Posts Tagged ‘Society’

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Political Monday – Guns, Driving and Our Rights

January 28, 2013

freecopyofusconstitutionI posted a couple of years ago something regarding gun ownership and the Second Amendment(click here to read). Here are some follow on thoughts:

OK, I admit it, the NRA is right, guns do not kill people, people kill people. Of course, you might at well say cars do not cause road fatalities, people cause road fatalities and accept that as true too. Let’s do that, let’s accept they are equally true and treat them as equals. Here are some of the points being considered recently on just how we make them equal:

You want to drive a car, you have to pass a written test. 
    How about passing a written test to own a gun? 
You want to drive a car, you have to pass a driving proficiency 
road test. 
    How about passing a shooting proficiency shooting range test?
You want to drive a car, you have to carry liability insurance.
    How about carrying liability insurance to use a gun?
You want to drive a car, you follow the rules of the road.
    How about setting the same sort of rule structure for responsible 
    gun ownership?
You want to drive anything other than a basic car, you must have 
a special license, CDL & motorcycle, for example.
    How about having special licenses for specialized weapons 
    like assault rifles?

We all know driving and gun ownership are not the same thing. Cars and guns serve very different purposes in our lives, but both carry risks and both enjoy some level of legal protection. Wile the right to drive is one of our unenumerated rights, gun ownership is written directly into our Constitution.

In fact, the Supreme Court decided gun ownership is a fundamental right, but that does not mean there are no rules regarding guns. After all, we do not treat

1920s Machinegun Ad

1920s machine-gun Ad

owning a Thomson sub-machine gun the same as owning a Remington Model 870 Wingmaster. There was a time when they were treated the same. Hell, back then you could buy the Thompson as easy as you could a BB-gun. It was decided that allowing automatic weapons in the general population was simply too dangerous, so we modified our fundamental right to own a gun with some rules.

That is not to say you cannot own machine gun now, you can. All you have to do is obtain the pertinent federal license and follow the special rules that come with owning a weapon like a machine gun. In other words, to exorcise the fundamental right to own a machine gun, you must exorcise the fundamental responsibilities that come with it.

Regulating driving a car aids in safe driving and promotes another fundamental right – to live. Regulating gun ownership is no different on that point. We recognize the differences between driving an 18-wheel semi tractor-trailer and a Toyota Prius by having regulations for each. All I ask is for gun ownership to be treated the same way. Does anyone really think owning weapons capable of killing dozens of fellow citizens in a minute is any less dangerous than a Tommy-gun?

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A New Year’s Manifesto

January 1, 2013

 dharmachakra-200I woke up this morning thinking I needed to make a resolution for the New Year.  The more I thought about it, I began to understand I needed much more than that.   No in years past, resolutions were made and resolutions were put aside, often before the end of the day’s football games.  It’s not that resolutions are necessarily hard to keep, more the opposite really.   The problem is they required nothing much off me, they were too small.  I need something requiring commitment and dedication.  I need a manifesto to challenge me to not take on the mundane conventions of life.  Accepting, as true, Emerson’s quote, “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.[i]Now, I am not talking about writing something mind-numbing and rambling that Ted Kaczynski would be proud of, or something to give Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto a run for its money.  In the first, I am simply not that crazy; in the second, making some brash rhetorical political statement serves no one, especially me.  My manifesto needs to be a hard kick to my rear and knock some common sense back into my head.  It needs to be something I can read, over and over, to serve as a reminder to make life what I want it to be rather than what I assume is expected of me.

Our brains are often compared to computers.  While a simplistic comparison, I do see the point.  Still, we have a complexity of understanding computer scientists only dream of designing into their next Cray or IBM Big Blue offering. I think it is that ability to understand complex ideas and concepts that drove Emerson to his conclusions on self-reliance.  I mean, why leave to others to figure out what is best for us, as individuals, when we have a brain of our own?  We simply must use our brains and have confidence in our conclusions.

That is the tricky part though, making sure they are “our conclusions” and not some tailored and perverted idea pushed upon us by some media outlet.  An outlet, by the way, that has an agenda having nothing to do with the free exchange of ideas, quite the opposite.  Here is how I will make sure I am making up my own mind:

  1. Question everything.  Especially things I accept as true.
  2. Find out who “they” is.  Any idea worth accepting as true is worth knowing whose idea it is.  Anytime someone presents me with a statement whose source is “They said”, “Many believe” or “I heard” suspect it from the get-go. Know whose ideas I accept as true before I accept it as true.
  3. Look for ideas that differ from my own.  Even if I know my ideas are sound, I will seek out the ideas of others.  Remember the axiom “no one of us is as smart as all of us.”   I just may find my ideas where not all that sound after all.  At the very least, any sound idea will stand the scrutiny of others.
  4. Accept as true what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, or even today.  Life is dynamic; life’s answers are dynamic too.  I will not hold an old idea that worked as the best idea now by default.  Again, question everything, especially what I accept as true.
  5. Nobody likes a know-it-all.  Just because I may be right on a point and someone else may be wrong does not obligate me to point it out.  I can, of course, but often there is no point as many people have minds of steel.  Hard and rigid.  I will judge what is gained against what is lost.
  6. In all things I do I will have passion and compassion.  If I cannot muster up these two items, I will not do the thing in the first place.
  7. Lastly, never be afraid to tell the emperor he has on no clothes.   Even emperors can be wrong from time to time.

 Ok, so there is my manifesto for the New Year.  Pretty simple stuff really, just need to be consistent in performing it.  See, consistency is the tricky part and consistency does not negate nonconformity.  Emerson never said consistency is a bad thing, he said foolish consistency is bad.  To quote again, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”[ii] 

I will keep an open mind.  I will not accept things at their face value. In a great sense, I have suffered from the little mind Emerson wrote.  My mind has been little for far too long.  Now, this year, this very day, that ends.

 


[i] Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays [1st and 2d Ser.], Self-Reliance. [Reading, Pa.]: Spencer, 1936.  Print.

[ii] Ibid.

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Illegal immigration – It is a Question of Why

April 9, 2012

Steel barrier wall near Mariposa by Mtamez

Nationally, we (the citizens of the United States) have a short attention span.  We get worked up over an issue, pick the side, beat the drum for a while, only to have our attention switch to a new subject and start all over again.  Such is the case with illegal immigration.

Every few years, the issue of what to do about unauthorized people being in the United States becomes a hot-button issue that generates all sorts of activity, on both sides.  The problem is nothing is ever resolved.  It is as if both side (for and against) set up their armor, charge each other like the devil was on them, take their best shot, then retreat until the dust settles.  It is as if they are two knights staged for a joust.  They make their run, absorb the blow, then re-stage and wait for another lance.  They fell like something has been done but rarely do they unseat the opponent, leaving it for the audience to decide who won in subtle shades of grey.

While the issue is waning, it is a good time to look at the particular issues that make up the topic and see if we can work on a solution rather than shout rhetoric.  A logical place to start is what to call it.  Do we define people is the United States without permission as illegal immigrants, illegal aliens, people here illegally, undocumented workers, or any other of the terms used.  It makes a difference, as each side of the argument wants to use terms that promote their particular view.  Basically, they are people who are here and should not be.  If you want to define it with greater precision, you have to answer the question of why they are here in the first place.

We, the citizens of the United States, tend to lump all people this topic covers in one group, having one mindset.  This is a mistake.  We need to get to the root of why people choose to come here and not follow the rules of how to come here legally.  To that end, we need to ask people not following the rules, why they are here.   Even without a formal study, the more obvious reasons are pretty well understood:

  • To earn money for their family, then return home.
  • To move to the United States permanently.
  • To escape persecution of some sort.
  • To have children is the United States, making the children citizens.

While the list is not definitive or based on a study, it covers the basic reasons we hear as the jousting opponents bandy back and forth.  In the end, it really just shows that people have many reasons for coming here.  If we wish to end the problems, of both sides of the argument, we need to understand the motivations of people coming here without following the rules and address each one.

Take for instance, the issue of coming here to send money home.   This is sort of the classic model of the “illegal immigrant.”  I’m not sure how accurate it is, but it is an issue so let’s deal with it.  What are the issues regarding this sort of person.  On the “it’s OK for them to do this” side” it is said:

  • They do work no one else will do, unskilled labor and such.
  • They add to the local economy through paying sales tax.
  • It is the humane thing to do.
  • They are not hurting anyone.

Like with any subject, there is the other side, in this case the “it’s not OK for them to do this” side.  Their points include:

  • They take jobs away from citizens.
  • They are a drain on local and federal economies but using services without paying for them.
  • It is inhumane to allow them to be abused and underpaid.
  • They bring crime with them.

Rather than add to the endless debate on each point on both sides, it better serves us to analyze solutions that solve the issues.  Of course, each side wishes to reduce the issue to its simplest terms but that tends to place people in extreme camps that have no common ground.  The truth is there is much ground that is common. For instance:

  • Neither side wants crime.
  • Neither side wants to he inhumane.
  • Neither side wants to hurt the economy.
  • Both sides want jobs to be filled.

Ok, so if there is so much both sides can agree on, why is this so hard to fix?  The answer is special interest groups.  Special interest groups have a narrow field of view so their solution to problems is all or nothing, leaving no room for compromise.   We hare statements like “We do not need new laws, we need to enforce the laws we have,” or “We need to protect the border and keep them out,” or even, “it is a human right to live and work where you want to.”   While these saying get the attention of the media, they do nothing to address the issues at hand.  More puzzling is why special interest groups seem to be trying to hold things at the status quo.

That answer depends on the special interest group; one group that wants to keep things as they are is the companies purposely hiring people not legally entitled to work in the United States.   By hiring such people, these companies increase their profits by breaking minimum wage and tax withholding laws.  Not to mention the conditions these workers endure, such as extremely long hours without overtime pay and inhumane working conditions.

What we need to solve the problem of people coming here to work and send money home is a guest worker program.  Everyone knows it but it is the last thing the companies that hire illegally want.  Such a program can easily address every point of the argument, both for and against.  For instance:

  • It will limit jobs to ones not filled by citizens and registered residents.
  • It will force employers to be fair and follow the law.
  • It will enhance the local and federal economies.
  • It will allow for screening of people entering the country.

The big surprise is such a program exists in the United States.   It just needs to be modified to address the issue of migratory workers.   In the end, such a program provides a ready workforce to fill unskilled labor jobs employers have a hard time filling.  It protects the unskilled workforce from abuse.  It allows us to protect our borders.  It takes away a primary reason people are in the country illegally.

In the interest of fairness, I am sure some people out there do not agree with this approach.  Rather than argue with me, why not gather your thoughts and present a counter proposal for consideration.  Even if you feel I am absolutely wrong, I am still betting we can find point is common and begin to address and fix some of the problems we face.   This has become an elephant of an issue, much too large to eat in one bite.  Let’s begin to nibble away at it and make some progress.  If we wait until we find the perfect solution, we will never make any progress at all.

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A Gullible World

March 27, 2012

We are gullible, humans, I mean.  We believe things we hear though presented with absolutely no evidence to back it up.   Oh, some of us have grown cynical from the experience of years and do question, but in the end, even the most cynical amongst us has a seemingly pathological need to believe what we are told.  Especially if that something supports a position we favor.

It is understandable; the way we learn lends itself to it.  As infants we absorb all we are exposed to without question.  As toddlers, magical thinking rules our thoughts.  In grade school, teachers take on the almost divine quality of being wellsprings of truth and wisdom.  By that time we gain our footing and form our own precocious thoughts, seriously questioning what we are told seems to be an alien concept.  Our societal norms also lend to the process, did your mother ever tell you to “respect your elders” or something like that, when all you did was ask a question?

We break free from this sort of restriction in our teenage years but only to a point.  Having a stopping point is a good thing too, as society would not function if we did not have some level of civility and trust.  In a sense, we collect people we trust and accept with little or no question what they tell us.  The further they are from that central trust, the more we hold suspect what they say.  This sort of acceptance works for the benefit of the circle (society) but against the interests of the individual.

As we grow, we develop a system of tiered trust.  Trust is broken into a series of circles; each with its own level in a sort of hierarchical index with the most trusted, and smallest, circle closest to us and expand from there.  For example, you may trust your family the most, then your friends, then your work colleagues, then your acquaintances, and so on.    The problem with this approach is once in a circle you have that trust level; even at times it may not deserve it.  For example, you trust your dad.  He has been a rock you have counted on your whole life.  It seems you can ask him anything.  If he happens to be a plumber, it is safe to assume he knows much about it.  What if you have an electrical question, he may or may not be so good a source.  You need to challenge what he tells you in that case.  Not to doubt him, but to ensure you have the right information.  Often the level of trust we give a person allows them to influence us beyond their expertise.

When we take our nature into account, it is easy to see how we, as a society, go off the rails from time to time.  For not only do we unilaterally trust members of our various circles, in many cases we grant members the ability to include others we do not even know into that circle.  Back to the dad example, if our father trusts someone, we are likely to trust them too.  This is where our gullibility comes into play.  You father may know to trust someone only on one or two issues, if that is not made clear to you, you may end up trusting them in ways your father never would.

This sort of associated trust really comes into play in our larger circles. While everyone is different, we do tend to fall into similar groupings.  Politically, most people are either conservative or liberal.  We grant to people within our group trust they have not earned.  This leads us to accept as true views that support our preconceived notions.  It limits our input to only things that support our conclusions and can lead to very bad results.

In 2003, this type of thinking allowed Americans to rigidly draw a circle around ourselves and march off to an unnecessary war.  To be a “good American” you had to be patriotic, and to be patriotic you had to support the government without question.   The result of such thinking speaks for itself.   Another example happened in 2008 with the election of President Obama.  Conservatives painted him as a communist in the vein of Stalin working to deliver the United States to Satan, while liberals saw his as the reincarnation of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy combined, marching us towards utopia.  Neither side looked at Barrack Obama the man.  Neither side understands today Barrack Obama the President.  Conservative circles prevent seeing him as the centrist he is and go off on tangents, like chasing his birth certificate.  Liberals are no better as they see him as the harbinger of radical change which also prevents seeing him as a centrist.

For instance, on the issue of gun control, always a hot-button topic for both conservative and liberals, President Obama has liberalized federal laws for carrying concealed weapons in National Parks.  Still, conservatives whip up fear that “he is coming for your guns!”  Liberals, on the other hand, do not see President Obama is not with them on the issue of gun control, he has taken a centrist position.  Yet, neither side can see the truth, as they only take input from within their particular circle.

The point is this, if you belong to a circle or group or anything that does not allow you to question as a condition to belong, you need to ask yourself if you should belong.  For Republicans, it is not enough to be Republican, you have to prove it.  They even have a term for those members not Republican enough, RINO – Republican In Name Only.

So there it is, we are gullible.  We are predisposed to it.  Yet, that does not mean we must accept it.  Both scientist and engineers are taught to be critical thinkers, to question everything.   This is a throwback to the liberal education President Wilson spoke of one-hundred years ago when he addressed the Phi Beta Kappa Chapter at Cambridge[i] with his Spirit of Learning speech.   Liberal education is not in the political sense of the word liberal but rather in the free exchange of ideas and a way of thinking that pulls in opposing opinion to arrive at a larger truth.  It is the means by which truly meaningful opinions are formed.   It is how we take input without the need for rigid circles that stand between us and truth, between us and understanding.


[i] ‘The Spirit of Learning’, in Woodrow Wilson, College and State: Educational, Literary and Political Papers (1875–1913), ed. Ray Stannard Baker and William E. Dodd (New York and London, 1925), vol. 2.

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Killing for God

February 23, 2012

Abrahamic Religious Symbols

If you believe in the Abrahamic view of God and Satan, then surly killing in the name of God only serves Satan. You cannot kill and serve God. Society may see killing as a necessary punishment, but that only serves society, not God.

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Light or Heat

February 20, 2012

One of our major problems today is we argue, not simply disagree but argue over the smallest of details. I am through with it and put it behind me. At the very least we need to hear out opinions differing from our own and judge them on merit. To that end, I will follow President Wilson’s advice and contribute more light than heat to the discussion.

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Thought for the day

February 16, 2012

So very often we go through our day and fail to realize our own words and actions determine its outcome.  Buddhism focuses on the realism of self and an individual’s power over destiny.  It is up to us to determine if that destiny will add or diminish grace.  It is up to us to determine if we give or take from the world.

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