Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Jesus told me to tell you to stop the vapid consumerism. Read a book instead of buying a DVD. Give to charity (or Wikipedia, or Progressive Secretary) instead of purcashing a PS3.

Nietzsche - so misunderstood

The title is cliche. Everyone knows that Nietzsche was and is widely misunderstood. He didn't believe in Nazism or militant dictatorships (in fact he despised nationalism). Of course, that's not to say that he wasn't radical. He may have been in favor of some extreme things (though not what you might think - for example, renouncing normal, modern pleasures). Above all he favored creators: people who could decide on what is truly worthwile on their own, and then pursue it like it truly mattered. Creators are people who can create meaning, tradition, and truth.

I went looking for a good Nietzsche criticism and I found this piece by Santayana. This particular paragraph jumped out at me:

The first principle of his ethics was that the good is power. But this word power seems to have had a great range of meanings in his mind. Sometimes it suggests animal strength and size, as in the big blonde beast; sometimes vitality, sometimes fortitude, sometimes contempt for the will of others, sometimes (and this is perhaps the meaning he chiefly intended) dominion over natural forces and over the people, that is to say, wealth and military power.

This seems to me to be the classical misunderstanding of his philosophy. Santayana conflates Nietzsche's obsession with power with his value of it. Power is not always "the good." Hitler was powerful but he certainly wasn't good. Nietzsche didn't believe the power was good - but he did believe that without power, the good was impossible. People without power cannot be good. They are too easily manipulated, and they lack the understanding to appreciate the good when they run into it. The "good" form of power manifests itself in philosophy, science, knowledge, independence, and self-control (honesty falls under self-control).

9/11 conspiracy sounds convincing

After watching this movie, I know I have to question even the things I take for granted. I know that most of the people in the world are dumb, and it's hard not to believe that they're brainwashed when you turn on Fox News, but I sometimes have trouble believing conspiracy theories. Perhaps that's because I hardly ever take the time to look into them. That movie expresses the issue much better than I ever could - I request that you watch it in full. Please. Use the internet to research as you go.

First you must acquaint yourself with the timeline of the pivotal day. The North Tower was hit by Flight 11 at 8:46 AM. Flight 175 hit the South Tower at 9:03. At 9:59 the South Tower collapses, and at 10:28 the North Tower collapses. At 5:20 PM, the 7 World Trade Center collapses - a building which was not hit by any airplanes, and which was further away from the Two Towers than many of the buildings which are still standing today (though it has been rebuilt). It had a couple small fires in it. Curiously, it was also owned by Larry Silverstein, the owner of the Two Towers who collected an enormous amount of insurance money. The building, as the movie shows, contained offices for the Department of Defense, the CIA, and emergency response agencies (FEMA was one, I believe, as well the NYC Office of Emergency Management). As Dr S. Shyam Sunder said, NIST's lead WTC disaster investigator, "We are studying the horizontal movement east to west, internal to the structure, on the fifth to seventh floors.” and then added "But truthfully, I don’t really know. We’ve had trouble getting a handle on Building No. 7".[10]

I checked out the Wikipedia article on the 9/11 Commission (and many others) and found this:

Even after Kissinger resigned, the White House was often cited as having attempted to block the release of information to the commission [8] and for refusing to give interviews without tight conditions attached (leading to threats to subpoena [9]). The Bush Administration has further been accused of attempting to derail the commission by giving it one of the smallest independent commission funding levels in recent history ($3 million [10]), and by giving the commission a very short deadline. The White House insists that they have given the commission "unprecedented cooperation".

While President Bush and Vice President Cheney did ultimately agree to testify, they did so only under several conditions:

  • They would be allowed to testify jointly;
  • They would not be required to take an oath before testifying;
  • The testimony would not be recorded electronically or transcribed, and that the only record would be notes taken by one of the commission staffers;
  • These notes would not be made public

Quite curious.

tells us why no F-16s were around to take down the planes.

Anyway, watch the movie and tell me your thoughts.

Not to say that I believe there was a conspiracy, but it is something that I would like to see seriously refuted. But I haven't been able to find a serious discussion on their points. Please point one out to me if you find it.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Where will genetic engineering stop?

A week ago I was at the library and I ran into my HS U.S. Government teacher. He seemed like one of the most genuinely intellectual of my teachers (he gave me a C on my Marijuana Legalization paper though). I told him I was studying philosophy and economics, and he said: "Well, maybe you can make some money with economics. I don't know about that philosophy." I'm tired of hearing that, but I shrugged and said somewhat foolishly: "I know just about as much about science as the science majors, anyway."

He said, "Maybe you can be an ethicist."

I chuckled, "I don't think I'd be very successful. My ideas don't, ah, coincide with the rest of the world."

He raised his eyebrows, "What, Machievellan?"

I chuckled. Apparently he'd noticed that I'd been attracted to Nietzsche - not sure I mentioned it: "No, no. Just more ... secular. Unlike most of the people in our country. Unlike our president."

He seemed a trifle irritated at that. Religious? Most likely. "So I guess I know what your type is."

I snorted, "I doubt it. Well - libertarianism. (Maybe it's obvious.) I take the Friedman view on the war on drugs, for example."

"Oh? Let the market prevail?"

"Let people take responsibility."

I shook his hand and turned to go.

Today I remember that because I think back on the comment about Machievellanism. I have trouble shaking the belief that strength and knowledge should overcome weakness and ignorance. The reason they so often don't in our democratic society is that most peopole are weak. Humans are obsessed with power and aware of power differences to minute degrees, but they don't like to admit it. Everyone is either respected or not respected; those who are pitied are not respected, and they know it. Altruism is ultimately a selfish, egotistical act. Even offering one's attention to another is an empowering act with strings attached. What this means in public policy is debateable, but today I ran across James D. Watson's Wikipedia article:

He has also repeatedly supported genetic screening and genetic engineering in public lectures and interviews, arguing for instance that the "really stupid" bottom 10% of people should be aborted before birth; that all girls should be genetically engineered to be pretty [1] and has been quoted in The Sunday Telegraph as stating "that if the gene (for homosexuality) were discovered and a woman decided not to give birth to a child that may have a tendency to become homosexual, she should be able to abort the fetus." [2] The biologist Richard Dawkins wrote a letter to The Independent claiming that Watson's position was misrepresented by The Sunday Telegraph article and that Watson also considered the possibility of having a heterosexual child to be a valid reason for abortion. [3]

Watson doesn't think much of the ambitiousness and energy of fat people, and is quoted as saying "Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you're not going to hire them" [4]

The last comment strikes me as grossly elitist; it's genetically impossible for some people to lose weight, it seems, and I haven't noticed a mental difference in these people. We aren't justified in viewing fat people as ambitious and unergenetic. If we were to test all of the fat people objectively and found that they were less ambitious and energetic than others as a rule, we might be able to - if you believe that judging less ambitious and energetic people is ok.

Regardless of that, the idea that fascinates me is artifical selection for the best traits. It's such a scary thought for some people. They wonder where the search for the best traits might stop. Yet if I were to have a kid, it would be my decision, and it wouldn't harm any living person if I artificially selected for the best traits (unless you believe a fetus is a person with the right to life).

The only non-religious argument against seems to be a pragmatic one, as the argument against the war on drugs inevitably is, and as all arguments against victimless crimes seem to be.

I'd rather not hear responses from people claiming that God's work should not be tampered with. People who have not reasoned themselves into a belief cannot, it seems, be reasoned out of it.