Archive for January, 2019

Consciousness, Self, and Free Will

January 29, 2019

What does it really mean to be conscious? To experience things? To have a self? And does that self really make choices and decisions?

I have wrestled with these issues numerous times on this blog. Recently I gave a talk, trying to pull it all together. Here is a link to the full text: http://www.fsrcoin.com/freewill.html. But here is a condensed version:

It might seem that the more neuroscience advances, the less room there is for free will. We’re told it’s actually an illusion; that even the self is an illusion. But Daniel Dennett, in 2003, wrote Freedom Evolves, arguing that we do have a kind of free will after all.

The religious say evil exists because God gave people free will. But can you really have free will if God is omniscient and knows what you will do? This equates to the concept of causation; of determinism. Laplace was a French thinker who posited that if a mind (“Laplace’s demon”) could know every detail of the state of the Universe at a given moment, it would know what will happen next. But Dennett says this ignores the random chance factor. And quantum mechanics tells us that, at the subatomic level at least, things do happen randomly, without preceding causes.

Nevertheless, the deterministic argument against free will says that everything your brain does and decides is a result of causes beyond conscious control. That if you pick chocolate over vanilla, it’s because of something that happened among your brain neurons, whose structure was shaped by your biology, your genes, by everything that happened before. Like a computer program that cannot “choose” how it behaves.

Schopenhauer said, “a man can do what he wants but cannot will what he wants.” In other words, you can choose chocolate over vanilla, but can’t choose to have a preference for chocolate. Or: which gender to have sex with.

And what does the word “you” really mean? This is the problem of the self, of consciousness, entwined with the problem of free will. We all know what having a conscious self feels like. Sort of. But philosopher David Hume said no amount of introspection enabled him to catch hold of his self.

Another philosopher, Rene Descartes, conceived mind as something existing separately from our physical bodies. This “Cartesian dualism” is a false supernatural notion. Instead, mind and self can only be produced by (or emerge from) physical brain activity. There’s no other rational possibility.

Let’s consider how we experience vision. We not only see what’s before us, but also things we remember, or even things we imagine. All of it could be encoded (like in a computer) into 1s and 0s — zillions of them. But then how do “you” see that as a picture? We imagine what’s been called a “Cartesian theatre” (from Descartes again), with a projection screen, viewed by a little person in there (a “homunculus”). But how does the homunculus see? Is there another smaller one inside his brain? And so on endlessly?

A more helpful concept is representation, applicable to all mental processing. Nothing can be experienced directly in the brain. If it’s raining it can’t be wet inside your brain. But your brain constructs a representation of the rain. Like an artist painting a scene. And how exactly does the brain do that? We’re still working on that.

Similarly, what actually happens when you experience something like eating a cookie, or having sex? The experience isn’t mainly in the mouth or genitals but in the mind. By creating (from the sensory inputs) a representation. But then how do “you” (without a homunculus) see or experience that representation? Why, of course, by means of a further representation: of yourself having that experience.

And according to neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, in his book Descartes’ Error, we need yet another, third order representation, so that you not only know it’s raining, but know you know it. Still further, the mind also must maintain a representation of who “you” are. Including information like knowledge of your past, and ideas about your future, which must be constantly refreshed and updated.

All pretty complicated. Happily, our minds — just like our computer screens — hide from us all that internal complexity and give us a smooth simplified interface.

 

A totally deterministic view might make our lives might seem meaningless. But Dennett writes that we live in an “atmosphere of free will” — “the enveloping, enabling, life-shaping, conceptualatmosphere of intentional action, planning and hoping and promising — and blaming, resenting, punishing and honoring.” This is all independent of whether determinism is true in some physical sense.

Determinism and causality are actually tricky concepts. If a ball is going to hit you, but you duck, would Laplace’s demon have predicted your ducking, so you were never going to be hit? In other words, whatever happens is what had to happen.

Dennett poses the example of a golfer missing a putt who says, “I could have made it.” What does that really mean? Repeat the exact circumstances and the result must be the same. However, before he swung, was it possible for him to swing differently than he wound up doing? Or was it all pre-ordained? Could he have, might he have, swung differently?

Martin Luther famously said, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Was he denying his own free will? Could he have done otherwise? Or was his stand indeed a supreme exercise of personal will?

Jonathan Haidt, in his book The Righteous Mind, likened one’s conscious self to a rider on an elephant, which is the unconscious. We suppose the rider is the boss, directing the elephant, but it’s really the other way around. The rider’s role is just to come up with rationalizations for what the elephant wants. (This is a key factor in political opinions.)

And often we behave with no conscious thought at all. When showering, I go through an elaborate sequence of motions as if on autopilot. My conscious mind might be elsewhere. And how often have I (consciously) deliberated over whether to say a certain thing, only to hear the words pop suddenly out of my mouth?

A famous experiment, by neurologist Benjamin Libet, seemingly proved that a conscious decision to act is actually preceded, by some hundreds of milliseconds, by an unconscious triggering event in your brain. This has bugged me no end. I’ll try to beat it by, say, getting out of bed exactly when I myself decide, bypassing Libet’s unconscious brain trigger. I might decide I’ll get up on a count of three. But where did that decision come from?

However, even if the impetus for action arises unconsciously, we can veto it. If not free will, this has been called “free won’t.” It comes from our ability to think about our thoughts.

There’s a fear that without free will, there’s no personal responsibility, destroying the moral basis of society. Illustrative was a 2012 article in The Humanist magazine arguing against punishing Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer, because the killings were caused by brain events beyond his control. But “Free won’t” is a helpful concept here. Psychologist Thomas Szasz has argued that we all have antisocial impulses, yet to act upon them crosses a behavioral line that almost everyone can control. So Breivik was capable of choosing not to kill 77 people, and can be held responsible for his choice.

As his book title suggests, Dennett maintains that evolution produced our conscious self with free will. But those were unnecessary for nearly all organisms that ever existed. As long as the right behavior was forthcoming, there was no need for it “to be experienced by any thing or anybody.” However, as the environment and behavioral challenges grow more complex, it becomes advantageous to consider alternative actions. In developing this ability, Dennett says a key role was played by communication in a social context, with back-and-forth discussion of reasons for actions, highly enhanced by language. Recall the importance of representation. I mentioned the artist and his canvas. Our minds don’t have paints, but create word pictures and metaphors, multiplying the power of representation.

Another book by Dennett, in 1991, was Consciousness Explained. It said that the common idea of your self as a “captain at the helm” in your mind is wrong. It’s really more like a gaggle of crew members fighting over the wheel. A lot of neurons sparking all over the place. And what you’re thinking at any given moment is a matter of which gang of neurons happens to be on top.

Yet in Freedom Evolves, Dennett now winds up insisting that we can and do use rationality and deliberation to resolve such internal conflicts, and that “there is somebody home” (the self) after all, to take responsibility and be morally accountable. This might sound like positing a sort of homunculus in there. But let me offer my own take.

When the crewmen battle over the wheel, to say the outcome is deterministically governed by a long string of preceding causes is too simplistic. Instead, everything about that competition among neuron groups embodies who you are, your personality and character, constructed over years. Shaped by many deterministic factors, yes — your biology, genes, upbringing, experiences, a host of other environmental influences, etc. But also, importantly, shaped by all your past choices and decisions. We are not wholly self-constructed, but we are partly self-constructed. Your past history reflects past battles over the wheel, but in all those too, personality and character factors came into play.

They can change throughout one’s life, even sometimes from conscious efforts to change. And no choice or decision is ever a foregone conclusion. Even if most people, most of the time, do behave very predictably, it’s not like the chess computer that will play the same move every time. Causation is not compulsion. People are not robots.

Nothing is more deterministically caused than a smoker’s lighting up, a consequence of physical addiction on top of psychological and behavioral conditioning, and even social ritual. Seemingly a textbook case of B.F. Skinner’s deterministic behaviorism. Yet smokers quit! Surely that’s free will.

Now, you might say the quitting itself actually has its own deterministic causes — predictable by Laplace’s demon — whatever happens is what had to happen. But this loads more weight upon the concept of determinism than it can reasonably be made to carry. In fact, there’s no amount of causation, biological or otherwise, that predicts behavior with certainty. There are just too many variables. Including the “free won’t” veto power.

And even if Libet was right, and a decision like exactly when to move your finger (or get out of bed) really is deterministically caused — how is that relevant to our choices and decisions that really matter? When in college, I’d been programmed my whole life to become a doctor. But one night I thought really hard about it and decided on law instead. Concerning a decision like that, the Libet experiment, the whole concept of determinism, tells us nothing.

This is compatibilism: a view of free will that’s actually compatible with causation and determinism.

We started with the question, how can you have free will if an omniscient God knows what you’ll do? Well, the answer is, he cannot know. But — even if God — or Laplace’s demon — could (hypothetically) predict what your self will do — so what? It’s still your self that does it. A different self would do different. And you’re responsible (at least to a considerable degree) for your self. That’s my view of free will.

 

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Trump trumped

January 26, 2019

While posturing as proud to announce a deal, that was typical Trump bullshit. In fact he totally capitulated. Got nothing. Not a thing more than was offered 35 days before. So all the pain and cost of the shutdown was for nought.

He actually blew it before it even started, with his loud declaration he’d be proud to shut down the government. This piece of idiocy self-disembowled his later predictable effort to blame Democrats, thus ensuring they wouldn’t yield to him.

So much for the “great deal maker.” This master negotiator couldn’t negotiate his way out of a paper bag.

This also proves that standing up to bullies works.

Having beaten him on the wall now, Democrats won’t give it to him later. His threat to shut the government down again on February 15, to get it, is hollow. You know the aphoristic definition of insanity — doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Now there are cracks in his previously monolithic support, as some are disgusted by his caving on his signature promise, and some begin to realize maybe they made a mistake putting faith in such a fraud. Polls now show 57% of Americans rule out voting for Trump in 2020.

If he were smart he’d deep-six the whole wall thing and move on, hoping this fiasco might dim in memory by 2020. Otherwise he’ll just keep reminding voters of it. Only a fool would do that. Of course, that’s exactly what he is. Our saving grace. Imagine if we had a man this bad who actually knew what he was doing.

So now there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Though still much darkness along the way. At least we can hope his monument to ignorance, xenophobia, racism, and folly never does get built.

The shutdown, hostages, and humanitarian crises

January 24, 2019

Let’s see if I have this straight. The government is partly shut down because Congress can’t pass a bill authorizing the employees’ salaries. But they could and did authorize post-shutdown back pay for those workers. In other words, Congress voted to pay them for work they can’t do because Congress wouldn’t vote to pay them for it.

And Congressional Republicans won’t agree to that because Democrats won’t agree to a border wall — which Republicans wouldn’t agree to when they controlled both houses.

They say they won’t vote for a bill the President won’t sign. But Congress can override a president’s veto with a two-thirds vote. Republicans and Democrats could agree on a bill to simply reopen the government, and pass it over a veto. However, Republicans won’t do that because they’re now hostage to Trump; they fear losing the next primary to a challenger he backs. So much for checks and balances and co-equal branches of government.

Trump is holding the government, and 800,000 workers’ salaries, hostage to his demand for a wall — which, again, he couldn’t get during the two years his own party controlled Congress. Calling this blackmail is not a metaphor. He’s saying, “Meet my demand, or else these government workers get hurt.” In any other context, such extortion lands you in prison.

This is actually costing the government — and taxpayers — a lot more than the $5.7 billion Trump is demanding for his wall. It’s also exceeded by the cost — financial, material, emotional — to those 800,000 federal workers. A humanitarian crisis, to use his words. And it’s also exceeded by the hit to the overall economy.

The “great deal maker” triggered this mess with no strategy for getting out of it. So now we’re stuck like Brer Rabbit with the tar baby. The same might be said of our electing him.

Saying Democrats oppose border security, wanting “open borders,” is such a lie that the word “lie” is inadequate. Let alone saying they want criminals and drugs and terrorists to flood into the country. As if we have no border security, and only now must start on it.

And he says there’s now a humanitarian crisis at the southern border. As if for the past two years Republicans didn’t control the whole government without building a wall (and without a shutdown aimed at getting it). And as if the inflow of migrants isn’t in fact way down from prior periods.

And as if Trump’s foolish wall would matter, when the vast majority of migrants, and of drugs, come in through official border crossings and airports.

But there is indeed a humanitarian crisis at the border. It’s Trump’s cruel, inhuman treatment of migrants. Including taking thousands of children away from parents, often without even any tracking, so they’ll never again see their kids, penned in wretched concentration camps. A crime against humanity, to America’s everlasting shame.

Steve King, Trump, and the Republican white nationalist party

January 21, 2019

The sky has fallen on Iowa Republican Congressman Steve “Cantaloupes” King for the latest in his long train of racist rantings. “White nationalist, white supremacist . . . how did that language become offensive?” he queried.

Maybe because “white supremacy” means black inferiority, “white nationalist” means black subordination. And because such words were connected with putting African people in chains and into ships to enslave them. And with barbaric lynchings to terrify African-Americans into submission for the denial of their citizenship and human rights. That, Mr. King, is how such language became offensive to any decent person.

But my point is not to call out Steve King, which many others have done, including the Republican House leadership. They’ve condemned and punished King, as though his sentiments have no place in the party of Lincoln. It’s this hypocrisy I’m calling out. The party of Lincoln (my own former party) has now become the party of Trump — and of Steve King, whose words actually reflect its true nature. Trump has been silent about King. Today’s Republican party is, above all else, the white nationalist party.

A Chicago Sun-Times column by Laura Washington is headed, “GOP condemns Steve King’s racist remarks — and ignores Trump’s.” His racism is just one small notch below King’s. Here is a compendium of it: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/15/opinion/leonhardt-trump-racist.html.

This is by no means incidental to the Trump phenomenon, but of the essence. His presidential campaign actually grew out of his leadership of birtherism — the racist lie that President Obama was born in Kenya (where his mother never set foot). Careful analysis of polling data has shown that the one factor most closely correlated with Trump support is white racial resentment. It’s what got him elected. And his behavior in office shows his understanding that this (in the guise of the immigration issue) is the one supervening concern in his base that he dare not trifle with. His presidency’s bottom line.

If the people at our southern border did not have brown skins, we would not be hearing the word “wall,” and the government would not be shut down today.

Sholem Aleichem and my Jewish roots and American identity

January 18, 2019

We watched a PBS documentary about Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916) — making me ponder what I feel as my personal identity.

People used to be securely rooted in distinct cultures, but those boundaries have become fluid in today’s cosmopolitan world. Yet many still crave the belongingness of cultural identity. (It’s a big factor in Trumpism.)

Sholem Aleichem’s roots were in the Jewish shtetl culture of Russia and Eastern Europe. Mine too. My mother (now 98) arrived in America in 1938 as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. My paternal grandparents were apparently born here, but their ancestry was in Sholem Aleichem country. “Robinson” was presumably anglicized from something like Rabinovich (which was Sholem Aleichem’s original name too).

I had long supposed that all these Jews were traceable back to the Holyland. But when I wrote an autobiography, research indicated that isn’t likely. We may well have derived instead from the Khazars, a Central Asian people whose ruler, for some reason, decided to go Jewish around a millennium ago. (Making “anti-Semitism” a misnomer; the Khazars were not Middle Eastern Semites.)

Sholem Aleichem bopped around various European locales but finally wound up in America — like a couple million other Jews. The documentary said most jettisoned their traditions. “Tradition”  is the insistent refrain of a lead song in Fiddler on the Roof, which was based on Sholem Aleichem’s work. Again we see the powerful role of cultural tradition in delineating one’s personal identity.

Religion is a big element of that. And many Jews in America have — like me — eschewed the religion. A big issue for Fiddler’s main character Tevye was his daughter’s marrying a non-Jew. As many American Jews have — like me — also done.

But a great thing about the human animal is our adaptability, always changing ourselves to fit new circumstances. And if we Americans of Jewish ethnicity have cast off old traditions, it is to create new ones.

Yet my lineage is by no means irrelevant to who I am. My Jewish immigrant heritage is important to it — not the Jewish part so much as the immigrant part. I feel spiritual kinship with all those who made the journey; the leaving behind and the creating anew. That indeed is the very essence of what America represents. This country was conceived as a new human beginning, free of all the stifling old baggage of the lands from whence we came.

So my identity is as an American. I feel embedded in that American story of “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” to reinvent not only themselves but the world. Creating a great society where human beings can best flourish. America has indeed enabled me to have a wonderful life, and that’s thanks to its openness and fundamental character, which has been such a magnet for others to come here.

Many Americans today, however, see their identities rooted not in such universal ideas and values but rather in an ethnic parochialism. Thus the hostility to those migrants who are the latest legions of “wretched refuse” knocking on our golden door. Thousands of children, taken away from their parents, are in detention camps, in horrible conditions. This cruel inhuman treatment, by an America that seems to have forgotten its own true identity, breaks my heart.

UPDATE: I received a message from Kevin Alan Brook who authored a book addressing recent DNA evidence about the origins of European (Ashkenazic) Jews. He says there actually is no material Khazar connection after all. I will quote his e-mail: “About 45-50 percent of Ashkenazic DNA derives from the ancient Israelites. The deep-ancestry calculator Eurogenes K36 has categories called “Near Eastern”, “East Mediterranean”, “Arabian”, “Armenian”, and “West Caucasian” and Ashkenazim always score big amounts in those.”

Facebook: the monster destroying civilization

January 13, 2019

First it was Facebook as an addictive time sink; substituting for life in the actual world; even ruining marriages. But all that was in a more innocent time. Now there are bigger issues.

PBS’s Frontline recently ran an eye-popping two-part report on Facebook. The mantra of Facebook and its creator/boss Mark Zuckerberg is “open and connected.” It’s the idealism of improving the world by bringing people together and empowering them. The 2011 Egyptian revolution was organized largely via Facebook.

But Facebook, as Reinhold Niebuhr said of religion, is a good thing for good people and a bad thing for bad people. And while most people are good, unfortunately not all are. Containing bad people’s badness is civilization’s age-old problem. Bad people have had a field day exploiting Facebook’s idealistic concept for their own malign purposes, and Facebook has failed abysmally in dealing with this.

Facebook makes its money by using its algorithms to target ads to people likely to be receptive. The Russians utilized this to subvert the 2016 election (with the connivance if not collusion of the Trump campaign); a well-financed and well-organized attack on America and its democracy by the Internet Research Agency operating under the Kremlin’s aegis. The IRA launched a tsunami of Facebook ads. But it did much more, also flooding Facebook with trolls pretending to be Americans posting content, including establishment of innumerable Facebook groups that attracted millions of followers.

And the Kremlin’s aim was not only Trump’s election (which they didn’t actually expect) but, more broadly, to undermine American society itself by sowing division. They did this through content advocating both sides of hot-button issues, like abortion, immigration, and guns — made as extremist as possible, to enflame partisanship and get Americans to hate one another. (Seems it was pretty successful.)

While all this was happening during 2016 — and happening massively— Facebook’s management was oblivious. Literally unaware how its platform was being so horrendously abused. Only afterward, once the stench finally reached their nostrils, did they start to investigate. And Facebook was shocked, shocked, to discover what had happened.

But things didn’t really blow up in Facebook’s face till the Cambridge Analytica story broke. Cambridge’s business is targeting people with content (not necessarily truthful) that will sway their opinions. Facebook had always sworn to protect users’ privacy and personal information, but sold some to Cambridge, and their controls proved to be so lax that Cambridge winkled out the data for many millions more.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Frontline also showed how Facebook is used to whip up ethnic hatreds and violence in Myanmar, and “weaponized” by backers of Philippine President Duterte to crush critics of his policy of dealing with drugs by murdering thousands. These are just examples of a global problem.

Part of it is that people aren’t mis-using Facebook just to promote political or social agendas. They do it for money. Creating “click bait” content that attracts a lot of eyeballs enables one to sell ads (on top of those Facebook itself sells). I heard a radio interview with one guy who unashamedly told how he’d made thousands by concocting a fake “report” about Hillary vote fraud.

Frontline interviewed a bunch of top Facebook people about all this. Every one sounded downright lame. All acknowledged that Facebook was “slow” to address these problems, but were vague about remedies. The problems at issue don’t much affect Facebook’s profitability; whereas quashing them might.

One thing Facebook is doing pro-actively, though, is trying to dig up dirt to smear its critics.

Zuckerberg appeared frequently in Frontline’s report. He came across as a dewy-eyed robotic snowflake totally out of his depth. Never appreciating the magnitude and seriousness of what’s at issue.

Facebook has always insisted it is a technology company, not a media or content company. And there is a principle, enshrined in legislation, exempting internet platforms from liability for stuff other people put up on them.

But not so fast. Facebook’s “News Feed” has become its most prominent feature. For a vast number of people, it is their primary (if not sole) source of news. Fine and dandy if it’s news like Walter Cronkhite used to broadcast. But this is totally different. This too is governed by algorithms tailored to showing users stuff they are most apt to like and respond to —whether true or not. (The purpose again is selling ads.)

The traditional role of a news purveyor is to exercise editorial responsibility. Recognizing that recipients of their product have an interest in getting accurate news; and, indeed, that this is vital for a society, especially a democratic one. But Facebook exercises no editorial responsibility whatsoever. Doesn’t even recognize that the concept applies to them.

This might not be terrible if Facebook were just another news outlet. But Facebook is now by far the world’s biggest disseminator of “news.” It has a stranglehold monopoly in the “social network” sphere, becoming indeed an integral part of the very fabric of life, throughout the globe. This gives Facebook truly immense power. But it refuses to shoulder any real responsibility.

Zuckerberg on Frontline said he assumes Facebook users are not so naive as to believe everything they see there. How naive is he to believe that? On what planet does he live?

If you’re a bad guy and you throw something up on the web that’s outrageously false but incendiary and calculated to push certain people’s buttons, that’s exactly what it will do, thanks to Facebook, whose algorithms will give it “News Feed” prominence for precisely that reason. Much more prominence than (unexciting) genuine news. It’s a form of Gresham’s law — bad (fake) news drives good (true) news out of circulation. In fact, many people today have less trust in traditional news sources. They refuse to believe CNN yet wallow in Facebook’s “News Feed” — which is really a crap feed.

This is insanity. No wonder we have the president we have.

What is the solution? It is long past time to hope that Zuckerberg and Facebook will suddenly wake up and (somehow) grasp the nettle. Meantime, while I am a believer in free market capitalism, Facebook is not just another standard type of business enterprise. It is, again, certainly a monopoly, and it’s in a class by itself, in terms of its immense societal role. This could be seen as an antitrust matter; but I don’t know that there’s an antitrust solution, along the lines of breaking up the company, that would make any sense.

My professional career was spent in the public regulation of monopoly utilities. The deal was that government would license them as monopolies, in exchange for their agreeing to being subject to regulation, including rate regulation. I would suggest designating Facebook a public utility. Rate regulation would be irrelevant here, but there needs to be regulation of how Facebook operates. At a minimum, the “News Feed” should be subjected to public oversight so that if it continues to exist at all, it must be limited to what is generally recognized as legitimate actual news.

The Trump diaries

January 11, 2019

There’s two kinds of people. Strong and weak. Winners and Losers. I’m so strong and such a winner, biggest in the world, it’s so great. There was a German writer, Neechie, who said it’s masters and slaves; wrote about the “Ubermench.” That’s me!

I haven’t read Neechie, people have told me. I don’t read, reading is for losers who don’t already know everything, ha ha! Not for the Ubermench.

And the great thing about knowing everything — well, and being president — is that you can do anything and say anything, whatever you feel like. So the failing New York Times says it’s a lie. Who gives a shit? Not those stupid suckers out there who love me. You know what? It’s really because they wish they could be like me. Bunch of pathetic losers. What a joke!

Putin — now there’s a guy who’s strong too. I love that guy! Somebody disses him, Putin snaps his fingers, and that loser is gone. And I mean gone. What a shame we don’t have that in America. Boy, I’d have such a list!

And Xi Jinping, he makes those stupid Chinks worship him like a god. Practically licking his feet — cause he can snap his fingers too, you know. And it sure helps if you have a whole nation of dumb losers like China. Though Xi Jinping, that’s kind of a weak sounding name. Not like Trump, now that’s a real strong name. Trump! And Donald, not “Don!” Nobody calls me Don, I wouldn’t stand for it. All these weenie politicians using pal-sy names. Started with Carter. Calling himself Jimmy, not James, I mean, come on. Maybe Jim, okay, but not Jimmy. Like he’s a kid or something. What a wimpy loser. Not me!

Can’t believe I get away with all the shit I get away with. But God, I hate people who don’t grovel to me. Me, the ubermench! So unfair! Stupid losers.

I wonder what Obama is doing right this minute. That weakling laughed at me — at me — at that dinner. Not even white. Well, who’s laughing now!!

And that sniveling little Canadian twerp Trudo, what a loser. And that French guy, little Macron. Married to an old bag old enough to be his mother! In fact, she’s got a son older than him! I wonder if they actually fuck. I wish that little bitch Melania would let me fuck her. What a cushy deal she’s got, and she doesn’t even have to put out. As if there aren’t a million hot pieces of ass out there who’d fuck my brains out to be first lady.

One of the more tasteful photos of Melania

But what can I do? That’s the one thing I didn’t think of when I ran for president. All those Secret Service flunkies always there. How do I get any pussy in here? You’d think that would be one of the perks. So unfair! What kind of crap country have you got where the president can’t get pussy? I bet Putin gets it, served to him on a silver platter every day! No, gold, actually.

Transgender wars

January 7, 2019

Sex is a huge, and very anxiety-ridden, part of the human psyche. That (not the Bible) is why some are freaked out by gays. Well, they lost that war; but transgender freaks them out even more. So then we had the bathroom wars. And then Trump tried to ban transgender people from the military. His latest atrocity is to define, for all federal purposes, your gender as what’s on your birth certificate, deemed immutably fixed at birth or before. As if people go trans for nutty or perverse reasons.

This is not just cruel and hateful, it’s counter-factual. Here’s some biological information:

An embryo actually begins sexless, able to develop into either gender. (That’s why men have nipples.) Which gender it assumes is (normally) governed by its genes, with a lot of complex steps, elaborately choreographed by chemical signaling (via hormones). This creates male or female hardware and software. The hardware is the anatomy. The software tells you how to use it, and is installed in your brain.

My own software makes me sexually attracted to females. But there’s another aspect – feeling male– that’s so second nature we’re not even aware of it. It’s just part of one’s operating system, humming along in the background.

But what if there’s a signaling glitch during embryonic development, and incorrect software gets installed? We know some males have software telling them to mate with males instead of females. But, more rarely, some get entirely the wrong package – telling them they are female.

This is not some psychological hang-up, confusion about gender, or wishing one’s gender were different. Male and female brains are different, not just in how they work, but even physiologically. And it’s possible to be genetically and genitally male while having a mismatched female brain.*

Most of us, with everything matching, can hardly imagine what it would be like otherwise. But that’s the transgender situation. A basic incompatibility with one’s own body. That’s not something you can make yourself simply adjust to, or ignore. It’s something fundamental to who you are.

The condition is called “gender dysphoria,” usually showing up (and strongly) fairly early in childhood. The treatment can include drugs to delay puberty; then, if the condition persists, hormones and surgery to change the anatomy to better match the brain software.

Going through all this is a terrible experience; one’s social structures, and even one’s own family, are often non-supportive if not downright hostile. Even after transitioning, it’s still very tough for trans people to adjust. Their suicide rates are very high.

So they deserve empathy and human kindness; anything to make their road easier. Trump’s opposite tack is vile.

As to the bathroom panic, it’s not completely baseless. Some male sexual perverts and predators might try to get their jollies in women’s rooms. But let’s take a deep breath and remember that such behavior is always illegal and punishable, and transgender rights don’t change that.

This concludes this essay’s politically correct portion.

Just as Trump, playing to his most retrograde supporters, makes the transgender phenomenon political, it has also become political on the other side. Support for the “full Monty” of transgender rights has become part of the politically correct “progressive” catechism — and Heaven help anyone murmuring heresy.

This means all-in with the idea of gender self-identification — no questions asked. Any male who says he wants to be treated as female gets treated as female. More, it means children not only taught to be accepting, but actually encouraged to question their own gender identity. And, by all means, to change it if they like.

The power of suggestion is very big for youngsters. And a lot of kids are, of course, mixed up in varied ways, having trouble fitting in socially, relating to their families, struggling to form their personal identities, etc. Moreover, adjusting to puberty and the whole sexuality thing is difficult enough for even the most normal of kids. In this hothouse environment, being trans or “gender fluid” might seem an attractive ticket to coolness, to hipness. It’s the in vogue as thing to be now. And so there’s an epidemic of kids coming out with “gender dysphoria.”

Brown University scientist Lisa Littman recently studied this, and found many teen gals in friendship groups all suddenly asserting trans identities — often after binge-watching online videos by trans teenagers. Littman called this “rapid-onset gender dysphoria.”

But meantime, the “transactivist” movement is geared to fully honoring such a seeming choice. That means putting the kids on an express train to hormone treatments and surgery, irreversibly altering their bodies. That can be salutary for true dysphoria cases, but where some different psychological thing is actually going on, it can be a catastrophic mistake that will screw up that person’s later life. There have already been numerous such cases; sad stories. Yet in effect transactivists insist that these kids be allowed to self-diagnoseand get the associated treatment, with no second-guessing by medical professionals or other adults.

Where a child insists they are the other gender, starting early and consistently for years, that can be accepted at face value. But when it springs up suddenly in a teenager, it’s reasonable to question what is really behind it. Yet anyone urging such a cautious wait-and-see approach in such cases is condemned as an anti-trans heretic. After transactivist lobbying, Brown University withdrew its report about Littman’s research, saying it might “discredit efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate the perspectives of members of the transgender community.”

So with that smarmy bullshit, Brown caved to the trans Torquemadas. Yet another example of the left’s troubled relationship with freedom of thought and expression. At least Littman has not been burned at the stake.

* Rarely too, the anatomy can be messed up, ambiguous or in-between.

Consciousness, Self & Free Will — my talk 1/13

January 6, 2019

I will give a talk at the Capital District Humanist Society, Sunday, Jan. 13, 12:45 PM, Room 224 of Sage College Campus Center, Academy Rd & New Scotland Ave., Albany. (Nice refreshments!)

What does it really mean to have a self? Or feel that you do? Making choices and decisions? Philosophers have long wrestled with these problems. Some argue that neuroscience reveals the self and free will are illusions. A book by Daniel Dennett argues otherwise. My talk will resolve these issues once and for all.

Ilhan Omar: from refugee camp to Congress

January 4, 2019

THIS IS MY AMERICA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), taking the oath of office yesterday.