Updates and housekeeping

Hello, all! I’m still alive. Sorry I haven’t posted in awhile, but I have a good reason–I promise!

UPDATES

The reason I’ve been away from the computer for so long is that I recently purchased my first house. It’s a real fixer upper diamond in the rough. So every weekend my girlfriend and I have been going out and making it a little more diamond and a little less rough. All of the major rennovations will probably be complete in the next month or so, after which I promise I’ll post pictures.

HOUSEKEEPING

Some of you may have noticed a couple of months ago that I disabled comments on some of my posts. I wanted to state that this will be my policy on most posts going forward and offer you all a rationale. Looking around all over the internet, I think it’s clear that comments sections have turned social media from places to share ideas into debate forums. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for someone to usurp or highjack a post, to completely disregard the author’s information or intent, and to put their own spin on things.

I’ve maintained this blog for about 4 years now. I’ve written about a lot of different subjects, talked to a lot of different people. And there are two things that social media has turned into that I want to avoid with this blog: an echo chamber, and a place where rather than aborsbing new ideas people instinctively defend their own biases. Neither situation is really beneficial to me as an author or you as a reader. But I think it’s very clear that allowing comments really tends to exacerbate those two facets of social media, to the point that everything else is lost. This isn’t really a dialogue–it’s a place for me to share ideas with you. If you agree with them, great. If you don’t, it’s my fervent hope that you’ll at least digest and think about the information or opinions I’ve presented even if you ultimately reject them.

Either way, it’s okay. We don’t have to spend all of our time either patting likeminded people on the back or proselytizing to “the other side.” I think it’s safe to say that arguments on the internet have never really changed anyone’s mind about anything. And that’s because when we argue with someone, we reflexively throw up walls and try to protect our own biases.

I want people to read what I have to say and let it soak in. I know there are people out there who never read past the opening paragraph before they start to form a rebuttal. That isn’t a dialogue. It’s like the internet has turned us all into sharks, predators lurking in the dark corners of comments sections just waiting to sink our teeth into anyone who disagrees with us, without ever really knowing why.

And I want that to stop. I don’t want to have to block people, I don’t want to have to approve or delete comments, and I don’t wan’t to censor other people. If you really feel strongly about something I’ve written, feel free to drop me an email–I think you can do that with wordpress.

Now, I can hear people out there already. “Well how will you ever hear information that runs counter to your beliefs if you wall everyone off?” The same way people got that information before the advent of the home computer and the internet: by seeking it out on my own. But that’s my responsibility as an individual and an author, to seek out and read dissenting opinions. It isn’t the job of the reader to force that perspective upon me or other readers.

“Why can’t you just ignore comments that aren’t productive?” I’ve done that for the last 4 years and not much has changed. Quite frankly, I’m tired of doing it. When I started this blog, the intent was to perhaps cause others to reflect on their own beliefs–not to turn every instance of putting thought to paper into a Thunderdome-style debate where two viewpoints enter and only one leaves.

I guess my ultimate point is that somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten that it’s okay to disagree. We’ve forgotten that it’s okay to read information and thoughts that are different than our own without attacking to protect our own cognitive biases. It’s okay to not get a word in or to not have the last word.

It’s okay to just listen to someone else.

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Things to come in 2015

Rather than look behind at the year we’ve just left, I’m going to talk a little bit about what you guys can expect from me and from this blog in the coming year. The big theme? I’m expanding.

Specifically, I’m going to start podcasting! While I still have a lot of things to say with this blog, I feel like certain subjects lend themselves to discussion and broadcasting more. So I’ve been working on two podcasts that will be up and running shortly. One is for fun, and one is more serious. So without further ado, I’m pleased to bring you in 2015…

Orcs & Dorks. This is basically a podcast of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that my friends and I are running. You can listen to our adventures/shenanigans weekly as we let our imaginations loose and hone our role playing skills. As a companion to this podcast, we’ll also have a monthly podcast called Crits and Wits, which will explore our ideas, themes, and thoughts about the game we’re running. We already have about 10 hours of material recorded, so get ready.

For The Love of Science. I’m very excited out this one. This is the science podcast that I’m running with a few friends and colleagues. It’ll be a platform to promote and explore the scientific method, logic and reason, as well as discuss the latest scientific discoveries and their potential applications and philosophical implications. We plan to have a Facebook and Twitter presence for this one so people can interact with the show. And maybe we’ll even snag a few professionals and experts to appear on the podcast!

As we progress down the podcast road, I will keep all my WordPress friends and followers updated. Expect twitter handles and links in the near future!

Why do we work?

The other day my brother was showing me this Facebook thread that he was commenting on. The subject was Wal-Mart paying their employees more. There was one comment that caught my eye in particular. You’ll find a comment just like it said or written in just about any discussion about wages or income inequality, and it goes something like this: “BUT IF WE ALL MAKE THE SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY WHAT INCENTIVE DO PEOPLE HAVE TO WORK HARD?!?!?!”

That panic-stricken caps lock emphasis is my own, because I always imagine these people shouting in confusion and ignorance at their computer monitors. But this is a pretty common attitude for people to have, surprisingly. I posted once before about raising the minimum wage, and the subject of that article, the owner of the longest lived McDonald’s franchise, said something to the effect of, “If I started people out above minimum wage, what incentive do they have to learn their job?” From here, conversations with people who believe this kind of drivel usually degrade into tirades about socialism and how welfare just keeps people dependent upon the government teat. All of these ideas share one common theme: Incentive.

What drives people, what motivates them, what makes them act (or not act)? I’d like to tackle this subject and expose some of this economic/political rhetoric for what it really is: total bullshit. Let’s begin, shall we?

1. Welfare just makes people lazy and not want to work. 

I certainly hear this one a lot. This idea is alive and well, and the stories of “the welfare queen” can still be heard or read, even though that story is total crap. Modern iterations include people on welfare with new expensive cell phones and iPads, etc. But the idea is still the same: people on welfare live high on the hog and never lift a finger, etc. All on your dime! Except that, as the story about the welfare queen explains, only 2% of welfare cases are fraudulent. Furthermore, the people most likely to benefit from social safety nets in general are children and the elderly. But let’s take the crux of this idea–that welfare is a disincentive for people to work–and examine it for a moment.

I find several things about this ironic. First, I’d be willing to wager that most of the people making this argument about welfare themselves would prefer or choose not to work if they didn’t have to. How many people dream about winning the lottery or striking it big so they can quit working? Gambling and the lottery are big business for a reason.

Second, and more importantly, are the solutions for dealing with this “problem.” The problem to these people is the government. Fine, but there have always been homeless people or people who are out of work or unable to work, and there probably always will be in our society. So what do these people propose to do about that? “Well, that’s not the job of the government, that’s where private citizens and charity can play a role.”

Ah, yes, charity. Everything the government does is evil and wasteful, and everything private business and individuals do is brilliant and effective. Spoiler alert: it’s much easier to defraud or embezzle from a charity or private business because there is no oversight like there is with government programs.

So then, the follow up question: why wouldn’t people just come to rely upon charity the same way they rely upon welfare and other social safety programs sponsored by the government? The correct answer is that there’s nothing at all that says they wouldn’t. If someone is going to defraud the government of money, they’re probably willing to defraud total strangers of it too. So stop volunteering at the soup kitchen! All those free meals are just going to make the homeless want to stay homeless! Stop donating your old clothes to Goodwill or Salvation Army–you’re just teaching children that they can rely on freebies and handouts! See how ridiculous the logic behind the “welfare makes people lazy” is?

2. It’s socialism!

Apparently all of the people out there who make these claims about income inequality and wages never made it past 8th grade social studies, because they certainly have zero idea what the hell socialism really is. So let’s go ahead and straighten this matter out right here and right now.

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Socialism is defined by the dictionary as, “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution,of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.”  So where in that definition does it say everyone will make the same amount of money? That’s right, it doesn’t.

I have zero idea where the notion came from, but there is nothing in socialism that dictates equal income. You can go to any socialist country on the planet and you’ll find people of varying incomes and a representative elected government. There’s nothing to be terrified of.

More to the point, you already use things everyday that are “socialist” in nature. If you send your children to public school, congrats–you’re participating in socialism! If you support our troops, congrats–you’re supporting socialism! And more to the point, I don’t think any sane person, regardless of their political bent, would argue that public school and the military are bad things. But aside from the fact that people are generally wealthier, healthier, and happier in socialist countries, the people who like to espouse the evils of socialism are totally right on the money. Please read that last bit with sarcasm.

3. IF WE ALL MAKE THE SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY WHAT INCENTIVE WILL PEOPLE HAVE TO WORK?!

I saved the most ridiculous argument for last. There are a lot of things wrong with this line of thinking. Buried within this idea is a statement about hard work: some people don’t deserve to make as much money as other people because they don’t work as hard. I’ve tackled this issue before, but let’s tackle it again. What exactly constitutes “hard” work? You could probably ask 10 different people and get 10 different answers.

And that’s one of the problems with this argument. There’s no way to quantify “hard work” and so any comparison of jobs or careers will never be apples-to-apples. Is manual labor “harder” work than creative or intellectual work, or vice versa? There’s no correct answer to that question. Politicians are often fond of saying that teachers, policemen, and firemen are “the backbone of this country.” Yet their pay is hardly reflective of that sentiment. Does a doctor or lawyer work “harder” than a policeman or a teacher? Ask a policeman or a teacher if you’re struggling with this concept.

“Fine, but doctors and lawyers need more extensive training and spend more time in school,” one might say in rebuttal. Yes, that’s true, and I would agree that this obviously plays a role in their wages. However, other highly specialized work is paid less than non-specialized work. The average salary according to Standford University of an electrical engineer with a PhD is $108,000. Meanwhile, according to payscale.com the average CEO makes $152,000/year. And how many CEO’s do you know with a PhD in CEO-ing?

Obviously education and training plays a role in determining wages, but only to a small degree. So, some people might argue, the answer is how important a job is! On the surface that makes sense. That’s the common economic argument: that people are paid according to how valuable their job is to society. But again, let’s think about what makes a job “valuable” to society. Let’s think of our policemen and firemen, and then expand that idea to include people like garbage collectors and utility workers.

Every single one of those jobs earns somewhere around $50,000/year on average. Now, compare that again with the CEO’s pay. Or the pay of the average NBA player salary, which is $4,167,386/year (Chris Bosh makes $118,705,300 alone). Now let’s perform a little thought experiment. Let’s imagine that tomorrow, suddenly every single police officer, firefighter, garbage collector, and utility worker disappeared from the face of the earth all at once. How do you imagine your life would be affected? Things probably wouldn’t run so smoothly, huh? Might be a little difficult, to say the least, until they could be replaced. In short, if these people didn’t exist, your life would suck a lot harder.

Now let’s imagine what would happen if tomorrow every professional athlete, actor, and musician disappeared. What would happen? A big resounding nothing. Society would continue to function and your life wouldn’t be quantitatively affected at all. What if all the CEO’s disappeared? Again, probably nothing. I’m willing to bet that most people in larger companies and corporations have never met the CEO and never will. In other words, them knowing how to do accounting or marketing or cashiering has absolutely nothing to do with the existence of a CEO. Unless you think that CEO’s go around everyday and one-on-one show every single employee how to do their job, CEO’s are more or less superfluous.

A case in point...
A case in point…

So while value to society does play a role in determining wages, it’s really only up to a certain point. We pay the people who contribute nothing meaningful to society the most, while leaving teachers and plumbers and utility workers to languish in stagnant wages. Clearly something else is afoot here. The truth of the matter is that your wage is determined by how much someone with more money is willing to pay you. If they want to offer you less they will and if they want to offer you more they’ll offer you more. It’s as simple as that. There’s no hard science or mathematical formula that determines wages.

Chris Rock once had a bit about the minimum wage. “If an employer is paying you minimum wage, what they’re really saying is ‘I would be paying you less money if it weren’t illegal.'”

Okay, what about the idea that with equal income, there is no incentive to move up the ladder or work harder or whatever other bullshit this idea is peddling? Well, I would argue that is patently false. Most obvious is the fact that people aren’t motivated solely by money, as evidenced by the fact that we aren’t all lawyers and hedge fund managers. Let’s examine some of the non-financial things that motivate people to work.

a) people find their job challenging/interesting/intellectually or physically stimulating

b) people want to make a difference or change in the world

c) people like their coworkers/clients

d) pride/personal enrichment

I just find it utterly baffling that people think the invisible hand of Adam Smith only operates if there is inequality. I don’t know why people think that, considering there is no logical or practical reason to assume so. If you believe that people choose jobs based upon their natural personalities, inclinations, and abilities, then it shouldn’t matter how much money people make: they will always gravitate toward varying and different jobs.

People who make these arguments reduce people to automatons. They think people are no better than trained animals doing tricks for treats. The argument that people will only perform if paid is the same logic we use to train circus animals. Plus it’s demeaning to anyone who holds any sort of ideals higher than “I do work to make money to buy shiny crap.” This philosophy almost denigrates people who want to do things for altruistic reasons. It completely removes the ethical and intellectual arguments for work and productivity. It’s dishonest and it’s low brow. And quite frankly it needs to stop.

Acceptance for the sake of tolerance

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So let’s talk about something that happened on this blog recently. I had an exchange with another blogger, a regular on this site. This particular blogger and I do not see eye to eye on religious or scientific matters. I like to think of myself as an open-minded person, and I’ll usually do my best to hear people out on things I disagree with, and I’m willing to put my own beliefs and practices under the microscope. However, this last exchange resulted in me doing something I thought I would never do.

I banned someone from this blog.

I wrestled with the prospect for awhile before I actually did it. Right up until I followed through, I thought that doing so would make me a bad person or some kind of bigot. But then I stopped to think about a few things.

If this were the real world, this person and I would not be friends. We have nothing in common, and I would go so far as to say that this person’s worldview is harmful to society in general. If this person came to my door to “spread the good word” I would close the door on them and that would be it. The bottom line is this: if I wouldn’t tolerate certain things in real life, why would I suddenly do so online, on this blog?

This blog is for me. It’s my platform. It wasn’t created to serve as an outlet for other people to espouse ideas that I find dangerous. And that’s ultimately what solidified my decision. I realized that in every exchange I’ve had with this person, instead of talking about the facts of the matter at hand, we ultimately ended up discussing his beliefs. I was essentially giving him and his ideas free advertisement on this blog.

In the past I’ve written that just because everyone is entitled to free speech doesn’t mean we’re obligated to take every idea seriously or hear everyone out. It was time to start taking my own advice. And I don’t feel bad about it. Disappointed, maybe, that the dialogue between us was never productive. But I have no interest in a battle of wills, or in allowing someone to spread scientific inaccuracies, falsehoods, or religious dogma on this blog. If there’s one thing I can’t stand and that I think is detrimental to the human race, it’s science-deniers.

In case you’re curious, here is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Essentially what it came down to is that I was accused of a bait-and-switch argument because of how I “conflated” things like natural selection and mutation with evolution. In reality, this accusation only carries weight if you change what evolution is. Natural selection, mutation, etc. are all part and parcel of evolution, and to try to separate them has no scientific basis. Then there’s the old tried and true accusation that science requires faith, that subjectivity is a valid scientific argument, etc. Then I’m treated to a marvelous diatribe about how I’m being paradoxical by claiming that evolution happens over time, yet citing “fast” examples. Again, though, this is not mutually exclusive with the idea of evolution: small changes happen “quickly” and add up over long periods of time to create larger changes. This doesn’t seem like a difficult idea. Then there’s a wonderful false equivalency regarding human beings evolving superpowers, etc.

Ironically, all of the arguments presented by this blogger fall exactly in line with the very arguments that the original post dealt with: absolutely none of them deal with objective fact. Instead, what I get the pleasure of dealing with is someone quibbling with me over definitions and whether science requires faith. It especially went sour when this person claimed that only creationists have the clarity of mind to be objective about the world, and that scientists have to do mental gymnastics to make sense of the world.

I don’t know how to deal with that. And more importantly, I don’t know why I should have to. I feel that by just engaging this person’s ridiculous ideas and beliefs, I’m automatically validating them. And I’m not supporting bad ideas anymore just for the sake of being tolerant and open minded. I’ll debate the facts behind a concept or idea with someone gladly. But no longer will I allow this blog to be a platform for sneaky rhetoric, blatant scientific inaccuracies, or biblical arguments.

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Some new rules moving forward

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Now that I’ve started to post about religion again, I feel like I need to lay down some ground rules. First, I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone. Everyone is entitled to their own feelings, beliefs, and values, and I will always try to respect them even if I don’t agree with them.

On that same token, since I’m included in “everyone” that means that I, too, am free to believe and value whatever I want. This blog is a means for me to share my thoughts. Sometimes they may evolve as I continue to learn and grow. But they may not. And you may not agree or like them. And that’s fine.

But I will no longer spend time on this blog arguing with people, and I will no longer spend any time on this blog justifying my views or beliefs to anyone who disagrees with them. We can disagree with each in a mutually respectful way and that will be that. You can continue on with your beliefs and views and I with mine. And that’s perfectly fine. My intention with this blog isn’t to convert people or change anyone’s mind. It’s simply to air my own thoughts and complaints.

Feel free to not read things if you feel so inclined. And if you do feel inclined to respond to something I have written feel free to do so. I will not close down comments or block people or censor things in any way. If you do choose to leave a comment, I will thoughtfully consider it and respond in some fashion. But no longer will I enter into circular arguments with people, and no longer will I try to justify to another person the way I feel. If you want to thoughtfully and respectfully question something I have written or believe, I will try to respond with equal thought and respect, so long as your intent is to genuinely try and understand me and what I’ve written better…NOT to proselytize, tell me I’m an idiot, tell me I’m wrong (unless I’ve made a factual error–in which case feel free to fact check me) or otherwise antagonize me. Such actions only serve to waste my time, your time, and the time of my readers.

Thank you. Now let’s move on.