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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Shade of Grey

The post title might make you think that I will be talking about a Tim Burton film, but alas, that is not the case.  That man uses more shades of grey in his films than anyone else I know.  Somebody who is a complete stranger to grey, is Ayn Rand.

If there is black and white, which stand for good and evil, and anything between is a shade of grey, then in regard to a specific issue, does Ayn Rand fall within the grey, even though she advocates only the presence of black and white?  I was asked, "It seems to me then that either Determinism or Chaos Theory can exist (the black and white). Either everything happens by chance or is pre-determined. Ayn Rand believes in free choice but denounces chance. Do you find that Ayn Rand falls in the gray here?"  First, we must define determinism and chaos theory.

Determinism is the belief that every event in life was influenced by past events.  So, you turned left one day instead of right and this morning your burnt your toast.  Pre-destination is the idea that some higher power has every aspect of our lives mapped out.  Chaos theory is that nothing in life is predictable because everything falls on a non-linear graph.  For the purposes of this blog, I am going to assume that by determinism, the person who asked the question meant pre-destination.

If the only factors we consider are pre-destination and chaos, then free choice would not even be on the chart.  Free choice is not the blending of pre-destination and chaos, free choice is its own entity.  Therefore, we must conclude that there are more than two beliefs of how life works.  Free choice would mean that our lives are shaped by our choices, which we make by engaging our brains, accumulating data, and making informed decisions.  So there are at least three different opinions.  How would these three combine to give us a shade of grey?

A shade of grey would be the belief that 1/3 of life is pre-destined, 1/3 of life is chaos, and 1/3 of life is due to our own choices.  However, that belief would never hold any water in any rational discussion, because we are merely trying to get the best of all three options.  All three options cannot be correct, which means two of the options (assuming of course that there are a maximum number of three options) are wrong.  Which one is right?  For the purposes of this blog, the rightness or wrongness is not an issue, and bringing that into this assessment would only complicate things.

Ayn Rand's argument about black, white and grey, is that people who generally believe in the grey claim there is no black or white.  She writes, in The Virtue of Selfishness, "If there is no black and white, there can be no gray - since gray is merely a mixture of the two."  Which only goes to show that Ayn Rand believes there is a black and white.  She says, "When a man has ascertained that one alternative is good and the other is evil, he has no justification for choosing a mixture."  Meaning, he has no justification for choosing grey.  If you know one thing is right and the other is wrong, you have no rationalization for picking something in the middle.

But what about an issue where the good and evil may not be easily discernible?  "If, in a complex moral issue, a man struggles to determine what is right, and fails or makes an honest error, he cannot be regarded as 'gray'; morally he is 'white.'  Errors of knowledge are not breeches of morality; no proper moral code can demand infallibility or omniscience," writes Rand.  This is not to say you won't be held accountable for your mistake, only that you are not violating your moral code if you do make a mistake, an honest mistake.  She also says that if you are actively refusing knowledge in such a dilemma, that you would be violating your moral code, and would be evil.

Knowledge is good.  Refusing knowledge is evil.  We accept the fact that there is good and there is evil.  Some people believe there is a mixture in the middle.  There are people who fall in the middle.  The difference comes into play in defining the middle.  Most people would say the middle is grey.  Ayn Rand says anything not good, is evil.  If you're in the middle, you are not good, so you must be evil.  To bring this back to the original question, of Ayn Rand embracing free choice but denouncing chance being a shade of grey does not make any logical sense, because life can't be chaos and free choice at the same time.  Ayn Rand embraces what she believes and anything she doesn't believe is considered evil.  Ayn Rand falls firmly within the construct of black and white because, based on her knowledge, she believes in free choice, not a variation of different alternatives.

© 2010 Nate Phillipps

Controlling The Competition

I have a Netflix subscription, and it is fantastic.  When I first got my subscription, I was able to get new-release DVDs in the mail the same day they came out on DVD.  Not anymore.

The studios (Warner, Fox, Universal) have all forced Netflix to sign an agreement withholding new release DVDs from Netflix for 28 days.  What happened after Neflix signed this deal?  Companies like DirecTV started airing commercials that blasted Netflix for their new-release waiting period and highlighted their ability to make new-release movies available on demand.  Apparently, this waiting period doesn't apply to video rental stores either.

Basically, there was an orchestrated effort to put chains on Netflix's ability to compete.  Who benefits?  Certainly not the customers.  Netflix's competitors benefit.  Do the studio's benefit?  It's hard to tell.  I personally will not buy any movie I have not seen first.  Competition is good.  A lack of competition only benefits those too lazy to compete.

© 2010 Nate Phillipps

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Subtlety of Censorship

The truth is that words matter.  We write things a certain way because it means something different than if we were to write it another way.  Luckily, in America we have the First Amendment, which is supposed to prohibit the government from making any law to infringe upon our freedom of speech.  Here is what it says, as our Founding Father's wrote it:  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  Unfortunately, here in America, Congress is breaking the law.

When did it start?  The first attempt was in 1798 by President Adams and the Alien And Sedition Acts.  This law didn't beat around the bush.  If you opposed any U.S. law or spoke out against the president or congress, you were to be jailed for up to two years.  This law was eventually allowed to expire.  Since then, congress has tried to strip us of our free speech.  Since then, they have succeeded.

Of course, these days it's all about the art of being subtle.  Do we think twice when we listen to the radio and hear the edited versions of songs?  Some of us even defend the censorship of music, saying that words like that shouldn't be listened to by children.  I say it's up to the parents to decide what their children listen to.  When we watch TV, well, any TV that isn't a premium cable channel, we think nothing of censorship.  Should inappropriate language, themes and situations be censored?  If you answered yes, who determines what is appropriate?

I'm all for not allowing children to watch R rated movies, or adult television shows, or listen to explicit songs.  But that is the responsibility of the parents, not the government.  We have rating upon rating on music, television, and film, but as far as I'm aware, there are no ratings on books.  An elementary school kid can go to the library and check out Mein Kampf.  Over the history of our country, many books been banned, and those have been overturned.  Other forms of media have not enjoyed the same amount of protection that books have enjoyed.

If all books are appropriate, why aren't all songs, TV shows, and videos?  Are those types of media more subversive than others?  Books are seen by many as 'pure.'  While music and videos have the negative stereotype of being for lazy people.  Because of this, the government managed to sink its teeth into these forms of media.  What if the government is after more than just media?

The government is after all free speech, no matter what form it takes or who utters it, publishes it, posts it, or records it.  The Patriot Act, signed into law by George Bush, changed the definition of terrorism to be so broad that this blog could be considered terrorism.  Section 802 of the US Patriot Act changes Section 2331 of Title 18 of the United States Code to read, "The term 'domestic terrorism' means activities that... appear to be intended— (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion."  Read more here.

Now, this blog is not intimidating anyone, and you could argue that it's not coercing anyone either.  Intimidation is a stretch, but my blog does fall under coercion.  According to Merriam-Webster, to coerce is to, "to compel to an act or choice."  Under the Patriot Act, I could be tried as a domestic terrorist.  How did this bill get passed?  How have any of the recent bills been passed?  The health care bill?  Prior to the health care vote, Nancy Pelosi said, "We have to pass the bill so you can find out what's in it."  The same was true with the Patriot Act.  Only one senator, Russ Feingold (D-WI), opposed it, based on, "[Attorney General Ashcroft] provided the text of the bill the following Wednesday, and urged Congress to enact it by the end of the week. That was plainly impossible."  He was the only politician to say he didn't have time to read it.  If he didn't have time to read it, did any of his colleagues?

The government preys on the citizens, using fear as their primary motivator.  After 9/11, they passed the Patriot Act to 'protect' us.  At least, that's what they claimed.  Upon further examination, they passed the Patriot Act to strip us of our freedoms, to infringe on the first and fourth amendments.  They used fear to exploit our faith.  Our faith that the primary job of the government is to protect its citizens from harm.  If there is one thing that history has taught me, it's that the only person I can count on to protect me is myself.  I have no faith in the government.  They will not censor this citizen.

© Nate Phillipps 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Want VS Need

There are a lot of needy people living in our country, and in countries around the globe.  Have you seen that commercial for the new steam-vacuum?  Feel like you need it?  If not, the advertiser isn't doing their job.  We are bombarded with apparent needs all day long, whether it's on television, the radio, in a movie, or in conversation.  In a shocking play of words (much like the current trend of using 'free market' instead of 'capitalism') the media has replaced 'want' with the ever present 'need.'

What is need?  As boring as dictionary definitions are, Wikipedia states, "A need is something that is necessary for organisms to live a healthy life."  This may be the definition the government chooses to use in it's mission statement.  If using this broad definition, health care is a need, a low-fat diet is a need, government handouts are a need, a hybrid car is a need.  The list could go on and on.  I prefer to use Dictionary.com's definition of need, "A requirement."  So if a need is really a requirement, then what are the base requirements for life?

There are three basic needs for human life.  They are food, water, and shelter.  If you have food, water, and shelter, you will be able to survive.  The important thing to remember is that the amount of time you will be able to survive is not guaranteed, and it depends on much food and water you can find, and what sort of shelter you have.  Also, I am not taking into account any sort of disease that requires medication or treatment in order for you to live.  But if we look at the simplest aspect, if you have these three things, you should be able to live.  It probably won't be in comfort, but you will live.

That is where needs end, at least for those who do not have a disease or illness that requires treatment.  Everything else in life is made up of wants.  I want a bed to sleep in.  I want a car to drive.  I want to own a TV.  I want to eat a hamburger.  I do not need a bed to sleep in, I could sleep on the floor or on the ground.  I do not need a car, there are several other modes of transportation available to me.  I do not need a television and I do not need to eat a hamburger, there are several other foods that would sustain me.

So if we don't need all these fancy things, why do we use the word 'need' instead of 'want?'  We use it simply because the government and media want us to use it.  Need implies some sort of dependency, while want implies a self-reliance.  To break it down further, need is a weak word and want is a strong word.  The media and government would rather have weak citizens than strong citizens.  It is easier to control weak citizens.

Ads are designed to target this weakness and convince people that they need a new mattress, a new car, or a new vacuum.  You never hear one of those TV announcers say, "You don't need our product, your current vacuum will do the same thing, ours just looks better."  No, they set up a situation where they can prey upon any self-doubt you have, any weakness hiding in your mind.  If you don't buy their product, you will be outdated and laughed at by your friends, family and peers.  The same is true of the government.

If you don't support the health care bill, you are denying people who need your help.  Here's a secret, they don't need your help, they want your help.  But the government says that they need it, so you have to give it.  They have to use the term need, because usually the people who benefit from laws like that don't have anything of value to contribute or offer in exchange of the benefits they are receiving.  If I come upon a homeless person sitting on the side of the street with his hand out, I will never give him money.  If a homeless person wants to work for his money, then I would gladly hire him to mow my lawn, take out my trash, any number of things.

When you use the term need, you are, in essence, asking for something in exchange for nothing.  The problem is we can't just blame the media or the government, because we do it too, unconsciously.  We need to be just as vigilant with ourselves as we are with everybody else.  If you want something, say you want it, don't say you need it.  If you have food, water, and shelter, everything else is a want.  There is nothing to be ashamed of if you want something.  Want is a proud desire.  It is true that we are living with more than we need, but once you secure food, water, and shelter, life is no longer about need, life is all about want.

© Nate Phillipps 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

No Left Turn On Red

*Note:  In this blog, I am referring to roundabouts meaning the circular traffic junctions, not the method used by politicians to compose arguments.*

There is absolutely no need for a red left-turn arrow.  We've all seen them.  You're waiting to make a left turn, and the green arrow turns to yellow, and then instead of giving you the "Left turn yield on green," it goes right to a red arrow.  So you sit and wait as there is no oncoming traffic for the next 3 minutes.  You seriously consider turning, but you know, deep down, that the second you do, a police officer will whip out and pull you over.

What started this train of thought, and why I'm writing about it in a political blog, is that I was bemoaning the red turn arrow to a coworker, and eventually we got on the topic of roundabouts.  He hates roundabouts, while I love them.  He said that roundabouts are communist/socialist because everybody else has to sacrifice so that one car can make a left turn.  I said that roundabouts where individualist because you were left to your own ability to make your turn.  Stoplights are more socialist than roundabouts.  You have to sit at a stoplight waiting for everybody else to go, while you wait for the government to change your light back to green.

OK, so Uncle Sam isn't sitting there with a switch to change the stoplights, but someone in the government had to figure out how to regulate that intersection, and install the device to change the lights.  At the micro-level, the government regulates our travel everyday with stoplights.  How do they get away with it?  Under the guise of public safety.  Now, I'm not trying to say there shouldn't be any rules of the road.  If that were the case, we'd have to go back to walking everywhere.

The problem with 4-way stops is that most people who happen upon a 4-way stop are too dumb to figure out what to do after they've stopped.  This gets exponentially more complicated with an increase in the number of lanes being forced to stop.  Since I paid attention in driver's ed, and since I don't drive a Prius (or another variety of small car), I know when to go, and if it's not my turn, well, my SUV clears the way pretty fast.  Naturally, the 4-way stop is the preferred system of the government.  They want to force everyone to be equal, so everybody should have to stop at the intersection before proceeding on with their journey.  Although if they had it completely their way, only white males would have to stop at a 4-way stop and the rest of the population would have a special bypass lane.

When the 4-way stop fails, the next step is to put in some very simple stoplights.  Theoretically, everyone is still equal, because on a long enough timeline, everyone will have an equal experience with catching a green light, or a red light.  But then you have people who think yellow is the same as green, so the government really can't allow that to happen, so then the stoplights become more complicated.  Soon they'll have lights on there that tell you when you can blow your nose.  The same is true of the auto industry.  They make cars that will tell you when you're falling asleep, when you're drifting out of your lane, and cars that will even stop for you.

Think of that.  A car that will stop when it senses an obstacle in your path.  Your first thought might be, "Well that sounds awesome."  But really think about it.  What if you're in a parking lot and somebody is trying to rob you?  You hop in your car, and they're right in front of you.  Normally you'd drive right through them, but now you can't, because your car won't let you.  It's that very simple difference, between safety and control.  It could be as simple as a red turn arrow that doesn't allow you to make a turn you deem to be safe, or it could be a car that takes your driving control out of your hands and leaves you a sitting duck for thugs.  Of course it's all marketed as the newest, coolest technology that will help make the world a safer place, but is a world controlled by the government a safer place?

I believe that a world run by individuals is the safest place, individuals who look out for their own interests first.  That's why I like to see a roundabout, because it feels like a small victory for the individual.  A roundabout, to me, is the government acknowledging that the best way to control that intersection is to leave it in the hands of the individuals.  No green lights allowing some to drive, no red lights forbidding others to drive, and most importantly, no red left turn signals.

© Nate Phillipps 2010

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Meeting Michele Bachmann

*Note:  This post is my personal opinion and is in no way sponsored or endorsed by Michele Bachmann or any political candidate.*

I met Michele Bachman, U.S. Congresswoman from Minnesota, this evening at a Boy Scout fundraising event.  As much as I hate to admit it, all I knew about her before today was that she says government over-regulation is at fault, not businesses; which was enough to know she had a decent head on her shoulders.

At the start of the event, I was directing traffic in the parking area, and I talked briefly with her driver as they drove in.  With over 500 people in attendance, most of whom wanting to speak with her, it was a bit tricky getting close enough to start a conversation.  Her entourage was very friendly, and I even got to take a picture with her.  The first thing I asked her was, "When can we vote for you for president."  She said, "Not this year."

We only exchanged a few sentences, but she briefly mentioned that the government has no right to impose fines on private businesses (BP), and agreed with me when I said they also didn't have a right to own private businesses (GM) and that I haven't seen any quarterly profit checks from them in my mailbox.  Then she excused herself and went to the next group.

After I got back, I looked up her voting record here.  There were a few of my coworkers who don't agree with her politics, but even so, for a U.S. Senator to come to a Boy Scout fundraiser and spend time with the people she represents is something most politicians don't do on any sort of basis.  If more politicians spent time with the people they are supposed to represent, I think our country would be much better off.

And as far as having any strong candidate in the 2012 presidential race, we'll just have to hope we have better choices than we did in 2008.

© Nate Phillipps 2010