Conspiracy

I consider myself somewhat of a reformed conspiracy theorist. I think I have a valuable insight into the topic; not only because of the depth of research I’ve done into various theories, but because I think I understand the accompanying perspective/mindset in a unique way. No, I never committed to really wacky beliefs, but I certainly didn’t remain detached. I believed loosely in some form of shadow government and would speculate about all sorts of things like RFID tags and HAARP. The problem with such a mind state is the inconsistency. One day I could be quite convinced that fluoride had damaging effects on the pineal gland (the so-called Third Eye) and the next I’d be rationally skeptical of the very same theory. There’s undeniably clouded thinking involved, and for many, at least some level of mental illness. Unfortunately, this has led to “conspiracy” becoming a buzzword used to discredit and delegitimize, independent of analysis of validity of claims.

I think the central problem with how people dismiss conspiracy theories is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We now seem to be fine with discarding large bodies of information with even the slightest hint of conjecture, presumption, or anything seemingly pseudoscientific. Heuristics are necessary, of course. I don’t expect people to listen to someone raving about ancient astronauts for hours on end. But I also think we need more patience when it comes to new hypotheses. For example, if you were to indiscriminately reject anything relating to perpetual motion, you might end up unwilling to effectively theorize or acclimate to new findings about time crystals. I don’t pretend to understand non-equilibrium matter and gauge invariance/symmetry, so I have no basis for repudiating speculation about how it relates to perpetual motion.

A less esoteric example relates to 9/11. Yes, it’s quite absurd to believe that the events of 9/11 were orchestrated by the Bilderberg group, or Freemasons, or the Illuminati or dozens of other “secretive” groups. Conjecturing and implicating groups in this way is irresponsible and should be discouraged. On the other hand, calling someone an idiot for showing skepticism regarding the collapse of WTC 7 is not productive. Sure, there might be abundant information now, but asking why it “looked like a controlled demolition” should not be met with outrage. Calling people crazy only drives them further away from rationality. Being dogmatic in your dismissal of conspiracy theories can even end up in fallacy.

If someone tells you Jim Morrison’s dad was responsible for the Gulf of Tonkin incident (a false flag operation) and you know nothing about it, I think an appropriate response might go something like “I don’t know anything about that, I’d have to look into it to be able to comment” or if it sounds a little far-fetched “I doubt that”. An inappropriate response would be an ad hominem attack on their character (ex. calling them a “crazy conspiracy theorist”).

If someone comes across sincere, reasonably dispassionate, and they’re willing to engage, hear them out for a minute or two. As much misinformation as there is, conspiracy theories are interesting, if only as fiction. The theories about Sumerian mythology stemming from Zecharia Sitchin are fascinating. Theories about Stonehenge and pyramids creating electromagnetic fields, theories about parapsychology from Dean Radin, or the multitude of ideas about Göbekli Tepe; these are all intriguing and amusing. Even if they’re talking about flat earth, moon landing, Bigfoot, and Area 51, they might have something interesting to say, despite their judgement errors. These people hold genuine beliefs, whether or not they are nonsense. The world is filled with people you disagree with, the best way to reconcile this is to hear them out, and insert reason where you can.

 

 

The Categorical Imperative

Immanuel Kant’s theories regarding deontological ethics sound far more complicated than they are. His thinking dictates that we ought to establish rules, which Kant called maxims, and follow them out of obligation. Kant believed that the intention of an action decides one’s moral worth. This is often contrasted to “consequentialism“, though I’m not sure the binary is clear. I mean sure, if you’re deciding how one ought to be judged for their actions, it makes most sense to try to determine their intent, difficult though it may be. But if you’re trying to compel one to act in one way or another, duty should be derived from consequence. Trying to parse out consequence from the action makes little sense.

Regardless, the issue at hand is the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative “denotes an absolute, unconditional requirement that must be obeyed in all circumstances and is justified as an end in itself”. While I think it’s important to enshrine some form of moral foundation that can be passed between generations and adhered to cross-culturally, absolutism is foolish. This becomes more apparent when you see Benjamin Constant’s criticism of the categorical imperative. Constant poses that if the universal maxim for deception makes it impermissible regardless of situation that if a murderer came to your door and asked where your family is; you’re obligated to not lie (even if it would save their lives). Kant agreed that lying would forego one’s moral duty.

Not only is this absolutism foolish, it seems to directly contradict the idea of judging morality on the basis of intent. Lying in this case is done with the intent of preventing a terrible injustice. As I said before I think it’s crucial to have moral foundations of some sort, but forcing those obligations to be absolute in all cases actually impels us to be unethical.

Tax Choice?

While I do believe there’s a necessity for some form of social safety net, I’d still say I have libertarian leanings. Unfortunately, I don’t think the radical tax reform proposed by many libertarians is the way to go. Rapid change of any kind usually results in either backfire or ineffectiveness. I guess you could call me “conservative” when it comes to major structural changes.

I think most people, regardless of political affiliation, realize that taxes have an element of force to them. I think nearly everyone tries to pay as little tax as possible. Why are people so reluctant to pay something that (ideally) benefits society so greatly? I’d say it’s primarily a lack of salience. Corruption, inefficiency, and all the other ailments of bureaucracy are obvious factors; but I think most of all, people fail to see how their taxes translate into goods and services.

The idea of “tax choice” has been around for a long time, but I’m not sure there’s been much allusion to it in libertarian movements. I think some formulation of a tax choice system could work to make taxes more salient as well as more transparent. My suggestion would be to group taxes into categories, much like the categories you see on this pie chart (scroll down). For each category, allow taxpayers the ability to reallocate say 5% of the amount they pay in that category to a different category if they so desire.

One concern with this is that the government will change the base funding for categories that receive less, effectively mitigating any change. Fortunately, people can attempt to elect officials who won’t undo their reallocations. The funding of large organizations will actually depend directly on peoples’ decisions, meaning they’ll have incentive to be more transparent with taxpayers. Recipients of government funding would have incentive to prove their value to taxpayers as well as elected officials. It might even make it harder for elected officials to rescind policy proposed in their platforms, since tax allocation could (partially) roadblock them. I’m not suggesting this as some kind of alternative to voting, but it instead has the potential to synergize with voting to allow taxpayers a little more say in where their money goes.

If it wasn’t obvious, I’m very much in the brainstorming phase for this method of “reform”. I’ll likely have to come back to the subject. As always, I would love to hear criticism, especially if it’s harsh.

Ego, Dispassion, Cynicism

At the heart of a lot of controversy is a fundamental breakdown of communication. Inflated egos, visceral responses, and a lack of skepticism all lead to intensified conflict. I don’t think it’s necessary to elaborate much on that point, most people understand that these things interfere with discourse. Unfortunately, as with anything we’ve decided is bad, we tend to go overboard in the pursuit to eliminate it.

Ego has a purpose. Obviously an inflated ego can lead you to a number of fallacious forms of reasoning, but I think the usefulness of some egotism is actually undervalued. Some is the key word here. It can quite easily get out of control. I do think though, that having some element of self-esteem or pride (or whatever you might call it) staked in the outcome of a given argument is important. The function must be distinct though. If your ego is inextricable from the way you actually formulate thoughts, it’s become invasive. If you’re able to keep ego at bay when constructing the dialectic (investigation of truth), yet you have at least some personal investment in the outcome of the investigation, ego becomes a tool.

I can think of plenty of examples of brazen, audacious debaters that infuse egotism successfully, but I can’t think of any quite as adept as the late Christopher Hitchens. Sometimes he came across obnoxious and rude no doubt, but I think he was often able to ride that fine line that allowed him to be contemptuous without detracting from the discussion at hand. Some might attribute that ability to charm, humour, and candor or disagree with the example entirely, but his style certainly resonates with many.

Dispassion is nearly the same issue. Attempting to have discussions void of emotion will in fact, in my estimation, yield less productive results. No, I’m not saying screaming is an acceptable way to voice one’s opinion, but to attempt some kind of absolute dispassion will inherently misconstrue issues. If we’re debating physician assisted suicide, and you have a strong opinion one way or the other, don’t act as if personal feelings aren’t at play. I’m not saying that emotion should somehow trump factual information, but compassion is undeniably an agent in the vast majority of contemporary controversies.

This brings me to cynicism. It’s not hard to become cynical in a world so wrought with deception, especially in formative years (adolescence). I tend to be pretty forgiving of cynicism, pessimism, nihilism, or whatever malady stems from betrayal. But when people are proud of how cynical and distrusting they’ve become, touting it as if elevated out of naivety, it interferes with judgement. I know cynicism doesn’t imply a lack of emotion, but cynics often seem to pass themselves off as impartial, when in fact their skepticism is rooted in strong emotion. Sadly, I think cynicism of this sort can lead to an unhealthy apathy.

Not the most clearly defined topic I know, but I believe these are three areas with fairly significant roles in communication that all contain a little more nuance than advertised.

Oysters and Nutrition

I often see discussion of the ethical side of a vegan/vegetarian diet, but I rarely see the serious health concerns properly addressed. People that don’t take a slow, calculated approach to dietary change (of any sort) often end up either reverting back to their old diet, or developing mild to serious health complications. I certainly do urge people to consider the ethical arguments in terms of reducing suffering and increasing sustainability, and to subsequently phase meat out of their diet, BUT I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to consider what’s involved. Not only could the replacements you choose lead to poor health, they could in fact cause more damage to the environment (factors like shipping) or have other unintended side-effects.

Some of the possible health risks I’ve heard of are iron deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, blood lipid imbalances (though this study indicates possible benefits, at least as far as hyperlipidemia goes), and as the study just listed states, vegetarian diets are generally lower in sodium, zinc, vitamin A, and “especially omega‐3 polyunsaturated fatty acids”. Vegan diets that entirely avoid animal products magnify some of these risks and introduce new ones like a lack in vitamin K2. Here’s a much more comprehensive look at vegan nutrition. The lack of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) proteins stemming from low omega-3 can be combated in various ways. Chris Kresser makes a number of suggestions including supplementing with microalgae. Another option is oysters.

Why Oysters?

Oysters don’t have a central nervous system. We have about as much tangible evidence that oysters have the capacity to feel pain as we do for plants. Bivalves having “nerve ganglia” is not a sufficient argument. Here is a post that goes into further detail on the subject. Fleischman states that oysters are sessile, not motile, meaning they can’t even react to pain; therefore there’s no “adaptive reason for them to feel pain”. She also argues that they’re not equipped with opiate receptors or endogenous opiates to inhibit pain. Not only do we have no evidence that oysters feel pain, we have evidence that they have restorative environmental impacts. They can assist with “water quality maintenance, shoreline protection and sediment stabilization, nutrient cycling and sequestration”. There’s also possible applicability in denitrification.

Here is the nutrition label for the oysters I usually get. It’s obvious from the label that they’re high in iron and protein. This article does a great job breaking down some of the other nutritional benefits. Oysters are also high in vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, selenium, manganese and numerous other vitamins and minerals.

Of course, this topic is pretty broad, and I’ve attempted to summarize a large quantity of information here. I’m sure I’ll have to come back to nutrition in the future. My point is essentially just that oysters are a great way to supplement a vegetarian/vegan diet as they hit some of the key areas where deficiencies seem to develop. While I’m sure arguments of sentience can be made about bivalves, I wouldn’t consider it the most salient of concerns. I encourage everyone to consider including oysters in their diet, even if they’re kind of gross.

Here’s my previous post in this general subject area for anyone interested.

The Principle of Charity

A slightly different but closely related subject to steelmanning, worth a read

Examining Life

Have you had a disagreement with anyone recently? Did you feel that all participants were understood by one another? Here’s a test: Could your opponent(s) state your position in a way that you would be satisfied with how they describe it? Could you do the same for your opponent(s)? If the answer to either of those is a flat “no,” you are like most normal people having these conversations. I’ve had conversations over social media lasting weeks where I never once felt that my interlocutor wanted to understand where I was coming from. I’ve heard this referred to as “talking past one another” and it’s impeding conversations at every turn.

There are two basic facts that were very, very hard for me to recognize (and I still need to remind myself of them today). Here they are:

1. People have different positions than you do.

2. People think they have good…

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Quantum Mystics

Quantum mechanics or quantum physics is an area of study that has grown rapidly. I want to make it clear that I don’t have a background in physics. Quantum physics has always been fascinating to me, but my understanding is basic. Despite my belief that some findings in this field have definite applications in philosophy, I feel that quantum physics has become romanticized and exoticized. The lack of understanding and seeming mystery has been exploited for use in pseudoscientific claims.

New age figures like Deepak Chopra use the word “quantum” to explain just about anything. It is used in the context of claims regarding parapsychology, metaphysics, spirituality, and supernaturalism of all forms. I have no problem with people exploring the findings of quantum mechanics and contemplating philosophical implications. Where I see the problem arising is when these findings are touted as some kind of scientific support for their beliefs.

I do think it’s imperative that we have discussions of consciousness, the nature of reality, and topics of that sort. Unfortunately, I think these discussions are actually impeded rather than aided by insertions of the word “quantum” or other such mystifying words where they truly do not belong.