Modern Day Milgram

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In 1961, Yale psychologist, Stanley Milgram, developed an experiment to test how people would react to authority.  In his test, he set up a device that simulated an electric shock that was delivered to people (“learner”) who incorrectly answered questions that were asked by a “teacher”.  The “teacher” was actually the test subject and the person being shocked was an actor who suffered no damage because there was no actual shock.

As the “learner” answered each question incorrectly, the “teacher”would increase the power of the shock.  At 150 volts, the “learner” began to cry out that he had a heart problem and he wasn’t feeling well.  At that point, the test subject had a choice to continue despite the increasing complaints or to stop despite incessant urging from the person leading the experiment who sat right next to them.

An entire 45 minute documentary can be found here. To save you a little time, I’ll tell you that 65% of the “teachers” (26 of 40) went all the way to 450 volts despite the cries of the “learner”.  So, they continued to inflict pain on another human being for the sole reason that an authority figure told them to do so.

Of course, there were a lot of questions about the ethics of this experiment and that the all of the test subjects were white men, but, hey, that was the 1960’s for you. But it does make one ponder the impact of authority over a person and whether or not they will give up their morality, their sense of right and wrong, if they are told to do so.  Obvious connections to Nazi soldiers were made in this experiment which was actually the point to begin with.

In this day and age, are we subject to the same drive – to please an authority figure to the degree that we would shun responsibility for hurting another human being?

In 2006, there was the famous Mount Washington Strip Search scam where a prank caller called a fast food restaurant posing as a police office and convinced a pair of adults to strip search a teenager and then engage in sexual molestation. The adults never even saw the actual person giving them instructions to demean and abuse this underage girl, yet they did it anyway.

Now, expand that a thousand-fold and think to yourself how similar distasteful and potentially illegal acts could be performed by unwilling people if they were commanded by a President or other elected official.  How about if someone like the Pope or some other high-ranking religious official told you to do something you would normally find abhorrent?  Would you toss away your own personal morals and ethics to please that authority figure?

Would you?

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Joel Osteen is a Douche

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Ask me why I’m an atheist and I can cite a bunch of reason why, but one of them is because of the snake-oil salesmen like Peter Popoff and Joel Osteen that preach to loving masses who empty their wallets for them.  What the believers get in return is nothing more than stolen wisdom.

With the disaster of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Osteen had the doors to his church closed until there was a public outcry.  He claimed it was flooded, but it seemed a little peculiar to me that he suddenly had a change of heart and let the flooded few into his palace.  His ultimate excuse was that no one asked. Hence, Joel Osteen is a douche.

This is the guy who is quoted as saying:

We need to show mercy. I mean, because as much mercy as you show people, that’s the mercy you’re going to be receiving.

Apparently, mercy needs to be requested by the city of Houston before it is granted.  It’s not enough that a natural disaster that expels people out of their homes, kills loved ones, and destroys the lives of hundreds of thousands that mercy needs to be given.  In Osteen’s view, it needs to be asked for.

He also said “If you give, you will be blessed.”  Apparently, that only applies to the people who dump cash in his pocket and not to him.  Douche.

 

We Are Not a Puddle

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The picture above is of a puddle.  It was formed by the simple act of water, either rain or some other means, of filling in a hole.  See how it fits snugly in the hole?  Well, guess what?  That hole was not created for that puddle any more than the Universe was created for us.

For some who cling to religion, they believe that the Universe was “fine tuned” for human beings and that that fact proves that an Intelligent Designer exists.  Well, I dispute that and state unequivocally that we are just not that important. In fact, human beings have existed for mere seconds in the span of time, so if the Universe was made for us, then we should have come by long, long ago.

You can also drill down further to just the Earth.  If our lovely planet was “designed” just for us, then why is most of it inhospitable to our life form?  Our blue marble is 71% water, in which we cannot survive.  Of the land that remains, we cannot survive extreme heat or cold.  So, deserts and the poles are off-limits.

What about space?  In our solar system alone, only one planet has human life.  All the others are either too hot or too cold, and none of them have the atmosphere we need to survive.  We just could not breathe.  Breathing is, um, necessary.

Outside of our solar system, we have discovered around 3500 planets, none of which we can even get to quite yet.  And, of those 3500, it is estimated that only around 30 of them are ones that we are optimistic about when it comes to supporting human life.

So, how “fine tuned” is this Universe for us, really?

 

I Want to be a Tardigrade

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(Credit image to atronoo.com)

Look at that little guy up there.  That is the tardigrade, which is also known as the “water bear” or “moss piglet”.  They are virtually immune to heat and cold and can even survive in space for a brief period of time.  I want to be a tardigrade and so should you. After all, they will be the last creatures on earth.  They will be there to shut the lights out or watch as the sun’s light flickers into complete and utter darkness – or a huge explosion that pretty much incinerates everything for millions of miles.

They will be here when the floodwaters come.  When you have an ice shelf twice the size of Luxemburg fall off into the ocean, you need to be a little concerned. That piece of ice is so big, we actually need to redraw maps.  But, the tardigrade don’t care.  He’ll be around.

If a comet or asteroid crashes into the planet, that’s not a problem for the water bear. He’ll just keep on truckin’.

If the apocalypse comes this time, for realsies, the tardigrade don’t give a flying fuck.  He’ll still be here doing what he does…tardigrading, I guess.

Tardigrades are meant to adapt to any environment.  They can live in boiling water and radiation.  Meanwhile, humans will still try to adapt to the planet we continue to destroy even though the Defense Department says that climate change is a direct national security threat. Yet, we are gutting the EPA and pulled out of the Paris Accord.  Our President has stated that Climate Change is a Chinese hoax.

The planet will be here long after we’re done, folks.  Eventually, we will run out of tricks and all that will be left is the tardigrade.  Bully for us.

Agnotology: We Are So Ignorant…

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Apparently, we are so ignorant, that there is actually an “ology” to study exactly how ignorant we are and how that ignorance is used against us. In fact, there is a whole book on it called “Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance” by Robert N. Proctor and Londa Schiebinger. Proctor actually coined the term. Hooray!

The definition of agnotology, as per Wikipedia, is “the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.”

What does it say about our culture that we have a whole study on how incredibly gullible we are?  The storm of “fake news” has made us gun shy in trying to find the truth and the age of the internet is leading us down rabbit holes filled with traps – by our own design.

While Trump continues to use our ignorance against us and for him, his supporters don’t seem to mind.  His approval rating went up two points since his meeting with Vladimir Putin. Yeah, Vladimir Putin – the guy responsible for interfering in our 2016 election by using hackers to mislead the American public.  Trump supporters in Michigan believe that the Russia investigation is fake news. I wonder what these people thought of Clinton and Nixon.

What’s sad is that this assault on our intelligence is working.  During his campaign, Trump stated that he loved “the poorly educated”.  And he should since they voted for him. Exit polls showed whites without a college degree voted overwhelmingly for Trump by a margin of 67-28. The question is – what does this bode for the American public?

Sadly, I see one direction if we cannot shake out the sillies.  Idiocracy.  Sorry, folks, but we’re heading in that direction.

I’m an Atheist and So Are You

Atheism

(Graphic courtesy of sickchirpse.com)

For those of you who know me, you know I am an atheist.  I simply do not believe in a god or gods.  That’s essentially what an atheist is, but some folks think it’s much more and I just want to take a few moments to clear things up for you.

Theism is the claim that a god exists – it can be the Christian god, the Jewish god, the Islamic god, the Hindu gods, the Norse gods, whatever.  Atheism is not a claim that none of these gods exist, it is merely the rejection that they do based on the evidence. Atheism, by and large, makes no claims at all and, in fact, many atheists will say that they would believe in a deity if sufficient evidence was presented to them.  It’s not an epistemological (knowledge) claim like agnosticism which states that someone doesn’t know if a god exists or that it can never truly be known if a god exists. There’s a big difference there.

Picture a closed pantry door.  Some dude comes up to you and says that the pantry is stocked with Double Stuff Oreos.  The atheist says “I don’t believe you. Show me the evidence” while the agnostic says “The door is locked, so we’ll never know and I’m frankly not sure.”  The theist would say “I don’t need to open the door; I’ll just have faith.”  To confuse you, the agnostic atheist would say, “I don’t think we’ll ever know if there are Oreos in there and, quite frankly, I don’t believe there are based on the evidence you provided, dude.” See the difference?

Everyone, at some point, fits into one of those categories at one time or another.  Christians believe in their god, but they do not believe in the Hindu gods.  That makes them atheists in that respect. You will hear famous atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins elaborate on this argument simply by saying that we are all atheists, except I believe in one less god than you do.

So, you may only be one step away.

 

 

Frum vs. Trump: Simplicity vs. Simpleton

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In case you don’t know who David Frum is, he is a conservative commentator and former speech writer for GW Bush.  Let’s just state for the record that I am not a fan of David Frum’s ideology, but I do respect his intelligence and the way he presents his case.  I also love the way he has rejected Trump as not only a non-conservative that threatens his party’s values, but as an entity that threatens American values.  In Sam Harris’s latest podcast, Frum brilliantly states this case for even the simplest among us. I’m even advocating for you to follow his Twitter feed, which is chock full of daily affirmations that the Trump presidency is a disaster for America.

What I like about his commentary, as I mentioned, is that he simplifies the issues in a nice, neat package and one-lines them so that they are easy to digest.  He understands the long-term implications and, can easily relate them fairly to previous administrations.  For example, he will state that he never voted for Obama and never would, but he at least saw him as a man of integrity.  In Trump, he sees no such thing.

He also sends a clearer, more hopeful message – that we can have intelligent debates about policy and ideology by discussing facts and by being mature; we can talk about issues without being tribal and over protective of our egos. This is an important message especially for all of those conservatives who got on the gold-plated Trump train and are now heading off the cliff they see coming miles away.  They probably figure Trump can make a deal with gravity.  That’s how dug in they are.

I would love to get back to a time and place where that can happen again, but I only see it getting worse in the future and I blame it on our short attention spans and our love for reality TV.  We no longer like to think for ourselves and think critically about anything.  We just want information fed to us and we want to lay back, be simpletons, and let the Idiocracy take over. Sad!