Philosophy & Critical Thinking

Philosophy & Critical Thinking


The Wise Favor Truth Over Conspiracy Theories

conspiracy theories May 21st, 2020

…unless of course there is a conspiracy afoot! That does happen from time to time, when all the stars are aligned. Usually, though, conspiracies fail or never even get off the ground. Isn’t it odd that the same government that the hardcore libertarians we have had in our midst since the inception of the Tea Party which is constantly facing budget cuts and which sees its best and brightest dismissed due to cronyism and corruption is also fully capable of hatching and executing a “deep-state-type” massive, successful conspiracy? We are to believe that the Federal government is at once a bunch of masterminds intent on crippling the decent government officials we duly elected with our awful, dark-money-driven campaign finance system—the “deep state”—capable of engaging in a very sophisticated feat of skullduggery, intrigue, and nefariousness, and yet we can’t even get masks to doctors? Kids go hungry. We can’t control the debt. Mexican immigrants are supposed to be our worst problem if you watch Fox News. I would say the U.S. government could more easily be accused of garden-variety, low-level corruption like Russia, or totally incompetent, like Venezuela, than this!  Nay, this just doesn’t add up. What is much likelier, logically and rationally, is that the people who see conspiracy and libertarian affronts and liberals run amok are suffering from bias, lack of objectivity, fantastic thinking, and group phenomena. They should turn off Fox or Facebook and read a book by Mark Twain or George Eliot, I say. Here are some thoughts.

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The Ethical Life: Coping with the Pandemic

ethical April 27th, 2020

The following is a republication of a piece written by Mark Manson, who made a splash with his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life . Mark calls himself an “author/thinker/life enthusiast”, which I think is nicely done. I’m just getting to know his style and his merit, but I was willing to sign up for the $6 a month subscription (aren’t you glad you get to read my stuff for free!?). I found the following essay about ethical dilemmas and how to deal with life in the time of lockdown interesting enough to request to republish. Here you have it:

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Cosmos: Science, Hope, Wisdom & Inspiration

science April 24th, 2020

Famed astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s obituary featured the President of the National Academy of Sciences, Bruce Alberts extolling him thusly: “Carl Sagan, more than any contemporary scientist I can think of, knew what it takes to stir passion within the public when it comes to the wonder and importance of science.” The television program Cosmos (now in its third season) has been a reliable, interesting, educational experience for me and for millions of others; it’s like Sesame Street for this millennium. If you want to learn more about science by that, I mean astrophysics, astronomy, geology, and even the history of science, this is the show for you. Now that the third season is out, I have collected some quotes by those involved with the show, those who are practitioners of applied science, and so on. Especially in a time when every single day folks are hearing public health officials, physicians, and biomedical researchers speak on television (the pandemic), there is both a desire for diversion, and there is an “attunedness” to applied science. If Trump and others are turning out to be the buffoons and the charlatans in this crisis, scientists, doctors, nurses, paramedics, nursing home staff — even meat packers and workers at Amazon.com — are the bright lights in the dark.

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Pandemic Pandemonium: Americans and Moral Irresponsibility

April 13th, 2020

As I write, America is smack-dab in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Fifty states, for the first time ever, have declared emergencies. The economy has ground to a screeching halt. Social isolation, disease, and domestic violence are wracking our decaying country. These are hard times.
You know which groups of people are making it harder— and obviously endangering others’ lives, with their moral irresponsibility? Soulless politicians, stupid adolescents, ignorant worshippers, criminals, and misguided anti-science types. This utter lack of wisdom, principles, and insight speaks to the low level of moral and often psychological development on these individuals’ parts, and as I said, their choices can cost people’s lives. Since they are all essentially libertarians, the irony should be noted.

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Politically Progressive Quotes from African Americans

african americans April 11th, 2020

African Americans are an integral part of the United States of America. 95% were brought against their will from Africa (or born to recently-arrived African slaves). They have had to struggle to find even a basic fair treatment from the majority-white populace, and it is incomplete. As a case in point, more black Americans are dying from the coronavirus, proportionally, than whites. Some of this might be able to be attributed to the larger number of premorbid conditions that tend to plague African Americans to a greater degree than other races, but even that leads to the recognition that there must be much about the American experience for black people that is significantly worse than for whites. Asian Americans have pretty decent outcomes in American society, and so it’s hard to tease apart the legacy of slavery from cultural mores and personal choices that are salubrious and prudent. At bottom, though, what is not in dispute is that the African American experience in America has been rough, and that has something to do with racism. I won’t chase every tangent that this introductory paragraph logically leads to — for example, the fact that African Americans are less economically advanced than whites. I will simply sample some politically progressive quotes from African Americans. Who better but these Americans themselves to share their experience?

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A Rich Vein of Quotes About Public Health

quotes about public health April 9th, 2020

I often will sit at my computer, kind of bored and idle and unstimulated. I suppose some of that is not only the life of a writer, but as a mostly-unsuccessful blogger, it’s pretty much the bottom of the barrel of the writing profession. So whereas a writer such as Hemingway or Woolf or Nietzsche, whom you could imagine sitting at the typewriter (or chewing mindlessly on their quill), might experience writer’s block (or a manic work-spree), at least they have the highest-caliber brains and publishers awaiting a quality product. Now, with 1,000,000 books published in any given year, and folks being mostly resistant to being marketed to, the number of writers who probably sit and suffer day in and day out must be legion. But, today, I fell into a rich vein of political, philosophical, and written gold, and I want to share it here. The medium: quotes. The subject: America’s characteristic, predictable, and mixed response to the biggest crisis in a century: the coronavirus pandemic. It is stretching each of us, and our social fabric, and our institutions, to the limit. Here are some trenchant thoughts by three sources that all cohere nicely.

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There is Great Wisdom in Game of Thrones

wisdom in Game of Thrones March 30th, 2020

Game of Thrones, the brain-child of George R. R. Martin, David Benioff, and D. B. Weiss became one of the most significant cultural sensations in the last 50 years, up there with Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter books, Dungeons & Dragons, Big Bang Theory, etc. It is amazing to me that a mere “fantasy” could be so well-written by Martin (what he titled A Song of Fire and Ice, and many spin-off books) and so well produced by Benioff and Weiss (and, essentially, adapted for the screen), and backed by HBO, that it holds such remarkable cultural sway. When I was playing D&D as a teenager, it was almost like a dirty little secret; I am sure that many “geeky” types feel that way about their obsession. However, let’s face it, Game was one of the most popular and well-regarded and most critically-acclaimed phenomena in American life. Yes, I’m sure that Will Rogers or Mark Twain or The Tonight Show or the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies will perhaps be more vaunted and venerable names as time wears on, but for anyone alive today either knows of or loves Game of Thrones. This blog explores the idea that, amazingly, amongst the sex, violence, gore, and scheming, the 8-year series so brilliantly woven together by the trio I mentioned, wisdom in Game of Thrones reigns supreme.

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Social Cohesion and Progressivism vs. Rugged Individualism and Cognitive Bias

social cohesion March 10th, 2020

The New York Times columnist David Leonhardt worked his way into my respect naturally. Somehow, the NYT started sending me his opinion pieces maybe three or four times a week, and my first thought was, “Who’s the new guy?” A page that has featured Charles Blow, Thomas L. Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Nicholas D. Kristof, Paul Krugman, and Bob Herbert creates a high bar in my mind. But, over time, Leonhardt has grown to be one of my favorite and most-quoted writers. In one piece, he gives voice to a core is a political philosphy precept of mine: social cohesion depends on political progress. Another way to phrase this idea would be: social welfare vs. individual supremacy vis-a-vis political progressivism.

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Morality as it Relates to Politics

morality as it relates to politics February 16th, 2020

When we talk about Bernie Sanders supporting a “Medicare for All” approach to healthcare, there are many distinct and legitimate approaches one can take when thinking about it. One is functionality; another is cost. Viability is a third, and unintended consequences is yet another. There are also moral aspects of politics, for example, when it comes to healthcare. For example, is it a right or a privilege? Can a CEO promise it during heated negotiations with employees, and take it away the next quarter? Is there equal access to quality healthcare, or is it, as with most goods in society, available in varying degrees based on one’s privilege, wealth, and power? This is but one example of morality as it relates to politics, the subject of this blog.

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What Do We Deserve? Moral Desert & Entitlement

moral desert January 21st, 2020

What does a person – let’s confine it to Americans in this blog – deserve? In philosophy, it is termed moral dessert. That is, as a member of society, what rights does one have to goods and benefits and opportunities? Contrast dessert (sometimes spelled desert) with entitlement – the rights one has based on law, contracts, and agreements. In this piece, I want to dilate on this topic, and to that end, will share a brief discussion a friend and I had. You may not be surprised to learn that I take a generally liberal position, and my friend, a fairly libertarian one. I am more likely to see, optimistically, that people deserve opportunity, chances, and help from society at large (i.e., the institutions of government and associated social welfare provisions). You can expect, of course, to see apt quotations brought to bear on the dialogue.

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