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Member since: Sat Nov 29, 2008, 02:55 PM
Number of posts: 17,671

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The subject of this subthread was the unfortunate attitude of the OP

who has found it prudent to vacate the premises.

I am in favor of gun regulations that will help reduce gun violence

Here's a quick thought experiment:

1. If you got rid of all the violent people, would people do violent things?

2. If you got rid of all the guns, would people do violent things?

So why do some people do violence? Are some of us just no good, bad from birth, defective and beyond hope of redemption? Fine conservative concepts those. Or maybe we could fix it so people were less violent. We could do stuff like see to it they had a living wage and time to think about something other than how to gin up a profit for some corporation. greed We could educate them and make them aware that there is something more to life than rabid consumerism. gluttony We could foster compassion so that they won't view others as a foil for the fulfillment of their own desires. lust We could reform our financial system so that people's efforts will be rewarded with security in their old age. sloth We could make government work for all the people so that we become citizens with a shared interest rather than alienated consumers. pride We could reform our tax laws to make the most fortunate among us pay their fair share for the bounty they enjoy. envy And we could give people proper health care, including mental health care, to help them deal with the darker demons of the human soul. wrath

Liberal ideology has some pretty good answers for the seven deadly sins in our culture. And that list of sins significantly predates the development of the Bushmaster AR15.

But you want to "push back" against the NRA. Good for you. But you aren't pushing back against the NRA. You aren't pushing back at all. In fact, you're helping them along. I'm sure you've heard people, you would call them gun worshipers, refer to firearms as tools instead of the much more colorful "death spewing killing machines" or whatever. What you don't seem to understand is that you are just as much a gun worshiper as those you claim to oppose.

A gun is, before anything else it might be, an object. People spontaneously anthropomorphize objects. Sometimes our feelings about an object can become so intense we fetishize it. Religious icons fall into this category. In today's modern culture, any number of consumer products also become icons either to be desired or despised. There is a multi billion dollar advertising industry designed to turn things like rocks into fetish objects of our desire. And we are so inured to the notion of having objects presented to us for our devotion, we no longer notice it. We are consumers by default, and the political process has reduced candidates and issues to mere products for our consumption.

So when you fetishize a gun, you give it power as a totem. When you assail the totem of a competing group, you galvanize their support for their totem and unify them to action. And they, consumers that they are, trundle out and pay for an ideology that defends their totem and confirms their feelings toward it. That's how the NRA makes all that money. And organizations like the Brady center do exactly the same thing by demonizing the totem of the opposing group for the consumption of fine consumers like you. You get what you pay for.

The problem of course is that over-consumption and commercialism are the root causes of most of the social ills we experience today. Everything from our environmental problems, social malaise, and corrupt economic and political systems are the result of people behaving like consumers instead of citizens and responsible human beings. So when you buy into the idea of "pushing back" against a consumer object instead of actually helping people you aren't furthering liberal ideology but enriching our political enemies. And that's how they win.

Not really...

It is frequently noted here that the crime rate is falling from a peak after the sixties or so. That would indicate to me that people are not generally more callous or unfeeling. And violent media cannot be blamed for the callous behavior of the population in a climate of falling crime rates. Certainly people were more callous and brutal in Medieval Europe when public torture, execution and cat burning were forms of public entertainment.

I think the callousness that you perceive is not necessarily callousness, but anomie. I think it is a desensitization to the reality of people in favor of ideologies that are consumed as products in modern culture. You can see it play out right here every day surrounding the gun debate. Anti gunners bemoan the NRA and cite statistics that treat people as fungible assets to support an ideology promulgated by anti gun organizations. Their attitude is a response to the NRA and other organizations that produce and sell an ideology like a product designed to develop brand loyalty rather than an awareness of the reality of people's lives. These organizations command loyalty and fear from their adherents not unlike any religion and get rich doing it. And at the center of the debate is an actual object which becomes a totem for both factions - the gun.

While the gun is certainly an important factor in violence and our cultural response to it, it is hardly the only factor. It seems that while we can focus on specific causes for violence in society, as we do so we find there is increasing uncertainty in the actual effect of each one of those causes.

Here are a couple of books I have found very interesting:

Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West

Argues that the rationalist political and social experiments of the Enlightenment have degenerated into societies dominated by technology and a crude code of managerial efficiency. These are societies enslaved by manufactured fashions and artificial heroes, divorced from natural human instinct.

A Cultural History of Causality: Science, Murder Novels, and Systems of Thought

Kern identifies five shifts in thinking about causality, shifts toward increasing specificity, multiplicity, complexity, probability, and uncertainty. He argues that the more researchers learned about the causes of human behavior, the more they realized how much more there was to know and how little they knew about what they thought they knew. The book closes by considering the revolutionary impact of quantum theory, which, though it influenced novelists only marginally, shattered the model of causal understanding that had dominated Western thought since the seventeenth century.

On Finding God (Part 1)

A note on format. This one ran a little long. Iíve never posted more than one OP at a time, so I will do my best to keep up with responses. I donít think it will be a problem since my OPís donít usually draw that much traffic anyway.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

There seems to be a lot of interest in locating God. For some, finding the location of God is a way to understand the nature of God. I guess they think if they can figure out where The Almighty hangs his halo they have a chance of understanding the nature of God by understanding the nature of his celestial Barcalounger.

For others the location of God represents a sort of destination, like the last stop on a train line. That way, they can imagine all sorts and kinds of benefits from joining him there. Sometimes God can even be in a roundhouse where the train gets turned around to make the trip again and again with, I assume, a better dining car. There is also the added bonus of being able to claim to know which station platform will get you where the air conditioning is working properly.

I donít find any of these conceptualizations of the divine satisfying. It seems that for most people God is over there somewhere and unless you can somehow figure out a way to get over there, youíre screwed. An ocean of blood has been spilled and a fuck ton of money stolen by herding people onto the right conceptual bus. It seems that no matter where we park his Almighty Ass there will always be a bunch of bloodthirsty crooks looking to punch your ticket to get you there.

At this point in human history, we seem to have been able to put God at both ends of the physical universe. His Holy Mobility could be found beyond the farthest reaches of the sky or in the most miniscule confines of subatomic particles and everywhere in between. And every time they decide where God is, it seems that all too frequently there has to be a boatload of expensive construction designed to either transport us to him or him to us.

So if the concept of God is so culturally toxic, why not just shitcan the whole idea altogether? Well truth to tell the concept of God has given us uncounted acts of kindness, courage and generosity, breathtaking works of art, magnificent architecture, and not to mention a lodestone in a moral compass that has helped the human race survive and, gasp, flourish to populate the entire planet. Even Cleveland. Somehow people canít seem to keep from looking for God and therein finding a use for his Holy Utility.

Now, there is a technical problem with having God out there somewhere. We live in an age where we have observed and measured stuff so large and far away it makes no sense, and stuff so small that donít make any sense either. So no matter where you put God nowadays, some wise ass will always be there to ask you to prove it smartypants. And they probably wonít even get burned alive for it.

So how do we reconcile this lack of a place to put God that will conform to our rational existence in the real world, and the need to have a God that we invariably have to park somewhere and feed the meter? I think perhaps people are calling something ďGodĒ that actually exists. It seems to me that if we allow people to do that and accept the possibility that when they name this ubiquitous thing ďGodĒ they are actually creating a narrative around it that doesnít necessarily have to conform to the rational requirements of the scientific method or a special hat.

On Finding God (Part 2)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

So for the two or three of you out there who arenít already way ahead of me, since the thing people call God cannot be located anywhere in the universe around us our Heavenly Waldo has to be hiding inside us somewhere. And he ainít in Joeís pancreas.

As luck would have it, I have actually been able to run a sort of informal experiment regarding the location of God inside my own skull. You see, I have spent most of my life living with the joys of depression. As maladies go it could be a lot worse. All my appendages work. In fact, from the neck down Iím damn near indestructible. I have an immune system that can kick King Kongís ass. I can digest anything I can catch and chew up. I can see well enough to navigate doors and corners. But itís like the Master half of Masterblaster constantly wants to say, ďFuck it, I give up, you can have the pig shit.Ē

For most people who suffer depression, it runs on a circadian cycle. At some point in the course of the day there occurs a change in oneís mental state when cognition and energy seem to increase. The time and degree of that change may depend on a host of factors inside and outside your head, but whenever it does the ďlights come onĒ and you feel human again. So when proselytizers ask me if I believe in God, I tell them that I create him every day and kill him again every night. Itís almost as much fun as telling them youíre a Zen Baptist.

There are some misconceptions about depression that might shed some light on this whole God thing. Remember this image?

All five of these figures are identical. None of them is clinically depressed because they are all walking. You see, the experience of depression is not really sadness. Sadness is one of the results of depression because you canít get anything done. You canít move. You canít go.

It seems to me that movement or transition from one place to another, either physically or conceptually, is the most fundamental part of our identity as a species. It defines us more than any other concept. We walked upright out of Africa and we havenít stopped moving since. Examples of the importance of movement in culture are legion. We want to know where relationships, careers, and markets are going. We chart cultural trends, write music in movements, read novels with a narrative arc, and generally dance around all over the place as if nobody was the wiser (if weíre doing it right).

One of the best descriptions of depression I have seen lately is from Rollo May who said, ďDepression is the inability to construct a future.Ē So in the end, for those of you who are already ahead of me on the path of morbidity so I will go there with you, people who suffer from the most extreme depression sometimes end their lives with the feeling that they ďcannot go onĒ.

Movement seems to be the underpinning of both parts of the human experience. So in the case of existing in the world around us, a scientific hypothesis is a prediction about what we will know. And if we make a prediction about the specific gravity of water, the speed of light, or the effect of sugar on our fat asses we get a white coat and a Bunsen burner or whatever and set about proving our hypothesis. The process of establishing proof, which includes verification by others, gives us intellectual predictability. We can agree on the properties of the physical world and proceed forward in time and space accordingly. So the practice of science gives us the benefit of air conditioning and ice in our scotch.

So what of the other part of the human experience? Thatís all that squishy introspective emotional stuff, and faith is what we use to project that part of the human condition into the future. If a scientific hypothesis is a prediction about what we will know, faith is a prediction about how we will feel. And the practice of religion gives groups of people emotional predictability. They all feel more or less the same way about something. So now we can all agree that some certain kind of heaven is a cool place, those people whose heads we need to chop off will never make it there, and that volcano is just generally pretty fucking scary.

For tens of thousands of years we have had at our disposal all sorts and kinds of tools for the quantification of emotion that actually work exceptionally well to predict emotional trajectory, or faith. They are called ďthe ArtsĒ. And the arts are what we make to describe that which is inside us that cannot get out and be examined any other way.

On Finding God (Part 3)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Contrary to popular belief, conceptions of God through religion are not the only game in town. People that follow various religions are referring to something in their skulls as God, but that doesnít mean their description of his Almighty Marketshare is necessarily better or worse than anybody elseís. There are any number of ways to express oneís narrative in the real world that donít involve a lot of baroque architecture and stilted music. And in fact, there are lots ways to measure the quality of somebodyís God narrative, and they donít involve a Bunsen burner.

The arts and religion have been at odds for quite a while because the truth is they are both in the same business. Art and religion are both designed to create a narrative to provide context for our experience in the world. That narrative is, by necessity, fiction. Since it depends on all that squishy stuff that goes on inside peopleís heads that cannot be verified empirically, it cannot in any way, shape or form be considered science. It cannot be used to prove anything except the presence of the squishy stuff in our heads.

Every work of art ever made has two basic components: form and content. Form is anything you can point at Ė line, shape, color, edge, surface etc. Content is what it means or why it is made. Each of those parts informs and defines the other. The measure of the quality of the work is the measure of the relationship between form and content.

Look this painting over:

Wassily Kandinsky
Improvisation #28

Now think back. As you examined the painting, what path did your eyes take when you were doing so? If youíre like everyone else (and you actually examined it), your gaze wandered from here to there to take in the image. So while the image is presented in a gestalt, you still had to follow a sort of path between the various parts to try to make sense of it. That movement was not an accident Ė itís 2D design 101. The artist has led your eyes through the image. The movement of the viewerís focus of attention is just one of a whole boatload of devices used to make a painting. And as far as I know all of the arts use some variation of conceptual or physical mobility to carry you along. It donít mean a thing if it ainít got that swing.

Now, youíre obviously free to look at it any way you want, but if you want to understand what the artist is trying to say, you will have to suspend disbelief to cooperate with her at least a little bit. And your cooperation will be much easier to solicit if the image is interesting to begin with. That interest is an offer of somewhere to go and a way to get there. And if she can inspire you follow her, it will become a shared experience between you and the artist and you will find within yourself some relationship to whatever prompted her to produce the work.

Thereís not much difference between an artist and a shaman. Some donít think there is difference any at all.

So the relationship between that thing that some people call God, the kind of narrative they create to illuminate and focus their response to that thing, and the actions that are prompted and defined by that narrative are not exclusive to any established religion. Nor are they confined to the arts. Hell, they arenít confined anywhere. Each one of us creates (or acquires) a narrative and uses it in our own way. You know, self awareness. And the vast majority of us live our lives somewhere between the navel gazing contemplation of our own curiosity and the projection of our ego into the void.

On finding God (Part 4)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

The vast majority of people who have ever lived spent their unremarkable albeit peaceful and productive lives believing in something they called God. I find it difficult to believe that the concept of God did not play a significant role in the survival of the species. Spirituality and all that entails may be considered a recreational activity now, but some caveman didnít stay up all night drawing figures on the wall because he just wasnít tired enough from chasing Mastodons with a pointed stick all day.

These people arenít crazy, theyíre just assholes. Okay, some of them are crazy assholes.

Of course everything is thoroughly modern now what with all the newfangled gadgets like the internet, which seems to be used primarily for distributing kitty pictures and porn. While the utility of porn is obvious, itís hard to imagine people devoting so much time to cat pictures because of an interest in phylogenetic research. No, there is more to life than solving the puzzles of the universe and forty seven cup holders in Chevys. People are spiritual critters and that spirituality is an important part of our existence. The traditional focus of that spirituality, alas, has been the source of a certain amount of mischief throughout our history. My objective here has been to postulate the actual object of our spirituality and build a narrative around it with which we might all live without butchering each other over it.

Call it what you will; initiative, curiosity, id, moxie, chutzpah, guts, drive or ants in your pants there are more names for God than for Satan. But each moniker points to something within each and every one of us, and that thing is as much a part of us as our pulse. Itís standard equipment in our model rather than an aftermarket option. It may become little more than another appendix some day, but right now itís still as important as lungs.

I prefer my narrative right now because it offers me a perspective that I think is important. It offers me the opportunity to see a reflection of myself in others, and a reflection of them in me. A Theory of Mind has been crucial to the survival of the species and without it civilization could not exist. We already have lots of Chevys with lots of cup holders, but simple empathy appears to be lacking.

I usually have to wait for what people seem to call God to show up before I can really get anything meaningful done. Sometimes I have to struggle to make it appear. And I do it every day without the help of some guy with a special hat or Bronze Age text. I think the truth is that the arts are not a tool used in the expression of religious faith, but rather that religion is just another one of the arts, and the arts are just another way people build a narrative in response to the compulsion to ďgoĒ. Some of us build a narrative with science, others with images of flaming genitalia. Who am I to argue which is better?

We have come so far in the development of our understanding of the boundaries of outer and inner space. Our knowledge has become so esoteric it is completely removed from the everyday experience of life as we know it. Our theories and ideologies have run away and left us to become realities in their own right Ė realities that are used against us for all the same reasons any other weapon has been used since we discovered our thumbs. One narrative is no more good or evil than another. I think the greatest evil today is not any particular narrative, but our lack of desire to develop our own narrative and make it work. We are all too willing to let someone sell us something that weíve already got.

Iíve often heard it said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I think thatís true. It might also be argued that any sufficiently advanced art is also indistinguishable from magic. Itís all just form and content after all.

The problem is the conversation we just had, or rather

the lack of one between people on different points of the partisan spectrum. I've raised the registration issue with people here more than once, (the Bob and Alice scenarios were a C&P from my journal) and the only person that has even attempted to examine the issue equitably was a "gunnie". You.

That's why this place is interesting. It is populated by people who, if not actually dyed in the wool hard left liberals, fancy themselves to be so for the purpose of social plumage. It's a great big rolling experiment in the emotional attitudes about the issues of the day. So right here we have people legitimately wailing like it's the end of the world when the Patriot act gets passed or the cops infiltrate the Occupy movement, and at the same time seem to think rigidly enforced gun registration is just fine. They don't stop to consider that every "ping" on the system is data that can be mined by the powers that be. It is a point on a chain of individual relationships with a gun as an anchor. Right now you can go across DU and read about how much worse Nixon was than we thought, and then read some blind authoritarian cheerleading for a 1% billionaire that wanted to regulate soft drink containers. I wonder how many right wing fundie nuts would just love to regulate birth control the way some liberals want to regulate guns?

For me the registration issue isn't about taking guns away, it's about allowing the government access into a citizen's private life without any clear benefit for that citizen but a fairly obvious infringement on their right to be left alone. I don't think the presence of guns among the population significantly reduces crime, but allowing government regulation into your home won't make the cops show up any quicker either. If we can't show a specific benefit for the people who will be impacted by the regulations we propose they won't buy it. Nobody likes to take one for the team, especially if it means losing your life doing it.

If Diane Feinstein got every little thing she wanted or dreamed about in the way of gun control there would be minimal impact on my life, and it wouldn't keep me from voting for a Democrat. I live in a low crime area and the crime rate is on a downward trend across the country. Besides, we've got bigger fish to fry. But I know people who would be inconvenienced enough by current firearms regulation proposals to keep them from owning a gun, and if they get killed it won't be a cause du jour on DU. I doubt it would even make the papers. But they will leave behind friends and family who would become instant Republicans for life because of the tragedy. How many of us have argued that for every innocent that gets killed in a drone attack ten terrorists are made? The same effect holds true for bad public policy here. And we will lose them as voters not because we controlled guns, but because our ideology didn't have a solution for when someone gets assaulted beyond some vague platitudes about "guns as a public health issue".

You've almost sold me on universal background checks. And it took a heathen gun owner to do it. Fancy that.

That's because

if the system is working right, sooner or later at the end of the day whatever legislation gets passed into law has to work in the real world. Prosecutors have to be able to look at the statute and be willing to devote resources to convict people of crimes.

The AWB and mag capacity regulations were absurd on their face. Background checks for private transfers are a fine idea if they can get it to work. But you're talking about regulating the transfer of an object that weighs about three pounds between people who could have a near infinite variety of relationships. I don't see how you can mandate and enforce background checks without chain of custody documentation. And we're not talking about documenting something almost exclusively operated in public, but something inside the privacy of people's homes. If the civil rights problems weren't bad enough, the political ramifications could be disastrous.

But let's assume they can figure out a way to get it to work and pass it into law without giving the Republicans control of government for another few generations. In all the brouhaha over the issue, I haven't seen anyone comment on the impact of private background checks on the gun market. If they implement that system, it will effectively turn every gun owner in the country into a gun dealer. We can't successfully regulate straw purchases at gun dealers now, imagine if we create eighty million of them.

Someone with a troubled background won't need a gun to hurt you.

How you deal with that individual in that situation will be up to you.

There is some confusion in people's minds when it comes to the management of technology and public policy. They confuse their personal safety and convenience with the public good. It leads them to treat public policy objectives like a product designed just for their personal proclivities. Personal convenience and civic duty are not the same thing.

You are perfectly free, and quite correct, to advocate for, say, coast to coast light rail to reduce pollution. Just don't expect the train to stop at your front door when you're ready to go. You can advocate for the wisdom of single payer health care, but don't do it while you stuff pork chops in your mouth. And you can advocate for all the anti crime measures you think are appropriate, but no single anti crime initiative will make you safer than any other. People who abuse others for a living circumvent the law as a part of their occupation. So unless you are exceptionally large, strong and well trained in hand to hand self defense, banning guns won't help you one whit. Your assailant will have long since altered his tactics and strategy to circumvent whatever limitations have been placed on his access to firearms.

The United States is a nice place. I like it here and I think you will enjoy it. We, as a country, are very wealthy and powerful. That's part of the appeal. But remember we got that wealth and power by becoming an empire. And we became an empire by killing a lot of people all over the world. Our national identity was forged in part by our history of violence just like any other empire. And the safety that the vast majority of our citizens and visitors enjoy is more the result of our blood soaked wealth than the generous nature of our population. We all have our crosses to bear.

So come on over and build a future here, but don't expect us to turn the North American continent into your own private Disneyland. We are a nation of over three hundred million human beings, and some of us just aren't very nice. But then, you'd find that to be case no matter where you go.

People keep thinking they detect a "religion of science or atheism"...

Somewhere on the borderline between the invented and the real lies the question of the human spirit and its associated qualities, such as love and aesthetic appreciation. I grant that these qualities, or at least their physiological appurtenances, exist. The question, then, is whether science can elucidate them.

If science can, it has a lot of catching up to do. We've been elucidating that aspect of the human condition for a very long time. Certainly not as long as our efforts to understand and control the world around us, but apparently the need to wrap some sort of aesthetic or spiritual narrative around the mechanics of existence occurred as an important part of the development of the species. Certainly the requirements of aesthetic priorities continue today as an integral part of our physical existence on the planet.

Form follows function, and part of the function of any tool we have ever used is its potential to propel us into an uncertain future.

There is no evidence that it cannot, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that it can without resorting to supernatural importations. Love is a complex emotion, involving genetically controlled responses, hormonal excretions, and intellectual reflections and considerations. Science can elucidate such a condition, even though it will probably never purport to be able to predict whether one individual will fall in love with another...

Atkins offers us an optimistic expectation that science will be able to measure and quantify the human spirit, but is still unable to offer any hope that quantification will produce predictability. And he does it by denying the need for any evidence that it can accomplish that goal. Such an optimistic expectation of success using an appeal to ignorance sounds a lot like an expression of faith. Especially after a five paragraph paean to the virtues of science over religion. I guess science truly works in mysterious ways.
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