Saturday, 25 October 2014

We Need A New Age Of Reason

We need a new age of reason and we need it now because many of us have flat out forgotten how to be rational. The current trend of subjective thinking, filtering and blocking unwelcome information to confirm existing biases is hurting us in a variety of ways. It's got to stop, but what can we do? I've got a few ideas...

I like to keep myself informed about what's going on in the world and among the news stories that have jumped out at me lately are the one about Maria Fernandez, who died while napping between three (or four, depending on whom you believe) part-time jobs and the continuing ISIS crisis. I've got to be careful here because I've got my own biases so that means being willing and able to question and defend my own positions. Let's take a closer look at the stories, shall we?

Maria, Maria...

Fast food worker Maria Fernandez worked multiple jobs, and depending on who reports it, she died in her vehicle as a result of an unfortunate accident that could have happened to anyone or because she was put in that situation by The Man. The left-liberal press is shouting that this proves we need a rise in the minimum wage while the right-wingers either blame Obama, forgetting that without Congress on side he's got little chance of getting anything done, or downplay the struggle to survive on the minimum wage. The way this story is being spun is a classic example of the point I'm trying to make: we're too busy picking a side to look at the facts. Let's lay them out:

  • she had more than two jobs
  • she slept in her car between shifts
  • this is how she made ends meet
  • she was generous and kind-hearted
  • many Americans have to have multiple jobs to survive, and by "survive" I mean "pay the rent."

Parsing the information

I'm friendly with a Libertarian who believes with all his heart in the trickle-down theory despite the absence of an actual free market and in the face of the fact that there's more money to be made from speculating on the stock market than from starting businesses that create jobs. He's hoping to entice the rich to leave their money in Britain by taxing them less. How this will create jobs is never explained, though he is very much in favour of abolishing the minimum wage despite the fact that we are currently in a demand-constrained market because we're tightening our belts already...

Look, when you're in love with (there really is no other way of putting it) a particular ideological opinion, when you've invested in it emotionally because it appeals to an aspect of your character or promises to make the trains run on time, it's hard to be objective about it and ask if it'd really work in practice and whether or not there are any working models to see right now. As a moderate conservative and self-declared designated driver I have assumed the role of Asker of Awkward Questions, the idea being that, if I have enough reliable information (and by "reliable" I mean I've kicked it down the stairs a few times to see if it'll bounce or break), I can make the best possible decision on whether a particular thing is good or bad, true or false, worthwhile or a waste of my time. Look again at the list of things everyone agrees on.

Awkward questions:

  • why did she need more than one job?
  • why were they all part time?
  • why drive to different cities to get to them?
  • what other job opportunities were there for her?
  • was there no chance of getting full-time work?
  • how could she afford to be generous if she struggled to pay the rent?
  • could she have eliminated unnecessary expenses, thus requiring less work?
  • would cutting her taxes have eliminated her need to work three or more jobs?

I'm thinking that a Middle-out economic environment in which Maria had been employed full time and had access to free or subsidised healthcare would have given her an eight hour work day like my own, sparing her the need to commute to three different locations to get to her jobs and the perception that having a can of fuel handy in case she ran out of juice was a necessity. She'd still be alive. I really, truly doubt that pandering to the rich would bring about a better outcome for the Marias of this world; if you have to pretty much bribe a guy who's got more money that you could earn in a lifetime on your current salary to invest in a business that would hire people, there's something very wrong with your view. To pander is to devalue yourself and everything you represent, that's why I won't do it. And pandering to the rich means we put up with less money in the tax kitty and lower wages for ourselves. It puts them in the driving seat and lets them set terms. We don't get a say in it unless you count "Yes, sir" as "a say." No way. That's my chief beef with the Libertarian position and since they won't discuss the matter properly, we end up butting heads instead of actually arguing until we arrive at the truth of the matter (this doesn't always mean I'm right).

The ISIS crisis

Depending on whom you believe, Islam creates bands of authoritarian nutjobs prone to terrorism (they can't help it, really) or it suffers as much from its nutters as we do. ISIS is either the purest, most perfect version of Islam or they're crazy outliers. One thing is certain: for a growing number of young idealists, it's the future. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

US policy created the conditions for terror groups to grow and spread

Like it or not, the USA's imperialistic "all your bases are belong to us" foreign policies have never been good for the rest of the planet in the long term. They have consistently paid Peter to murder Paul in order to maintain a political hegemony that benefits American multinational corporations. Results:

The point is, when they interfere in other countries' politics, they cause nothing but suffering and pain. This is the excuse the terrorists use for the horrors they perpetrate. And people are flocking to join them at an alarming rate because the Market Almighty isn't making life better for the people, believe it or not.

Parsing the information

Racist, paternalistic attitudes underlie US foreign policy and that's what causes the problems. Nobody likes being treated like an idiot by an idiot. Dummy does not know best, and by "Dummy" I mean anyone who thinks that cutting wages AND taxes will increase tax revenues. America has ALWAYS favoured austerity measures in other countries and has done everything it can to impose their failed policies on the rest of us in the name of the "Free Market." They're doing it now:

Sustainable economic recovery—essential to successfully address the debt problem—will only come when governments implement reforms that will help remove supply-side barriers that have long undermined competitiveness and reduced potential growth.- World Bank blog

What does he mean by "supply-side barriers?"

...economic growth can be most effectively created by lowering barriers for people to produce (supply) goods and services as well as invest in capital. - Supply-side Economics, Wikipedia

What they mean is, "lower wages and drop taxes on the rich." The result has ALWAYS, without exception, been a vast gulf between the very rich and the very poor and the only thing that's ever altered this state is the implementation of left-wing policies because employers don't generally raise wages all by themselves; they have to be forced to via a shortage of high-skilled workers who can demand higher rates or because a minimum wage has been imposed on them. That Costco pays decent wages and bonuses without being forced to is all well and good but they're in a minority.

Now we in the West have welfare states due to Leftist interventions so we don't face the deprivation our Middle Eastern and African bretheren do. This is what ultimately drives them to terrorism; they want Paradise now, not later. They're not going to wait for a year or more for their earning power to rise when everyone they see around them has been waiting for many years and nothing has got better for them. What I'm saying is, terrorism has an economic aspect; it's the elephant in the room that few people address because we're too busy writing terrorists off as savages to find out what the appeal is in joining them.

While I don't approve of Socialism per se, the benefits of the welfare state are too great to be dismissed and you forget that at your peril. Middle-out provides a more conservative solution that includes the market in its considerations; implementing it in the Middle East might well help to reduce the number of people joining militant groups because they see how they live and want a slice of it.

...dozens of young unemployed or working-class men expressed support for the extremists or saw the appeal of joining their ranks — convinced that it could offer a higher standard of living - New Freedoms in Tunisia Drive Support for ISIS, By David D. Kirkpatrick, NY Times

The cruel practices of that despicable organisation don't exactly seem to be putting them off, though. Beheading, crucifixion, and other appalling atrocities are par for the course for these barbarians, the object of the exercise presumably being to alienate them from the rest of us and keep them on side whether they like it or not. I'm hoping that their overbearing treatment of local populations will soon reach critical mass and people will become disillusioned with them. It's happening already but has so far failed to bring the horrors to a halt.

Basically, ISIS offers its adherence the opportunity to take part in the creation of the idea Islamic state, in which members can enjoy relative affluence in an egalitarian society. Your experience may differ.

Awkward questions:

  • Why do people want to join ISIS?
  • Why do so many women want to join ISIS?
  • Why are they willing to die for it?
  • What is the role of brutality in ISIS's treatment of non-members?
  • Why is there little in the way of counter-propaganda?
  • What is the role of US foreign policy in getting these organisations started?
  • Where are they getting the funding required for such a massive operation?
  • What about the locals?
  • How does the rest of the global Muslim community view ISIS?
  • How much impact do economic factors have on anyone's desire to join ISIS?
  • Would ending US intervention in the Middle East stop groups like ISIS from starting up in the first place?
  • What role does our continuing reliance on petroleum play in all of this?

Yes, I know, "It's the economy, stupid!" isn't the answer and no, I don't believe that the immediate redistribution of wealth would automatically solve our problems. What I do believe is that our attitudes towards each other need to change. If we stopped seeing treating others fairly as a treasonous defection to Marxism, we'd be able to see past our own prejudices well enough to create a better world for everyone to live in. And in that better world, people would be much less likely to turn to violence to solve their problems.

Affluent people tend to be better educated (it goes with the territory) and therefore more tolerant because they're exposed to otherness as something to be discovered and explored, not as a threat. Stability tends to be important to them so pragmatism is the general rule, but religious repression relies on poverty as a social container since the promise of riches in the hereafter is a powerful incentive to good behaviour in the here and now so the last thing they want is a growing middle class that might challenge their rule. Supply-side economics tends to favour the ruling elite, and if that means the religious nut-jobs funding terror groups, so be it. Fighters want to fight and defence contractors need to make a living. And war is good for business, right?


The partisan infighting that prevents reasoned discussion of the issues will keep them going round and round in different guises forever if we don't stop and think about why we believe what we do. Refusing to question our beliefs and positions can make us feel defensive when challenged, which makes discussion harder. There's no shame in being wrong, I have to change my viewpoints all the time, which is why I don't get too emotionally invested in them. It's impossible to learn if you dismiss or ignore information because it conflicts with what you "just know" to be true. This doesn't mean you have to blindly accept whatever you're told; it's reasonable to condemn lies as such by presenting information that proves your point.

I believe in the points I've made because I've lived long enough to see the opposing arguments made back in the day and they didn't make things better then so why would they improve things now? All I ask is for people to become more willing to question their assumptions in an effort to arrive at the truth. It would be better for all of us. As it is, we're living in a world where "My way or the highway is the exception, not the rule," and that's no good at all.

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