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My ideas are constantly changing as I learn. Sometimes they even change midway through writing a post.

Saturday, December 31

Living Consciously

As usual during the end of a year, I am thinking about what I've done this year and what I want to do next year and preparing for my ritual of writing out my goals for the next year. I don't know why I keep doing it every year. I rarely look at them again until the next year. It's amusing to see what I wrote the year before and think about whether I've accomplished them. I'd like this year's ritual to be a bit more meaningful for the rest of the year, but I'm not sure how to accomplish that.

I'm wondering if the problem is that I usually have some rather general goals - like exercising more and eating healthier or listening more to people or being more selective about the information I share with others. Oddly, even though I've completely forgotten them by the next year, I often find that I have indeed made progress on some of them - at least on the "spiritual" type things. It's the more physical things that I don't seem to accomplish. Maybe physical things need to be more explicit. Maybe, also, I need to have fewer of them. I forget them if there are too many.

One year, I tried to map out monthly goals for the year. Of course, I didn't look at them much after that, but I keep thinking about it. It seems like it would be better to have shorter term goals that work towards the longer term ones. Maybe I could have some resolutions like - "Set and accomplish a new goal each month." I could have one for different areas - physical well being, family relationships, community/political. That seems complicated. Maybe I could choose a goal in such a way that it would improve things in all areas or multiple areas at once. Like "Exercise for 30 minutes at least 3 times a week with family and neighbor".

Well, I'm off to ponder my resolutions a bit more, but first, a side note:

A friend recently shared a few links to articles about prioritizing and procrastinating. I hope to comment on them more later, but I'll just share them for now:

The 50-30-20 Rule

Procrastination

Religion - A Closed System

An old post from September 30, 2005 that I never got around to finishing or publishing...

I've often been told that Buddhism is an atheistic belief system. I've been very skeptical of this claim. The information I've come across seemed to contain a fair amounts of mysticism. I'd love to find a "mostly good" system of belief that was fixable (open).

Buddhism

... If one attains mystical insight by divine intervention (which the Buddhists call Jhana), it is likely to result in a closed system of thought, meaning a system that claims to possess all the necessary knowledge for proper conduct of life. These systems naturally tend to be dogmatic, for who would have the temerity to question the divine?

Buddhism teaches that there are two distinct types of knowledge (vidyas): "Lower" knowledge, or knowledge acquired through the intellect and "higher" knowledge, or that acquired through intuition. This is a special, insightful kind of seeing that the Mahayana Buddhists call prajna; it claims to penetrate into the very nature of existence. Through prajna, the Buddhist hopes to attain insight into reality that would not be obtainable by reason.

Dehumanization

There is probably another term for this, but I don't feel like looking it up right now. I'm thinking of the ways people have of making those they disagree with seem irrational, purposely bad, of assigning the worst intentions they can think of to them. I think some people call it "demonizing". I think people can get caught up in it without intending to.

I'm often amazed by how quickly people can let go of it when face to face with a real person who they would have previously demonized. I'm also amazed at how some people can't seem to let go of it even when a decent person is staring them in the face.

What things can be done to prevent that tendency in oneself and others?

Friday, December 30

Nastiness

I wrote this a while back but I haven't posted it because it seems pretty hypocritical. I've finally decided to take the risk. Sometimes, I think a bit of hypocrisy may be the first step in self improvement. Then again, looking at the definition, I'd say that pointing out the flaws of others while NOT pretending that I don't share those flaws isn't hypocrisy...

I hate dealing with nasty people - the ones who spend large amounts of time criticizing and picking out the faults of other people and proclaiming their opinion as if it's absolute truth and anyone who thinks otherwise is obviously lazy and stupid. I've written about this before, but I wonder whether such people are so critical of themselves. If they are, it's generally not obvious.

Oh sure, they may pick out certain of their more minor flaws here and there to admit to, but what amazes me is the capacity of such people to continue doing the things they're complaining about. Are they really so blind to their own faults? Could they be more sensitive to those faults? I sometimes find myself being especially critical of others when I am feeling bad about something I myself have done wrong. Do they just keep talking about others to keep from thinking about their own faults?

Then there are the people, sometimes the same ones, who criticize others for NOT doing what they do. Nevermind that they've royally screwed up and made a lot of people miserable in the process - so long as they can maintain their self image by finding the flaws in others.

I admit it, I've been a nasty person. I've done all those things. I've been a wacko environmentalist, lefty socialist, breastfeeding NAZI, a homeschooling NAZI, a weird sort of Objectivist, right-wing, libertarian nazi, and a TCS NAZI. I've written lengthy emails and had heated debates about the evils of big government, of public schools, of conventional parenting, etc. There is hardly a view that I hold now that I didn't once despise. I used to hate reading my old writing because it seemed so judgemental and silly and wrong-headed. But I was just bothered that I was mistaken, it didn't stop me from writing more of the same - just with different opinions. At least not for a long time.

I think one of the worst things I've done was listen to people who were really full of hot air and didn't know what the hell they were talking about. I'm really pissed about myself about that. Sometimes I feel angry at those people, but really, it's not their fault if I listened. I could always avoid them - wear ear plugs, avoid reading their writings. Still, I have a hard time with that idea. I never know where new knowledge might come from. If it's uncomfortable, it might have some hard-hitting truths. Then again, there's a lot of truth to be known and it doesn't have to all be uncomfortable. I can always take it a little at a time.

One aspect to this flaw of mine is the tendency to think that someone who sounds confident might be closer to right. It's likely false. The appearance of confidence could be due to an ignorance of reasons to have doubts, sometimes even a deliberate refusal to explore those reasons. Sometimes it can be a sign of fear.

I think my writing has changed. I quit for a long time because I was ashamed of the old stuff, and I didn't really have anything to offer. I suppose I could rattle off some of my mistakes, point out the boobie traps and potholes that some might encounter, but then it seems like most of what I experience is unique to me. Other people don't fall for them and probably think me rather silly for not knowing better. Then again, I'm always amazed at the mistakes other people make that seem so "obvious" to me.

The biggest threat to freedom - guns or government?

I've been puzzling over this recently. It seems that proponents of gun control either have a certain amount of trust in government that opponents don't or aren't bothered by the idea of having less freedom. Or maybe they're more worried that Joe neighbor's going to do something dangerous. Freedom, might reasonably presume freedom from the concern that they're likely to be harmed by Joe neighbor's gun. One isn't actually very "free" if one is constantly worrying that other community members may arbitrarily shoot you.

Take all the guns away, though, and we're left with knives and fists. Basically, anyone weaker is at risk from anyone stronger - women and children really. A gun could be an equalizer, but then again, it carries risks too. I thought about carrying one when Texas passed the concealed carry law, but then I wondered how practical it would actually be.

What if junior wants me to jump in the pool with him? Do I leave my weapon with my stuff and hope some other child (or adult) doesn't accidently set it off? Do I leave it behind anytime I might be going to a pool? What if we decide to go to the library? Any other building where it's not allowed? What if I just get tired of carrying all my stuff and want to put it down for a sec? What if I forget an leave my purse in a bathroom? (I haven't done that since I was a teenager, but it could happen).

Maybe carrying isn't so practical for women with children. Keeping weapons at home might be. Except, for the safety of the children, it's suggested you keep the weapons and ammo separate and locked. How quickly can you go and unlock two separate lock boxes, put them together, and be prepared to defend yourself? What if you're extremely nearsighted and need a few extra seconds to find your glasses? Personally, I've heard of more people shooting themselves or murdering others than I've heard of them protecting themselves. I think statistically, though, guns often do get used to protect innocent people.

One thing I do enjoy about guns is sport shooting (on the rare occasions I have time and money for it) . I have difficulty even allowing a bug to die by my hand, so I shoot at paper and metal animals only.

Despite shaking like a leaf every time I held a gun(worrying that somehow I'd blow my leg off or let go of the gun in the recoil because of that bizarre position I used for IHMSA), I found I had a certain amount of natural talent.

Then one day, as an adult, I tried standing to shoot. Wow! I still shook a bit just because I don't have much in the way of arm strength, but it was great fun. Much more control over the recoil and since the targets were closer, it was much easier to hit them. It'd be fun someday to practice more and see how I do.

I still get a little misty eyed at the smell of gun cleaner. I loved watching my father carefully take his guns apart and clean them. I love mechanical things. I used to enjoy looking through his digests and magazines that explained how guns worked. I don't remember much of it anymore, just that the firing pin thing hits a primer, the primer explodes and ignites the gun powder, building up lots of heat and gas and pushing the bullet out of the cartridge - or something like that. As a kid, I really wanted one of those "real working motors" that had a see-through case. I'd point to it every year in the Sears catalog. It was too expensive, though, so I never got one.

I used to love reading the bits about Laura's Pa in "Little House in the Big Woods". He had a black powder gun. I think that's all there was back then. He put in the powder and a little round bullet and maybe some other stuff directly in the barrel. I think he could preload two shots like that. After that, if he didn't hit whatever it was, it was pretty much all over for him. I imagined him facing a bear, knowing it was likely hit or die. There's a story like that in the book.

I love looking at guns in museums. Reusable catridges and revolvers must have seemed so amazing. "Pa" would have been a lot safer carrying one of them. Then again, they'd kill a lot more people in a war, too.

Still, most people don't know all that much about them. My father had a strict rule about never pointing one at anything you didn't intend to shoot. He also said "a gun is always loaded". Basically, he meant always treat one like it's loaded. Not everyone seems to know those rules. I've been around adults who were pretty scary in their handling of guns. They don't think about or maybe don't know about all the unloaded guns that have killed people.

To a seasoned user of guns, the required "training" and testing seems a bit silly, but after witnessing the risky behavior of some adults, I can see a certain sense in them. No class can teach a person to have good judgement, but it might help.

I think the biggest reason some people oppose gun control is that they see guns as a last defense against big oppressive government. I'm not sure what to make of that argument anymore. I don't think the typical guns Americans are "allowed" to own by government are going to do much to protect them from oppression. We saw that in Waco. I'm not defending the Branch Davidians - I think they were pretty nutty really and a danger to the community.

I'm just saying that even with all they had on hand, they didn't stand a chance. They only lived as long as they did because our own government held back - out of concern for their own lives and the lives of the children and innocents in the compound and, most importantly, because going in and killing people recklessly would have got them in big trouble with the American people.

What type of hypocrit are you?

The Psychology of Hypocrisy gives an interesting analysis of the different types of hypocrits and what he thinks is the best approach to morality. Essentially, he concludes that truth is a primary. Seek it and do your best to live by it. Better to mess up and know it and keep trying to be improve than to change your beliefs away from truth to avoid being a hypocrit. Of course, it's even better not to be true in thought, words, and deeds.

Thursday, December 29

A comment on War and Anti-War

Kit said...
According to this article we are a third of the way there to equalling the 300,000 deaths Saddam buried in mass graves and it's only taken us a single year. We've destabilized an entire country and reduced the rights of women, forcing them to wear burkas where they haven't had to do so before. Further, we did all this not to remove Saddam but on the lying pretence that we would find weapons of mass destruction. If you feel the war is justified now, or that anti-war believers are short-sighted, then how long will it be justified for? Is avenging the death of 300,000 worth the death of 100,000? 200,000?


I never mentioned revenge. I mentioned stopping killing and that it might be right to kill some to stop the killing of many. Revenge is a different concept - the idea that a person should have "consequences" imposed on him that are somehow equal to his wrongdoing. I don't see the point in that and it seems likely to be a wrong idea.

I was criticizing the idea that being anti-war on principle makes sense or at the least just flatly not understanding it. Whether any particular war, including the Iraq war, should be fought is another matter. I don't think crunching numbers is a reliable way to decide what to do, but it does seem like relevant information to consider. One way I don't think to decide it, though, is to decide beforehand that wars should never be fought. I'm not excluding the possibility that it could be true, I'm just not assuming it. I would need a lot better information than I've had so far to come to that sort of conclusion.

The question is whether killing 100,000 or 200,000 will prevent the deaths of 300,000 more people or perhaps allow the freedom of millions more. I don't really know the answer to that. From what I've been reading (granted I'm barely touching the tip of the iceberg of information about it), it seems that Saddam's rate of killing had subsided before our recent invasion. I don't know why it subsided. That would be important to know when forming an opinion about the morality of the situation. I definitely have my doubts about it all. I haven't seen much yet about the "freedom" or lack of it currently in Iraq. There's no guarantee that "Democracy" will protect the rights of everyone. People don't always vote in ways that enhance freedom and rights. Dictators are sometimes more benevolent than "the people".


How does getting revenge for those deaths Saddam caused help the world, especially given that we helped him with financial and military assistance before we put him in power?


Again, the concept of revenge isn't something I have advocated. Of course, I would be opposed to giving aid to someone who we know intends to murder a lot of innocent people. On the other hand, what to do once the harm has been done is another matter. If the choice remaining is to continue to allow Saddam to murder innocent people or stop him from doing so, then it still might be right to stop him. As to what should be done to stop American governments from making such mistakes, I don't know. The presidents who gave him financial and military assistance are no longer in power. Perhaps they should be tried as criminals or ways of preventing such events in the future should be looked at. Saddam, on the other hand, was still in power.


Is it justified for us to do this when we don't have support from the UN or the rest of the world?

I've not been very impressed with the UN so far. Granted, I have much to learn about them and the world. From what I understand, multiple European countries were continuing to rely on Iraqui oil and helped to support Saddam and oppose our intervention there. I'm disgusted with the whole group.


Ah, but right, whoever is alive in however many years it takes us to get out and give the Iraqi's whatever is left of their country will surely, of course, be much better off when we're done. Frankly, I think that hanging your justification of the war on numbers is a bad idea. Remember that a lot of people who are currently anti-war are simply anti-this war, for a number of reasons -- it's not an either or position, necessarily.I also think your civil war example is erroneous as it assumes there were only two options -- continuing slavery or a civil war. While I feel differently about that war than the current one (it was, after all, a US-US or US-former US conflict, rather than the US going to attack another country) I don't think we have any way of knowing how history would have gone without a war.
12:56 PM

I agree, I don't think number crunching is a good way to determine whether a particular war is a good idea. I meant to clarify that in the first post. I thought of it because many anti-Iraq war and many generally anti-war sites have counters with numbers of dead (generally in the thousands but not hundreds of thousands) and I was genuinely shocked by the sheer number of dead due to Saddam. Then I read about the numbers of dead because of the US (possibly 100,000). 300,000 is a low estimate for Saddam. I've seen numbers as high as 1 or 2 million. Possibly the numbers for the US are higher too.

I also agree that we don't know what might have happened with slavery had war not taken place. The south would have been a separate country. Maybe it would have crumbled while the North would have become stronger and abolished slavery willingly. Maybe the North could have allowed freedom to all slaves who made it to their borders. Still, certainly lots of people who were slaves at the time would have continued to be slaves for some amount of time afterwards. I'm doubtful that there would be even the degree of equality there is in the south now for African Americans (however racist it still is now, it's improved a lot in some areas).

I don't see why it matters whether it was US-US or US-other country. If it's right to intervene on behalf of innocent people, it doesn't matter what country they're in. The details might be an indication of whether it will be the best way to proceed but I don't think it's a good reason to avoid action in itself.

Crunching Numbers and the meaning of peace

Human rights groups estimate that more than 300,000 people were killed and buried in mass graves during Saddam's 23-year rule.

I'm ashamed to say that this is news to me. I'm still playing catch up on the history of Iraq and the Kurds. I knew Saddam was responsible for many deaths during his reign, but I wasn't aware that the deaths numbered in the hundreds of thousands - or even millions.

300,000

That's more than half the population of the city where I live. I've been asking myself...

Would I die to save 300,000 people?
Would I kill?
How many would I be willing to kill? A few? A hundred? Thousands?

Would you?

I liked the way this article expresses what I've been thinking lately about the idea of pacifism and "peace" and being anti-war. I don't think it makes sense to be anti-war. It may seem like a choice for "peace" and for the protection of lives, but it isn't. It's an active choice to stand idly by while innocent people are killed. Worse, it's opposing people who aren't ok with standing by. Sometimes one has to choose the least worst from unpleasant choices. Risk killing some to prevent the deaths of many more and hopefully open the way to freedom or stand by and leave people to be killed and oppressed.

The US Civil War was much the same. It doesn't matter "why" the war was fought in some ways. The results were a lot of deaths and increased freedom for a huge group of people. Would it have been better to not have a Civil War and continue allowing slavery? To save thousands of lives? To grant African American people immediate equal rights with whites?

I'm saying this with the belief that most anti-war people are very decent and nice and really don't want to see hundreds of thousands of people killed. I just don't understand what their values are. Is not killing more important than freedom? Than living?

War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention

The next questions in my ongoing attempt to understand the situation - is the Iraq war really a humanitarian intervention? Should "reformed" dictators be allowed to remain in control of a country?

Tuesday, December 6

The Piano Lesson Theory

For over a decade now, I've attempted to understand what it means to respect autonomy (childrens' and adults'), to avoid coercing others, to figure out common preferences, and to help children (and myself and others) learn and grow.

Still, I haven't been able to completely convince myself that the TCS definition of it makes sense (see sidebar for links to more information on Taking Children Seriously) or that if the definitions used there are correct, that coercion can't be a good thing.

I still tend to have a gut level negative feeling toward coercion at times, but it's not consistent.

The piano lesson theory seems like a good illustration of the issues I'm trying to understand.

I've heard it said many times from people who force their children to take piano lessons and practice for them that they want their children to see the benefits of studying something long term. Even if it's not fun at first, they will improve over time. They may quit playing for a while after lessons are discontinued, but eventually, they'll come back to it and enjoy being good at it and glad for being made to learn it. Some people don't even go that far. They had to take lessons and are themselves glad they learned and love music and want their children to be able to appreciate it too.

Why stop with piano? What if you had your child work for 30 minutes per day on each of a variety of things? Writing fiction? Gardening? Swimming? Drawing? Accounting? Singing? Many people already have their children working on Math, History, Science, and English. Would it be better to pick just one subject to force study on just
to "teach" them the benefits of studying something even if they don't particularly enjoy it at first and leave all the rest to the child? Which subject? How important is it to be good at any of those things? At any one thing?

What about giving your child a list of possible areas to choose from? "You have to learn 3 things, you have one month to make your selection or I'll pick them." Imagine trying to choose 3 topics that you will then be forced to study for 30 minutes a day. I sounds awful to me. Then again, it's only 1.5 hours out of 16 or so hours that I'm awake per day.

Of course, the problem isn't just about how much of a child's time is being taken up, it's about the idea of forcing to learn something against his will. Is it ever good to do that to anyone?

Sometimes, I think it's the "best" option available - in order to protect other people from harm.

Thursday, December 1

Got Morality?

Do you wear it like a milk mustache? Something that wipes off?

Do you do the right things only when someone else might know or do you do it out of a personal commitment to doing the right thing?

Someone, my friend curi, I think, once said that moral principles are an approximation of true morality. Are they?

I don't know, but it reminds me of calculus. I think of calculus as a type of math that tries to make approximations of "physical" reality. I wonder what a moral equation would look like.

If moral principles may fail to offer useful guidance at critical points, what use are they then?

If a parent tends to be right about what a child should do but misses sometimes, it might be best to risk missing sometimes rather than miss a lot by going along with the child's view of what's right. But is the parent really right more of the time? Is being right more of the time a valid reason for forcing a child to act according to the parents wishes? Is having the "best" answer necessary to be right? Suppose the parent is simply "right enough" to keep Johnny alive and learning. Is that good enough?

If a society has generally agreed that parents should force their children (if necessary) to comply with certain expectations about civility, does a parent have the right to do otherwise?

If a loan officer puts down false information about you on your application for a mortgage, what are your obligations to yourself? Society? Do you find another agent? Call up the company and complain? Call up a government agency to complain? Tell all your friends so they can avoid this person? Do you go along with applying because "most" officers do it?