Showing posts with label economics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label economics. Show all posts

Saturday, December 17, 2016

#Inequality - And What Fighting It Means


Liberals love to complain about how inequality is bad for society and that we need to do something about it, but many free-market types would tell you that inequality is good. They'll say that a meritocracy will inevitably result in inequality because some people will naturally work harder than others and make more money. And those who have more money and goods will incentivize those who don't to work harder. Economic equality, they'll say, is socialism!

So let's talk about what being against economic inequality is about. For most on the Left, fighting economic inequality doesn't mean that we use government to make everyone's income equal no matter that they do or how hard they work. It's also not about implementing a maximum wage, or just taxing the wealthy into poverty.

Being against economic inequality is recognizing we have rigged political and economic systems that cater mostly to the needs of the wealthy and elite and as a result the total amount of wealth and wealth accumulation in the world is increasingly going to a smaller and smaller class of people at the very top of societies. This top-heavy concentration of wealth is bad because as the lower and middle classes maintain less wealth, they have less purchasing power to drive their economies. Creating economic policies that cater to the lower and middle classes that allow them to receive and retain more of the wealth generated will give them greater purchasing power which will better drive the world's economies, and this will secure better living standards for the vast majority of people.

Image: Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2016

Consider that the top .7% of the world's population now owns 45.6% of the world's wealth according to this new graph done by Credit Suisse. Less than 1% owns nearly have the wealth on the planet. 73% of the people on the planet have less than $10,000 and their total amount of that wealth is just 2.4%. The wealthy have rigged the systems in almost every country to favor themselves and they do so in such a way that reduces or stagnates wealth accumulation in the lower and middle classes. Fighting to change this system around the world is what fighting economic inequality is.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Politics Is More Important Than Religion Now


It seems that many YouTube atheists have moved away from criticizing and debunking religion to talking about feminism, political correctness, and other things that are dividing the atheist community. Criticizing religion is feeling more and more now like beating a dead horse. Religion has lost the debate. It's over. Atheism won. I've been increasingly feeling this myself. And although I'm not completely done beating the horse of religion (I don't think it's dead, yet) I do feel the strong urge to pivot towards politics and social issues more.

With the election of Donald Trump two weeks ago, the time to be political is more urgent now than ever. What's a Trump presidency going to mean for secularism? What's it going to mean for the future of science education? What's it going to mean for progressive values? For race relations? For the atheist community? These are currently all open questions. But Mike Pence's history of evolution and climate change denialism, along with Trump's the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, who was once rejected as a federal judge in 1986 for being too racist, the future is not looking good.

I'm particularly concerned about Trump's conflict of interests. His business holdings and properties around the world can directly conflict with his presidential duties. There have already been reports that he allegedly asked the president of Argentina for a favor on a project he has in the country. Trump is renting the Old Post Office in Washington DC from the government via the General Services Administration and has turned it into a hotel and once he becomes president he will get to appoint the administrator in charge of the GSA. He's already suing DC to lower his tax rate. Trump can use that hotel as well as his other properties to curry favor from leaders and diplomats alike. And since Trump is apparently not putting his assets in a blind trust, but is instead having his kids - who he'll be able to communicate with regularly, run the Trump Organization, it's certain Trump will use the office of the presidency to enrich his personal wealth.

There are actually a few things I agree with Trump about. I am for a strong border, and I am ok with deporting criminal illegal aliens. But I do not think we should deport all of the illegal immigrants who have behaved themselves while in the US. I think they should be allowed to get permanent legal status, but not citizenship. If they want to become citizens, they must return to their homelands and apply like everyone else. I am for a vetting process that seeks to determine whether potential immigrants or people we grant visas to are sympathetic to Sharia law. I do think that we should consider limiting immigration from countries with cultures where it might be more difficult for immigrants from there to adapt to American culture, but I'm against banning all Muslims.

I do support pulling out of the TPP negotiations, as Trump announced earlier this week. And I do support renegotiating NAFTA. In fact, most, if not all of our trade deals need to be renegotiated to favor American workers. I do generally think PC culture has gone too far but I'm not in favor of going back to the racism and sexism of the 1950s and 60s.

Trump is a bit vague on other issues. He was pro-choice his whole life until he started running for president. I don't know how sincere he is on his pro-life stance but I'm for keeping Roe V Wade exactly where it is. So I disagree with Trump on that. I do know Mike Pence is vehemently pro-life, and he's really the one I fear most. On same sex marriage Trump said the issue was "settled" and seemed to indicate that this decision was not something he planned on changing. I think Trump is personally not against same sex marriage, but again, I fear what Pence might try to do. He's actually tried to jail same sex couples who try to get married in his state of Indiana when he was governor.

I'm definitely against Trump's views on climate change. I think Trump doesn't actually believe it's a Chinese hoax but I think he's still going to try and push fossil fuels very strongly. I'm definitely against his plan to pull out of the Iran deal, but I think his stance against this was all talk. I've been told by a few fellow liberals that Trump getting elected has allowed us to avoid World War 3 with Russia over Syria. I have no idea if that's accurate.

Basically, politics is too important now. Debates over religion are interesting, but the real work and debates need to be about politics. The political threat from the Religious Right just became much more potent with Trump's election, and we are going to need to keep a watchful eye on them. On top of that, our nation is more divided now than ever. How do we get people out of the echo chamber? How do we get information and facts to people in a post-truth world? How do we resolve our differences and bridge the divide? What are the rational solutions to our nation's problems? These all need answers and to do that it takes attention. So I'm still going to write about debunking religion, but that is going to be shared with more political issues.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What's Wrong With The TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership)?


Hillary Clinton called it the "gold standard" for trade deals before allegedly reexamining it and finding it to be bad for the American people. Many neo-liberals and pro-business types still tout the TPP as a good trade deal but rarely acknowledge the problems with it. Here's an excellent video detailing some of the harm it will do.

The TPP would:
  • Give corporations the power to sue the governments of the countries involved in secret foreign tribunals over any law or regulation they claim affected their future profits, including laws that allow for cheap access to medicine, or protect the environment.
  • Allow you to be fined or sent to jail for downloading copyrighted material.
  • Make it so that ISPs have to monitor your internet habits.
  • Once the TPP is signed it is here forever as it is difficult for countries to withdraw and there is no expiration date.
  • And much more

Saturday, September 3, 2016

On Libertarianism


Something that I don't often write about is political libertarianism. I have a problem with it. I have a problem with the view that the free market approach works everywhere. But in order to talk about this stuff, one needs to bring in the fields of political philosophy and economics that I am much less acquainted with than with the relevant fields needed to have the religion debate.

In political philosophy, one of the major questions is "what is the purpose of government?" It's an interesting question few of us ask ourselves. We tend to grow up in cultures where government exists and its role is taken for granted. The US was founded by rebels who broke away from a theocratic king and set up a secular democracy. The preamble of the US Constitution reads that its purpose was "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". It was the first secular democracy in the world and quite revolutionary.

The purpose of the newly independent US government seemed quite clear. Or was it? What does it mean to "promote the general Welfare?" Libertarians generally believe that the purpose of government is to protect the rights of the citizens and perform a few basic functions like military, police, and the law: The military to protect the country from all enemies foreign and domestic, the police to provide security internally, and the law to provide judges and courts for legal matters. Other than that, most, if not all other areas of society will be handled by the private sector.

Libertarians disagree over exactly how far government should extend beyond the police, military, and the law. They also disagree on taxes. Some support a flat tax, others support no taxation at all and consider any form of taxation the moral equivalent of stealing. People would instead voluntarily donate money to the government in such a system. Voluntaryism, the philosophy that forms of human association should be voluntary is big among the "taxation is theft" wing of libertarians.

I've challenged many libertarians I know on whether an all voluntary taxation system would actually be able to pay for the government they think should exist and the answers I get don't sound too confident. I've asked them what should be done if voluntary tax donations weren't enough to cover the costs of the government functions, like for example, the police to secure the safety of the community, and I haven't gotten a good answer yet. Voluntaryism would also allow free riders to game the system. If your neighbors are voluntarily paying for the police and you're not, you're still going to get the same police protection they paid for. Also, who would build and maintain the roads, bridges, and tunnels? Would the private sector really be able to handle this with the level of coverage government could?

Libertarians are very anti-utilitarian. They are not focused on the end result, but rather the principle being held. So if an all voluntary taxation system failed to pay for the needs of the small libertarian government and it resulted in massive societal problems, like rising crime and civil unrest because of the lack of paid police officers, then so be it. All that matters is that government didn't tax, or "steal" anyone's earnings.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Conservatives Have A Point


Growing up in the inner city, the culture that surrounded me in my adolescent years despised intelligence. Ignorance was celebrated as a virtue; it was something to be commended, something to aspire to. I remember back in school dumbing myself down in order to fit in with my peers by pretending to be stupid and not knowing the answers to the questions my teachers asked, when in fact I really did. Thinking back on this reminds me of the conservatives who say that the problems of the inner city, and the black community in particular, are due to culture and not racism. For a while I dismissed that argument, but I've changed my mind. I think conservatives do have a point on this.

Now let me first set the record straight. I am technically a liberal, although I'm beginning to hate labels more and more, especially when it comes to politics. I am a liberal—but—I definitely don't think liberals have all the right answers. They are not 100 percent right on 100 percent of the issues. That's far from the case. We must divorce ourselves from the increasingly tribal mentalities on the political spectrum. We must be willing to listen to the other side, and seek out the best criticism of our own political identifications. And we must put reason and evidence first and foremost over and above everything else, especially when it disagrees with our politics.

On the ongoing problems in America's inner cities with rising crime and stagnant poverty I think that it is undeniably true that culture is at least a part of the problem. You see, what conservatives typically do is they blame all the problems in the inner city on culture, and what liberals typically do is they blame all the problems in the inner city on racism. But as I see it, both of them are partially right. Yes — racism, the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws, the predatory lending practices of banks, and many other discriminatory policies have left a negative imprint on African Americans. And yes it is also true that many racist policies have hurt Latino Americans and to a lesser degree some Asian Americans. But that isn't the full answer of why these groups still struggle with poverty, violent crime, and high unemployment and incarceration rates. Culture matters. When you have a culture that nurtures and embraces ignorance as if it was a virtue, treats women like pieces of shit, and thinks that resorting to violence in order to solve your problems is acceptable, what the fuck do you think is going to happen? Do you think a culture like that is going to create brilliant thinkers, scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs peacefully coexisting in safe, clean neighborhoods? No! You're going to create a culture full of high school dropouts, thugs, criminals, single mothers and absentee fathers, and low skilled wage earners who stay in poverty generation after generation via perpetual bad decision making.

Now you might argue that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and other racist policies helped create this culture that celebrates apathy and ignorance as virtues. Fine. I'd agree with you. But that's not in any way a refutation that culture is an important reason why so many minorities in the inner cities across America are committing crimes at much higher rates than the rest of the country and continue to be in poverty generation after generation.

We must cultivate a culture that celebrates and nurtures science and philosophy and reason and facts and the thirst for knowledge and truth. We must also cultivate a culture where we seek to minimize unnecessary suffering, and where we care about the well being of others. It is imperative that we do this in order to resolve the negative issues plaguing inner city minority communities for generations. I want being smart to be cool again. Make that something kids want to aspire to. I want this stupid culture of ignorance to go away once and for all and to be mocked and humiliated into extinction, in much the same way I think should happen to religion. That won't be easy, but it can happen. Here's how:

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Atheist Intersectionality: The Many Hats We Wear


I was just recently thinking about atheist intersectionality: how atheism intersects with my gender, race, place of origins, my politics, ethics, economic philosophy, and views on sexuality. Additionally, the question of whether my atheism should affect my views on these things is an open question. I was inspired by intersectional feminism, which a lot of people, mostly feminists, like talk about. The idea of applying intersectionality itself to other things is a wonderful philosophical venture and one I want to explore here.

We all 'wear many hats' so to speak, and some of these hats are more important to us than others for various reasons. Atheism is very important to me in how I identify myself overall, but depending on the situation, other hats I wear are more important. I want to explore the relationships between these various identities I have with atheism. So let me start by listing some of the many hats I wear as part of my identity. In no particular order:


Atheist: I am an atheist in that I do not believe any gods exist. An atheist is someone who lacks a belief in any gods existing. This is what I like to call bare minimum atheism. It is the minimum requirement for one to properly be called an atheist as I define it. One can go further and declare they know god doesn't exist, but it isn't necessary. I've been an atheist or agnostic all of my life, and I wear the identity proudly, although I'm not always wearing it on my sleeve. You could technically classify me as a moderate atheist on this scale.

Anti-theist: Not only am I an atheist, I go a step further and say I'm an anti-theist. An anti-theist is an atheist who opposes religious belief. Not all atheists are anti-theists. Most atheists are more or less indifferent to religion. I was inspired by the New Atheism movement to oppose religious belief and dedicate myself to decreasing religiosity in the world and increasing secularism and atheism. It is an extremely important motivating factor in my life.

Determinist: I am a determinist in the sense that I reject the notion of libertarian free will and I think that everything in the universe that happens is inevitable given the initial conditions in the big bang. In this view if you were to rewind the universe back to the big bang and play it again, you'd get the same exact results and events every time you did so, ad infinitum. This you can say is part of my metaphysical worldview.

Epiphenominalist: I am an epiphenominalist in that I think whatever the mind is, it is ultimately caused or explained by something going on in the brain. Understanding the brain will most likely unlock the mystery of consciousness, although it is certainly possible a full understanding of the brain will not resolve the hard problem of consciousness. As an epiphenominalist, I reject substance dualism in the sense of dualistic interactionism.

Eternalist: I am an eternalist whose ontology includes all moments of time existing at different areas of spacetime. In this metaphysical worldview the universe is basically a block that is composed of all of spacetime laid out.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 Part 5) Cocaine and The Meaning of Life


5

WE FINISHED OUR CANCER STICKS, closed out our tab and made it out just as the bar was starting to fill with annoying yuppies. Alex’s apartment was on the Upper East Side just off of Third Avenue. He was a Manhattan kid, growing up right in the heart of one of New York’s most sought after addresses. His parents were well off and gave him a nice upper middle class upbringing, although they weren’t “rich” by New York standards. He was the product of a Jewish father and an African American mother. In Facebook pictures his family looked like the stereotypical liberal cosmopolitan Manhattan family, the kind that wouldn’t be all that hard imagining in a sitcom. He had a younger brother that I had never met.
     I decided to lock my bike up on the street and take the subway with Steve to get to Alex’s apartment since bringing my bike on the train during rush hour would be impossible. I still had time on my monthly Metrocard that if I didn’t use would all go to waste. So we hopped on the subway for the short ride from Midtown to the Upper East Side, stopping to get some orange juice on the way to mix with Alex's vodka. We made the trip up the three flights of rickety old stairs to Alex’s apartment in his prewar brownstone. I knocked on Alex’s door and he opened a second later.
     “Yo what’s good?” Alex said with a big smile. We palmed and patted each other’s backs in typical New York fashion. Alex always showed mad love to his friends. He did the same with Steve, even though they weren’t as good of friends and Alex and I were.
     “We got a bottle of OJ,” I announced. “I thought we’d make some screwdrivers.” I then realized Alex had a lady over.
     “This is Daniella,” Alex said. She was a Dominicana, New York style, sitting on the couch with her legs crossed watching the TV on low. She had glasses, big tits, and some extra fat around her midriff. I knew Alex liked his girls generally on the bigger side. It must have been the black in him.
     “How do you do Daniella?” I asked being cocky and purposely animated.
     “We met at work,” Alex said.
     “Oh nice,” I replied.
     We all got situated on the two couches in his tiny living room and I started making drinks. Steve and I were already sufficiently wasted, and everything Steve said was at maximum volume. I was actually worried in the back of my mind that Steve would get a little out of control since he was such a lightweight with his alcohol. The last thing he needed was vodka. Alex and Steve got reacquainted since it had been some months since hanging out. I got reacquainted with some vodka.
     “Steve! Take it easy on the drinking tonight, alright?” I yelled from the kitchen. “I don’t want you getting crazy on us.” Although Steve was a little guy, only about 5 foot 8, he was often quick to start a fight when drunk.
     “Dude, I’m fine man. I can handle myself,” Steve shouted back.
     “You can’t handle your liquor, that’s what I’m worried about.” I served us all drinks, making note to water Steve’s down a lot and we all sat on the couch.
     “Alex. What’s going on man?” I said in a slightly drunken stupor, “You still working in sales?”
     “Yeah, although I just got into a fight with my boss last week,” he said. “Check this out. They wanted me to work both Saturday and Sunday and I said I couldn’t do it. Then they told me that if I didn’t work both those days they’d fire me. So I told my boss, who’s a total bitch, I was like, ‘Listen, I can’t work seven days a week. I need a life. I’m not working Saturday and Sunday. You can fire me if you want to but I’m not working seven days a week.’ So I didn’t work, I didn’t show up. And you know what? They didn’t fire me. They were bullshiting. They can’t fire me and they know that. But now I’m on their shit-list at work because unlike everyone else, I spoke out. So I still might have to look for another job soon.”
     “Holy shit that’s fucked up,” I said. “You know what? I just got fired from my job earlier this week.” Alex and Daniella’s eyes grew twice their sizes.
     “Your serious?” Alex asked.
     “Yeah, I have no job now.”
     “What happened?” Daniella asked.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 Part 4) Economics 101


4

I MET UP WITH STEVE A HALF HOUR LATER. He was a first generation Korean immigrant who came to the US when he was three. As is typical of many Koreans, he excelled in school, especially math, and had decided to go into a career in finance. We met in my first year in college in economics class. He was studying business and I was studying tech. We soon started partying together. I still remember the day when I first introduced him to cocaine at a house party. He liked it so much that doing coke soon became our thing, and for the rest of college, me, Steve, and our other friend Mario, got together virtually every weekend to drink beer, snort coke, and then go bar hopping in the city. Eventually it started getting out of hand. Doing coke had initially started out as a side thing, a little extra something something to make our nights a little more interesting. We’d pregame it at someone's house, usually Mario's. We'd drink, do a little coke, and then head out to a bar or club for the real fun. But before long, coke had become the main dish. It started replacing everything else in importance. We eventually got to the point where we were spending all our money on coke, and we didn’t even want to go out to the bars anymore. We began thinking like total cokeheads, with each of us reinforcing the worst ideas of drug addiction in the others. Why go out to a bar and spend ten dollars on a drink if we could just spend that money on more coke? It seemed logical. And so we did. Mario especially got out of hand, so much so that I eventually had to stop hanging out with him altogether. At some point, when my tolerance got so high to where I had to spend at least fifty dollars on coke just to sustain a decent buzz, a light bulb went off in my head. I realized that the coke was using me and I wasn’t using the coke anymore. It was working against me and not for me. So I gradually stopped doing it until I didn't need it anymore, which is the way George Carlin quit. Neither Steve nor Mario were able to have this epiphany, and they both spiraled further down the hole. Eventually I managed to get Steve off of it for the most part, but Mario was a goner.
     Being in finance, Steve could never kick the habit entirely, as it generally goes with the lifestyle. But for the most part he kept it under control. He was a diehard capitalist, a true free market proponent. Over the years we had many heated discussions on economics. And so when I met up with him that day I wanted to talk to him about my situation and whether he thought there was anything wrong with our current state of affairs. We went to one of those Irish pubs you see all over Manhattan. I liked those places. I could go in an anonymously drink among strangers and feel like I could fit right in. Steve knew the bartender it seemed from the way he greeted him, although it was hard to tell since he always acted like he was everybody’s best friend. He kindly ordered me a beer and we sat down in one of the booths in the back, away from the rowdy patrons at the bar.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Free Will, Science, and Religion Podcast - Ranting On Politics


On this episode of the Free Will, Science, and Religion podcast I rant and rave about the upcoming election and some of the problems with the republican field. This is what we call an "impersonal opinion" episode where we stray from the main topics that the podcast is about.




Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 Part 3) Bike Ride




I WOKE UP AROUND TEN-THIRTY IN THE MORNING. Being a natural night owl, I knew a pattern was slowly developing. Each day I’d wake up a little bit later than the previous day and would eventually be getting up at three in the afternoon and going to bed at seven AM. I didn’t want to let myself get that bad. Not for a while at least. I made myself breakfast, using the last egg that had probably been sitting in my fridge for a few weeks and some Italian sausages that probably weren’t much younger. I put some frozen waffles in the toaster and sliced up an avocado to add something a bit more healthy in the mix. As I sat and ate I watched the day’s news on TV and contemplated what I was going to do that day. Thoughts of work and getting fired were quickly fading away. Two days unemployed and I was nearing that point where I couldn’t give a shit anymore. My morale was quite high. I was excited about this journey and where it would take me.
     Since the weather was so nice and it was midsummer I decided that a bike ride was in store. I had an old red Raleigh mountain bike that was nearing its death but still ran decently. I greased the chain up with some WD40, pumped up the tires, put on my shades and my old cabbie hat and took off out into the summer sun. I lived in Queens but I had Brooklyn on my mind for some reason, and so Brooklyn it was.
     It felt so strange being out in the middle of the day on a weekday. It had been so long since I saw the city it this day and hour. The streets were lively and filled with people. Kids were out playing in the playground sprinklers; old men were playing bocce in the park; beautiful young women were walking their dogs. And all of this went on every day when I was slaving away at work. I crossed the John Jay Byrne bridge from Queens into Brooklyn. It goes right through that big industrial area bisected by Newtown creek. I headed south towards Williamsburg, hipster central. It was a favorite party area for me and my friends due to all the twenty-something girls and the abundance of bars. In the daylight it almost seemed like a sleepy neighborhood, far from its nighttime alter ego. I remember when the so-called “hipster” culture exploded in New York back in 2001. The Strokes had come out and reinvigorated indie rock and set off a new culture trend. They brought skinny jeans and mop-tops back. It slowly put a death curse on the angry rap metal that had permeated the culture for years up until that point. I was glad to see rap metal and nu-metal die. I never felt acquainted with its brashness and angry vitriolic lyrics and sound.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Does Making The World A Better Place Allow Atheists To Kill Two Birds With One Stone?


As much as I'd like to think that it's atheism that's been primarily responsible for the advancement of less-progressive and less-advanced people and societies, I think it's probably the case that the opposite is true: when the standards of living, education, and technology in a society go up, as a result it gets less religious. Lower religiosity is probably a side effect and result of rising living standards and not the other way around.*

The purpose of this blog post however, is not to try and make a case for which way the causality is going. That's not the point. I could be wrong. There could be many other options besides these two that hold the truth, or a complex mixture of many things, as sociologist Phil Zuckerman has argued — I don't know. I have not done a thorough assessment of the data. But I was having a discussion on it recently and it seems to me that the causality probably goes from high living standards → decreasing religiosity (see below).

If that is the case, then the greatest thing I could do as an atheist who wants lower religiosity and cultivate a better society with all the liberal, populist, and progressive views that I hold, is to focus on fighting for all those liberal, populist, and progressive views that I hold.** And it seems that an interesting by-product of that will be that religious belief and practice will continue to decrease year by year, decade by decade, until it's so low and irrelevant for most people, that it's hardly even a factor, and it becomes virtually invisible. That could be a very serious and attainable reality in the not-too-distant future. Instead of focusing mostly on what I'm against and criticizing religion, debating theists, and trying to make a case for atheism and naturalism, I could focus on the political, social, and economic issues I'm for. And if you're an atheist, you could do this too. So you have to consider whether doing this may be a chance to kill two birds with one stone for the secular, liberal, progressive advocate like myself: Destroy what we're against socially, economically, and politically, and we could help destroy religion as a convenient by-product of that. It's a win-win situation!

I do think that a metaphysical case needs to be made and defended for naturalism, and I really do think that it should include beauty and aesthetics. Naturalism can be a very beautiful and poetic worldview, and that is something not often emphasized, especially by me. Atheists are all too often mired in esoteric debate or ridicule of religion and fail to focus on explaining the beauty of their own worldview to others. For many, a godless world is scary, depressing, and pointless. This repelling sensation of disgust blocks many from even entertaining the idea of a fully natural world. I think in this realm that scientific education can help tremendously help one see the intricate beauty of the natural world and our place in it. And I do, personally think it is beautiful and amazing when you really think about it. Religious myths have had their time and place, and many contain beautiful, epic, and poetic stories, as well as some good moral principles. But the true story of our origins and place in the universe given to us by science and reflected upon by philosophy is in every way just as beautiful and epic, and I argue, even more so, because it's true.


*This is sometimes called the existential security thesis (EST) or the socioeconomic security hypothesis (SSH). For more information on the latter see Gregory Paul's paper The chronic dependence of popular religiosity upon dysfunctional social conditions.

**By saying this I am not saying that religion is the only or primary factor for what is making the world a worse place and that getting rid of it would magically fix most of the world's problems. I am not trying to set up a dichotomy or anything like that.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Peter Joseph On "Economic Calculation in a Natural Law"


Peter Joseph is a popular documentary maker with a strong online presence. He's mostly known for the Zeitgeist documentary in 2007 which went viral in the early days of YouTube. It featured a section on Jesus mythicism which wasn't well cited and many of its claims have since been for the most part debunked, but nonetheless became very influential and caught the attention of virtually the entire Christian community.

But this post is not about that. Peter Joseph's main focus is on creating a new cultural paradigm in terms of how we live, where we get our energy, what we do for a living, and the structure of our economy. He argues that we phase out our market based economy and replace it with a resource based economy. The current market based economy is unsustainable and is designed to fail. It is a train wreck waiting to happen. And educating the public on this while promoting his alternative, is his main agenda. Too often however, his criticism of Christianity is all people hear and some people just shut out all his ideas based on that.

Regardless of whether or not you're a believer, I think his ideas are worth listening to. They are concerned with the dangerous direction humanity is headed towards and how we need to change the current system for the better and achieve the energy and resource stability and abundance in order to avoid the cliff that we are headed towards. I'm not saying I agree with him on every point, or that I'm endorsing all his views, but we need to explore alternatives to the current paradigm, which is poisonous.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bernie Sanders For President 2016




If the democratic primary for the 2016 presidential nomination were today in my state, I'd vote for Bernie Sanders. Why? Bernie is authentic. He speaks the truth and tells it like it is. I agree with almost every single one of his policies, especially his central issue: income inequality.

Beating Hillary Clinton is most likely a long shot for him, but who knows. He's selling our arenas and he's got a grass roots movement behind him, not all that different from Barack Obama in 2008. I'm OK with Hillary, although I'm really not crazy about her. She's way too cozy with the corporations and big moneyed special interests and I feel that with her in the White House, it will be business as usual in Washington. We need a candidate in the White House who is committed to the following basic principles of Middle Out economics:

  • reform the tax code so that wealthy people and corporations pay a fairer share of the tax burden; 
  • get big business and big money out of politics by passing campaign finance reform; 
  • once that happens, reform Wall Street with common sense regulations; 
  • end our subsides to corporations and invest that money in education and rebuilding America; 
  • and perhaps, return to an economy where we produce real tangible goods that serve a deeper purpose beyond the novelty "wow" factor.

Bernie Sanders is the closest candidate to enter the presidential race that I've seen so far that exudes these principles. 

The republican candidates are a joke. Aside from their juvenile antics, none of them are committed to the principles and policies that will really raise millions of Americans out of poverty and help sustain and grow the middle class. They are pretty much all running on the same old debunked trickle-down economics nonsense that we've tried for 35 years that we know flattens and shrinks the middle class, and mostly enhances the rich. 

I'm pretty confident that a democrat will win the White House in 2016, as I think the republicans have pretty much lost the ability to win national elections (unless they dramatically progress on social issues, which most of them won't do). But that will mean Hillary is the likely future president. She's certainly better than president a Ted Cruz, or Scott Walker, but she ain't no Bernie Sanders. He's the only candidate that I think is really capable of really changing Washington for the better.

I just donated $10 to his campaign. If you'd like to donate to his campaign, please go here: Bernie 2016


Sunday, June 14, 2015

American Free Market Capitalism In Action - 1960: Harvest of Shame




This is what a total unregulated free market dictates. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why Some Countries Are Poor and Others Rich



"If there’s one generalization you can make about religion and wealth, it’s that the less people believe, the richer they stand a chance of being."



Interesting video explaining why some countries are poor and some are rich. Religion, as you can imagine, doesn't fair too well:

Why is belief quite so bad for wealth creation? Because in general, religiosity is connected up with the idea that the here and now can’t be improved, so you should focus on the spiritual and look forward to a next world instead. It makes quite a bit of sense when you live here. In the rich world on the other hand, people are generally great believers in their capacity to alter their destiny through effort and talent. 
Incidentally, to explain the anomaly of the United States, religion seems not to slow
down economic growth here because it is a particular sort of religion: an overwhelmingly Protestant and exceptionally materialistic kind. The American God doesn’t want you to think of building the new Jerusalem in the next world, he wants it here and now in Kansas or Houston.

So according to this video, a particular kind of Protestantism found here in the US enables the US to be one of the most religious countries and one of the most wealthy countries in the world. It sounds to me like he's talking about the prosperity gospel, the kind today espoused by the likes of Joel Osteen, which seems to be uniquely Protestant. It does make sense. American Protestantism tends to emphasizes a strong work ethic, economic materialism, and innovation. And similarly, it's no surprise that many Northern European nations where Protestantism dominates were leaders of the industrial revolution. But that's not to say that Protestantism cannot hinder progress. After all, many if not most of the strongest proponents of intelligent design today are Protestants, and the Amish are all Protestants.

So overall, religion is bad. As the video puts it, "If there’s one generalization you can make about religion and wealth, it’s that the less people believe, the richer they stand a chance of being." That's at least one good reason to continue fighting to end religious belief.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Most Pressing Moral Issue Of Our Time


What's one of the most pressing moral issues of our time? I'll give you a hint, it has little to do with religion.

It's rising income inequality.

To get a sense of the problem, let's take a look at some data.

According to a recent Pew finding, income inequality is at its "highest level on record." Basically, over the last 30 years the wealthy keep getting more wealthy, and the middle and lower income classes have either remained flat or have gotten poorer. This is what's increasing the wealth gap.

Since 1983 the wealth of lower income Americans has gotten lower, for middle income Americans it's remained flat, and upper income Americans have doubled their wealth

What economic policies did we begin using 35 years ago? Oh right, reaganomics, also known as supply-side economics, or more colloquially, trickle-down economics. It's the theory that the wealthy are the job creators, and if we only made them more wealthy, they'd have more money to spend and invest, and that will help create jobs and their wealth will "trickle down" into the lower income brackets. Sounds nice on paper, the only problem is that it doesn't work.

Courtesy of Nick Hanauer

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ayn Rand's Objectivism and Libertarianism


I've had several close encounters with libertarians recently and I have to be honest with you, many of them piss me off as much as, if not more, than religious fundamentalists. There is a fairly popular libertarian niche today that is quite outspoken and very ideologically driven, and it seems to have a lot of young people in their ranks. There are also quite a few atheists who are libertarians and I've been noticing them as I go out into my local atheist/philosophical meetups.


Although I am sympathetic to some of the libertarian social views like marijuana and prostitution legalization, when it comes to economics and government I have some sharp disagreements with them. Many libertarians that I've spoken to either want no government at all, or government so small it can be drowned in a bathtub, to paraphrase Grover Norquist. But mostly, they want a total "free market" economy where government regulation is non-existent, and some even want the total privatization of education, law, police, and the military.

Not all libertarians hold to Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy, but many do. She's the ideological darling of many on the Right. Her fan boys include Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who said that her books are "required reading" for his interns. The interesting thing is that Ayn Rand was an outspoken atheist, and it's odd how so many on the Right identify with her, given the Right's close associations with religion. As far as her atheism is concerned, we're on the same page. We both see religion as something irrational and not justified by any good evidence. But Rand's philosophy emphasizes a kind of ethical egoism, whereby she thought that we should never sacrifice anything important to us for the benefit of someone else who was not important to us, like a stranger who was suffering. She thought taxation was theft, but still believed in government doing the three basics: police, law, and military. (This would be financed by voluntary donations according to her.) All the money you make would be yours to keep and there's no concern for any kind of "greater good." Rand's philosophy is a fervent objection to utilitarianism. If fact, recently when I mentioned my concern for the "greater good" when I was debating economics with a libertarian, he literally walked out on me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

John Oliver On Big Pharma


Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Few Notes On Spirituality & "Beloved"



I just got back earlier this week from a week-and-a-half long vacation in Oregon. I had attended a music/art/spiritual festival called Beloved and I also got to see my mother, sister and my eight year old nephew. At Beloved, I got to spend several days camping with thousands of free-spirited hippies, many of whom take their spiritual beliefs very seriously. And I have to say it was a very enlightening experience. I spend my time around mostly secular people who rarely, if ever, show any strong outward signs of religiosity - even those who believe in god. So after speaking and spending time with several thousand people who'd probably self identify as "spiritual," I have gained a new perspective.


I wasn't there to preach to anybody. In fact I kept my atheism in the closet the whole time. I was there to learn. I was there to absorb. I was there to warmly educate myself on a slice of humanity that I rarely encounter. "Beloveds" as the attendees are called, are free-spirited hippie types, who mostly feel very passionately about the earth, the environment, humanity and humankind's connection to the spirit world.

On the first night, around the "sacred fire" where at night I would sit to warm up from the cold mountain air, one of the hosts gave a speech about fire. He spoke of the ways in which fire is misused, such as in war, and spoke of the ways it should be properly used. Then we were all instructed to give thanks to all four directions, north, south, east, west. I played along and participated, hoping that there would be a strong emotional response in me, but there wasn't. I seem to have an adverse reaction for group rituals. To me, anything that appears religious or cult like, such as group rituals, makes me uncomfortable. On the second day, we did another group prayer. We were asked to think about those suffering in the world and I did get an emotional response. It wasn't the group prayer that I think did it, it was my empathy for those suffering. I've had emotional moments like that all by myself and so I know the way my body and brain react. Group prayer or singing still isn't my thing. Even Sunday Assembly didn't quite rub me the right way. I was amazed however at some of the people attending who really seemed deeply and sincerely connected to whatever spirits they believed in.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Republicans Have The Same Misconceptions Of Reagan As They Do Jesus


What's wrong with republicans?

Today's republican party are politically the biggest and most stubborn babies perhaps in the history of the US; certainly since World War II. They're a bunch of anti-birth control, anti-middle class, anti-secularist, anti-evolution, anti-science, climate change denialists who have been completely bought and sold by their corporate fundraisers. They hate the President with a passion and are willing to disrupt government and jeopardize the welfare of the people just to prevent him from getting any serious bills passed because they don't want him to leave the White House with a positive legacy. Any time you hear a republican sound off on science, sexuality or economics you can almost guarantee that you're going to be hearing something profoundly idiotic.

Republicans have two dead heroes that they love to put up on a pedestal and idolize: Ronald Reagan and Jesus Christ. And what makes these two icons of the republican part so odd, is that if you really look at what each of them did and said, it is antithetical to their primary agenda. While the hypocrisy is astounding, it's what you'd expect from an anti-intellectual party.

Let's look at former President Ronald Reagan, the political icon of the republican party, who all party members must speak about with the utmost admiration. Ronald Reagan raised taxes 11 times when he was in office, he gave blanket amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, he traded arms with terrorists, he nearly tripled the federal deficit, and he increased the size of government. Reagan wouldn't even be able to win a primary in today's republican party because he'd be too far to the left. And yet, republicans have this image of Reagan as the ideal president - a model for every future republican with presidential aspirations. But his record clearly deviates from the modern script the party has devised today. Reagan was willing to compromise, he was sometimes willing to do the right thing and get government moving by finding a middle ground between his party's ideology and the left's. Compromise has become a dirty word today in the republican party and as a result we've got a congress that is the least productive in history.

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