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Friends Only

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This was not something I really wanted to do, but, in the interest of my future professional aspirations and the increasing scrutiny of online personas, I have decided to make this blog "friends only." I did not take this decision lightly, as I get rather annoyed when I find someone interesting on a Livejournal community, go to their journal to read more of their opinions and to discover more about them, and then run smack into a "FRIENDS ONLY" wall. It's like being dumped before you even went on a first date. However, after I started evaluating my future path, I realized it was a step I needed to do, and now I understand why others do so as well.

I have unlocked a handful of Writer's Block entries, so you can get the gist of whom you're reading and meeting, and I may unlock more in the future. I do this as a service to you, the reader, who wants to know what s/he is getting into.

If you wish to become my friend and thus see all the entries and goody bits behind this privacy wall, drop a comment below. Note, I am a bit picky nowadays with my LJ friends; I'm not the kind of person who just randomly accepts people like a Facebot. If I don't know you well, I'm not friending you. Don't get offended, it's just a personal policy.

Don't drop anything here about talk_politics community moderation; this isn't the place for it and I will delete it. We have threads set up for that over there; if you really want to talk to me about something, send me a private message and we'll talk.

Also, if any of my friends from Facebook or other social networking sites want to comment here, log in with OpenID, drop a comment on this entry, and I'll let you in. Easy peasy.
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Originally published at Quantum Matrix Scribe. Please leave any comments there.

Featured image from Radley Balko’s Facebook page. I didn’t see any prohibitions on sharing, but I will take it down if requested.

The above scene is not from some third world country. It is from Ferguson, Missouri, where a young black man was gunned down by police.

Here’s another picture, from another friend’s Facebook wall:

Ferguson Police 2

 

These are not Army soldiers. This is a local municipal police department in a city of 21,000 people. Why on Earth would they need cops with full body armor, gas masks, and assault vehicles? Maybe this can be some explanation (taken from Twitter):

Meanwhile, the local government has completely shut reporters out of the city:

Journalists encountered a threatening response from police as they tried to cover the protests in Ferguson, the Missouri town that has been upended by the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.

While there was a spate of looting on Sunday night, Monday’s demonstrations were peaceful. Protestors faced tear gas and rubber bullets from officers trying to break their ranks up. At the same time, police told local media to get out of the area.

This is not America. This is the purview of a third world tinpot dictatorship, not the leader of the free world and the greatest democracy in the world. Period. They do not need to be stomping people just laying on the ground, or engaging in illegal chokehold manuevers to kill a man who was only selling untaxed cigarettes. Or getting a warrant to conduct a horribly invasive anal probe eight times for “drugs” on the flimsiest of evidence. Or firing dozens of rounds through a van full of children. Or any other terrible acts by police.

Slowly, over the past several years, the police have been transformed from a law enforcement agency to a sort of Russian style “Internal Troops” division. Do we really want to import Putinism over here to the United States?

It is past time for Americans to wake up to this and demand action. Demand that police face the full consequences of their actions. Demand that “paid administrative leave” be ended. Demand the mindlessly stupid War on Drugs is declared over, and demand that out of control cops are reigned back in. Demand that cop cameras be used everywhere, and can’t be altered or lost by the cops they cover.

This madness needs to end. We are the nation that leads the free world. Time to act like it.

 

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Originally published at Quantum Matrix Scribe. Please leave any comments there.

I wanted to get a few things off my chest about Israel and Palestine, based on some really idiotic conversations I see going around. I want to preface these statements by making it absolutely clear that they are my opinion only, and do not represent nor reflect on anyone else (employer, sports team, country, etc.) Unfortunate we have to put those disclaimers in, but that is the society we live in.

I’ve been seeing a lot of cheering from those on the right towards Israel, which quite frankly disgusts me. It makes me want to vomit. It’s disgusting and abhorrent. No one should cheer the deaths of people, especially women and children. Nobody should applaud when missiles rain down and blow apart houses. A reasonable response to this could be “Good luck Israel,” or simple statements of support, but instead I am seeing “Yeah, go Israel! Fuck yeah!” and “Wipe out those subhuman savages!” No, really, this is typical rhetoric now being tossed about.

Just in case anyone says “Nobody actually says the Palestinians are subhuman savages” I present to you @CSunnyDaay and @secondthenfirst. Yes, these people do exist out there.


View the story “Some disgusting comments on Palestine” on Storify

I don’t support Hamas, and I don’t support Hamas’ indiscriminate missile flinging into Israel. That’s not the solution to their problem. But here’s the thing: most Americans (and other foreigners) cheering on Israel don’t even bother thinking about the other side of the equation. They just think “Oh, these bad people are firing missiles at Israel! It’s self-defense! That’s it!” But they never bother to ask why the bad people are firing missiles, they just assume they are intrinsically evil creatures from Mordor.

Let’s examine why. Israel, over the course of decades, kicked the Palestinian Arabs out of their homes (though the initial blame lies with Britain, which decided to just mandate things.) They then forced these people into small areas, locked down running water and electricity, forced them to only get supplies from the Israeli government (which in turn could shut down the supply lines at any time), walk in and bulldoze people’s homes without warning, shoot them without warning or due process or anything even remotely like that, and then have the gall to build tons of Israeli settlements within the territory they’ve already set aside for the Palestinians! And then, when all that is said and done, the Israeli government drops bombs on hospitals, homes, shelters, just blows things up from the sky. And they have the gall to wonder why the Palestinians turn to support Hamas and their (largely ineffectual) rocket attacks?

If you corralled a bunch of red-blooded Americans into an area and shut down basic services and lobbed bombs and shells at them, after removing them from the land they used to own, do you think Americans would sit for that? Or do you think Americans would find a way to fire back?

The stupid, it burns.

Israel has been fighting this war essentially since 1948. It has taken on different forms, but the same thread of conflict has run through it all. You would think, by now, they may have wisened up and realized what they’re doing isn’t working. The US tried this before too. It’s called Vietnam. Our attacks there only galvanized the Vietnamese people to support the Viet Cong more, and they did – to the point where the VC forced us to leave and then destroyed the US-backed Republic of South Vietnam. What the heck does the Israeli government think this will accomplish? Do they really think that if they drop just another load of bombs out of the sky, that the Palestinians will finally be convinced that Hamas’ way is the wrong way and will stop?

Of course, I don’t think that’s what the Israeli government thinks at all. Like most governments, it wants votes, and like many people, a lot of Israelis want blood. Not all of them, but a fair amount, and current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu represents those who do. And I think Netanyahu wants the conflict as PM because he can blame any problems in his government on the Palestinians. I’m not sure what those other problems are, I am not an expert in Israeli internal politics, but it has been a long lasting and celebrated political tactic to find an “Other” you can demonize and pin all your problems on.

Again, I’m not supporting Hamas. The Palestinians are stupid for supporting Hamas. Do they really think that more rockets raining down will fix their problems of no jobs, crushing poverty, lack of medical care, food, running water, and electricity? Do they really think the Israelis are going to soften and change their policies if their families are blown up? Yet I can understand – though not support – why they support Hamas. Most Palestinians probably feel they have no hope, that there is no alternative. (Sure, there’s Fatah in the West Bank, but Gaza and the West Bank are almost two different entities at this point.) When you have no jobs, no supplies, and there are bombs falling out of the sky, what’s left to do but die for Allah?

The point I’m trying to make here is not that Americans are supporting the “wrong side.” I wouldn’t want them to support Hamas either. The point is that many Americans are completely leaving out half of the equation here. They’re ignoring why the Palestinians in Gaza are doing what they’re doing. If you’re going to jump into a conflict, you need to understand why that conflict is going on, who the players actually are, who the players’ peoples actually are, and then what incentives are going to make each side stop fighting – both the incentives they publicly state and the incentives that we know, deep down, that will cause both sides to knock it off. But, like most foreign policy issues, Americans never bother to actually understand or learn the arguments, they just want some prewritten soundbite to utter that makes them feel all good and patriotic.

That disgusts me.

Addition

After conversing with some folks on social media, it appears to me that some clarification is in order. Two points.

First, some have said that Israel has done all it can, and now the ball is in Hamas’ court. That’s fair. While I can understand the sentiment behind a lot of antipathy towards Israelis, having the Israelis come in and basically kick the Palestinians out, the Palestinians need to accept they’re not getting it back. They are never going to destroy Israel and get their all-Palestinian state. They may be able to secure a federalist solution, at best, but they’re never going to kick Israel out. While Hamas will never come to that conclusion willingly – it would mean they would lose all their support as their raison d’etre would be violated – they need to accept that. So these folks are right, it is time that Hamas recognized Israel’s right to exist (as much as any “state” has rights; only individuals can really have rights), and stop the rocket attacks on Israel. The Israeli strikes still won’t lead to the Palestinian people moving against Hamas, but Israel has its hands effectively tied.

Second, some people have taken this post to mean that I support Hamas, that I don’t think Israel has a right to exist, and that the Israelis shouldn’t be allowed to defend themselves. Nothing can be further from the truth. I don’t support either side in this mess. What I am writing against is the frothing, mindless support from some folks on the right for the violence in Gaza. For the people labeling Palestinians as subhuman savages and calling for more death, more bombs, more killings. That is what I am writing against. That is the point of this piece. For what it’s worth, I’m not even sure I care anymore about the conflict itself. I just want it to end. I just want the violence and death and destruction to stop. Is that so bad? Is it so bad that I criticize people who want this to continue? Of course, I shouldn’t expect any reason or intelligence on this issue. Almost more than anything else, this issue runs high on tribalism, to the point where nobody will bother even understanding the argument being made, they will just arbitrarily label the person good or evil. It is the Cult of Death I am fighting against, and the Temple they are building is the ritual chanting for more ordnance to fall. The Cult of Death is not Israeli. It is not Palestinian. It is, regrettably, American.

That is not supporting Hamas. That is not being anti-Israeli. It is being anti-death and anti-war, nothing more.

Update

The spate of attacks on my piece in social media has led me to read a lot more articles about Gaza than what I normally do. This one in particular has me all kinds of confused.</a> Just what is really going on here?

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Originally published at Quantum Matrix Scribe. Please leave any comments there.

So after giving my political predictions, let’s move on to something eminently more satisfying and cool: that which is in my headline.

Online services will get crappier

Perhaps it is only me, but the past two years have seen many great online services climb up the stupid tree, then fall down it and hit every branch on the way to–well, not the ground, but maybe the bedrock.

It’s a lot of little things. Twitter retired the 1.0 API which allowed web developers to organically integrate Twitter timelines into websites; the newer 1.1 API forced a lot of people to use the bog standard Twitter widget, which isn’t very customizable and looks ugly in many environments. (There is a way around it, using JavaScript, fortunately, but it took a lot of pain to find that workaround.) Twitter also recently started auto-expanding images in Tweets; have these guys seen the sickos on there? One of them may link to Fourier’s Gangrene (and no, I will not link to that because it’s a pretty gross image.) Facebook, meanwhile, keeps futzing with the layout, as well having the page dynamically update–a great obscenity generator when you’re in the middle of writing a comment and the whole page moves. (And let’s just not get started on the privacy crap.) Youtube implements DASH, preventing a video from actually loading and making it freeze all the time. And then Google+…

…just keeps being Google+, I guess.

Oh, and the rampant advertising…

It used to be that these services was useful, interesting, fun, and were only mildly annoying. But I’ve noticed that, especially in the last 18 months-2 years, they’ve gone downhill. I suspect a huge part of this is due to IPO’s, at least in Facebook’s and Twitter’s cases. Why? Because the incentive structure has shifted. Instead of delivering value to their users, these services are now focused on delivering value to their shareholders. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but it does lead to a lot of frustration for end users.

The thing is, these companies aren’t focused on delivering value anymore, and the shareholders, I fear, don’t realize that delivering value is the very way they make profits. In other industries, one way of making profits is by sucking up to the government teat and lobbying for special favors for yourself and special prohibitions for your opponents (affiliate link). That isn’t really viable in the social media sphere, however, at least not yet (thankfully; hopefully it will never be viable.)

Will it actually hurt these companies? To be honest…I doubt it. Yes there are always people who make #TwitterSuxSoBad and “Make Facebook Go Back To Its Old Non-Sucky Ways Group,” but they’re a minority. So I think in 2014 this trend will continue and we’ll continue to see more and more little annoyances mount. I also don’t think we’ll have any resolutions to privacy concerns from this year. While more people are aware of and upset over these things, and this will only increase next year, I doubt it will hit critical mass for anything significant to happen during the next year. Oh, sure, noises will be made to assuage folks and placate users, but anything dramatic? Not unless Google decides to unilaterally implement Lavabit-type encryption and tell everyone else to screw themselves.

Which probably wouldn’t happen.

Facebook will start to slow down

This is less of a prediction for next year and more of a prediction for 2015-2020, but what the heck, it will likely start next year. Whereas Twitter & Google will weather the various storms (controversial changes to blocking mechanisms, ending Google Reader) they’re facing, I’m far less certain about Facebook. Recently, a Business Insider writer wrote that Facebook is collapsing under it’s own weight. Milennials are dropping out of Facebook, and that doesn’t bode well for long-term viability.

I think next year we’ll see an uptick in stories about people leaving Facebook. (Lifehacker might even run an update on their old article about how to quit Facebook, or get a “minimalized” Facebook profile.) It won’t actually lead to an actual contraction in Facebook users, but growth will slow. Which will make shareholders more antsy than Barack Obama coming home after taking a selfie at a funeral with another woman.

Longer term, I think it spells doom. But then, everything ends. Facebook was launched in February 2004; it will definitely live to see it’s 10th birthday next year. When it finally goes I’m not sure; probably around 2019. Put your bets in the comments and let’s come back and see who wins.

We’ll see a 1TB solid state drive under $400

To me, this is a no-brainer, and kinda cheating because it’s so easy. Technology prices drop as people adopt these technologies; as demand increases, it becomes easier to make these things as economies of scale take over. (Distinguished economists can lambast me for what might be faulty economics.) Right now, a 1TB solid state drive (SSD) on Newegg costs between $540-$700 (there is one refurbished option for $150, but I think that must be some mistake.) These will definitely be under $400 next year, possibly as low as $320 (but not much lower than that, unless it’s part of a Newegg sale they have every three days.)

Also, we’ll probably see a 2TB SSD come out next year, probably costing around $750 at first and maybe bottoming out at $600 before the year is done.

2014 will be Linux’s year

Maybe I’m being way too optimistic, but I see a bunch of things coming together to benefit Linux.

A couple of things have been long-term developments. The first is really anecdotal, but in the past couple of years the number of people I’ve personally witnessed using Linux computers has jumped from absolute zero to about half a dozen. Granted, that’s small, and that’s just my personal experience, but it’s something. Next, there are way more Lifehacker articles on how to actually use Linux (usually Ubuntu because it’s supposedly very user friendly), and people out there are actually tinkering with this stuff. Third, Android, the most popular mobile OS in the world, is based on Linux; because of this, hardware manufacturers have had to rewrite their drivers to support the Linux kernel, and because of that Linux can now work on a lot more hardware combinations, without waiting for someone in the open source community to reverse engineer a driver. It used to be–back in 2007 when I first dabbled with Linux–that wireless was a hit and miss proposition. In 2013, I downloaded and installed Kubuntu and it worked perfectly. This is catching on and people are noticing.

Two other things, external to Linux, will help it along. The first is that, while Windows 8 is actually a great operating system, it’s also a total bust. It might actually be stalling Windows sales. In fact, Microsoft had previously announced it was ending Windows 7 sales next October; that decision has been reversed, no doubt because Windows 8 adoption has been about as real as one of the Surface commercials. Windows 7 is still a viable operating system. However, it does cost a lot of money.

And the other thing: Windows XP will finally go unsupported in April 2014. As they say on Twitter: #DOOOOOOOM.

According to NetMarketShare, on December 21st 2013, nearly a third of users were still running Windows XP. Most of those are either idiots, senior citizens and the like who can’t upgrade, or businesses with mission critical applications. (Ed Bott went over this pretty well at ZDnet.) Still, to me, that’s pretty insane that almost a third of people are using an operating system that is going to be 12 years old come next year. Granted, a huge bunch of that is in China (the above report was global) where nobody upgrades their blasted computers. Still, that’s incredible. And foolish. After April, Windows XP will be dangerous to use. Yes, there will still be security updates by third parties in the IT security business, but without official support from Redmond using XP will be dubious.

Enter Linux. While Windows 7 and 8 are costly, and can only run on modern systems (I think both require at least 2GB of RAM to operate, if I’m not mistaken), Linux is both free (usually) and runs on a wide range of hardware, including some really old stuff. Plus, because it’s open source, the code is there for anyone to see, meaning security holes are patched pretty quickly, instead of being held in secret at Microsoft’s engineering headquarters, so it’s more secure (generally, at least.) And for those who want support, there are paid support options. The most famous are probably Red Hat (whose Linux distribution is one of the major bases of the Linux family, next to Debian) and Canonical, who make Ubuntu, but Oracle and Novell also have their own Enterprise linux offerings (Oracle’s being based on Red Hat Linux.)

When XP goes down, people are going to have to move somewhere. Many are going to try Linux. And thanks to Android, Linux will work. So I think 2014 will be a good year for Linux and it might finally break out of the “only for nerds” trap it’s been living in for years. But that depends on a couple of things: good documentation, and if it comes preinstalled with Flash, MP3 codecs, and the like. If the documentation is terrible and if the free software fanatics prevent mainstream Linux distributions from coming with nonfree codecs, drivers, etc., then you can forget about any Linux gain. Nobody will go for that; they would rather pay out the nose than deal with an OS that ships without any support for their flash games or mice or monitors or printers (people still print, you know). So this is dependent on how much Linux teams work for it. If the effort is not made, the success will not happen. If the effort is made, I think Linux will see tremendous gains.

Now, what that will do I’m honestly not sure. It might make the Internet more secure….

Google+ is going to continue to have nobody on it

Sorry.

Bitcoin will crash

This is just a hunch, but not too long ago we saw China ban Bitcoin transactions (as well as Thailand and India, basically) and the value of Bitcoin plunged about 40%. That’s pretty damn volatile, and while I am not a monetary expert, I think that’s not good for a currency. If the value of your currency changes that much so quickly (and if you put in terms of it’s rapid growth over 2013, which I think was 50x–if you bought $100 worth in January it was worth $5,000 at the end of the year) it’s not going to be very usable.

Now I could be totally wrong about that, and also totally wrong about this, but I have a hunch Bitcoin will dramatically decrease in value next year and might go out. I think it will also bring down other cryptocurrencies, including Litecoin, Peercoin, and the so-called “Dogecoin,” which is actually real. Although it’s also hit the reputation of these cryptocurrencies already…

There are going to be some awesome technological advances next year

We’ve seen some incredible things the past year. Soylent, dataSTICKIES, massive curved TV’s, not to mention all these really cool technologies that modern scifi is ignoring.

I have no idea what specific technologies will emerge next year. But I really think that there will be some super-cool technological advances next year, whether those guys working on building a sun in New Jersey get anywhere, or the scientist who is refining the formulae for faster-than-light travel finds something, or something completely different.

One thing is clear: 2014 is going to be cool.

2014 Predictions Part 1: Politics

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Originally published at Quantum Matrix Scribe. Please leave any comments there.

Recently, a friend of mine noted that not enough people–mainly pundits–actually put their reputation (and even money!) on the line and make hard predictions. He admired a lefty blogger for doing so last year when said blogger made a line-in-the-sand prediction that everyone would be sold on Obamacare by today. (Naturally, my friend disagrees with this lefty blogger on several issues, though not all.) That got me thinking to what predictions I would make, so, well, at the end of 2013, here are a few.

I’m probably not going to make anything definite, or super-hard; I always try to hedge my bets as there’s always a degree of uncertainty. You can never be 100% certain about something; if you are, you’re probably wrong. But then I’m not sure about that either.

And also, because this turned out to be longer than I expected, I’m breaking it up into parts. Part 1 is politics; part 2 will be science & technology; I may be a part 3 for society; with part 4 a catch-all for anything miscelleanous, if I get to that.

So, here are some predictions I have for 2014, along with some that go a little beyond that…

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Geography Schmography

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Originally published at Quantum Matrix Scribe. Please leave any comments there.

Just before Thanksgiving, Buzzfeed posted an article about how some Brits couldn’t identify any of the US states. Then someone at BoredPanda responded that Americans could barely identify any of the countries in Europe. It’s a theme I’ve seen countless times before: Americans are unworldly, uneducated, and just plain stupid, especially when it comes to anything beyond their nation’s borders. The Buzzfeed article was, in some ways, a reprisal to that, noting “Hey, non-Americans are stupid too!”

What both articles completely ignore is the fact that geographical knowledge is really just bupkiss.

I mean, if you know all the countries in Europe, what does that do? Sure, you might  receive a “That’s cool” at a party, but beyond that, do you need to know all those countries? Unless you’re a geography teacher or a cartographer or something similar, no, no you do not need to know all the countries in Europe. It might save some embarrassment if you meet someone from another country, but in an age of Google Maps, there’s ultimately no purpose to taking up valuable space in your brain for detailed geographical knowledge of another continent.

There are many marks to gauge whether or not a “populace” is “dumb”. Economic & political knowledge of their own country; basic mathematical and scientific principles; general history; logic and critical reasoning (understanding cause & effect and fallacies & so on); and, I would also argue, ethics. A person without any understanding of ethics is a dumb individual indeed. But geographical knowledge? For 99.9% of the populace, the usefulness of such knowledge falls about in between the win/loss record of the Arizona Cardinals and exactly how many minutes it takes for paint to dry on a house in Alaska in the winter. If you don’t know where a country is, you can just Google it. It doesn’t mean that you’re dumb or uneducated.

It means you have better things to do than know precisely where the Entitled Peoples’s Republic of Bumfuckistan is (which, for your information, is wedged precisely between Snobbitonia to the north and the Federal Republic of Conceitania to the south.)

Jeebus, people, we have better things to worry about.

Featured image released into the public domain by Joebloggsy.

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Originally published at Quantum Matrix Scribe. Please leave any comments there.

Man, that title sounds hella-pretentious, but it’s immediately what came to my mind reading this article by Matthew Feeney on Reason.com, Scrap the Welfare State and Give People Free Money. It is a fine argument for replacing our current welfare system with a form of basic income, which I have come around to over the past two years (roughly) living in Washington DC. After leading in with the recent news that Switzerland has created a basic income (on top of their preexisting welfare system, which is dumb) he gives this key passage (emphasis mine):

Without the Swiss proposal being attached to drastic welfare reforms the plan is, I think, unfeasible. However, that the particular proposal in Switzerland is not ideal does not mean that libertarians should shy away from proposing something similar. Being morally comfortable with some degree of government wealth redistribution might be contrary to anarchism, but it is not contrary to libertarianism, and were libertarians to argue for replacing the current welfare system with a basic national income we would be better positioned to not only highlight the fact that libertarianism is not the heartless and selfish philosophy it is commonly portrayed as, it would allow for a more humane and effective way to deliver welfare than the current system on offer.

I’m sure that will greatly offend the Rothbardians in the audience, but I really don’t care about those guys anymore.

Matthew also makes this other key point, which is that the welfare system actually hurts and dehumanizes people:

In discussions about welfare it is astonishing how often the current system is portrayed as humane, just, or charitable. However, one of the tragedies of the current welfare system is that it strips welfare recipients of their dignity while treating many of them like children, and functions on the underlying assumption that somehow being poor means you are incapable of making good decisions.

Many welfare recipients are required to undergo drug tests, despite the fact that many Americans take illegal drugs while still being good parents and holding down a job. If employed professionals are able to fulfil their duties at work while also maintaining a recreational drug habit, why should welfare recipients be treated differently? In fact, in the last year welfare recipients in Utah were found to test positive for illegal drugs at rates less than the national average, and in Arizona 87,000 screenings between 2009 and 2012 yielded one positive test result.

Perhaps the best example of the demeaning nature of the current welfare system is the SNAP program, otherwise known as food stamps, which works by giving recipients a card that can only be used to buy a selection of government-approved goods. Alcohol, tobacco, pet food, and vitamins are only some of the products that those on food stamps cannot buy because the powers that be have determined that they know what is the best lifestyle for food stamp recipients.

Since I moved to DC, and “enjoyed” it’s sky-high prices for rent, food, utilities, clothing–well, everything–I’ve started to abandon my old view that we shouldn’t have welfare, period. As much as I do not like the idea of welfare itself, or the idea of wealth redistribution whatsoever, I now realize a couple of things:

  1. The American public will never buy a political system completely lacking in wealth redistribution, period. You can call this stupidity, you can call this a decline in American virtues, you can call this the bandwagon fallacy, you can call it whatever you wish–but it is reality. No matter how much I would prefer a more Nozickian (or heck, more Randian) government, the majority of Americans will consistently vote against such an idea. Trying to push that view is just a waste of time, energy, and resources.
  2. As much as I would like  a more Nozickian state, and a completely free market economy, the current welfare system has so thoroughly ruined poor Americans there is no way to abruptly transition to a welfare free society. There are millions of Americans trapped in a cycle of poverty, a cycle partially perpetuated by the government (at all levels), and we’re going to be able to just switch and leave them behind. We have to light a path out of that and into the next stage. To us the words of philosophy professor Michael Munger, it’s not so much a libertarian destination as it is a libertarian direction–and I’m okay with that.

Considering that, the only real alternative available is a negative income tax. I’ve come to champion this proposal of Milton Friedman’s, for multiple reasons.

  1. It combines both welfare reform and tax reform in one package, making it more likely to get libertarians and conservatives onboard.
  2. It is more effective at helping the poor, so it should (in theory, anyways) be attractive to leftists.
  3. Unlike other universal basic income schemes, it is actually sustainable.
  4. It does not trap anyone in poverty, but instead lifts them out; poverty trap problems are neatly dealt with.
  5. I believe that it also avoids the problem of disincentivizing work; while those under the threshold do get money, they still have an opportunity to gain even more money past that threshold instead of receiving nothing. Also, many would appreciate a safety net to fall back on should their business attempts go awry, which may encourage them to go out and be more productive, rather than sit back and do nothing out of fear.

About a week ago, on Bleeding heart Libertarians, philosopher Fernando Teson laid out the basics of a philosophical school he called “sufficientarian liberalism.” I don’t want to quote the entire thing, because it’s brilliant, but it’s essentially where I have come to be. Teson notes that most libertarians readily acknowledge that free markets and (classically) liberal societies generate tremendous wealth and are the best tool for bringing people out of poverty. He then adds:

Here I take a different tack. Classical liberals should endorse a political system that includes a safety-net for the poor while simultaneously abolishing virtually all other barriers to market entry. This means no more subsidies, no more tariffs, no more licencing of professions, no more burdensome regulations, no more state-run education, no more barriers to immigration, no more unproductive public spending, and no more bloated bureaucracies (you can add an appropriate public-goods proviso.) Call this view sufficientarian liberalism. The view is sufficientarian, not egalitarian: it advocates state redistribution of resources only toward those who cannot provide for themselves.

Sufficientarian liberalism can be philosophically justified. In the Doctrine of Right Kant argues that to sustain the civil condition the state must provide means to those incapable of providing for themselves. But the state cannot legitimately redistribute resources beyond this, because doing so would encroach on people’s protected freedoms. The only legitimate reason for coercion is the establishment and maintenance of the civil condition. That is why the state can punish criminals: the state hinders the freedom of someone, the criminal, who has hindered the freedom of his victim. Now property-less persons cannot act autonomously because they are subject to the permissions and wishes of others. Therefore, the state must provide them with the material means of acting autonomously, as required by the civil condition. If you are charmed by this view, then you have a first-order, ideal justification of the sufficientarian liberal state.

But suppose that Robert Nozick is right and no redistribution, not even to the poor, is justified. In that case we can no longer justify sufficientarian liberalism on first-order principles. However,  we can still defend it as a second-bestnon-ideal political arrangement. If the Nozickian utopia is unattainable, then classical-liberals’ best strategy might well be to support institutions that frontally address the plight of the poor. Now imagine a society where the only redistributive job of the state was to help the poor. That society would be an immense improvement over the crony-capitalist systems we endure today. If we couple a safety-net with vast deregulation of markets, and we add the fact that freer markets help the poor more than known alternatives, then the classical-liberal has the upper hand, because the defender of the welfare state has lost her main argument for big government.  If the poor are provided for, all that remains of the welfare state are subsidies, privileges, rent-seeking, and various other inefficiencies. I doubt honest egalitarians can defend that.

Although the comments section is rife with diehard libertarians and anarcho-capitalists flinging barbs, nothing here sounds too controversial to mainstream Americans. I wrote earlier about “market democracy” being a true American centrism; that was a more abstract view of things, while this is a bit more concrete (though still not a specific policy platform.) People really don’t give that much of a damn about income inequality; they only care that there are people starving and want them to be not-starving. Even the poor, I think, don’t really care if they’re making less than a Wall Street banker, they just want enough to get by. (And if they have political power, that definition can be “Let’s get the government to get us plasma TVs and a Cadillac too. I still think that would be easily dealt with in a negative income tax system.) Teson also makes the necessary point that this system would have to be combined with a deregulation wave; I don’t think an NIT on its own, without a dramatically freer market, would really help people all that much. There are a great number of government actions–such as the Dairy Price Support Program making milk more expensive, to monetary idiocy at the Federal Reserve killing the buying power of the individual dollar bill, to various regulations propping up barriers to entry and killing the competition that brings prices down–that artificially raise prices and make things more expensive, especially for the poor. Unless those things are done away with–and thus, in the process, making there a lot less poor to go around–anything else will have a blunted impact on poverty. (And though it shouldn’t be mentioned, such a plan should also include reducing the military budget by half–at least–and enacting serious entitlement reform, which may actually end up being scrapped if such a system was implemented.)

That’s a pretty damn good view of centrism to me.

I think what Feeney is writing about here is actually the future of libertarianism. He’s right that this isn’t ipso facto against libertarianism, just anarchism, which I don’t think libertarianism really is (no matter how much undead Murray Rothbard stamps his feet about it.) And while I suspect both of us are going to get a lot of flack from more hardcore libertarians who will claim we are sanctioning state theft, that has been going on for well over a century in America and centuries elsewhere; we are advocating lessening it greatly, and ultimately such a thing is going to be seen as a cost of living in society. Should there be a cost? That’s a philosophical discussion for another day.

TL;DR: I think a basic income of sorts can be justified on broadly libertarian grounds; it is clear that such a system is superior to our current welfare state; and I think that libertarians should stop beating their heads against the immovable rock they’ve been killing themselves with for decades, adopt this plan, and actually move the ball down the field beyond our 30-yard line, because it is getting to be really, really ridiculous at this point.

And I’m very, very thankful it is beginning to get a wider audience.

Can we just stop making stuff up?

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Originally published at Quantum Matrix Scribe. Please leave any comments there.

The title of a recent article at The New Republic reads:

The Period Is Pissed
When did our plainest punctuation mark become so aggressive?

The author then goes on to assume that adding a period at the end of your texts indicates you’re angry.

This is one of the plainest cases of someone just making shit up. Ok, so he cites a professor of linguistics and the editor of something called the Awl (presumably short for “The Awful,” judging by the editor’s comments.) But this guy is definitely smoking something.

Look, a period at the end of sentences is not indicating aggressiveness. It is proper grammar. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, some people don’t do that and use line breaks because it’s more efficient to type that way on mobile phones. Not technically proper, but it’s a convenience to use such a wonderful device. I have no problem with that. But if you start assuming that using periods in a message indicates “anger,” well, then you’re going to have a lot of problems in your life. You’re probably going to end up hating a lot of people or feeling really bad about yourself. And then your life is going to get worse.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t assume. It makes an ass out of you and me.

EDIT: I am now very angry at my high school for making me think grammar is spelled with an “e”.

A Truly American Centrism

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Originally published at Quantum Matrix Scribe. Please leave any comments there.

Before this week continues into the bloody mess that is the Healthcare.gov website, and the PR fiasco Obamacare is becoming for liberals and Democrats, I wanted to examine something far more promising and hopeful for America: that of the growing, silent middle.

Last week, a study from Esquire and NBC News identified a “New American Center” made up of disaffected Americans. NBC headlined their blog post with “Why our nation isn’t as divided as we think” and argued that our country, outside of the most vocal (and annoying) folks on both extremes, really isn’t that polarized. However, both Ramesh Ponnuru and Josh Feldman took issue with the study, noting that there weren’t many non-centrist categories to be in, and that the vast majority of the center was (in Ponnuru’s words) “irreligious and white.” Huh. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I fell in the exact middle when I took the online quiz.

Despite these flaws in the Esquire/NBC “study,” I still think there is an American center, I’m just not sure if it’s new. But there is a new and growing field in the realm of political philosophy that is American centrism, and always has been, it’s only been given a name recently. That field is market democracy, launched and identified by Harvard political philosopher John Tomasi, and explained at length in his fantastic book Free Market Fairness.

What is market democracy? Tomasi calls it a “research program,” which sounds clunky but apparently is perfectly apt, as classical liberalism is also sort of a “research program.” But more specifically, market democracy is:

a deliberative form of liberalism that is sensitive to the moral insights of libertarianism. Market democracy combines the four ideas I just mentioned: (1) capitalistic economic freedoms as vital aspects of liberty, (2) society as a spontaneous order, (3) just and legitimate political institutions as acceptable to all who make their lives among them, (4) social justice as the ultimate standard of political evaluation. Here is a simple way to begin thinking about this view: market democracy affirms capitalistic economic liberties as first-order requirements of social justice.

In the above quote, when Tomasi says “liberalism,” he is not just speaking about classical liberalism, but all liberalism. Tomasi divides the liberal camp into two shores on the sides of an ocean: on one side, the libertarians and classical liberals; on the other, the “high liberals” like Rawls and your average lefty who think that economic liberties are not that important and the free market is not the greatest thing in the world.

Tomasi operates from an essentially Rawlsian viewpoint, and indeed his entire book is about taking on the Rawlsian enterprise and forming a hybrid between it and classical liberalism and libertarianism. He takes the Rawlsian framework seriously, but notes that if you do so, then you must also take economic liberties seriously. Although “high liberals” who follow Rawls almost always single out economic liberties to be ignored, marginalized, or otherwise downgraded in importance, Tomasi makes the case that if you follow the rule that governments are about treating democratic citizens with dignity, then you must also give them the dignity of owning a business and earning profits. Thus, anyone who follows in the steps of Rawls–which is most academic liberals, though I think it’s a vanishingly small number of “liberals” and progressives you meet on campus or on the street or on the Internet–must also be a strong proponent of economic liberties and the free market if they want to be consistent.

One of the great aspects of market democracy, in my mind, is it’s focus not just to a social justice that takes free markets and economic liberties seriously, but also the concept of “responsible self-authorship.” Tomasi describes it thusly:

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<p><small>Originally published at <a href="http://jdkolassa.net/2013/10/a-truly-american-centrism/">Quantum Matrix Scribe</a>. Please leave any <a href="http://jdkolassa.net/2013/10/a-truly-american-centrism/#comments">comments</a> there.</small></p><p>Before this week continues into the bloody mess that is the Healthcare.gov website, and the PR fiasco Obamacare is becoming for liberals and Democrats, I wanted to examine something far more promising and hopeful for America: that of the growing, silent middle.</p> <p>Last week, <a href="http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/10/15/20960588-the-new-american-center-why-our-nation-isnt-as-divided-as-we-think?lite" target="_blank">a study from Esquire and NBC News identified</a> a “New American Center” made up of disaffected Americans. NBC headlined their blog post with “Why our nation isn&#8217;t as divided as we think” and argued that our country, outside of the most vocal (and annoying) folks on both extremes, really isn&#8217;t that polarized. However, both <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-15/esquire-s-new-american-center-isn-t-very-centrist.html" target="_blank">Ramesh Ponnuru</a> and <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/online/do-we-really-have-a-new-american-center/" target="_blank">Josh Feldman</a> took issue with the study, noting that there weren&#8217;t many non-centrist categories to be in, and that the vast majority of the center was (in Ponnuru&#8217;s words) “irreligious and white.” Huh. Guess I shouldn&#8217;t be surprised that I fell in the exact middle when I took the online quiz.</p> <p>Despite these flaws in the Esquire/NBC “study,” I still think there is an American center, I&#8217;m just not sure if it&#8217;s new. But there is a new and growing field in the realm of political philosophy that <i>is</i> American centrism, and always has been, it&#8217;s only been given a name recently. That field is market democracy, launched and identified by Harvard political philosopher John Tomasi, and explained at length in his fantastic book <i>Free Market Fairness</i>.</p> <p>What is market democracy? Tomasi calls it a &#8220;research program,&#8221; which sounds clunky but apparently is perfectly apt, as classical liberalism is also sort of a &#8220;research program.&#8221; But more specifically, market democracy is:</p> <blockquote><p>a deliberative form of liberalism that is sensitive to the moral insights of libertarianism. Market democracy combines the four ideas I just mentioned: (1) capitalistic economic freedoms as vital aspects of liberty, (2) society as a spontaneous order, (3) just and legitimate political institutions as acceptable to all who make their lives among them, (4) social justice as the ultimate standard of political evaluation. Here is a simple way to begin thinking about this view: market democracy affirms capitalistic economic liberties as first-order requirements of social justice.</p></blockquote> <p>In the above quote, when Tomasi says “liberalism,” he is not just speaking about classical liberalism, but <i>all</i> liberalism. Tomasi divides the liberal camp into two shores on the sides of an ocean: on one side, the libertarians and classical liberals; on the other, the “high liberals” like Rawls and your average lefty who think that economic liberties are not that important and the free market is not the greatest thing in the world.</p> <p>Tomasi operates from an essentially Rawlsian viewpoint, and indeed his entire book is about taking on the Rawlsian enterprise and forming a hybrid between it and classical liberalism and libertarianism. He takes the Rawlsian framework seriously, but notes that if you do so, then you must also take economic liberties seriously. Although &#8220;high liberals&#8221; who follow Rawls almost always single out economic liberties to be ignored, marginalized, or otherwise downgraded in importance, Tomasi makes the case that if you follow the rule that governments are about treating democratic citizens with dignity, then you must also give them the dignity of owning a business and earning profits. Thus, anyone who follows in the steps of Rawls&#8211;which is most academic liberals, though I think it&#8217;s a vanishingly small number of &#8220;liberals&#8221; and progressives you meet on campus or on the street or on the Internet&#8211;must also be a strong proponent of economic liberties and the free market if they want to be consistent.</p> <p>One of the great aspects of market democracy, in my mind, is it&#8217;s focus not just to a social justice that takes free markets and economic liberties seriously, but also the concept of “responsible self-authorship.” Tomasi describes it thusly:</p> <blockquotethe idea="idea" that="that" people="people" have="have" special="special" moral="moral" powers="powers" or="or" capacities="capacities" in="in" their="their" roles="roles" as="as" citizens="citizens" has="has" a="a" long="long" history,="history," with="with" philosophers="philosophers" defining="defining" these="these" powers="powers" in="in" various="various" ways.="ways." like="Like" rawls,="Rawls," i="I" will="will" follow="follow" tradition="tradition" by="by" distinguishing="distinguishing" two="two" central="central" moral="moral" capacities.="capacities." the="The" first="first" is="is" a="a" capacity="capacity" for="for" what="what" i="I" shall="shall" call="call" responsible="responsible" self-authorship.="self-authorship." by="by" this="this" i="I" mean="mean" that="that" all="all" healthy="healthy" adult="adult" citizens,="citizens," regardless="regardless" of="of" their="their" particular="particular" advantages="advantages" or="or" disadvantages="disadvantages" given="given" by="by" birth,="birth," have="have" the="The" capacity="capacity" to="to" develop="develop" and="and" act="act" upon="upon" a="a" life="life" plan="plan" (whether="(whether" that="that" plan="plan" be="be" individual,="individual," collective,="collective," or="or" otherwise="otherwise" shared.)="shared.)" people="people" are="are" life="life" agents="agents" and="and" their="their" agency="agency" matters.="matters." as="as" responsible="responsible" self-authors,="self-authors," they="they" have="have" the="The" capacity="capacity" to="to" realistically="realistically" assess="assess" the="The" options="options" before="before" them="them" and,="and," in="in" light="light" of="of" that="that" assessment,="assessment," to="to" set="set" standards="standards" for="for" a="a" life="life" that="that" each="each" deems="deems" worth="worth" living.="living." the="The" second="second" power="power" is="is" more="more" obviously="obviously" social="social" in="in" nature.="nature." this="this" is="is" the="The" moral="moral" capacity="capacity" to="to" honor="honor" one's="one&#39;s" fellow="fellow" citizens="citizens" as="as" responsible="responsible" self-authors="self-authors" too.="too." by="by" this="this" i="I" mean="mean" that="that" citizens="citizens" can="can" recognize="recognize" that="that" their="their" fellow="fellow" citizens="citizens" have="have" lives="lives" to="to" lead="lead" that="that" are="are" fantastically="fantastically" important="important" to="to" each="each" of="of" them.="them." whenever="Whenever" they="they" call="call" on="on" the="The" coercive="coercive" force="force" of="of" the="The" law,="law," they="they" need="need" to="to" be="be" careful="careful" to="to" do="do" so="so" in="in" a="a" way="way" that="that" fully="fully" respects="respects" their="their" fellow="fellow" citizens="citizens" as="as" responsible="responsible" self-authors.</blockquote="self-authors.&lt;/blockquote"> <p>This, I believe, is not just deeply powerful and inspirational, but is actually very acutely <i>American</i>. Even in 21<sup>st</sup> century America, with welfare queens and people constantly demanding more welfare, most folks believe that people have their own lives to own and run, and seek to do the same for themselves. Those who agitate the loudest for more wealth redistribution are largely on the far left, and only get so much attention thanks to a frankly pathetic news system which paints a picture of poverty being far larger than it is.</p> <p>Because it is a research program and not a blueprint for government or even public policy, market democracy allows a lot of room for variation and nuance. Tomasi himself outlines three concepts in his book that fall within the market democratic paradigm: democratic <i>laissez-faire</i> (a very minarchist government that provides minimalist safety net features), democratic limited government (a slightly larger government that resembles suggestions by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman), and “Free Market Fairness” itself, though it is a tad more abstract than the other two. What&#8217;s interesting to note is that Tomasi is not hostile to some welfare, though it is far more limited. Instead, Tomasi notes how free market capitalism has made <i>especially</i> the worst off in society far better than even the best off in non-capitalist societies, and (rightly) trusts in that ability to do much of the heavy lifting on poverty reduction. However, he still notes with praise for government actions to take care of the most indigent amongst us, and joins company with such luminaries as Friedrich Hayek. The concept of a guaranteed minimum income or a universal basic income do get mentioned in this book with some positive tones.</p> <p>This is what I think American centrism truly is: respect for each other as individuals leading our own lives, while accepting some help for the truly, truly needy, with those falling in that category being those who are so needy they can&#8217;t even run their own lives. Although most right-libertarians would attack market democracy on the basis that it is a contradiction, when viewed through this lens, it most certainly isn&#8217;t.</p> <p>The first (major) party that truly latches onto market democracy—free market individualism combined with a concern for social justice defined as responsible self-authorship—will dominate the American center and be able to take solid control of the political process. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, if you like gridlock) neither party is anywhere close to embracing this.</p> <p>The Democrats and the left are most certainly not interested in treating Americans as responsible self-authors. They seek to infantilize and coddle Americans every step of the way, by paying for their insurance and dictating what they can eat, drink, wear, drive, and so on. And although masked by a veneer of progressivism and social justice concerns, the left is really just crony capitalism in disguise—robbing the poor to feed the rich. Everywhere the left is trying to administer our lives, from Obamacare fiasco to the overreaching EPA, while simultaneously giving fat loans to political allies and cronies in big business and writing more and more regulations to protect their friends from market competition that might actually force them to reduce their prices.</p> <p>Regrettably, the right isn&#8217;t much better. There is, out there, a sensible center-right movement. A great representative of this is the R Street Institute (disclosure: I have blogged for R Street in the past). Unfortunately, <a href="http://www.waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/the-battle-to-lose-independent-vote.html?fb_action_ids=10151629135370989&amp;fb_action_types=og.likes&amp;fb_source=aggregation&amp;fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582" target="_blank">as this brilliant webcomic shows</a>, almost the entire right-half has been taken over by the far right. These are folks who are trying to push their own socio-cultural views on everyone else in America, and in the process ignore two things that are absolutely essential for a modern, democratic state to thrive: cultural liberalism and liberal neutrality.</p> <p>By cultural liberalism, I broadly mean the freedom to march to the beat of a different drummer. Liberal neutrality is the government part of this, that the state should not promote any conception of what “the good” is. Considering the vast variety of opinions, backgrounds, viewpoints, and so on and so forth that exist in an active democratic society, not taking these two points as a given and a foundation for all public policy is suicide. When you have different groups trying to impose their views on each other, you&#8217;re not going to have any peace. Better to just have a truce and let people go their own way. Otherwise you&#8217;ll get what we have now.</p> <p>And, on both sides, we have a great deal of just plain tribalism. That doesn&#8217;t help anybody.</p> <p>I have noticed that centrism, in America, typically is described as a sort of movement that is led by Thomas Friedman and would be willing and able to elect Mike Bloomberg president. That sort of technocratic lefty-lite centrism doesn&#8217;t really exist beyond the DC-Boston corridor. Instead, I think it&#8217;s much closer to the idea of market democracy.</p> <p>The interesting bit is that market democracy is not too far off from libertarianism, at least not a moderate rendition of it. I think market democracy can be libertarianism 3.0, and indeed must be if we&#8217;re going to get liberty pushed forward in this country. The anarcho-capitalist path of just abolishing government is a political dead end. And while I am attracted to Objectivist thought, regrettably the way that Rand phrased her philosophy has made it an instant turn-off for all but a small contingent of Americans. It seems to me that the only long-term, viable path for libertarianism is market democracy. And while it&#8217;s not exactly the same thing, there is already a burgeoning movement called “bleeding heart libertarianism” which combines free market individualism with social justice concerns.</p> <p>In summary, there <i>is</i> a distinctly American centrism out there, and that centrism is market democracy, combining free market individualism with social justice. The idea of &#8220;responsible self-authorship&#8221; makes a lot of sense and should be the basis for politics. And I really, <i>really</i> wish one of these parties would come to it&#8217;s freaking senses and embrace it before things get worse. Though I won&#8217;t hold my breath.</p>
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Originally published at Quantum Matrix Scribe. Please leave any comments there.

I am a huge fan of the website Bleeding Heart Libertarians. It’s one of the few blogs I read that is genuinely intelligent and intellectual, and while that’s probably because I don’t read too many philosophy blogs, it also makes it one of the most enjoyable. Unfortunately, every so often you get a dud. And, even more rarely, you get what can only be described as a rotten egg.

Earlier this week, public reason liberal anarchist Kevin Vallier posted Christian Belief is Reasonable, So Respect It. His basic thesis is that atheists and other irreligious folk need to give a ton of more respect to Christiansand the Christian religion.

I’m a big believer in reasonable pluralism, the notion that there are deep, pervasive disagreements about morality, politics and religion that are the unavoidable result of practical reasoning in a free society. That means I think there are non-culpable rational disagreements about all sorts of things that really matter.

But since I’m planning a series of religion posts in 2014, I thought it worthwhile to defend one of the applications of belief in reasonable pluralism that will be critical to those posts.

I believe that a reasonable, rational and well-informed person can believe in a revealed religion. That is, she not only affirms a scheme of transcendent values and a complex natural theology, but belief in a divinely inspired set of social practices and sacred texts. I am fairly confident that one can be a reasonable Confucian, Buddhist, Muslim or Jew. Due to my familiarity with Christianity, I am extremely confident that one can be a reasonable Christian.

This means that many atheists, in particular New Atheists and Objectivists, should treat the beliefs of people of faith with far more respect than they presently do.

In the above selection, the italicized parts are Vallier’s own emphasis, while the bolded fragment is my own emphasis. I intend to draw attention to the word “reasonable,” because it is upon this the crux of this argument is being made. Now, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, reasonable (in addition to the meanings of “fair, moderate no extreme or excessive”) means “being in accordance with reason.” What is reason? George H. Smith, in his seminal book Atheism: The Case Against God, identifies reason as:

“Reason,” to quote Ayn Rand, “is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.” It is by abstracting the immediately given concretes of his experience into concepts, and integrating these into still wider concepts, that man acquires knowledge and surpasses the ability of lower life forms.

He continues:

To qualify as knowledge (i.e., as a correct identification of reality), a belief must be justified; it must warrant acceptance by rational standards. If a belief meets the requirements of these standards, it is a rational belief; if a belief cannot meet the requirements–but is adopted nonetheless–it is an irrational belief.

Specifying criteria for knowledge is a complex and controversial task, and one which we shall discuss in more detail in the following chapter. For the present discussion, we may indicate three minimum requirements that must be fulfilled before any belief can claim the status of knowledge: (a) a belief must be based on evidence; (b)a belief must be internally consistent (i.e., not self-contradictory); (c)a belief cannot contradict previously validated knowledge with which it is to be integrated. If a belief fails to meet any or all of these criteria, it cannot properly be designated as knowledge.

Knowledge, of course, is basically reason’s raison d’etre. So here we have a pretty good foundation for what is reason, and thus, what is reasonable.

Vallier has three central points he addresses. His first point is theism:

The first foundational belief of the Christian is theism. It is simply obvious that theism is reasonable to anyone who is acquainted with contemporary philosophy of religion. Nearly all atheists in the literature acknowledge that theistic belief is at least sometimes epistemically justified.

Wha-ha? “[T]heistic belief is at least sometimes epistemically justified”? And this is acknowledged by “nearly all atheists in the literature”? Perhaps I have not read enough atheist literature, but this seems to me to be a rather spurious claim. Who are these atheists? When and where did they write these things? Vallier does not provide these names, so already his argument is looking weak. (Remember, evidence.)

His other point, that theism is “reasonable to anyone who is acquainted with contemporary philosophy of religion” also strikes me as rather weak. Theism is the belief that there is a god or gods who exist. Now, on the surface, this to anyone sounds like a valid claim, even if untrue. (Note that I’m not really using the word “valid” as expressed in logic.) But here comes the problem: what is (a) god?

Most people I’ve asked this question either start laughing (as in, “How can you be so stupid you don’t know what god is?”), or given me stares and/or start sputtering. (One answer was “God is god” with a nervous chuckle, as if the person saying it knew the tautology involved and it had started to crack their faith.) But the question is an important one: what, exactly, is god? As George H. Smith notes, if someone started claiming that an “unie” exists, the first thing you would do is not say “Prove it,” you would say, “Just what the hell is an ‘unie’?” As such, we need to know what, exactly, is entailed by the word “god”.

Alas, this has been a search that has been undergoing since the beginning of human civilization. You can ask innumerable people what god is, and come away with innumerable answers. This is one reason why there are so many monotheistic religions, but also within these religions so many sects, denominations, and divisions. This is not like libertarianism, where we have differences over what is the best way to achieve liberty, and what liberty in practice would mean; no, this is far deeper. At it’s core it’s that we really have no definition of god to begin with.

Many have gone through the argument that there is no coherent definition of god; George H. Smith goes into it in such depth in the first part of his book that I think it really should have been titled Igtheism: The Case Against God.. I will not reproduce Smith’s work here, but suffice to say there is a great deal of doubt as to what, if anything, the word “god” really refers to. One point is the idea that “god” is incomprehensible, lying beyond our reason. If that is the case, then by definition, belief is unreasonable. Another point, then, is to give “god” “unlimited attributes”, such as omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence. But these don’t make any sense whatsoever. How could you have these unlimited attributes, when an attribute in and of itself consists of a limitation, of a definite quality? How can there be existence without limitations when existence is defined by limitations?

So theism is not reasonable. By entailing a belief in something that is inherently unknowable, incomprehensible, and defies reason itself, it is unreasonable. You wouldn’t start believing me if I told you that we were all seeds from a celestial kumquat that cracked itself upon the world to spread salvation. Why, really, should we then believe in the existence of a “god” or “gods”? At least we know what a kumquat is. We have no clue what a “god” is.

Of course, Vallier preempts any of this by saying:

Note that you needn’t think that theistic proofs are successful to think that at least one version of one of them can be rationally affirmed by an honest person. If so, then theistic belief is reasonable. Don’t dispute me here. I’m in good company with Leibniz and Aquinas.

Vallier does not tolerate your pathetic dissent. He just dismisses it entirely. Here’s his problem: as I pointed out above, by definition, theism isn’t nreasonable (and also isn’t rational) so while an honest person may affirm it, it would not actually be a rational decision.

Perhaps this is because I am not acquainted with the contemporary literature of the philosophy of religion. Maybe I just need to get a proper education in this topic. Or…maybe it’s because the philosophers of religion aren’t half as smart as they think they are. Just a thought.

Moving along to his second point, Vallier says:

The second foundational belief is that the Gospel reports of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are reliable. Many of you probably think the Gospels are not reliable sources of information about Jesus, given that they are full of miracles and were written long after Jesus’ death by unknown individuals. That’s fine. But is your view so ironclad that a reasonable, informed person couldn’t disagree?

I think there is significant doubt as to the veracity of the Gospels. First, even though Vallier says that the gospels were written within a generation of Jesus’ death, the earliest point around when they may have been written was 50 A.D.–twenty years after Jesus died. More reliable dating by historians point around after 70 A.D., forty years later. And these were most definitely not written by eyewitnesses, but loads and loads of heresay. Now how can these be accurate? The Associated Press frequently gets things wrong minutes after they occur in a society where we have advanced technology, education, and data verification systems. Imagine trying to get the truth of something decades after it occurred in a society where irrigation is considered a bloody miracle and you think the Earth is flat.

Is my view “so ironclad that a reasonable, informed person couldn’t disagree”? Again, this gets back to what is reasonable. Resurrection is just flat out unreasonable, and I would think any reasonable, informed person would agree on that. As for the life and death of Jesus, I am not one of those atheists who says that Jesus flat out did not exist. Rather, I think there was probably a man named Jesus who did some things, was probably a social reformer and agitator, and was executed by the Romans (and backed by corrupt Jewish authorities) for his trouble. Out of his life story, without modern inventions like video and rigorous journalism and historical documentation, a tale of a divine man emerged. Mixed with previous religions who had similar resurrection stories for their divine heroes, Jesus became the son of “god” (again, whatever that is) and a new religion was born. Indeed, the most prolific promoter of Christian, Paul of Tarsus, didn’t really start proselytizing until long after Jesus was dead and the truth was in doubt.

And so what if the Gospels were written within the generation of Jesus’ death? Eyewitness testimony is notorious for being of dubious value, and that’s before we get to the truly weird stuff. If someone was saying they just saw people abducted by aliens, you would either think they’re talking about the Mexican drug cartels or were just crazy. That would be the reasonable response, at least at first.

Lastly, Vallier addresses the Trinity. This is one of the most problematic components of Christian theology, for even though Christians stridently advocate there is only one god, they worship at least three: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I won’t go into the nitty-gritty of the Trinity–that’s a journey best undertaken by people who have the time, energy, and willpower to do so–but a good summary is that the Trinity is a doctrine riddled with contradictions, holes, and much philosophical jury-rigging to get it to fit with everything else. To believe in this would also be unreasonable, as nothing is clear nor consistent, requirements for reason.

In summary, then, no, the Christian belief is not actually reasonable. Theism itself is rather unreasonable, being as it is a belief system centered around one or more supernatural entities that are undefinable. In addition, neither the Bible nor the Trinity can save Christian belief from unreasonableness; indeed, if anything, they only doom it further.

This is most emphatically not to say that we should disrespect individual Christians, whether in public or in private. To paraphrase a popular Christian saying, “Hate the belief, love the believer.” I have made it known on this blog where I stand with regards to the antics of such organizations as American Atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as well as all those local atheist groups who vandalize or do really dumb things regarding Nativity scenes. I do not believe in taking a combative approach, especially not in public. But if you’re in a private, or at least less public setting, and someone is telling you that they’ve made a decision based on (or worse, that you have to do something because of) something that a magical being that we cannot know told them, you would obligated to say, with a straight face, “Kevin, that is absurd.”

That is different from disrespecting the individual. You are pointing out that their point is ridiculous. Pointing out the ridiculous is not disrespect, but if it be disrespect, then make the most of it. We do not suffer outrageous statements and beliefs. We tolerate them for a time with children, but gradually help them grow out of it. We tend to regard anyone who seriously believes in fairies or unicorns as being either in jest or somewhat unstable. The same goes for libertarians who have discovered a bona fide socialist in this day and age.

Yet perhaps the very fact that theism is unreasonable is why it still lives. Perhaps Marx was right about the masses needing their opium. Is there a psychological or–dare I say it–spiritual need for a belief in the unbelievable? Do people need something in their hearts that exists beyond the realm of existence itself in order to give them some grounding, something to help them survive this existence? I think that’s probably the case. Just as fiction fulfills the role of “catharsis,” or release, so too does religion. (Now watch as some atheist wanders in here and says “Well duh, religion is fiction…”) So that is all well and good. The point of theism is that it is unreasonable, and humans need a dose of the unreasonable to get them through life. But that does nothing to make the belief itself reasonable or rational.

This is also, of course, before we get to some of the truly dark things about Christianity, especially those derived from its Judaic ancestry. Disobedient children are to be put to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), while those who mock a bald man are to be ripped apart by bears (2 Kings 2:23-24). How about killing women who are being raped who don’t scream hard enough? (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) Or subjecting wives to their husbands unconditionally? (Ephesians 5:22-24) Or how about cutting off your hands and feet that may give you temptation? (Mark 9:43-48) And let’s not even get started on Abraham almost murdering his son Isaac, because a voice in his head told him so. Against all reason, he takes his son up the mountain and gets ready to kill him there as an offering.

These are not only unreasonable, they are morally repugnant.

Of course, modern Christianity does not generally follow these points, yet they remain within the Bible and are not any less Christian for it. They are, of course, unreasonable, and that, more than anything, is why they are ignored.

Again, I want to reiterate that I do not advocate disrespecting individual Christians or being out and out assholes to them. But to argue that Christian belief is reasonable is a fool’s errand. It is built upon a foundation of irrationality and unreasonableness, and for many centuries openly attacked reason as being the Devil’s bride. For many people, that is the point.

I would suggest to anyone interested in reading books on atheism firstly the excellent Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith, with the warning that it is quite deep. Part 1 focuses on claims about the existence of god; part 2 is a massive, in-depth exploration of faith vs. reason; Part 3, which I haven’t gotten to yet, examine the positive arguments for god; Part 4 looks at practical consequences of belief in god. I would also recommend Richard Carrier’s Why I Am Not a Christian, an easier to read book that goes through four major reasons why Christianity does not work: god’s silence, god’s inert state, the wrong evidence for a supernatural being, and ultimately that we are just in the wrong universe for such an entity. (I understand Carrier is associated with the Atheist+ movement, which I reject, but his book is sound. His other book, Goodness without God is, to put it mildly, a bit boring. I only got through the preface.)

tl;dr: Um, no, Kevin, Christian belief is not reasonable, and I don’t really have any reason to respect it anymore than I have a reason to respect a genuine belief in fairies.

Update: Jason Brennan of BHL quotes a response to Vallier from another blogger, and underneath the quote makes this important statement:

I’m posting this because I saw similar types of responses in the commends to Kevin’s previous post. And I wonder if Richard [the other blogger] and Kevin are actually disagreeing here. I suspect–and I invite Kevin and Richard to correct me if I’m wrong–that Kevin is talking about reasonableness, but Richard is talking about epistemic justification or epistemic rationality.

Kevin claims that religious belief and theism, or at least certain instances of them, are reasonable. “Reasonable” is a technical term in public reason liberalism. Just what constitutes reasonableness is a big topic the PR liberals debate, but they all build into the concept of reasonable that reasonable beliefs are to be respected by liberalism. A reasonable objection has to be defeated; an unreasonable one doesn’t. A reasonable lifestyle has to be accommodated; an unreasonable one doesn’t. A reasonable claim has to be heard; an unreasonable one doesn’t. Etc.

In addition, PR liberals tend to hold that the category of the “reasonable” is broader than the category of the epistemically justified or the epistemically rational. Many beliefs that are not epistemically justified or that would be epistemically irrational to hold (because they are held in violation of the correct epistemic standards, whatever they are) are still reasonable. The standards of reasonableness are less demanding than the standards of epistemic justification.

Now I feel kinda dumb. I should have been the igtheist and asked just what Vallier meant by reasonable, but I figured I had a good sense of what reasonable is. Yet he’s not talking about reasonableness as reason at all; he’s talking about a technical term within the school of public reason liberalism. Moreover, this term isn’t even really defined; it seems to be a bit fuzzy. This is why asking for definitions and setting grounds for discussion are so important. Especially now that it looks like “reasonableness,” in this context, is functionally meaningless.

Darn.