Bad Capitalist

Philosophy, Politics

DNA moneyWhat is a capitalist? You hear the term thrown around a lot in the media and on blogs. It is often defined as someone who has a powerful nose for the dollar; someone who is always looking for ways to make money.

There is good capitalism; the type of capitalism that grows, innovates and improves our lives. There is bad capitalism which seeks to degrade, exploit and leave nothing behind. The latter, I believe, has been given too much reign over the American economy.

I feel this way because everywhere I look there is an example of some CEO or venture capitalist wrecking companies for profit, selling stocks short to make money off a market crash or finding creative ways to skim profits from those who actually work for their salary.

Who are they?

They care for nothing except currency, capital. They do not have any loyalty to God, country, family or anything else. They sure as hell don’t care about their workers. Everything is expendable when it comes to profit. One cannot underestimate this particular aspect.

They don’t want steady growth. They want volatility. They profit off the constant up and down. I attended a seminar full of energy traders and a woman giving the keynote speech said as much. She took a marker to a dry erase board and drew a steady line going up and then she drew a zig-zagging, jagged line that trended up. She pointed to the second one and said, “This is what we’re looking for.” There were a lot of nodding heads in the crowd. My jaw was on the floor. An economic crisis wasn’t a crisis for these people, it was an opportunity to make even more money.

They feel because they’re smarter, richer and more educated that it really makes them better people than the rest of us. They believe that somehow those three elements are literally part of their DNA that other people just don’t possess. This fuels an extreme sense of entitlement.

So what? Someone might say. Who cares? These people make money that also goes into 401(k) accounts and hedge funds, which benefits the lowly investor. That’s true. Except when things go south, like they did in 2008, the investors pay for it while the capitalists come out smelling like a rose, as usual.

They spoon feed the public nonsense about ideas such as the “invisible hand,” “a rising tide lifts all boats” and “war is good for the economy.” They want everyone to think that their fortune and our misfortune is due to causes beyond anyone’s control. In truth, extreme capitalists are the invisible hand. A swelling tide lifts their boats. War is good for them.

In 2008 oil companies were making record profits off the ever-increasing price of fuels. Their product had tripled in cost over the span of a year while demand was dropping. Executives told Congress “this is just how the market works.” Financial experts got on TV and said the same thing. They were doing their damndest to convince people that they’d stumbled upon all of these price increases like Jed Clampett.

As it turned out, oil prices were skyrocketing thanks to the clever trading methods of speculators working for investment banking firms. It wasn’t the end users of the oil who were buying the product. It was financial institutions buying and then selling oil as if it were a stock. Guess who turned out to be some of the masterminds behind the increases? Former traders from Enron.

CEOs earn more than 300 times more than most employees. According to the laws of capitalism, that would mean that they’re somehow offering 300 times more value than workers. Which isn’t true. Workers have their title for that reason, they’re doing the work. CEOs and managers make decisions and select the person best-suited for the work. That’s an equal partnership regardless of what the CEOs say about their leadership. Their value is not inherent in their salaries, it’s just what shareholders are willing to pay them.

Personally, I have no problem with capitalism. It has served me well. It has served America well. However anyone feels about capitalism, any objective look at America’s situation will see that it has fueled this country’s greatness.

But the capitalism and capitalist I speak of is unhinged, financial sociopathy.

Capitalists working in the government shroud themselves in conservative cloaks. The only thing they understand is cutting taxes regardless of spending levels or government excess. They do their best to choke government agencies through budget cuts or legislative restrictions to force a public sector necrosis. As the government fails under the pressure of reduced revenue and toothless authority, the capitalists point to the ineffectiveness and say “You see? Government doesn’t work!”

Government is ineffective. It is mired in bureaucracy. It doesn’t work because the capitalists don’t want it to work. They want the roles now served by government to be disintegrated so either the private sector can take that role over or that role ceases to cost taxpayer dollars.

They care nothing for equality or social progress. By nothing I mean they don’t care if equality improves or worsens, so long as it doesn’t affect their bottom line. Once lawsuits happen, then you begin to see business pushing back against added discrimination standards.

Take a CEO in America. When someone dies due to their product, a CEO’s first though isn’t, “How do we fix the problem to keep it from happening again?” They first think, “How do I keep this from costing the company revenue? How do I keep the public from finding out about this? How do I fight this in court to prevent hemorrhaging cash?”

They claim these principles are part of a philosophy. They say that they believe in the private sector’s ability to be efficient. They claim that their companies’ profits support their employees and their families. They claim their success fuels the success of other businesses. They pontificate about the multiplier effect.

Don’t be fooled. At the end of the day their goal is simple: they don’t want to pay taxes and they want more opportunities to make money. They don’t care about anything else. They don’t care about taxpayers. They don’t care about customers. They don’t care about responsibility. They don’t care about the environment. They don’t really care about the quality of their own goods and services. They don’t even care about their own company. They care nothing about these constructs unless it serves the purpose of generating profit. They don’t care about any system of social justice, government or civilization. They only care about themselves.

That is their mind.

They’re always around us and we can do nothing to rid ourselves of them. But we do need start recognizing who they are as opposed to the effective capitalists. We have to stop lionizing them and rewarding their exploitative behavior.

This begins with identifying them.

How to Fix Congress: Proportional Vote

Politics

capitol

One of the most uttered complaints among voters is the lack of a third party in American politics. Many people complain that the two-party system is failing us because each party really represents a narrow view of a few select supporters.

It can be solved. And it would take a Constitutional amendment stated something like this:

Members of the House of Representatives shall be elected based on the proportion of vote they or their party receives in their respective state.

All elections at the United States federal level are based on winner-take-all. Even the Electoral College, which was created to prevent direct election of the President by the people, is designed on the winner-take-all principle. Even if a party wins 49.6 percent of the vote in a particular state and their opponent wins 50.4 percent, the prevailing party receives all electoral votes. Ironically, this has lead to some Presidents winning based solely on the electoral vote while losing the overall popular vote. Congressional elections, both House and Senate, are also winner-take-all with the lone candidate receiving the most votes serving the entire district or state.

While in America this is natural, the winner-take-all system is not really equitable because many people end up being represented by someone for whom they did not vote.

Winner-take-all elections favor a two-party system and that leads to parties having to take stances on many different issues. It also forces them to make strange bedfellows. Republicans support hardcore capitalists and they also support evangelical Christians. Democrats back organized labor but also fight to expand immigration.

Giving third, fourth or more parties a seat at the legislative table would give them a chance to show the public that they can be a force in politics. With no party holding a 50 percent majority, they would have to compromise with another party in order to pass legislation.

In all likelihood, the additional parties would be based on the existing factions within the two current parties. What sliver of compromise we see today in Republican and Democratic caucuses would likely play out the same way, except with different monikers.

With the way the Constitution is written, there is no real solution to solve the winner-take-all problem with regards to the President and the Senate. Each represents an entire state or an entire country.

But the House of Representatives however, can be fixed in order to allow new voices a chance to speak in Congress. There is a way to shift the House’s makeup to where most every voter can truly be represented by the person they cast their vote for.

Instead of winner-take-all elections for the House of Representatives, we could pursue a proportional vote. For instance, Texas has 38 representative seats. Instead of giving seats to Republicans or Democrats when they win their district by majority vote, statewide votes could be totaled together and then each party would receive seats proportional to the amount of votes they get. So if Republicans win 65 percent of the vote, Democrats 30 percent and Libertarians 5 percent, then Republicans would receive 25 seats, Democrats would get 11 seats and Libertarians would get two seats.

In some countries, a parliament is usually derived from a national vote in which a party receives a number of seats based on how many votes they received nationally. In the United States however, Congress is divided based on representation in each state. Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution dictates that the House of Representatives should be elected by the state they live.

This notion is not new. There are many American city councils, school districts and other local governments that award seats to candidates based on the number of votes they receive in a wide open election. In said cities and school districts, five candidates can vie for three seats and the three with the most votes win the seats. Because there are three seats, voters are allowed three votes.

This same process can be tweaked to possibly open up the House of Representatives to three or more parties.

Every vote would actually count because it would be tallied with the party’s proportion of vote. In the winner-take-all, a person’s vote means nothing unless their party wins. With proportional representation, it would go towards a party that better represents your ideals.

How exactly would candidates be nominated? Representative candidates could be nominated through a primary process in each district. With the new proportional representation, candidates can still be nominated in primary but through a statewide vote instead of by district. This would eliminate candidates being selected in back room straw votes among party elite. It would give voters a chance to participate in the primary process much like they do now.

Candidates could run in a primary and then be ranked according to the number of votes they receive. The candidate with the most votes would be the leader of that state’s party and would be the first to receive a seat based on the proportion of vote their party gets in the general election. Primary voters can vote for one person in a primary. A candidate would receive a seat in the House if he or she ranked high enough in the primary. For example, if a candidate ranked number 10 after the primary and his party wins 12 seats, they would become a representative. If they rank 15, they don’t.

Candidates who want to run independently without a party could still do so. They can win a seat in Congress so long as they receive enough of the overall vote.

There’s another aspect to the House of Representatives that would essentially be dispensed with a proportional vote: gerrymandering. In this past election, Republicans held on to the House of Representatives despite the fact that nationally, Democrats received the majority of the total vote. That’s because of redistricting. Republicans run the majority of state legislatures, who are charged with drawing Congressional districts every 10 years. It is only now that the districting pendulum has swung their way. Before 1994, Democrats had controlled Congress for more than 40 years using the same redistricting methods now used by Republicans.

If candidates are nominated on a state-wide basis, districts would not matter.

Some might argue that eliminating districts would open up another problem, whereby candidates with more statewide recognition would fare better than local candidates. This is true. It would also be more expensive to campaign because candidates would have to travel throughout the state and buy statewide advertising.

Many people also like having someone local represent them, even if they’re not of the same party. However, nothing in the Constitution currently requires candidates to live in the district they represent. A candidate in Dallas can run for a position in Houston (and such instances have happened).

The proportional vote also would mean nothing in places like Wyoming or Alaska, which has so small a population that they’re only allotted one seat in the House.

A proportional vote would no doubt have some negative effects. Lobbyists would still find a way to get their say. Special interests would still have a politician’s ear. Political strategists would find a way to take advantage of the system. There would be a little electoral chaos in the beginning and it would take possibly years before a third party would gain significant footing in the House.

But the thing is, it would eventually happen. The benefits of allowing other parties into the system would likely outweigh any new issues. Why? Because everyone would be represented and there would no longer be a feeling that your vote doesn’t count for much.

Remove the Mask

Philosophy

maskWe all live behind facades. We all have habits, traits, flaws and more that we don’t want the world to see. HIdden with those secrets are also talents, beauties and other great things that we don’t realize are tied to our depths.

What real benefit is there to keeping yourself bottled up? What do you gain by hiding your soul from the world? What are we shielding ourselves from?

My guess is ridicule. That urge to remain faceless in the crowd is driven by a desire to prevent being a loser. We don’t mind exhibiting eccentricities when we’re successful. But when those offbeat attributes really don’t help us achieve anything significant in this world, then eccentric habits really are just weird.

That is a tragedy.

It takes courage to be yourself and to be who you really want to be. Unmasking who you are to the world can open yourself up to vicious scrutiny. People will point fingers at you. They’ll call you a freak. Why? Because all of those people who strive to remain faceless in the crowd love pointing out the weirdos so the crowd’s attention is shied away from them.

It’s an interesting human foible, to want to hide behind normalcy.

Sure we want success. We believe that success somehow frees us because then it doesn’t matter what people think so long as we have accomplished something. This is not the case however. Successful people often are themselves long before they obtain their success. In fact, that openness about who they are is probably what lead them to success.

Maybe that’s how we should truly measure the brass ring. We shouldn’t look at victory as a way of liberation. Liberation is not the goal, it is the path. Once you decide to shed the layers of camouflage and just be yourself, then you are successful. Then you can go after what you want, because it is when you are yourself that you are best prepared.

Black Belts and Brown Shoes

Philosophy, Politics, Religion

Humans have such highly-charged brains which has led us to accomplish some pretty amazing feats in our brief history. Space travel. Global communication. Combustible engines. Mass media.

It is equally amazing and mystifying how we waste that surging intellect on the oddest social constructs whether it’s what color shoes to wear with what belt or how no one looks each other in the eye when they’re in the elevator. There are books written on the subject of etiquette and how to avoid social miscues that draw unapproving looks from fellow hominids.

I’m fairly certain some of those odd social hang ups have some sort of survival root such as not making eye contact with strangers. Some of them though, like the belts and shoes, not wearing white pants after Labor Day and fork placement in a table setting, have no important basis. To me they are preferences that have somehow become “proper.” This is stupid of course. Many of these fabricated faux pas are things that don’t really matter in life and yet we spend so much time trying to adhere to them.

Why are we so concerned about this stuff? I woke up one morning and made a mental note of every action I took that was designed to fit some social norm. Yep, it started with my belt and shoes; then the right color of socks with my pants; then brushing my hair; then holding the door open for someone.

It’s probably that herd mentality that runs so strong in our DNA. Our survival has become irrevocably linked to social connections. We need each other to make it in this world, especially now that most people don’t know how to grow their own food or build their own shelter. Somewhere along the way though, these insignificant habits have become ingrained in that social necessity.

What’s worse is people who refuse to play along with some of these dumb rules are labeled misfits, non-conformists and abnormal. We even diagnose people with a disorder when they don’t pick up on specific social cues. We also make these social norms part of religion. Not only do we make people outcasts because they’re different, we also try to tell them that they’re going to hell too. There’s something wrong with labeling someone as diseased because they won’t make eye contact or their obsessively absorbed with a hobby or they just don’t care about matching their belts to their shoes.

To me, that’s dangerous. Criminal behavior is one thing. There are acts which work against the societal model on which our survival depends. But behaviors considered odd that have no effect on others is not the same thing. And therein lies the tragedy. What is considered different sometimes becomes anathema. We begin to judge people’s worth and abilities based on how they dress themselves. We interpret someone’s skill level with how well they fit in with others. We try to draw conclusions about each other on things that are, at the end of the day, preferences.

I firmly believe that we’re smarter than that. But yet again, this whole habit of judging based on immaterial social norms is based on one thing: mental laziness. We don’t want to think. Looking beyond someone’s appearance and odd behavior requires work. We actually have to invest time into getting to know someone and we just don’t want to do it. So we take shortcuts and pass judgment based on whether people know how to dress, use a salad fork for their salad or how neat they keep their desk.

Yes it does take a lot of energy to get to know someone and it’s not always feasible to do that with every person who crosses our path. But there is one thing we can do when it comes to dealing with people who are different: stop judging them so quickly based on superficial habits. We don’t have to take them to dinner or become their best friend. But we can reserve judgment until we’ve had time to know them and understand where they’re coming from.

We can do this because we have such high-capacity minds. Maybe it’s time that we used them.

Are you a Dexter or a Heisenberg?

Philosophy

Dextenberg
Since I’ve become a father I haven’t had much time to sit in front of the silver screen like I used to. I loved sitting in the theatre, alone, getting drowned in a celluloid universe.

But now a lot of my pop culture needs are met through television and Netflix. I have lucked out and happened to pull fatherhood at a time when TV shows have never been better. There’s a trend that I’ve noticed in these past two years as a parent with regards to those shows that has piqued by philosophical nature.

I find myself torn between Dexter and Heisenberg.

First though, I’ll start with Nietzsche. I’ve always been a slight fan of his philosophy on a person pursuing their best self. Whether someone is extremely religious or not (and Nietzsche wasn’t) there’s still something important to gain from his ideology. We should all be more introspective to find out what our true purpose is and then go all in to fulfill that purpose.

You can find the basic Nietzsche philosophy in a lot of popular culture these days, especially TV. Tony Soprano, Dexter Morgan, Walter White, Greg House, hell even Barney Stinson are characters driven by a deep, personal desire to become something great, regardless of what others or society thinks.

Interestingly enough, Dexter and Walter White, or his alter ego Heisenberg, represent two distinct personality types, goal oriented vs. process oriented. Having been a big fan of both shows, I wonder at times which one I’m more like in so far as how I seek to be the best me.

Dexter is very much someone who is goal oriented. His every waking moment is spent working towards the next kill. He does his best to balance a lot of background distractions such as family, work, etc. but his motivation is about getting someone on his table. Once he finishes one victim he begins to move on to the next. He revels in each one by keeping a drop of blood in a slide to represent each time he’s achieved a kill. Dexter is always after another kill.

Walter White, however, is more about a process. Throughout his career in the meth world, he worked to perfect his product. He was obsessed with the process, the right amount of chemicals for each batch and striving for the highest purity. He does have a goal of leading a meth empire but he knows fully that it has to be built on a superior drug. For Walt, there is no dollar amount or purity level that serves as a finish line. He wants to make the best meth.

Yes, they’re fictional characters. I understand that. What I like about the comparison though is that they demonstrate two different paths for living your life. I don’t mean choosing to kill people or make meth but the focus on what is more important: who you are or what you do.

I’ve decided I’m a Heisenberg. In my writing I care more about becoming a better craftsman as opposed to creating a masterpiece. I like finishing stories and books but at the end of the day I want to believe I’ve improved my skill.

While goal-oriented people are highly valued in the job market, there are two major pitfalls for someone who is obsessed with results. 1) When you are too focused on the finish line, the means by which you get there blurs and you may use unethical behavior and possibly take short cuts. 2) If you are going after a major goal, what do you do when you get there? If someone has a goal of running a marathon, the motivation to keep running might dwindle once they finish one.

For me it’s more important to master a process. Results are important. Otherwise how would you know if you’re becoming better at your process? I guess a person who’s truly successful at self realization is adept at focusing both on their skill as well as their accomplishments.

I’d rather be known as a good writer than a person who wrote a good book. I may never achieve either, but my pursuit will be the process.

 

God Threshold III

Philosophy, Religion

You take a photograph with a digital camera. You upload it to a computer. When you look at the image on the screen, it’s a familiar scene that you’ve just recorded. Underneath it though, is code, lots of code. While you see a picture, the image is produced on screen through a long string of coded information that the computer needs to display said image.

It’s not really all that different from your brain processing your sight. You open your eyes. Images are processed and the information is sent to your brain through signals in your nervous system. It is your brain that actually produces the image.

But there’s a tremendous difference between how a computer and a human brain translate and display images.

You can take two computers and connect them with a wire. That forms a network. Using software you can take the code of a photograph and send it to the second computer through the wire. The second computer, regardless of its operating system and sometimes regardless of its internal architecture, can then take that code and produce the exact same image that you first saw on the first computer.

The brain does not do that. If you witness two cars hitting each other on a street and a person standing next to you witnesses the same wreck, both of you can walk away with different interpretations about which driver was at fault. People disagree on what they see even if they see the same exact thing. You can show the same picture to two people and they can both see different things.

The point? No matter how much two people relate to each other whether it’s verbal or physical, it is impossible for one person to completely transmit their own personal experience to another. We can all look at the same thing and agree on the details of what we see but we can’t all see it the same. We can all listen to the same songs but we can’t fully share those songs between each other so that each person has the exact same code as another person.

No matter what we process through our experiences and reason, it is all colored by our individual minds. And every individual mind has its own color.

People, while they can communicate like a computer network, cannot have their brains wired together to share information and then experience that information in the precisely same manner. At the end of the day, all we really know is what we process through our own minds.

Is it any wonder then, that we can never fully agree on what reality is? We can all look at the same picture but we all have a different perspective.

Perhaps I’m wrong and reality does exist. It still doesn’t matter. We can never fully know reality because said reality would be processed by each of our different, unique minds.

Much of this boils down to the same question which I’ve posed many times on this blog: can something exist that is beyond our ability to experience? By that I mean is there something that we don’t possess the physiological necessities to experience? We didn’t have the ability to see bacteria until the microscope was invented. But even then, we had been experiencing bacteria (illness, etc.) despite the fact we couldn’t process its existence through base, empirical means. Our minds are incapable of processing the microscopic life form. But through technological advances, we can and did eventually experience it through sight.

I am speaking of something that can exist beyond any ability to experience; something that no amount of technology could ever find for us?

Or is the whole universe accessible to us and we can’t we just can’t experience it yet?

Predicting Bad Data

Politics

SONY DSC
I rarely write a blog post in direct response to another article. But I just couldn’t help myself with a post from a The Week story about Neil Newhouse’s predictions for the 2014 congressional elections.

When the 2012 election approached, I became quite obsessed with the polling data trying to get a clue about who would win. And I mean obsessed. I would hover around 538, Huffington Post, Real Clear Politics and any aggregate pollster site I could find. I had a Gallup app on my phone which I checked hourly. I read stories about polling and how some were more accurate than others. I also paid for a pricey copy of The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver.

Not surprising, most of the pollsters called it right in the days leading up to the election. The one state that gave people fits was Florida, which was fitting given that Obama won it by a hair and the total vote wasn’t even complete until days after the election.

Contrary to what people think about polling, they are very accurate when it comes to elections. I think this is largely because pollsters are dealing with definitive data. Voters have to choose one or the other or none. Election polling isn’t the same as judging presidential approval, consumer confidence or even television ratings, which are more subjective and fall on a scale.

But pollsters hired by politicians try quite hard to develop some inside data, information that common, news polls won’t have. They look for this nebulous information hoping it will give them some inside track on the outcome.

Newhouse worked for Romney during the campaign and had Mittens believing he would win the election up until the polls closed. When the numbers rolled in and it was obvious Romney had lost, his campaign was dumbfounded. I honestly don’t know why. Had they been reading the aggregate polls, which are available to everyone, they would have known that in the end, Romney never had a chance.

There were all sorts of finger pointing post-election. They blamed higher than expected minority turnout. They blamed the impact of Sandy. They blamed Romney’s campaign strategy.

While those are valid faults in the campaign loss, it still doesn’t explain how they were so caught off guard through their polling. Again, they were wildly off the mark compared to everyone else, save only Gallup. Surely someone who’d spent a little time on political websites had to be standing next to Romney telling him that Newhouse was off his rocker. But apparently there wasn’t.

One of the things Newhouse implemented to gain his inside track on the polling was voter enthusiasm. He developed some formula in his polling to gauge how motivated Romney’s voters were about voting for him versus Obama’s people. He rated voters’ motivation on a 1 to 10 scale. More often than not, he found Mitt’s people to be more dedicated.

Newhouse and other Romney backers kept pointing to this enthusiasm advantage as some sort of proof for momentum and a bellwether for turnout. Some were skeptical, including Nate Silver, who repeatedly said there was no momentum for Romney leading up to Election Day. (Nate, by the way, called all 50 states correctly based on his aggregate poll).

Newhouse is now using a version of his same formula to predict the 2014 elections.

While I love data, I also admit fully that I don’t completely understand the complex mining thereof. I do however, grasp basic logic. While enthusiasm might provide insight about voter motivation, at the end of the day it comes down to whether a voter shows up or not. Despite the disparity in motivation, a voter who rates their motivation at a 7 or 8 may be just as likely to show up as one who rates their motivation at a 9 or a 10. And guess what? Their votes count the same.

That’s really the nature of election polling. It’s this or that. No amount of data massaging will get you a magically accurate, contrary opinion that no one else has. It’s not like processing information on stock pricing.

Now, Newhouse isn’t really going out on a limb here by saying that 2014 doesn’t look good for Democrats. Sixth-year elections for a president’s party have never gone well. Ever. His predictions about the November elections likely will pan out barring some unforeseen disaster like a massive Aikenism or Hurricane Sandy or credit default.

We shouldn’t be surprised if he’s right. But we shouldn’t buy the motivation scale either. It just doesn’t add up.

Shot of Reason

Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized

Injection

We all know how I feel about vaccines. Vaccines do not cause autism and there is no reputable study that proves this.

A recent study released shows that campaigns intended to lure anti-vaccination parents back to the dark side of reason have backfired, turning parents who were lukewarm to the idea into total crusaders against the needle.

What bothered me about the story was not the argument of vaccination vs. anti-vaccination. It’s the core issue of people being turned off when they’re confronted with an opposing view. There was another study done in 2006 when people who considered themselves conservative were shown a fake report arguing the case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They were then given a report that factually refuted false report’s claims. Did the test subjects shift their thinking? Nope. Apparently being accosted with facts only strengthened their resolve.

That’s a problem with people that has always bothered me. And this isn’t about conservative vs. progressive, science vs. God, global warming vs. Big Oil. It’s about basic logic and how our biases can so easily overpower our abilities to think straight.

I’ve touched on this before, about thinking. We become quite entrenched in our beliefs and once we reach that state, we can’t be convinced otherwise, facts be damned. We’ll result to all different types of faulty arguments to hang on to our cause, strawman logic, anecdotal evidence, sometimes just outright denial.

But why? Why do we latch on to our personal ideas and refuse to let go? The problem really boils down to one thing: laziness. That’s a dangerous combination. Considering two sides to a debate takes work. Keeping an open mind actually requires intellectual energy that we are either too lazy or too obstinate to maintain.

A closed mind requires no energy. It requires no thought process. It requires no ability to comprehend. It makes life simple because we don’t have to waste time trying to understand a different point of view.

The other danger non-thinking laziness presents is that it propagates pseudo-debates. Thanks to petroleum-funded “research” about global warming, they have managed to create a “debate” about the issue that does not exist. More than 95 percent of climate scientists agree that global warming is real and that it’s our fault. But those who stand to lose billions and possibly trillions to CO2 emissions caps and other regulations have created an image of a two-sided issue. You don’t really need to have a debate, just the appearance of one, to confuse those who haven’t yet made up their mind. Once the undecided people find out which side they’re on politically, they gravitate in that direction and there you go, a contentious issue where there previously was none.

The anti-vaccination folk have now done the same thing and they don’t even have well-funded, contrarian research on their side. The numbers of those without vaccines are going up, as are the number of cases of preventable diseases like whooping cough.

How exactly do you solve this problem? How do you get people to stop blindly going in the direction they’ve always traveled?

It starts with one thing: thinking. But that can’t happen with a closed mind.

Right to be Selfish

Philosophy, Politics

I will never claim to be an expert on feminism. Largely because I am a man who doesn’t understand the first thing about the issues women face on a daily basis.

I have witnessed the dichotomies that we have for women in this society though and as the father of a beautiful girl, some of it disturbs me. Some of them are long-standing mores from our sexist past. Some are imposed by women themselves. The genesis of those dual standards are an important element to solving the problem.

Popular culture is a very powerful influence on people. Many times you can see the fringes of societal change in said culture slowly emanate in real life. Seeing a particular character on a TV show or in a book can help pave the way for making their lifestyle, sexual orientation, career, status acceptable to the world.

The inverse is also true.

Al-Jazeera recently posted an article on the critical reaction to Lena Dunham’s character on Girls. I confess to not watching the show but as I have read, the main character Hannah can be self-absorbed and critics don’t seem to like it. One critic has even stated that he’d like to see her choke and die.

Yet, critics and audiences never seem to mind when men are driven, ruthless and aggressive. We’ll even cheer a man on as he commits mass murder in Breaking Bad. We celebrate Dexter as he stalks and kills victims, even if they are bad guys (and girls). We love the likes of Tony Soprano, who damaged or destroy everything around him as he continued to flaunt his Neitzschean nature.

But when a woman does it, we can’t stand it. It’s definitely a double standard. We don’t mind it when men wreak havoc for their own personal gains but God forbid if a woman tries to do the same.

When Breaking Bad first came out, Anna Gunn, who plays Walt White’s wife Skyler, was reviled by audiences because she kept standing in the way of her husband’s goal to perfect and sell methamphetamine. So again a man can cook meth, kill drug dealers, lie and steal but if his wife tries to defend her family against all of that, well she’s just a bitch.

Sorry, that’s not right. We can’t have that view towards women in popular culture and yet expect women and girls to become ambitious. Forthright thinking and aggression in a career are clearly not cherished as a female personality trait.

I know, we’re talking about entertainment here. Not real life. But consider the fact that we obsess over real serial killers. We love reading about real mobsters. More than we’d like to admit, this love of male ambition is part of our consciousness.

The question really is, why does the double standard exist in the first place and why can’t we seem to move past it? And suppose we flip this issue on its head and say, “Maybe we shouldn’t just ask why women can’t be ambitious. We should ask why men are allowed to get away with it.”

It probably all boils down to the classic roles of gender. Men are supposed to be violent hunters who have to plot and methodically track their prey. Women have to maintain the home with domestic prowess for the family. Somewhere along the way though, we allowed the male role to expand in such a way that he uses his skills for himself, not just the good of his family. And we have come to a point where we admire men who do that.

I use the term “allow” because that is what’s going on. Men couldn’t behave like this without passive acceptance by society, other men and women.

In Breaking Bad, Walt even admits to his wife that he cooked meth and created his drug empire for himself.

“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And … I was alive,” he tells her in the finale.

We should allow women to pursue their personal ambitions or expect better of men. We can’t have it both ways and say the sexes are equal.

We’re likely about to have our first female presidential candidate in Hillary Clinton. No matter how you feel about her, she’s going to be and has been subject to the same hypocrisy. Clinton will be derided for being ruthless, ambitious and willing to do anything to become president, which even means putting up with Bill’s sexcapades.

No doubt she’ll have a male opponent. He’ll have the same traits as Hillary. But he won’t be criticized for it.

We expect it from him.