I Was Wrong

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, May 8, 2017

Yesterday I wrote, “Are Republicans the Party of Darwin?” accusing conservatives of applying their understanding of Darwin’s observations on nature to justify the laws they were creating. Their laws always seem to back the strong against the weak. But I had a revelation in the middle of the night.

Everyone acts on their instincts, and those instincts are Darwinian by nature. Duh! Darwin’s theory is the most widely accepted explanation for our behavior. I was crediting Republicans for consciously using Darwin’s ideas in the formulation of their political philosophy, and this is where I’m wrong. It wasn’t a conscious decision. My essay was based on the irony that conservatives profess to be Christians but enact laws that reflect Darwin’s theory rather than Jesus’ teachings.

heaven and earth

My point being there’s no compassion in nature or Darwin’s observations about how nature works, and there’s no compassion in the laws Republicans want to support. You’d think people who follow a personal philosophy based on compassion would enact compassionate laws. This conflict of action and belief troubles me and I keep trying to figure out what causes it.

My revelation last night is everyone acts Darwinianly, despite what they profess philosophically. I am an atheist, but I give Christianity credit for inventing many compassionate philosophical concepts. I attribute those ideas to Jesus like we attribute other philosophical ideas to Plato or Aristotle, but I’m not sure they came from the man we historical think of as Jesus. Many of the ideas were developed by his followers and attributed to him in the first few centuries after his death.

Organized compassion for the weak is a relatively new idea in history. Limited forms of compassion have been around in evolutionary terms for a very long time, even in plants and lower animals, but to develop a religion, philosophy, or political system to protect the weak wholesale is relatively new.

I just think it’s ironic that the political party that claims to be the most Christian reflects it least in their laws, and the party that folks general assume is least Christian reflects compassion the most in their laws.

Our political divide really comes down to how much we want to support the common welfare over the freedom of the individual. The more socialistic we are, the more we want everyone to contribute to improving society, the less socialistic we are, the more we want to give the maximum freedom to individuals and ignore the suffering of the masses. Such socialism counters Darwin’s observations on animal behavior.

Thus Christianity is inherently anti-Darwinian. For twenty centuries it seemed like Christianity was catching on, especially in the Western world. But that’s probably an illusion. What really caught on was a belief in life after death via easy salvation. The idea of heaven on Earth hasn’t.

In other words, conservatives are Darwinian on Earth, but Christian in their hopes about an afterlife. Which might explain why liberals are more socialistic. Many of them doubt the afterlife, and thus they’d want to create heaven on Earth. The conservatives are more pragmatically Darwinian, they want all they can get while living, and then assume things will magically go great after they die despite what they do while living. Liberals evidently feel this is all there is so we better make the best of it.

This is a huge problem for liberals. To get more people to vote for social welfare might require convincing people to think less about an afterlife. In other words, the concept of heaven has corrupted people’s attitude towards Earth. This might also explain climate change deniers. They might unconsciously realize to think more about Earth means to think less about an afterlife.

JWH

 

 

Are Republicans the Party of Darwin?

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, May 7, 2017

As a lifelong atheist, I find most of my political convictions comes from the words printed in red in The New Testament. Shouldn’t unbelievers use Charles Darwin’s scientific insights to model how society should be governed? Yet, as I study Republicans, the party I oppose, I wonder why they act the way the do. I can only conclude they base their philosophy on the survival of the fittest.

Darwin-Jesus

I hate Republicans for not carrying about suffering, whether it’s the suffering of people, animals, plants, or the biosphere. If you study Darwin’s observations you realize that nature ignores suffering too. The Republicans work with all their might to create a political system that helps the strong while ignoring the weak. In fact, Republicans are the strong feeding off the weak. Yet, publically Republicans claim to be Christians. Shouldn’t a Christian political party promote the way of life Jesus taught? And wouldn’t that be anti-Darwinian?

If you study the Sermon on the Mount, you know it’s impossible for a Christian to own an AR-15. The meek will not be carrying Glocks when they inherited the Earth. Darwin’s red tooth and claw philosophy would embrace such weapons. Darwin would be pro-gun, but not Jesus. Yet, typically Republicans express a hatred for Darwin and a love of Christ.

The Democratic party which wants to feed the poor and heal the sick is labeled the Godless party. However, if the beliefs in The New Testament were converted into a political system it would be socialistic, and look much like the political goals of the DNC.

Is it possible to create a political system that reduces suffering while still encouraging all its citizens to become stronger? If Republicans were honest they’d admit they believe far more in Darwin than Christ. Yes, helping people can make them weak, but ignoring their suffering also makes you heartless.

Isn’t there some kind of compromise we could make? Can’t we start the competition for survival on an equal playing ground? Wealth inequality shows the competition isn’t equal like what Darwin saw in nature. Human intelligence allows us to multiply and horde our strengths, which is why we’re destroying all the other species, and why those humans on the receiving end of wealth inequality can so easily destroy those on the losing end.

Republicans appear to totally embrace Darwinism, including ignoring suffering. Democrats want to create a political system that eliminates some sufferings. I would think any political system that ethically allows for some members to become billionaires should allow for universal healthcare. How can any system that allows for some players to have everything and others nothing be Christian?

Isn’t Christianity about compassion? I can understand why conservatives embrace Darwinian actions. Republican ideals are very close to nature. And don’t Christian beliefs defy the natural? Isn’t The New Testament all about protecting the weak?

JWH

Is Trump Founding a Dynasty?

by James Wallace Harris, Thursday, March 30, 2017

Like most liberals who are horrified by Donald Trump, we’re wondering when his reign will be over. Many of us assume even the conservatives will eventually tire of him, looking hopefully to 2020 as the light at the end of the tunnel.

Now that Ivanka Trump will become a federal employee makes me question that hope.  I assumed Trump wanted his family members working with him because he knew he wasn’t always rational and needed his family close by to keep him in check. Most liberals worried about nepotism. I’ve also read powerful, paranoid men trust their families more than outsiders. But what if Trump has bigger plans?

What if Trump hopes to found a Trump political dynasty like the Kennedys, Bushes, and Clintons? What if he hopes Ivanka will be the first woman president? Is that any crazier of an idea than Trump becoming president?

We liberals have to admit that the conservatives have us routed. However, Trump isn’t a traditional Republican, so our only hope will be conservatives and independents turning against him. Independents are why Trump succeeded in 2016. Basically our country is roughly one third diehard liberal, one third diehard conservative and one third switch hitters. Trump succeeds as long as he maintains a coalition between conservatives and independents. Liberals can only regain power if they can get independents to embrace our causes. Trump proved most independent voters don’t.

I have to assume with an ego like Donald Trump’s, becoming president is very validating. Having your kids succeed you would be even more ego boosting. Will the independents go along with that? Conservatives follow Trump because they think he’ll get them what they want. How many years can Trump keep his coalition going?

2020 might not be the tunnel exit.

JWH

Running Away to Mars

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, February 8, 2017

While reading The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr, a handbook for processing memories, it triggered several vivid revelations about my childhood. Especially the time when I ran away to Mars in 1963. That flashback revealed why I first dropped science fiction. I wanted an antidepressant. Science fiction has proven quite effective at masking reality, because I can’t even remember being depressed. How PKDickian!

Two Mars

A lifetime of contemplating the future has been an excellent mantra for ignoring the present. I am rather disappointed that running away never got me anywhere. I’ve been to Mars many times, but never to the one that exists in reality.

Today I’m plotting my own alternate history timeline. What if I had not run away to Mars back in 1963 and stayed on Earth instead? Wow, that’s more mind-twisting than The Man in the High Castle.

Maybe it wasn’t the Mary Karr book that jarred these insights. Could it have been the election? Have we all run away to imagined worlds? Reality seems so deserted these days.

JWH

Which Came First: Political Personality or News?

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, December 19, 2016

My wife Susan found this infographic on Facebook. It was created by Vanessa Otero and distributed on her Twitter feed. You can click on the image to see a larger version.

Vanessa Otero News Graph 2016

My news sources are NBC, CBS, PBS, The New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Slate, Vox, and sometimes The Economist and The Wall Street Journal when I get free links. In other words, I stay close to the center of things, and by Otero’s reckoning, use sources of high standards, that can be analytical and complex.

Do I have the kind of personality that is drawn to those news sources, or did those news sources create my political personality? If you grow up reading news from sources on the lower left or right of the graphic, do you program your personality by them? In recent years I’ve met a number of people who watch Fox News all day long. These people have different personal personalities, but they often feel like they have the same political personality. They are usually paranoid about the government, believe in various kinds of conspiracies, are passionately anti-taxes, and hate when people get money from the government without working.

Do people in childhood develop particular beliefs and then migrate to news outlets that promote those beliefs, or do they get hooked on various news sources and adopt the beliefs of the news programs they watch?

Would people who watch Fox News morph into new political personalities if they switched to watching PBS news programs? If I started watch Fox News all the time, would I become conservative? I remember favoring JFK back in 1960, when I was in the third grade, and that was well before I watched the news. I’ve never liked any Republican candidate – is that because of my innate programming, or because of how I acquired my news?

When I did start watching the news, it was the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, probably around 1962-63. In 1960 when we moved from New Jersey to Mississippi, I learned I didn’t like racists. As a shy kid, I was always afraid of people with strong emotions, and the racists scared the crap out of me with their raging anger. I had no idea what they were talking about. They were for Nixon. Maybe that influenced my political development. I remember getting into a playground fight with a kid who was pro-Nixon. Did that experience lean me towards the left?

When I went to tech school for computers in 1971, they taught us a phrase, GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). That implies the news we consume does change us. But then, I’ve read books like The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker that counter that philosophy. I’ve also read books like Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman that explain how our consciousness minds aren’t too swift when it comes to making decisions. I’m almost finished with The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis that profiles Daniel Kahneman, and his colleague Amos Tversky. They were two Israeli psychologists that made careers studying how we make poor choices and misunderstand reality because our gut reactions are usually wrong.

JWH

Why Would Anyone Want to Be President or Queen?

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, December 12, 2016

I’ve been watching The Crown, an excellent 10-part biopic on Queen Elizabeth II. It’s a Netflix original. I’ve never cared about royals before, but this show is riveting. John Lithgow as Winston Churchill makes the series compelling, just for his part of the history. However, the show gives a somewhat realistic portrayal of the duties of a British monarch, and it looks so painful, I wouldn’t wish it on Donald Trump. Why would any little girl want to be a princess after seeing The Crown? Poor Elizabeth goes on one tour of the Commonwealth that lasts for months. At one point she has to have her cheek shot up with a muscle relaxant because of smiling at the crowds for hours at a time has frozen her face. Another time she has to ride in an open car in hundred degree heat for two hours so the possession can go at a pace safe for horses.

Obama-2008-and-2016

I also wonder about Donald Trump. Why would a billionaire used to absolute freedom want to be President? It’s like being a rock star wanting an office management job, one requiring 80 hours of drudgery a week. I always thought the point of getting rich was to escape a day job. Trump is already fighting his bridle by refusing to take all his daily briefings. What’s going to happen to him when he’s on the job and his life is scheduled 24×7? If it’s anything like QEII’s schedule, I’ll actually feel pity for that lying deluded megalomaniac. Solitary confinement in a maximum security prison would be a more human punishment.

Just look at what eight years did to poor Obama, and he was a young man. Donald Trump is starting the job at 70. Will he age normally in the next four years? Of course not. Why waste precious golden years choosing to be chewed up by history?

Trump is already annoyed at Saturday Night Live, but didn’t he know becoming president means being the most hated person on Earth? Sure millions will love him, but there’s always a larger segment of the population that reviles the CEO of the USA. Doesn’t every person dreaming of living at the White House know they’ll be mocked in a thousand ways a thousand times a day? Even with a “good” approval rating, a president gets endless barrages of flack, much of it mean-spirited. I feel sorry for presidents. Everyone on the planet wants a piece of them, and the burden of office is a great deal more than tremendous. Talk about a plot for a horror flick. You spend 4-8 years in stressful conflict with countless nightmare inspiring issues. I’m pretty sure a week of that job would kill me. We know Trump and Clinton are very strong old people because they survived over a year of campaigning. But won’t that be a fun 10k compared to Iron Man triathlon of serving one term?

I’m very curious how many hours a day Trump will occupy the Oval Office. I bet he’ll spend most of those moments daydreaming about being an ordinary billionaire, jetting around, making deals, playing golf, and grabbing you know what.

I really can’t understand why anyone would want the job of President, or Queen. In The Crown, Winston Churchill seems obsessed with creating a political order that matches his passionate ideals. QEII feels the weight of centuries. What drives Donald Trump?

JWH

Counting My Worries

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, November 21, 2016

My friends and I are hyper-worried about the future, now that Republicans have gained control of all three branches of government. I suppose that could be a signal to stop worrying, since they now have the reigns, and thus the worries. Of course, both parties have always assumed the other side would destroy the future, explaining each side’s endless worrying.

What if I stopped worrying about politics and only worried about things I could actual change? What if I was granted the serenity prayer?

Serenity Prayer

If I only need to worry about those things I can change, then how many things do I need to worry about? What world problems can I change on my own? Would rephrasing that be more illuminating? How many problems do I make worse? My wife and I never had children, so we don’t add to overpopulation. I’m retired, get out little, and live off a plant based diet, so my carbon footprint is relatively small. Except for an occasional roof rat, I don’t kill anything. I’m not a terrorist or hate anyone. I don’t drink, do drugs or commit crimes. I’m rather bland and innocuous. I’m a watcher and a reader, observing reality as I wait to die. By this accounting, I have little to worry about.

A major increaser of worries is trying to convince other people to be different. Whether its getting a spouse to do more housework, a friend to eat healthy, or everyone to stop using coal, convincing people to be different creates endless worries. I could vastly reduce my total worry count if I stopped trying to change people.

What about worrying about myself? For example, I’m currently worried about writing a new essay for Book Riot. My choices are either to write or not write, but I spend a lot of time either worrying about not writing or worrying about what to write. The Zen thing to do would be either to write or not write and forget the worrying.

What, Me Worry

Should I worry about anything? Is not worrying shirking a duty? Shouldn’t we all be taking turns worrying about the world’s problems? Everyone should contribute to charities, right? Is worrying helping those causes? Maybe giving or volunteering to a charity is the only way to solve their problems. But many charities spend their income trying to convince more people to worry about their cause. The solution, give to charities that do rather than worry.

I’ve convinced myself I have little to worry about, so why do I worry so much? My mother was a worrier. I called it gnawing her bone. She believed that worrying about bad things kept those bad things from happening. The evidence suggests all my worry about climate change and Republicans had no effect on the 2016 election.

Maybe I should stop gnawing my bones.

JWH