Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Big Issues: We Need to Hear More from Sam Harris About Guns

In my last post, I pleaded for Americans to have a real conversation about guns after Newtown. Predictably perhaps, I have been despairing since as that conversation again failed to achieve any kind of sentience. Then, on Wednesday night, almost out of nowhere, one of my intellectual heroes came through with what may yet be the most courageous and important piece of commentary on “The Riddle of the Gun”.

Sam Harris is a writer who regularly receives death threats for courageously upending the worldviews of the majority of the world's population, yet I suspect that "The Riddle of the Gun" may be his most courageous piece of writing to date. 

I have two reasons for crediting Sam's courage in writing this. The first is that he knows it will alienate many of his most loyal readers and will draw rebuttals from many of his allies - Sean Faircloth of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science was quick off the mark with this considered piece. The second reason requires an entire post to itself so I’ll come back to that soon. 

This post is dedicated to why I believe the "The Riddle of the Gun" is so important...

I believe that "The Riddle of the Gun" is important because around two thirds of its approximately 6,000 carefully selected words represent the most complete and understandable summary I've seen on “the case for guns in America". Sam is one of the most rational and eloquent Americans alive today. His words are always worth reading and this piece is no exception. I urge everyone to read them and to be challenged by them. I urge everyone to reflect upon his words as honestly and as rationally as Sam reflected while he wrote them.

Call me a hopeless optimist, but I want to believe that these 6,000 words are the beginning of the conversation that we’ve all been waiting for. We all know and respect Harris enough to know that if he continues to participate in that conversation, then his presence will draw in other qualified intellectuals. We know know that he will debate politely and rationally. He will hear polite, rational, and honest responses to his case. He will reflect rationally and respond honestly and politely to them, drawing further qualified and respectful contributors to the conversation.

Ranting ideologues on both sides of the debate will be excised, and the parts of Sam’s argument that are robust enough to withstand sustained intellectual scrutiny will prevail. Where his position is shown to be lacking, he will expand, or he will concede.

I really want to believe that Sam Harris has at last sparked the conversationThe conversation that will leave Americans and the world with a better understanding of the many truths behind “the US gun problem”. The conversation that will leave individuals and policymakers across the political compass with actionable intelligence to shape a more sane future.

This conversation can never happen in the mainstream media, but Harris has started it in the blogosphere - It is possible that such a complex issue can be deconstructed fully by an engaged citizen media.

Thank you Sam Harris! I'll be watching, and hoping...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Big Issues: My 2 cents on Newtown CT

I haven't been blogging lately but I am sickened to the stomach by attempts to stop the conversation in the wake of yesterday's massacre, so I want to entrain my little corner of the Web to the avalanche of public outrage.

Yes, I understand why these dangerous fuckers want to stop the conversation, but I don't have time to scratch the surface of my thoughts on this whole armed civilian militia thing in the US...

Instead, I'm going to quickly respond to the gunnies who disingenuously claim that there is no point regulating guns in the US because massacres happen everywhere, even in highly regulated Norway.

Any rational person can see that this claim willfully misses the point. It misses the point because since Breivik, there has been a serious discussion in Norway about how to stop a similar crime from happening again. The Norwegian legal system has been consciously reconfiguring itself to deal with the new reality that there are seriously dangerous people at large in their midst. Norwegian society, and the Norwegian public psyche has been doing the same.

After Martin Bryant, a similar conversation led to a reconfiguration of the Australian legal system and of Australian society/psyche.

After Marc Dutroux a similar conversation led to a reconfiguration of the Belgian legal system and of Belgian society. (I admit that Dutroux was not a shooting massacre, but I could go on and on - I just picked those two examples because they are close to my heart, for obvious reasons.)

An open and honest (and yes, bloody emotional) public conversation is absolutely necessary at times like this! That conversation has been shouted down by NRA trolls and Tea Party crazies after every previous massacre in the US. Those children are dead today because the American legal system and American society has not managed to reconfigure itself, as it must. 

America, please have the conversation this time - please don't let those children's deaths be in vain.

President Obama - It is simply not possible for your side to lose votes on this issue, and as this picture demonstrates, it is really not hard to explain gun regulation to a rational person!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

World Changing Ideas: Occupy goes into debt

This week, our friends at Occupy Wall Street launched another paradigm changer to run in parallel with their amazing ongoing efforts to help the worst affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Consistent with their ideals of mutual aid rather than charity, Occupy Wall Street has just launched a Rolling Jubilee

What's a Rolling Jubilee? It is the next phase in a growing collective resistance movement against the debt system. (If you want to know what the "debt system" is, then you really need to read this amazing book by David Graeber [1], which will change the way that you view the world.)

From the Website:
A bailout of the people by the people
Rolling Jubilee is a Strike Debt project that buys debt for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting it, abolishes it. Together we can liberate debtors at random through a campaign of mutual support, good will, and collective refusal. Debt resistance is just the beginning. Join us as we imagine and create a new world based on the common good, not Wall Street profits.
What Occupy is doing is pretty much the same as many good capitalists do - They are raising money and using it to buy other people's debt.

The only difference is that instead of sending in the heavies to collect on the debt like good capitalists are supposed to do, they simply erase it. 

Gone... Just like that...

Their slogan is simply beautiful - “You are not a loan, you are not alone”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Who Picks the Winners in the Australian Electricity Market?

Last week, Reuters published an interesting piece about Australia's progress on renewable energy - For those who can't be bothered reading the article, I'll summarise it for you:
  • The Aussie government recently committed to generate at least 20% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020. To support this goal, it put in place a scheme called the Renewable Energy Target (RET).  
  • Although it is still early days for the RET, it appears to be working pretty bloody well. So well in fact, that we seem set to beat the 20% by 2020 target (perhaps even generating as much as 25%), if things continue.
  • Because of this success, "The Australian Coal Association (ACA) has argued that the RET should be abolished completely because it unfairly picks winners in the electricity market."
I do not intend to write another scathing post about the hypocrisy of the ACA's position - Blind Freddy can see that a highly profitable industry that still sucks billions of dollars from Australian taxpayers every year is taking the piss to argue that their competitors shouldn't help themselves to a small serve from their feeding trough…

I'll try not talk about the ACA at all actually, because I think it's time that Aussies started to talk about the big picture...

Australia is one of the richest countries on the planet and we have a tiny population. Our land abounds in Nature's (renewable energy) gifts. We have boundless plains on which to harvest solar, wind, and geothermal energy. For fuck's sake - hasn't anyone noticed that our home is girt by sea? Maybe we might look into some marine and ocean energy? 

Nature and history have picked the winners in the Aussie electricity market, not the RET!

What is wrong with Aussies these days that we just let the ACA get away with spouting that kind of crap? We should all march down there and tell them to shove it!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reductionism, Globalization and Faith

Sorry that I've been so down on religion lately, but to be honest, religion has not been showing its best side and so it has deserved a good scolding! In this more positive and helpful contribution to the blogosphere, I'll explore an idea that I hope we can agree on whether we are religious or not...

We must stop fighting each other over how life was created, and start fighting together to stop those destroying it...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Big Issues: Anyone up for a Game of End-Times Bingo?

I'm an avowed atheist, but apart from occasional lapses, I try to limit my anti-supernatualist "preaching" to light-hearted piss-taking of thick-skinned religious friends.

Wherever we sit within the many spectra of faith systems though, a conscious concern for Sustainable Human Flourishing forces reflection on the positives and negatives of religion… For me this is especially true at times like this when such madness is again on display in places like Cairo and Benghazi - insanity that has reached my adopted home of Belgium and even as far away as my erstwhile secular homeland of Australia. At times like this, I must pause to reflect on the potential for religious extremism to affect those that I love.

I have to say though, that while I consider religiously motivated terrorism to be a real danger, it seems a massively over-hyped threat when compared with two elephants that quietly share a room with today's most popular religions, specifically:

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Big Issues: Is Organic Food a Sham?

A good friend asked for my thoughts today about this Gawker report (about a USA Today article about a meta-study and a University of Oxford study) which claims that organic food is no better (and in some cases worse) than non-organic food.

I get variations on this theme all the time, so this time I have actually written my answer down for posterity and for future reference - I will also tell you definitively whether I believe that Gawker is correct in its conclusion of "Science Suggests That Organic Food Is Largely a Sham". 

First though, I will frame my response to this specific article with three four observations:
  1. (Edit) I believe that most studies, meta-studies, and popular discussion on the topic of "organic vs. conventional" miss the point entirely (including, disappointingly this recent TreeHugger article)
  2. As someone who aspires to live sustainably, I don't give a shit about "organic food". I only care about "sustainable food".
  3. As someone who aspires to live rationally, I trust scientists to report results correctly and factually, within the parameters of their study.
  4. For the same reason as 3) I do not trust USA Today to report scientists' results impartially.