Yes, Mr. Rotten. I Get the Feeling I’ve Been Cheated

Thinking about all this health “reform” debate. There are people out there eho are saying that they want their “country back” (from whom, I ask), and that we have to get back to the Constitution, whatever that means. I listen to what some of these people are saying, and sometimes I feel that some of them have no idea what they are talking about. I’ll be the first to admit here. I’m no scholar. I’m not an expert on the Constitution (although I’ve actually read it), nor am I in any position to dictate what and who can or cannot speak against or criticize the government. But, I do on occasion watch television, and I gotta say that there are some of us who really need to read before they speak.
 There’s a sentiment out there (both here and abroad) that Americans (of which I am one) are stupid. All one needs to do to confirm this is to go to YouTube and look for “stupid Americans”. When our global neighbors called former president Bush a “cowboy” they weren’t being friendly. I don’t think that most Americans are stupid. Misinformed, yes. Ignorant, definitely. Undereducated… my God yes! It may upset us to admit it, but there are people out there who are just plain apathetic. It’s not that they’re stupid people, it’s just that they don’t care. I don’t think that I’m stupid. And I take offense to anyone who says that “Americans” (as a blanket term) are. What I know that I am, however, is I am undereducated. I don’t think this was by accident, either. Call it a conspiracy theory, but I think that somewhere in my learning, someone decided that I had learned enough, and then proceded to stop teaching me and my generation. When I look back on my education, it started off well enough. Teachers stopped teaching. I know that it was this because I hadn’t lost the want to learn (that didn’t happen until high school).
Sure, my teachers were nice people, but they didn’t seem very motivated to do the thing that they had been hired to do (i.e. teach). By the time I got to high school, the want to learn anything had been bled out of me. No joke, during my US government class we watched The Price Is Right. This was the class where I was supposed to learn how to be a citizen, but instead I learned that the Navy guy always wins the final showcase. In fact, I don’t remember reading anything beyond the Preamble of the Constitution during my entire stay in public education. Funny, because so far as I’ve been able to tell, the Constitution is the owner’s manual for the country. The writer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was an advocate of public education. In his Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia, Jefferson wrote what he felt that the objectives of a primary education should be. Jefferson wrote, ” To enable to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts, in writing… to improve by reading, his morals and faculties… to understand his duties to his neighbors and country… to know his rights”. Jefferson felt that the purpose of an education was to teach people how to be citizens. “To form the statesmen, legislators and judges, on whom public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend”. I don’t see how my teachers could have looked themselves in the mirror every morning knowing that they had in no way taught their charges how to operate such a complicated machine as the United States of America. Maybe it’s because vampires don’t have reflections (ha, ha).
I know that, if a child fails to learn, that oftentimes that child is blamed for not learning. But I know for a fact that at least until I hit the tenth grade that I wanted to learn. I loved reading. I still do. I remember that, when I was in elementary school, I used to win all sorts of RIF (reading is fundamental) awards, and I did it because if you read so many books during the school year, you’d get to pick out a book (for free!). But to say that my teachers were the ones that were lazy would be too easy. It was something beyond that. It seems that the unwillingness to teach went beyond one or two lazy teachers — it was systemic. Someone didn’t (or doesn’t) want us to learn. They say that stupid people are easy to control. That when a dictatorship takes over a country, they get rid of the intellectuals first because the intellectuals are the people who are most likely to question what the dictatorship is up to. But in a democracy, there’s the idea that everyone is equal. That everybody has a fair shot at success, no matter from what class a person comes from. If we work hard and we use our noggins, we can succeed. This sounds great, but there’s this little economic program that we adhere to called capitalism. And as we all know, one of the big ideas in capitalism is scarcity. If everyone gets everything, then nothing is scarce.
When you have an economy driven by want, people gotta want what they ain’t got. Which menas some people ain’t gonna get. So we can say that we’re a meritocracy and that all it takes is elbow grease and the right education to get ahead, but the problem is, is that somebody out there has to clean the toilets and wipe gramp’s butt at the nursing home. There has a disincentive to achieve built in the system. There has to be something that lets some get ahead and holds others back. But the real kicker is that nobody can know this. So we tell kids either a) that they can succeed no matter who they are or where they come from, or 2) (and I think this one happens more often than not) nothing. We simply stop educating them. Of course, we keep telling kids the old song and dance. The one I heard goes like this: Our democratic ideal are rooted in the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment stressed a break-away from the beliefs of the dark ages (in superstitions and scholaticism) to beliefs in science and progress and that man is ruled by reason. Through his rational mind, man can progress. This sentiment is most supremely expressed by Thomas Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence “All men are created equal”. Blah, blah, blah. We know now that when Jefferson wrote that he was only a fourth telling the truth. We know that as the man wrote one of the greatest documents conceived from a human mind, he was probably looking out of one of his many windows at Montecello, with a full view of the slaves that labored in his fields.
Of course, we know that in addition to Jefferson, that the Founders included the likes of James Madison, the “father” of the Constitution, and Alexander Hamilton, who, the more I read about, the more I’m a fan of Aaron Burr. Madison and Hamilton, who co-wrote the Federalist Papers with John Jay, believed that government was better rested in the hands of those who were fit to rule (think Plato’s philosopher-kings, here), rather than allowing the people to rule. Hamilton wrote,” …our countrymen have all the folly of the ass and all the passiveness of the sheep”. Hamilton continues,”All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are rich and well-born, the other the mass of the people… The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government…” This is what Hamilton, the dude on the $10 bill, thinks of us. Democracy didn’t get rid of the idea of an elite that rules while we, the rabble, sit passive like sheep, it merely hid it from view, and gave it a veneer of “choice”. My favorite founder, Alexander Hamilton wrote,” Can a democratic assembly who annually revolve in the mass of the people be supposed steadily to pursue the public good?”.
Not to be outdone, James Madison believed that “the more capable” should rule government, and that government should be led by a “benevolent philosopher”. If the Enlightenment was at all inspired by the writings of the ancient Greeks, then for every Jefferson who wrote that the people should be educated to rule, there was a Madison or Hamilton who believed that to rule meant that one had to naturally be fit to do so. This idea hasn’t changed. When i use the word “rule”, I’m not talking about anything more than the ability of an individual to rule himself. Self-rule, believe it or not, is rooted in our ability to think for ourselves. And in turn, our ability to think for ourselves is rooted in our education. Of course, no one wants to admit that they believe in social Darwinism or that they believe in neo-platonist ideas of who is and who are not naturally fit to rule — especially if one is a politician. So as politicians worry about campaign contributions, whether or not someone will uncover their secrets (whatever they may be) or the diatribes of Glenn Beck, so-called intellectuals need no be so quiet.
Echoing the sentiments of Plato and Hamilton, Walter Lippman wrote “the public must be put in its place” and “responsible men… [must] live free of the trampling and the roar of the bewildering herd”. People, according to Lippman, are “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders”, who have no business getting in the way of those who run society, namely the elite. But things aren’t so easily kept under control in the age of television and other multimedia. So how do you maintain an elite while people are able to figure out what you’re doing? Simple. it is accomplished by the manufacturing of consent (Edward Bernays said that the engineering of consent is the “very essence of the democratic process”). You don’t rule by the fist and the sword. You simply sway the public’s interest from the important things, like paying attention to exactly who is running their country, to paying attention to the latest feud between Jon and Kate or what “Speidi” is up to lately.
The Romans figured out that what the people really want is bread and circus. And that’s exactly what we get. All the while, we hear that we live in a democracy and that we have the right to choose, and so long as we work hard and play by the rules, we’ll get what we deserve. That’s what we are made to believe. We’re not educated with the idea in mind that we’ll be better choosers in elections, we’re educated so that we’ll be better choosers of the next American Idol (I know, people pick on American Idol alot. So what? Do you think that Simon Cowell cares one damn that I hate his show?). When you live in a country where students at the University of Michigan riot because they stopped serving beer on campus (this actually happened), it’s time to stop criticizing people like the French, who, when they riot, are actually rioting about something.
The point is that it is exactly as President Obama said, when we are content with being uneducated, we not only shortchange ourselves, we undermine our country as well. If we are going to own this democracy, and if we intend to participate in it, it is our obligation to know how she works.To be the informed citizenry that Jefferson wrote about. To understand that, when Jefferson wrote “We the People”, he meant all of us. We are not seperate from the government, but that the government is us. But then, none of what I’m saying hasn’t been said before. But it certainly is worth repeating.

…For They Know Not What They Do

I was watching season three of The Family Guy last weekend. As I am philosopher, I’ve trained my eyes to find the philosophic significance of any and all that I see on television. Now, initially, I enjoyed the episode “Petarded”, because it was politically incorrect, and because. it’s fun to mock the afflicted. But when I watched last weekend, I realized that there was more there than meets the eye. Lurking behind the juvenile “retarded” jokes was the age-old question dealing with moral inclusion — namely, the question dealing with the culpability of mentally challenged people. In this episone, Peter is diagnosed as mentally disabled (he says retarded, because saying that is funnier than saying he’s disabled or challenged). Peter, realizing that he’s now mentally feeble, uses his challenged state to his advantage. He starts a Bible fight in church, he opens the occupied stalls in the ladies’ bathroom — all the while excusing himself by announcing that he’s “retarded”. Normally, we would say that Peter’s behavior is inexcusable. if a “normal” person took a peek at us while we were in a public bathroom, that person would probably have an asskicking headed his way. (This is exactly what Sasha Baron Cohen does with his character Borat. By pretending to be ignorant and a little stupid, he gets away with things that we wouldn’t tolerate from someone who we thought was normal. There is much more at work with the character, but I won’t go it to that here). But, if someone is in a position that he is unable to control himself (or unable to understand what he’s doing) we tend to treat those people differently. They do not share the same level of moral culpability as someone who is considered fully functional and rational. So what do we do with people who are not rational? Are they (can they be) responsible for what they do? The emphasis on rationality is one of the drawbacks when we consider human behavior philosophically, especially when we look at the behavior of people who clearly are not rational. There are those who are mentally handicapped — born with or by way of accident — who are not able to control or understand their actions (morally, consequences, etc). This is why we do not punish children as we punish adults (except in extreme circumstances) in the legal system. Children do not understand the full extent of their actions. Likewise, we treat people who are mentally handicapped in a manner tha is different than we treat “normal” people. But Peter isn’t organically damaged, he merely believes that he’s “retarded”. What if someone isn’t mentally challenged but believes that they are? They say that hanging around crazy people can make a person crazy. And certainly there is alot of anecdotal evidence to prove this to be the case. I don’t remember what the name of the movie was, but there is this movie about this dude who wasn’t mentally disabled, but was raised in an institution his entire life before someone figured out that he was normal. All I remember is that it was made in the 70s and it had Frederic Forrest in it (I should probably IMDB it someday). So, if someone said that you were mentally disabled (but yoy weren’t) are you still responsible for what you do — assuming that you are actually rational? Are rational people who think irrationally still responsible for what they do? We know that in Peter’s case, even though he seems to take his diagnosis seriously, he’s still morally on the hook for what he does (and CPS seems to think this as well, as they threaten to take his children away from him). But what about people who really are mentally disabled? Our attitude tends to be “it depends”. When we see, for instance, a mentally challenged person who is accused of committing a crime, our first inclination is to ask how mentally challenged that individual is. If a person is merely “slow”, we tend to show less sympathy for their condition than if a person were fully incapable of understanding their actions. If a mentally disabled person were accused of murder, we would ask if he demonstrated signs of knowledge of what he had done. We would ask if he ran from the scene of the crime or if he showed remorse for what he did. If he does, we would say that he understands that what he did was wrong, and that he should be punished. But then we ask, to what extent is to be the proper punishment? When Bill Clinton was runnig for president in 1992, he went back to Arkansas to preside over the execution of a mentally challenged man who was condemned for committing a murder. Clinton’s decision to uphold the death sentence was blasted by those who felt that the condemned man lacked the mental capacity to understand what he had done. They felt that the punishment was excessive considerning the fact that the man was mentally handicapped. Questions of dimished capacity also arise when we think of the treament of children in the justice system. When a 6 and an 11 year old perpetrated a massacre of their classmates in Jonesboro, the question of whether a child as young as six can understand the implications of his actions came to national prominance. If a child that young can conceive of shooting and killing his classmates with high-powered firearms, does he have the mental capacity understand his actions and be held responsible for what he’s done? If the child is not mentally disabled (meaning that besides his young age, he’s normal), and we agree that all humans have the capacity for rational thought, then at what point is the child rational enought to be held accountable for what he does? Kant says that we should treat people as if they are rational, free moral agents (this avoids the urge to be paternalistic, which would, according to Kant violate an individual’s autonomy).But if we treat all people as if they are rational, are we not treating people in a manner that they are not? The appeal of Kant’s theory is that it is cut and dry. There is no room for ambiguity. But in real life, there is more ambiguity than we know what to do with. We’re often left to wonder how rational a person is. A person may be able to function in society (even function without anyone else helping them), but they aren’t fully rational people. I think of the character Lenny in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Lenny has the capacity to function in society. He’s capable of holding a job, and does it well. But mentally, he like a child. When Lenny kills Curley’s wife, the act is unintentional. He was trying to feel her hair, but he panicked when she began to scream. Nonetheless, Lenny murdered the woman. He knew he had done wrong, but also seemed incapable of controlling himself when he did it. (Much like how a child acts). What would Kant have to say about Lenny? When the men on the ranch learned that Lenny killed Curley’s wife, they gathered a lynch mob to kill him. When we read this, it seems like their punishment for Lenny is unfair –it’s not fitting considering that Lenny lacked the mental capacity to fully understand his actions. But, when Lenny’s BFF George kills him, somehow when George kills Lenny, we aren’t as offended. We understand that George didn not kill Lenny out of revenge, but for the need to protect Lenny from the gang (and maybe to protect Lenny from himself). When George kills Lenny, another ranch hand, Slim, tells George,” Never you mind… A guy got to sometimes”. There are those who say that this is why they see no wrong in executing prisoners with dimished capacity. It’s the “rabid dog” defense. They reason that it is inhumane to allow a rabid dog to go around potentially hurting other people. We don’t kill the dog because it is cruel or because we necessarily want to kill the dog, but because we are saving others from an animal that cannot control itself. To put a mentally challenged man behind bars for the rest of his life, they argue is wrong because he may not understand why he is being held (the reasoning being if he doesn’t understand that what he did was wrong, how could he understand that he needs to spend the rest of his life in prison for it?). We worry about punishing mentally challenged people excessively, but we know that we cannot simply let them go either.

Two and a Half Conspiracy Theories

I’m a sucker for conspiracies.


I’m not one of those types who offhandedly dismiss any and all ‘they did it’ plots as fanciful tales people think up because they can’t deal with reality. I know that conspiracies can and do happen. I don’t know who shot Kennedy, but I know if there’s a good tale to tell about who did, I’m so willing to listen.

Which is why I am completely perplexed by the recent to-do about 9/11.


I know that there are a lot of theories out there about what happened and why. Some I think are worth looking at, others I think are the fanciful tales of people who not only have a difficulty facing reality, but probably have a equally difficult time leaving their homes. I am the first to admit that I don’t know much, but I am willing to admit this one thing that I know for absolutely certain: If you want to discredit any theory you take seriously, trot out Charlie Sheen to champion your cause.





Ok. I enjoyed Platoon. I even liked Hot Shots. But really, if the “truther” movement wants to establish any credibility at all, they had better go with someone who carries a little more… well… I mean, look at the guy. He was a pretty hard-core drug user, and we all know that we have a hard time (collectively) trusting people who use. Any of us who has had first-hand experience living with a user knows that trust (for those who sue) isn’t at the top of our lists. Let’s not forget the gambling and the recreational use of whores. I don’t want to throw stones here (although I am), but I think if Charlie Sheen’s film career included more movies like Platoon and less like Men At Work, people would have an easier time taking him seriously. I mean, if Sir Kenneth Brannagh announced that we should look into 9/11, I think that some people would pay attention.


images ad hominem



Look, I’m not knocking his effort. I think that there are some things about the events of that day (and after) that do need looking into. Why did it take so long to get fighter jets up after the first plane hit the tower?Why was a private Saudi jet allowed to pick up members of the bin Laden family and shuttle them out of the United States (this after all air travel had been prohibited by the US gov’t)? Was Flight 93 shot down? Why did President Bush say that he was no longer interested in finding bin Laden after he had announced that bin Laden was “wanted dead or alive”? What’s with PNAC, and why did we have a “new pearl harbor” nine months after the Bush Administration took office?


There are a whole grip of questions that are worth asking. But not asked by Charlie Sheen!!!



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And really, it’s not as if President Obama hasn’t got his hands full with other issues. Not disincluding the recent resignation of his green jobs czar, Van Jones, because of Jones’ signing a petition demanding that the government look into 9/11. I think that Mr. Obama already has his hands full with another set of conspiracy nuts already — with the “birthers” n’ all.


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I’ve said it before that I’m a fan of a good conspiracy. The problem is, is that although there are good conspiracy stories, there are very few good conspiracy arguments. I hear some of the people who believe that 9/11 was an inside job, or that President Obama isn’t an American citizen, or that H1N1 is a plot to forward the eugenicist agenda and usher in the New World Order, on the radio, trying to convince the mostly non-believer hosts that what they believe isn’t rubbish but warnings to be taken seriously.



ron paul fans



The problem is, is that they never argue their points very well. They’re often shut down very quickly. They come off like hayseeds and yahoos who still 1) live with their parents, 2) lack a significant number of teeth and education, 3) are currently the product of or involved in a romantic relationship with a blood relative, or 4) all of the above.


The problem, unfortunately, comes down to the fact that most people don’t know how to argue well.



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This is a real problem for conspiracy fans.



One tactic that they use is the scare tactic. This one is especially prevalent now (can you say death panels?). When someone uses a scare tactic as a method of argumentation, it’s called argumentum ad bacculum (and it has nothing to do with Scott Bakula).







An argumentum ad bacculum argument states if you don’t accept it, dire consequences will follow.


It goes a little something like this:  the Satanic Illuminati has plans to rid the world of 80% of the world’s population and uses the media to manipulate the population of “sheeple” (this would be something like premises for my argument). After laying out the globalist’s agenda, I conclude by saying “If you don’t believe me, the eugenicists will shoot you up full of mercury-tainted vaccines and kill you“.


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That’s pretty much the gist of the argument.




It’s believe me or die.


It doesn’t leave much room for a rebuttal.


Of course, for anyone who may be off-put by my insulting either Charlie Sheen or truthers or conspiracy theorists in general, I say this with my tongue firmly planted in cheek. Well, except for the Charlie Sheen and the credibility stuff.




images but if not aliens