The Enlightened Caveman

We Have It So Good – Perspective Part 2
March 14, 2005, 5:01 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Living, Foreign Affairs

Original Post (with comments)
This country is still very much divided, unnecessarily so. Yes, there are issues about which many people disagree, and there are worthwhile opinions to be found on both sides of the divide, but the fact is that most of the fuss is manufactured by politicians who have everything to gain by pitting one side against another. Given that the political philosophies that once underpinned the Democratic and Republican parties have long since been extinct, it seems that the team mentality is driving the bus nowadays. So with roughly half the masses in Democrat jerseys and the other half in Republican jerseys, the stage is set. The politicians appeal to each team’s desire to win, to their desire to vanquish their evil competitor, and they do so by creating the appearance that, if they lose, America goes down the drain. I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Bush is ruining America!” or “The liberals are out to destroy everything this country stands for!” People, it’s time for a reality check. What follows is an email report from a guy serving in the Peace Corps in Togo (West Africa), which has been in the midst of some serious political upheaval.

Subject: A Brief Hello & Update From Togo
Hello Everybody,
Hope all is well back home in The Good (According to many these days, The Big Bad) Old US of A.. While briefly in Lome I wanted to take the time to let you all know how’s it going here.

Good news is things are relatively calm in Lome and especially throughout the country and other than a couple opposition rallies which took place past resulting in some people killed (In Lome) by the government supported military things are honestly quite safe. I’ve been back in village these past weeks continuing my work which is going very well and it’s not too surprisingly one of the safest places to be as politics don’t reach so far out as the rural bush (Not many politicians could stand a dusty and bumpy ride out to a place with no electricity and without the modern comforts). Most of the villagers can’t read Ewe or French and haven’t even got an elementary level education so the inter workings of politics are somewhat out of thought for them on many levels. What’s on our minds today? What’s going on in the Capital or what my family will eat and whether the crop is growing well to sustain us throughout the rest of the year. Answer # 2 would be more correct. This is not to say that many, especially the men, in village aren’t having a wonderful time discussing their hopes for the future with what’s recently happened.
The death of Eyadema and his 38 years of justiceless rule can make for change and a chance at democracy for these people. It is for sure a very interesting time to be in Togo and I’m learning quite a bit about African politics. Much I’m seeing and learning of these politics is very very sad and very well hidden from the outside world. One shocking thing is that Eyadema was a good friend of the French President Chirac and he has also contributed large amounts of money (Togolese money and wealth) to support Chirac’s election campaigns in France. A developed nation President taking money from a poor small country such as Togo! The last thing money should be doing is leaving this country. I am truly convinced that France continues to help destroy this country rather than help rebuild it and this is quite a sad reality. Our World Needs Way Better Leaders! I’ll have more to say on this whole thing in my next official update to you all, so stay tuned.

One thing I can propose to you in the meantime is to take the time to open your eyes and seek out to inform yourselves about what goes on around you in this world especially outside the USA (With the wide existence of the internet today this is so much easier to do). Make an effort to know what’s happening to people. The injustices and inhumanities are mindblowing and most often the world hardly ever notices! It’s quite sickening.

Take good care of yourselves and again thanks to all sending me their well wishes, love, and support. It’s great to have. Hope you enjoy the photos.

Peace Be With You,

Folks, I have a truly hard time mounting anything close to outrage about anything domestic when I read things like this. We have come so far in the US that we have completely lost perspective on what life can be like, and is for many, many people on this planet. If we could just take a step back and reflect upon how good we have it, I think we could find a way to let go of some of the team mentality. Like Chirac in the email above, our politicians are doing dispicable things in the name of leadership, and we, instead of calling them on it, brush their actions aside because the alternative is unthinkable – our team might take a beating in the next election.

After 9-11, we came together as a nation. We remembered what it really means to be an American – to live in a land where people are free to live as they choose, to live in a land where prosperity is the norm, not the exception, to live in a land where the rule of law is a given, where there is equality of opportunity the likes of which this planet has never seen. This happened because an event transpired that forced us to turn our attention away from domestic in-fighting and toward an enemy whose greatest goal is the demise of our republic. Granted, the unity was only a tad longer than the blink of an eye, but it happened, and I hope I am not being too idealistic in hoping it could happen again, but under less devastating circumstances.

As I have said before – there are two teams in this country, but they are not the Republicans and the Democrats. They are the weasels serving, nay plundering, as politicians and us, the people who are being stirred into a frenzy to take the focus off their nefarious activities. The time has come to put aside the differences that are so largely cosmetic and come to realization that Joe Lunchbucket and Jan Q. Public really aren’t that different from one another. Both want the best for their children, both hate the thought of people who are down and out, and both would rather leave politics to people with the time and inclination to do their homework. Of course, there are issues about which they will differ greatly, but those, in my view, are beside the point. Until those who represent us locally and in DC deserve the title of “civil servant,” our efforts should be aimed at replacing them.

Now I’ve been around long enough to know that what I wish for is about as likely as free elections in Iraq. Okay, bad example. As likely as a Red Sox world series. Damn. Missed again. Anyway, I can’t help but believe that it is possible to overcome the team mentality if enough opinion-makers take up the fight. It all comes down to perspective – whether gays can marry or not, there will still be enough to eat. As Thomas says, we need to open our eyes to see what’s going on around us. We need only be mindful of how good we have it to put aside the pettiness and get started on a project to take America back to the days when political disputes were in the hands of the informed, to when, liberal or conservative, being American was the most important thing . You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.

In Dire Need of Perspective
March 10, 2005, 4:59 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Living

Original Post (with comments)
I’ve spent the past five days snowboarding in Whistler, British Columbia. What a staggeringly idyllic place, even if this year’s snowfall has been only a fraction of what they usually get. As cancellation policies prevented me from choosing another destination, I resigned myself to short days on the mountains accompanied by aesthetically-inspired writing sessions. I was wrong on both accounts. It turns out that even when Whistler only has 50% of the snow it usually has, it still beats the shit out of most resorts – it’s huge. So I spent as much time as possible on the slopes. And the writing, well, they didn’t have high-speed internet in my condo. Really.

I actually had to walk 10 minutes to an Internet Cafe to get connected. That oppressive burden was enough to prevent me from spending anything but the bare minimum amount of time in front of my laptop. Instead, I investigated the temporal limits of what is known as the apres-ski, but not without a bit of underlying indignation at being forced upon such a task. It wasn’t my fault. Really. And now that I’m home and jacked in wirelessly (ahh, that’s more like it), I can take a step back.

It’s amazing how quickly we Americans get used to things, and it’s even more amazing how irritated we often get when proceedings deviate from the new norm. How could such an obviously planned and well laid-out village such as Whistler not be blanketed in Hot Spots? The nerve of some people. But as trivial (and absurd) as my whining is, I think it points to a larger trend in this country. It seems that American culture promotes a tendency to regularly recalibrate expectations about how life should unfold. As they say in the world of finance – past performance is no guarantee of future returns. In fact, the past is becoming more and more irrelevant every day.

Think of all of the ads that gently bombard us throughout the day. They’re all about the future, the better future, the one that is only a truckload of products and services away. Want something now, but can’t afford it? No problem. No interest till 2006. Want to be thin? In just a few short weeks, with the right book, diet, meal-plan, and/or pill, no problem. Still paying for your past mistakes? It’s not your fault. Don’t beat yourself up. The future is about second chances. It’s about third, fourth, and fifth chances. Chin up. Tomorrow is a new day…provided you drink enough coffee. The rat race moves forward, always forward, and faster, always faster. In its path, it leaves the tattered remains of perspective.

It’s not that we need aspire to be active historians, holding candlelight vigils for the “best of 1997.” We need only widen the lens through which we view our lives, and this is hard at high speeds. Moving at a fast pace necessarily requires focus. Going a mile at a walk, we can take in the scenery. We can see the details of our surroundings, and if we look close enough, we can often see what’s come before. We can get a feel for how far things have progressed. Going the same mile at 60 mph offers us no such opportunity. We have to keep our attention mostly forward – to navigate, make necessary course corrections, and to avoid obstacles. There’s simply no time for taking it all in. Our lens is too narrow. The same is true in life, but here lies a dilemma – what do we do?

The obvious, but, in my view, incorrect answer, is to simply drop out, to get off the wheel, to quit the rat race. This is certainly the cure for the perspective problem, but it often brings with it the kind of scenery that doesn’t make much use of a wide-angle lens. Yes, you can despise the rampant consumerism that, perhaps more than anything else, regrettably defines this country today, but I don’t know how you can reject it without hopping from the frying pan into the fire. The fact is that life in this country can be as blissful as it can be anywhere on the planet. You can shape your environment in any way you like, and you can surround yourself with wonderful, like-minded people, even if you’re a total wackjob. But – there’s always a but – there is a direct correlation between the degree to which you can manipulate your environment and the amount of money you have.

These are the kinds of statements that prompt outrage in some people. Hands will wave and dust will fly at the injustice of it all. But as David Hume warned, it is a mistake to confuse what we want with what is. So, while others will reject the rat race out of hand, I think we should accept it and endeavor to get what we want out of it…without getting sucked in too far. Our harbor in the storm is perspective, and it works in two ways.
First of all, perspective is what allows us to realize that we have it good. I try to step outside myself and view my world with a wide lens. I try to remember that, in pure prosperity terms, I have it better than 99.99% of the humans that have ever lived. You do, too. We have come an amazingly long way, baby. Items that were once only available to the tippy top of the upper crust are now household items for most everyone. Not so long ago, a trip to Whistler, BC from Atlanta would have taken weeks, not hours, and I’d have had to either plan my trip months and months in advance or hope for the best when I got out there. Nevertheless, we curse the gods when we have to take our shoes off to go through security and we fly into fits of rage when our cell phones drop calls. It’s pathetic, really. Life has never been so comfortable for humans, and while the information age makes me keenly aware of what the other guy has, I try to remember that there is always more. You can always be richer, more powerful, better looking, smarter, and so on, which brings me to the second thing we get from perspective.

When we take a step back, it becomes easier to see that there is a very real point of diminishing returns with respect to the rat race. Not only do we recognize that we have it seriously good; we recognize that it may not be much better if we get what the rat race directors are pushing on us. Books like Gregg Easterbrook’s, The Progress Paradox, and Barry Schwartz’s, The Paradox of Choice, make it clear that increasing prosperity is not bringing a corresponding rise in individual happiness. (FYI – I generally disagree with both authors’ conclusions. However, their statement of the problem makes sense to me.) That means that, at some point, good is good enough. Though our caveman minds will urge us to keep chugging along the wheel (anything to keep up with the Joneses), perspective is what allows us to determine when every extra turn is a waste of time and a distraction from what really matters in life. The only folks I would exempt from this are the folks who should be covering the world with wireless high-speed internet. Just a couple more turns, fellas.

Consumerism – Status Gone Haywire

Original Post (with comments)
The last post prompted some back and forth discussion regarding the legitimacy of the Enlightened Caveman concept. I hold that there is a duality between what our genes were designed for and want and what we as conscious, sentient beings want. I also believe that the best approach to life entails having the latter control the former. But some seem to think that the more the latter controls the former, the more the world looks like a Vegas version of Pottery Barn. It’s as if the enlightenment is getting us nowhere. Well, folks I’m here to tell you that this is not enlightenment. This is caveman 101, and, if anything, it proves my point beyond dispute.

I’ve been talking lately about appearances. Why? Not because I’m obsessed with the topic, but because it has everything to do with how our world is unfolding. The idea that one should be aware of his or her appearance delta is what is known in the software development world as a work-around – it’s the best you can do with the situation. Ideally, as the world becomes more rational, and less caveman, the need to be aware of an appearance delta diminishes. Just like it is no longer socially acceptable to utter the “N” word in any city with more than 250,000 people, so should it be no longer acceptable to judge a book by its cover, to automatically cut slack to someone because they are physically, or better yet, viscerally appealing to you, or to do the opposite when someone does not make it over your bar. But to operate as if things were already this way would be foolish. It would be failing to recognize reality.

Like it or not, our genes are in command in the public at large, and this explains the Wal-Martification of America. Appearances also, particularly what we want others to think of us, play a crucial role in shaping our goals in life. It’s all about buying big stuff, expensive stuff, but it’s not our fault. Today’s mass-media world provides the general public with the most insidious of insights – what the other guy has. Everyone watches TV, and TV is a barrage of what the other guy has, the life the other guy leads, the car the other guy drives, and on and on. Conservative parrots will cry about how the growth of government has created the crisis that is the two-career home – the tax burden is so high that the wife, the one who used to be able to stay home with the kids, now has to work full time to make ends meet. The truth is that today’s families have an expectation of two $30,000 cars, private school for the kids, expensive yearly vacations, second homes, and all manner of gadgetry and conveniences, and all that costs a heck of lot more than the necessities of the 70’s. And why would they want so much? Cause that’s what the other guy has, and now they know it. The caveman is but a moth to the flame when it comes to what the other guy has.

Status, status, status. In caveman days, you had to be in the upper echelon if you expected to snag a mate…or lunch. That meant you paid close attention to what the folks with food and mates had and were doing, and you followed suit. And here we are, tens of thousands of years later, and nothing has changed. Well, something has changed – the smarts we used to master our environment eventually bit us in the ass. When we were tribal people, all we knew was our immediate environment. We knew where we stood. We paid attention to the folks with status, and we worked at moving up, but we knew where the top was and we knew, fairly well, how close we could get to it. But when we became more explosed to the outside world, when we started to find out that the guy at the top of our particular hierarchy was nothing, that the pinnacle was much higher, all hell broke loose. Things went from a local contest to a national contest quick, and the caveman is still reeling.

The quest for status, more than anything else, is driving consumerism. We want the big things, the expensive things, but we only have so much money. That means we economize wherever we can on the little things – we go to Wal-Mart. Capitalism, the best but not perfect economic system, is always replete with suppliers for demand such as this, even if the profit motive pushes them to exploitation. What we save at Wal-Mart, we spend on what the other guy has. But every time we make another purchase, we watch another show on TV. We see another guy. Suddenly, the DVD isn’t enough. Now, it’s gotta be the plasma TV. And if we can’t afford it, fucking finance it! There are all these nice people mailing us cards that tell us how we can borrow more than the value of our home because we have good jobs. Jobs that we never leave, cause if we do, it’s time to pay up. And what would people think? But why do we have to have all this garbage? Why do we have to worry about what people think? Status.
It feels good. Every time we get what the other guy has, and he notices, this calm comes over our tormented by TV caveman psyche. Our genes are saying, ahh, we’re that much closer to the top, that much more assured of our persistence for another generation. So, I cannot side with the idea that it is our culture that has created this plastic world. It is the very essence of our nature that is pushing us in the wrong direction. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that life is not about what the other guy has. But it takes an enlightened caveman to recognize that a big part of him will never accept it.

And lest anyone think me an anti-corporate type – we need not rail against Wal-Mart for satisfying our caveman desires. Just as the drug war makes no sense because it is focused on demand, so is our indignation misplaced if we insist that companies that cater to our archaic side are the problem. We must simply endeavor to understand our “shallow” side so that we may harness it and retool consumer demand to complement what makes sense in life. It happens one person at a time. One conversation at a time.

Robitussin and the Gauche Theory of Mind
February 22, 2005, 4:51 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Living, Hijinks

Original Post (with comments)
Sorry for the absence – the guy who never gets a flu shot cause he never gets sick got the freaking flu, and I do not handle sickness well. On a scale of 1 to 10, I operate between a 9 and a 10 pretty much every day. So, on the ultra-rare occasion that I fall ill, I bitch and moan and wail as if I’m on my third week of chemo. I act like, as the Scots would say, a big Jessie. Fortunately for all involved, thanks to my superior immune system, I kicked that avian-borne nuisance as fast as it hit me. I’m back. Not full speed yet, but getting there.

Anyhow, as I was lying in bed yesterday (trying to match the pitch of my moan to the droning humidifier), my wife came rambling through the room and we spoke for a moment. This and that, nothing in particular, but she didn’t ask me how I was feeling. She didn’t ask how I was feeling!

That bitch!

Instantly, resentment washed over me. Sure, go on about your business and ignore the infirm. Wait’ll it’s your turn, honey. Ahh, the vindictive hue of the Robitussin-induced delirium. How could it slip her mind that she should be inquiring as to my status? Didn’t she know what was on my mind? Didn’t she know that the central theme on my giant movie screen was my own decrepit condition, complete with moan track in Sony Digital Audio? Acknowledge, please. Anyone? Anyone? Bitch. Bitch. Biiiiiii….

I moaned myself to sleep and forgot about it until today. But now, hovering at around a 6 (an 8, if I sit perfectly still), I am able to take a mental and emotional step back, and something has dawned on me. It seems like some of my smoothest moves have come by acting upon mistaken impressions of what either was or was not on the mind of whomever I was interacting with. Though this falls under the general heading of misunderstanding, it isn’t the miscommunication kind; it’s what I’d call a gauche theory of mind problem.

Theory of mind, in this case, is understanding that other people have their own plans, thoughts, and points of view. So, if you have a gauche theory of mind, you have a tendency toward, shall we say, less than polished social behavior. You get that people have their own picture of the world, your perception of exactly (or even remotely) what that picture is just comes in a little fuzzy. In my recent time of need, I clumsily assumed that the all-consuming role of my symptoms extended well beyond the confines of my body. Get within the zone, and your mind, like mine, should be instantly preoccupied with my condition. And if you don’t act accordingly, well screw you.

Now, I’ll admit, this is pretty childish. That’s why it’s a good thing I don’t get sick often. I was pushing the envelope snagging my wife to begin with. But this notion of a gauche theory of mind, when it persists over an extended period of time, explains quite a bit of what we see all around us. Just watch the preliminaries of American Idol or just about any reality show and it’s on parade. We marvel at people who so misconstrue their reflection in the minds of others. They perceive themselves manifestly beautiful or talented or popular when in fact they are no such thing. In fact, this brings up an interesting by-product of the phenomenon – other people notice it, cringe, but can’t take their eyes away. And the news is?

This realization, obvious as it may seem, brings me back to the idea that we are well served if we familiarize ourselves with the somewhat universal baselines for acceptance in social situations. But, perhaps of equal importance, is being familiar with the notion that the bar is different in different places. These poor American Idol hopefuls, we may assume, enjoy insulated spheres of acceptance where they live, acceptance that they mistakenly ascribe to the wider swath of the general public. How many alligator tears would be saved if these youngsters were served a heaping helping of, “You may be great in Pascagoula, but that says nothing about how you’ll do in the City of Angels”? It doesn’t mean you quit, it just means you come to grips with how much work you have to do. Then you decide if you want to chip away at it. Believe it or not, our days here are numbered. But the American Idol syndrome is but one example of a gauche theory of mind.

How about the self-important among us? Are they not ascribing their own commanding presence upon our big screens? Are they not disturbed when we don’t respond accordingly? This must be the hardest thing to handle for celebrities. In their case, the bar is exactly where they think it is; it’s just higher than they think it is, at least when they find themselves in the midst of folks who don’t extrapolate what they’re famous for to other areas of measurability. So you celebs out there, I feel ya. Here’s a tip: You may be great in the City of Angels, but that says nothing about how you’ll do in Pascagoula.

Now why should I go to so much trouble to state the obvious? An evening of Robitussin and Coke. Salut.

I Fight Authority…Authority Always Wins…OK, Not Always
January 31, 2005, 4:33 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Living, Hijinks

Original Post (with comments)
One of my close friends, a cycling buddy, is what I would call a born contrarian. He has a knack for putting his finger in the wind, determining which way it’s blowing, and then concluding that we should ride into it, not with it. If there’s a mainstream trend brewing, he’s aware of it early, and he hates it long before it ever makes it to prime-time TV. That’s his personality, and it makes him a cutting edge, cool guy to be around. I’m more of a self-made contrarian.

Given the choice to follow the crowd or make my own way, I’ll always prefer to make my own way unless…I don’t perceive an agenda or a lemming-like mass movement mentality. (Sometimes, the masses are right. Not too often, but sometimes.) In any case, these are, in my view, the two primary reasons why erroneous and/or worthless ideas get traction in our society. Erroneous ideas, like what is fashionably and musically in, are great examples. In so many cases, those who have authority in our culture, celebrities, set the agenda. They do something out of the ordinary and whamo, a new fad emerges. But hey, it’s cool to be different, so the lemmings get on board, only to ultimately end up being carbon copies of one another. Fortunately, the harm done here is purely aesthetic, for the most part. Agenda-driven ideas, on the other hand, do considerable harm.

Take, for example, the global warming debate. In case you missed it (click here), the recent evolution versus creationism debate veered off into this territory. My argument is that there is a vast conspiracy among academics to support the notion of human induced global warming. This is because the issue is so far from definitive that the political aspect of the debate has clouded the judgement of many reputable scientists. As we all know, academia is replete with left-wingers. In short, there is an agenda behind this fraud. I, therefore, despite the arguments of my critics that those in authority cannot all be wrong, dissent.

The point of this is to suggest that we are ill-advised to take the word of so-called authority figures simply because they are “reputable.” This is nothing more than the “question authority” concept. To say that something such as human induced global warming is true because a preponderance of credible academics say it is is to stand at the precipice of a slope that is dripping with 30-weight motor oil. Once you use this rationale to buy into something, you’re far more likely to do it again and again. But, given the obsession of this blog, I would argue that there is a genetic component to this.

We are driven to pursue status in our interpersonal endeavors. This makes us particularly vulnerable to being duped by those who have it. Given the choice between believing an idea put forth by someone we believe to have high status and believing an idea put forth by someone with questionable status, our genes will push us to the former. This is true when it comes to everything from religion to politics to economics, but it need not be this way.

I am a constant advocate of critical rationalism because I think it gets us out from under this problem. We have to consciously choose to put our status-oriented biases aside and consider matters in critically in terms of evidence. And we also have to be aware that our best efforts at objectivity can still be confounded by our caveman emotions. That’s why it is so key that we understand them – what they were designed to get us to do and how we can go about compensating for them. From this emerges the self-made contrarian, the one who thinks about the mass mind as flawed and not to be trusted, the one who rides against the wind, not with it.

Airplane Chatter and the Bar of Belief
January 23, 2005, 4:29 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Living, Philosophy

Original Post (with comments)
I very rarely get chatty with people on airplanes. I am generally nose down in a book or I’m crashed. But this afternoon, for some reason, I got to talking with the guy next to me, and we ended up talking for the entire 80 or so minutes we were in the air. He noticed that I was reading (still reading – it’s taking forever, for some reason) Susan Jacoby’s, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, so he asked what secularism was. I never got the guy’s name, so we’ll call him Jimbo (He seemed like a Jimbo to me.).

Jimbo said that he watches “The O’Reilly Factor” and that O’Reilly regularly talks about the war between Judeo Christians and the secularists. He said he’d been wondering what it was and that, since I had a book on it, he figured he’d ask me. So, I explained to him what it meant to be a secularist, and I expressed that I thought O’Reilly’s fear that a secular world would be a moral vacuum was overblown. I really expected him to be a Christian, but Jimbo said he wasn’t religious, that he just concentrated on being a good person. My kind of guy. So we proceeded to discuss all kinds of topics, and it quickly became apparent to me that Jimbo was two things:

  1. An alcoholic
  2. Not very discriminating in determining what he believes

I counted five beers on the short ride from Atlanta to Memphis. Now, far be it from me to call someone an alcoholic without cause, but five beers in 80 minutes by yourself on a Sunday night before a work day raises a red flag. Then, after I explained that my wife is in the medical field, he went on to reveal that his doctor told him he has a fatty liver. Yikes – that’s the condition that precedes cirrhosis. Anyhow, it was Jimbo’s reaction to this news (“Doc says I should stop drinking, but I don’t really drink that much.”), along with his comments about several other things that led me to believe that he believes what is comforting to him, rather than what makes sense.

For example, Jimbo only drinks “purified water.” He says it is “ionized, deionized” (whatever that means). Jimbo says it means they inject extra oxygen into it, which, as everyone knows, is good for you. I asked Jimbo what made him think that was better. I asked him what he thought the primary oxygen in-take mechanism in the human body is. He correctly noted that it was the mouth and the nose. OK, Jimbo, after that. He looked a little puzzled so I helped him out. It’s the lungs, buddy. The blood that courses around the lungs is picking up oxygen. The blood cruising around the stomach isn’t worried about oxygen, I said. One thing I really liked about Jimbo was that he didn’t ever feign certainty. To my comments, he just said, well maybe there’s something else going on there. Wisdom comes out of nowhere sometimes.

Jimbo also told me that he has been doing a lot of reading (on the internet) about homeopathic medicine. He explained that pharma companies aren’t interested in curing anyone because it cuts into their profits. As I happen to consult in the pharma industry, I took the opportunity to probe a bit further. It seems that Vitamin C is the cure for cancer, but the drug companies have managed to successfully keep that information from the public. So, I asked Jimbo how he came to find out this well-guarded secret. He said he just looked around on the internet. So, I asked why he thought Rathergate exploded through the internet while the cure for cancer sat there, with very little public awareness. He just gave me a quizzical look. I told him that I believe that the personal benefits that await any individual associated with curing cancer would render the cure all but inconcealable. Quizzical again, he said, “Yeah, I guess it’s really hard to know what’s true and what’s not.” There’s that wisdom again.

When we initially started talking, talking about religion, I explained that believing in religion is expensive, because it forces people to go to a lot of trouble to live a certain way, a way that does not come exactly naturally. I said that if I was going to buy in, it’d take a lot of convincing. He was on board with that. So, as the plane was about to land, I remarked to him that just about any belief has a cost, and that some of things we’d discussed have very serious ones (He said he didn’t have much use for regular doctors, especially the one who told him about his fatty liver.). I think he agreed with this, at least in principle. As we parted ways, I asked Jimbo to promise me that, if he ever got cancer, he’d see a doctor AND eat his vitamin C. He smiled and nodded his head as he walked into the bar to catch the last two minutes of the Atlanta/Philly game. Nice guy. Misled, but nice.

As I walked on, all I could wonder was how many Jimbos are out there. How many really cool, really friendly, really ethical people are saddled with an inability to tell truth from fiction? How many people have the best of intentions, the discipline to do what’s right, but lack the wisdom to know when their minds are choosing ideas that give them the illusion of control in a chaotic world. (Vitamin C? Purified water?) Whatever the number, it’s too high. My quest is enlightenment for the Jimbos of the world. I wonder if he’ll think about what we talked about. I know I did.

Life, Einstein, and Texas Hold Em
January 15, 2005, 4:23 pm
Filed under: Enlightened Living, Hijinks, My Theories

Having been in Las Vegas for the week on business, my mind has been swirling around gambling. Something occurred to me as I was watching some folks play cards in the MGM Grand. Actually, as my main objective was to get a bit loose, I was trying to do the math on which was the better financial move – dropping $10 a drink every half hour or losing money gambling while getting free drinks. This kind of absurd contemplation is not abnormal for me – I often don’t realize it’s happening until something shakes me from it. This time, it happened when I realized that there are insights to be found in thinking about life as a hand of Texas Hold Em poker (hereafter simply referred to as “poker”).

I’ll admit up front that this analogy is limited in its reach, however, the similarities are actually pretty interesting. In “poker,” players are dealt two cards face down. Think of those as genes. Then, the dealer proceeds to reveal three cards, known as the flop. Then another card, the turn, and then a final card, the river, are revealed. The flop, the turn, and the river are communal cards, so players combine any three of them with their two cards to make a hand of poker. In between each of these revelations, players have the opportunity to bet on their hand, even though they don’t know the outcome until they see the river card. Think of communal cards as the environment. So, essentially, the object of the game is for players to play their two cards in conjunction with the right combination of communal cards to win the hand. Here we see stark parallels between “poker” and life.

The first and most dramatic similarity is this – even if you start out with the best two cards available (two aces, for example), it’s still possible to lose. On the other hand (forgive the pun), you can start out with what appears to be nothing (say, a two of hearts and a four of clubs) and end up winning. Such is life. But before we get too far, maybe it’s worth considering what it means to win.

In poker, there’s no confusion about this. In life, however, not so. To some people, a lot of people, winning means getting rich or becoming powerful. To others, winning is being well liked. To still others, winning means nothing more than not losing. To me, winning means spending as much time as possible living the good life, which is living a life inspired by love, guided by knowledge, and free from unnecessary constraints. The love and knowledge part, which is the most uncommon of common sense, comes from Bertrand Russell (“What I Believe,” essay from 1925. Now found in Why I Am Not A Christian, Touchstone, 1957). The freedom from unnecessary constraint part comes from me.

I believe people erect all sorts of mental barriers to their enjoyment of life. They buy into social pressures and unreasonable traditions without fully examining them, which dramatically reduces their assessment of the options available to them. Take, for example, the notion that you must have a 9-5 job to be responsible. It is a rare case indeed for someone who chooses an “unorthodox” career to not be inundated with warnings and disapproving advice from people who supposedly have their best interests at heart. And these are the few who make it over the barrier. We’ll never know how many aspire to, but do not. But this is about “poker.”

Suppose you’re dealt two aces right from the start. This would be the equivalent of being born with natural talent and/or good looks. But in life, just as in poker, the environment ultimately tells the tale. You can be very smart and/or good looking and it will amount to nothing if you’re born into poverty in a place where upward mobility is all but impossible. In poker, two aces will end up yielding a measly pair if the communal cards don’t work with them. (It’s such a letdown to see 3,5,7,9,10 when you start out with such a bang.) But sometimes, you can start with nada and come out on top.

Say you’re dealt a two of clubs and five of hearts. This isn’t encouraging. Many people will fold, which is not at all insignificant. In life, it’s easy to fall prey to the idea that winners are winners because they’ve had it good from the start. Sure, this is the case sometimes. But, especially in America, how you start out has a lot less influence than what you do with what you’ve got.

In “poker,” with a two and a five, if the flop shows three fives, you’ve got yourself four of a kind, regardless of what happens with the turn and the river. It’s very likely that you’re going to win, even though you started with pretty much nothing. Oh, if life could be so easy. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes it is, sometimes, for some people. But, usually, life comes with the following sinister complication: you may indeed have a winning hand (that is, your genes and the environment in which they find themselves), yet you may never enjoy the fruits of it. This is where the limitations of this analogy begin to reveal themselves. Luckily, however, other poker games offer the opportunity to further mix some already slightly pureed metaphors.

In Texas Hold Em, at least from what I’ve seen, after the river card is shown, you reveal your cards and it’s obvious who has won. If it isn’t, the dealer makes the call. But there are some poker games, like seven card stud, where you have to proclaim what you have in your hand. If you mistake what you have, you can lose, even if your cards are better than anyone else’s. As a silly example, if you claim three of a kind when you have a full house, you’ll get beat if someone has something better than your three of a kind, even if it won’t beat a full house. This is a lot like life.
I’ve known so many people with wonderful talents and attributes who didn’t recognize them because they were focused on the talents and attributes they didn’t have. Far from making the best of the cards in their hand, they spent their time lamenting that they did not have the cards they wanted. And in those occasional moments of truth, they looked down at their cards and saw a pair when they had a straight. They acted accordingly…and lost, which means they failed to realize their aspirations (which were misplaced to begin with). It needn’t have been this way.

The value of the poker analogy (strained as it is in places) is that we can infer two very practical rules about winning at life. The first is simple – it aint over till the last card is overturned. Things may not start out pretty, but that doesn’t mean we’re destined to lose. From this, we derive determination and hope. Conversely, if we start out with all the cards, we should take care not to assume that we will still have all the cards when the chips are pulled from the middle of the table. From this, we learn humility and an appreciation for accomplishment. The second big takeaway is a mandate of sorts.

In the card game of life, we must play the cards in our hand, not anyone else’s. We must play them; we cannot allow them to play us. Our environment will, in many cases, be beyond our control. Our best chances for winning come from working with it, not against it. Therefore, we must make the most of our cards, which, more than anything else, requires us to see them for what they are. If we start with a five and a two off-suit (or bushy eyebrows, crazy hair, and an ostensible inability to mentally focus on anything for long), we can’t be shooting for a royal flush (or a life on the red carpet). It will never happen, so any communal cards that offer false hope to that end must be ignored – better to see our cards for what they are and be on the lookout for communal cards that compliment them. Einstein produced some of his most remarkable work as a patent clerk in Switzerland. Had he lamented that a teaching position was not in his cards, he may not have had the motivation or energy to dwell on the toughest questions that have ever faced mankind. Instead, he exploited his environment to make the most of his extraordinary genes, and we are all the better for it.

As for me, I took a seat at the bar. The cards in my hand were shaped like dollar bills and I didn’t have enough of them to risk my buzz on bad luck. Such is life in pursuit of the option

Hope, Despair, and the Need to Believe – An Argument for Reason
January 7, 2005, 4:21 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Living, Philosophy, Science

Original Post (with comments)
I want to follow up on a comment about the post from two days ago. Michael Gersh (of Zero Base Thinking fame), has this to say about the opinions of many of secularists who come off more as anti-religious than agnostic:

Maybe I have missed something here, but isn’t religion, or at least the need to believe in that which we have no logical answer for, hard wired into the human brain, by the same forces of evolution that shaped the rest of our ouvre? Smug secularists posting here might believe themselves to be above this basic human need, but I think that this is a distinction without a difference. While many so-called rationalists might disbelieve the Bible’s miracles, they merely believe in something else. Maybe global warming, or other environmental belief, that Michael Crichton has so presciently perceived as akin to religious belief. Maybe it is some sort of overreliance of other human constructs, such as the social contract, or even the supremacy of rationality itself.

None of us are immune to this human tendency to believe in some specific explanation for an essentially unknown, and perhaps unknowable condition.

I don’t think we necessarily have an inherent need to believe in the inexplicable so much as we have a hard-wired need to explain our environment, if for no other reason than to connect cause with effect. Before we can associate a certain set of conditions with a certain outcome, we have to be able to identify and categorize what we perceive. If a caveman witnesses the mauling of a fellow tribesman by a lion, his mind notes the existence of a furry and ferocious entity. It then categorizes it as an entity that can kill humans. The next time he sees one, even if it looks a little different (perhaps it’s female and the first was a male), he will generalize that he is in danger. This is key mental adaptation for survival, one that is well distributed throughout the animal kingdom. But with humans, there is a layer of cognition that does not come installed in the brains of our animal brethren. This is where the belief problem comes from.

In my view, non-human animals, though driven by emotion, are supremely rational in their perception of their environment – water is wet, always. They cannot be otherwise. Humans, however, have the free will to choose to interpret their world irrationally. A human can decide that a cobra is not dangerous, even when his animal emotions drive him to act as if is. Though this free will undoubtedly serves us well, it has a downside. We can fall victim to false hope.

In a paper called, “The Evolution of Hope and Despair,” University of Michigan professor of psychiatry and psychology, Randolph Nesse, lays out the idea that hope and despair are simply emotions driven by our appraisals of whether or not our environment will favor or disfavor the realization of our goals. Like other emotions, they serve to drive us to do things that will keep us alive long enough to reproduce. They are sort of the uber-assessors of our surroundings. If we find ourselves in circumstances that bode well for us, we have hope, so we stick around. Alternatively, if our circumstances look grim, we feel despair, which pushes us to change our situation. But what happens when we cannot explain our environment? What happens when we have no categories for the phenomena we witness?

As an absurd example, suppose a caveman stumbles upon a spaceship. Neither he nor any of his tribesmen have ever seen anything even remotely like it, so they are perplexed, to say the least. But uncertainty does not make for decisive action, which, in harsh times, is an utter necessity. Indeed, in a heated competition for survival, prolonged contemplation of the unknown is often a grave mistake. Conclusions must be drawn so that decisions can be made. The human mind, given the choice between choosing an explanation for the unknown, even if it’s a bad one, and choosing to leave the matter unsettled, will, therefore, choose an explanation. But how?

Our rational animal perceptions will provide us with competing explanations for what we observe. Then, we will decide which one to believe – by choosing the one that offers the most hope. Just as we’re emotionally drawn to situations that give us the warm, fuzzy feeling in our stomachs, so are we drawn to hopeful situations. So, while I’m not prepared to say that we have inherent need to believe in irrational things, I will say that our need to explain our world coupled with our attraction to hopeful situations sets us up to fall victim to irrationalism, and not just with respect to religion.

The lottery is one of the ultimate examples of false hope. We’ve all seen poor people in line at convenience stores spending money that would more intelligently be spent elsewhere on scores of quick picks and scratch-off games. In fact, on more than one occasion, I’ve heard people say, “When I win the lottery, I’m going to…..” Now, it’s one thing to say this in jest; it’s quite another to believe it. Many people really do, and this is a shame because I am convinced that this false hope removes much of the necessity to recognize reality for what it is and to act accordingly.
It is a fact of life that many people are born into terrible circumstances. Those who rise above them are the ones who see and accept their plight for what it is. This acceptance is the first step in determining how to overcome whatever impedes their achievement of their aims. False hope blurs reality and fosters inaction, or worse yet, useless action. The same is true of irrationality.

I think there are two types of secularists – the ones who apply rationality to all things, including religion, and the ones who happen to be rational about religion, but have no particular allegiance to it in other matters. I am one of the former. Michael, I think the smug secularists you refer to would find themselves among the latter. In any case, there is one staggeringly straight forward fix for the problems that come from the need to explain and the attraction to hope. It is called critical rationalism.

We start by admitting that we can be certain about nothing. Nothing. Then, we decide to put everything into one of three categories – things we believe, things we do not believe, and things we choose to leave unsettled. To determine what we believe and what we do not believe, we demand evidence, and we favor evidence that disproves assertions over evidence that proves assertions (since we can never really prove anything). We weigh the evidence for possible explanations and decide what to believe and disbelieve, and when the evidence is not compelling one way or another, we abstain. We are not cavemen, which means ambiguity is not dangerous for us. We do not have to act or die. This means that we can (and must) become comfortable with uncertainty. If we are successful at being critically rational, we are immuned from the perils of false hope and irrationality. But rationalism for the hope-addicted mind does not always come easy.

At the end of the day, each of us must decide how we will think. If we do not, we will vacillate opportunistically between rationality and irrationality – invoking either one based upon personal convenience. But deciding to be rational at all times is like deciding to be nice all the time. It’s an aim, an intention. We will, from time to time, falter. However, as long as we recognize the value of rationality, we will get back up and keep moving forward. That’s life. It’s best if we focus on our own journey and leave the arrogance to the certain, who always learn sooner or later that nothing is certain.

Musing on Logical Consequences and the Absence of Religion
January 4, 2005, 4:11 pm
Filed under: Enlightened Living, Philosophy

Original Post (with comments)
Some people, and I am one of them, have so internalized rationality that we carry out the logical consequences of what unfolds before us in everyday life. This is a good thing and a bad thing, mostly good. On the bad side, it is easy to get distracted by playing out scenarios in your head – you can easily miss the big picture. However, good discernment skills (that is, being good at separating the important from the unimportant) can easily nullify this problem. On the good side, being the “logical consequence” type affords one an infinite amount of practice at prognostication.

Just sitting on a sidewalk observing a city, you can find countless things to observe and predict, especially if you’ve seen most of them before. You see a guy backing up from a news stand and a woman hustling along looking for a cab, and you predict that they will collide. If they do, check, you were right. If they don’t, your mind determines the reason and then catalogs it for future consideration. Maybe this sounds like its bordering on OCD, but I can assure that it happens to me with no effort whatsoever. I watch my 14-month old walk (he’s still pretty sketchy) and feel myself cringing as he approaches an obstacle that I know he’s not accounted for. Down he goes. I’m not conscious of what my mind is doing until I feel my shoulder muscles tightening up to my neck. Logic, I think, can often be used in the same way to predict human behavior, especially considering the evolutionary history we all share.

By considering the social nature of the human animal, we can make interesting predictions about hypothetical scenarios. Betrand Russell once asked what would happen if we could all suddenly read each other’s minds. After a time painful disillusionment, he predicted that we’d eventually have to accept each other for who we were, warts and all. This is because the alternative would be living a solitary existence. Sounds about right to me. Humans don’t do well with loneliness and will do most anything to avoid it. (I love the part in Isaac Asimov’s, I Robot, where in comparing the robots to humans, he mentions that they almost instinctively crowd together in the dark. Such insight.) What else can we learn from our nature?
Suppose all religion (not spirituality) was suddenly gone from the world. What would happen? Would humans fall into mass moral depravity, inevitably destroying the environment, and killing each other off? There are many who would say yes. In fact, this is one of the chief arguments against secularism. Just today, Dennis Prager penned a column entitled, “Better Answers: The Case for Judeo-Christian Values” (Read It). He is apparently embarking upon a quest to make a rational case for Biblical values, making sure to contrast them with other available value systems. (Good luck, Denny – brighter minds have failed time and again.) He claims that secularism was responsible for the horrors of Nazism and Communism. Aside from the fact that a major component of the anti-semitic sentiment in Germany had its roots in the belief that the Jews killed Christ, the notion that secularism was to blame is preposterous.

Secularism is nothing more than the absence of belief in superstition and the irrational. If anything, it was secularism (via the use of reason), much more than religion, that made a stand against communism. It was the simple acknowledgement of the fact that the communist ideology results in massive human oppression, death, and unhappiness that stirred men to resist it…with force. And I think rationality would accomplish just as much in the absence of religion.

Once again, humans are social creatures. We are genetically programmed to cooperate and seek the approval of those we admire. This, in conjunction with the quest for status, is sufficient to order human society, and it was doing a fine job long before religion ever came along and co-opted, codified, and extended the social rules created by the notion of safety in numbers. Groups of early hominids that adopted rules of morality simply fared better than groups that did not. Over time, the socially forward-thinking emerged as the winners by default – there were no hominids left but humans. If religion is all that stands between us and the decline of civilization, then someone needs to explain how mankind even made it to the inception of monotheism. Oh, that’s right. Our creation signaled the emergence of the one true God. Isn’t that convenient? Myths aside, by current accounts, we should have killed ourselves off millennia ago. No, the golden rule and all its accoutrements are merely elaborations on the concept of reciprocal altruism, a concept that we are wired to make work. And so we would in the absence of organized religion. But perhaps not without a bit of adjustment time.

The logical consequence of the absence of religion, admittedly, may very well be the immediate presence of a moral vacuum. Just as a mind reading population would initially recoil at the thoughts of their contemporaries, it’s fair to say that our society may indeed see an initial decline in morality. But, just as human nature would come to rescue in the case of mind readers, so would it in the absence of religion. Pragmatism would take over, and logic is the preferred tool of the pragmatist. Contrary to what religious apologists would say, the rules of social conduct would quickly avail themselves. Most of us would avoid stealing, killing, raping, or cheating because it simply doesn’t make sense to do so, like some do now. Others would avoid those behaviors because of fear of social consequences (which, of course, would include punishment), like most do now. Still others, those who occupy the outer fringes of the bell curve, would operate sociopathically, as all do now. But the social order would emerge – it’s in our blood. And it would likely be a great deal better than the social rule set with which we currently find ourselves shackled.

In a way, the social rules of a rational, non-dogmatic society would resemble the invisible hand in economics – non-coerced, distributed, self-centered decision-making that resulted in the overall good of society. Indeed, religion is not unlike socialism or communism in that it centralizes the decision-making of the masses, forcing them to conform to the system or risk great peril. So, for my part, when I imagine the logical consequences of a world without religion, I am not disturbed at all. I am heartened. Alas, this is nothing more than a thought experiment.
Ours is world that is, and has been for many centuries, dominated by religious views. Even though we may envision the quasi-utopia of a rationally conceived social order, we have no choice but to recognize that we can’t there from here. We, the secularists, are the minority, and the majority has a vested interest in discrediting us. This does not mean we wage war, for we are on a quest for individual freedom, the corollary of which is the notion that all people should be taken as individuals. This implores us to give credence to the reasons by which real people embrace religion. We can daydream of a world without it, but we can’t let our fantasies lead us to galvanize ourselves against all things religious. Instead, we must engage open minds in thoughtful debate. For some folks, abandoning religion simply costs too much. Unless we’ve walked in their shoes, who are we to judge? This is the high road, the enlightened road, in my view.

And as for the religious who will remain vigilant in their assault on our views, we can take comfort in knowing that, though they have shrouded their laws in supposed divinity, it is still a fact that Hester Prynne did not wear the scarlet letter for God; she wore it for man.

Musing Between Theory and Practice
December 21, 2004, 4:01 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Living, Philosophy

Original Post (with comments)
Yesterday’s column raised some eyebrows. I got a few notes from folks who felt it was totally out of character and even somewhat irrational. They were concerned that I was standing atop one of the slipperiest slopes known to man. Indeed, they were right. I am, but it’s no cause for alarm. It seems to me that the difference between conservatism and liberalism is often the difference between theory and practice, and predictably, I come down somewhere in the middle. I really think it’s possible to be a compassionate hard-ass.

Bertrand Russell is my favorite philosopher – hands down; it’s not even close. The things he observed and codified about humanity were so prescient that it’s somewhat eery to read them this many years later. One thing he harped on a bit was the treatment of criminals. In a brilliant little book entitled What I Believe (1925 – I have it as an essay in the book, Why I Am Not A Christian – 1957), he wrote:

I merely wish to suggest that we should treat the criminal as we treat a man suffering from the plague. Each is a public danger, each must have his liberty curtailed until he has ceased to be a danger. But the man suffering from the plague is an object of sympathy and commiseration, whereas the criminal is an object of execration. This is quite irrational. And it because of this difference of attitude that our prisons are so much less successful in curing criminal tendencies than our hospitals are at curing disease.

Now, Russell was not so naive as to overlook the valuable deterrence that comes with criminal punishment. His point was, however, to say that, “The vindictive feeling of ‘moral indignation’ is merely a form of cruelty.” This is where I’m coming from in suggesting that even the most economically conservative among us should be careful in simply dismissing the bad decisions of the poor and ignorant as “their problem.”
The liberal theory, the one that underlies much of Russell’s thinking (he had serious socialist tendencies), is that it is unfair to hold people responsible for all of their actions if there are mitigating circumstances. The conservative practice is that this is exactly what we must do if it is an orderly society that we seek. I think there’s middle ground here.

What often gets lost in these kinds of discussions is the fact that the history of the human condition has been most characterized by Mother Nature and social groups holding individuals accountable for their actions, regardless of circumstances. Either you provide for yourself or you die. This is the harsh reality of our animal heritage. And while it is a true that it is now possible for people who do nothing toward their own self-preservation to survive and even prosper, we should only see this as an achievement if it does not unravel the system that gave rise to it. This is where practicality rules the day.

It is clear that the rule of law is the tie that binds a free society. If we lean too far left, it is the rule of law that perishes, even as the wards of the state (and the guilt-ridden achievers) applaud the victory of theory over practice. When we distort the nexus between actions and consequences with proximate causes, we subvert the role of our criminal justice system and invite chaos into order. Practicality, therefore, requires us to be compassionate hard-asses when it comes to attitudes about economic stratification.

We should think of our economic system as an anonymous one – anonymous in terms of individuals operating within the system and anonymous in terms of the forces that shape the free market (the invisible hand). Capitalism, by taking advantage of human nature, is based upon this very idea. We recognize at the outset that there will be winners and losers, but we also recognize that our system produces more winners than any other ever devised. The question is what to do when anonymous losers become real people with real problems.

Lefties will, whether they know it or not, advocate changing the system to eliminate losers entirely – this is the vision of the welfare state. It is, quite obviously, impossible, which is why liberals are so often accused of living in fantasy land. My recommendation is that we come up with a means by which we deal with losers once they appear on our radar screen. We should consider it an ancillary benefit that capitalism will alert us to the existence of those who are not faring well under it, not as indication of its cracked foundation. We cannot control a person’s starting point in life, which means we will inevitably come upon folks who cannot make the wise decisions that are the prerequisites to economic success in a free market society. This is not a bad thing. It’s a reflection on reality. What we do next is what matters.

I am vehemently against handouts of pretty much any sort, except in extreme cases. I think a good quid pro quo beats a handout most every time, so despite my compassion towards those who are hurt by our system, you’ll never hear me argue for more welfare benefits. The solution, I believe, starts with separating the truly needy from the able but mentally unprepared. The truly needy, the insane and disabled, are the exceptions to the handout rule. If they cannot reciprocate, compassion dictates that we help them anyway. It is the able but mentally unprepared who have no business getting handouts in my book.

This is where the time horizon of maturity concept comes in. If we can say that the primary feature of being mentally unprepared to thrive in a capitalistic society is being unable to envision and internalize the consequences of future actions, and I think we can, then disdain has no place in these discussions. “Their problems” are our problems, in more ways than we think, which means it is incumbent upon us to try to solve them…without disturbing the economic incentives that underlie our system.

We must introduce a quid pro quo function into the provision of welfare benefits, and I’m not talking about means testing. Means testing will tell us if someone needs help, but it will not tell us why, and it will not tell us what kind. The trick is to provide benefits that sustain life, but with a catch – they diminish unless educational milestones are met, but not just involving traditional concepts of education. The curriculum must, first and foremost, be designed to resolve the time horizon problem. This is the first filter, so to speak. We can’t forget that among the losers in our society, there will always be able-bodied individuals who do not possess the time horizon problem but simply will not act on their own behalf. (If we must dole out disdain, and I’m not saying we must, it is to these souls that it should be aimed.) I am convinced that most people, if properly grounded in the actions/consequences concept, will rise above their plight. The right kind of education is the first step.

The test will come when we then become hard-asses, forcing them to do what it takes…like everyone else. Those who pass, meaning they take responsibility for their lives, get to become anonymous again. Those who do not then go through another evaluation to determine if they’re really needy or just shiftless. The needy get the handouts; the shiftless get to experience the consequences they care so little about. It’s not perfect, but it’s ethical and, most important, it’s fair – we can’t change the system for a few bad apples, but we can at least be rigorous in the separation.
The tricky thing about straddling the line between theory and practice is that solutions often come out half-baked. I’ll admit that this one is. But it’s still better than considering the non-achievers among us as losers without a second thought. We’re better than that, so I’ll hold out hope that a fully-baked solution, one that embraces compassionate hard-assism (please add another hokey coined phrase to my credits), avails itself in due time.