Stopping The Insanity

Maria Santos Gorrostieta

I should begin by noting that I have never, ever taken an illicit drug in my life. Nor do I plan to.

I’ve been reading about the death of Maria Santos Gorrostieta, the 26 year-old former mayor of Tiquicheo, Mexico (smack dab in the middle of cartel country).  I remembered hearing about her taking over as mayor a few years ago.  She was only 21 years old at the time and a staunch opponent of the cartels.  I worried for

Gorrostieta was assailed and abducted on Novermber 17th as she was driving through town with her daughter.   Three days later, her burned and mutilated body was found in a field by farm workers.  It’s tragic.  There’s no debating that these cartels are motherfuckers; as evil as evil gets in this world.

It made reading about how she told her abductors she’d go willingly if they let her daughter go as heartbreaking as it was moving.

Gorrostieta showing the injuries she sustained in an assassination attempt in 2011.

Granted, Gorrostieta wasn’t your average cookie.  I mean, the cartels’ power is based entirely on butchery (and the constant threat of it).  Their severity and vindictiveness are all they have in lieu of legitimacy.  Their imperative is slaughter; to torture and kill any would-be heroes that dare to stand up to them.  Their survival depends on it.  In that light, along with  some of her statements and actions, it’s fair to say Mrs. Gorrostieta had a bit of a martyr complex. She played a role in creating a sort of inevitability to her death and likely would have done the same for another cause if the drug war didn’t exist.  So even though standing up to the cartels seems kinda suicidal to me, I don’t know that there is a better word than courage to describe it.

But no matter how premeditated or deliberate her heroism might have been, she is inarguably one of the good guys–a bonafide hero.

https://i0.wp.com/wac.450f.edgecastcdn.net/80450F/nj1015.com/files/2012/05/BILLBOARD.jpgThe problem here–the only problem here–the cause of her death and many, many more is this stupid, violent, exploitative, wasteful, obtuse, impossible, unwinnable, unjustifiable, mind-numbingly counter-productive War on Drugs.  It boils my blood.  50, 000 people have been killed by the cartels in the last 6 years alone.   The last 6 years.   At the cost of $15 billion per year–roughly  $500 per second, millions of people have been  jailed for drug-related crimes, losing their lives and their futures–the very same activities our last 3 presidents engaged in.  They were just lucky enough to not get caught.   Thousands of people are killed in street violence over territories and transportation.  Dozens of countries are have had their economies and citizenries decimated fighting murderous cartels.

All of this just to prevent people from getting high.  (Sure, there’s a downside to illegal drugs; there’s a downside to legal drugs, whether it’s alcohol, over-the-counter, or prescription.)

And drugs remain as easy to buy as candy bars.

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It’s goofy.  And comically inconsistent. We don’t see anything so wrong with getting drunk.  We allow people the right to give themselves cancer from smoking cigarettes, and diabetes from eating junk food. But for some reason getting high is an intolerable evil.

It doesn’t make sense.

There are myriad secondary factors:  Private military contractors like Blackwater (er…the Academi, or whatever they’re calling themselves these days to cover up the shame of slaughtering innocent people), profit enormously from “advising” Latin American countries on how to fight America’s War on Drugs. Private prisons lobby state legislatures with barrels of cash for stricter drug enforcement laws to boost their bottom line.  The cost of recovery and treatment places additionall burden on our already overburdened healthcare system.

These things  are awful and true, but they’re resultant rather than causative of the war on drugs.  They go away when the war on drugs goes away.

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“Advisors.”

For whatever reasons, we’ve decided that getting high is somehow immoral or unholy and the peripheral crimes associated with drugs are an unforgivable  blight on our society.  It’s pure nonsense; outmoded and outdated thinking based on the very faulty assumption that the drug war is  WORTH all this death.  ALL this pain.  ALL this cost.

We have never revisited this conclusion.

For a modernized country, America is notoriously susceptible to group-think and ideology.  We follow our political affiliations the same way we follow our sports teams; thick or thin, good or bad.  Even against our own best interests.  We’re loathe to let go of our beliefs, regardless of the evidence.

Case in point: the absolute epitome of failure known as America’s War on Drugs.

Can anything s lead us to question the validity of this war?  Is there a death toll that’s too high?  Enough sacrificial Maria Santos Gorrostietas to spur us to action?  A number prisons built and filled to bursting that would make us take note?  Or will we keep accepting our current, blood-drenched policies no matter the cost?  What will it take before we begin asking ourselves if it’s worth it?

Because it’s not worth it.  Not even close.  It’s all unimaginable cost with no reward whatsoever for the simple fact that after everything is said and done, illegal drugs are readily available for whoever wants them.

At their worst, drugs can be pretty bad–some much worse than alcohol and tobacco.  But even then, drugs are but a mild annoyance in comparison to the hell-spawned inferno of this war of insanity.

The argument against the war on drugs can be won, decisively, if only we’d pull our heads out of the sands of convention and make the case (it’s a policy for crooks and idiots) and challenge those defending it.  It only requires the will to do so.

Maria Gorrostieta showed me that.

Free. Thought.

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Celebrating Stupidity: Why So Ignorant?

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It has been alleged that I like calling people stupid.  🙂

I actually don’t.  It’s just an honest observation.  Group think and mob mentality are well documented psychosocial states.  Sometimes it manifests as a trend in the stock market other times as a guy being dragged to death behind a pick-up truck. Of course, stupidity comes in myriad forms.

I am not talking about people with legitimate cognitive disabilities, but rather people who fail (or refuse) to put adequate thought behind their words and deeds.

Like evil, stupidity is a result of behavior.  It stems primarily from speaking or acting from ignorance.  Ignorance is unawareness of–or disregard for–information, logic, reason, and common sense.  So stupidity is nothing more than ignorance in action.  It is learned and reversible.

And it is rampant in the United States of America.

This is mainly because we accept it.  We allow people to espouse unfounded and illogical beliefs without challenge.  We have a media that simply parrots talking points.  We have an education system that is merely prep for standardized tests.  We elect ignorant people to positions of power and allow them to use their ignorance to impact everyone.

So why do we do this?

As is often the case, it goes back to religion (I’m not trying to beat up on it, I’m just noting where things come from).  Our nation has Christian roots.  And what Christianity teaches us is that the sin that has doomed our entire race to suffering and strife is the acquisition of knowledge.  Not envy, or wrath, or greed, not murder or rape, but knowledge.  I’ve considered the Adam and Eve story allegorical for as long as I can remember.  A disappointingly large number of people take it as literal.  Either way, it’s unsurprising that after inculcating, even beating, this story into millions and millions of kids over the course of centuries, we have learned to distrust knowledge.

This distrust is nothing more than willful ignorance.

My all-time favorite sign. 😀

Education, discussion, and exposure to new people and experiences can do away with involuntary ignorance.  Hey, I didn’t know cause I didn’t know.  But with willful ignorance, commonly expressed as, “That’s just what I believe,” this baseless, line-in-the-sand positioning becomes a bulwark against enlightenment.  It is often considered principled, even noble, to hold firm to one’s beliefs regardless of their validity.  Unfortunately, it’s used to hurt people for “honorable” reasons.

But it is not noble or honorable.  It’s hubris.  It’s dangerous.  And it’s antithetical to progress.

Essentially one is saying, I am going to keep believing in something even though I have no reason to believe it other than I want to.  At issue in these instances actually isn’t the belief itself but rather the feeling of safety, security, comfort and stability one gets from believing it.  Ignorance really is bliss.

This is common refuge for religious people.  To some degree I understand the obstinance.  Faith deals with ideas that are often reassuring, unquantifiable, and–most importantly–unfalsifiable.  It feels good to believe it and it can’t be disproved, so there’s little motivation to stop believing it.  Plus, science doesn’t have any better answers in many cases.

While this type of reasoning is actually unsound, there is a pure logic to it that appeases common sense…until you actually think about it.  Pleasant fiction is still fiction.

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The above graph clearly illustrates that belief in evolution increases with education level (i.e. greater exposure to information and usage of reasoning skills). It should be noted that as a scientific theory, evolution is to be accepted or rejected, not “believed in.” The framing of the question establishes a theological context.

The troubled waters really begin when this type of thinking spills over into other aspects of life, especially legislation.

When stupidity dictates policy you get Stand Your Ground and Sharia Law bans.  You get our crumbling education system.  You get bigotry, tribalism, and antipathy.

You also get the Texas state GOP rejecting higher thinking skills, including critical thinking, on their official party platform.  Or you get the Louisiana lawmakers who passed a school voucher program allowing people to send their kids to Christian schools pulling their support for the program after people started using those same public funds to send their kids to Muslim schools.  It’s how you get people scoffing at global warming every time  it snows or refuting radiometric dating without an iota of expertise.

Of course, these are right-wing issues.

Note the disclaimers!

On the left, fear of vaccines and other pharmaceutical drugs are built largely on conjecture, unfounded claims, and circumstantial evidence.  Any charlatan with an alphabet soup after their name can write a book and present it to the masses as a breakthrough.  The lay person lacks the acumen to challenge it.  But does that book hold up to the scrutiny of other experts in their field?  The only thing these miracle herbalists and holistic healers need to do is demonstrate–to other experts in the field–that their methods get consistent results–that anyone who follows their processes can duplicate.  That is the standard for the scientific method.

Most of the people I’ve had discussions with could not articulate that standard of proof.  We haven’t been taught to think in those terms.  We believe what we want to believe.

So we do need better education.  But we also need to let go of our own arrogance.  We need to stop presuming that we’re right all the time.  We need to stop thinking that we know and start proving that we know.  We’ve got to stop being scared of challenging our beliefs.

I lean towards skepticism because it makes the fewest presumptions.  It’s mantra is simply that I will believe whatever there is sufficient reason to believe.

It’s a renunciation of absolutes and it’s far from sexy.  For some, it may seem like a cold proposition (of course, that is once again basing one’s beliefs on feelings rather than facts).  Admittedly, the argument that there’s more to life than what you can measure and calculate has merit.  But in terms of what rules we make to live by, we should go by a reality that we can mutually demonstrate.  The standards should rely on independently verifiable evidence.

This means getting past life by je ne sais quoi, and into the realm of the provable, quantifiable, and falsifiable.

That means getting past stupidity, which means letting go of our ignorance, which begins by admitting that we are ignorant.

I know, it doesn’t feel good, but it gets better (I hope! :o).

And  it’s important to remember that the problem is not the lack of knowledge but rather acting on the lack of knowledge.

Changing the culture is a generational thing.  But it’s possible.  And it starts with each of us.

Free. Thought.

Celebrating Stupidity: Wisconsin Recall

The Wisconsin recall debacle answers for us in devastating fashion which power is greater.

I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been really busy of late but I had to throw in my two cents on the Wisconsin recall election.

Okay, so 2 pretty significant points come to mind here:

1.  This may very well have been the death knell of our democracy.  Not the end, but the beginning of the end.  Despite being perhaps the most active and focused grass roots campaign in recent memory, with millions of people fully committed to effecting change, the recall movement was crushed under an ocean of money.  Out of state billionaires gave embattled governor Scott Walker $30 million in spending money and he used it to shove challenger and Milwaukee mayor Tom Barret’s nose in the dirt. $30 million. It’s a nearly 10 to 1 spending differential over the state Democrats.  We’re talking about a gubernatorial election in Wisconsin.

Not long ago that was presidential campaign money.  Republican strategists are already calling Wisconsin a model for every other state in the nation.   If the Wisconsin governorship only costs $30 million, it’s possible that every governor’s seat in the country can be bought for less than $1 billion.  Mitt Romney and his corporations are looking to raise nearly $2 billion to buy the presidency.  It’s a fair estimate that the United States federal government–complete with the most powerful military on earth–can be bought entirely and filled with yes men for under $10 billion.  Neat.

The most startling aspect of this story is that 36% of union families voted FOR the union busting governor.  Makes no sense whatsoever.  Union jobs have been one of the key forces behind the difference between labor conditions and wages in the United States and those in Mexico.  36% of Wisconsin’s union-employed voters just chose to narrow that gap in the wrong direction.  It’s like 36% of dolphins voting to drain the Pacific Ocean.

Sure, there were mitigating factors, recall fatigue, unrelated social wedge issues, and Walker’s aforementioned campaign megabucks; but I maintain the results underline the fact that many Americans don’t have the skills or information needed to vote–or think–critically and rationally; and thus are highly susceptible to suggestive messaging such as negative campaign ads…ads bought with corporate PAC money.

We have become so divided as a nation that people will vote against their own self interest because of party and political labels.  For many Americans, unions–much like the federal government, are to be held as eternal and unquestionable evils.

Embattled Wisconsin governor Scot Walker celebrates his crushing victory in the 2012 recall.

Nevermind that Walker blew a gigantic, $3.6 billion hole in the state budget by giving corporations and wealthy Wisconsinites a high-income tax cut.  He then worked to balance that deficit by dramatically cutting education funding, enacting massive public employee layoffs and wage reductions, and stealing $25 million in foreclosure settlement money designated–by the evil federal government–to help families keep their homes.  THEN he went after the collective bargaining rights of the public unions (except police and firefighters…the two unions that supported his campaign).  He admitted, on tape, that he had considered using bat-wielding thugs to disperse the protestors outside the capital and that his goal is to divide and conquer the unions and make Wisconsin a right-to-work state.

For mindless conservative voters all of that chicanery is forgivable so long as a union–the main campaign financiers of the Democratic party–was stopped.

2.  The Democratic party is too weak, stupid, and/or pathetic to help anyone, even themselves.  Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks likens them to the Washington Generals who lose spectacularly–and deliberately–to the Harlem Globetrotters.  The national party did not play cavalry with volunteers, organizational support, or even funding until roughly three weeks before the election.  Unfortunately for them, polls showed that Wisconsin voters had made up their minds months ago, before the Democratic party had even finished its primary.  Whoops-a-daisy.

Barrack Obama lets Wisconsin voters know he’s sorry for all this union busting nonsense and he hopes the recall goes well for them, but he’s gotta bounce.

During the 2008 campaign Barrack Obama proclaimed that if anyone went after collective bargaining he’d put on his walking shoes and march along side them.  When Scott Walker (among others) did go after collective bargaining rights, the White House fell silent as a grave.  I don’t know if he’s playing, as he supporters put it, masterful 3-dimensional political chess, but on its surface, this Wisconsin recall looks like a Titanic failure.  17% of the people who voted to keep Scott Walker in office are also Obama supporters.  His involvement in this election might very well have reversed the outcome. Instead, he and the Democratic National Party left all those people who marched and protested for their rights crushed by the corporatocracy.  Increased voter apathy is as understandable as it is inevitable. In an apparent effort to not offend any part of that 17% crossover, the president may very well have lost half of his supporters on the left.  But that’s today’s Democrat, so weak and spineless it makes one nauseous at the sight of Jell-o.

I don’t know if the Democrats are just playing their part in a rigged game or they’re actually that terrified of what Republicans might say.  Either way, from my perspective, their pussification is complete.  It’s now a 90% certainty that I will not be spending my vote on barrack Obama’s re-election this year.

And I fear there will be no more Teddy Roosevelts, FDRs or JFKs until we get money out of politics.  And these…puwusses out of office.

Celebrating Stupidity: The U.S. Constitution Is Whatever We Want It to Be

Witch-hunter and Selma city councilman Dennis Lujan.

A fortune telling business wants to set up shop in Selma, California.

Apparently ‘that don’t go ’round here.

According to pastor Dale Davis, “I do think we have a right to say what businesses come to our community and we as a Christian community, we feel this is not a business we want in our community.”

Councilman Dennis Lujan is not so lily-livered in his opinion, informing the potential entrepreneurs, “You’re not welcome here, period.”

Forthwith, the Selma city council held a standing-room only meeting to craft an ordinance banning fortune tellers from operating within city limits (seriously).  This, of course, is after the council learned that their current ban on fortune tellers was ruled unconstitutional a quarter century ago.

Aren’t these guys always talking about free markets and small government?

Selma is apparently overrun with fool-ass-clowns.  It’s not a new development.

I’ve come to realize, and this Selma side-show clearly illustrates it, that many of these Christian fundamentalists see the U.S. Constitution in the same way they see the Holy Bible: as a confirmation of their personal beliefs irrespective of what the texts actually say.  It’s like the people who argue that taxes are illegal even though it says in the Constitution, quite plainly, that congress has the power to levy and collect taxes and apportion those taxes as it sees fit.

Fundamentalists consider the very existence of lifestyles and opinions they personally disagree with as an attack on their way of life.  So logically, attacking those other lifestyle choices and opinions is simply the defense of their own way of life. Forced vaginal probes impede the murder (as they see it) of unborn and in some instances–yet to be conceived–children. It doesn’t register for them that such a law could possibly be an attack on women.

Ships pass in the abyss.

Okay.  So money out of politics first and foremost, of course.  But whenever we get to the point where we can start really fixing education, we need an emphasis on civics and especially the U.S. Constitution, because there are a lot of people possessed of abject ignorance to what it says, and more importantly, what it means.

Selma.  Salem.  I’m just saying.

This is a bit of a follow-up on the post I did about celebrating stupidity in America. A great, informative argument about how legalized prostitution has its own inherent problems. I make my assessment in the comments, but it’s definitely eye-opening.

P.S. More info on human trafficking here.

Celebrating Stupidity in America: The Cold Hard Facts

Is the Moonlite Bunny Ranch a breeding ground for Satan's acolytes or just a rational solution to a very real social problem?

Prostitution should be legal.

In my opinion, what two consenting adults privately agree to is their own business.  I don’t see a whole lot of difference between prostitution and meeting some random person at a club, throwing a hundred bucks worth of food and alcohol into them,  and dragging them back to the crib for a hook-up.  And it’s no different at all from pornography–save for a camera and some contortion.

This is a point I made during a classroom discussion on the topic a while back.  It won no new adherents.

Of course, others in the discussion had moral objections, which I kind of understand.  The problem was, from a rational standpoint, the students opposed to legalizing prostitution seemed incapable of incorporating new information into their schema.

This isn't the only way to legalize prostitution.

They were stuck on the idea that this would legalize child prostitution and sex slavery.  Some argued, independent of facts, that it would create a viral epidemic.  No matter how many times we argued that we were only talking about consenting adults, or that statistics demonstrated comparatively lower STD rates, that it reduced the necessity for pimps, and that prostitution was already going on without legal protections or regulations, they persistently displayed no ability whatsoever to understand anything other than what they already believed.

Needless to say, it was not an intellectually stimulating debate.   One side was trying to make factually accurate points; the other side simply argued their feelings and disregarded anything contradictory.  (BTW,  fellow blogger Warm Southern Breeze has a great post on the topic of willful ignorance)

It was a little frustrating (but still kinda fun).

I’ve since come to the–seemingly–narcissistic realization that half the class was…well..stupid.  At the very least they were ignorant and bad at thinking critically.  (Actually, it may have been more than half the class because not everyone on our side of the issue was making their case factually and they certainly weren’t being challenged in that arena by the other side.)

So, roughly half of the students in an NCA accredited college class proved themselves incapable of knowledge integration.  America’s shameless celebration of stupidity, currently in the formative stages of  it’s 2nd generational run, was at work before my very eyes.

The powers that be have exalted ignorance to the point of a cultural virtue with the insidious aim of manipulating uninformed consumers and voting blocks against their own best interests.  And we’ve bought into it hook, line, and sinker.  Ask any Republican who makes less than $250,000 a year.  Ask any civil rights advocate who supports Barack Obama.

But this is not a political issue; it’s an American issue.  With almost unlimited information at our fingertips we’re less informed now than ever.  This is partly due to propaganda and misinformation campaigns by partisan groups (Hiya, Fox News!) but it’s also due to our inability to evaluate data.

This is the information age.  We need to start acting like it.  Information is as powerful a tool/weapon as there is.  Yet we seem unable to make proper use of it.  (Okay, saying “we” is over-generalizing.  Not all Americans are ignorant, but way, way, waaayy too many of us are.  It’s the atrophial majority.)

This is not to say that most people are incapable of analytical thought; but critical thinking is a skill that must be honed.  And this is not done by parroting political talking points or long stretches of “vegging out”.  It requires the continual development of skills in data-collection, evaluation, moral prioritizing, skepticism, and reasoning.  Pragmatism plays a part, but the key ingredient is humility, the ability to acknowledge that you may be wrong, understand when you are, and accept it–which ain’t easy.  The rest is just making sure your opinion doesn’t get in the way of the truth.

Politically, our number one priority is getting money out of politics.  Socially, it’s to get smarter–better informed and better at analysis and assimilation.

Until we do both, we will not be able to deal with the issues we face.  We’re just trying to climb to great heights with no limbs.

Oh, and here’s Bill Maher with a little more context:

And for the punishment gluttons, more American ignorance (remember, it’s not about what you don’t know, it’s about being unwilling to learn):

From http:  Alternet.org

  • Less than 50% of Americans know that Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court.
  • Going into the First Gulf War, just 15% could identify Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense.
  • In 2007, in the fifth year of the Iraq War, only 21% could name the secretary of defense, Robert Gates.
  • Most Americans cannot name their own member of Congress or their senators (You can find out here).
  • How many people know that the Social Security is running a surplus? And that this surplus — some $150 billion a year — is actually quite substantial, even by Washington standards? And how many know that the system has been in surplus since 1983?  During all the years the surpluses were building, the Democrats in Congress pretended the money was theirs to be spent, as if it were the same as all the other tax dollars collected by the government. And spend it they did, whenever they had the chance, with no hint that they were perhaps disbursing funds that actually should be held in reserve for later use.

From the Daily Beast:

  • A Jan. 25 CNN poll, meanwhile, discovered that even though 71 percent of voters want smaller government, vast majorities oppose cuts to Medicare (81 percent), Social Security (78 percent), and Medicaid (70 percent). Instead, they prefer to slash waste—a category that, in their fantasy world, seems to include 50 percent of spending, according to a 2009 Gallup poll.

From 2006 Roper Poll conducted for National Geographic:

  • One-third of respondents couldn’t pinpoint Louisiana on a map.
  •  48 percent were unable to locate Mississippi.
  • Less than 30% think it important to know the locations of countries in the news and just 14% believe speaking another language is a necessary skill.
  • 60% could not find Iraq on a map of the Middle east.
  • While the outsourcing of jobs to India has been a major U.S. business story, 47% could not find the Indian subcontinent on a map of Asia.
  • 75% were unable to locate Israel on a map of the Middle East.
  • Nearly 75% incorrectly named English as the most widely spoken native language (Spanish).
  • 30% thought the most heavily fortified border in the world was between the United States and Mexico (It’s actually the border between North and South Korea).

I was gonna keep going, but now I’m depressed.  The good news is that we can always get better at learning–and thinking.  We just have to put in the time and effort.