Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I got to thinking about apologies today. What are they? What are they good for? It seems to me that an apology is a way of accepting blame. And blame, it seems to me, is a combination of causal responsibility and moral failing. In other words if you rearend somebody because of their error, you may have caused the accident, but they are to blame. But if you rearend them because of your error, you are to blame.

But what is this "blame" we throw around? Where is this moral failing? I honestly can't see it anymore. All I see is causation. Causation by stupidity, impulsiveness, mental illness, or something else ... but only causation.

Without blame.

And if there is no blame, can there be any apology? I don't think so. I think an apology without blame means nothing at all.

So I'm going to stop asking for apologies. I may stop giving them. Instead, causation. We'll see how that works.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

should and could

My last post got me thinking about exactly what the difference between "should" and "could" is.

Both of them, of course, imply a difference between the current state of affairs and some alternative state of affairs. It "is" this way, but it "Could/Should" be some different way.

Consequently, they both assume a few more things -- first, that some alternate state of affairs is possible. Second, that some act of will could change the current state of affairs to the alternate. Finally, that the alternate is somehow better than the actual.

That said, the two words describe very different relationships between the actual and the alternative.

"Should" implies a failure to live up to a standard. "Could" implies an opportunity to improve, regardless of any standard. Thus, you SHOULD go to college so you're not a bum, vs. you COULD go to college so you could make more money.

So where does "Should" come from? I think it comes down to a logical error. When we say "should," we really mean "I or someone else want you to, and you're existential value depends on living up to the wants of that person."

Both parts of that equation are essential to a "should."

If I just want you to do something but your value doesn't depend on meeting my wants, then I don't say you SHOULD do something. I tell you I would like you to, and ask you if you would.

If your existential value depends on meeting my wants but I don't want you to do something, then of course there's no should at all.

And all this is not to say my wants are inherently illegitimate. I may WANT you not to waste your life away on crack. Nothing wrong with that.

The danger in the equation, however, lies in the second element. The implied premise that your value -- your "okayness" depends on living up to my standards.

What arrogance. What foolishness to say that if you fail to live up to what i want you to do, you are somehow less valuable than you otherwise would be. What fallacy to project my values on someone else. What utter nonsense.

And that's the fundamental horror of "should." It places the "Shouldee" under the "Shoulder" in value and power. It is inherently coercive and controlling.

Could, on the otherwise, is composed of a completely different scenario. Could is essentially "You would benefit yourself if you did X." It doesn't matter what I want. And you are no less valuable for having done what I wanted or not. It only says "You could benefit if you did X."

Thus, you would make more money if you got educated. You would be healthier if you exercised and ate better. You would be happier at home if you were kind and supportive to your family. Simply put, benefit yourself.

I believe in "Could."

guilt and faith

I got to thinking about guilt and faith today.

Guilt I'll define as the cognitive dissonance we feel when we perceive a gap between what we "are" and what we "should be."

Faith I'll define as the rush of joy we feel when we perceive an opportunity to rise from what we "are" to what we "could be."

Let me unpack those two concepts a little bit. Guilt is pain. Faith is pleasure. Guilt is finding yourself at the bottom of the well, seeing the sun out of reach. Faith is finding yourself on the ground, and finding a tree to climb. Guilt is the difference between -5 and 0. Faith is the difference between 0 and +5.

Now where do these two feelings come from?

Guilt, I argue, is a form of external control imposed on us from outside. The "Should," after all, has to come from somewhere. Where does it come from? Rarely if ever from us. Usually from parents, preachers, politicians, friends, teachers, and activists. Somebody has to tell us what we "should be."

Why do they tell us this? Is it because we actually SHOULD BE something?

That's an interesting question. Because "Should" depends on a deeper question -- should, FOR WHAT? Should, so God will not send us to hell. Should, so we will not be mocked. Should, so our parents will not turn their backs on us. Should must be for something, and it always seems to be something outside.

The "Could" of faith, however, doesn't have an external purpose. It has an internal one -- the pleasure of being better, stronger, faster. The joy of more power, of more freedom, of more love. It has an internal purpose. And because of that, it cannot be used to exploit us. Rather, because it comes from inside us, it only serves to better us.

Now guilt, of course, is a form of pain. It burns inside us. In extreme cases, it can physically hurt. And as living, breathing, rational organisms, we naturally shrink from pain.

So what do we do with guilt?

Well, since guilt is the gap between what we are and what we should be, what mental tricks can we play with ourselves to close the gap?

Well it seems to me there are two requirements for feeling guilt --

One, you need to have the self esteem to think you "Could" be what you "should" be -- otherwise when people tell you you're bad, you say, "Yes, of course, I know, so what."

Two, you have to care about their standard. If someone calls you a bad person because you fail to live up to their standard, but you don't care about their opinion or their standard, you feel no guilt.

The way I see it, we have four options:
1) We can keep our self-esteem intact while continuing to accept their standard, and become what they require us to be. These are the conformists who live up to society's standards. No guilt because they meet the standards.

2) We can lose our self-esteem while continuing to accept their standard, and become what they say is bad. e.g. Eminem's lyric, "I am whatever you say I am." These are the rebels who accept without question what society says is good, but then place themselves in opposition to it, as a "bad kid." No guilt because they "just can't be good."

3) We can lose both our self-esteem and their standard, and live a life of utter chaos.

4) We can maintain our self esteem while rejecting their standard. These typically invent their own, new moral codes -- which may or may not be in accord with Reality.

None of these responses, of course, is truly desirable. The first leaves others in control of your life and values. The second and third are miserable lives of low self-esteem and rebellion. The last is risky, as one invents one's own standards. Yet these are the only four options we are left with to reduce the pain of guilt, when guilt is used in an effort to control us.

Faith, on the other hand, doesn't raise these issues. It doesn't compare us with what we "should be" -- it points to what we "could be," and shows us the advantages thereof. You don't go to college because "If you don't you're a slacker." You go to college because "Knowledge and wisdom are power." You don't refrain from stealing because "only bad people steal." You refrain from stealing because it's risky, and earning wealth is much more secure and pleasurable.

The difference here is much more significant than mere "glass half full or half empty." The difference is fundamental, because there is no pain to shrink from in faith. There is nothing to hide from. You can acknowledge what you are, and know what you could be, without pain. Without cognitive dissonance. You are free to acknowledge the truth about yourself, and to ponder what you could do better.

I choose faith.

Monday, July 5, 2010

defending the guilty

in criminal defense, you basically have four categories of clients:

1) People who are not guilty, and the government cannot convince a jury they are.
2) People who are not guilty, but the government can convince a jury they are.
3) People who are guilty, and the government can prove it.
4) People who are guilty, and the government cannot prove it.

Each of these categories needs to be treated differently.

Categories 1-3 are pretty straight forward.

1) If a guy is innocent and the government can't prove they're guilty, you litigate and win.

2) If a guy is innocent but the government can convince a jury they're guilty, you investigate and fight like the dickens to allow the truth to come out in court, then litigate and win.

3) If a guy is guilty and the government can prove it, you convince him to plea guilty and say sorry.

4) It's the last category -- guilty people that the government cannot prove guilty -- that gets people all tripped up. "How can you defend guilty people!?"

Before answering that question, however, we need to dig into the assumptions underlying the question itself.

The key assumption, I think, is that "If a guilty person isn't punished for his crimes, he has gotten away with them -- and this is unjust."

This only makes sense of we assume two things:

First, that governmental punishment is the only legitimate and meaningful source of punishment;
Second, that crimes OUGHT to be punished by government.

I don't think either of those is necessarily true. Consider a man who slaps his wife, and his wife leaves him, but never reports the offense to the police, so he is never punished by government. But of course he loses his wife. He has technically violated "the law," and not been punished by government. But he has been punished. He has received the natural and normal consequences of his actions -- the loss of his wife. And would it necessarily be more just for the governmen to step in and slap him on the wrist for this offense? No. It is best, I submit, for the issue to be addressed between the two of them directly.

There are many other cases where a "crime" need not be punished by government. An insane man attacks a psych ward employee in a fit of madness, and kills him. Punishment will serve no purpose, as the person lacks the mental resources to "learn from his mistakes." Rather, the "right thing to do" is not to punish, but treat the person, and keep him in circumstances where he will not hurt another.

Seems to me there are many other cases where the violation of a law need not be punished by government in order to be adequately addressed. Many sins, after all, are their own punishments.

So let us conclude that there is not necessarily a violation of the deep moral law if a person commits a crime and is not punished by government. Rather, let us conclude that government should only punish crime where punishment is justified and useful under the circumstances.

So then, what is the justification of punishment?

The American system is premised on the idea that punishment is only justified if the government has met its burden of proof. NOT merely that a person is guilty -- but that the government has PROVEN a person is guilty.

And who is to decide that?

The accused cannot be relied on, for obvious reasons. Sometimes they may falsely deny a crime because they want to avoid punishment. Sometimes they may falsely admit to a crime to protect someone close to them, or because of mental infirmity. And people do falsely admit to crimes. All the time.

The government cannot be relied on, also for obvious reasons. Unless the government is given a check and balance, it can -- and will -- exercise arbitrary punitive power, to the detriment of individual rights and the integrity and predictability of society of a whole.

So who is to be relied on?

The evidence, weighed out and balanced in court.

And how is this evidence to be weighed? Well, that's determined by the system. And the rules of the game say that defendants have a legal and moral right to plead not guilty, even if they are.


I think it's for the best of the system. Because again, just because I'm guilty doesn't mean the government should be able to punish me. The government needs to play by its own rules if it wants to punish me -- and one of those rules is getting the evidence together and convincing a group of people that i did what they say i did. That's how the system works.

So if the system is designed to work that way; and if the system says I have the legal and moral right to plead not guilty even if I am ... and that the government is responsible for proving I'm guilty in front of detached jurors ... then why shouldn't I?

And this brings us back to the first point. If the government does not punish a crime, that may or may not be the right outcome, depending on the circumstances. The rules say that the government has to put together case enough to prove I'm guilty -- evidence enough to convince people who know nothing about me that I did what they say I did.

If they can't do that, therefore, they should not punish me.

And that's what it comes down to. If I defend a guilty man and the government fails to convince the jury that he's guilty, the government does not punish him. But:

1) That doesn't mean he gets away with it. As discussed before, there are many ways we can be punished for our actions that don't involve governmental action. Sometimes (though certainly not always), those punishments are actually more effective than the governmental action itself.

2) The government has set the rules of the game. They've decided to only punish people if they can prove it. If they can't prove it, they can't punish. Regardless of guilt or innocence. Their rules. I see no problem playing by their rules in deciding whether they get to punish somebody.

Why should I apply a higher standard -- a standard that treats the government as God, and their punishment as the only true punishment -- when the government doesn't even assume that level of arrogance?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Marriage, Stimulus + Response

Assuming for a(nother) moment that we are deliberately designed by one or more really smart people, we can infer a little bit about their design philosophy.

For one thing, they keep everything functioning through equilibrium of opposing forces -- earth's temperature is managed through summer and winter, day and night -- constant change of opposing forces that balance each other out. Equilibrium of extremes keeps things from changing too much and spiraling out of control.

They were also much more concerned with proportion than with size. Show me 100 frogs, and I'll show you 100 frogs of different size. But they all are designed with the same proportion in mind.

Today i thought of a third design philosophy we can infer from how they designed things -- development through challenge. We develop muscles when we have to lift things. Speed when we have to run. Aggression when we need to assert ourselves.

So let's apply this to marriage. Assume for a moment that women were designed as a stimulus to develop personal strength in men. What would we expect them to become in marriage? Unstable, emotional, bossy, unpredictable, flaky.

Without those stimuli, we'd never need to develop leadership.

Taking that a step further, marriage can be looked on as a personal challenge for men. Rather than expecting it to be a situation that gives us everything we want -- happiness, peace, and stability -- we can look at is as a challenge to develop core leadership qualities in us that are essential to running a Tribe.

Maybe that's why things are the way they are -- why wives commonly act in ways that make us nothing short of miserable. They're not there to make us happy. That's not what they're designed for. They're designed to force us to become what we need to be.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Anxiety and its self-medication

Been thinking a lot about anxiety -- particularly the ways we try to cope with it.

Let's define anxiety as that uncomfortable feeling you have when you don't know what's going to happen next, and fear it might be something bad.

How do we avoid this? 1001 ways.

Alcohol, drugs, controlling others, smoking, anorexia, bulemia, workoholism, procrastination, the list goes on.

The first thing I thought was, "Man, if you find somebody who's exhibiting the above behaviors, watch out -- anxiety is probably under the surface!" We blame people for their alcohol or drug abuse ... but really it's just their way of coping with their anxiety. Because of you're not feeling anxious, there really is no escape necessary. An obsession with massage I think is also a clue that somebody is struggling with anxiety -- because anxiety causes muscle tension, which needs massage. Controlling others is the classic response to anxiety -- I feel out of control, so I impose control on others to make myself feel safe and powerful.

This line of thinking does a couple things for me -- first, it puts these "vices" like control and drugs in perspective as means of coping with weakness, rather than affirmative "sins" in the religious sense. Second, it provides warning signals that somebody may be struggling with anxiety -- and that you can probably expect the rest of the symptoms to show up sooner or later. Third, it explains why I've never had any need for any of those vices, as I really don't experience any anxiety. Fourth, it makes me wonder where anxiety comes from -- early in life? biology? choice? Finally, it makes me wonder how best to deal with the anxiety of others, particularly in the area of controlling behavior, where it begins to have negative impacts on my life.

The obvious answer -- and the one they want you to buy into -- is to alleviate their anxiety. That will certainly alleviate their anxiety, and thus your immediate pain. But the habits that caused the anxiety remain, and the anxiety is sure to return. It's a non-sustainable solution.

What is the answer? Maybe there is no answer to the question "How can I fix them?" as it seems one can only fix onesself. Maybe the answer is simply to cope short-term with anxiety in those around us, and provide education on the tools that alleviate it ...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why Academics Lean Left

The demographic studies have always troubled me -- education and leftism are strongly and directly correlated.

What's the causal relationship there?

The Left traditionally explains this in one of two ways -- either education teaches you that Leftism is true, or smarter people choose to be both academics and leftists.

The Right, at least to my knowledge, has never explained it, except from small pockets of anti-intellectually that don't appeal to me for obvious reasons.

So why?

Today, as I was walking back to work, it occurred to me -- Leftism is, at its heart, alienation from and anger at the marketplace. They don't trust the marketplace. They instinctively blame businesses when things go wrong, even when some other fact is to blame -- reactively, angrily, anti-market.


Perhaps it comes down to alienation. Academics are typically smart, diligent, hardworking, motivated people. Yet they find themselves underpaid and impotent in the marketplace because academia teaches us lots of theories, but very few marketable skills. In fact, you learn your marketable skills in the marketplace, not in school, because marketable skills simply aren't for sale in school. Teachers, for one thing, typically don't have any to pass on.

So let's look at the life of the original and consummate leftist, Marx. Now there was a guy alienated from the marketplace and from real life. He couldn't do anything useful. He couldn't even keep his family clothed and fed. Yet he was smart. And he knew it.

How is an intelligent failure-at-life to explain the problem? One of two ways, really -- some fault in him, or some fault in the "real world."

Many people (myself included) see the problem in ourselves. We recognized when we graduated from school that we were essentially worthless in the marketplace, and needed to learn a whole new set of skills to survive and thrive in the real world.

But suppose someone were to take a different approach, and blame the market for being "unjust" and "immoral." Suppose an intelligent, idealistic young man chose to blame the world for the fact of his uselessness, instead of his own failure to learn anything useful?

Why then you'd have a leftist. Someone who is instinctively, reactively, anti-market at every turn.

Perhaps this explains why academics -- particularly at the highest levels -- tend to be leftist. they're smart, and they know it. yet they cannot compete in the marketplace, and cannot make money. They think they know how the world should be run, because of their extensive study of social science (developed by other academics alienated from the market). Yet business has no use for them. How short a leap to blame business, rather than their own failure to engage in the useful activities demanded by business.

Academia and Leftism share one key similarity -- alienation from the daily business life of the world. Perhaps that alienation is the causal force that drives their correlation.