Monthly Archives: September 2016

Voting Third-Party in 2016

In his recent Op Ed, Paul Krugman talked about the dangerous attraction of voting Libertarian (see here). I’d like to second this. Well actually from my perspective he is seconding me, but he did hit “Publish” a few hours before this planned Monday morning post.

Look, Paul said it well but here’s my unique take on this. I have long advocated voting third-party to anyone who would listen. I argued, soundly I still think, that Progressives consistently vote out of fear and have failed to play the smarter and longer strategic game. By failing to take a stand for change and to lose a Presidency or a Supreme Court Judge in the short term, we consistently vote for the “lesser of two evils.” This has only played into the hands of the Conservatives in which they win either way, maintaining the status quo and moving the center methodically ever further to the Right with each election cycle. Unless we are willing to back a third party candidate in large numbers and lose a battle, sacrifice a Pawn or even a Queen, we cannot hope to win the war.

But there are rational limits to everything, and even in war there are some battles that we cannot give up; a hill that we cannot allow to be taken, a Rubicon that cannot allow the enemy to cross. If Jeb Bush or John Kasich were the Republican nominee, I would still be advising the long game. However, Donald Trump totally changes my calculus. A pathological liar who rivals Kim Jong-un only in his level of obscene narcissism, simply cannot be allowed to assume a position of such immense power. Allowing a reckless buffoon like Trump to take office in America, even if only for four years, is utterly unacceptable.

As much as it catches in my throat to even say it, voting third party is simply foolish in this election. I admit that I am motivated by fear here. I am afraid of the real, existential threat of Donald Trump. Sometimes fear can save our lives.

Even if one grants the silly Fox meme that Hillary is a crook, a crook in the White House is infinitely preferable to an utterly self-serving compulsive liar.

One of my biggest complaints and concerns about Hillary is that she is too hawkish. But recklessly insane Donald Trump has already said he would launch missiles if some guys give the finger to personnel on one of our Destroyers! There is absolutely no comparison here. Hillary the lesser of two evils? Absolutely, by an incalculable margin.

And don’t fool yourself. Your vote matters even if you live in a safely Blue State. Unless Hillary wins with an overwhelming popular vote, she will have no mandate and the forces that spawned Trump will only feel encouraged and emboldened to block her every effort and to keep giving us more of the same extreme Conservatism.

libertarianIf, after all this, you still feel compelled to vote third-party, think about who you are supporting with your symbolic vote. Johnson and Weld are Libertarians. They claim to be “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” But this is a HUGE LIE. They are only socially liberal in as far as they support the legalization of pot and a woman’s right to choose. But they also support privatization of almost every social institution including education, the right to own assault weapons, eliminating all corporate taxes, instituting a hugely regressive consumption tax, trusting in the private sector to stop climate change, and eliminating almost all regulations. The list goes on and on. These guys are not socially liberal since all of their “fiscally conservative” positions are actually socially conservative positions painted up as fiscal common sense.

If you vote Libertarian, you are not just saying you reject the status quo, you are also saying you support all of their extreme Libertarian positions that are too far Right for even mainstream Conservatives to accept.

One final plea. If you DO still feel compelled to vote third-party, strongly consider voting for Dr. Jill Stein. The Green Party is not an ideologically blinded wolf in sheep’s clothing like the Libertarians. They are truly sensible, rational, intelligent, and represent real Progressive change. If we were not faced with the horrifying specter of a Donald Trump Presidency, I would be proud to vote Green. Vote for them down ticket as much as you can.

Sorry Jill, I feel terrible but please try again and again!!


Swarm Stupidity in Humans

swarmI am eternally fascinated by swarm intelligence and emergent behaviors. These terms describe the phenomenon by which individual organisms, following only simple local logic without any wider intent or awareness, contribute to highly complex and far-reaching behaviors that “emerge” or arise out of their collective activity.

The most observable examples include bird flocking, animal herding, fish schooling, bacterial growth, and ant colonies. Ants, as the most dramatic example, collectively create extremely complex bridges and nests, even though no particular individual organizes that activity or is even aware of it.

The amazingly complex creations of ants emerge from very simple individual logic such as “if another ant is on top of me, stop moving.” From this kind of deceptively simple behavior, ants collectively exhibit astounding feats of mass migration, swarming, tactical warfare, nest construction, and engineering. If however, a significant number of ants were to abandon their “belief” that it is their responsibility to hold still while another ant is felt upon their back, then their ability to create bridges and nests could collapse, and perhaps their species would as well.

What intrigues me most about this sort of swarm intelligence is the intriguing certainty that we humans collectively exhibit our own highly complex emergent behaviors. Even though none of us intend it, each of us nevertheless contributes to the emergent behaviors of our collective population, just as if we were merely cells in some greater human super-organism.

Therefore, the basic rules of logic that we live by as individuals likely do contribute rather more directly than we imagine to the large scale behavior of our species. For example, if we base our everyday logic on the assumption that god does or does not exist, we profoundly alter our collective behavior accordingly. Belief is not then merely some personal thing. It has profound consequence. Religious believers intrinsically know this to be true, that their belief fundamentally shapes the world we live in, and that is why it is so important to them to internalize, express, and evangelize it.

While Christians inherently believe that their religion produces what they feel are desirable emergent behaviors, many atheists conclude that they are wrong. We conclude rather that a personal religious worldview results in highly damaging emergent behaviors like bigotry and intolerance, gullibility, susceptibility to manipulation, disregard for the planet, and even warfare. We conclude that a personal belief in god is, in significant part at least, responsible for swarm behaviors like gun violence, terrorism, torture (see here), and jihad.

Therefore, we atheists should trust that there are no “benign” religious beliefs. We should never doubt that our simple rule of logic, that we believe in facts and reason not in gods, serves our species far better moving forward. We must trust that our personal atheist thinking, when expressed through a sufficiently large number of individuals, will indeed result in emergent behaviors that are more ethical than dogmatic, more fact than fantasy based, and more focused on our lives and our planet right now rather than life ever after. We must trust that atheism will better give rise to the more enlightened swarm intelligence that we so desperately need if we are to survive as a species.

Religion is a prime example of “swarm stupidity” in humans.






But I Know What I Saw!

A while back I wrote a blog about the likelihood (or unlikelihood rather) that we could ever meet aliens from another planet (see here). Even though it is highly unlikely we’ll ever meet them, I also wrote another article about what aliens probably look like (see here). In response to the latter article, I received the following comment and question. I thought it might be useful to respond in some detail.

Hi my name is Mark. 2 days ago around 1pm I had a encounter. It almost brought tears to my eyes and my emotional state was altered with unknown feelings. I was sitting on my patio when I noticed something watching me. I looked up at it. And it was aware of me spoting it and its prescense. The alien was a pure white flame/orb??? It flew down wards looked towards me and dissapered. I wrote all I could down about it and what and how I thought it worked or functioned. Some ppl wait there whole life to see what I saw. It was real!!!!!!!! It was so different. The light was extremly bright yet it had no glow to it. It was alive. (It somehow uses the golden ration to dissaper. Such as folding our perpective dimension. Only my theory ) Help Me………. I wanna let the world know how beautiful diffrent strange and awe strucking it was. The scariest part was it was spying on me. It came close and vanished??? Into nothing. Thank you this is no joke please let me know of what u think.

Let’s consider the rational way to respond to such an incident. First, I cannot completely accept this report as is. It could be, Mark, that you are just profoundly delusional. Or it could be that you simply cooked this up to troll and get a response. Or it could be that this was not actually your experience, but something someone told you that you are representing as a first-hand account. Crazy stories like this get started all the time (see here).

But Mark, let’s assume that you are not insane and are not pulling a joke but that you truly believe this experience happened to you. There are still many, many ways of intellectually and emotionally responding to such an incident that do not require you to suspend all of your rationality and accept incredible explanations.

Indeed, such an incident happened to me. I write about it in my book, Belief in Science and the Science of Belief (see here). I highly recommend you read it as it goes into far greater depth about how one should interpret unexplainable experiences. Indeed, it is not particularly rational to acknowledge that you have five fingers. Only when our rationality is sorely tested can we truly discover whether we are really rational thinkers. It is only when  we refuse to accept easy explanations, when we reject the ridiculous beliefs of others, that we can claim to be rational. If we believe ridiculous propositions like alien visitations, psychic powers, ghosts, or even gods – no matter how many other people may believe these things – then we are not truly rational.

As to your particular experience Mark, there are many explanations that are far more likely than that you were visited by aliens. First, you may be remembering a dream. I have difficulty differentiating some dream memories from actual memories. You may have had a waking dream. And realize that none of us are either fully sane or insane. None of us are immune to an occasional delusion. It is only when these episodes become profoundly persistent that they become a mental illness. We are all somewhat susceptible to paranoid delusions (see here), and frankly your report has elements of paranoia.

I’m sure, Mark, that you’ll insist that none of those things apply to you, and they may not. But that doesn’t mean that therefore you are at liberty to believe that you were spied upon by aliens. When we don’t understand something, the truly rational response is to suspend any judgement, forestall any conclusions, until if and when we learn more. A rational person, as does any good scientist, accepts not knowing what happened rather than accept some implausibly easy fantasy as a substitute for knowing.

My ghost-encounter happened 30 years ago Mark, and I still am far happier not knowing what happened than to accept that I actually saw a ghost. By remaining in the dark with my eyes open, I leave open the possibility of one day seeing the real truth, even if that truth turns out to be that I simply had a momentary brain-fart.