What Gary Johnson Should Have Said About Aleppo

Photo from Haaretz There’s an old saying that war is God’s way of teaching geography to Americans. These days, even that may not be enough. Now, because of Gary Johnson’s Aleppo gaffe, that city has become a little more familiar to most Americans than it was a few weeks ago. But, what’s truly regrettable about his embarrassing moment is that it puts us deeper in the dark. The media had a feast with it, and continued to neglect the conversations we need to have. Aleppo became a story with no moral… I was rooting for Johnson to get … Continue reading →

Cracking the Nutshell on Free Will by Percent

Dolors, the physicist/mathematician/philosopher who posts as Cracking the Nutshell on YouTube, publishes more content than I can regularly follow, but this morning I watched one that was so good, I felt motivated to comment. She’s also a respectful critic of Sam Harris. We need more of those. Here’s the comment: Great quote from Carl Jung at 10:26… “I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” You also made a point that I’ve always thought needs to be amplified. People who use language like “I had no choice” are excusing themselves for behaving … Continue reading →

Bill Maher vs Bill Kristol: Is the Tea Party Racist?

During a Facebook conversation in the wake of Bill Kristol’s appearance on Bill Maher, one of my Frisbee buddies liked my take on the Tea Party. I reposted it on Bill Maher’s page. I think it’s a huge mistake to dismiss the Tea Party as bunch of racist buffoons. It may be easy to get a laugh by playing on caricatures of demon racists, but you overlook the real meaning and threats of the movement when you do so. There’s no denying that racist buffoons have appeared under the Tea Party tent. So have scores of Bible-thumping fanatics … Continue reading →

We the People

The aspiration embodied in the statement “We the people” cast a long shadow in American and human history. William O. Douglas was very savvy in using the term “penumbras” to describe the extension of rights delineated in the Bill of Rights. That same extensive power fortifies the American and now global tradition of demanding the power and legitimacy of self-government. “We” is an expressly inclusive word, and a potent tool for those who are seeking to excise vestigial legacies of exclusion. In response to a thread on Facebook. … Continue reading →

Response to Anything But Human

Old attitudes die hard, and especially the one about humans beings possessing properties that can’t be explained by biological evolution. A good example appeared recently at “The Stone,” a soap box for distinguished philosophers provided by The New York Times. Richard Polt insists that to be human is to be more than an animal, and certainly not a machine. I’m sympathetic to his latter concern, of course, but decidedly at odds with the first, so I wrote a response. This is the original version, which I cut down to fit within the NYT length limit. (It mentions a … Continue reading →

Bill Keller Stands for Sanity

Bill Keller, managing editor of the New York Times, took a stand for sanity in an article concerning the importance of asking the current crop of GOP presidential candidates about their professed faith. I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon (the text, not the Broadway musical) or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country. It matters to me whether a president respects serious science and verifiable history — in short, belongs to what an official in a previous administration once scornfully described as … Continue reading →

Scot Atran on Why War Is Never Really Rational

Thoughtful and cogent stuff from Scott Atran, as usual. (At Huffington Post) I wonder what he has to say about William James’ reflections on the “Moral Equivalent of War.” As I recall, the upshot of that famous article gets at the importance of feeling “owned by” an anchoring concept greater than oneself, and that concept is typically the charter myth (or charter Truth) of a group. My own take on this is that the most passionately governing ur-rule for humans is the desire to be aligned with “Truth.” For the rationalists among us, that rule would seem to … Continue reading →

On Consciousness on Quora

I’ve been playing with Quora recently. It’s a crowd-sourced Q&A site… intriguingly slick, but a let down so far. They should talk to me about how to combine queued vetting, ranked choice voting, and coalescent bubbling. In any case, the culture there encourages long form essays on sophisticated topics, so I’ve tried a few, including my answer to “What is Consciousness?” Here’s the text I posted… Proposed definition: Consciousness is the animating function of a living being that enables integration of sensory experience in support of informed decision making and autonomous behavior. The power of consciousness over choice … Continue reading →