The Peace of Mind in Probabilistic Thinking

I’m a big believer in agnosticism. (See what I did there?)

There are so many things that don’t require a strong opinion or position, and don’t warrant dying.

It’s very stressful to be confronted with questions and claims about culture, physics, politics, psychology, health, economics, history, ethics, aesthetics, and philosophy and feel the need to have a clear answer. Especially when answers immediately get interpreted as sides and you’ll get lumped in with some tribal collective blob and be associated with whatever bundle of biases they may have, real or imagined. It’s like behind every possibility lurks a mob shouting, “Are you with us or against us?!”

This is bad for curiosity, learning, and fun.

Besides having fewer opinions and focusing on individuals instead of collectives, another way I’ve found relief from relentless pressure to pick is to think in probabilities instead of binaries.

“Do you think eating gluten is bad for you?” is the kind of question that makes you feel a bit uneasy. You know about the weird tribes in this debate and don’t want to be in them. Still, maybe you’re interested in the topic for yourself or as a general curiosity. If you’re not content with, “I don’t know”, try assigning probability.

“I think there’s a high probability that too much gluten is one cause of my digestive problems” is way more relaxing. You don’t have to give up the examination. You don’t have to stay out of the conversation entirely. But you distance yourself from binary conclusions and tribes, individualize your opinion, and leave open the possibility that your sliding scale of probability can change with more information.

You can’t fake it though. If deep down you’re a hard-liner (which is not all bad in every situation, just very, very dangerous), pretending to be probabilistic to seem sophisticated will only make you more stressed. If you can begin to unwind the reactive need to pick a yes/no and assign probabilities, you will find a release of tension and an expansion of curiosity. You may even be able to read Twitter debates with a smile instead of rage!

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Immoral Walls and Dishonest Manipulation

Sarcasm only works for me when you don’t demonstrate dishonesty while attempting it.

I listen to Scott Adams’ “periscopes” to keep an eye on what some of those on the pro-government side are thinking. He’s right about half the time– when he isn’t in his pro-government box, unable to see beyond its horizon. But sometimes it amazes me how dishonestly he frames an issue. I wonder if others notice.

Of course, since he is a trained hypnotist, it may be intentional on his part; an attempt to manipulate the opinions of his listeners. I don’t criticize him for that– it’s what I hope to do with my blog. But I hope to do it honestly, without deception. I am not trying to be sneaky about it.

A day or so ago he was mocking Nancy Pelosi’s absurd contention that “walls are immoral“.

I agree conditionally; walls are not, in and of themselves, immoral. Unless your particular morality is somehow anti-wall, which I seriously doubt. Morals being what they are (“situational ethics”) I can see how someone might have a set of morals which doesn’t allow for walls, but it’s not likely. It’s more likely to be political posturing.

The real question is whether or not walls are ethical. For simply being walls. The answer is: walls are ethically neutral.

You can almost always use your own money/resources to wall off your own property from adjacent property without any ethical problem.

Or you can help wall off “collective property” in the very rare cases where you have part-ownership in some actual collective property and there is unanimous consent to build and fund the wall.

There is an ethical problem if you wall off property which doesn’t belong to you, or if you force others to pay for a wall they don’t want to pay for.

If you wall off a neighbor’s property a few doors down, you have unethically built a wall.

If you force someone to help pay for a wall around your own property, you have unethically built a wall.

You could say those particular walls, under those circumstances, are unethical walls. Probably even immoral walls.

“Government land”– dishonestly referred to as “public land” in the same way kinderprisons are called “public schools”– is not yours to wall off. It isn’t true “collective property”, and there is not unanimous consent. Nor does it really belong to the government. Everything government claims it either stole from the rightful owner or bought (and maintains) with stolen or counterfeited money. A thief does not own the stolen goods he possesses, so government can not rightfully own anything. Any wall financed with stolen money is not an ethical wall.

A “border” wall fails on both accounts. No matter how “necessary” you believe it to be. It can not be done ethically under government.

You can sarcastically mock the truth, but the truth doesn’t change to suit your wishes. Not even if you are a president or Scott Adams.

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“How Do You Talk to Someone Who Doesn’t Believe in Climate Change?”

This was actually the first sentence to an introduction to a TED talk, and it illustrates a big part of the problem with Anthropogenic Global Climate Change (AGCC) fanatics. Their condescending need to preach at the rest of us is annoying, as is their conviction that we could be won over to their side.

First of all, climate changes. Very few people seriously doubt that. The Earth has been both a snowball and a sauna in the past. I completely “believe in” the evidence that this has happened and will continue to happen. That’s not what they are talking about when they say “doesn’t believe in climate change”.

They are talking about the fact that intelligent, informed people don’t necessarily worship with their cult of AGCC belief and their preferred social agenda, and they can’t bear it. That’s it.

The best way to “talk” to someone who “doesn’t believe in climate change” is … don’t. Stay quiet. But if you can’t mind your own business, and you ignorantly (and unwisely) broach the subject, maybe you could at least listen to the reasons why they aren’t in your cult. If you can’t do even that much, then drop the religious devotion to your cult before opening your mouth. No one wants to hear it.

Second, it would help if you would recognize that what you are promoting isn’t science. AGCC believerism is partly science; mostly collectivist politics. When you mix politics with science (by funding it through theft, for example) what results is less science than politics. This brand of politicized “climate science” cherry picks data, relies on completely unreliable models (computerized guesswork which is never, NEVER reliable), ignores economics, and violates ethics– all of which would need to be taken into account for AGCC believerism to be credible enough to be taken seriously. They ignore all the inconvenient factors, which is why they aren’t credible, no matter how much they posture and preach. No matter how much they try to talk down to those who aren’t falling for their violently imposed “solutions”.

I believe the Earth’s climate changes over time. I accept that it is possible human activities have changed the rate of change by adding atmospheric carbon dioxide. I don’t doubt there is some amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide which would be trouble. I acknowledge that it is possible, although unlikely, that this climate change is entirely negative, with no benefits at all. I am more open-minded and scientifically oriented on this topic than any AGCC believer. And yet I’m not one of them and can’t support them in any way. That offends their feelings.

I doubt their “solutions” are solutions. I know they aren’t ethical– more government control never is. If they get their way more problems will be created, yet they won’t be held accountable. You can’t let the perpetrator of the greatest amount of environmental damage– The State– tell everyone else what they are allowed to do. Not on this planet or any other. Denying this reality is science denial.

I am completely in favor of businesses and individuals finding ways to reduce pollution of every sort. It’s dumb to foul your own nest. I am not in favor of imposing “solutions” at the barrel of a government gun, no matter what someone imagines will happen otherwise.

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Hypocrisy Alert: Republicans Agreed with Ocasio-Cortez Until About One Minute Ago

When congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) confessed her personal financial dilemma — “I have three months without a salary before I’m a member of Congress. So, how do I get an apartment? Those little things are very real” — to  the New York Times, guffaws broke out on the right.

“Some of those shoots she had during her campaign, she had these multi-thousand dollar outfits that could pay a month’s rent in Washington,” said Fox News correspondent Ed Henry.

“[T]hat jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles,” wrote the Washington Examiner‘s Eddie Scarry in a tweet he deleted after an uproar.

I get it. It’s easy to mock a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” who wants to remake the US economy when she hasn’t proven her own financial acumen by piling up a nice nest egg before running for Congress.

But return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear …

Former House  Majority Leader Dick Army (R-TX), who served in Congress from 1985-2003, slept in his office rather than rent an apartment in DC. So did outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan. In fact, that trend caught on among Republican members of Congress to such an extent that earlier this year it resulted in an ethics complaint from members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

A half-religious, half-political organization  called The Fellowship runs the C Street Center, where (mostly Republican) congresspersons pay discounted rent for rooms — with maid service. Why? “A lot of men don’t have an extra $1,500 to rent an apartment,” The Fellowship’s Reverend Louis P. Sheldon told the Los Angeles Times in 2002.

Some congressional Republicans describe the “live in my office” routine as political theater, demonstrating their principled devotion to “fiscal responsibility.” Others frankly admit that even on a salary of $174,000 a year it’s not easy to maintain two households (one in their districts, one in very, very expensive DC).

And, let’s be clear here: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an outlier. She was a waitress before running for, and unexpectedly winning, election to a body in which the average member’s net worth is more than $1 million. If anyone has a valid complaint about the increased living costs involved with serving in Congress, it’s her.

This is a chance for her to show off her “democratic socialist” credentials. She favors income equality and presumably opposes rent as exploitative, right?

Ocasio-Cortez should introduce a bill to provide housing for members of Congress — in squad bays at Marine Corps Barracks Washington DC, a mere 25-minute walk from the Capitol — while simultaneously reducing pre-tax congressional pay to the average American’s post-tax income.

I wonder how many “fiscally responsible” Republican members of Congress would support such frugality and equality. And, given their own similar preening, why some wouldn’t.

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Ethics 101: Reciprocity

People have been arguing about how to deal with ideas of right and wrong for a very long time. Even now, reasonable people sometimes disagree about where exactly to draw the ethical line on some complex issues. After all, the world is a complicated place.

That being said, one idea has emerged over and over again in the quest to understand right and wrong from essentially every cultural, religious, and philosophical tradition: the ethic of reciprocity.

You may know it as the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do to you.” This basic mutual respect is the cornerstone of civilized behavior and the basis for cooperation and justice. It is natural law in practice.

When people who disagree choose argumentation over aggression, they are demonstrating a preference for mutual respect. Therefore, arguing against mutual respect is a performative contradiction. There is no civilized argument against the ethic of reciprocity.

Uncivilized people use aggression to get what they want. If you find yourself at odds with someone who refuses to abide by the golden rule, you cannot resort to argumentation to resolve the situation. It is in this circumstance that threat management becomes necessary and defensive force becomes justifiable.

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Moral Philosophy and Deer Hunting

Set aside the ethics of hunting itself, and you find that within the act of hunting, there’s a whole world of right and wrong.

Tonight I sat in a tower stand for hours without seeing any activity from the deer population. Then, right as darkness fell, three deer came out. All of a sudden I had some decisions to make.

Whatever your opinion of the moral agency of animals, you’d probably agree if you were there with me that the decision I had to make was a moral one. I had life and death power (in the form of a rifle) in my hands – and that lends a gravity I don’t normally have in my decisions.

Should I shoot even if I don’t have a clear visual of the target? On one hand, I could see pretty clearly that I was dealing with deer. On the other hand, I couldn’t tell how large or how old they were. This is a question of responsibility and due diligence. Is it appropriate to act before I know the full details?

Should I shoot if it’s a doe? On one hand, does are great for meat provision. On the other, this doe was taking care of two yearlings. My answer was no.

There are more questions that extend beyond a single hunt:

Should you pay your local government for permission to hunt? On one hand, you don’t want to have to lie. On the other, your local bureaucrats don’t own you, your land, or the animals that live on it.

To what extent should you feed and attract animals to your land and to certain spots on it? On one hand, this removes only some of the randomness from hunting and supports local wildlife. On the other hand, this may unfairly reduce the hunter’s workload relative to the animal’s riskload.

It’s interesting that so many non-vegans take such care to these questions. The hunting community operates from a code of honor – which applies very much in how we relate to animals. Many of us feel a certain sense of obligation to the creatures we’re hunting.

How those obligations emerge and where they start and stop is a topic for a much longer post, but it’s interesting to see just how complicated the decision to hunt (and to shoot) can be. And it’s powerful to have the live test of making these life and death decisions of ethics.

Originally published at

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