Oct 272011

Libertarian AnarcyIn 1986, Peter Schwartz, of The Intellectual Activist and Chairman of the Board of Advisors of the Ayn Rand Institute, wrote an analysis of Libertarianism called Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty.  In it he takes apart the philosophy of Libertarianism and lays it bare. What is left is a failed movement of the left, not unlike the Occupy Wall Street protests in its chaotic makeup and distorted messages.

Just as the Occupy Wall Street movement has attracted people from all political persuasion, but primary from the left, so too the “big tent” of Libertarian movement has attracted a diverse group of people, often from competing philosophical camps.

The term Libertarian was first coined in 1857 by anarcho-communist, Joseph Déjacque.  Its intellectual leaders in more modern times were people like the libertarian-socialist or anarcho-syndicalist, Noam Chomsky, and the anarchist, Murray Rothbard.  Rothbard actually thought of himself as an anarcho-capitalist which is of course an oxymoronic term.

The writings of Ayn Rand, Frédéric Bastiat, and Ludwig von Mises have also influenced the modern development of the Libertarian movement but it has been the method of libertarians to pick and choose what they like in the writings of these people and reject anything that may suggest any moral instruction.

Ayn Rand was not a libertarian.  She was an advocate for capitalism.  Libertarians are anti-state while Rand was pro-freedom.  Rand saw authority, properly defined and constrained, to be a necessary and proper element in any free society while libertarians consider any authority to be a necessary evil, but evil just the same.

To quote Rand:

“…I disapprove of, disagree with, and have no connection with, the latest aberration of some conservatives, the so-called “hippies of the right,” who attempt to snare the younger or more careless ones of my readers by claiming simultaneously to be followers of my philosophy and advocates of anarchism.  Anyone offering such a combination confesses his inability to understand either.  Anarchism is the most irrational, anti-intellectual notion ever spun by the concrete-bound, context-dropping, whim-worshiping fringe of the collectivist movement where it belongs.” (The Ayn Rand Lexicon)

Harry Binswanger, the Objectivist philosopher and associate of Ayn Rand had this to say of Libertarians:

“In the philosophical battle for a free society, the one crucial connection to be upheld is that between capitalism and reason.  The religious conservatives are seeking to tie capitalism to mysticism; the “libertarians” are tying capitalism to the whim-worshiping subjectivism and chaos of anarchy.  To cooperate with either group is to betray capitalism, reason, and one’s own future.” (The Ayn Rand Lexicon)

Libertarians have accepted many tenets of Rand’s political philosophy but have rejected her metaphysics, epistemology, but most of all her ethics.  Anyone who would suggest a system of morality to a libertarian is thought of as being authoritarian and of imposing a subjective set of standards of behaviour on them.  They would ask ‘who are you to decide what is the right or wrong way for a person to act?’  Or, ‘How can you say for certain what is moral?’  The Libertarian would laud Rand for her advocacy of capitalism, her politics, but they accept it only as a concrete; a system of economics and politics devoid of the fundament from which it arose.

This strikes to the heart of the fault with libertarianism.  A libertarian is unable to properly defend capitalism, or even liberty for that matter, except in concrete and pragmatic terms.  Their arguments defending capitalism are economic, such as having ‘sound money based on gold would prevent run-away inflation’ or pragmatic, ‘more people benefit from capitalism than from communism.’

Freedom and capitalism to a libertarian exist outside of any other philosophic context or framework.  Yet it is this framework which precedes and supports the concepts of freedom and capitalism.  If you refuse to understand the necessary philosophic pre-conditions for capitalism then you cannot properly defend it.  Capitalism becomes just another system like any other ‘ism.’  It will be thought of as just as valid as any other political or economic system and will fall – as it is doing – due to ignorance of its moral, epistemological and metaphysical roots.

Rand spent much of her life defending the philosophic foundation of capitalism.  It is an integral part of a complete philosophy which extols man as a heroic being not some hippie living in a commune where ‘anything goes’ as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.  Liberty, to Rand, was a necessary condition if man was, not only to survive, but to rise to a limitless potential.

Liberty is something to be defended vigorously but it must be done properly.  Liberty without a philosophic context will fall to anyone with a pragmatic excuse for abolishing it.  Capitalism stands on a solid ethical foundation and to reject the foundation is to reject capitalism.   Libertarians reject the foundation and therefore reject capitalism and are therefore enemies of liberty not advocates for it.

The tragic result of modern libertarian political parties today is that they attract true advocates of capitalism.  These individuals are reaching out, often in desperation, to any political movement they think will promote freedom and capitalism.  Unfortunately, these kinds of libertarians, the pro-freedom and not simply anti-state libertarians are not actually libertarians at all and their passion for freedom is being swallowed up by a collective of irrational leftists.

Consider the inhabitants of the big tent which is libertarianism:

  • The anarchists promoting a stateless society.
  • The geo-libertarians who believe that land is an asset held in common and anyone claiming any land to be private must pay a rent to the commons for the benefit of restricting entry to others.
  • The left-libertarians or the libertarian-socialists who oppose capitalism and wage labour.
  • And the right-libertarians who claim to support capitalism but only as an economic system not as an integrated political ideal in a greater philosophy.
  • There is also a small faction of angst ridden nihilists, who claim that morality doesn’t exist.  The youth of today might call them ‘emos’.

Such a large group of competing ideologies are held together by one underlying common agreement, hatred of authority.

Such a collective is no place for an advocate of freedom or capitalism.  Those that stay don’t stay for long.  They soon find that while they may share a common belief that we are over-governed that is where the commonality ends.

To these people I would suggest channeling your energy into promoting freedom, not tearing down government for the sake of it.

(Originally aired on Just Right #223, October 27, 2011.)

Oct 202011

Wall SreetAlthough the occupiers of Wall Street are for the most part, incoherent in their message one phrase has been repeated often enough to be recognized as a particular grievance of the participants, “crony capitalism.”

Cronyism has generally been understood to mean the hiring or promotion of one’s friends into positions of authority or responsibility.   If it takes place in the private realm of a private company this may not seem to be of any concern to anyone, except perhaps the shareholders of the company.  If the person hired is incompetent then the decision may be a bad business move but there is certainly nothing illegal about it, nor should there be.

However, today crony capitalism is meant to refer to the cozy relationship the captains of industry, banking and finance have with those in government.

The TARP bailout of the Bank of America and Citigroup, the bailout of the auto industry, the revolving door between personnel in the US government and Goldman Sachs, these are just some of the examples of cronyism of a kind that that should be properly labeled government cronyism and not crony capitalism.

Crony capitalism of the kind the Occupiers complain about could not exist without a government which has squandered trillions of dollars in bailouts and favoritism.  Without the assistance of successive US governments from Nixon’s bailout of Penn Central Railroad to Obama’s bailout of General Motors crony capitalism, as it is called, could not exist.  So rather than protesting on Wall Street the Occupiers should be camped out in Washington.  Of course this will not occur since in any equation involving government and business it is always business which will be the target of left-wing protest.

This use of hyphenated capitalism is not new.  We’ve had libertarians promote something called anarcho-capitalism.  Then there is “free market capitalism,” “mercantile capitalism,” “industrial capitalism,” “financial capitalism,” and “welfare capitalism.”

All of these variant forms of what is supposed to be capitalism are just examples of government involvement in the economy, in a word, fascism.

These hyphenated types of capitalism can be broken down into two groups.  One group requires the intrusion of the state into the economy; the other requires that there be no government at all.  Both are abominations of the noble ideal of capitalism.

As an aside there is one other hyphenated form of capitalism, “laissez faire” capitalism, which when understood properly simply means capitalism.  This is why you rarely hear me speak of capitalism as laissez faire since use of the term is redundant.

When the state favours one company over another as in cronyism or bailouts, or when the state creates marketing boards, anti-trust laws, or competition bureaus we are not seeing capitalism at work we are witnessing the misuse of government power to rig the economy.  We are witnessing a properly hyphenated form of socialism called fascist-socialism: the existence of private property yet controlled by government.

When libertarians speak of anarcho-capitalism, unfettered capitalism or naked capitalism they are speaking of anarchy, plain and simple.  And capitalism cannot exist in anarchy.

In order for capitalism, real unhyphenated capitalism, to exist the individual capitalists must live in a country where their individual rights to their lives, their liberty and the property are protected by a government which is founded on reason and administers laws which are objective and play no favourites.

In a truly capitalist society the government is the referee, not a player.   In a capitalist economy there are no bailouts, no subsidies, no preferential treatment, or marketing boards.  A truly capitalist society is one where the government and the economy are truly separate.  The government does not own the banks, does not issue charters for banks, and does not issue a fiat currency or print money.  A capitalist society would not see tariffs on trade, corporate taxes, restrictions on CEO salaries, or government departments deciding whether or not one company can buy-out another.  The government in a capitalist society would not restrict trade nor promote it.  It would not invest in job-creation schemes nor set minimum wages.  In fact a capitalist society would see the government restricted to protecting people’s individual rights.  That is it.  It would do this through the enforcement of laws objectively derived at.

Such a society would not be utopian but its government would be acting morally.  The ills which plaque us, violence, theft, indolence, poverty would still exist but they would not be as a result of deliberate government programs and interference in our lives.  The government would play an important role in our lives, however.  It would enforce our contracts, it would catch and incarcerate criminals, it would defend our borders, it would make sure that our rights are protected and not restricted.

It must be obvious that we do not live in a truly capitalist society.  In this respect, anyone protesting crony capitalism, as it is misnamed, are justified in their desire to see the separation of the government and the economy.

Some of the protesters at the occupation of Wall Street have been properly speaking out against such intrusions into the economy.  You will hear them complain of the fractional reserve system of banking, government bailouts, stimulus spending, fiat currency, and inflation policies.  These protestors are few and are often shouted down by the more numerous left-wing protestors who are there to malign business, capitalism, consumerism and wealth.

My advice to such honest protesters is to go home.  Occupy Wall Street is a protest created by the left.  By people who hate business, capitalism, and freedom.  To use their venue to promote a proper restraining of government is only going to weaken your argument.  Let’s leave these kooks alone to blow off their steam and when the dust settles the more rational among us can promote a proper government by writing, lecturing and taking our legislators to task whenever they do wrong and by congratulating them when they get it right.  Let the left alone to do what they do well, scream and yell.

(Originally broadcast on Just Right #222, October 20, 2011.)

Oct 202011

Yue Yue and MotherLast Thursday a little girl was run over on a street in Foshan City in Communist China.  A dozen passersby ignored her writhing moaning body as it lay in a pool of blood.  Another truck came by, slowed down, and then ran over her legs.  Yet more passersby ignored her until a garbage collector came and moved her to the side of the street and looked for her mother.

The images were gruesome and horrifying.  The fact that so many ignored her as just some piece of road-kill has become the topic of controversy around the world.  Why would someone ignore a small child in obvious need of help?  If but one of them stopped to help she wouldn’t have been run over for the second time.  What goes through the minds of people who choose not to get involved when such little effort could have prevented so much suffering?

An article in the National Post on Tuesday enumerated several possible reasons.  The driver of the truck which initially struck the toddler said that,

“If she is dead, I may pay only about 20,000 yuan.  But if she is injured, it may cost me hundreds of thousands (of) yuan.”

Some said that would-be Good Samaritans are usually held liable for damages or wrongly accused of being a perpetrator and do not assist out of fear of being arrested, imprisoned or sued.

Some blamed a lack of morals brought on by the destruction of the family unit, a lack of religion in officially atheist Communist China, a population crisis of too many people in such a small area.

Unmentioned in the article is neither the official one-child policy of the Chinese government nor the extremely high incidences of female child abortion or infanticide in that country.

What is highlighted in the National Post article is a belief that capitalism is to blame for the lack of compassion in Chinese society.

Professor James Miller of Queen’s University in Kingston was quoted as saying that,

“There is a gold-rush mentality – people are clambering over other people to try to make ends meet, to try to get ahead.  With the adoption of capitalism, it is seen as being all about self-interest.”

There is so much wrong in Professor Miller’s statement it is hard to know where to begin.

People are trying to make ends meet all over the world including in this country and yet a child run over by a truck would receive immediate aid here as it would in many parts of the world.

To say that Communist China has adopted capitalism is laughable.  It would be laughable for anyone who knows what capitalism means.  For this I will need to distinguish between a person being a capitalist and the overriding economic term of capitalism.

Throughout history there have been capitalists, in every country, in almost every period of history.  A capitalist is simply an individual who uses his property or capital as a means to create a profit.  A land owner who rents out his land, a money lender who gives a loan to someone and charges interest, a wage earner who has saved enough to invest in somebody else’s venture, a Bed and Breakfast owner who rents out their bedroom for the night, an industrialist who owns a factory employing thousands to produce widgets.  All are capitalists.  They use their property or capital to earn income or profit.

Such people can be distinguished from others who, rather than having or using capital for gain, sell their skills or brawn for a wage: a line-worker at an auto plant, a farm hand, a government bureaucrat, a clerk in an office.

Prior to the mid19th century capitalists were referred to as individualists.  But whether it was in 20th century America or 17th century England the individualists relied on government to protect their individual rights to use their capital to earn money.  For many it was just a livable wage but for the fortunate and adept the rewards amounted to fortunes.

For the workers, this disparagement in wealth was inexplicable.  They did not realize what efforts the capitalists took to gain their initial capital nor could they appreciate the risk the capitalists took when they invested their capital in ventures.  This ignorance, led to envy which has led, in some corners of the world to civil wars.  In the West it may not have led to such bloodthirsty revolutions as in Soviet Russia or Communist China but it has led to envy and hatred.  Emotions fueled by a complete ignorance.

Capitalism is a political system which protects the individual rights of its citizens.  When a person’s right to their life, liberty and property (amongst others) are protected then they can pursue economic activities beyond menial labour.  They can invest, enter into long-term contracts, develop their property and employ people to create wealth.  Without the assurances that their rights are being protected their risks are multiplied.  They may find themselves victims of government bureaucratic whims, police corruption, graft, and bribes.

That is why it comes as no surprise when I hear a well-healed Canadian university professor blame China’s capitalism on the indifference shown to the little toddler run over in the street.

Professor Miller, like so many, has very little understanding of what capitalism means.  Although a scholar of religion and Chinese culture he is ignorant of his own society’s history and culture.  He is not alone.  The thousands who are occupying Wall Street have proven themselves to be utter morons when it comes to understanding the society which has given them so much in terms of wealth and opportunity.

But capitalism is more than just a political or economic system.  An ideal capitalist, or to use the arcane term, an individualist is a person who has come to an understanding about nature and knowledge.  He knows that nature to be commanded must be obeyed.  How else could an auto manufacturer mold the metal from the earth into cars and buses?  He respects knowledge and years to learn as much as possible about his business.  How else it to succeed in a world where there are many others to compete with?

But there is a virtue, held not only by capitalists but by many workers as well, that drives them to perform above and beyond their competitors and their co-workers.  It is a positive sense of life.  A understanding that life is good, whether you make $20,000 a year as a busboy or $20 million a year investing in other people’s companies.  It is this love of life, your own life that drives many of us.  It makes us be the best we can be at whatever we do.

It is this love of one’s own life which is the fountainhead for our ability to feel compassion for others.  Only those who despise their own lives can walk casually by a dying child on a road side.  And only those who love their own life and their own existence, to whatever degree, will stop to help the child because compassion comes out of love of life.

The fact that so many Chinese walked by the little girl is a symptom, not of capitalism but of 62 years of being told by a Communist government that your life is not your own, but belongs to the state.

The 1949 victory of the Communists in China marked the beginning of the end of any love individuals could have for life, their own or anybody else’s.  The fact that only within the last few years that some have been allowed to start and grow businesses under the iron fist of a one-party state has not overturned two entire generations of death at the hands of communist rule.

Capitalism and the necessary government protection of an individual’s right to their life, their liberty and their property are integral in the cultivation of a love of life.  Communist China is years away from achieving such a condition.

We should not only pity the little girl, dying on the street we should also pity those who walked by her as they are also dying.  But their death is just taking a little longer.

(Originally broadcast on Just Right #222, October 20, 2011.)

Update: It was reported on Friday, October 21, 2011 by Guangzhou Military District General Hospital that Yue Yue died of her injuries.

Oct 132011
Che Guevara

Che GuevaraSome people have likened the recent Wall Street protests to the anti-war protests of the 1960’s. At that time there were a number of iconic symbols, pictures, and phrases that have come to represent that unique time and series of events; the peace symbol which stood for nuclear disarmament, the picture of the flower a Kent state student stuck in the barrel of a reservist’s rifle, the death chant of Timothy Leary, “Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.”

Some of the iconic and symbolic imagery of the Occupy Wall Street protests would be the much circulated pictures of one protester defecating on the US flag, and another actually defecating on a police car. Another would be the pictures of piles of garbage which the protesters left behind, perhaps in the hope that their mothers would drop by and clean it up. A symbolic phrase would be the false “We are the 99%” which is reminiscent of Jerry Falwell’s so-called “moral majority.” (Falwell was wrong on both accounts.)

Also iconic of the Wall Street protestors is the ubiquitous wearing of Che Guevara T-shirts. Apparently the movement’s ideology has an affinity with that of Cuba’s official executioner. The image is one of the most replicated photos in history; Guevara’s distant gaze, his youthful visage surrounded by flowing locks of black hair stuffed under a beret.

I have to wonder if the people wearing this image actually know who Che Guevara was and what ideology he espoused and killed for. I suspect some do and yet when I see an adult black man in New York City being interviewed wearing such a T-shirt I wonder if they knew that Guevara was a racist.

Last week was the anniversary of the death of Ernesto Che Guevara at the hands of Bolivian soldiers. It is fitting that we remember the man and his message in his own words.

“The blacks, those magnificent examples of the African race who have maintained their racial purity thanks to their lack of an affinity with bathing, have seen their territory invaded by a new kind of slave: the Portuguese.”

“The black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or drink; the European has a tradition of work and saving, which has pursued him as far as this corner of America and drives him to advance himself, even independently of his own individual aspirations.”

“The episode upset us a little because the poor man, apart from being homosexual and a first-rate bore, had been very nice to us.”

“The first person we hit on was the mayor, someone called Cohen; we had heard a lot about him, that he was Jewish as far as money was concerned but a good sort.”

“Mexicans are a band of illiterate Indians.”

“We’re going to do for blacks exactly what blacks did for the revolution. By which I mean: nothing.”

These quotes illustrate Guevara’s blood lust:

“Crazy with fury I will stain my rifle red while slaughtering any enemy that falls in my hands! My nostrils dilate while savoring the acrid odor of gunpowder and blood. With the deaths of my enemies I prepare my being for the sacred fight and join the triumphant proletariat with a bestial howl!”

“To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. … These are the procedures of the bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate. We must create the teaching of the Wall!”

On Oct. 8 1967, Che left the world with this cowardice plea, “Don’t shoot! I’m Che! I’m worth more to you alive than dead!”

Che Guevara was put in charge of executing counter-revolutionaries. People like a man and his twin 15 year old boys who refused to relinquish their farmland to Fidel Castro’s gang of thugs. Or a young woman, six months pregnant, or the countless thousands, perhaps as many as 2,100 people who were murdered at the wall below Che Guevara’s office. The firing squad sometimes ran day and night with Che gleefully administering the coup-de-grace to his victims, ending their lives with a single shot to the head with his pistol.

Not content with the revolution in Cuba the Argentinian Che travelled to The Congo and Bolivia to incite Stalinist revolutions in those countries. He met his just end in Bolivia, executed by a Bolivian soldier. His body was unceremoniously disposed of.

When next you see some college student or even an adult wearing the face of Che Guevara you might wonder if they would wear it knowing the true nature of the man: racist, homophobe, anti-Semite, communist, murderer. Would they wear the face of Hitler, of Osama bin Ladin, or of any other evil creature?

It may be out of ignorance that people display the image of Guevara. I would hate to think that they know full-well what they are doing.

Originally aired on Just Right #221, October 13, 2011.

Oct 132011
Crappin on the Flag

Crappin on the FlagIt’s been over three weeks now since the start of the Occupy Wall Street protest.  We can now see a little more clearly the facts surrounding who started the protest and why.  The first few days of the protest reminded me of the scene from the movie Network where crazed TV anchorman Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, rants at the television audience about the economy and suggests that people yell out their windows that they’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

A pointless gesture to be sure.  The Wall Street protests, however, have become anything but pointless.  The protests were started by American Unions to create a new class struggle in the US, the rich vs. the rest of us; the rich being incorrectly defined as 1%, the rest of us as 99%.  It is worth noting that only about 15% of Americans fall below the arbitrary federal poverty threshold and less than 10% of Americans are unemployed.  Not promising figures to be sure but still a far cry from the 99% claimed by the Occupy Wall Street organizers.

Another fallacy surrounding the protests is that they are grassroots driven and lack any coherent leadership or organization.  Brian Lilly of Sun News Network reported recently that members of the SEIU, the Service Employees International Union are partially responsible for creating the Occupy Wall Street movement and advertised the fact about two months prior to the first event.  Adbusters, an anti-consumerism group, were also instrumental in promoting OWS.  The impetus for Occupy Wall Street is no doubt in direct response to the widely successful and much more popular Tea Party rallies.

The fact that organized labour had a hand in the protests should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the list of demands coming from the protesters.  Free university tuition, tax the rich, end capitalism, have the government take over the banks, and a guaranteed annual income for all are but some of the demands, all of them coinciding with the demands of organized labour for the past several decades.

These dystopian demands of the protesters are only a superficial reason for the occupation.  The real goal, I believe, is to create a class struggle in the United States, a struggle that President Obama can get behind and champion.  He has already coopted one of the so-called one percent to be a spokesman for the new bourgeoisie, Warren Buffet.  Buffet’s false claims that he pays less tax than his secretary and his call for greater taxes on the wealthy have flamed the hatred of the new proletariat and have given fuel to their envy.

Remember that Buffet, the third richest man in the world, with a net worth of $50 billion only paid himself a salary of $100,000.  His tax bill was $48.1 million taxed at a rate of 19% because it was from dividends and capital gains.  His salary was taxed at the same rate as his employees so his claim that he pays taxes at a lower rate than his employees was a deliberate deception of the facts.   It is this now false belief that the rich pay less in taxes than the rest of us that has given the Occupiers ammunition to fight for greater taxation.  Obama has been quick to take advantage of this falsehood.

The protests have become an excellent case study in politics, the labour movement, left wing ideologies, and by comparison right wing ideology.  The internet has gathered videos, photos and speeches from both the Occupy Wall Street protests and the Tea Party rallies and many pundits have put the two movements side by side to come up with some fascinating dichotomies of beliefs and actions.

The Occupiers have been accurately depicted as young people who despise the rich and the system which allowed them to create more wealth than they have.  They leave behind garbage at their rally sites, they have been seen to be naked, having sex and taking drugs while protesting.  They have broken several laws including trespass laws which has resulted in hundreds of arrests.  They have been seen defecating on the American flag, burning the American flag and destroying the American flag.

The Tea Party on the other hand has been documented to be primarily middle aged folk who love their country, display their flags proudly and respectfully at their rallies, have correctly targeted government as the cause of their frustration, are well behaved, and peaceful and leave their rally sites spotless.

What is common to both sides, the Tea Partiers and the Occupiers, is anger at an America that is a shadow of its former self.  The United States is failing and the blame runs deep; from the creations of Fannie Mae, Ginnie Mae, Freddy Mac, the Federal Reserve System, to crony capitalism, to the edict by all Presidents since Jimmy Carter that bank’s must lend to sub-prime mortgagees.  This is the macroscopic view of blame.

A microscopic view of the blame for what ails America can best be summed up in two letters by two very different college women who wrote letters about their predicaments and posted them online.

One letter reads:

 I’m a college senior with $40K of debt.  There are no jobs in my feild (sic).  My toughest decision now is whether to sell drugs or my body.  I am the 99%.


The other letter reads:

 “I am a college senior, about to graduate completely debt free.  I pay for all of my living expenses by working 30+ hours a week making barely above minimum wage.  I chose a moderately priced, in-0state public university.

I started saving money for school at age 17.  I got decent grades in high school and received 2 scholarships which cover 90% of my tuition.  I currently have a 3.8 GPA.

I live comfortably in a cheap apt., knowing I can’t have everything I want.  I don’t eat out every day, or even once a month.  I have no credit card, new car, iPad or smart phone – and I’m perfectly OK with that.  If I did have debt, I would NOT blame Wall St. or the government for my own bad decisions.

I live below my means to continue saving for the future.  I expect nothing to be handed to my, and will continue to work my ass off for everything I have.

That’s how it’s supposed to work.  I am NOT the 99%, and whether or not you are is YOUR decision.

The difference in the attitudes is striking and acts as a perfect demarcation between what is right with America and what is wrong.  It comes down to individual choices.  The first lady continues to borrow money she knows she can’t repay to remain in college studying for a career she knows she cannot attain.  Whether or not there no jobs in her field as she claims is highly doubtful and belies a deep seated self-doubt.  Her resignation to either sell drugs or her body reveals a self-loathing and destructive nature.

The second lady studies hard, works hard, is confident of her future, and most importantly blames nobody but herself for either her successes or failures.  This used to be the mind-set and attitude of the people of the once great United States.

If every American adopted the attitude of the second college senior there would have been no sub-prime mortgage failure as people who could not afford mortgages would not have taken on such a liability.   People must realize that their problems will not be solved by government, by Wall St., by the banks, by Corporate America or by anyone but themselves.  This is how it should be.

When we deviate from this view and expect others to provide for our education, our health, our welfare, we can only expect a collapse not only of the economy but of something more important….our self-esteem.

(Originally aired on Just Right #221, October 13, 2011.)

Oct 062011

Neutrino TrackOn September 22nd a team of scientists working on the OPERA project (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) in Italy released results of their observations of neutrinos which apparently have travelled faster than the speed of light.  Anybody who has the most rudimentary understanding of physics knows that according to Einstein nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.

Not being a physicist what are we as lay people to make of such an announcement?  First, if true this would have tremendous implications for our understanding of the universe.  It would in fact rewrite the text books.  It would be a paradigm shift not seen since Einstein shook the world with his theory of relativity which overturned our Newtonian view of the universe.

Second, whether true or false it would give us further insight, not into the nature of physics, but the nature of science and the scientific method.

Every now and then we get announcements of fantastic claims from various fields of science.  In 1989 Pons and Fleischmann gave us the tantalizing hope of cold-fusion.   Barely two months after the announcement the press called the whole affair a circus and as far as the press was concerned cold fusion was dead.  After critical review by their peers, who were unable to replicate their findings, any last hope of room temperature nuclear fusion was lost.  The lead scientist’s reputations were severely damaged in the academic community.

The Italian scientists, in making public their results which would seem to be as controversial as cold fusion, have placed their reputations on the line as well.  There are significant differences in this case, instead of two scientists making the claim we have 174 authors to the discovery.  They are also reporting on data which they have observed over three years and have meticulously examined for error.  In posting their results they are being very cautious by not ruling out some form of error which they may have overlooked despite their caution.

To quote from the conclusion of their paper:

Despite the large significance of the measurement reported here and the stability of the analysis, the potentially great impact of the result motivates the continuation of our studies in order to investigate possible still unknown systematic effects that could explain the observed anomaly. We deliberately do not attempt any theoretical or phenomenological interpretation of the results.

This is what impresses me most and gives me hope for the future of science that even when faced with enormous pressure to dismiss the results they publish anyway knowing full-well that they have done their due diligence.  The results, if true, are apparently too important to sweep under the carpet for fear of harming reputations and losing grant funding.  There is more than a bit of courage here.

In what other field of endeavor do we see such a rigorous self-examination to ensure that what is being published is accurate and open to scrutiny by peers and the public?

The popular press is filled with pundits and politicians quick to jump on any statement by others and either take it as absolute fact or dismiss it out of hand without consideration for all the facts.  Almost any environmental movement of the day is built on a shaky foundation of questionable science and emotion.  For example, public health officials seem to constantly change their ideal government approved diet plans not out of a rigorous adherence to the scientific method but based on inexact science and powerful lobbying.

Science is all about the truth.  It’s about peeling away thousands of years of falsehoods and superstitions to arrive at truth.  Its methods are open for criticism and refutation.  In fact any good scientist will welcome criticism.  Science begins with the formulation of an hypothesis, and an hypothesis is an assertion which is capable of being proven false.  So at the outset of any experiment the scientist realizes that he may be wrong.  It is his job to prove his assertions.

For thousands of years our knowledge of the universe consisted of stories and anecdotes, fable and fairy tales told by witchdoctors, priests and shamans.  They received their “knowledge” of the universe by word of mouth, by hallucinations under the influence of drugs or severe physical stress, like spending 40 days and nights alone in a desert.

For the past 400 years scientists have developed the scientific method of systematic observation, measurement, and experimentation and of formulating, testing, and modifying hypotheses.  This enlightened method of seeking the truth has brought us out of the dark ages of ignorance and despair and given us a greater understanding of nature and ourselves.

Originally broadcast on Just Right #220, October 6, 2011.