Archive | February 2014

Why I don’t take Climate Change very Seriously

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Friends of mine who would agree with the statement, “Global warming is one of the biggest threats to mankind of our time,” I would like to share the following excerpt from Walter Russell Mead, detailing why I don’t think too hard on climate change and instead think about other things:

“Back in the late 1960s, when I was a callow youth with no common sense to speak of and a huge, misshapen ego, the Big Scare energizing the United Nations, the foundation world, the leaders of civil society and the intellectual establishment of the day was the Population Bomb. It’s hard for young people today to understand how terrified, urgent, self righteous and utterly convinced the Population Bomb movement was. The closest analogy today is the global green movement and its apocalyptic warnings about climate change. The Population Bomb worriers didn’t have as many grassroots organizations in support of their agenda as the greens do today, but the establishment, the mainstream press, and the great and the good were even more worried about the Bomb then than they are about global warming today, and the forecasts we were getting were even more dire.

Basically, the problem was that people were having too many children—especially, though it wasn’t polite to say this, non-white and non-educated people. All over the developing world, modern medicine was reducing infant mortality, but people were having just as many children as they did back in the days when half of all babies died in their first two years of life. With life expectancy increasing for older people as well, the world’s population was exploding, and the inevitable result would be famine, war and you name it…

The most visible spokesperson for the alarmists was Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford biologist whose 1968 book The Population Bomb predicted inevitable mass famines and other unspeakable horrors starting in the 1970s and accelerating to Armageddon as the starving billions fought over crusts and war boiled across an emaciated world. As the professor warned us in exactly the same kind of prose alarmist greens now use, ‘The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…’

The bomb was a dud. Though Dr. Ehrlich went on to peddle other scare stories about Malthusian meltdowns of various kinds for almost half a century after the world failed to collapse, his reputation has never been the same. The decades since the great population hysteria have seen a steady decline in the rate of population growth to the point where in many countries the biggest worry now is population decline. The number of people without secure access to an adequate diet is falling; the 21st century currently looks set to spend more time worrying about obesity than starvation. While the world population continues to rise, most experts now believe (for what it’s worth) that the world population will level off rather than explode.

Establishment panics—those delicious moments when the Great and the Good work themselves into a hysterical frenzy about mostly imaginary dangers—come and go pretty often but don’t usually leave much damage behind. The mainstream media are usually too busy whipping up fears about the next panic to write caustic examinations of the people who keep crying “Wolf!” And in any case, it is rude to point out that many of the people traipsing from think-tank meetings to television studios aren’t very good at, well, thinking.

Older readers will remember or have heard of the Sputnik Panic, the Fallout Shelter movement, the Missile Gap, the balance of payment nightmares of the Kennedy years, the Club of Rome commodities panic, ’70s declinism, the Japan panic, swine flu, Peak Oil, bird flu and, of course, Y2K. At the time, hordes of very important and well-connected people lectured America incessantly on the urgent dangers some of these represented, and various imposing national and global action plans were debated. In some cases, a great deal of money was spent on these plans—though never quite as much as the establishment thought would be best.

…the Population Bomb was one of the many impending disasters that panicked the establishment without actually happening…”

Read the whole article here:

http://www.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2013/06/27/the-demographic-blues/

I hope the point is clear.

I do believe that climate change is happening, that it has ultimately negative effects on the biosphere, that those negative effects are in turn detrimental to human life, which relies on the biosphere, that human beings have contributed to this process through the industrial revolution, and that through policy the effects of this can be negated somewhat.

I also believe, however, that climate change is a natural process and that humans affect it only partially. Thus, we have only contributed to it partially, and we can only slow it partially. I am therefore not sure that legislation and policy purporting to “stop global warming” or “solve climate change” is worth implementing. I believe that the issue itself is hyped up to a degree that renders most public debate over it invalid, and overall I think people who believe in it are giving it a lot more legitimacy than it’s worth.

What part of the problem is solvable, I think will be solved, and what part isn’t, I think will not. I don’t think we’re about to face dramatically rising sea levels, mass migrations, deathly heatwaves, the total desertification of entire continents, or any such apocalyptic disasters that will supposedly destroy civilization. I think we’ll face disasters and figure out ways to get past them. In 50 years, I think we’ll all look back on things and wonder why we thought the world was about to end.

We should regulate the emissions our economy puts into the atmosphere, seek out and transfer to alternative fuels as much as is pragmatically possible, and continue to fund research into the workings of the planet. I do not doubt any of these things, and I think I would consider myself very much an environmentalist if asked. But prudence must conquer hysteria, and I am of the opinion that the sheer black-and-white treatment climate change gets in popular discourse nowadays is too much.

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Sustainability is the Wrong Model for Development, Renewability the Wrong Model for Energy

Disclaimer: This is written with a very, very rudimentary understanding of both nuclear power and evolution. All errors and misconceptions of mine are deficiencies in my ethos and arguments against me.

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There’s been a lot of well-intentioned hype going around about sustainable development and renewable energy in recent decades, based on the premises that it is best not to waste finite resources and that technology can conquer the limitations former generations faced. While not wrong on its face, the notion has a glaring flaw- that it is at odds with the nature of human society, the human condition, and nature itself.

Implicit in the sustainability and renewability narratives is the notion that human happiness and prosperity is best served by a state of harmony with nature. To a degree, this is very true, and a law trespassed against in more ways than one. But the sustainability/renewability narratives use ‘harmony with nature’ in the wrong sense.

Most pleas for renewable energy and sustainable development emphasize the necessity for man to leave as miniscule a footprint on the natural environment as possible- to take as little as possible in, and put as little as possible out. Where possible man ought to use natural rather than artificial means. This model assumes that nature is, and that humans inhabit, a closed system with finite resources, where all parts do their purpose and none transgress that purpose nor harass other parts. This model of nature looks very much like the internal organ system of a complex organism- many various parts each with a specific purpose, the sole necessity being to balance the division of resources so that each part can fulfill its purpose, which is beneficial thereby to all other parts.

Unfortunately for the organism model, nature is much more complicated than this. Alongside the principle of HARMONY is the principle of COMPETITION, the natural chaos which forms constraints upon all effort and directs various organisms towards certain evolutionary paths, and various systems towards certain temporary balances. The important thing is that there is CONSTANT CHANGE; not revolutionary, for the most part, but evolutionary and unstoppable. The balance of nature, in a spatial sense, is completely temporary and changing every second. If there is a permanent balance, it is only in a temporal sense, across time.

Observe the changes in an organism over the course of years, in an ecosystem over the course of hundreds of years, in geology over the course of thousands and millions of years, in a galaxy over the course of billions of years. Never is one thing the same thing again; Herodotus admonishes that one cannot step into the same river twice. The evolutionary processes which drive the development of all things do not allow any of them to remain stationary. No organism is bound by duty to ‘leave things as they found them,’ though humans, who affect things more quickly, ought to bear this principle in mind even though they cannot follow it perfectly.

And the principle which all things best move towards is GROWTH. The multiplication of a species’ numbers, the increase in an organism’s territory, the security of gains; these are the things that allow for more freedom of action and, at a baser level, sheer survivability. Competition for growth reaches even into harmony, when various organisms strive to fill a niche only one can fill.

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Moreover, human society does not and has never inhabited a closed system; its resources, while finite, have always been sufficient for further expansion, and interacted with those of Outer Space, and as we now exist at the edge of the space age, it seems that our future will bear only further expansion, to a point that might as well be infinite. This does not imply that wise management of resources is unnecessary; but it does assert that further quests for resources are both necessary and inevitable.

The course of human history has seen three states for any political entity, from the individual to the civilization, to exist in. The first is expansion. The second is stagnation. The third is decay. In expansion, the entity moves forward and advances its interests and level of development; it sharpens its skills and hardens its virtues. In stagnation, such growth ceases, and attention is given to the maintenance of present levels of development. In decay, it declines in all ways, and its virtues erode and give way to its vices; its greatness saps and the entity grows weak.

It is critical to note that no civilization is fated to enjoy expansion forever; by natural processes, societies slip into stagnation and decay. But it is crucial to recognize what is what. Societies, like all things in nature, are better off when they are GROWING, and therefore growth ought to be encouraged, not discouraged.

Sustainable development, and the primary use of renewable resources, provides sufficient energy and management for a society that is no longer growing. And because of its use of renewable resources and sustainable development, that society is no longer free to convert resources into further growth. With no further growth, there can be no further innovation in technology or society or economy, and stagnation and all its spiritual discomforts must inevitably set in. In such a state, the joys and duties of life are unrecognizably diminished.

Human beings seek, in energy sources, things that will provide massive returns; that is why coal, oil, and gas have been so wildly successful and popular in the past. But sustainable development in energy, by its very definition, only provides enough energy to make up for what energy has been lost, in a cycle. There can be essentially no returns here. Were renewable energy able to be efficient enough to generate more energy than necessary, and fuel further booms in growth, and thereby violate the principle of sustainable development which its supporters love and cherish, then perhaps it could become a viable and economical energy source able to power the next generation of human adventurers. But so long as it cannot (and the technology does not appear anywhere near as potent, though probably much more sustainable than fossil fuels,) become the MOST potent, MOST efficient, MOST economical form of power out there, I do not see sustainable technologies like wind and solar power becoming the dominant method of powering our civilization.

Instead of renewable energy, I would advocate for the ascension of and investment in whatever is capable of becoming the most potent, efficient, and economical form of energy. Some have told me nuclear power, and I personally am of the mind that reformed nuclear energy- particularly if fusion is developed as soon as is hoped- will be the core, dominant energy source for human civilization after oil. Oil, coal, and natural gas are the most potent sources nowadays, but as has been demonstrated again and again, we cannot be sure how long they will last, and they are immensely harmful to the health of individuals and the environment as a whole. In the present boom, their use should not be discouraged; but all booms turn to busts, and shale oil is no exception. Nonetheless it seems that oil will sputter along, for at least the next century or more, as a critical component of global energy supplies; wise nations, however, will start investing in and investigating new supplies.

The various forms of totally clean power- hydropower, windpower, geothermal power, wave power, solar power, etc- all have their uses, and all ought to be encouraged. Various areas will probably specialize in their own localized sources, and the smaller the political entity, the easier it seems it will be for it to be shift towards renewable energy capable not only of sustaining but of increasing growth. However, it is hard, so very hard, to imagine entire nations and national programs fueled by such programs; more likely is that another more certain source of energy will lead the way in providing the core of every nation’s power. I think there is reason to believe that that way is nuclear.

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Now I am no expert, nor am I particularly well-informed on the consequences of nuclear power. But I do know that it is relatively longer-lasting, reasonably cleaner, and generally more dependable than oil, coal, or natural gas, and it has proven itself to be economically viable. I understand that much of the hype against it is based on unreasonable populist paranoia, though there is indeed a danger in its potential for catastrophe. I am not unaware of its huge expense, and I doubt it would be viable for a good many developing countries.

However, the United States and its fellow developed nations might find themselves at the forefront of energy development and civilizational progress were they to invest more heavily in nuclear energy, while reforming their management practices. No other form of energy is so reliable, nor so conducive to an electric economy, nor so generally safe and advanced as nuclear energy; and for that reason, Isaac Asimov, the great science fiction novelist, in describing the future societies of the universe, considered those run on traditional coal and oil to be barbaric, and only those fueled by atomic power to be advanced.

Engineers and Statesmen, bring forth the future of Mankind, the true Atomic Age so vainly hoped for in the last century! Let us not remain dependent on the decadence of fossil fuel, nor cast our lots with the unproved perfect dreams of renewable energy. Let us march forth into the future on the saddle of nuclear power, understanding its imperfection yet potential, fully aware that Man’s expansion to the universe depends on the ingenuity, pragmatism, and imagination of our own generation.

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Teddy Roosevelt on Manliness

This is an excerpt from an address Teddy Roosevelt made to the citizens of Colorado, on that state’s twenty-fifth anniversary. The bolded portion is, in my view, the most succinct tract on manliness ever written, save of course Kipling’s immortal ‘If.’ This gem is worth pondering and meditation, for it quite well balances those qualities of mind and body, and spirit, which make for full mature personhood and pave the way to unselfish citizenship and devotion. Teddy even seemingly alludes here to the duality of “manliness and womanliness” requisite in all balanced individuals, though his primary focus is of course on manliness. But it should be noted that just as these enduring virtues “of necessity find a different expression now,” so the social situation has come when a truth has been unlocked, and the hallowed manliness TR lauds is commendable and required not only of our men, but of our women too, in equal measure. Therefore meditations on the virtues of manliness are of great usefulness to those of either gender and all genders, for they permeate the human heart and will forever be required in this tumultuous world we inhabit. 

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“The old iron days have gone, the days when the weakling died as the penalty of inability to hold his own in the rough warfare against his surroundings. We live in softer times. Let us see to it that, while we take advantage of every gentler and more humanizing tendency of the age, we yet preserve the iron quality which made our forefathers and predecessors fit to do the deeds they did. It will of necessity find a different expression now, but the quality itself remains just as necessary as ever. Surely you, Men of the West, you men who with stout heart, cool head, and ready hand have wrought out your own success and built up these great new commonwealths, surely you need no reminder of the fact that if either man or nation wishes to play a great part in the world, there must be no dallying with the life of lazy ease. In the abounding energy and intensity of existence in our mighty democratic Republic there is small space indeed for the idler, for the luxury-loving man who prizes ease more than hard, triumph-crowned effort.

We hold work not as a curse but as a blessing, and we regard the idler with scornful pity. It would be in the highest degree undesirable that we should all work in the same way or at the same things, and for the sake of the greatness of the nation we should in the fullest and most cordial way recognize the fact that some of the most needed work must, from its very nature, be unremunerative in a material sense. Each man must choose so far as the conditions allow him the path to which he is bidden by his own particular powers and inclinations. But if he is a man he must in some way or shape do a man’s work. If, after making all the effort that his strength of body and of mind permits, he yet honorably fails, why, he is still entitled to a certain share of respect because he has made the effort. But if he does not make the effort, or if he makes it half-heartedly and recoils from the labor, the risk, or the irksome monotony of his task, why, he has forfeited all right to our respect, and has shown himself a mere cumberer of the Earth. It is not given to us all to succeed, but it is given to us all to strive manfully to deserve success.

We need, then, the iron qualities that must go with true manhood. We need the positive virtues of resolution, of courage, of indomitable will, of power to do without shrinking the rough work that must always be done, and to persevere through the long days of slow progress or of seeming failure which always come before any final triumph, no matter how brilliant. But we need more than these qualities. This country cannot afford to have its sons less than men; but neither can it afford to have them other than good men. If courage and strength and intellect are unaccompanied by the moral purpose, the moral sense, they become merely forms of expression for unscrupulous force and unscrupulous cunning. If the strong man has not in him the lift toward lofty things his strength makes him only a curse to himself and his neighbor. All this is true in private life, and it is no less true in public life. If Washington and Lincoln had not in them the whipcord moral fiber of moral and mental strength, the soul that steels itself to endure disaster unshaken and with grim resolve to wrest victory from defeat, then the one could not have founded, nor the other preserved, our Federal Union. The least touch of flabbiness, of unhealthy softness, in either would have meant ruin for this nation, and therefore the downfall of the proudest hope of Mankind. But it is no less true that had either been influenced by self-seeking ambition, by callous disregard of others, by contempt for the moral law, he would have dashed us down into the black gulf of failure. Woe to all of us as a people if ever we grow to condone evil because it is successful. We can no more afford to lose social and civic decency and honesty than we can afford to lose the qualities of courage and strength. It is the merest truism to say that the nation rests upon the individual, upon the family- upon individual manliness and womanliness, using the words in their widest and fullest meaning.

To be a good husband or wife, a good neighbor and friend, to be hardworking in business and social relations, to bring up [decent and enterprising] children- to be and to do all of this is to lay the foundations of good citizenship as they must be laid. But we cannot stop even with this. Each of us has not only his duty to himself, his family, and his neighbors, but his duty to the state and to the nation. We are in honor bound each to strive according to his or her strength to bring ever nearer the day when justice and wisdom shall obtain in public life as in private life. We cannot retain the full measure of our self-respect if we cannot retain pride in our citizenship. For the sake not only of ourselves but of our children and our children’s children we must see that this nation stands for strength and honesty both at home and abroad. In our internal policy we cannot afford to rest satisfied until all that the government can do has been done to secure fair dealing and equal justice as between man and man. In the great part which hereafter, whether we will or not, we MUST play in the world at large, let us see to it that we neither do wrong nor shrink from doing right because the right is difficult; that on the one hand we inflict no injury, and that on the other we have a due regard for the honor and the interest of our mighty nation; and that we keep unsullied the renown of the flag which beyond all others of the present time or of the ages of the past stands for the confident faith in the future welfare and greatness of Mankind.”

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Parable of the Statue of Truth

The following poem is based off of the following passage from a letter I wrote some time ago:

“I am not quite certain that I believe universal morality to be a rationally discernible thing. I see it, at this moment, as a glimmering marble stature buried in a cone of sand. The great men of each generation struggle up it, climbing to the top, and dust it off as well as they can before the winds of time take their lives; sometimes many are there, sometimes few. Whenever they dust off enough sand with their featherdusters to reveal a sliver of the statue’s neck or leg or stomach, they immediately take out their notebooks and sketch what they can, before the wind blows the sand back over their discoveries. Then they get out their dusters and start uncovering another part, and all the while their colleagues crawl over other portions of the mountain, doing much the same thing. When the great philosophers die their notebooks remain behind, and though the statue eventually becomes, again, fully covered, their notes are saved forever, for all posterity. Some great philosophers study all the notebooks and piece together bigger and bigger pictures; yet none are complete, for no man has seen the whole statue with his own eyes, and all have either seen a tiny part clearly or a large portion vicariously and obscurely; and thus the nature of objective moral truth, while somewhat discernible, is not discernible in its entirety.”

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A very unuseful artistic depiction of this principle; a better one will be drawn someday.

 

There’s a statue in the desert

Buried in a cone of sand

Windy gusts adjust this blanket

Towering above the land

 

Wise men from the world over

Seek to know the statue’s whole

And they travel through the desert

In a journey of the soul

 

Each one takes his pick and shovel

And he clambers up the ledge

Digging sand away with vigor

‘Til he finds the statue’s edge

 

In his glee he keeps on shoveling

For what more there might he find?

Some men pause to draw the piece they found

To lose it not to time

 

And they labor on the mountain

Digging sand and seeking truth

But before they find the whole of it

Death takes away their youth

 

While they work, and when they die,

Still the winds of power blow

Blanketing unearth’ed statue-ends

Again with tawny snow

 

Thus in time the work of ages

Is rehidden in the sands

Generations of new seekers

Thus may harden, there, their hands

 

Though the minds which moved the mountain

Then are dead and gone, at peace

Those who left behind their drawings

Last a little more, at least

 

For some time every century

Is born a curious mind

Who then travels to the statue

And, discarded papers finds

 

These he pieces close together

Finding what fits and what won’t

And a new image emerges-

He now sees what others don’t!

 

For by taking every article

Of knowledge that’s been found

And discovering what’s true in each

He sees more of the mound

 

Than have any gone before him

In the quest for truest truth

Nonetheless, it is not perfect

For Death takes away his youth

 

Thus for many generations

Do men seek to know the thing

That is buried underneath the sand

Their praises, Angeles sing!

 

For their mighty quest is noble

They uplift Man’s sorry state

Yet no Man unveils the statue’s whole,

And none escapes his fate

 

But they are much better for it

Having sought to know, and tried

Their descendants, then, will sing of them-

They lived before they died!

 

Thus the Parable of Knowledge

Thus the Parable of Truth

None will know the sum of all the things

Til Death reclaims their youth

 

But in every one opinion

Is a strand of truth that’s right

And through humble co-acceptance

One’s mind may come to the Light

 

And discover all those principles

Which tick the Clock of Time

And, although it’s still imperfect,

Knowledge ‘ligns one with Life’s Rhyme.

 

Maybe in another world

Nothing will our knowledge stall

But for us upon this planet

One may never know it all!

 

And full knowledge of the statue

Underneath the sandy cone

Is reserv’ed to its maker

It is known to God alone!

 

A Letter to a Friend: Religion and Science Complement Each Other

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I’m sure you know I am in complete agreement with you on every point other than the suggestion that they’ll bring up interesting points. I found the video and I’ll be watching it this weekend, and I’m not holding any high expectations, any more than there are interesting points brought up in presidential and congressional debates nowadays.

I just see two hacks going on-stage to tell each other how wrong they are, and to confirm to their respective audiences what those audiences already believe and are looking to prove. I don’t think anybody there is seriously thinking they might change someone’s mind, have their own mind changed, or come up with a new synthesis with more profound insights than either previous message.

The way I have tried to train myself to think is that there can be something learned from everything, even the most foolish and useless of opinions. I guess Hinduism informs me a bit, in that there is truth in everything, even in lies. You can become wiser from every experience and thought. And to gain understanding, you must pick a little bit out of everything- even the polar opposite of your position. You must also be careful not to go full sway with anything, because everything has a certain flaw inherent to it.

So in politics, I arrived where I am now- just a little right of center on the American political spectrum, generally favoring large, activist governments with heavily decentralized governance and active civil societies- by taking the useful ideas out of most of the streams of American political thought and integrating them into a more balanced whole. If I have a polar opposite it is either libertarianism or anarchism, but both of those have their values to me. Libertarianism captures the necessity of restraints on power; Anarchism captures the desire of the individual for ultimate freedom and ultimate power over themself. Whenever I hear someone making any political statement nowadays, two thoughts go through my head- first, that this person is self-interested, ideological, and doesn’t know anywhere near as much as they think they know; and second, what can I learn from this statement they are making, what is valid, what is useful, and what does their statement say about them and American politics as a whole?

You can tell what I think of the party system nowadays, with its polarizing and heavily ideological demagogues misleading the public on a whim out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. They are more concerned with being right than with learning, and even moreso than with being a good statesman and citizen. And the honorable, intelligent men who seek public office to serve are invariably drawn into this maelstrom of idiocy by the very nature of the requirements of the system!

I think the science-religion “debate” parallels the polarization problem in American politics. There is an intense sense of absolutism, the mark of weak minds, which pervades it- God did everything magically and you’re going to Hell! There is no God, all this just showed up and when you die there’s just nothing! It’s a sensitive enough issue to everyone that so long as people of the aforementioned quality do the discussing, it seems that there can be no compromise.

Which is quite unfortunate, because between religion and philosophy and science, there is far more organic connection and compatibility than there is between the various schools of politics, I think. It’s not simply that science and various interpretations of religion can coexist and maybe even complement each other. It is that one literally cannot make sense, in a rational and moral way, without the other!

I’ll use the creation-evolution example.

Creationism- used in its sparsest sense, the notion that a higher Being was the cause and designer and creator of the physical universe- assumes, first, that there IS a physical universe. By looking at various phenomena such as patterns, cycles, beauty, and sameness, Creationism assumes that there was a higher intelligence at work.

But the very act of making observations, noticing patterns, and hypothesizing conclusions, is- please, please, please correct me if I’m wrong- basically hyperprimitive science. The Creationists typically feel free, in fact, to make free use of the diversity of scientific discoveries to extend their argument that the Universe is so complex, so beautiful, that it must have been created by a higher being. I see no problem with this- I do it often. Their hypocrisy comes when they vigorously deny science which attempts to explain the ORIGINS of these phenomena, when they suggest that the human mind cannot possibly know how our universe came to be and how it works at the moment. My primary problem with this is that it denies that humans have the capability to have Reason; and moreover, that they seem to believe they know how their God designed the Universe, knowledge unbequeathed to their rivals the nonbelievers.

Evolutionism- used in the sparsest sense, (and I don’t claim to be particularly formal about this at all, I’m sure you will be able to provide me with the proper terms) is the notion that material processes, according to objective laws and random chance, created the Universe as we know it, without the aid of any metaphysical or spiritual power. By looking at patterns and cycles and sameness, and other phenomena, and utilizing Reason, Evolutionists attempt to discern the laws and principles by which the universe operates, and the implications for all other things.

It would seem that this could stand alone, requiring nothing mystical to sustain it, and if human beings were computers perhaps this would be true. But if a human being does reduce all reality to a series of laws which have both good and bad effects, and no intrinsic moral value beyond the fact that they exist, then that person becomes a Materialist, valuing nothing other than what can be observed and generally denying what the richness of human art and culture seems to prove must exist. How could a Materialist explain beauty? How could they appreciate music, if its only value was in (flooding their brains with dopamine? whatever the pleasure chemical is) and there were nothing deeper, more meaningful about it? If this were the truth, and there were nothing but the material world, then Spirit could not exist, and ultimately all this would be meaningless. Certainly the Materialist could continue their scientific exploits; but not having faith that anything beyond them mattered, not even themselves, would they find any reason to live at all? The whole human experience suggests not only that we are dripping with meaning, but that we REQUIRE it for healthy life. And as this meaningful, spiritual side is clearly necessary for our health, it does not seem that random chance would have designed a species which required a resource it could never have. My primary problem with Materialism is that it attempts to paint Faith as useless; yet one must have a lot of Faith in one’s own rightness to make such a claim.

The two primary paths to truth- Faith and Reason- need each other. As I review my previous paragraphs, I find that my arguments for their complementarity are rather weak. But I trust that you are of sufficient Faith and Reason to understand that one simply does not make sense without the other.

Please forgive me for my boisterous, cantankerous, typically haughty opinions and my unnecessarily long-winded and self-serving method of delivering them. I hope you see that your thoughts are similar (though happily much more concise) than mine and that if your first statement was naive, then mine is something like 12 or 15 times more naive (for every length my thought was longer than yours.) Though you do not practice any organized religion in particular, I guarantee you you give the issue more thought than the vast majority of supposed believers.

Pope Francis said a while back that those who do not subscribe to any faith, but wrestle with the questions of faith every day, are far closer to the Kingdom of Heaven than those sheepish masses of believers who do not ponder these mysteries, out of a sickly apathy. So according to his judgment, it would seem that you are in a pretty good place.

 

 

Thoughts on the Coca Cola “America” Commercial

I didn’t understand the Coca Cola “America” advertisement and to be completely honest, I don’t think they should have cast it as a tribute to America because that’s not what it was, judging by the content.

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It easily could have been billed as a “Humanity” or “Celebrate our Diversity” sort of commercial. But there is a vast difference between showing all the diversity of the Earth and the beauty of its denizens, and showing what America is about. Diversity is not the most significant part of it. 

Now, I understand why they made it- show America the salad bowl, we have people from all over the world here, we are a tolerant society becoming more tolerant as time goes on, etc etc etc- all wonderful messages. But together they are not the American story nor its heritage- merely a piece of it.

America has always been about universalism, and never about multiculturalism, though it has always been multicultural. Though every group indeed contributes to the broader American heritage, and quite usefully and beautifully at that, it is more significant that groups integrate and become ‘Americans.’ There are a couple of tropes- cowboys, immigrants, citizen-soldiers, entrepreneurs, entertainers, engineers, pioneers, among others- that more profoundly exhibit what America is about. These are the ways of life that ought to be praised in a tribute to America as a whole.

Because by the American code, it’s not who your ancestors were and where you came from that defines who you are- it’s what you do, and how you contribute to the broader society at large. Everyone is free to keep and celebrate their particular identity, but when we’re talking about America as an idea, all identities must be submerged and the broader American idea made supreme.

Is this fundamentally a sinister and grossly unfair way of looking at things? I don’t doubt it. But a shared heritage does much, much more to create unity than any accolades of diversity can ever hope to do. And if America needs anything now and forever, it is unity.I don’t think the Coca Cola ad did anything at all to promote a shared American identity.

Also these freaking rednecks need to calm down, Coca Cola is totally still American.

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Bear in mind that I thoroughly believe in the universality of human nature and the dignity of every human being. I study the works of the cultures of the world, seeking the commonalities and appreciating the differences, pondering the ways of Man and considering the mysteries of human life and their implications for human politics. I have networks of close friends across Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, and I am hoping to travel extensively around the world as a major component of my career. My favorite song is Chinese. My favorite book is Italian. My tastes and relationships span the globe; the sun never sets upon them. I hope that no one interprets my understanding of Americanism as jingoistic, chauvinistic, immature, unrealistic.

But I avow that I am a proud American nationalist, believing in my country and its virtues and its vices, pledging it my support, serving it unto death. And in looking for what is right for my country, our modern age presents us with an inescapable fact- the American national identity is declining, perhaps to a dangerous degree. We need not wait til our decay is so far advanced that the ethnonationalism of the Old World makes a resurgence and causes our internal dissolution. To be strong, it is our imperative to increase our social capital, our public credit, our republican virtue, in the interests of the United States of America. We are a strong people, and a free one at that. But unless we are truly a people- unless we have a shared and common identity- unless we know who we are- then we face a tumultuous future.

No media which portrays America as something which it is not is doing America any help. Every person who believes in America for what it is- with all the good and evil alloyed- and loves it still, is helping America as much as they can.

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Aaaaand on a lighter note, here is a picture that was probably supposed to be inspiring.

 

My Vision for USC and USC PSA

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A while back, before I had ever heard of the University of Southern California, I had the pleasure of listening to a Barnes and Noble Audiobook series on the development of Western Civilization. One of the tapes addressed Virgil’s Aeneid, in some ways the founding myth of Western political culture and certainly one of the most influential books ever written. Before the professor lectured on the opus magnum, however, he gave a brief background on Roman culture and history, the backdrop of the book.

Rome, he explained, was independent of yet connected to Greek civilization, and while Greece could be understood without Rome, Rome could not be understood without Greece. In this way Rome was entirely the younger sibling of its more ancient and flowery Greek brother. And being an offshoot, there was practically no chance that Rome could ever surpass, equal, or even rival Greece in those arts which the Greeks perfected- philosophy, drama, art and sculpture, astronomy, mathematics, and a whole host of other abstractions which indeed were the brainchildren of the Greek mind. It would seem that the Romans, aware and in awe of this comparison, would be utterly ashamed.

But the historical and cultural record does not support that. The Romans, as we all know, were masters in the practical arts, fantastic engineers and innovative inventors, masterly political and legal theorists and capable administrators, talented thinkers and ambitious conquerors. They built an empire which in many ways stood the test of time, and ultimately wound up ruling over the Greeks. Virgil, in the Aeneid, puts it quite concisely:

“Others will cast more tenderly in bronze

Their breathing figures, I can well believe

And bring more lifelike portraits out of marble

Argue more eloquently, use the pointer

To trace the paths of Heaven

And accurately foretell the rising of the stars.

ROMAN, remember by your strength to rule

Earth’s peoples, for your arts shall be these-

To pacify, impose the rule of law,

To spare the conquered, battle down the proud.”

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In these words Virgil articulated the essential cultural difference between the Greek mind and the Roman mind. It needs no further explanation.

I immediately took a liking to this little passage and recorded it for personal use; I meant to see how I could apply it to my own life. Though no master, I was certainly (and still am) far more the Greek than the Roman- a poet, a romantic, an intellectual! But the values of the Romans- those virtues which make for great nations and great statesmen- stuck with me far more than the Greek exhortations to excellence and arête.

A few years later I was at the University of Southern California, studying politics and preparing myself for a career in public service. It occurred to me that, in many ways, USC resembled a Rome far more than a Greece. Its humanities programs, its arts, were far, far less developed and emphasized than its hard sciences and management programs, in contrast to the sheer emphasis on humanities associated with the Ivy League and other undoubtedly elite schools a few levels above our endowment. But it has been a matter of pride for me, and for every Trojan, knowing that while the graduates of those wealthier, more cultivated institutions may talk prettier and be snobbier, the graduates of USC and all technical colleges of our ilk would be the movers and shakers of the future, not primarily the repositories of the past.

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Trojans! Another thing!

On the back side of the base of the statue of Tommy Trojan read Virgil’s words:

“Here are provided seats of meditative joy

Where shall arise again the destined reign of Troy…”

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I doubt most people have put as much neurotic thought into these words as I have. But briefly, it seems to me that the quote implies that, here at USC, the minds which will bring forth the future shall be developed, and that that future shall parallel the former glorious golden ages of Western Civilization.

Tommy Trojan himself stands, confident, with his back to the Tutor Campus Center, the center of student government, with his side to Bovard Hall, the administrative center of the university, and with his front toward the Von Kleinsmid Center, that nucleus of political studies at USC. His eyes gaze upon VKC’s globe tower, as though he desired to master the world. He has always reminded me of the fabled Aeneas of Virgil’s lore.

And in making that connection, I found the missing link. We, the Trojans, are in fact they who shall become the Romans of the Earth, just as the Trojans of Virgilian lore were the descendants of that mighty race of Rome that would conquer and reign over the ancient world. Tommy Trojan is Aeneas, our model for emulation, and the Trojan virtues- Faithful, Scholarly, Skillful, Courageous, Ambitious- in varying ways do seem to describe Aeneas, the iron leader who humbly performed his duty and made possible the birth of the Roman people. And the destined Reign of Troy, the New Rome, shall be the world which we the USC Trojans set out to build and rule.

I have no way of knowing whether my school’s founders consciously considered this classical allusion at all when designing the traditions of USC, though something tells me that they did. Even if they didn’t, it is a wonderful heritage connecting us, right here, right now, with the very heritage and fate of Western Civilization itself. Symbolically, and if we live up to the admonitions of Virgil, realistically, a great burden falls upon our shoulders, while we bear a glorious torch.

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Assuming my premise is correct, that we are to rule because we hold the mandate of Virgil and our founders, it would be wise to consider the practical reality of our own pragmatism and duty, those two great virtues of the Romans. And in an academic perspective, it seems that we are quite pragmatic- Viterbi and Marshall, our schools of Engineering and Business, are among our best institutions and the greatest of their kind in the world. And few things drive our modern world more surely than do engineering and business.

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But there is a third institution which at USC is woefully underemphasized, which were we true Romans, true Trojans, would be at least as heavily lauded as Viterbi and Marshall. That is our institution for studying politics and policy, spread out across a variety of disciplines and institutes, not particularly well-known, and in dire need of rejuvenation lest it lay stagnant.

It is not that there is nothing there. In fact, there are a wide array of institutions at USC dedicated firmly to the study of politics and policy, the most notable being the Bedrosian Institute for Governance, the Schwarzenegger Institute for Policy, and the Unruh Institute for Politics. Academic institutions like the Political Science Department, the School of International Relations, the Gould School of Law, and the Sol Price School of Public Policy further this research and bring up generations of scholars of political knowledge. They have incredible faculty and associates, the most notable recent acquisitions including General David Petraeus, Mayor Antonio Villaigairosa, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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But these amazing resources are not centrally coordinated- there is no uniting and overarching vision for USC as a center for political innovation, scholarship, and training in quite the same way that such unitary dreams exist for engineering and business here. And as a result, the institutions become excellent on their own; but they do not acquire the renown they might otherwise know were they more explicitly coordinated.

But this is not simply an administrative mistake on the part of the administration. For clients, as well as servants, have a stake in the issue too. The students of USC drive demand, and in many ways the university responds to what they want in providing opportunities. I am of the opinion that, while there is indeed a vibrant political culture among the students of USC, it is neither widespread enough nor intense enough to garner sufficient support to effect sufficient change. There is much grassroots organization we can do to go about this, and we ought to.

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I have held similar goals for just the USC School of International Relations for about a year now, as I have been working with the International Relations Undergraduate Association for that long and dreaming such ambitions. But as my intellectual and personal interest in politics has expanded beyond international power politics to all aspects of public policy and politics international and domestic, so have my ambitions.

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Therefore I am proud to announce my candidacy for the position of Director of the Political Students Assembly, the primary organ managing and encouraging student political activism and scholarship at USC. It is one of the assemblies on the Program Board and a component of the Undergraduate Student Government, and thanks to the hard work of its current officers, USC has seen a spike in student political activism in the last year. I desire to carry on this work further and further, and contribute to an atmosphere of political activism and civic involvement not only among that class of USC students directly involved in political studies or organizations, but the entire mass of all USC students who have the slightest inkling of an interest in how the affairs of Mankind are managed.

I propose to do this, in general, by increasing PSA support for and outreach to USC’s various political student organizations, (PSA is already excellent at this, so why not expand it?) bringing in yet more and more fascinating speakers from politics, academia, bureaucracy, business, nonprofits, media, and all politically-important sectors, and most importantly, expanding the number and quality of opportunities for USC students to participate in political dialogue and discussion in public. The Unruh Institute and PSA do a good job with this already, with their Students Talk Back panel series and other various panels they do throughout the year. But there are many, many more opportunities we could take advantage of. In particular, I’ve been tossing around ideas of conducting an intercollegiate student roundtable conference on international politics not unlike those held annually at the United States military service academies, holding a temporary-party-based student congress to discuss domestic American politics and policy issues, and holding annual public debates on hot-button issues between student organizations soliciting one side or the other- for example, debates between the Palestinian and Israeli students associations, between pro-Life and pro-Choice groups, etc. And underlying this all must be an increasing collaboration with those various institutions of political study aforementioned, for their resources are, for our present purposes, literally infinite. It is for the ambitious to seize them, and if our administration will not take advantage of these low-hanging fruits, it is all the better that we will.

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There are those who dream of utopias in the clouds, who wish dearly that politics as a concept would disappear entirely and that humans would coexist in peace, harmony, and love. But as the entire human experience suggests, it seems that that is not the case, and that politics will be there wherever there are people. It is therefore among the noblest and most applicable fields of study, one which ought to be cherished by all whom it enamors.

And a general spirit of political scholarship and activism, pumped into the USC student body so far as is possible by the grassroots efforts of a vanguard PSA and its allied student organizations, can only invigorate our greatest minds to think great things, and those slightly lesser to do even greater things. The resources are there. We need only seize them.

Moreover, such a revolution and uplifting of the political dynamism of USC can only cause USC’s politics program to ascend and take its place next to USC’s business and engineering programs. And this is precisely what is necessary for a Roman university, one whose primary strengths are those practical arts which directly contribute to the building and management of human society, to which USC ought to and does aspire.

Virgil calls us, and we must answer him. It is time we all realize the Aeneas within us, and strive to emulate his virtues and cultivate our strengths, in the name of USC, and in the service of Western Civilization. I am prepared to embark.