Reality Check

Reality n. Philosophy. 1. That which exists independently of the mind of the observer. (Latin realitas from re "thing" and alia "other").

So of late, I've been noticing...everyone is a moron. Everywhere you look, people say patently ridiculous things, violating every orifice of the Principle of Non-Contradiction. So, I thought I'd list just a few of their capital offenses against logic. Not that anyone will read them, but I'll have done my bit—the rest of you can go to hell.
  • Routinely, conservative commentators denounce "spread the wealth" or "redistributionist" policies as Socialism. Um...you slept through Economics 101, didn't you? By definition, no economic system where the means of production are in private hands, whether distributed or concentrated, is Socialism. In Socialism they rest in the hands of the State. Now certainly granting the state the right to decide how wealth is distributed is somewhat socialistic, but in principle an even distribution of ownership of capital is preferable to concentrated ownership (notice, the capital itself may still be concentrated--I'm talking about ownership of it). Conservatives need to relearn economics.

  • Another economic error conservative commentators make is equating Capitalism with a Free Market. Now, Capitalism means "that economic system where the means of production are possessed by a minority, and the majority, dispossessed of the means (proletarians) are compelled by economic necessity to labor for the minority, to the minority's profit, while political liberty is retained by all." Notice--nothing about state involvement at all. In 18th Century Mercantilism the state was seen as identical with trade, but the system was still capitalist because of its distribution of capital. A Free Market is one that is minimally regulated, and then generally only in the interests of public safety. One can have a free market without Capitalism--the American South had free market slavery (political liberty not possessed by all, but the market largely unregulated), and some medieval nations had fairly free markets with the capital all in the hands of private individuals, the peasants and the craftsmen.

    Conservatives, or more usually Libertards (er, -tarians), having these two concepts muddy in their minds, frequently denounce grassroots, bottom-up movements to increase private ownership of stock and other forms of capital, as interference with the free market, since they increase the proportion of peopl with wealth. They interfere with capitalism; if anything they increase the freedom of the market.

  • So over on Wikipedia, the policy that everything has to be backed up with a published source, the weirder the claim the more sources necessary, quotes Hume's soundbite that exceptional claims require exceptional proofs. Now, leaving to one side that Hume was a fourth-rate philosopher, Wikipedia has nothing whatsoever to do with Hume's conception of proof. "No Original Research" means, pure and simple, that you're forbidden from actually producing proof. No, on Wikipedia, you have to find some published source that says it. Of course, this is a classic argumentum ab auctoritate, the weakest form of proof, and is not dissimilar to the most blind, fideistic forms of Sola Scriptura. Maybe it's a bad idea to quote one of the early Empiricists in support of basing everything exclusively on blind allegiance to authority.

  • So, Ayn Rand, again. God, she's dim. Let's count the ways:
    1. These two quotes:
      Aristotle may be regarded as the cultural barometer of Western history. Whenever his influence dominated the scene, it paved the way for one of history's brilliant eras; whenever it fell, so did mankind.
      The Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was a conscious rebellion against the anti-human, otherworldly values of medieval Christendom. In its metaphysics and epistemology, the Renaissance was essentially Aristotelian.
      Hey, retard: the medievals were Aristotelian (heard, perhaps, of Aquinas?); the Renaissance saw a huge revival of Platonism, owing to the influx of Byzantine scholars after the fall of Constantinople. Also Hermeticism, Neo-Gnosticism, and less pleasant thngs--it was a golden age of alchemy and magic, compared to the rationalistic progressivism of Aquinas, Nicole Oresme, and the Chartres school. Two words the medievals coined: modern and progress.

    2. If one reads Atlas Shrugged, Rand's ideal seems to be one where individual craftsmen own the means to express their talents, independent of corporations or governments--and then the stupid bint goes on to sing the praises of capitalism! I must admit, while she seems to think competition is necessary to insure quality (it's not--do doctors compete?), she is remarkably free of the fetishization of it that characterizes many of her followers. But that's not really the point; the point is, Ayn, Ayn, Ayn, sit down before you hurt yourself. The system you dream of existed, it was real, it could've been yours (look, I referenced John Galt!): it was called a Guild. Competition is replaced as a barrier to entry by the simple expedient of tests (if you're not good you don't get in--again, seems to work for doctors); the individual owns all his tools and contracts with whomever he wishes.

    3. I'm not the only one who's noticed, but she completely ignores the existence of children. "I'm self-made!" she screams, and all her characters scream. Really? You fed and clothed yourself at the age of two months? Leaving to one side the fact she didn't make herself exist either (Existence exists, Aynny, true—your betters call it God), her philosophy breaks down the second one considers how people come into the world. Absent a concept of morality more complex than "rational self-interest," there's no reason to have children, certainly none to care for them.

  • My sister (younger, not older) is currently in education college, training to teach English and Math. My parents are both teachers, as is my aunt and was my paternal grandmother. Now, frequently, they encounter people who complain about "teaching to the test," as though American teachers would go into so much depth if not for the tests. Thing is, though...Asia teaches to the tests. Has for 2400 years, give or take the odd rebellion by palace eunuchs. Their education systems ain't doing too bad. Funny how the problem with American education is always anything except "the teachers are incompetent" or "the parents don't give a damn" (God help the kid who's got both troubles).

  • Just people in general, feeling themselves justified in spouting off with no information. A few gems from my first and second year at Northern Arizona University:
    Capital offenses are handled at the national level.
    Um, not in America, 'cept for a very few crimes, dude. This from a Poli Sci professor, for god's sake.
    In Japan they don't have schoolkids in all these clubs and sports, distracting from their education.
    Actually it's frequently mandatory to join a club, and when it's not, kids who don't are referred to as "the go home early club".
    They don't have machismo in Japan.
    Just read that line a few times. Yeah.


Energy Beings

Yeah, so I decided not to digress onto the matter of the Navajo gods--bit off topic. It's gone.

But the discussion of the gods did remind me of something that could be interesting, but is absolutely never handled right: energy beings. The Q, the Ancients, even the First Ones (yeah they're handled better, but "better than Star Trek" isn't saying much). Energy beings are, very largely, an excuse to have fairies/gods without rattling the cages of the materialist troglodytes (four words: allegory of the cave).

Now, there is an opinion abroad in the land that energy beings represent, in the words of TVTropes, "the unpopularity of philosophical materialism among science fiction writers."

You fail metaphysics forever. Also relativity.

See, if something's made of energy, it's still material. Relativistically speaking, energy is just matter-in-potency--"potential energy" is a rather awkward idea; it'd be truer to speak of it as "actual matter". Energy is something between material and efficient cause; it's not a form or an end. Philosophy that only deals with efficient and material causes, is called materialism.

But the energy beings are always portrayed erroneously in two ways, one scientific, the other artistic. First, the science.

Energy, as we understand it, is not really something that you can make a "body" out of. It's really questionable if energy, properly so called, has any existence, save when it's actualized in the mass of matter. Most of what we call "energy" is just an effect on matter--a motion, a change from one state to another. Yet energy beings in SF are always portrayed as, at best, balls of light, or floating goldfish made of plasma. Now it's occasionally pointed out, "if they're made of energy they should move at light-speed", on the assumption that their "bodies" would be made of photons. Which is still questionable--can you make anything understandable as a body out of photons? I doubt it.

Still worse, is that they're all assumed to have once been "physical", by which is meant "made of actual matter." Um...I like Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann as much as the next guy, but where's this potential to evolve into pure energy? Is there some kinda critical mass of adaptations, after which an organism just stops being a very complicated gravy (water held together with proteins)?

Maybe they're reading some collector's edition of Origin of Species that I never saw.

Okay, so the second part is the artistic error. The energy beings are always portrayed as basically childish, and as if their arrogance in presuming to tell humans what to do was somehow wrong. And yet the Federation? Always the good guys. Now I know this is fantasy, but come on, Roddenberry--a human government that doesn't need a massive overhaul (not to say purge) about every forty years? There's a hell of a lot more evidence for the gods than for that, dude.

Forgive me, but I grow tired of these stories about "humans are old enough not to need 'gods' anymore", as proudly proclaimed in Babylon 5, Star Trek, and arguable Stargate SG1. After the 20th century, I think it's a reasonable question whether humans are old enough to cross the street on their own, let alone not need the gods.

Now, what would a real energy being be like? I must here pause for an explanation, that some of you might have seen before:
Mortimer Adler, in several of his writings, felt the need to contradict the existentialists' denial of a single human nature, in the face of the extreme variation observed across human cultures. This he did by explaining that an animal's nature largely consists of actualities--a certain sort of calls and body language, a certain kind of den, a certain family makeup, etc. Human nature, however, consists mostly of sets of potentials--potential to speak, potential to order the family or the state, potential to organize the concepts by which they view reality.

What if, therefore, it is in the nature of some beings to have bodies, but only as a set of potentialities that they can realize as they see fit? Now, bodies are material...and what, pray, do we call "potential matter"?

So a real energy being would probably not even be "around," unless it was in a body made simply of straight-up matter, indistinguishable from any other matter (though probably lacking a lot of organs, since it wouldn't need to eat for energy). Q actually seems to work like that--point to Star Trek (I know, I'm scared too). Conveniently, this saves on budget.

So, what would it behave like? Hell if I know; it sure as hell wouldn't act like anything that has a body full of chemicals. Probably it would have a much flatter, by our standards, emotional range--probably just "liking" and "disliking", since it wouldn't need fear or, probably, sex, being practically indestructible. Being an intelligent being, it'd also have love (willing others' good), hate (willing their evil), and desires, though the main desires we could understand would be the intellectual ones (curiosity, for instance). Hell, it might enjoy gamma rays as humans enjoy having their backs scratched, too.

Under no circumstances would it serve as a strawman for a thickheaded sermon about religion, authority, or such crap. Any rational person meeting a creature like that, especially if it's also got psionic powers, would be quite right to consider it worthy of respect--more respect, in fact, than the semi-rational varmints who are the protagonists of the book or show. Might make for an actually intelligent point, namely, "Just because you're undeniably vastly inferior to it, doesn't make you worthless." Or, "People are only equal in their intrinsic dignity, and anyone who says otherwise is just too much of a coward to admit that denying the existence of human nature makes the concept of 'human rights' meaningless."

But I realize I'm asking that writers acknowledge that some philosophies have different ethical implications; I think I got a better chance of meeting an energy being.

Actually, Canyon de Chelly's not that far away.