Why I’m Optimistic About Venezuela

If there were mass protests against the government of Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. decided to recognize the opposition as the legitimate government of Saudi, I would expect disaster.  Why?  Because…

1. Supporters of the Saudi monarchy remain powerful and confident enough to aggressively fight back, plunging the country into hellish civil war.

2. If the monarchy loses, it’s most likely replacement will be a revolutionary Islamist dictatorship.

3. Even if the new Saudi government sticks to democracy, the median Saudi voter probably favors even worse policies than the Saudi monarchy now imposes.  In particular, government enforcement of Islamic fundamentalism would tighten, and economic policies would move even further toward socialism and populism.

And now you know why I am optimistic about the constitutional crisis in Venezuela.

1. Supporters of Maduro are too weak and demoralized to aggressively fight back, so I put the risk of hellish civil war below 10%.  (Indeed, since there’s a high base rate for civil wars in situations this dire, it’s quite possible that the risk of civil war has actually fallen due to the crisis).

2. If the Maduro regime loses, its most likely replacement will be a moderate pro-Western democracy.

3. If the new Venezuelan government sticks to democracy, the median Venezuelan almost certainly favors better policies than Maduro now imposes.  In particular, government enforcement of socialist ideology will crumble, and economic policies will move sharply away from socialism and populism.

If you’re too young to remember the collapse of Communism, this is a tiny taste of the sweetness of 1988-1991.  When’s the last time you had reasonable hope of dramatic peaceful pro-freedom change in the world?

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Dear Women: You ARE Your Body, And That Isn’t A Bad Thing; It’s Your Power

The mind/body duality is as fundamental to universal nature as masculine/feminine duality. If you don’t believe in masculine/feminine energy polarities or that there are “masculine” traits and characteristics as well as “feminine” ones, then maybe just stop reading because this article probably isn’t for you. If you do have a deep or even general understanding of this, then continue on…

When it comes to qualities and strengths of the mind and body, it seems fair enough to conclude that the mind is used for more masculine energies (reason, logic, intellect, etc) and the body holds more feminine energy (intuition, flow, sensing, where emotions are stored and felt).

In my opinion, one simple way to break down and describe what so many people call “the patriarchy” is to say it’s a society that fundamentally operates in a way that values the mind (intellect/doing) over the body (intuition/feeling). 

We see this played out everywhere, one of the most obvious and pervasive is the ideology of science and the use of charts, graphs, and measurements to “prove” if something is true or untrue. Science is typically seen as “fixed” and “settled.” There is no room for personal accounts, stories, things that are felt but not seen, etc.

This isn’t to say science is wrong or bad at all. I am simply suggesting that it might not be the ONLY means to discovery. Our dismissal of things like magic, energetics, intuition, and all things meta is a sign of masculine dominance, as these things were quite common and well understood in past times. Some radical feminists point out that the process and politics of modern science is a projection and influence of the western man’s values. Here is an excerpt I like from an article by Dr. Kelly Brogan:

Ever heard the phrase, “…the science is settled?” If so, it didn’t come from the mouth of a true scientist. Scientific dogmas create taboos – things you’re not allowed to ask about or talk about, let alone study and research. But science is not a destination…it is a process of discovery. Moreover, it is a means of studying and honoring the wonder around us and within us. When science is bound and arrested by dogmatic beliefs, it becomes an eviscerated religion that can be co-opted for political gain and control.

Rupert Sheldrake is a brilliant renegade scientist and theorist with this to say on the matter:

“We are, many of us, waking up from a several century long slumber induced by Scientism – the dogmatic belief in the dominant narrative of science as religion. As we wake up to nuance, to new science that defies the old, and to a complexity that often leads us to an awareness of all that we don’t know, those Scientism believers will become more and more uncomfortable. These people may be your family, your doctors, or even your formerly trusted media reporters. They may foam at the mouth and threaten violence at the suggestion that Scientism’s sacred cows (pharmaceuticals, bioengineered foods, industrial chemicals) are not what we have been lead to believe. Stay strong and reconnect to the elegance of a world of natural design, harmony, and regeneration.”

Another way we witness the unconscious cultural belief of mind > body is through this idea that women’s bodies are  “objects” and we should stop appreciating and wanting their beautiful, sexy bodies and instead pursue them for their mind/intellect/creativity. Again, not that the latter qualities are not important, but why isn’t the body seen as equally significant, desirable and powerful?

Ironically, it’s typically other women who I see most demanding to be noticed and recognized for the qualities they possess in their mind, while mocking and ridiculing anything body-centric, essential to female biology (which is a damn powerhouse), is focused on appreciating the female form, or uses intuition as a compass for living.

One might call this the real “internalized misogyny.” The deeply unchecked belief that the mind is more valuable than the body.

In a world where we are so divorced from our bodies and mostly live in the mind, the mind is seen as superior, and all of our ideas and advocating for reform are still rooted in these masculine values of systems, intellect, tests, logic, data, etc…

To me, the new feminism would be a return to embodiment. Yet, as it stands today, it seems we still generally believe the mind is the more sophisticated and trusted between the two, while we depreciate the body as the weaker one. Something susceptible that is to be feared and not trusted. Just a powerless “object” that acts as a distraction to men, couldn’t possibly know when and how to give birth, and offers no healing in and of itself.

I believe if women owned the power of their body, heart, and sex, and made embodiment their practice, that is to say, focused on radically changing “in here” rather than trying to change how everyone responded to us “out there,” then we would see shifts in our world beyond what we could ever imagine.

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Rainwater’s Motivated Reasoning

Lee Rainwater was one of the most prominent liberal sociologists of the Great Society era.  He spent 23 years at Harvard; here‘s the Harvard Gazette‘s memorial to his work.  To be honest, though, I never heard of him until last week.  Yet after I stumbled upon his 1966 Daedalus article, “The Crucible of Identity: The Negro Lower-Class Family,” I was surprised that any academic would so candidly admit to motivated reasoning.  When I discovered that he was an intellectual leader of his generation, I was stunned.

Here’s what stunned me; Rainwater’s in blockquotes, I’m not.  He starts off promisingly enough:

The first responsibility of the social scientist can be phrased in much the same way: “Tell it like it is.” His second responsibility is to try to understand why “it” is that way, and to explore the implications of what and why for more constructive solutions to human problems.

Then he runs right off the rails:

Social research on the situation of the Negro American has been informed by four main goals: (1) to describe the disadvantaged position of Negroes, (2) to disprove the racist ideology which sustains the caste system, (3) to demonstrate that responsibility for the disadvantages Negroes suffer lies squarely upon the white caste which derives economic, prestige, and psychic benefits from the operation of the system, and (4) to suggest that in reality whites would be better rather than worse off if the whole jerry-built caste structure were to be dismantled.

If you wanted to “tell it like it is,” of course, your goal would not be to “disprove” any ideology, but to fairly evaluate it.  Similarly, your goal would not be to “demonstrate” that responsibility lies squarely upon anyone, but to accurately apportion responsibility.  In any case, it’s hard to understand how both (3) and (4) could be true.  If whites would be better-off if the system were dismantled, how can the “white caste… derive economic, prestige, and psychic benefits from the operation of the system”?  I suppose you could treat “the white caste” as the subset of whites who profit, but then the claim is almost tautologous.  Or you could be really defensive and say, “He means ‘gross benefits,’ not ‘net benefits.’”

Are Rainwater’s words really so damning to his own intellectual tradition?  Well, imagine I wrote:

Social research on the situation of the American immigrant has been informed by four main goals: (1) to describe the disadvantaged position of immigrants, (2) to disprove the nativist ideology which sustains the caste system, (3) to demonstrate that responsibility for the disadvantages immigrants suffer lies squarely upon the native caste which derives economic, prestige, and psychic benefits from the operation of the system, and (4) to suggest that in reality natives would be better rather than worse off if the whole jerry-built caste structure were to be dismantled.

Would any judicious reader trust my work on immigration after this declaration?  No.  Why not?  Because I’m talking like a trial lawyer who wants to win a case.  The whole point of research, in contrast, is to stay open to the possibility that you’re wrong.  Sure, you’ve got suspicions.  But you’re supposed to not only verify your suspicions, but energetically look for counter-evidence!  Furthermore, you’re supposed to not just follow these standards yourself, but monitor your intellectual teammates.  The fact that your intellectual subculture wants X to be true urges self-scrutiny, not self-congratulation.

Speaking of that, how’s this for self-congratulation?

The successful accomplishment of these intellectual goals has been a towering achievement, in which the social scientists of the 1920’s, ’30’s, and ’40’s can take great pride; that white society has proved so recalcitrant to utilizing this intellectual accomplishment is one of the great tragedies of our time, and provides the stimulus for further social research on “the white problem.”

What’s most striking about Rainwater’s article, however, is that he provides a wealth of empirical evidence against his own point (3).  Indeed, most of the article is standard “culture of poverty” sociology, documenting high levels of irresponsible and criminal behavior among the underclass.  How then does Rainwater reconcile his theory with the facts?  Again, by the power of motivated reasoning.

Yet the implicit paradigm of much of the research on Negro Americans has been an overly simplistic one concentrating on two terms of an argument:

White cupidity———–> Negro suffering.

As an intellectual shorthand, and even more as a civil rights slogan, this simple model is both justified and essential. But, as a guide to greater understanding of the Negro situation as human adaptation to human situations, the paradigm is totally inadequate because it fails to specify fully enough the process by which Negroes adapt to their situations as they do, and the limitations one kind of adaptation places on possibilities for subsequent adaptations. A reassessment of previous social research, combined with examination of current social research on Negro ghetto communities, suggests a more complex, but hopefully more vertical, model:

White cupidity creates

Structural Conditions Highly Inimical to Basic Social Adaptation (low-income availability, poor education, poor services, stigmatization)

to which Negroes adapt by

Social and Personal Responses which serve to sustain the individual in his punishing world but also generate aggressiveness toward the self and others

which results in

Suffering directly inflicted by Negroes on themselves and on others.

In short, whites, by their greater power, create situations in which Negroes do the dirty work of caste victimization for them. [original punctuation]

Notice: As an ethnographer of black poverty, Rainwater offers little or no data on “white cupidity.”  Furthermore, a straightforward reading of his own evidence is that irresponsible and criminal behavior is, as usual, maladaptive.  All he directly documents is the final clause – the intra-racial “dirty work of caste victimization.”  Only motivated reasoning allows Rainwater to casually interpret these facts as proof of that the “white caste” is to blame for anything.

You could naturally protest that Rainwater is right for the wrong reasons.  Maybe so, but this protest misses the meta point.  Namely: If a brilliant, eminent, and mainstream scholar of the 1960s could be right for such wrong reasons, the brilliant, eminent, and mainstream scholars of today could easily be mired in their own brand of motivated reasoning.  Indeed, so could you.  Or me.  There’s no easy remedy, but the first step is being hyper-aware that we have a problem.

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Portray a Sense of Confidence

People often feel agitated and uncomfortable in the presence of religious/spiritual people. This is because holding any strong moral ideology infers judgement on behavior and that judgement implicitly means judgement of other people’s behavior. This makes people uncomfortable partially in the same way that overly dramatic people make people uncomfortable … their emotional disposition dictates the underlying tone and culture of the interaction.

While this isn’t how it emotionally works with religious people, the higher moral/ethical/personal standards make it so it strongly affects the behavioral culture within the climates they are involved and people don’t wish to be subject to judgement within an ideology they haven’t subscribed to. Additionally, most people feel various subtle feelings of guilt, confusion and a lack of purpose … the presence of someone who seem to have resolved these issues make them feel incompetent and diminished.

While many religious people intentionally elicit these feelings in others as a means of setting the culture, and attaining power/control/dominance, most probably don’t. Most people have these standards and don’t desire to use it as a weapon to hurt or control (at least in Western society). Sure, they might think your behavior isn’t a good idea, but they have no desire to control you or treat you as an inferior.

If you set a culture of tolerance and portray a sense of purpose, confidence, and a coherent value system, you can often feel very comfortable around religious people. You won’t feel subject to their ideology, and the religious person won’t believe it is appropriate to use their values and beliefs in any way to distort the situation. They will often respect the difference and no one will feel feelings of inferiority/superiority.

I believe our discomforts around people who aren’t malicious often reflect our own perceptions of inadequacy and/or insecurity.

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Flying By: My Experience of 2018

It’s that time of year again! The time when the planet Earth is at that one particular spot in its orbit around the sun where a lot of us like to pause, reflect on our lives and the world we live in, and get wasted. So here are my own reflections on the year-that-was, 2018, and my experience of it.

In a number of regards my experience of this year was a boring repetition of the same-old same-old. I lived in the same apartment, worked the same job at the same location, drove the same car, and had the same friends, the same family situation and the same coworkers as the year prior. I don’t view that as being a necessarily “bad” or “good” thing, it just is. It is/was the bedrock of stability from which I can look at everything else.

Traveling-wise, this year I traveled out to Las Vegas, New York City, West Virginia, Michigan, South Dakota and Chicago. So I was able to get some traveling in this year, albeit each one of these trips was a little short trip. I had the most fun in Las Vegas, which is kind of what the city is designed for. But going to New York City was my favorite of them all, simply because: I ❤ NYC.

My time in NYC this year was also probably the most eventful time for me, as far as different big events crammed into a small period of time goes. During my time there I saw a few long-time friends of mine, I ended the friendship with one of those friends, I narrowly missed meeting up with some new friends of mine, I met up with someone who was once a member of a cult that I was once tangentially involved with that nevertheless had a huge impact on my life, I became disillusioned with NVC (which some people also call a cult), and I realized there that going to public anarchist events is a waste of my time. Oh, and I also saw the remains of real-life dinosaurs!

This year I got involved with a bunch of different things/groups that go by Three Letter Acronyms: PCT, NVC, NFP, DSA, LSC. With each of these I went through cycles of thinking that they were quite interesting and that I had a bright future with them, to eventually thinking that they were quite boring and overblown. My thoughts on all of these things now is that they each have their place in life and the world at large, but also that putting too much faith or importance in them is best described with a Two Letter Acronym: BS.

Belief-system-wise, my heart is still with The Beautiful Idea of anarchy/anarchism. There is no particular hyphenated ideology of anarchism that I am tied to, I am more interested in the whole thing in general. Yes, the whole social scene/subculture that surrounds anarchism is total shit, but I am lucky to have some friends who are anarchists as well as a body of thought that speaks to how I see life and the world at large.

Speaking of the world at large, 2018 has been a big year for Politics! I spent a lot of time paying attention to mainstream politics this year, mainly in the U.S., but also in some other countries as well. I view mainstream politics, particularly in the U.S., as being a kind of team sport, and this year I treated it as such. My team that I root for is the Democrats, and so as the scandals, investigations, testimonies and elections wore on, I cheered as my team scored points, booed when the opposing team scored points, and strategized as to how the next few moves can and should play out. I have no illusions that the Democrats, nor any other political party or politician, will ever bring us freedom, meaning, a brave new future, or anything else worthwhile. The whole system is based on deception, death, destruction and despair, it is all propped up with outright violence and the threat thereof, and while it all plays out the Sixth Mass Extinction Event for this planet is continuing on unabated. But team sports, be it political or otherwise, can be a fun way to pass the time, and so that was a game that I partook in this year as well.

Speaking of entertainment, in the world of science fiction Star Trek and Star Wars surprisingly were not that big on my mind this year. 2017 was a big year for me for both of those franchises, but not 2018. This year I would say that my favorite sci-fi TV show was The Expanse, my favorite new sci- movie was Prospect and my favorite new publishing sci-fi author was the wonderful Kim Stanley Robinson. Yes, I acknowledge that there are other genres out there besides science fiction, I just don’t see them as being interesting enough for me to write about here. 😉

Real-life science had an interesting year this year as well, what with SpaceX doing some cool things, a robotic lander successfully touching down on the surface of Mars, the first genetically engineered humans being born, and the details of our impending doom being laid out for all to see and ignore.

Speaking personally, one notable thing for me this year was that 2018 was the year that I turned 40. 40! There is no more pretending that I am a youngling anymore! Ten years ago, when I turned 30, I went through a huge existential moment of trying to figure out who I am and what I am doing in the world. Turning 40 was far less dramatic, more subdued, more accepting of my place in life. I wonder if turning 50 will be similar?

Happy New Year to all! And good luck to New Horizons as it flies by Ultima Thule!

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On Social Justice Warriors

Can you spot the similarity in these two groups? 1) conservative parents who wail against swearing and sexuality in public broadcasting, and 2) social justice warriors (and their liberal feminist compatriots) who wail against conservative speakers on college campuses. If you spotted both groups’ infantilization of others, you are correct! Infantilizing children is, in my opinion, mostly disrespectful, but not too unreasonable considering how impressionable and ignorant they are. I may not agree with the particulars, but a parent’s job is to protect their child, after all. Is it the job of self-appointed social justice warriors to protect their supposedly more impressionable and ignorant peers from “obviously” racist and sexist ideology? They sure seem to think so, which tells us quite a bit about what these social justice warriors think about the intelligence of their fellow students. And that’s today’s two cents.

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