Political Relevance

is politics relevant?

This is sub-chapter #10, of Chapter #3, Politics, of my ongoing rewrite and open editing process Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World.

Would greatly appreciate any feedback, corrections, criticisms, and comments. If you want the MOBI, ePub, or PDF, then please let me know in the comments—if you provide constructive criticisms in return, and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published.


POLITICAL RELEVANCE

A question I’ve pondered for many years and still cannot find a definitive answer for: Why is politics still relevant? Democracy was invented thousands of years ago in Athens. It was created at a time when humans didn’t understand a fraction of what we do today, in relation to what was happening around them. So philosophy was used to arrive at the most rational answer, and while that was great for the Hellenic epoch, it isn’t so adept at arriving at final and conclusive answers today, where the well-being of our societies often rests precipitously at the confluence of resource management, health, economic stability, and vibrance.

Stephen Hawking said in his latest book, The Grand Design, “Philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in Science…” And well, in a small way, he’s right. Traditional philosophies and science are no longer comparable in terms of their tangible contributions to society. Though philosophy is a useful and oft-times beautiful endeavor in thought, it is less meaningful (by meaningful, I mean practical) today than at any other time in history on hard-issues such as climate-change, pollution, population, food-production, and so forth. We must design or engineer ourselves out of these problems using the scientific method (not that philosophy cannot be involved in the thinking stage). In the same line of thinking, politics, invented in the time of philosophy, should be of waning relevance, as it is based on the same intuitions: namely, the human mind, which neuroscience has shown to be inherently biased, though more importantly, unable to impartially view and act upon information presented to one’s self, no matter the circumstance.

Yet its relevance seems to be in recent years rising. In 2012 we had elections going on around the world; most noteworthy being the recent American presidential election, which concluded months upon months of agonizing Republican posturing, talking points, ads, backstabbing, news coverage, debates, and the usual nonsense that accompanies the two-horse cacophony.

Talking point after talking point is endlessly thrown back and forth, with the candidates incessantly arguing which is the best way to do this and that—political whims and soundbites, little of which is based on fact or empirical evidence, but only designed to increase a politician’s popularity.

The same debate recently raged on in France during the 2012 election, where the new—now president—candidate Francais Hollande was campaigning on a platform to enact seventy-five percent taxes on millionaires, and when pressed on the futility of such a measure, even if passed, brushed those concerns aside, effectively saying it is a moral measure to tax a productive member of society ever more so, like a milk cow. And if you missed it, the futility of such a measure still made him want to do it because his mind was already made up. You’d have better luck teaching Germ Theory to a monkey, and luckily the measure was shot down in the closing weeks of 2012.

But the question remains, why is politics, as we know it today, still relevant in this modern society?

Politics is run on the whims and opinions of people, which can be and often are wrong and always are, at the very least, biased. It’s just as easy to believe in a lie as it is to believe in the truth, and it’s always easier to tell an easy lie than a hard truth, like the aforementioned French president, and almost every Republican frontrunner in the 2012 Republican convention, and maybe even Obama a few times. For the simple reason that lies stick easier than truths. Just look at the climate change debacle. The science has been settled for a while now, and all the new models and supercomputers dedicated to it, just refines and increases the accuracy. Yet, since the first Rio summit in 92, our politicians have accomplished next to nothing. There have been little stopgap measures here and there but nothing even close to substantive. We’veve elevated a position of power to almost mythical heights despite the majority of us almost expecting them to lie, and everywhere I go, people do nothing but complain about their leaders and representatives, yet are continually fooled into voting for another politico who happens to end up doing the same stuff, and if not the same stuff, different stuff that somehow wind up having the same outcomes.

Furthermore, on matters of the economy, health, education, and all things relevant to the modern world, the scientific method provides the means to answer these concerns without the inherent bias (at least significantly reduced bias). We can come to the best, most efficient conclusions using statistical analysis, experimentation, and peer-review using the scientific method to arrive at a suitable, efficient, and humane solution to today’s problems, so what’s with the pandering? Why so much politicking? Why such radically different solutions to the same problem that society has faced time and time again? Why aren’t they solved by now? And why are most of these solutions horrible to begin with?

It’s almost comical that in this modern age, we are using social tools invented thousands of years ago to discuss modern problems. Especially given the distrust of the people in charge by so many, whom we all suspect of lying in one way or another—especially when we have better more open tools and methods to solve it ourselves with greater effectiveness, more humanity, and zero bias thereby removing the favoritism so inherent in politics that contributes to so many social ills, which I’ll address in the next chapter.

The problem is two-fold, a misinformed populace, and the second, politicians live inside their own little bubbles, and you can’t evolve and update a system from within. It’s hard to think outside the box when you’ve spent years inside the box, and disconnected from the reality of those you are supposed to serve.

“The problem with always being a conformist is that when you try to change the system from within, it’s not you who changes the system; it’s the system that will eventually change you.” ~ Immortal Technique (Artist)

The first problem is far greater than the second. Politicians derive their power from us. There is a balance of power between the government and the people. Much like Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market, there is an invisible hand of power.

Governments, time and time again, in all manner of differing governmental models, always end up doing everything in their power to distract the people they govern. Usually by way of freebies that the people themselves demand, while they diligently work behind the scenes to tip the balance of power in their favor. Maybe it’s by accident and they truly are shortsighted goldfish, but it doesn’t really matter why. It happens regardless, and it affects everyone.

On the other hand, people are usually so concerned with surviving the nine-to-five and enjoying the entertainment in their downtime whether it be feeding Christians to the lions or watching Honey Boo Boo and American Idol that there is no available idle brainpower to ponder the why for’s and the WTFs on the doings of their governments. I exclude no one from that second point, including myself.

Who takes the time these days to really research how their country is run? How many people actually want to? Who knows that much of the democratic process has been usurped, and how much of the power lies with the state? A few do, most don’t care. Perhaps they presume safety in numbers, and that this time is different; this time democracy will remain uncorrupted.

If this sounds like I’m complaining about you, you’re right. But I’m also complaining about myself. I am as much susceptible to this corrupting influence as you are, I just have more free time and have been lucky enough to have been raised to be curious, even on subjects I dislike, i.e., politics. There are few things I have more disdain for than politics—genocide, war, rape, and murder, though I think they are rooted in the misapplication of politics, so six in one, half-dozen in the other. We are so caught up in the hype of politics every few years. The media blitz, the promises, the demagoguery, and the activism, that we continually forget to ask the question, why is a politician so relevant in the modern world? I implore you to burden yourself with this question and those around you, when the subject of politics comes up.

 “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” ~ Emma Goldman (Anarchist)


I am an Atheist in a Foxhole 4/4

This is the last post, in my four-part series countering the false thought that humanity cries out for God in moments of need and death. Here are part’s one, two, and three.

The day was March 16, 2011. The Arab Spring was in full force. Already, regimes had toppled in Tunisia and Egypt, with protests in full swing in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and in Bahrain where I happened to live and work.

In Bahrain, the protests had been going on for six weeks, prior to this day. My friend and roommate, woke me up at the crack of dawn, about 0630am.
“They are about to start the assault…” He said to me, followed by an awkward pause as my senses were still half-asleep.
“Alright, I’ll see you on the top floor” I replied, as he went up to the forty-forth floor, while I got changed and followed him up.

Assault of Pearl roundabout
Assault on Pearl roundabout

We lived one block away from the Pearl roundabout, the focus of the anti-government protests, and as I peered out the forty-forth floor window, I could see dozens of Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), tanks, and thousands of troops amassing on the left-hand side of our viewpoint. Then all hell broke loose. Gunfire, tire burnings, helicopters, the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire, molotov cocktails, even a few car bombs; people running and falling, only to be followed by an advancing army armed to the teeth. Not a pretty sight at all.

Once everything was wrapped up and the government forces had shot, arrested or scared everyone away, a curfew was declared in the entire region. My friend and I did a horrible job preparing for such an eventuality, as all we had in the house was protein shakes and water (We ate out everyday near the American base for 6 weeks for when the shit hit the fan, so groceries wasn’t high on our priority list). But we had to make it to the suburb next to the American base again this morning, in this case, after the shit hit the fan.We already had emergency go bags packed. We grabbed them, our passports and went downstairs to the car. But before we got into the car, we walked outside the building (with our passports in our hands) towards the nearest police patrol, who were scattered every few hundred metres. As we approached, we told them we were Australian and American, and we need to get to Juffair (next to the American base), while we flashed our passports. “No broblem, no broplem. Go” they said in the arabic english (Arabic has no sound for P.)

We got into the car, and drove off. We took a right at the round-about a few hundred meters in front of our place, and before we knew it, there was five soldiers running at us. So we stopped the car, wound down the windows, and told them the same story we just told the earlier group of police. Except this lot of soldiers wasn’t as friendly (friendly being a comparative term here, as all the soldiers were shooting at innocent protestors not one hour earlier, who were simply demanding what their King had already promised them).

Upon completing the need of our trip, the soldier looked at the road ahead, looked back at us, and said “Good luck…” in a very sarcastic, ominous tone that gave us the goose bumps, but go ahead we had too, so we did.

For reasons I will never know, I put my passport in my pocket, as I hit the gas and drove off. Not 400 meters away, out of nowhere, eight soldiers start running at our car pointing shotguns, and screaming at us to stop. I froze for a second (though the car didn’t.) Luckily, my friend snapped me out of it with a quick smack across my chest, and I slammed on the brakes. If I hesitated for a second more, that may have been our last drive. Sitting in the parked car, we now noticed the two APCs behind the eight soldiers; one manned with a fully automatic machine gun which you would expect to see in a Rambo movie, while the other had a grenade launcher, and both manned with soldiers.

We know enough at this point to slowly step out of the car. My buddy, who had the good sense to not pocket his passport (though he looked like an all-american American so the passport was more of a formality for him) was holding it up so there was no doubt. I, however, am an arab, and without my passport in hand (nor could I reach for it without risk being shot) looked like the protesters they had spent their morning shooting. As the soldiers approached, they kept their guns trained on me, the big threat that I was, with my purple shirt, and grey shorts.

Having almost being shot at for not stopping the car quickly enough was not the end of my trials and tribulations. A strangler soldier showed up, barged past the others with his baton, and lifted it above his head, ready to strike me down. I didn’t have to freeze, I was already frozen. Nothing I could do. If I dodged it, one of the others soldiers, the ones with shotguns would pop me; stuck between a rock and a hard place as they say.

“Where are you from???” his commanding officer interjected at the last second.
“…Australia…” I responded.
“Ohh… We thought you shia brotestor… Go back…” he said, as his baton-happy soldier lowered his weapon, unhappily it seemed.

I glanced over to my right, and saw a “shia brotestor” laying on the ground with a hood over his face as he was being zip-cuffed by a soldier, then picked up and thrown into a car, and driven away. My buddy and I were allowed back into the car, and had to go home. We eventually made it out, the same way we tried the first time, though several hours later, as a friend of ours who had an uncle in the police force called us, saying if we take that same route again, everything would be clear. We took our chance and made it out, luckily.

In hindsight, and unbelievably, I am grateful for these Near-Death experiences. Not many people know how they will react in the face of death, and it may leave them with an uncertainty about how they will face the inevitable. I do know that I will face it with at least some dignity. I don’t want my last act on this pale blue dot to be of pissing my pants or begging. Not that it matters, because I’ll be dead after, but it matters while I am on this side of the great divide.

And that wraps up the somewhat self-centered, four-post series of being an atheist in a foxhole. Thank you for reading.

In other news, I just launched my author website, and I am giving away free copies of my upcoming book, Random Rationality: A Rational Guide to an Irrational World, to the first one-hundred people who sign up for the email newsletter on the home page. The book will be released July 31st, 2012, so make sure you are part of that first one-hundred!

This is how you Fix Politics

I recently wrote a post, ‘Are We Responsible Enough to Govern Ourselves?‘. In it, I make the argument that the answer is no. If you disagree with that, I would love to hear why.

At the end of that post, I postulated a few points on how we can fix politics so that we may avoid the destructive nature of it. Here I will expand on those, and correct my shortcomings in writing it hastily the first time.

Let’s get started.

Career Politicians

The career politician is a virus in the democratic system. A career politicians major concern is to get re-elected. Thus their every decision, policy and recommendation are acted upon in regard to their re-election chances and not to the people’s or nations benefit.

As a result of this, they are beholden to the people for the choices they make. The people, like most democratic people everywhere, are usually not well-versed enough in all matters of running a society, hence the need for a democracy in the first place, to elect others to do what need be done.

Continue reading “This is how you Fix Politics”

Why Is Politics Still Relevant?

I really feel the need to ask this question. I have been watching a lot of political commentary lately, and reading about it on the web, and I can’t for the life of me understand why politics is still relevant.

Democracy was invented thousands of years ago in Athens. It was created at a time when we didn’t have all the answers to everything that’s happening around us, and thus philosophy was used to arrive at the most rational answer, which while good for the time, isn’t so great today. As Stephen Hawking said in ‘The Grand Design’, “Philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in Science…”. And he’s right. Philosophy and science are no longer comparable.

I feel, much in the same way that philosophy’s relevance is waning, that the relevance of politics should also be declining along with it, but I am not seeing this happen in the world around me. It seems to me, that it is rising. This year we have elections going on around the world, most noteworthy is the American Presidential Election later this year. We’ve had months upon months of republican primary posturing, talking points, ads, backstabbing, news coverage, debates and all the BS that accompanies such things.

They keep going on and on, on how Obama is destroying the country, and blah blah blah and they debate back and forth on the best way to do this and that. Political whim’s and economic talking points of which little is based on fact. All designed to increase a politicians popularity, increase his chances of wining the primary, and eventually the presidency. In short, it’s all pandering.

But my question is, why is politics still even relevant? Politics is run on the whims and opinions of people, which can be and often are wrong and biased. It’s just as easy to believe in a lie, as it is to believe in the truth. All you need to do is keep repeating the lie; Eventually it sticks.

On matters of the economy, health, education and all things relevant to the modern world, science and mathematics provide most of the basic answers already. We can come to the best, most efficient conclusions through statistics, studies, experiments using the scientific method to arrive at the most suitable solution to todays problems, so why so much pandering? Why so much BS? Why such radical different solutions to the same problem? Why are most of these solutions also BS?

It’s unbelievable that in this modern age, we are using social tools invented thousands of years ago to discuss modern problems. Especially when we have the necessary tools and methods to solve it ourselves so much better.

The problem is two-fold; First off, a misinformed populace, and the second that politicians live inside their bubble, and you can’t evolve and update a system from within it. It’s hard to think outside the box when you’ve spent your whole life in the box and disconnected from reality on top of that!

The first problem is greater than the second. Politicians derive their power from us. There is an invisible balance of power between the government and the people. The government does everything in its power to distract the people, give them the freebies they need while they do their work behind the scenes tipping the balance of power to their side. On the other hand, the people lap up the entertainment whether it be feeding Christians to the lions, or watching the NFL.

Who takes the time these days to really research how their country is run? How the democratic process has been usurped, or how much of the power lies with the state. A few do, most don’t care. Presuming safety in numbers, and that this time is different, this time democracy will remain uncorrupted. It’s almost amazing at how easy it is to numb a populace. It just takes time, and a bit of distraction.

What Pisses Me Off About Hollywood

Hollywood is a major pain in the ass. I can’t emphasize the disdain I have for the corporate side of Hollywood. Sure, I love movies, nothing beats watching a great movie on a sunday night, or any other night for that matter. But what pisses me off about Hollywood is the lengths they goto to remind you that you don’t own the piece of media you are about to watch on DVD or Blu-Ray.

It’s incredible. You just spent between $10 and $50 on your favourite movie, and one of the first things it tells you when you pop it into your machine, get comfy on the couch is that you can get fined $250,000 and spend up to 5 years in prison for showing this in public, a friend’s house or making a copy of something you bought and paid for with your hard-earned money.

As more and more of our movie watching experience is moving online, they are taking the same steps as the music industry, and we know how badly those guys screwed up. Luckily, at the time we had Steve Jobs to drag them into the future kicking and screaming. This time, I’m afraid we don’t have anyone strong enough to arm wrestle them into submission. I don’t think Tim Cook will do it, but if anyone was going to do it, I think it would be him or someone else at Apple just from the huge amount of pull they have now in the media business and when their Apple TV comes out next year, but I doubt it.

Online movies, in my opinion, will stay DRM’ed, be watchable in only a specialized program (i.e. iTunes) and won’t be transferable to other formats and you won’t even own the movie, just a license to watch it. That to me, is the most infuriating part about all of this, if I give you money for something, I own whatever it is that I receive in return, no questions about it, but that’s not the way it works these days. These big media behemoths go out of their way to lobby governments for copyright protections above and beyond what was already codified into law, despite the fact the existing framework worked perfectly fine, and that pirates wouldn’t be buyers if they did not have the option to download it illegally.

Now they are trying to release SOPA (The Stop Online Privacy Act) which pretty much leaves it up to the media holders, and the US government what constitutes privacy or not. In other words, if this bill passes then internet censorship will be legalized, and be placed in full control of the US government and these Hollywood types. Buh bye democracy. Luckily, SOPA just got rebuffed on the first go around but the next scheduled hearing is on the 21st Dec, so hopefully it will be defeated once and for all.

I just read this over at business insider, and I couldn’t agree more. This is disgusting and pathetic, but we bought it on ourselves.

This is the way Hollywood should handle themselves. C. K. Lewis recently did his own show, released it online DRM-free, and charged only $5 for it (as opposed to the usual $20 that a corporation would), and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. When there is very little difference in effort between buying the legitimate copy that will benefit the artist, and downloading it free, then consumers generally tend to pay the money. What Hollywood does is treat everyone as an illegal downloader, DRM the crap out of it all, remind you they will try to put you in jail if you violate the terms of service, and charge you a ridiclous price to boot, with the majority of the profit going to the studio itself instead of to the artists. And they call illegal downloaders thiefs!

Whatever happens to the future of the industry, they bought it on themselves, and I will happily say, suck it!

This news article is just the icing on the cake. Hollywood IP addresses used to download via bittorrent movies and tv shows illegally. So Hollywood, please come meet us in the future, or you might get teased for being that stupid kid still playing his Atari while the rest of us talk to Siri, watch blu-rays on our Playstation 3s. They are a bunch of dinosaurs, and not the cool kind.