Anger, Fear, and Guns

Once again another mass murder brings up the debate on gun control, and unproductive discussions full of straw man arguments fly.  As I write this I am sitting in Edmonton, Canada where I grew up.  As a Canadian I have a hard time understanding pro-gun arguments, and I think it’s safe to say this would be true for a lot of Canadians and people in many other western countries.  In light of all the gun related deaths and mass shootings in the U.S. it is unfathomable to a lot of us why this right to bear arms is so important compared to other things like health care or education which many people don’t see as rights.  Two things that have the ability to greatly increase your chance of survival not only individually, but collectively as a society.  Such things many people have simply turned their backs on.  Other individual freedoms like the right to privacy have been openly exposed by Edward Snowden.  The outrage minimal, and Edward Snowden is labeled a traitor.  Things like income inequality, fair and democratic voting processes are sometimes discussed but little happens.  This simply adds to why many of us from other countries are simply confounded and don’t understand.

And believe me, I am trying.  If there is one thing you have convinced me of about America, is that any sort of ban on guns will not solve any problems, at least in a major way.  In some countries this might be the case, but not in America.  As many pundits decried after Sandy Hook, if the shooting of elementary school children is not enough to convince anybody that we have a national crisis and that maybe we have to revisit the applicability of the 2nd amendment to this current day and age, nothing will.  I have rested on this conclusion for a little while now, and even wrote a blog piece before in which I ask the question about why, if we won’t give up our guns, can’t we fight for a society in which we don’t need them?  It is along those lines that I want to write about again today, but perhaps looking at it from a different tack.  Because I certainly want to talk about my views, but productively, and try to ask more questions, because I don’t know that I have a lot of answers.  I just know that I really want there to be less shootings and schools and other public venues.  More importantly I want to ask questions that perhaps change thinking and can change culture.  Because I don’t think any true progress on the gun issue can happen unless there is a change in attitude about them.

America has a lot of fear.  While I also groan somewhat at Michael Moore’s overplay to the emotional in his films, his documentary Bowling for Columbine had a central thesis, and that wasn’t about the banning of guns, but that is about us living in a culture of fear.  When you debate about guns with people that are pro-gun, overwhelmingly their best arguments boil down to protection from violent criminals, but also to protection from a tyrannical government.  The very intent, we are told, for the 2nd amendment. Fear can sometimes be a sensible state to live in, if those fears are real.  Are they in this case?  In 2009 it was discovered that of the approximately 15,000 homicides, only 1900 were committed by an actual stranger.  This tends to be true for other violent crimes as well.  It’s people you know.  It isn’t because they broke into your home.  You let them in.  The Pulse shooter was a regular and had passed through the doors many times.  They know you.  Know something about your habits.  Killers pick the time and the place, the chances of you being ready to defend yourself are small.

In terms of protection from the government, well it’s understandable this was a concern of our founding fathers given what they went through.  How applicable is that today?  We know of course many countries that have far less guns, who have less murders and their governments have not rolled over them.  For instance the Netherlands has had between 0.8-1 homicides per 100,000 people (any method) for the past decade.  This country has only 3.9 guns per 100 people.  Such restrictive gun laws have been in effect for at least 20 years and to my knowledge the government has not attacked it’s people. There are of course other similar examples of low gun numbers, low homicide rates and restrictive gun laws without having a tyrannical government.  Are those governments waiting to strike?  Why don’t those governments roll over their unarmed citizens?  Why aren’t the citizens more worried and fighting to gain more access to guns?  Are they fools?  What is different about them and us?  And if they seem content with a lot less guns even when they are unhappy with their government is that an attitude we can learn too.  In talking with a number of people who have served in the military they are rarely happy with their government, Republican or Democratic, and have said to me explicitly that if they were ever asked to turn their guns on the people by the government, they would turn their guns on the government and not the people.  The military are not mercenaries, they are made up of us.  They are trying to protect us.  Why would they aim at us?  The trust you don’t have for your government is the same mistrust the people who make up our armed forces have.  So when you say you need your guns as protection from tyranny you are really saying you don’t trust your military.  Even if these horror of a government were to convince the military to turn guns on the people, of course guns wouldn’t come into play anytime soon.  There would be bombs from planes and drones, tanks rolling through the street, and long range missiles.  Given how armed the citizens are, it seems like the most sensible strategy.  Because among all those military people with guns come people with a lot of training, and experience in strategy.  And the government knows where weapons are being stockpiled by the citizens.  They are coming to destroy your stash first.

But let’s try and go a little deeper.  It seems to me that there is a feeling among those who are pro-gun rights that there is inevitability to certain things.  Governments will eventually always turn on the people.  Criminals will always be plentiful.  I am always in danger from unknown assailants and I need my guns.  To me it is this inevitability that seems to be most damning evidence to this culture of fear.  While no society is without criminals there are societies with a lot less.  While there are no societies without homicides there are ones that have a lot less.  While there are governments that attack their people, there are others that do not.  So we have plenty of examples of how we can change for the better.  What is the attitude and culture of those countries that make them safer from their government and each other?  When you know someone who is doing things in a better way, don’t you usually try and do it that way too?  This is at the heart of what I do not understand.  Even if these fears represent a real in present danger why would we not strive for a society where we live in less fear?  It requires no change to gun laws or the 2nd amendment.  You would simply find that your gun would be sitting in a closet unused as it does in Switzerland.  The oft used example of the safe country with plenty of guns.  Those guns though come from mandatory military service, and they generally sit unloaded in closets by those men and women after they serve.  Nobody is carrying them into the Swiss version of 7/11.

How much damage can an angry person with a knife do, compared to an angry person with a gun?  I hope everybody would agree the latter will do more.  The conversation about guns often focuses on the latter.  It assumed that liberals are thinking that by removing the gun, anger goes away, and it is possible that some liberals think that.  They would of course be incorrect.  Just like there are many societies with low gun numbers, low homicides, and restrictive laws, there are also many nations with restrictive laws, high gun numbers and high homicides.  What are the factors that make those more violent societies? They also seem to have angry people, and angry people with guns.  Our initial question indicates two problems.  Angry people, and angry people with guns.  However both those problems, as you’ll not have something in common. If you could make people less angry, whether or not that person has a gun becomes irrelevant.  And so I agree with the oft used argument that guns don’t kill people, people do.  The problem is people with guns, when they get angry, can do a lot more damage.  Taking away guns won’t reduce the number of angry people just the amount of hurt they can cause.  We can’t treat the problem like it’s all or nothing, if we can reduce deaths we should be doing that shouldn’t we?  But I’m with the pro-gun people, I’d prefer not to take away people’s guns, I’d rather work on the problem of how to make less angry people.  There are solutions to this.  There are examples of societies that have less of them.  There are studies about what factors lead to more peaceful societies.  It’s a challenging road, it means making a lot of other personal changes, but if you think keeping your guns is important those are your options.  Fight for that society that gets the heart of the problem that causes people to want to kill other people.  Don’t just throw your hands up and say it can’t be done.  We know better.

Finally let’s ask an even more fundamental question.  What are the grounds in which we should end someone’s existence?  Trespassing?  Burglary? Being suspected of a crime? Acting suspiciously?  Not listening to the police?  In debates over gun control issues with people you hear a lot about people deserving today.  “He should have listened to the cops instead of running away”, “If anybody steps foot into my house in the middle of the night I’ll shoot him dead”.  In Arizona a lady shot at a car that had children in it for simply turning around in her driveway.  In a country with due process, with guns we suddenly all get to become judge, jury, and executioner all at once.  In an excellent video about how we can arrive at morality through scientific means over divine guidance, they talk about why we have gradation of punishment in society for crimes.  Why for instance do we not punish rapists (a horrible crime) with the death sentence?  I honestly never thought about it before. Rape of course is an absolutely horrific crime.  The reason is, that if you are already going to be put to death for rape, you have nothing to lose really by killing your victim.  Your punishment can’t be made worse.  Imagine if all crimes were punishable by death.  Would this lead to a more orderly society, or a more violent one?  So if, as many claim, there is nothing we can do about criminals.  If we now arm everyone to the point where criminals now feel any crime they commit is likely to lead to them being shot, what is the response of the criminal mind?  Does the criminal let fear prevent them from doing the crime, or does the criminal simply increase their own arsenal when committing crimes?  Do the criminals not become more deadly instead of committing crimes less frequently?

Given the amount of guns in the U.S., we should be the most orderly society, but we are not.  So once again, I agree that there have to be other factors that lead to a more orderly society with less violent crime.  Can we not all agree to fight for those things?  Can we listen to our sociologists, mental health experts, people who study deviant behavior? Can we all work together to de-stigmatized mental illness? Can we all fight against poverty and income inequality?  Can we demand a media that doesn’t sensationalize and misrepresent statistics to attract viewers, but actually informs and covers issues objectively and reasonably?  Can we all fight for a government that has politicians that don’t try to make you feel afraid to win your votes?  They give you things to fear, give vague solutions on how they are going to make the fear go away, but they never do.  If one side is so naïve as to removing guns from the equations is the answer, then you also have to take responsibility for suggesting that more guns is the answer either.  If you are going to say having your gun is important, and that it is your right, then ethically if you have compassion, and care about living in a society with less death and violence you must fight for all these other things.  You must research solutions to how we create a society, like many that exist currently, with less angry people (whether they have guns or not).  Your evolutionary advantage is not your ability to shoot a firearm.  It’s your brain.  If you can’t see that increasing happiness in society is a more effective means of keep you and other safer then you yourself are a victim of the same fear that ends too many lives.

Shepherding the Earth: Fallacies That May Destroy Us All

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts called The Hidden Brain on NPR and they were talking about the climate change situation in a great episode called Losing Alaska.  Basically they were saying that scientific arguments have little merit anymore in talking about climate change.  I would have to say that I agree.  As WhiteEarthWhite EarthAlaskaMuirGlacierDisappearingFast194120040001Asomeone who holds a Ph.D. in the Atmospheric Sciences I can most certainly say that few people that I have debated with on the subject truly understand the problem scientifically and I don’t claim to be the smartest person in the world, this is simply the truth.  My field is applied math and physics.  Not only that, the climate system is complex.it   Involves interdisciplinary knowledge as well in chemistry, oceanography and geology.  To change someone’s mind from a scientific point of view, it would take a lot of study and learning.  Now you may be saying, wait I accept man-made climate change, and it it’s pretty obvious.  Well I would argue that you don’t really understand it, but it’s easier for you to accept because it already fits in with your ideology.  And I don’t say that to be demeaning, especially I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad ideology to have.  Specifically the one in which we recognize that something is very complex and we don’t have years to study it on our own so maybe I should listen to what experts are saying.  Much like we tend to believe our doctor when they tell us we have cancer as opposed to learning the requisite knowledge we need in order to test ourselves.

Instead of a Heavenly Father, maybe a Mother Earth isn’t a bad person to start worshiping.

But more to the point it really does come down to our personal ideology whether we accept the science, because let’s face it the science is telling us some pretty harsh things.  Not only is the Earth in a lot of trouble, but we actually might be responsible for it all.  And in order to combat the problem we are causing we are going to have to give up a great deal.  Transitioning away from a fuel source we heavily depend on will require large shifts in business and industry affecting the jobs of many.  And of course such a transition cannot be made overnight, but even at a moderate pace will require a cultural change at a rate faster than many of us would have a hard time adjusting too.  That of course does not make it any less compulsory.  Interestingly this podcast made the argument that we all are capable of great sacrifices at times of war or crises, and that dealing with man-made climate change requires an approach that is used by religion rather than one that is used by science.  I find myself having a hard time disagreeing.  While I would love to live in a society where science had a much more powerful influence on changing minds ultimately it does seem that we need to change minds at an emotional level over an intellectual one (which is to me what the podcast suggested by saying a “religious approach”).

In that vein, I wanted to address some of the main arguments I see used by climate change deniers, which tend to be more ideologically based instead of arguments that attack the scientific data on the subject.  They are more dangerous to me, because they seem reasonable.  They seem irrefutable.  This is not the case.

Science had been wrong before, why should we trust scientists?

                          The Geocentric Universe

This is quite true.  Scientists have been wrong before.  In fact progress is actually built on that very premise.  But notice the word “progress”.  It always strikes me as strange that people overlook this aspect of science.  Much like we learn from our own mistakes and grow and get better as people, this is how science works as well.  So we do get things wrong, but we also get a lot of things right.  Your daily lives in this modern world are a living result of that.  From the car you drive to the device in which you are punching out your arguments.  Now you could be right that someday we will discover that we were all wrong about this, but if we do, it will not because we were willfully trying to mislead people, but rather a new discovery has allowed us to view the world in a different way thus disproving our theory.  So unless you’ve got that said discovery I can guarantee you that our assessment about the state of the climate system is based on the best available knowledge we have about how it works.  And personally I see no shame in acting in the best interest of all on this planet based on what we know of it.

Finally, just because you don’t trust science or want to focus on the things it got wrong makes it your problem, and not science’s problem.  To refute climate change science on those grounds is to commit the genetic fallacy.  Directly address the assertions being made by those advocating the position in terms of their conclusions analysis of their data.  That is really your only option.  To explain it more simply “Al Gore is a democrat, and I hate democrats.  Al Gore gives evidence for why man-made climate change is happening, but since he is a democrat, he must be wrong.”  That’s not how it works.  Sorry.

Scientists are just doing it for the money. IPCC is corrupt.  Liberal media…

This argument is the same as the genetic fallacy because it is again an attempt to discredit to the reliability of the source to simply argue away what the source has to say.  I’ll admit that in such instances I will use the same fallacious argument back, because, quite honestly two can play that game, and I can play it better.  Let’s say all of us scientists are ego driven money-grubbing bastards.  My options are renewable energy companies and liberal governments, or oil companies.  Hmmm…I wonder who has more money.  Not only that with all the other scientists clearly in the wrong camp, all that sweet oil money could be mine (as it was for Wei-Hock Soon) as there are even less people to share it with.

In terms of fame, the fallacious argument made by deniers fall even shorter.  If I had definitive proof that all the other scientists were wrong.  I would be the one who was famous.  I’d be on all the news programs, giving talks around the world on a sweet oil company payroll, and even the liberal media would have me on their shows even to abuse me while I valiantly stuck to my guns with the full conviction that I was doing my science right.  I would be the hero of deniers everywhere.

Sometimes even fallacious arguments are hardly worth the effort.

The climate has changed before when humans weren’t around.  It’s natural.

7wG9WakThis is the first part of an argument constantly used.  It’s also known in logic as a type of naturalistic fallacy.  Just because something can happen naturally, doesn’t mean it can’t happen unnaturally.  Do floods happen naturally?  Sure.  Can floods also happen because of human activities?  Absolutely.  Natural selection happens in evolution.  But you know what also happens?  “Unnatural selection”.  The fruits and vegetables we eat, the dogs and cats we have as pets, and the horses we ride are all examples of this.   The same thing can happen with or without intention.

We cannot have an impact on something as big as the Earth.

                                                       The ecosystem formerly known as rain forest.

This argument is made without any substantiation at all.  It is often also used by people who are trying not to be religious but would rather take the James Inhofe argument that God controls the climate!  Of course examples of how we have changed climate locally can be found all over through the building of structures like dams on rivers, cutting down forests and poor farming practices.  In terms of the climate change issue specifically this person does a pretty nice break down of looking at how the amount of carbon we produce can quite easily explain the increase in carbon since pre-industrial levels.  There is no reason to believe that we couldn’t have such a global impact.  In fact that argument always seems to me a way of insulting or discrediting scientists again because it’s a pretty important question to answer before we would even start putting out evidence about climate change.  I mean if the amount of carbon we produce paled in comparison to the amount of increase we’ve seen then I am not sure how the scientific consensus could be developed in the first place.  It’s like when people say, the warming is being caused by the sun, and I think to myself “Oh my…we scientists all forgot to take into account the sun.  I better make a few calls.  Can’t believe we missed that one!”.

The Earth will survive.  We’ve had major disasters before and life persists.  Whatever is going to happen is going to happen.

This is the most insidious arguments, because it’s not fallacious at all in a logical sense.  However it is apathetic and immoral.  A lot of times people will say things like…”we’re just another species.  Whatever we do is natural, and whatever happens will happens.”

Let’s say you are an emergency manager who works at a national park in a mountainous area.  The weather is starting to warm and there has been heavy rains in the mountains and typically when such rains occur, especially in combination with some ice jams in the water flash flooding occurs.  It’s not a guarantee, but likely.   A town at the foot of the mountain in which the river runs through is going to get flooded, people could easily die if they are not warned.  This is a natural event, it was going to happen whether humans are around are not do you warn them?

I think most people would answer that they would.  To me arguing that doing nothing is the only option we have because the Earth is just going to do is thing is tantamount to doing nothing in this example, and simply letting people die.  Many people who accept the fact that the climate is changing but don’t think man is responsible still must accept the consequences to this warming.  Some of the one’s we are more sure of are:

  1. Rising sea levels drowning coastal populations and increased damages and deaths from coastal hazards such as tropical storms and tsunamis
  2. Increased heat waves and droughts
  3. Increases in extreme weather events as climate patterns shift
  4. Increased severity of extreme weather events.

What’s more is that these types of things will adversely impact the most vulnerable of the worlds population.  People who are in poverty.  People who depend on subsistence farming.  When local hazards happen communities do make sacrifices, and do look for solutions, through re-zoning laws, construction improvements, and other engineering solutions to try and make the world safer and have less loss of life.  So even if man has nothing do with the problem it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a responsibility to act to come up with a solution.

One can be logically sound but be ethically and morally irresponsible.  Ignoring what experts are saying, making sweeping and unsubstantiated statements that there is nothing we can do, that it’s just nature, and the Earth will be fine is really the same as having the power to do something to save lives and not doing it.  And this is why I agree that the conversation about climate change has to shift away from science and facts and be more about compassion, about love for our fellow human beings, valuing equality so that we all have the same chance to adapt and survive the changing climate, and about taking responsibility for the home that sustains us all.  These are important values regardless of what is causing the climate to change and these are things we can address and even already have some solutions for.  Of course I know that is even overly idealistic to think that such a solution of addressing people on an emotional level might work.  Hell it’s difficult to find a religion that unanimously agrees poverty is something we should do something about. I feel pretty bleak in general about us actually doing something about climate change.  It requires people to move beyond nationalism, beyond their own religious beliefs and worldview, which tend to not be very worldly at all.  Maybe we can’t win against the forces of nature, but it sure would nice if we could overcome the forces that divide us as a species.  We can try.  Maybe in the end it really is easier to move mountains.

Technological Literacy

I’ve been thinking a lot about technology lately. There are times when I feel I have made it too big a part of my life.  While I tend to be positive about this new age we live in, as I’ve written before, there are times when I feel like I might not be made for it because it can get very draining.  I see too much of the compassionless banter in comments sections or Facebook threads; story after story of tragedy, injustice, or prejudice.  Then there are times when I miss it.  There are people I have good conversations with over the internet.  There are moments where I laugh, and there are plenty of moments when I learn something valuable, something important, and something that will make me a better person.  I think about my many friends, some who I have known in person and live far away from, and I can still keep in touch and follow their lives to a certain extent.  I care and wonder about them often and the internet gives me ways of staying in touch that would be harder without it.  Some friends, I have never even met in real life, yet all of who I enjoy learning from, getting to know better, and some who have become as close as any other friend in my life, always provide me with an enriching experience.  In some ways I feel like my life would be less for not having met them and am thankful I have this thing called the internet that has such long arms that I can reach across the world and hold on to people that seem amazing to me and when they reach back I know it’s the beginning of a wonderful relationship.

I’ve been listening to a podcast on NPR called Invisibilia and one episode on there is looking at how computers have changed our lives and how they might change our lives in the future. What’s interesting is that you find many people who have zero problem with the way computers and related technology (smart phones, tablets, Google glasses) have become a regular part of our lives and have made us better humans.  They are ready for the future and all the wonders it will bring.  One gentleman named Thad Sturner believes that in time humans will have interfaced with computers so completely that eventually we will all become essentially cybernetic.  Those that have lived more “integrated” lives claim that the technology has made them better in every way, from how well they do their job to more meaningful face to face interactions with other humans.

Still of course there are those who have a not so favorable view of it. It can be addictive like anything else, and often not in a healthy way.  The validation we often get when we post things on-line through likes and comments can often give us a dopamine release but doesn’t necessarily help us really solve problems we might have or understand issues that make us upset.  A study of Chinese tweets found that anger was the most common emotion expressed over social media, and the anonymity of the internet can cause many people to let out cruelty that they would never let out in a face to face situation.  However that anonymity can also allow people to participate in discussions and express themselves in positive ways, that they may be too shy to do face to face, or because of societal pressures that prevent them from expressing themselves in ways that they would wish.

Rather than spend a lot of time posting all the research about how social media and the internet has or can change us, what’s clear is that academically a lot of people are studying it. People find adverse effects and positive effects.  It seems to me that most of what gets posted are negative impacts of technology or that our choices are between using technology and dealing with the consequences or backing away from it because it is seen as an unhealthy source of stress, shame, or anger.  But perhaps the time has come where we shouldn’t be trying to fight technology.  Our children are going to be immersed in this world, and while there is no doubt that developmentally children need time away from the screen, they are still going to be using smart phones, and tablets, and computers regularly in their lives.  So what they really need from parents, teachers, and society is the simple acceptance of this fact and need to be taught what are the harmful and beneficial behaviors in this new world of the internet and social media.  They need to learn about better ways to communicate through this medium.  They need to be reminded that technology is always a tool to be used as a means to end, and not the end itself.  As a tool, the internet, computers, social media have a vast variety of uses some good and some bad; some enhancing our functions, some suppressing or adversely shaping our functions.   As parents of this next generation we must help our keeps be effective navigators in this digital world, not just literate in finding information and surfing the web, but navigating the emotions, the attitudes, the pitfalls, and the advantages of this world.  Just like being aware of cognitive biases helps us perceive the world in a better way.  Being more aware of the impacts of computers in our lives will help us utilize the technology better.  I would support modern research about the interaction between humans, computers, and social media being used to design a curricula to be taught to school children. Perhaps around middle school.  I think it’s become that important.

I had recently reblogged a couple of good ethics posts about robots and artificial intelligence and what challenges our future holds. This era is coming sooner or later and so it’s time we gave up the fight against these technologies and start using them in a more moral and impactful way.  I say this not in any kind of judgment either, but rather as one who struggles with this myself.  We need to gain the literacy and positive ethics with this technology so that as new technology develops with the potential to be more world changing, that we can don’t find ourselves behind the curve as we seem to be today on the more negative aspects.

I for one am making a vow that I am going to work to use technology in a way that enhances me  and my world instead of diminishing me and my world.

A Quick Word About Heroes

I have had several posts that deal with the idea of heroes and are propensity for elevating people to the heights of perfection.  Such posts can be posted here, here and here.  But I also wanted to add to this an excellent post by somebody who is turning into one my heroes (because he hasn’t revealed any flaws to me…yet) who writes an excellent ethics blog.  He approaches the idea of heroes with an excellent thought experiment and by reminding us that it’s the worth of the ideas we should always be analyzing rather than the worth of the person who puts forth those ideas.  Now I promise not blog anymore about heroes. 🙂  Maybe.

Do I have to vote?

Let me start by saying that I think voting in a democracy is important.  I never realized its importance when I was younger but as I’ve grown to learn and care more about the importance of governance (notice I didn’t say politics) the more driven I am to vote.  I am finally eligible for citizenship in the U.S. and will become a citizen before the next Presidential election.

Part of learning more about politics and governance has also left me pretty dissatisfied with the choices I have in our political system.  At the national and for most major positions at the state level you have two

A study by two political scientists at Northwestern University. (From http://media.chicagomag.com)

parties to choose from.  As if two philosophies had a chance of representing over 300 million people.  Washington right now is broken as there is no working together to pass laws that will help people.  A frightening statistic I just recently read said that public opinion has no correlation to the passing of laws right now in this country.  This would seem to be an odd thing to find in a democracy where our vote is supposed to represent the will of the people.  It would seem that the people do not control the government.

The media has also highlighted races between candidates where one seems completely incompetent and idiotic, while the other is a happy combination of bigot and religious that you can’t imagine either candidate being someone you’d want in office.  Is it then okay to not vote in that situation?  Is it always more ethical to vote for the lesser of two evils than to not vote at all?

So let’s say you believe government is broken and/or the two party system is broken, and you have terrible candidates to choose from and you wish to let the powers at be know that this is unacceptable, does not voting said that message?  Now a scholar may look at the level of apathy and say, wow nobody really has faith in our government or political system and so that’s why nobody is voting.  But of course that may be right, but it also may be wrong. There are other possible reasons for apathy.  One is that you are person who thinks everything is just rosy and so you really don’t care who is in power.  Or like many, you can’t afford to miss a day’s work to go an vote with everybody else.  Ultimately those in power though won’t really care as long as they are re-elected they just need at least somebody to vote in order for a candidate to be chosen.  Perhaps if everyone refused to vote that might make a difference, but that’s unlikely to happen.

So “not voting” isn’t really effective.  So what might be effective?  One possibility is that you could run for office yourself.  Of course you are likely to get “out-moneyed” by any of the two established parties, but you could still run.  The Tea Party movement, as misguided as they all are, was grass roots, and grass roots movements can grow into something big.  When they got big enough to try and make an impact in government, they got absorbed by one of the established parties and as a result it’s actually weakened the identity of the Tea Party and the Republican Party.  It should have remained its own party.  Anyway, that’s besides the point. The point is that a difference can be made even if you start from the ground up.  But maybe you’d like some encouragement that your movement might be successful.  This brings us to the second possibility of how you can protest and that’s simply to vote.  You don’t have to vote for Democrat or Republican.  You can vote for another party, you can even write in a candidate.  If the amount of people who seem dissatisfied with congress actually didn’t vote for the established two parties many would realize that there is actual need for some other party to establish themselves and that there are a bunch of people who are not apathetic about the process but actually really care, but think that the current two party system or current set of people we have to choose from are unacceptable.  So the answer is still to vote, but don’t feel like you have to vote D or R.  The right to vote means you have the right to vote for who you want and who represents your views.  You don’t have to always vote for one party, you don’t have to feel like you have to just vote for the other guy, because the current guy wasn’t great.  So your research, get informed, and vote for somebody you think will do the job well and represents your views.

The only true way to waste your vote is by not voting. Because if the current system of government is truly broken, then doing nothing changes nothing.  And remember that voting is only one way in which your voice can be heard, so don’t forget that caring doesn’t need to only happen at election time.

More ramblings about climate change

I was asked to submit an essay to include in an introductory climatology text by a colleague but what I originally wrote didn’t get accepted because it was decided they wanted to place it in another chapter with a slightly different take so I had to make some revisions and changes.  I liked the original though and thought I would post it here.

In 2010 the burning of fossil fuels and the production of cement released 33.4 billion metric tons of carbon into the air.  It’s a big number.  An intimidating one perhaps, but what does it really mean?  Can any human identify with such a number?  A weight we can’t possibly experience for a gas that we can’t see.

Global averages temperatures which are not experienced by anyone. (from http://www.globalsherpa.org)

As individuals we experience only a fraction of the surface area of the Earth at any one time.  Our ability to experience change on a global scale is extremely limited.   The detection of changes in temperature on such long time scales is masked by diurnal and seasonal fluctuations.  We don’t experience average temperatures, yet the important environmental issue of our times asks us to take action based on things we do not perceive in our everyday life.

As individuals we are heavily biased towards survival from the pressures we face every day.  Civilization has given us the comfort of living apart from environmental pressures that other species experience more acutely.  It could be that civilization only gives us the advantage of delaying these pressures and gives us the illusion of comfort.  As an evolved species of animals who depends on other life for our very survival, our ability to fight off the enormous pressures that nature can exert may be dwindling.

In a typical thunderstorm there are approximately 1 x 1018 droplets.  Of course no one droplet means very much, but the collective of droplets in

From http://www.albany.edu

the cloud itself can produce lightning, damaging winds and hail, and flash flooding.  With approximately 7 billion people on the planet it is easy to view ourselves as a single drop.  With the issue of climate change it may be time to focus on what we are in fact part of:  As a species with a massive and growing global population with a great deal of power to change the world for better or for worse.  The question then becomes, “What can we, as individuals, do?”

On September 27th meteorologist and journalist Eric Holthaus, in response to the 5th Assessment Report on Climate by the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), vowed never to fly in an airplane again.  He felt very strongly about his carbon footprint.  A criticism often made against climate scientists who travel to conferences and meetings to discuss the issue.  His gesture is extremely noble and perhaps sets a good example for the rest of us.  He participates in many meetings now via Skype to avoid flying.  There are probably many of us, companies and organizations alike, who may not be taking great advantage of the technology that is available to us.  However, his case may also be an example of our disconnect between experiences as individuals without seeing the whole picture.  A response by William MacAskill, an ethicist at Oxford, pointed out that while Holthaus’ individual footprint might be high, his active participation through face-to-face interactions with policymakers internationally may reduce carbon emissions so drastically that it more than offsets his carbon footprint.  We all have different roles as individuals as part of the whole and although Holthaus’ sacrifice is well intentioned, perhaps he has not chosen the best way to reduce his carbon footprint given his abilities and role in this world.

Life constantly asks us to find that delicate balance between our individual needs and those of the collective.  It asks us to evaluate how our individual freedoms impinge on the freedoms of others.   The consequences of our actions as individuals have never had more far reaching impacts.  Climate change impacts the largest community we are part of: the global community.  The truth is, we all share the same space even if we can’t experience it.  It’s important to remember that in the individual fight for survival we always do it best when we work together.

Society. Fixed. Done.

There is one solution that really solves all our problems.  It’s just two words.  In these two words there is no more hunger, no more war, no more cruelty, or rape.   There is equality amongst gender and races.  People can have guns and don’t have to have taxes imposed on them.  Everybody makes smart decisions about their health, about sex, about when to be a parent, about how to be a parent, and raise their children well.

You probably know people like this, and you know people who advocate it because it’s so obvious and easy.  It’s called Personal Responsibility.  I capitalized it because it’s so important and because it is the answer.  Alright, I’m done blogging.

…hang on…nope…I just remembered something.  We don’t live in a utopian fantasy.

  • You shouldn’t need to have a law that tells you to wear a seat belt or text while driving I know this is important so I drive safely
  • You shouldn’t need a law that forces you to get health insurance or makes you be a responsible employer and take care of your employees by giving them a living wage
  • You shouldn’t need to have laws that force you to hire women and minorities as it should be self evident that gender and race don’t matter and that ultimately it boils down to who is best for the job
  • You shouldn’t need to have gun control laws.  One can be trained how to use a gun and keep it in a safe place away from children
  • You shouldn’t need to impose regulations on corporations.
  • You shouldn’t have taxes imposed on you.  If something is important I’ll be happy to contribute some money to someone who will do what needs to be done.
  • You shouldn’t need to get welfare because you can work.
  • You shouldn’t need money as an incentive to work.
  • You shouldn’t get raped if you are personally responsible about what you wear and how you behave (umm…how about being personally responsible and not raping someone?)

These are just some of the common complaints you hear from people in regards to laws, governance, and “responsible” behavior.  Anyone can see how sensible these statements are, theoretically.  Yet one wonders why indeed do we have laws or talk about imposing such laws and regulations?  If everyone was as awesome as you, who feels so injured to have something imposed on you when you already know you should do it, what’s the point of government sticking its nose in your business? Why is society dictating my behavior when I already know better?  You know your business and conduct yourself responsibly.  Right?

For now I am going to pretend that nobody is willfully ignorant (which is also pretty utopian).  The problem of course is, that personal responsibility is kind of like the nature of God.  Everyone has a different definition of what it means.  If every citizen in the country had the same definition of personal responsibility things might be alright.  Although this in itself would be hard for a big country, in which everybody lives in different regions and by definition the regional disparity requires different needs.  It only takes a handful of farmers to feed a lot of people, yet those farmers are just as important as the whole lot of people they feed.  So the first step would be for all people to accept within a country at the very least that people in all parts of the country have value and we may have to contribute some of our income to them.  This might include roads, education, and protection.  Protection itself can come in the form of a police department, fire department, or military.  One could argue that if everyone was personally responsible the need for a police department kind of goes away.

A personally responsible society however also recognizes their place in the world and in nature, and so realizes that the decisions they make might adversely impact other countries and wants to make sure that it is nice to other countries.  They recognize the value of preserving wildlife and rare species and is responsible about what it hunts and where it builds.  They recognize the true cost, not only in monetary units of drilling, mining, extracting.   This type of responsibility also costs some money because sometimes we might have to do things a little more expensively to preserve ecosystems or protect the environment.  This personally responsible society doesn’t mind.

And accidents do happen.  There are infectious diseases, natural disasters, etc.  Society pays for things in which nobody is to blame.  It is the personally responsible thing to accept that and contribute to help mitigate damage and help rebuild and repair.

Most of the people in this personally responsible society don’t feel too much stress, because the very rich realize that they don’t really need all that money and are quite happy to use their massive wealth to help out the person who doesn’t make too much of his own.  As a successful head of corporation he is extremely happy to contribute more to society because he has a lot of excess.

What a great place to live, but of course it doesn’t exist.

So perhaps the first question we might ask,  “Is everybody capable of this broad set of requirements for personal responsibility?  Of course the answer is no.  Nurture plays a big role in this.  We have belief systems, disparity in education, disparity in resources.  Even if nurture could everywhere be equal, we still have genetic differences.  Some people have physical and mental disorders.  Trauma happens in people’s lives that impact their ability to function at a high capacity.  Even when it’s an accidental event, and not something like murder or rape.  The free market ends some businesses, causing people to lose jobs.  Theoretically new jobs are created, but those might be in some other location.  Another country even.  Also as time goes on we make new discoveries in science and technology.  The industrial revolution has brought about climate change, but it seems unlikely that we started building all these factories knowing the harm it would do in the future.  As we become aware of things, new areas of responsibility become apparent.  So there is going to be a natural evolution towards winners and losers, new problems to deal with as old ones become understood and more cost efficient, and the personally responsible thing to do would be work together to continue fighting that imbalance.  It requires vigilance.

The next question we need to ask is “What can be done to make people more personally responsible?”  There is no quick fix, and there is no one answer.  Education can make us better aware of problems that impact society.  Of course knowledge and wisdom are very different.  In Plato’s famous treatise on love he talked about agape and love of humanity; a brotherly love for all mankind.  We need more of this kind of love, but people fear (and perhaps with good reason) that it comes at the cost of a loss of individualism.  I’m not certain that is completely true, but it might be.  But this love must extend to more than just to our fellow human, but to life itself.  The planet.  Our home.  We must also be humble and lose our conceit.  It may have served us well in our evolutionary past, but now survival is not so difficult when we are working together.

Love for the humanity and the planet, however begins at the individual level.  It begins by showing compassion and love to those in our lives and those we meet.  Helping those who need help and also thinking about how best to help them.  Being personally responsible is a journey within our own lives and does not happen overnight.  It is journey that doesn’t end when you’re 30 or 40 or 50, but continues your entire life.  And it is everyone’s job to be personally responsible but always keeping in mind that some people simply don’t have the ability to contribute as much as you, often through no fault of their own, and when you help raise them up and show sincere concern for their well-being they are likely to reciprocate that generosity.  Finally we must value happiness over wealth.

And even after all that…it’s a struggle.  The great thing is though if we do a better job of keeping these virtues in our heart we will never struggle alone.