Sunday, January 19, 2014

Acting like an extrovert

All my life I've been the epitome of introversion.

When I was younger my hobbies were reading, writing, and nature photography. The only sports I enjoyed were solo pursuits; hiking, rock climbing, gymnastics, competitive roller skating. I prefered to spend time alone, and liked that.

Yet I was involved in choir and ensemble groups, I had a good time acting in several stage plays and in college I took public speaking every semester because of the confidence it gave me and I really liked the prof who taught the course.

As an adult I look back at my working life and realize that the majority of jobs I've held could best be described as either public service, customer service or retail management.

My current life exemplifies this dichotomy. I work in a convenience store 8 hours a day then go home to my rented room, where I tend to spend time with my beloved Cleo, the world's greatest Cocker Spaniel, and my computer. I have my meals in my room, often reading a book while I eat.

So how does a natural introvert adapt to a professional life as an extrovert?

I think it's best explained with a metaphor I invented when I had to council an employee who was being terminated. He and I were quite similar, yet I could adapt to life as a working extrovert and he couldn't. He couldn't understand how I managed it.

Since he and I had both been involved in theater, I told him that my working life was a role I played in a stage production called "My Working Life". At work I wore a uniform (costume) and acted according to a script (the expectations of the job/my employers). I wasn't me at work, I was a character in a play which earned me money that was used to enjoy my real life. In fact I took great pains not to mix my professional and private lives. I don't party with coworkers or make friends with them. I seldom if ever bring work home with me. I avoid discussing my job when I'm not at work. My two lives are wholly separate. It's a matter of compartmentalization.

So if you ever run into me at work, don't be insulted if I fail to be personal and treat you like every other customer I deal with daily. You're not meeting me but rather the character I play as a job. If you meet me away from my job, don't be surprised if I have little to say about my work and prefer to discuss philosophy, or science, or Cleo.

Friday, December 13, 2013

When bacon goes bad

In 1394, a pig was hanged at Mortaign for having sacrilegiously eaten a consecrated wafer; and in a case of infanticide, it is expressly stated in the plaintiff’s declaration that the pig killed the child and ate of its flesh, “although it was Friday,” and this violation of the jejunium sextae, prescribed by the Church, was urged by the prosecuting attorney and accepted by the court as a serious aggravation of the porker’s offence.
– E.P. Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, 1906

Thursday, October 17, 2013


I suppose I really ought to quit smoking. But I bought a carton of smokes last week and I've still got 6 packs left. Besides, smoking's my muse, it ignites my brain cells.

Smoking gives you cancer. You could get lung cancer, even brain cancer. Cancer's a horrible, shitty, deadly disease. 

If I quit now I'm leaving 6 packs of cigarettes unsmoked, unappreciated. They don't let you return those things to the store you know. 

It could be those 6 packs that push you over the edge and give you cancer. You'll die a terrible, miserable death. Your hair will fall out. Oh wait, OK, your beard will fall out. You'll have to lie in a hospital bed all day. You hate that. And there isn't really a cure, so you'll linger in pain and sadness until the day you die.

But if I quit now I'm out 20 bucks. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The fog

He stood and watched the fog approach
silently, with a natural stealth
it rolled toward him, and he stood and waited.

He reached out his hand,

touched the first wisps of vapor,
felt it on his fingertips,
cold, and wet, and empty.

Like his hopes, his life, his dreams.

There was no light, no sound,
there was the man, and the fog.

It caressed his cheek 
like his mother once had.
It damped his eyelids,
his cheek, his forehead.

It chilled him to the bone,
the touch of death, of nothingness.

It chilled him to his soul,
a dark place filled with memories and regrets.

The fog totally enveloped the man,
it was all he could feel and touch and smell.
And he welcomed it.

Within minutes the fog was gone
and with it, the man.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A plot device fails

Wikipedia defines a plot device as,
 "...anything which moves the plot forward or maintains it.A contrived or arbitrary plot device may annoy or confuse the reader, causing a loss of the suspension of disbelief. However a well-crafted plot device, or one that emerges naturally from the setting or characters of the story, may be entirely accepted, or may even be unnoticed by the audience."
Plot devices are used in novels, television, and movie scripts. They may be a thing or event that reinforces the overall story line in the reader's or viewer's mind. Some are obvious (the statue in The Maltese Falcon) and some are subtle. Some plot devices are cleverly finessed while others are stereotypical and border on cliches. 
Plot devices are important. They maintain the story line and more importantly, they keep the reader involved in the story, they must encourage the suspension of belief that is required to enjoy a fictional tale. 
The importance of plot devices came to me while watching last season's final episode of Castle

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, a brief synopsis. A crime novel writer receives permission from his friend, the New York mayor, to shadow a homicide detective in order to gain insight into procedures he can use in his books. Not surprisingly, the detective he follows around is female, young, pretty and troubled. They quickly become friends and eventually lovers. The plot is standard, it's been done too many times before. I waited until season four before watching an episode, and then only because I'm a rabid fan of Nathan Fillion (Firefly and Serenity). The show contains just enough humor and misdirection (every episode has multiple points where everyone thinks they know who the killer is, only to be proven wrong) to keep it interesting, so it wasn't long before I went back and watched each season. There's also a plot device that runs through many of the episodes in every season; who killed Detective Beckett's mother? That question has been answered last season and that plot device has been replaced with another; will Beckett and Castle get married?
It's this latest plot device that rang false to me and disturbed my suspension of disbelief. 
Castle is supposed to be a best-selling author. He's wealthy. He has a house in the Hamptons and an apartment in New York. He travels the globe frequently, almost casually, and in first-class. He doesn't have an office, he works at home. His daughter just left home for college, and his mother lives with him in his apartment.  
Beckett is a typical detective, not wealthy and tied by her job to New York. At the end of last season she was offered a position as an investigator for the Attorney General of the United States. This would involve a move to Washington D.C. 
This is presented as a deal-breaker for their relationship. Castle opines that this will mean they won't see each other any more. 
This plot device makes no sense. 
Castle could easily move to D.C. and let his mother keep his New York apartment. He could incorporate Beckett's change of jobs into the life of his fictional character based on her, Nicky Heat. In fact, a writer might welcome this change in the circumstances of his character. It opens new possibilities and venues. Introducing this "issue" into the plot makes us wonder what possible objection Castle could have to following his girlfriend to D.C.
Perhaps the writers will explain this satisfactorily in the next season. If I were writing for this show I would have avoided introducing that issue. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why the computer will impact humanity more than any other communication technology

Photograph of a young girl listening to the ra...
Photograph of a young girl listening to the radio during the Great Depression. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I believe several factors contribute to the Internet having a far broader and deeper impact on the world than the telephone, radio or television had or have now.

The telephone, radio and television all required equipment which had to be provided by large companies and industry.

Telephone poles and wires had to be strung all across the nation before Bess in New York could call Fred in California. There was no peer-to-peer alternative, no personal phone service unless you were able to use a wireless telegraph.

Radio required broadcasters within range of the audience's receivers. In the early days AM broadcasts were frequently interrupted by storms or other electrical devices.

Both radio and television required professional content providers. For the average family there was no station-to-station radio or television. They relied on major studios and corporations to provide content. Would those media have become popular without radio shows and television programs? And the content was all pushed to the consumer. There was no interaction with the listener or viewer. They were simply passive receivers for content provided by the emerging entertainment industry.

In stark contrast the Internet was envisioned and implemented as an interactive medium. Its core functionality relied on the content provided from both, or all, ends of the communication links.

Early computer modems piggybacked on the technology already in place for the telephone. No one had to wait for a corporation to string new wires or build new transmitters. No one had to rely on a network to provide content or build fancy receivers. Kit computers were on the scene almost as soon as this new technology became popular.

Radio was developed on principles that emerged from research into telephony, and television shared the same origins. Both relied on a fairly narrow spectrum of radio waves. While television overshadowed radio by providing similar content in a more advanced form, neither could replace the functionality of the telephone.

But computers quickly exploited wavelengths unusable by either radio or television, allowing them to become wireless devices free of interference from their electronic ancestors. Within a few short years of their adoption computers offered applications that replicated the telephone, the radio and television. You could make calls from your computer, listen to music or voice broadcasts, even watch videos and commercial broadcasts. Computers and the Internet didn't just advance the technology of their predecessors, they incorporated and replaced them.

Perhaps the greatest difference between radio and television and the Internet is the democratic nature of the content. Anyone can get online and produce content or collaborate with others. It's what the telephone could have become if cell service had been offered alongside wired telephony at its advent. But the need for wires and expensive central hubs kept the phone from becoming what the Internet has, a nearly ubiquitous means of personal and global communications.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Climate change and denial

It's baffling to many of us why people are so reluctant to listen to scientists on the topic of climate change and why groups of us, even the Republican party, seemed determined to ignore and dismiss the science behind it.

Humans seem to frequently engage in denial, especially on issues of a cataclysmic nature for either the planet or ourselves personally. Look at how death has spawned so much superstition, all of it intended to assure ourselves that this apparently inevitable personal catastrophe can somehow be avoided. 

It often takes an event becoming imminent to jar us into dealing with it. Speculation about climate change, comet strikes, even the possible hacking of our electrical grid or the possibility of martial law or a theocracy isn't enough to get Americans to take these threats seriously and support funding to find a way to deflect or prevent their occurrence. Even people who are not usually skeptical are reluctant to face such massive and life altering events, preferring to cast doubt on the speculations or find alternative, more reassuring possibilities. The more likely the life altering event, the more desperately humans will seek to deny its inevitable occurrence. 

We don't want to believe that we've had a profound and possibly irreversible impact on the planet. We don't want to accept responsibility for having perhaps doomed our species to extinction. We want to believe our superior brains and human ingenuity will once again save the day and prevent an apocalyptic event. We want to believe our species has millions of years ahead of it yet. 

There's also an element of selfishness involved. We want to believe that if the planet is undergoing a dramatic change that will effect our lives on a major scale, it will likely take decades if not centuries to occur. We won't have to deal with it personally. We tell ourselves that science or technology will find a solution by the time it becomes an imminent reality. 

Another factor in play is the fact that the majority of humanity believes in supernatural gods who look after us and wouldn't allow the planet to become unlivable. If science or technology fail to find a way to make everything right again then their god will. One way or another we'll be spared from having to accept responsibility for our actions and the world will be saved by someone or something down the road.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A veteran's thoughts on Veteran's Day

I was going to take advantage of Applebee's offering of a free meal today, and Golden Corral's offer tomorrow. This two-week period is one in which I have very little money left after paying rent, and since moving to Virginia and enduring several months of unemployment earlier this year I have no savings to speak of, so a free meal would help me stretch my budget. But reading about Applebee's CEO's threat to hurt his employees because of the projected costs of offering them basic health care I decided not to avail myself of something that only decreases his profits more and gives him more justification for his actions. I also won't be eating at Papa John's since their CEO wants to make a political statement at the expense of his employees. These CEOs receive excellent compensation and live in luxury (Papa John's CEO's castle), yet they choose to sacrifice their employees rather than lessen their own wealth. I can't be a party to that. I refuse to do something that will disadvantage another person who's economic situation is likely similar to my own. 

Another factor in my decision is that I joined the military for my own reasons. I was given an excellent education during my enlistment, I was fed, clothed and housed for free or at a low cost subsidized by American's tax dollars. I chose to enlist and serve. I do not need to be thanked for doing what I chose to do. It isn't rational to try and make my service, or anyone else's, an act of sainthood. A lot of Americans protect and serve our country; the police and fire department men and women, utility workers, doctors and nurses, teachers and yes, even honest and conscientious politicians. Where are their free meals? Where are their holidays? 

Not every member of the Armed Forces is a hero. We have medals and awards for those few who risk their own lives in the performance of truly heroic actions. We lessen the importance of their sacrifice when we call every service person a hero. 

I'm not special, I'm not unique, I'm not a hero. I'm like thousands of other Americans and thousands of other current and former soldiers. We go to work, we pay bills, we're thankful that, while we don't have much, we have more than our brothers and sisters who are unemployed and/or homeless. Those are the Americans who need a free meal. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

America Incorporated

My fellow Americans, today I am privileged to accept the role of CEO of America Incorporated.

As you may remember, we replaced the outdated system of government we had labored under for too many years in 2012 with the election of a business man rather than continuing to allow lawyers to run our nation. The Supreme Court helped pave the way by declaring corporations to be individuals which made it possible for large businesses and wealthy individuals to exert an influence in the political realm denied to them previously. They were able to convince the American people that our country would be far better off being run as a company rather than to allow political parties to set the course for our future.

 Once we incorporated the nation we found many of our most basic problems were solved.

 The economy became a much easier to understand system of profit/loss statements. When we closed the Internal Revenue Service and replaced it with a system of payroll withholdings from America's employees, formerly referred to as citizens, contributions to the bottom line increased and tax evasion was virtually eliminated. Every employee contributed their fair share based solely on their earnings which removed the inequity inherent under the taxation policy.

 Social inequality was eliminated as well when we declared all Americans were employees. This was a concept we could all easily grasp. No longer did we have the poor, the middle class and an upper class, groups with poorly defined boundaries. A system with owners, managers and workers was one we were familiar with and had clearly defined job descriptions. The ability to move from the workforce to management is possible based on an employee's contributions and knowledge. No one is forced to remain in the same position in society their parents held. And by declaring all former citizens as employees we have done away with the concept of unemployment. Everyone legally living in America Incorporated is an employee, and every employee has a job. Anyone who refuses to work is fired and asked to leave the organization, a fair and equitable situation.

We have further increased social equality by doing away with entitlements and the unprofitable practice of private ownership. In America Incorporated all assets are owned by the company and employees earn the right to use them. An employee's lifestyle is commensurate with their willingness to work. The more you contribute to the company the more the company rewards your efforts. 

By running America as a business we've been able to eliminate all political governments. We no longer have to deal with multiple levels of bureaucracy, no longer have to put up with petty dictators more concerned with preserving their positions of power than helping our society move forward. By treating the former states as franchise partners, we have established central policies and administration that apply to every employee where ever they may live. It's true that several former states chose not to franchise themselves with America Incorporated, and it's their own fault that they were quickly purchased by foreign entities that could better afford to run them as businesses. Seeing as how we enjoy full trade relations with the Chinese owners of Idaho and both North and South Montana as well as Spanish California, our bottom line has only been strengthened by the loss of those territories. We have more assets to share among our remaining employees and more buyers for our manufactured goods.

The return on your investment in America Incorporated has been improved by replacing politicians with proven industry leaders. Our CFO has had over 30 years experience managing the finances of major Fortune 500 companies. Our CIO has held senior positions in information technology and public communications. The head of our Human Relations department has spent her entire working life in that field and has shown herself to be a capable manager. Employees deal directly with her staff, whether they need to set up their medical benefits or ask for a change in their schedule. No longer do people have to deal with their company, then their city government, then their state government and finally the federal government. All that bureaucracy has been streamlined by establishing America Incorporated as the only company we all work for. 

Remember, you're not just employees of America Incorporated, you're also shareholders. Rather than paying dividends management reinvests profits to provide a higher return which is reinvested in the company. This allows us to provide our employees with the best available benefits and to preserve and improve our infrastructure. 

Like any company that wishes to maximize profits and minimize loss, our employees are monitored to ensure compliance with corporate policies. This is done through a variety of methods, including CCTV and drone aircraft, as well as random monitoring of electronic communications. We do this to ensure all employees are working for the common good of America Incorporated and not abusing their positions of responsibility for personal gain. Employees found to be in violation of corporate policy will be counselled and if necessary, their employment will be terminated. 

We have every confidence that America Incorporated will be proven to be a far superior form of governance than our previous experiment with a democratic republic. During my ten-year term as CEO I will do all I can to ensure maximum profitability for the corporation. I will do everything possible to ensure the profits are shared fairly among all employees in proportion to their commitment to the corporation. 

I thank you all for your attention to this broadcast. You may now return to your regular duties. May God show his favor with our efforts. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012


A couple of years ago I came up with an original aphorism that compresses many of my opinions on religion and politics into just a few words. 

Popularity does not confer validity. 

By that I mean that just because a belief is shared among a large number of people it is not automatically true, correct or acceptable. My aphorism is an almost poetic summery of the Appeal to Popularity logical fallacy. 
The basic idea is that a claim is accepted as being true simply because most people are favorably inclined towards the claim. More formally, the fact that most people have favorable emotions associated with the claim is substituted in place of actual evidence for the claim. A person falls prey to this fallacy if he accepts a claim as being true simply because most other people approve of the claim. (Source)
Many religious people contend that their beliefs must be true based on the millions of people around the world who share them. Naturally they don't allow that same argument to apply in the case of other religions that also enjoy a large number of followers. It's like saying that back when the majority of people in the West thought the Earth was flat it must have been truly flat. 

Similarly, there are politicians who will attempt to convince us their policies are sound based on the number of favorable poll ratings they receive. "My plan to sell Detroit to the French must be a good move. 65% of the people in Kansas approve." 

An appeal to popularity is an attempt to convince us something is true simply because a majority of others think it is. It fails to take into account the possibilities of misinformation or plain ignorance. It could only confer validity if no effort was made to find a better explanation for an observance. Had humanity arrested its exploration of astronomy in 100 B.C.E. we'd still think the Sun orbited the Earth. If medical research had stopped in the Middle Ages we might still believe illness was caused by demons or humors. Just because a lot of people agree on any particular belief does not mean that belief is sensible, logical or true. 

Popularity does not confer validity. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Learning from regret

Recently I read a quotation that encouraged us to live without regret. It implied that regretting past mistakes was unprofitable and only served to depress us and make life less enjoyable. 

I confess to harboring many regrets about my life. 

All but one of them I can and do usually sublimate in my daily life. I intellectually understand that I can't go back and correct past mistakes, but emotionally the desire to do so is ever-present. Regretting past behaviors or words can be emotionally crippling. It's important to me to examine my regrets in an attempt to learn from them and adapt my future actions based on what I learn, but not allow my regrets to damage me emotionally. I make every effort to deal with them intellectually rather than emotionally. 

This week I was reflecting on some of the events in my life I especially regret and came to a realization I'd missed before.

Most of the events in my life I regret, either the commission of or the outcome of, relate to decisions I made about the course of my life. I've made several lousy decisions about my future. Had I chosen to travel a different path my life would have taken a completely different route, and possibly a more pleasing and beneficial one. The realization I came to is that I tend to prefer little or no change to my external world when things are going well, or at least well enough, because I live more in my head than I do in the reality around me. I don't want to be bothered by adapting to changes in my external life if I can avoid them. When I do make changes in my external reality I tend to give those changes too little thought, I don't spend enough time to consider the effects of those changes on my life. I don't take my external reality seriously enough.

If I ignored my regrets I wouldn't have had this revelation, I would continue to make the same mistakes in the future. With this understanding I can give more consideration to my future. I now appreciate the need to spend more time and thought on what effects my decisions will have on my external life, and in turn have on my happiness and peace of mind. I can avoid more regrets down the road. 

No doubt we need to keep a handle on our regrets so that they don't cause us to freeze in our tracks, unable to make any decision at all lest we do something we may later regret. But it's beneficial to our self-knowledge to examine dispassionately our past actions, especially those we later came to regret. We need to learn from them in order to assure that the decisions we make in the future are more sound and thought-out. We can only avoid committing actions in the future we'll later regret if we know what we've regretted doing in the past and why we made those decisions.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Clothespin Commitment

Chasing Revery is a blog I hadn't read before but will now. It offers a challenge to writers to come up with a short, 500 word maximum, story that relates to a posted image and includes 5 randomly selected words. 

Below is the image,

and the 5 random words.

  1. Task
  2. Digging
  3. Flea
  4. Price
  5. Legend
And here is my tale.

Clothespin Commitment

The old clothesline hardly saw any use anymore since Sean bought the fancy new washer-dryer combo on sale last year. These days its primary purpose was to serve as the net when the kids played volleyball in the back yard. 

Meanwhile the clothespins sat in a box on the back porch, completely ignored and nearly forgotten. But today they once again had purpose. Today they once again would be entrusted with the task of securing Sean's laundry on the line, ensuring that it remained high until dry. 

Digging through the collection of clothespins Sean selected five of the newest and strongest to keep his white bedsheet fixed to the line, to prevail against all attempts by the wind to turn the bedsheet into a beautiful white sail and blow it across the yard. 

The clothespins had but one purpose in their lives, one job that gave meaning to their existence. The five chosen to secure the bedsheet against the wind knew that nothing could deter them from their assignment. They couldn't allow the flea that chose to use the clothesline as a highway from the doghouse end of the yard to where the dog was now resting in the shade of the sheet to distract them from their duty. But when the crow landed on the line and began to peck at these curious wooden oddities, they realized the wind was not going to be their sole enemy on this fine afternoon. 

The crow fixated on the clothespin at the closest end. He pecked and prodded until finally the clothespin lost its grip and fell to the grass. The remaining four clothespins silently communicated alarm. "We must hang together, we cannot allow this creature to defeat us. No price is too large to pay in our duty to keep this sheet on the line."

The crow, deaf to the clothespin's cries of commitment, continued to peck at the next clothespin on the line. Its resistance to the crow's assault was commendable but futile. Within just a few minutes it joined its fallen comrade in the grass. Clothespins two, three and four soon suffered the same fate.

Now only one clothespin remained to carry out the duty entrusted to the original five. 

This particular clothespin was a legend among Sean's clothespins. The gales of the Summer storm two years ago tore all the laundry off the line except for a pair of Sean's underwear that this clothespin refused to release its hold on. No crow, no amount of wind would defeat it.

The crow soon realized that he had met his match. This wooden toy fought off every trick in his repertoire. Acknowledging this, he lost interest and flew away. The wind, too, seeing that it couldn't dislodge the sheet from this hero's grasp, fell to a light breeze. 

Grateful to the survivor, Sean decided this clothespin should serve a higher purpose. It's now affixed to the side of his desk and holds all of his important mail. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

15 grammar goofs that make you look silly-CopyBlogger

There is a middle ground between being a "grammar nazi" and writing so poorly that you can't be understood. This infographic explains some common errors that everyone who writes for comprehension should avoid. 15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly
Like this infographic? Get more copywriting tips from Copyblogger.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Money and Politics: Paying for Power

The election funding issue has become obscene. 

Where once upon a time people sought public office in order to serve their fellow citizens, now they seek office in order to enrich themselves and in many cases build a base of rich and influential backers in order to seek higher and higher positions. The higher the office one seeks, the richer they must be personally and/or the richer their supporters have to be. 

Too often, I suspect, those backers aren't putting their money behind the candidate they believe espouse the best policies for the country, have the clearest vision and most workable solutions for the problems we face as a nation or who possess the higher integrity as a person. Rather these backers are in essence buying the office. They are paying the going rate to ensure the election of a person sympathetic to their interests and who they expect will reward the backer's contributions with favorable legislation. What else explains the refusal of any politician from any party to seriously limit campaign funding?

In our market economy political office has become just another commodity to be bought and sold by those with the most money. Funding a presidential candidate has become the ultimate capital (perhaps; capitol) investment. The Citizens United decision and the creation of superPACS make it clear that politics is a market in which only the wealthiest have the sufficient means to play. The concept of representation is dead. What percentage of the American public do Obama and Romney represent? The wealthy, the best-educated, the most powerful and influential. They have no idea how the average American lives. 

If Mr. Smith went to Washington these days he'd never get past the Capitol guards. He'd have no more influence on politicians than the average citizen. Primaries and the electoral college ensure that the average citizen has little to no influence on the outcome of elections. All of our politicians are bought and sold by those with the largest stake in what decisions the politicians make in office. That stake has nothing to do with what's best for all our citizens. It is solely based on profits and the increasing of power and influence by those who pay to get their candidate elected.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Do you know the truth?

The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they've found it. ~Terry Pratchet

First it should be noted that Terry's quote doesn't address the concept of "the truth" itself but rather says that he finds those who are striving to find "the truth" better company than those who believe they are in possession of it. In other words, it's a comment on people and their attitudes, not the nature of truth. I, too, think that people who are willing to admit they don't posses "the truth" make better companions than those who presume to already know it. They have no interest in changing their opinions since they believe that what they know is absolutely true. While this attitude affects religious people, it doesn't only affect them. There are many people with many opinions on a variety of subjects who believe that what they know is unassailable and claim that nothing will ever change their mind. I've found people who think they know "the truth" to be pompous and arrogant, uninterested in learning anything that may challenge their presumptions. They aren't fun to be around because all they're interested in is their own thoughts. They have no motivation to listen to anyone else or entertain new ideas. 

Then we need to define our terms. What is “the truth” and what is meant when it’s capitalized as “the Truth”? We need to know the context in which that phrase is being used. That will help us understand what “the truth” may represent on a certain topic. 

Lastly we ought to acknowledge the limitations of our humanity. We can only know what we have the means to discover and the words to describe. We as humans, because of the evolutionary limits of our senses, cannot perceive everything. Because of the capabilities of our brains we cannot know everything. The inability to posses absolute knowledge means we cannot reach absolute conclusions. There’s always the possibility that exceptions and contradictions to what we currently know exist and we just haven’t encountered them yet. 

That’s why the search for knowledge, the quest for “the truth” whatever that means in any context, ought to be considered an ongoing, lifelong pursuit. I like being around humble people who can admit their own ignorance and yet continue to explore and learn as opposed to those who believe they have nothing left to learn as they already posses “the truth”. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Wisdom requires humility

A member of a debate forum I'm on has a signature on his profile that is short but profound.

"Humility is a prerequisite for wisdom because we will always be wrong about many things and therefore must be open to realizing self-error." (Yarn)

The scientist Robert Millikan expressed a similar attitude when he said, "Fullness of knowledge always means some understanding of the depths of our ignorance; and that is always conducive to humility and reverence."

If one is truly seeking wisdom they can only do so by admitting that there is much they don't know and that much of what they think they know could be wrong. 

Humble Contemplationby ~cicaprincessa

This is the point where the desire for enlightenment departs from the path of seeking religious knowledge. Seeking only that knowledge which one believes can be imparted by a god means that the knowledge one believes they receive from their god must be free of error, that it cannot be wrong. There is a smug satisfaction that accompanies the belief that one is the holder of absolute truths. 

The seeker of natural knowledge, that knowledge and wisdom generated by humans over the course of centuries of trial and error, success and failure, always remains aware that the knowledge they posses as well as that which they seek may very well be in error, and that they only seek it because of their current ignorance or incomplete knowledge. There is no absolute knowledge to be acquired and no source of absolute knowledge. The belief that one posses knowledge which is absolute and without error blinds that person to what they don't know. How can you seek to know more if you already think you know it all?

Before we begin a journey of discovery and seeking knowledge, we must practice the humility of admitting that we are unsure, unconvinced and unaware of so many things. It's foolish to take pride in the small amount of knowledge we posses when the amount of ignorance we each posses is so much greater. It's equally foolish to think that we as humans could ever be free from error. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Knowledge and Wisdom

I contend that knowledge is remembered awareness. Wisdom is rightly applied knowledge.

We encounter information every minute of every day. Our senses are constantly feeding data to our brain. Much of it is ignored. That which we are aware of and remember becomes knowledge. 

The brain itself can interfere with this process if it is in less-than-optimum condition. Dementia, genetic disorders, alcohol and drugs can all affect the brain's ability to remember and synthesize the data is receives. 

Not all knowledge is beneficial or constructive. Some of it is downright detrimental to our happiness and peace of mind. We do have a certain degree of control over what knowledge we retain and use and what we ignore. 

Wisdom as the application of knowledge in a way that's most beneficial for ourselves and our world.

Wisdom is taking the knowledge we posses and applying it to achieve positive results. While we may not have full control over what knowledge gets put into our brain, wisdom is exercising full control over what we do with our knowledge. 

This is why we respect a knowledgeable person to a lesser degree than we respect a wise person. 

A person full of knowledge is a repository of information. That information may be useful or useless. We all know someone who delights in retaining thousands of bits of trivia; the only thing they usually do with it is entertain others or win bar bets. They have a lot of knowledge but fail to apply it in a way that is of benefit beyond becoming popular at parties or getting free drinks. 

The wise person takes the knowledge they have, however great or small the amount, and uses it to improve their own lives or the lives of others. A wise person can change the world.

Knowledge is the banishment of ignorance, wisdom is the application of knowledge. 

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Do you swear?

"Do you swear the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you god?" (OK, that's the old along with me here)

First off, your honor, the Bible is a book of proverbs and mythology. I can't believe any reasonable person thinks some god is going to swoop down from his cloud and strike me dead if I do lie.

Both Nixon and Bush swore on a Bible they'd defend the Constitution of the United States and neither of them did. I don't recall any divine retribution in their cases. How many people are currently in prison for perjury? How many have been charged? Has any god taken action against them?

My testimony is the truth only as far as I know it. I don't claim to have an objective viewpoint that allows me to observe reality free of the bias of my experiences and mental abilities. Maybe I'm not even aware of the truth of this matter but only think I am. I can't say that everything I give testimony to is going to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I'm only human. I get confused, my memory isn't perfect, I'm a bit intimidated just being here, treated like some authority on the facts when I know I'm not. So I can only promise on my word (and since none of you really know me, how comforting is that?) that I'll relate what I think I remember. Perhaps I'll lie without meaning to. I'm not perfect. It's quite possible that what I remember regarding this case is so far from reality that it will only detract from the court's desire to uncover what really happened here.

You know, your honor, perhaps it's best that I just don't testify at all. I don't believe in your god, so the only fear you can put in my mind is the fear of going to jail for perjury, and with the economy the way it is at least there I'd get some sleep and regular meals. I might even have the opportunity to have sexual relations again. It's been quite a while, your honor.

Further, I have no idea if what I think I remember is the truth or even remotely related to the truth. I'd sure hate for anyone to take my testimony for the whole truth, whatever that is. At best it would be my imperfect recollection of events that may or may not have any relation to this case. It would be unfair and sadden me to have someone convicted based on my personal perception of reality.

My statement is all I can really be sure of in this matter. Can I go now, your honor?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What is an atheist?

It has been said that without theism atheism wouldn't exist. In the philosophical sense this is true. A position in opposition to another can only be maintained as long as the other position exists. You can't be a non-gluber if there are no glurbers. You can't reasonably disavow that which no one avows. It's also true that without the word "theist" the word "atheist" would have no meaning.

But what does "atheist" mean? There are many opinions on that. Some sources say (for example) that it means "without belief or lacking belief" while others (for example) say that it means "the belief that there is no god or the denial that god exists". There seems to be some confusion as to what an atheist is. Is he a doubter in gods or one who insists gods don't exist? How is an atheist different from an antitheist or an agnostic?

As is it the case with theism, the best way to avoid confusion is to ask a person what they mean when they call themselves a theist or atheist. There is no single definition of Christian, Muslim or Jew. Within each of those general categories are many separations and divisions. If someone tells you they're a Christian does that mean they're a Baptist, a Catholic or a Unitarian? Is a Muslim a Sunni or Shia? Are they fundamentalists or liberal believers in their religion? You just can't tell without asking them to be more specific. It's the same for atheists. Some are what we call "hard" atheists. They say that without a doubt gods do not exist. Some are "soft" atheists who say that since no evidence exists establishing unquestionably that a god or gods exist it is most likely they don't. Again, the only way to know what a person means when they call themselves an atheist is to ask.

Hard atheism is a dogmatic stance with no more evidence to substantiate it than theism. To maintain adamantly that gods do or do not exist is to make a claim that can only be supported by the possession of absolute knowledge. Since we have no reason to believe that any human possesses absolute knowledge, absolute claims of the existence or non-existence of gods, or much of anything else, are irrational and can be ignored as baseless. 

If theism is the belief in gods then "a"theism is the absence of belief. The prefix "a" means no or without. A person can be moral or amoral. An amoral person is neither moral nor immoral, they either lack or show an indifference to morality and immorality. An agnostic is someone who claims to have no knowledge (gnosis) of gods. They would have no opinion on the topic as they lack the knowledge to form one.(1) So my interpretation of atheism, based on word construction, the meaning of the prefix and my own personal attitude toward theism, is that an atheist lacks faith in gods. They have no belief. For me atheism implies no stance on the possible existence of undefined beings who may appear to us to be gods; it's the lack of belief in the gods man has worshiped over the centuries, gods well defined by their followers and with established attributes. Once a particular god is defined by its believers then there's a specific concept in which to believe or not believe. I am atheistic toward the gods of humanity, not the abstract concept of gods or god-like entities. The possible existence of that sort of thing, for now, remains unknown as we lack evidence for such things. 

So atheism as I understand it and live it is a neutral position. It's a position that requires both those who insist gods exist and those who insist they don't to offer evidence to support their claims. It's not an absolute position but simply one awaiting substantiation of absolute claims. 

(1) When T.H. Huxley coined the term "agnostic" he meant it to be both a philosophical position and a method for discerning truth. He quotes Kant, "The greatest and perhaps the sole use of all philosophy of pure reason is, after all, merely negative, since it serves not as an organon for the enlargement [of knowledge], but as a discipline for its delimitation; and, instead of discovering truth, has only the modest merit of preventing error." In Huxley's treatise on agnosticism he says, "When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclu[238]sion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain "gnosis,"–had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. And, with Hume and Kant on my side, I could not think myself presumptuous in holding fast by that opinion.

It is with this in mind that I describe my postion on concept of theism as being an agnostic atheist. I am agnostic when it comes to the possibility that a god or god-like entity may exist somewhere, somehow, but atheistic toward the gods that mankind has worshiped throughout history, about whom much has been claimed without substantiation.

(A decent Wikipedia article on the various religious philosophies.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Business Ethics in 2012

In addition to all political issues raised by the financial crises, the bank bailouts and the Occupy movement, one factor that runs as a consistent theme through all of this seems to have been neglected by pundits and the media alike. Thankfully we have The Onion, who through the application of satire and exaggeration, raise the point I'd like to consider.
CHARLESTON, SC—With its firm grounding in honesty, loyalty to friends, and a strong spirit of generosity, the asinine ethical code of Kevin Premus has cost the 42-year-old idiot millions of dollars over the years, reports confirmed Friday.The moronic small-business owner, whose moral tenets are said to include basic human kindness and always trying to do what's right, reportedly never cuts any corners and is unwilling to fuck people over, poor habits that have led him into a life of endless mortgage payments, credit card debt, and a relatively small personal net worth.Worse yet, sources indicated, the dumbshit has no one to blame for being a good person but himself."What a complete and utter fool," Stanford University sociologist Anya Arneson said of the astonishingly stupid man, describing his insistence on providing quality health care for his employees and paying them fair salaries as "just plain dumb." "It's as though he's operating under some kind of intangible but deep-seated conviction that being a fair, decent human being is somehow more valuable than making a quick buck."
Through ridiculous acts of moral rectitude such as returning found wallets and lending his brother $2,500 for vocational school, the dumb-ass—who by all accounts is a weak-willed individual who treats his business rivals with respect instead of simply crushing them—almost seems to be looking for ways to lose money, sources noted.Moreover, at every turn, his steady moral compass has reportedly prevented him from ever embracing shady business deals, hiring a crooked accountant to skirt income-tax laws, or taking advantage of numerous moneymaking schemes that could have vaulted him into a higher tax bracket.According to colleagues, Premus previously worked as a corporate account manager, but his lackluster career floundered as a result of his shortsighted refusal to stab his coworkers in the back, a boneheaded move that cost the retarded dumbfuck several promotions, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a chance to one day become a partner in the firm.
While his efforts to be a responsible citizen, faithful husband, and devoted father have made him look like a drooling moron in the eyes of his peers, Premus himself still doesn't seem to understand that each day he spends clinging to his scruples, he screws himself over a little bit more."My parents always told me to treat others the way you would like to be treated, and that's what I've taught my daughters," said the idiot, who in one sentence summed up why no one in his entire family will ever live free from financial worry or hardship. "In the end, it's just the right thing to do." (Source)
 I think this illustrates accurately the attitude we see in business, especially big business, today. 
Businesses have abandoned any interest in their customers beyond enticing them to buy a service or product. Product quality declines as businesses learn that most people won't bother complaining or returning a product for replacement, they'll just go out and buy another one, often from the same company that just produced their defective one. Defects are corrected in versions 2 or 3 of a product, forcing consumers to continuously upgrade to get a fully functioning product.

Customer service is so unimportant to most businesses it's been relegated to offshore companies with employees who are unfamiliar with both the product and the language spoken where that product is sold, so they rely on scripts that they cannot deviate from and that usually don't cover the specific issue the customer has. In the end most complaints are unresolved. Once you've purchased a product or service, most companies would prefer not to hear from their customers again until they're ready to purchase a newer, fancier, less problematic model or version.

Many businesses have discovered social networking and have staffs working those networks for their benefit. But they don't use those networks to reach out to their customers and attempt to engage them in a dialogue so that they can learn more about what their customers think of their service or product. Instead they use them as marketing tools, a way to push their brand out into a new marketplace. In this way they coerce brand loyalty instead of earning it. They exhibit a blatant disregard for the true value of social networking by using it as an advertising medium instead of looking at it as a way to listen to their customers and respond to their questions. I go more into this in a blog piece I wrote earlier this year titled Push or Pull?

Smaller businesses are being bought up by larger ones daily. Acquisitions and mergers have become the primary means of enlarging a business's market share and profits. No longer does a company need to increase their manufacturing capabilities, no longer do they have to develop a better and more productive way to produce their own product. They can just buy a smaller company that already provides what they need and incorporate it into their own business. This often entails laying off the workers from the smaller company and in the process of integrating that business into their own, degrading the potential benefits that product offered as a stand-alone company. A&M also allows a huge company to gobble up smaller competitors and thus coming very close to monopolizing their market. All they have to do is leave a few small providers alone, companies too small to offer any real competition, so they can point to them as "proof" that they aren't being monopolistic. They have managed to distance themselves from criticism by encouraging the politicians they own to focus on insubstantial, inconsequential matters that emotionally charge up the electorate and blind them to their unsavory and unethical practices.

I hear people complain constantly about how our society has lost all its moral values, how we're headed to hell in a handbasket for our immoral behavior. But I hardly ever hear these same people complain about the decline of ethics among businesses. Yet our country is far closer to being run by big business than it is to being run any longer by the will of its citizens. It seems to me the lack of ethics in business are having a far greater impact on the quality of our lives and the future of our country than whether or not gays are allowed to marry.

The Onion piece sarcastically exposes a truth. The best way to get ahead in business these days is unethically. And once you've managed as a business to get big enough (too big to fail) and are sufficiently unethical, you'll have the power and influence to push the government where you want it to go, which will be in whatever direction benefits you the most as a company.