouthed statement that sounds more defensive than anything and basically lets the university dictate his approach to the press, but whatever.  We'll get to my verdict on that.
So to review, on one hand he's saying he didn't do anything wrong (basically, not literally), and I agree.  On the other hand, I'm not accepting excuses about his inaction.  On one hand he's crafted a legacy of generosity and integrity; he's donated millions and hundreds of young men are better off for having met him.  On the other hand, he was right in front of a witness to sexual assault and didn't even call the cops.  Now that he can't hide it anymore, he's getting all political in front of the media.  So what do we make of JoePa?  Is he good or bad?

Good.  I would still say he is a good man.  Good, but a coward.  Pathetic.  Useless.  Just one among millions of Americans who confront adversity with the shamefully irresponsible initiative of "not my job".  Yet another disappointing loser who, when faced with the tough choice between blowing up the prestige he built up from decades of work to do the right thing or go all Genovese syndrome and abandon a young boy to his tragic fate, he chose to bury his head in his desk and hope the problem went away.  That doesn't make him bad, and I know plenty of people who aren't in any position to criticize his cowardice.  It doesn't take away from the good things he did either, but if you look at it, none of the good things he did are particularly brave.  Funding a library puts him on moral ground well above the vast majority of millionaires in this country, but it's not like throwing around donations put his career at risk.  He's generous, but he's no Chiune Sugihara.  For those that wish he could be remembered for decades of success and generosity and think of this as "tarnishing" his legacy. . . THIS IS his legacy.  It isn't tarnished; we just now know it for what it is.  This had been going on for years.  Don't you dare bury the victims again just because your precious little bubble burst.  It will define him, and it damn well should.  When I think about how he was able to concentrate on 4-3 schemes while a young boy might've been screaming in a shower room, I tremble with rage.  If he's the decent man I think he is, he won't be able to look in the mirror again without shame sucker-punching him in the gut.

*To those not familiar with Joe Paterno, he's one of the most venerable and well-respected coaches in college football history.  Even those who think of football as a corrupt fraternity of corporate greed and enabled thugs would concede that he was one of the "good guys".  So this is really about whether or not the college football is ready to have their last stronghold of integrity shattered like a hand grenade in a house of mirrors, all over a handful of boys.  My answer?  YES.  When children are truly victimized I really don't give a rat's ass about how anyone professes to be shocked or horrified.  You're not the effin' victim here.

21 September 2011

So let's agree that "government is the problem". . .

Look, I don't think there's a person in the country who thinks government is entirely free of corruption.  I was raised in a government town, I live in a government town, many of my friends work in the government.  And -- surprise, surprise -- they'll be the first to tell you how wasteful, inept and corrupt government can be.  The funny thing is, their stories sound a lot like the ones I hear in the private sector, but never you mind.  Let's assume that government is hopelessly broken.  Actually, I take that back.  It IS broken.  Having watched the debt ceiling debate debacle play out, pretty much EVERYONE -- including me -- hates government now.  I don't know anyone who even really liked government before, but now I don't know a single person who'd call the federal government anything better than dysfunctional.  Regardless of what may have been in the past, the Republicans are 100% correct now.  Government is the problem.  It's broken.  It's hopeless.  So. . . what?

YAY??  CONGRATULATIONS??

I mean, isn't this what the Republicans have been wanting and trying for years?  They not only tried to tell everyone who'd listen (and scream at those who wouldn't) that government is the problem, they finally succeeded.  So. . . when's the party?  What the fuck is the endgame?  The right-wing trolls have been mocking Obama's "hope & change" message (and, look, most of those who voted for him never bought that bullshiat; the GOP counteroffer was Sarah fucking Palin) by calling it "rainbows and unicorn farts", but what does "government is the problem" offer?  What the hell were we supposed to expect?  I mean, as a result of total collapse of Americans' faith in government I see a lot of paralysis and despair.  You know, like living in a truly broken country.  Wait, is that the endgame?  Why are we supposed to feel all warm and fuzzy about that?

For whatever the hell it's worth, I'm not gonna defend Obama.  He IS part of the problem.  Merely pointing out an irrational level of extremism as irrational does not make me a spokesperson for some hypothetical idealistic left that wants to dry-hump Capitol Hill.  I did just say I hate the federal government.  It's just that now that everyone in the country agrees on this. . . well, I can see how it's good for the GOP, but I don't see how it's good for anyone else.  If anything, we're all now seriously bummed.  Again. . . yay??  See, the main difference between me and the teabaggers is that I think you can't solve a problem until you adopt a problem-solving mindset.  I'm not an idealist; I don't expect the government to ever be corruption-free or even efficient, but there is something to be said for productive approaches to bad situations.  The offered proposal is to "shrink" government until it can be "drowned in a bathtub".  Logic being, if it's useless yet inevitable, then at least being smaller means it will do less damage.  Um, look, as an engineer let's just say I've been asked to solve a variety of problems in my time, and fixed quite a few bad ones, but never by using that idea.  It's a preposterously single-minded approach; it never knows when to stop, so the really the goal here is total destruction.  Just apply this logic to anything else and try to get somewhere.  Even the right-wingers who preach scorched-earth politics really don't apply this sort of mindset to anything else, for very obvious reasons.  Just for kicks, let's equate politicians with termites as an example.  Both are no good, right?  They only destroy all that you hold dear; everything they touch turns to garbage, right?  Well, what do these political nihilists try to do with a termite infestation?  Do they declare defeat and torch their homes?  Of course not.  They try to exterminate the termites with as little damage as possible.  So even when they're literally dealing with destructive parasites that can never be reformed, reasoned with or completely eliminated, they're willing to consider a constructive, problem-solving approach because if at all possible, they'd rather not lose their homes.  Well, guess what:  When it comes to politics, America is our fucking home.

Stop trying to burn the whole country just to get rid of some parasites.

Regulation: More or Less? Wrong Question!

The problem with the whole regulation argument is that there is zero context about regulation in the public discourse (media, blogosphere, etc.). It's always the amount, like we're measuring an ingredient in a baking recipe. No context. As in, none. Zero. I just haven't seen it. And it confounds me. Why the hell not??

Let me explain the very serious problem with this using an example. Let's say in some theoretical world that I have become the undisputed despotic master of I-90, superceding the authority of even the federal government. You drive on I-90, you drive by my rules. So I promptly require all vehicles to be purple-colored four-door sedans weighing exactly 2723 pounds with Nepal's flag (exact dimensions, mind you) painted on the trunk lid. If you don't comply, I throw you in jail, and I use tolls to fund an army to enforce my arbitrary rules. Which also change next week. Maybe. But if you work in Seattle, Chicago, Cleveland or Boston, what else are you going to use? You Seattlites gonna jam 520 even more, or brave the infamous I-405??

Oh, but no speed limits. Or seat belt law. You can also drink, text, do drugs, whatever -- while you drive. So of course, my fantasy I-90 suffers from a downright grisly rate of fatalities.

Now, does my theoretical I-90 have too much or too little regulation??

You can bet ideologues will debate to end times whether it's too much or too little, when the problem is so painfully clear that it's too much of the wrong regulations and too little of the necessary ones. But you never, EVER hear that from a pundit, politician or even a blogger, do you??

09 August 2011

The Mismatch

Among the political punditry tactics I find most infuriating, the one I'll focus on today is what I call "the mismatch".

A mismatch is a valid tactic in many cases.  In war, skilled commanders will always try to defeat their enemies through favorable mismatches (and avoiding unfavorable ones) when possible.  The phalanx was vulnerable to cavalry, which could flank it.  Insurgents lure tanks into cities, where they are most vulnerable.  In basketball, there's the pick-and-roll.  Football, soccer and any other formation sport utilizes mismatches, although they vary in complexity.  The point is, it's easy to succeed when you successfully pick your opponent based on known weaknesses.

I've seen this in political discourse; in one particular odious example, the media set up an argument between an pro-abortion activist and a corporatist economist about economic policy.  What the hell was the activist doing up there??  Yes, the left certainly has its loony fringe -- the science-fearing, alternative medicine, save-the-whales idiots who basically oppose any economic activity they don't understand (which is just about everything).  The right also certainly has its fringe, the science-fearing, bedroom-legislating corporatists who believe business can do no wrong and government can do no right (never mind they're both run by humans).  Both sides also have their legit arguments and smart people, so it's easy for the media to rig any left-vs.-right argument with a pre-determined outcome.  If one side steamrolls the other in debate, it's usually by design.  I've noticed a recent change, though. . . lately both sides have been represented by stupid.  I don't really know if they have a bias so much as a despicable desire to turn politics into spectator sport.

The difference, though, is that the loony left didn't just hold the entire U.S. economy hostage for six weeks.  I'm hearing my right-leaning friends whining about how the Tea Party is always represented on TV by idiots, but that's precisely the problem, fellas -- all the leaders of the Tea Party are idiots!  The media can make the left look stupid any time and it does when it wants to, but in the case of the Tea Party they really don't have a choice.

P.S. If you want to know how unbelievably stupid the Congressional debate on the debt ceiling was, read up on Modern Monetary Theory.  We basically almost ran our economy into the ground over nothing.

02 July 2011

Why the Arts Matter

When it comes to government funding for the arts, self-proclaimed "fiscal conservatives" angrily regard it as a completely unnecessary use of money.  Well, guess what:  They're 100% correct.  Sure, it's unnecessary.  But in every case where someone crunches the numbers, the amount spent on the arts isn't even a rounding error; it's the government equivalent of change between the couch cushions.  Guys, if you're complaining about high taxes, gutting funding for the arts might get you a dollar back.  But that's not a convincing case, is it?  One could say the same thing about the proverbial mayor's nephew's crony desk job.  So, I guess someone needs to explain why the arts matter.

I just moved from Ohio*. You know what Ohio is like? Endless cornfields, endless strip malls, franchise restaurants. The biggest year-round attraction where I lived is a soulless, plastic mall. The downtown is in shambles and the biggest club in town is a redneck bar.  There's an orchestra in the town, I guess, but the only way anyone would mention it would be. . . well, in a response to this post.  If you want a taste of diversity, you have maybe one option and a dozen places that serve steak & potatoes.  It's like living in Brave New World without the sex. This is what happens when culture is purely dictated by the market -- the market has no culture.

Aside from running organizations that are inherently incompatible with profit motive (like a regulatory agency), government is one of the more convenient ways to subsidize unprofitable sectors of society. Just don't confuse "unprofitable" with worthless. Life's more interesting with art in it, and America's hardly starving.** Without the funds to let artists, dancers, musicians, etc. keep doing what they do, you've just got more bored slobs to deflate labor pool wages.  At our current unemployment rate, do we really need more of those? If an artist is willing to do something s/he likes for a pathetic wage. . . hey, I get that it's technically a drag on society, but yeesh, catching the austerity bug over this is like whining that a book in your trunk is slowing your car down. At least they're doing something besides just collecting welfare payments. Yes there are private sources of funding, but be honest here: They're already tapped out, and especially unreliable during times of economic hardship.

On the other hand, if something can make enough money to profit, it'll be done by the private sector without any help because someone will eventually get the brilliant idea to, well, profit off it.  The pop culture side of the "arts" sure doesn't need any help, but that's not what's art funding is for (if government money's going to, say, James Cameron, sure, I'll say we have a problem).  And while the buggy whip industry should expect to collapse without any government intervention, it's in society's best interest to at least preserve something with historical or cultural significance, such as the first buggy whip factory. Turn it into a museum or something so it has a revenue stream so it's not completely funded with taxes, but I personally wouldn't mind if it was subsidized to an extent. I'm certainly not suggesting a significant percentage of funds go to the arts. But that's the thing; the arts don't get a significant percentage of our tax dollars!

I can accept the case that it's a more efficient use of funds if the government gets out of funding the arts. I'd certainly axe all spending for arts if America literally had people starving in the streets. But now? This level of austerity is ludicrous. Be very, very careful what you wish for here.

Long story short:  Government spending on the arts is insurance against your neighborhood turning into fucking Ohio.

*For those of you who are from Ohio and resent this. . . suck it up.  I admit I exaggerated a bit, but if you're going to make the case that Ohio does have culture, then this post was written in the name of supporting the very examples you're inclined to bring up.  If there's an occasion to take an ego hit in the name of progress, Ohioans, this is the moment.


**I'm not saying this to downplay the misery of long-term unemployed individuals, but in terms of economic activity, America is well away from any crisis. Frankly, the suffering here is inexcuseable for precisely that reason; our hardships are entirely due to mis-allocated resources and disregard for the social contract.  Our leaders insist people work for a living, but don't do anything to put people to work. We don't have a food shortage, so we might as well pay our artists to do what they do.  That puts them to work in their own way, and as the unemployment rate indicates, we don't need more cogs!

06 June 2011

Responsibility

Let's break down the various ways high-profile Americans tackle responsibility, eh?  In particular, responsibility for error or sin:


Take responsibility (actually do something about it) -- what's that?
Accept responsibility (but don't do shit about it) -- the best we can hope for, in all its meaningless glory
Admit to fault -- very rare
Admit to error -- rare
Non-apology apology ("Mistakes were made") -- par for the course
Steadfast denial -- about 20% of the fucking country, probably as high as 40%
Delusional self-righteousness -- honestly, this happens?? if you don't get outraged by this, you're crazy

If you're still reading and haven't slit your wrists yet, let me point out that ONLY the first option is meaningful in ANY way*, yet it's the one thing you can't expect from anyone.  It gets preached about enough, and while politicians are big on talking about it, very few instances in my mind stick out where a politician actually takes responsibility for anything.  Again, that's take responsibility for something (see above).  Not merely saying they do.

The difference is one that I have only seen, at least in my personal experience, articulated in [East] Asian culture.  Not that Asian politicians are any better at it, but at least they know what it is, so they often resign before it gets to that.  In contrast, Americans are so numb to lack of responsibility that they only react to it as a talking point.  Hey, it's easy to get riled up, but do we really remember what responsibility is in any given case?  When someone talks about taking responsibility, does anyone ask, "What would be taking responsibility for this?  What should be done?"  I never see discussion on this level; it's all outrage, no context.  In reaction to some random news scandal where a politician said "I take responsibility" before reporters, which got modest praise from Americans, one Japanese person I know remarked with indignance, "How?"  And that person is right.  The politician couldn't undo the damage.  He didn't resign.  He didn't pass legislation making it harder.  He didn't impose any punishment or countermeasure whatsoever.  Not only was there no practical way he could've taken responsibility, he didn't even try.  He just said something on the news.  Honestly, I don't know if this was always the case, but if there's any way our society can move forward, it's here.

I'm gonna pound this point home.  As difficult as it is to get an American politician to "accept responsibility", all "responsibility" means in this country is admit they should have been responsible.  That's it.  That's the extent to the moral courage we actually hope for in this country -- not just from politicians, but our leaders in general.  Hell, Goldman Sachs bet against their own securities in their process of profiting off the very economic destruction they worked to set up, and to hell with admitting fault -- they were morally delusional, going as far as to say they're doing God's work.  Is this what we've become?  A nation that doesn't pursue morality, but merely declares it?  These assholes may not speak for all of us, but. . . oh, wait, they do.  They're our fucking leaders.  They run the country.  They represent it.  They speak for us, whether we like it or not.  As for why this won't change, though, see my post, "Politics and Negotiation".

People make mistakes, but generally when decent people they make mistakes, they apologize, work to limit the damage and take measures to ensure it won't happen again.  Got it?  That's three things to expect from anyone decent.  We can barely even yawn anymore when our business, spiritual and political leaders bat a fucking 0 for 3.**  Hell, we're impressed when they don't demand our gratitude!

*Come to think of it, most of them are meaningful in very many bad ways.  Ugh.
**They run the country so I'm picking on them, but to be fair, I see plenty of irresponsibility among unwashed peons.  Like it or not, we really are represented well.   We deserve these bastards, because they are who we are.

05 June 2011

A thought triggered by yet another conversation about Goldman Sachs. . .

GS got away with what they did through the magic of "deregulation".

Seriously, does anyone consider what the true meaning of "deregulation" is? It means NOTHING IS ILLEGAL. No matter the ethics, morals or even danger in an action; deregulation means you can do it. No laws = no limits. These people lobbied for and deregulated investment banking. They made every scummy move they did perfectly legal.  Same with Enron.  Same with what will eventually happen with the Internet providers.

I mean, if people lobbied to "deregulate" sexuality, at first it would sound like a good thing. After all, it gets government out of private lives -- a true libertarian cause. Until you realize that deregulation means everything is legal, including abuse, slavery, rape, pedophilia and incest. I mean, you can't exactly put a child molester in jail if molesting children isn't against the law. If NAMBLA was as clever as Goldman Sachs, they would sell their agenda as "deregulation" (or more like "small government" or "social libertarianism"), because it seems this country is full retard on sucking that word's cock like it's candy without once ever thinking about where it's been.

No one at Goldman Sachs will ever go to trial, not because they broke the law and will get away with it. They didn't break any laws because they did away with any laws they didn't like. So you'd take them to court for. . . what? Fraud? You need to prove they violated some disclosure or consumer protection law. You think they don't pay an army of lawyers precisely to stay out of that kind of trouble? Every effin' financial services firm in New England has a Compliance Department; you think GS of all firms would be that careless??  To a Compliance Department -- no matter how big-shot your legal team is --  if you go to court, you've already failed.  My experience in finance tells me they paid a lot of brilliant people a lot of money to make 100% sure no retaliation will ever get that far in the first place.

Next time some business whines and biatches about "burdensome regulations", think long and hard about what "deregulation" means. Yes, some laws are unnecessary and should be repealed, but consider the messenger. It could just as easily mean they want to do something extremely shady and they'll lobby to dismantle government controls to do it. Because all you have to do to get this retarded country behind your plan for self-enrichment is to say what's good for you is good for the economy, eh?

17 March 2011

Politics and Negotiation

Do you see the Congress, AARP, UAW, Pentagon and Chamber of Commerce getting together to agree to a budget? I mean, can you imagine such a thing without busting out laughing because your imagination might as well add cartoon characters in the background and it'd only make it slightly more ridiculous?

Of course not.  See, Americans have come to think of concession as a sign of weakness. Truth, shame -- those are for suckers. Reason, facts -- just tools, only to be used when it's useful. Those lauded as "leaders" are those that negotiate like six-year-olds. Actual progress, strength even, is to dig in and scream until you get as much as you can. Note you don't get what you want. You're not fighting for what's best. It's about getting more. And with everyone doing that you're assured of a disaster.

Allow me to relate my experience in automotive. (It's a metaphor, so I will sacrifice some accuracy for clarity and brevity.) There's constant pressure to pack more shit into cars these days, so bidding wars for room to put your equipment in there get quite heated. But everyone at the table, while they may spit at each other (because one person getting his way creates extra work for another), understands why they're there, and what the stakes are. Say, for example, you have a little 3"x5" fuse box that you need to fit under the instrument panel. To do your job, you'll need a space a little larger than that. You march into the meeting room with a bottle of antacids, a pot of coffee and no evening plans because this is what you NEED. And not only do you NEED it, the car needs it or it's not going anywhere. A car without a fuse box won't run. So the fuse box engineer generally understands that no matter how ugly negotiations get, his job is to make everyone understand the importance of the space he is bidding for.  Yet before he says a single word, everyone else already knows that unless that fuse box gets the space it needs, there will be no car to bring to market -- everyone loses.  Stonewalling the fuse box engineer's goal just because it's tad inconvenient isn't just childish or stupid; it's madness.  The fight, then, is for a location and space that's convenient for the fuse box engineer, vs. a location and space that's convenient for others.  If they have to haggle and argue all night about where to put the space and how much to allocate, by the end of the day, he will have his goddamn place to put his fuse box. THIS is how work is done. THIS is how negotiation is done. THIS is how GROWNUPS WORK.

Not in American politics. American politics is about getting as big a piece of the pie as possible. Dig in, scream, yell, pound fists and spew lies and go on TV and demonize opponents until. . . you wind up with a farking useless 2.5" x 9" space because that's what you managed to get. You can't fit your damn fuse box in it, but hey, you won something, right? Or you hire a big-time lobbyist who secures an awesome 7"x11" space for you AT THE EXPENSE OF THE MOTHERFUCKING BATTERY. Or you lose and there's no fuse box at all, so it's replaced with a hodge-podge shoestring job of spliced wires and you pray the damn thing doesn't short and catch fire while the people who beat you into submission high-five each other for winning a political victory that will only hurt everyone in the end.

And what the fuck is all this about left-right or bias, anyway? Moderation isn't a virtue! The fuse box engineer is HUGELY biased -- the guy is 100% pro-fuse box all the way. It's the only thing he's there to represent! The difference between his job and extremism is a thorough understanding of the overall situation and how all the pieces interact. The guy is NOT going to compromise on the space he NEEDS for the fuse box, nor is he going to lie to secure any space he won't find useful. It's not because he's a moderate; it's because he's not crazy. He's there to accomplish a job he understands every aspect of and it's NOT some ideological bullshit take-no-prisoners American jihad to secure every inch of every car until the roads are filled with giant fuse boxes and anything less is a threat to our freedoms. That's not a victory for America and it's not even a victory for fuse box engineer. A victory for the fuse box engineer is getting the concessions he needs to do his job so he can fucking do his job and hopefully get home in time to see his family before they go to bed.

There are a few good legislators in Congress, but they're outnumbered, exhausted and unappreciated. Take healthcare "reform", for example. Don't hash out the details. Forget about Medicare, or single payer, or co-pays or taxes or death panels or prescription drugs or whatnot.  I'm not talking about particulars, here.  Think back to just how the debate was conducted. People screaming sound bites from TV in town hall meetings not because there were riots in the streets, but to prevent any civilized discourse. Ultimatums from special interests. Congressmen using procedures and grandstanding -- anything but rational people discussing the actual policy details with the public.  We voted for this.  And people wonder why politicians are corrupt and stupid? Considering what voters demand, subject them to and vote for, why the hell would any level-headed, intelligent, honest person run for public office in this country at this point??

This country's spoiled attitude is out of control. And when I say "out of control" I am using the technical definition -- it is boundless and there are no working negative feedback mechanisms, like shame, to even slow it down. Seriously. Where do you see any sense of shame in this country as a political force? What about decency, or even common sense? What about a sense of having a goal and working to accomplish it? It doesn't help when the people who need reform the most are so wilfully ignorant they don't realize they're on the wrong side, voting against their interests. And why tell people what to think if it's supposed to be a democracy, anyway? My vote doesn't matter not because "both parties are equal" (they're not). It's that the very country itself down to the voters are pushing to make the country completely ungovernable.

American civics just flat-out isn't about running a society anymore.

10 March 2011

Neo-Deism?

Wow, what an audacious douche.  Starts off a blog by inventing a new religion.

Well, not quite.  Tacking on "neo-" to an existing faith is not inventing, and Deists are by nature disorganized so there's no ambition to form any kind of following.  This is basically just another perspective on religion, named for convenience.  There's a decent article on Wikipedia about Deism, but here are a few key points:
  • Historically, Deism was most prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Several of the Founding Fathers of the United States were either Deists or thought to be Deists, notably Benjamin Franklin.
  • Deists reject (or dismiss) the notion of an anthropomorphic, meddling god.  It's a failure to grasp the true scope of the word, "omnipotent" (all-powerful).  For example, a miracle is, by definition, divine intervention.  The very need to directly intervene implies God's plans were not executed perfectly.  Therefore, if miracles occur, God is not perfect.  That isn't a flattering image of divinity, which is why Deists are inclined to believe it's false.
  • Deists reject organized religion (so, it's not Unitarianism).  No mortal can hope to serve as a vehicle of communication for an omnipotent being, nor would a truly omnipotent being require such a servant in the first place.  As such, there is no official Deist church.  Deist beliefs vary, and among Deists this is entirely uncontroversial.  Everyone's entitled to a view, but if anyone claims to be a spiritual authority on Deism, they're a phony, a comedian, or someone who really missed the point.
That's classical Deism.  The variants aren't fundamentally different; for example, Pandeism clarifies God as a transcendental entity (as opposed to, say, a glowing-white guy with a beard) but that's about it.  Modern Deism isn't much more than a scientific update; modern astronomical observations have revealed the universe to be far more vast than anyone -- religious or otherwise -- could have imagined.  The sheer scale of the universe makes even the classical Deist notion that God at least was interested enough in humans to make them an important part of His designs a shamefully arrogant, laughably anthropomorphic failure of imagination.  So, probably the main difference between classical and modern Deism is the shift from "God is content to let people freely interact with the universe He made," to, "God transcends human interaction.  I mean, way beyond it."

So, what's Neo-Deism?  To put it one way, as far as Neo-Deism is concerned, the Buddhist state of enlightment isn't as significant as the inner peace that it provides.  Jesus' divinity doesn't matter as much as his career as an awesome social worker and moral leader.  The sex life (or lack thereof) of his mother really doesn't matter at all.  Really, what's the big deal?  If Mary conceived Jesus normally, as skeptics argue (if they accept that Jesus even existed), would that have made Jesus any less of a badass?  Atheists argue that the existence of God can't be proven scientifically, but it can't be disproven either.  And really, if omnipotence leads to lack of intrusion, why does it matter so much that God cannot exist?  Science isn't about proof any more than it is about dogma, anyway.  It's really just an ongoing effort to find the most concise, consistent and predictive explanations for what we observe, and it's very good at that.  The literalists take the absurd view that God deliberately planted fake dinosaur bones to deceive scientists, but science merely draws its conclusions based on what's observed.  If the bones look like they're 100 million years old, right down to the radioisotope concentration, that's the conclusion science will arrive at whether it's the truth or a divine prank.  Heaven and Hell may be real, but you're here now and you don't need God to tell you that most people like nice guys and hate jerks.  Neo-Deism is not the demeaning, diminishing or denial of God, but a different perspective on the relevance of divinity.  Whereas classical Deism considers one's relation to God impersonal, Neo-Deism essentially argues it's irrelevant.  If there's an antithesis to Neo-Deism, it's the excessive focus on defending or attacking the symbols and tales of religion at the expense of whatever meanings the texts intend to convey.

I'll point out that this idea isn't new or groundbreaking.  The most humble believers of any religion already take the teachings to heart, rather than waste time comparing themselves to others or quibbling over literal accuracy, and have done so for centuries.  However, they still individually identify with the religion that first inspired them, even if (as far as a Neo-Deist is concerned) a minimalist Buddhist and a minimalist Christian would have far more in common with each other than the latter would with, say, Robert Tilton.  Neo-Deism acknowledges their personal adherence to morality in defiance of self-centered organizations that would take credit for these individuals' dedication.  A humble Buddhist isn't holy because s/he is Buddhist; it's the humility that counts.  Neo-Deism separates the sincere believers' way of life from the faith itself into a belief that the philosophy of a religion is more important than its spirituality.  Comparing, say, Hinduism to Islam is silly.  Religion isn't a damn competition for acceptance.  The question isn't whether or not your faith is righteous; it's, what can you learn from your faith?

To reiterate, Neo-Deism is not denial or defiance of God Himself; it's a different viewpoint in how God, people and morality relate to one another.  In particular, the most powerful entity of the three -- God -- is the least relevant precisely because He is the most powerful.  We people should focus on morality, not God, because morality is fundamentally about people.  In other words, to be blunt about it, stop arguing about an entity that doesn't need your help either way and get your life in order.  Many holy texts are rather useful references for that, and that's what they're for.