A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘You’re Doing it Wrong’ tag

The Evil Humans Do

without comments

I’m not sure if this has always been there or if it’s a fairly modern thing but there is certainly a trend, at least here in the United States, for people to dehumanize anybody they view as evil. A good example of this is the alt-right and the anti-fascists. The alt-right describe the anti-fascists as violent psychopaths incapable of empathy who want nothing more than to see the world burn. The anti-fascists describe the alt-right as, well, violent psychopaths incapable of empathy who want nothing more than to see the world burn. Both sides have effectively dehumanized each other because they view each other’s philosophies as evil.

But evil isn’t perpetrated by inhuman monsters, it’s perpetrated by humans:

One of the key themes of Tizons’ article is that his family was, in many senses, almost a caricature of the striving, American-dream-seeking immigrant experience. They were normal. They were normal and yet they had a slave. To which one could respond, “Well, no, they’re not normal — they are deranged psychopaths to have managed to simply live for decades and decades with a slave under their roof. That is not something normal people do, and it’s wrong to portray it as such.”

But the entire brutal weight of human history contradicts this view. Normal people — people who otherwise have no signs of derangement or a lack of a grip on basic human moral principles — do evil stuff all the time. One could write millions of pages detailing all the times when evil acts were perpetrated, abetted, or not resisted by people who were, in every other respect, perfectly normal. It’s safe to say, to a certain approximation, that all of us — I really mean this; I really mean you and your family and everyone you love — could, in a different historical context, have been a slaver or a Holocaust-perpetrator or at the very least decided it wasn’t worth the trouble to contest these grotesque crimes. Because that’s the human condition: We don’t have easy access to a zoomed-out view of morality and empathy. We do what the people around us are doing, what our culture is doing. Tizon’s Filipino family came from a place where a form of slavery was quite common, and moving to America didn’t change that fact.

One of my favorite characters in any television show is Obergruppenführer Smith from The Man in the High Castle. He’s a ruthless member of the American arm of the SS but at the same time one would probably describe him as a good family man. He has a happy marriage and cares deeply for the wellbeing of his children. The reason I like him so much as a character is because he shows what real evil looks like.

Too often once we categorize somebody as evil we become entirely unable to identify any human characteristics in them. Doing this creates an interesting archetype that actually hinders us in detecting evil. We’ll identify somebody like Charles Manson, who made his beliefs very obvious by carving a swastika into his forehead, as evil but we’ll assume that somebody who appears to be a good parent and spouse is entirely incapable of evil. You see this periodically when somebody is found guilty of an especially heinous crime and people who knew the perpetrator talk about how nice of a person they were, how quiet and well mannered they were, and how they can’t believe that the perpetrator would have committed such a crime.

Us humans are complex creatures made even more complex by being social creatures. Most of us have a general tendency to fit in, which leads us to generally go with the flow when it comes to social norms. We’re also capable of compartmentalizing ourselves. We can be extremely caring to friends, family, and strangers alike but at the same time have a day job that many would consider evil. People caught in that kind of situation are often unaware of it because they’ve compartmentalized their personal and professional lives.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 25th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Regulating People to Death

with one comment

Here in the United States we often express the costs of regulatory burdens in dollars. We only have the luxury of doing this because our economy hasn’t completely choked to death on regulations yet. However, Venezuelans aren’t so fortunate. Their economy has choked to death and now they have to express the costs of regulatory burden in human lives:

Several of his cavernous henhouses sit empty because, Escobar said, he can’t afford to buy more chicks or feed. Government price controls have made his business unprofitable, and armed gangs have been squeezing him for extortion payments and stealing his eggs.

Venezuela’s latest public health indicators confirm that the country is facing a dietary calamity. With medicines scarce and malnutrition cases soaring, more than 11,000 babies died last year, sending the infant mortality rate up 30 percent, according to Venezuela’s Health Ministry. The head of the ministry was fired by President Nicolás Maduro two days after she released those statistics.

Child hunger in parts of Venezuela is a “humanitarian crisis,” according to a new report by the Catholic relief organization Caritas, which found 11.4 percent of children under age 5 suffering from moderate to severe malnutrition, and 48 percent “at risk” of going hungry.

Starvation is the inevitable result of government meddling in economic matters. Socialism tends to reach starvation faster because the amount of government meddling in economic affairs is greater than other forms of statism. But the same result can be reached under the economic system of the United States as well.

Statists enjoy rolling their eyes at libertarians who talk about regulatory burden but government regulations can and do kill people. And when regulations start killing people governments don’t suddenly realize the errors of their ways and loosen their grip. They double down because they know people can’t stop doing business with them.

We’re seeing this happen right now in Venezuela. Venezuelans are starving to death and the Maduro regime is tightening the noose further. The Venezuelan government, like all governments, doesn’t give a shit about the people it claims rulership over. It only cares about lining its own pockets.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 23rd, 2017 at 11:00 am

It’s Science!

without comments

Reason posted an article claiming that research shows that you can’t even pay somebody to read information that contradicts their beliefs. However, if you read the about the methodology you learn that the researchers didn’t offer to pay people to read information that contradicted their beliefs:

The study gave participants two options: they could read an article about same-sex marriage that matched their own perspective, or they could read an article about same-sex marriage that contradicted their views on the subject. They were told that if they selected the article with which they disagreed, they would be entered in a drawing to win $10. But if they selected the more comforting, self-affirming article, they would only stand to win $7.

Being entered into a lottery isn’t payment, it’s a chance at payment.

I bring this article up to illustrate how poor research can quickly lead to stupid conclusions and headlines. Initially reading the research might lead one to believe that it gives evidence to the possibility that some people won’t read contradicting information even if there is a reward. But when you stop to think about the methodology used you quickly realize that the research was inadequate at addressing incentive. Some people might not be willing to read contradicting information for a chance to be entered in a lottery with a slightly better payoff but they might be willing to do so for straight up cash. $10 might not convince some people to read contradicting information but $20 or $30 might.

I also bring this article up because it shows that neocons and neoliberals aren’t the only people who allow themselves to use poor research to reach a desired conclusion. Libertarians can and do fall into that trap as well.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 17th, 2017 at 11:00 am


without comments

I can’t prove whether or not karma is a real thing but I certainly like to think it is. I especially like to believe in karma when somebody falls prey to the very policies they promote:

In 1918, while a deputy chief of the Cheka in Ukraine, he [Martin Latsis] established the principle that sentences were to be determined not by guilt or innocence but by social class. He is quoted as explaining the Red Terror as follows:

Do not look in materials you have gathered for evidence that a suspect acted or spoke against the Soviet authorities. The first question you should ask him is what class he belongs to, what is his origin, education, profession. These questions should determine his fate. This is the essence of the Red Terror.

Latsis himself became a victim of the Soviet regime in the 1930s Great Purge, when he was arrested on November 29, 1937 and was accused by a commission of NKVD and Prosecutor of the USSR belonging to a “counter-revolutionary, nationalist organization”. He was executed in 1938 by firing squad.

A lot of people either knowingly or unknowingly advocate for a guilty until proven innocent justice system for certain crimes. Socialists of various flavors often promote such a system when an accused individual is a member of a class they aren’t fond of. The problem with such a system is that it gets abused pretty quickly. An individual having a feud with their neighbor might inform the police that their neighbor is a member of a persecuted class. People in power are quickly to label anybody they don’t like as members of a persecuted class. Since class membership becomes the important factor, not the facts of the case, the system quickly becomes a convenient mechanism for one to eliminate their enemies instead of a system for delivering justice.

It warms to heart to know that somebody like Martin Latsis, who promoted a system that issued judgements based on class membership instead of guilt of a crime, fell victim to that very system.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 17th, 2017 at 10:00 am

The Socialist Hiding Behind the Curtain

with 8 comments

It seems like there’s a socialist hiding behind almost every libertarian. If you prod most libertarians enough you’ll eventually find that one hot topic where they’re willing to put a bullet in the head of individualism and hang its corpse for all to see. For a lot of these libertarians that topic is international socialism. While they claim to be against socialism in all forms they will gladly join the ranks of the national socialists if they’re fighting international socialists. Another one of these topics that’s starting to creep up is universal basic income. A few libertarians have fallen for the automation scare and are using that as justification for why society must implement universal basic income.

Interestingly enough, this tendency of self-proclaimed anti-socialists to have very strong socialists sentiments isn’t isolated to libertarians:

I’ve critiqued that idea elsewhere, but what I find interesting about it is that for all these years, Murray wasn’t really an opponent of big government or the welfare state. He was just looking for a more effective way to administer it. So his legacy as a critic of welfare is in danger of being eclipsed by his advocacy for universal welfare.

You could make similar observations about how it was the Heritage Foundation that cooked up the “individual mandate” at the center of Obamacare, how “cap-and-trade” global warming regulations were dreamed up under the Reagan administration and pushed as a “free-market” solution, and how it was Milton Friedman who helped develop income-tax withholding.

I believe one of the reasons socialism has enjoyed such great success in spreading (even though it has been an abysmal failure when implemented) is because it has been able to infiltrate its opposition. Even people who consider themselves ardent anti-socialists have been infected with socialist thinking.

How could socialism become so pervasive in society? I attribute it to statism. Individualism is the antithesis of statism. That being the case, believers in the State have to believe in at least some amount of collectivism. If a person claims to be an anti-statist but advocates some amount of statism they have already established the cognitive dissonance in their head that allows them to claim to be individualists while promoting socialist ideas. Statists then push their belief onto children through the public education socialist indoctrination system. After all, it’s always good to them while they’re young! The children who were subjected to the indoctrination system then grown up, become teachers, and being the vicious cycle anew. Within a few generations the idea that individualism can even exist is almost completely removed from society.

Libertarianism can’t hope to win the fight against socialism if its biggest supporters are advocating socialist ideas.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 16th, 2017 at 11:00 am

The Religion of Science

without comments

One might get the impression that I’m opposed to science based on how much I’ve been harping on scientism as of late. Truth be told, I’m actually a huge advocate of science, which is why I’m investing so much time into criticizing scientism.

Science is supposed to be about using observations to develop hypotheses and testing those hypotheses through experimentation. It’s supposed to be different from faith. But most of the people cheering the greatness of science are treating it as a religion. Scientists are being treated like priests, their words are being treated as law and their characters are being treated as sacred. This has lead to religious zealotry:

In late July 2014, a Twitter user named @dogboner posted a photo of a man on a subway train working on his laptop, accompanied by the caption, “Some guy using his laptop on the train like a dumbass nerd lol.” The “dumbass nerd” in question was astrophysicist, author and TV host Neil deGrasse Tyson. Instantly, “@dogboner” (whose real name is Michael Hale) faced a tweet-storm of abuse and haranguing from social media users for whom Tyson has emerged as a kind of messiah of modern rationalism.

The photo was shared on the popular Facebook page “I Fucking Love Science” (which currently engages some 25 million-plus users), leading to even more angry call-outs. Hale was called “stupid,” an “underachieving burnout,” and worse. One person encouraged Hale to “fall into an ocean of A.I.D.S.” Few had bothered to consider that the original tweet was nothing but the sort of stupid, ironized joke that savvy Twitter users major in. Legions of self-satisfied rationalists and armchair logicians who pride themselves on their superior intellect were effectively fleeced.

Beyond being (really, really) funny, the incident was revealing. It spoke to the vehemence and belligerence science seems to inspire in popular culture. It also laid bare the frothing cults of personality surrounding people like Tyson, Bill Nye, Canadian astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield (who live-streamed parts of his 2013 mission to YouTube, including a much-shared acoustic guitar rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”), and other modern pop-star scientists.

The irony, of course, is that most of the people who lashed out at Mr. Hale probably don’t know any scientists who don’t regularly appear on television. In this way they mimic many self-proclaimed Christians who are only aware of popular televangelists and wouldn’t recognize the names of even well-known historical theological scholars.

I’m going to blame the government indoctrination system that is often mistakenly called an education system. Government indoctrination centers tend to teach by authority. What the teach says is supposed to be accepted by the students with blind obedience. Everything written in the textbooks is supposed to be accepted as truth. Students who question the teachers or the textbooks are often dismissed with a wave of the hand or outright punished. Unfortunately, imprinting this system on children at a young age likely makes them seek out authority figures instead of seeking out knowledge.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, who I have never met but would enjoy getting a beer with sometime, has become one such authority figure. People seeking out an authority figure on science have latched onto him, as many Christians latch onto televangelists, because he’s charismatic and entertaining. However, it’s no crime to be entirely unaware of him, especially if one’s interests aren’t in astrophysics. Likewise, it’s no crime to be entirely unaware of Aziz Sancar. Who is Aziz Sancar? He’s a microbiologist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I’m not a chemist so I was also unaware of him and only found him when doing a search for scientists who have made notable accomplishments but haven’t enjoyed appearing on every television channel known to man. My point is that most self-proclaimed lovers of science are probably entirely unaware of his existence and that’s OK.

Science ceases to be science when it becomes blind faith and cults of personality. The masses currently demanding science-based policies appear to be primarily composed of worshipers of scientism, not people with an actual understanding of the scientific method. They don’t want science-based policies, they want policies inspired by the sermons of their priests.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 12th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Old Man Yells at Cloud

without comments

Noam Chomsky calls himself an anarchist. He’s even loved by many socialist anarchists. While I have no problem admitting that Chomsky has written some brilliant things about the nature of power, he seems almost entirely ignorant about history. Consider his latest claim:

Noam Chomsky has argued the Republican Party is the most “dangerous organisation in human history” and the world has never seen an organisation more profoundly committed to destroying planet earth.

The eminent intellectual, who is famed for his radical views, said the Trump administration had shown total and utter disregard for the future of the planet and appeared dedicated to dismantling previous legacies to tackle climate change.

Noam might have a point if the Republican Party was competent.

Oh, and if organizations such as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and other similarly horrible regimes didn’t paper our histories. Those regimes murdered millions whereas the Republican Party so far has been unable to come even close to matching those numbers. As for pollution, the Soviet Union showed even less regard for its environmental impact than the United States. Today, China still shows almost no regard for the amount of pollution it’s dumping into the environment.

This is what happens when you let your political bias color everything. Whatever goes against your beliefs become the most horrible things in the world. Anything that indicates those things aren’t the most horrible things in the world disappear down a memory hole.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 12th, 2017 at 10:30 am

The Battle of St. Paul

without comments

Apparently there was a Trump rally in St. Paul over the weekend. I hadn’t heard about it beforehand and only learned about it because two groups, the alt-right and antifa, showed up uninvited. Some might be surprised to hear that the alt-right wasn’t invited since it helped Trump get elected but now that the group is no longer necessary it has been discarded. This is the way of political parties. They welcome everybody because they need the numbers to get elected but afterwards they’re quick to abandon the useful idiots who prove to be more trouble than they’re worth.

While a dozen or so Trump supporters sat inside of the Minnesota Capitol, the two uninvited groups were having another one of their “battles” outside:

A group of about 50 people carrying flags and at least one sign urging “Deplorables and Alt-Right Unite” tried to enter the Capitol for the rally — to which they were not invited — but were blocked by 200 or so counterprotesters, who linked arms on the Capitol steps. The alt-right is an offshoot of conservatism that embraces elements of white nationalism and populism.

The two sides shouted chants at each other, including “Any time, any place, punch a Nazi in the face” from one side and “Build a wall, deport them all” from the other. Troopers from the Minnesota State Patrol, which provides security at the Capitol, formed a barrier of officers to keep the groups separated.

Had the Minnesota State Patrol not been physically separating the two groups it’s possible that they would have started aggressively LARPing again. But since the police were present the two groups just stood on the Capitol steps and impotently shouted at each other. And when you think about it, two groups impotently shouting at each other sums up American politics quite succinctly.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 8th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Limitations of Experience

without comments

Bill Nye has gained himself a great deal of admiration and hatred by positioning himself as a public face of scientism. A lot of progressives, who tend to side with scientism, are now holding up Bill Nye as a god. Meanwhile, a lot of conservatives, who tend to side against scientism, are now holding him up as a devil.

The debate of scientism has more or less become a debate between progressives and conservatives, which means a tit for tat has developed. Conservatives are lambasting one of the progressive’s public faces so they now need to lambast one of the conservative’s public faces. For the conservative’s tit the progressives have chosen Mike Rowe as their tat:

This image further demonstrations that the biggest advocates of scientism have a severe lack of understanding of the scientific method. The opening words in the image make sense within the framework of the debate. Conservatives have been arguing that Bill Nye lacks experience in scientific fields and is therefore unqualified to speak about scientific matters. In return the progressives are pointing out that Mike Rowe lacks experience in the trades. Here’s the problem, science isn’t a single discipline.

By the logic presented in the image one would certainly listen to Bill Nye on matters of mechanical engineering (at least matters that fall within his area of expertise). However, one would completely ignore anything he said about other scientific fields, such as the effects of widespread pollution on the biosphere, since he has no experience in those fields.

Of course, both sides are being foolish. The progressives’ implication that expertise in one scientific field gives an individual expertise in all scientific fields is wrong. But the conservatives’ implication that professional training is what indicates an individual’s expertise is equally wrong.

It’s quite possible for an individual to be very capable in one field and incompetent in another. Ben Carson is a great example of this point. He was a very skilled neurosurgeon. But his comment about pyramids being grain silos shows that his knowledge in the field of archeology is, to put it nicely, lacking. Likewise, it is also possible for an individual to be very capable in a field that they don’t work in professionally. Hedy Lamar had no formal scientific training yet she made several important discoveries, such as using frequency hoping to prevent enemies from jamming radio-controlled torpedoes (which was also an important contribution to the development of several wireless communication technologies that we rely on today).

In summary, both sides are being stupid. Each side is slinging mud at one of the other’s public face instead of debating the actual issues. One might expect such behavior from conservatives since they’re not beating the scientism drum but why would progressives, who claim to be believes in science, do the same thing? Simple, progressives are no more lovers of science than conservatives. They wield science much like conservatives wield Christianity. That is to say, they see science as nothing more than a concept they can exploit to forward their political goals.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 4th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Meaningless Words

without comments

Anybody who has read corporate marketing material or a corporate apology letter knows that it’s quite easy to put a bunch of words onto a piece of paper without having written anything meaningful. Corporations don’t have a monopoly on this skill either. Surpassing even the largest corporate marketing department are politicians. Politicians are the uncontested champions of meaningless words:

Without language, there is no accountability, no standard of truth. If Trump never says anything concrete, he never has to do anything concrete. If Trump never makes a statement of commitment, Trump supporters never have to confront what they really voted for. If his promises are vague to the point of opacity, Trump cannot be criticised for breaking them. If every sloppy lie (ie: “Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower … This is McCarthyism!”) can be explained away as a “generality” or “just a joke” because of “quotes”, then he can literally say anything with impunity. Trump can rend immigrant families in the name of “heart”, destroy healthcare in the name of “life”, purge minority voters in the name of “justice”, and roll back women’s autonomy in the name of “freedom”. The constitution? Probably sarcastic. There are “quotes” all over that thing!

Setting aside the author’s obvious bias, this is a skill that almost every politician has. It’s more obvious when Trump does it because he’s a far less skilled orator than his predecessor. But if you hand me a speech or letter by any politician I’ll probably be able to read the entire thing without finding a single concrete commitment. As the author points out, if politicians don’t say anything concrete then there’s nothing to hold them accountable for.

Language is a tool for transferring information from one person to another. Somebody who is competent with language can transfer information effectively. So politicians must be very incompetent when it comes to language, right? Not necessarily. When politicians speak meaningless words they’re transferring very important information, namely that they are unwilling to commit themselves to anything. However, transference is a two step process. The information must be transmitted and received. Corporations and politicians like to use meaningless words because they can’t be held to anything and because the receivers have a strong tendency to put whatever meaning they want on those words. Trump supporters, for example, will attach positive concrete meaning to his meaningless words whereas his detractors will attach negative concrete meaning.

The reason so many people can get away with using meaningless language is because the receivers, your average Jane and Joe, aren’t competent enough with language to recognize it. Instead of recognizing that the words are meaningless and calling the transmitter out, most people attach whatever they want to meaningless words to reinforce their bias. I don’t blame Trump or Obama or any other politician for making meaningless statements. I blame the people for having such a lack of interest in pursuing knowledge that they allow themselves to be susceptible to this nonsense.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 2nd, 2017 at 11:00 am