Perlustrating Asseverations: Karma

“I reckon karma’s definitely real”

Karma, in the contemporary West, is often defined as a belief which holds that: what goes around, comes around. Evidence for karma can be found in the fleeting moments when people find that when they feed someone else’s parking metre or hold a door open for an elderly person, that a pleasant surprise of equal magnitude often comes their way. The converse (i.e.evil actions incur bad luck for the doer) is also often reported. But basing an entire model of the universe on occasional undocumented examples of fairly workaday happenings deserves further scrutiny; an extrapolation of this curious rewards scheme should provide some insight as to its feasibility.

From a scan of the literature there seems to be no clear measure of how “good” or “bad” an action is, which makes it difficult to know exactly how deeds are repaid. Are rewards proportional to the size of the act or do you only get rewards for small acts? If so, why bother with large scale philanthropy? Do you get a uniform reward no matter what the good deed? Again, why bother with large kindnesses? If this weak karma hypothesis is true, then the universe seems to have devised a uniquely poor incentive structure for good deeds.

Worse is if the corollary is true and punishments are similarly non-linear in their relation to bad deeds. For if a heinous act of butchery incurs the same bad luck as littering, then clearly the universe has set up a moral hazard whereby the Konys of this world can slaughter people with impunity while merely having to suffer through a lifetime of butter-side-down toast accidents and birds shitting on their newly washed jeeps.

Of course, the system may be linear, with the lack of correlation being explained by us having incomplete information. Perhaps Bill Gates’ incredible largesse is rewarded handsomely by a lifetime of tantric orgasms, which would explain the characteristic reticence of the CEO: the lucky devil struggles to talk much, being in a state of constant sexual paroxysm. More worryingly the strong karma hypothesis implies that those people suffering horribly are perpetrators of equally shocking cruelty getting their just deserts. Happily this means we don’t have to feel bad for these “victims”. Now that we know the karmically efficient universe is simply punishing the worst, we can step back and applaud justice being done. The woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo who gets raped to death by a machete was previously the object of our pity but, assuming karma is in operation, we should celebrate the punishment of someone who must have committed even worse atrocities herself — her violent, disgusting death should be celebrated as a righteous vindication of cosmic justice.

If karma applies universally, then the connections are impossible to comprehend; if karma is applied randomly, then it is in fact indistinguishable from the randomness it seeks to abjure. The rules aren’t clear and so it is not a game one can play intelligently to maximise the good in the world. However, karma is not all bad. The belief justifies the lavishing of praise on vapid celebrities and financiers for their assumed good deeds; and the spitting in the face of those necessarily evil African AIDS victims – perfectly suiting the affection of the hemisphere that barstadised it.

Q.E.D.

Letter From Planet Earth: Nuclear Weapons

Hey Gzorgax,

Apologies that this is an email; I didn’t have time to write a snail-mail letter this week. But at least I can include some links below to some hilarious shit on YouTube. Also, I’ve CCd in your mate Klangvar who I know wanted those links to the “pinata accident” vids. They’re pretty awesome. XD

Anyway you probs want to know how that Kony thing panned out in the end. Um, quick summary: dude who started it flipped and went all Lady Godiva on our arses; started messing with his own junk on the street in broad daylight; movement now discredited; people back to not thinking about tortured Africans.

I’d give you more but I’ve been pretty stressed this week, thinking about even bigger problems. That North Korea country I’ve mentioned before (the one with the constitution written by George Orwell) has long range missiles ready to point at Australia and may soon have more nuclear capabilities too. FML.

This will only add to the set of nations that have weapons capable of destroying whole cities. Moreover, at least two of those nations have automated systems which mean as soon as a missile is launched against them they will initiate a massive counter strike; this cascade effect of nuclear missile launches would precipitate a short lived war and a resultant clouding of the atmosphere that would destroy civilisation and most of the biosphere. It probably sounds like I’ve gone all preachy and that I should let others deal with it, but just hold off until I tell you our method of prevention.

There isn’t one. The fact of mutually assured destruction is what is supposed to stop mutually assured destruction. Proponents of MAD as a deterrent actually point out that no missiles have ever been launched, deliberately or even accidentally. It’s superb rhetoric because there really hasn’t been a single instance of a nuclear holocaust since the advent of MAD, or before.

But then again, right up until the instant of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, there hadn’t been a single case of dropping nuclear bombs before. The entire course of human history had been the story of not-dropping bombs on Hiroshima. In fact, prior to 1945 every single person on Earth had been constantly not dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima. And even including Nagasaki, if we take averages over time, we have been dropping atomic bombs so infrequently in the last few thousand years that it rounds down to zero. 😉

And now, as we approach the Earth’s 4.5 billionth anniversary of not having nuclear wars, judging MAD solely in terms of whether it has prevented nuclear annihilation happening or not, it has an effectiveness rate of 100%… Which will drop quite a lot, in fact right down to 0%, if a single missile is ever launched. That’s the problem with using only past events to make predictions of the future.

As you can imagine for a problem of this magnitude, it is widely ignored. Frankly, as a trope, the Earth is bored by the hackneyed idea of nuclear winter; we’re much more interested in vampires, tapas and microblogging, all of which are massive on your planet too so there must be something in them.

Anyway dude, chat soon. Oh, and keep sending me those links to “Shit Gliese 667 People Say” — total lolocaust.

Jamie.

This article originally appeared in Woroni in 2012.

Perlustrating Asseverations: Socialism

“Socialism just hasn’t been done right yet.”

Socialism can be broadly defined as an approach to politics and economics which favours the production of goods for the good of society as a whole; it locates the ills of society in the acquisitive goal of private property, the chaos of the free market and the harmful effects of the division of labour; it is still a significant part of left-wing politics, but found its most eloquent expression in Marx and its practical culmination in the stillborn communist revolutions of the 20th century — supporters maintain it just hasn’t been done right yet, and hasn’t had a chance to fulfil its potential.

Socialism does sound like a more agreeable and egalitarian economic system over the profit-driven capitalist system. However, based on historical data, the hatching of a socialist state will involve much bloodshed. If someone thinks socialism is still worth one more try, then they are asserting that the benefit to the inhabitants of a new socialist society is worth, if not the cumulative total of all deaths from past attempts at socialist utopias (approx. 100 million people), then at least the historical average amount of citizens you need to kill to get one going.

If we include the socialism-inspired experiments of the USSR, China, Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia and the countries in the Eastern Bloc, then we find it’s normally about 19% of the population that needs to die, in order to benefit — in a generous estimate — 80% of the survivors. The 19% fatality allowance is a curious limit considering the typical anti-violence stance of the Left.

Let’s consider another issue close to the hearts of people on the left: capital punishment. It has long been held that no one should be killed by the state, not even if it would remove convicted killers (the bad eggs) from society. This would correspond to a 0% threshold of government murders, literally infinitely less than the 19% rate of government murders socialists give themselves for their revolution, surely a miscarriage of justice.

Applying the threshold to a smaller scale, if the father of a family of six has the bright idea of a fairer, more socialist system of pocketmoney for the children, the observing socialist must be OK with the summary execution of one of the children during the family meeting at breakfast. Perhaps the father could explain the recent death of the child’s sibling as the necessity of “breaking eggs to make omelettes”; this would be more easily explained if they were eating omelettes at the time.

In the spirit of egalitarianism, we should also be fair among government types. This would mean that democracy is owed many, many more murders in order to improve itself. Perhaps Barack Obama, leader of the world’s most iconic free-market democracy, should have the power to personally dole out murder to improve the nation. Such a rampage could only damage his reputation in the eyes of those who already believe him to be a socialist — or those who believe states shouldn’t murder people. However, socialists’ super-moral stance allows them the tolerance to look past the scramble of Obama’s rampage and the resulting mountain of dead countryman he stands atop rather than abort their beliefs for a better future. Ironically, this brings us to the highest death quota the Left accept: the paradigm case of abortion, with a ratio of one death for only two lives improved.

Q.E.D

To see the calculations for this article and to see what your threshold of slaughter would be, an interactive spreadsheet can be found at: http://goo.gl/Mt848

Letter From Planet Earth: Mummy Wars

Dear Gzorgax

I want to tell you about the mummy wars: a debate over what women should do when human couples produce offspring. Historically, in such cases the young infant has been taken care of by the female, while the male has continued working full-time. More recently women have entered the workforce more fully and have become as interested in their careers as men always have been. Understandably, they’ve struggled to reconcile this choice between work and motherhood.

Men have cleverly solved this problem for eons by feigning  — or actually — being useless in the home, so that even when liberal parents have that discussion about who will bow out of the workforce to raise the kid, it’s still normally the female who does — either that or the parents pay a less wealthy female to do it for them.

So why don’t men just muck in and raise the kids half the time? Well dear friend, on top of the history of female oppression and the devaluing of work on the domestic front there’s also good old biology. Biology is the Earth name for life sciences, a discipline which we use to inform our knowledge of all living things, except humans. Well, we use it whenever we need pharmaceuticals, but we ignore it in studying human interactions. It’s considered politically incorrect in many circles to claim that, on average, there are biologically determined behavioural differences between men and women. Because women obviously deserve equal rights, one way to assert those rights is to say women are equal to men, because they are actually the same and any perceived differences are a result of cultural forces shaped by patriarchy.

How could this possibly be true? Consider that there are obviously biologically determined differences between individuals. Now you could still say that despite this, the two groups, men and women are the same, but only if for every woman there is one and only one equivalent man, so that the two groups act like two sets with corresponding elements, much like a mathematical function. It’s an interesting idea, but it also relies on one of these man–woman pairs being born and in turn dying in perfect unison, to maintain the exact global equipoise of men and women as identical groups.

So I love the idea of battling the mummy wars by having men become stay at home dads — I think men should do it half the time. But is it likely to happen? I don’t know Gzorgax, I’m just a male and though I never claimed to be average, statistically speaking I have a brain that’s better at interpreting systems rather than human emotions, I have ten times as much testosterone as a woman and I get paid more money for doing the same work too. Why is it so hard to convince chaps like me to raise kids? Hopefully, now that gay people are increasingly allowed to have kids, they’ll simply outbreed us heteros and solve the whole problem.

Yours earthily,

Jamie.

This article originally appeared in Woroni in 2012.

Perlustrating Asseverations: Love

“There is a soulmate out there for me.”

The concept of the “soulmate” is well known and all but ubiquitous in modern culture. But can this actually be true?

Soulmates must be paired, if not and if love is distributed randomly in a non-reciprocal way, everyone would be attracted to someone who is attracted to someone else. This would result in a worldwide unrequited love polygon with seven billion sides. Thus, true love is commutative and goes both ways. Let’s explore its other mathematical properties: couples are inverses; a love operation is unlikely to be transitive, as wives rarely sleep with their husband’s mistresses; and associativity is true in Mormon families — the world is an Abelian love group.

Such one-to-one matching immediately raises a few problems. The world must be made up of pairs of people which would require the world’s population to always be an even number. Also, there are more men than women in the world so there cannot be a perfect one-to-one soulmate matching. Perhaps homosexuality is the key; with male homosexuality being more common, male/male soulmates cancel out the numerical advantage. This zero-sum game could mean that that the increase in reported homosexuality around the world is the direct consequence of female infanticide in developing countries. Thus the splash of a bag containing a female baby in a Chinese river causes ripples through a home-birth pool as two queer babies disgorge into a modern Californian family.

But does everyone have a soulmate? If so, then even history’s greatest villains had a chance at true love that would be the envy of many people. Obviously Hitler had Eva Braun, but did Dr Mengele find true love on the run in Argentina or while performing experiments on Jewish Hungarian twins? Did Herr Fritzl find his true love in a basement in Austria, or is he still searching?

And does everyone always have one soulmate? It’s tempting to believe one will receive a new soulmate when a young love is unfortunately killed by accident and you never had a chance to meet, but then everyone else in the world is accounted for too. So when old Ethel kicks the bucket, is Albert left to make the short walk across the hospital hallway from palliative care to trawl the maternity ward for his freshly allocated soulmate?

If one is still convinced, one would need to get smart with their method of finding their mate. There is no way to explore a sexually and intellectually satisfying relationship with enough people to make it likely to find The One just by dating your way through the several billion potentials. The only way to even get noticed by enough potential suitors is to become very famous very quickly. This would be difficult and is typically achieved only by rock stars, minority presidents, Hitler and terrorists. The simplest option would be the latter; a short career as leader of an Islamo-Fascist terrorist cell could bring you to global infamy very quickly. You need not worry that you would alienate your mate, as they must love you (even Eva loved Adolf despite his temper). As a bonus, if the CIA hit squad got to you before your soulmate did, you would at least be guaranteed 72 virgins in heaven. Because the virgins are merely paradisiacal constructs, they’d Lie outside the Abelian love group. Sex with these virgins would not provide closure of your failed mission for your soulmate, but they’d be souls with whom you could mate for eternity.

Q.E.D.

Letter From Planet Earth: Epistemology

Dear Gzorgax

So the other day I saw an interview with a very kindly, warm-hearted woman who claimed to have survived inoperable cancer by praying to Mary Mackillop: a long dead Earthling organism whose remains are now presumably so decomposed that barely a fragment of what was previously her living self remains and therefore one of the least qualified people to do anything to affect another person’s biological health.

You might be wondering what help or counselling we are offering this clearly harmless, but delusional or stupid lady who believes in such, as it were, rot. None. In fact, the interviewer didn’t question her extraordinary claim at all. You might further wonder why the remainder of the news program and the remainder of the news week weren’t devoted to this extraordinary discovery of several magical processes which invalidate most of the claims about the universe on which you and I base our actions every day.

Well, Gzorgax, on our planet we have an interesting relationship to knowledge about the world, which I’ll try and outline as simply as I can. When knowledge is very well established, through experiment, data collection, peer-review, etc., like the claim that the Earth is getting warmer owing to post-industrial age human activity, we approach with incredulity. In fact in such cases of near unanimity of opinion among the very people who have learnt the most about the topic, we make sure to give equal credence to dissenting, ill-informed voices, in some bizarre obeisance to favouring even pathological scepticism. Which is fine I guess.

But we relax a little bit when talking about something where there is some written, historical record of events, intermingled with obvious confabulation. Take, say, Islam, which is a system of belief founded by a middle ages warlord who shagged a nine year old girl and who claimed to speak regularly to a god no one else could hear or was even allowed to claim to be able to hear, lest they be slaughtered by armies of that selfsame child-statutory-rapist. In such cases we challenge adherents only when they go too far and actually put their beliefs into practice by killing non-believers.

The least amount of scepticism is reserved for those who profess to believe in stories of creation which aren’t even written down and based on historical record, but are instead oral traditions of indigenous peoples. In such cases, because of a mix of condescension, respect and guilt for wrecked cultures, we generally don’t judge these claims at all, despite their obvious status as sub-standard fairy tales rather than coherent ontologies.

You might be worried that our civilisation is on the verge of collapse because we employ this reverse burden of proof for claims based on an inverse relationship to how much evidence the claimant can furnish. But luckily we have a failsafe called “hypocrisy” which means that people don’t actually believe any of this fluff and live their lives as if we live in a causal universe based on scientific laws and not mumbojumbo. So even while they’re praying, they still see their doctors and take their medicine.

Yours earthily,

Jamie.

This article originally appeared in Woroni in 2012.

Perlustrating Asseverations: The Declaration of Independence

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This packet of asseverations is normally delivered by Americans but has been a ubiquitous liberal catechism for more than 200 years. For the sake of brevity, we address each claim in sequence as succinctly as we can.
1. Self-evident. This bold opening sees the authors claim access to a priori truths about the world, without gathering evidence from the world. It’s a brazen opening which defies the work of most analytic philosophy from the last three centuries. One could certainly request a bit more epistemological parsimony from messrs Jefferson et al.

2. Men are created equal. This first, allegedly “self-evident”, “truth” is evidently false. Men (and women) are created un-equally. Being created equal should strictly involve being identical in every way, an exceedingly rare condition which applies to very few pairs and occasional trios of people. A looser definition of “equal’ is also incorrect, as some people are born with congenital defects, diseases, mutations and often they’re born dead — hardly a state one would consider equal to those born live.

3. Men have unalienable rights to life, liberty. A review of the literature quite quickly shows that men’s rights are alienable, if not morally then at the very least legally. Children, committed people, sub-functional cretins, people in comas and those who abnegate their rights every time they strap on a gimp mask and go hell for leather without a safety word are all examples of people relinquishing their allegedly inalienable rights. This fact should have been particularly evident in 1776. To wit, whereas some people were born as descendants of wealthy plantation operating slave owners, such as Thomas Jefferson, and therefore born with massive inheritances and the right to vote and not be molested, others were born as descendants of slaves who worked on said plantations and who could not vote and were molested.

5. Pursuit of happiness. A point of clarification here: this right is also clearly not unalienable, but even if it was the Declaration doesn’t further specify that we will be unimpeded in this pursuit. But is this a right worth mentioning? Have we not also the right to pursue a near infinite list of other states of being too? We find this claim to be, if true, trivial in its consequences.

6. There is a Creator. The entire passage assumes there is an agential, capitalised force which has endowed people with the above rights. Not only is there no evidence to demonstrate the existence of this god, there is also, as we have seen, evidence to demonstrate that even if he did exist, he was singularly inept at endowing people with unalienable rights. We find, therefore, that at best this Creator is a rhetorical flourish from the deistic authors, at worst an impotent demi-god who exists but can’t even uphold said rights, something which is relatively easy for Earthly judiciaries and legislatures, despite their general incompetence.

We propose a more sober rewrite might go something like:

We hold these postulations to be well supported by evidence, that very few men or women are created equally (identical twins excepted) and that they are endowed by natural evolutionary processes with highly developed prefrontal cortices providing them the capacity to appreciate abstract concepts such as justice and liberty and that being cognizant of these concepts might frequently lead to them wanting to assert some claim to unmolested furtherance of them via rights to life, liberty and the (in all likelihood, unsuccessful) pursuit of subjective states of well-being.

Q.E.D.

Perlustrating Asseverations: Extrapolation

“Proving statements wrong by extrapolating them to extremes is an ironic way to disprove silly beliefs.”

Ideas are often argued against by extrapolating them to serious, damaging conclusions. For instance: if you allow two men to be married, then eventually you’d have to allow polygamous marriage, then bestial marriage — these worrying endpoints, when contrasted with the originally innocuous proposition, make the original sound unreasonable. The argument is also referred to as a “slippery slope”.

The problem with a slippery slope argument is that it is only just an informal fallacy because it takes deduction too far. If A causes B, then B causes C, then by deduction A causes C — so runs the classic formulation. However, if A, B, and C are as different as the three possibilities of marriage described above, the deductive links are too tenuous for the argument to hold. The true conclusion is more likely to be some middle ground, which can be more accurately determined from some related situational precedents.

There are other problems with extrapolation; indeed, if everyone extrapolated in this way all the time, the simplest interaction would immediately become problematic. A simple coffee order in a cafe may result in a statement on the implications of the purchase and how it may benefit the local economy, but then would make the outrageous leap to consider the effects on the global economy — perhaps with notions of unfair trade and other topics uninteresting to the barista, or the purchaser’s friends, who must endure the dubious extrapolation politely. The extrapolator may even incorporate other nonsense concepts like socialism or — more idiotically — karma, in a barrage of wordy, extraneous philosophising.

Inevitably in such a situation, one of the hitherto patient friends would soon break and comment on how the purchaser should “lighten up” and then extrapolate and claim the purchaser’s views will lead to enviro-nazism and fanaticism. The ineluctable conclusion would be a bloody battle, using coffee cups smashed on the edges of tables as weapons. Invariably, a stray gouged-out eye here, or an arterial spurt of blood there, would cause a disruption to the neighbouring table, forcing them to take up arms, wielding teaspoons and hardened biscotti, as they too follow the slippery slope towards mass carnage, closing with inappropriate Latin acronyms as they scald the faces of their interlocutors with reasonably hot cappuccino.

The conflict would soon escalate to a war in which the enamel weapons have been traded in for real guns. News reporters, if they hadn’t already succumbed to stroke and aneurysm from the sensationalism in this world, would soon report on this horrific global, bloody battle, now disrupting the very world economy whose imperfections were first critiqued so innocently at an ANU coffee shop. What began as a simple extrapolation of an assertion, ends in an example of the same unverifiable, hypothetical consequences redolent of the speculative deductions made in everything from climate modelling, to economic forecasts and even Kantian ethics.

Ideally, people would not wantonly extrapolate all the time and instead approach reasonable compromises. Such reconciliations, unfortunately, are not always possible. Some sentiments, for instance yes/no statements, overextended claims to truth, or blind religious beliefs, have no middle ground; and some of these have no real world precedents to examine either. In such cases deduction, ridiculous or not, serves as a valid criticism of these ridiculous asseverations.

Q.E.D.

The blog of Jamie Freestone and Mathew McGann