Political Manifesto for the 21st Century

January 7, 2010 by

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. (Declaration of Independence, 1776)

We affirm these self-evident truths, and declare that it is time to abolish our form of government, not by armed revolution, but by the election of representatives who will change it.

The Constitution of the United States allows for the people to elect their representatives every two years, and to elect every senator every six, and to elect the president every four. Each state constitution allows the citizens of that state a similar power to choose their government. Through electing representatives that represent our desire to preserve our government solely to protect the individual rights of everyone, we propose the following changes be made.

  1. Limited government. Our governments are limited by the constitutions that form them. We need to enact a common understanding among the people of what those limits are and impose them on our governments. We need also to strengthen the already existing limits, overturning bad interpretations by our courts, legislators, and executives, and impose new and stronger limits on our governments which will forever ensure our individual liberty.
  2. Dramatic cuts to spending. Our governments should spend our money procuring only those goods and services that will protect our rights.
  3. An end to government charity. It is the role of our churches and the individual to supply charity to the poor, not the state. If the individual and churches cannot supply the charity, government could only do worse. Having government provide charity absolved the conscience and duty of the people from their proper role to love their neighbor.
  4. An end to unfunded legislation. Any program that congress enacts must be completely and fully funded at the time of its creation. We will not enslave future generations to programs that we create but do not fully fund. Existing programs that are unfunded should be canceled or modified until they can be funded.
  5. Dramatic cuts to taxation. Our governments should collect far less taxes than the people can bear. The people should be free to pursue whatever economic matter they wish without burden or undue influence due to taxes. Taxes should not be used to punish the rich or to mold society’s behavior. They should only be used to raise the necessary money to meet the spending requirements of a government that protects the rights of the individual. Any surpluses should be immediately refunded to the people in proportion to taxes paid, or used to pay off debts. Taxes should never be raised to meet spending; rather, spending should be cut to meet tax revenue.
  6. An end to government debt. Our people have become more prosperous than any other people in the world. We do not need to borrow money anymore to provide for the needs of government. Paying interest on our government debts is slavery, not freedom. We are not free until we have paid off all of our debts. Any debt that we must incur should be paid off within a very short time frame, so that our debts are not repaid by our children.
  7. An end to bureaucratic regulation. Any kind of regulation must be debated and passed by the legislatures of our governments, and no other way. No public official should be allowed to set policy that governs the life of anyone but their own employees. No court should dictate legislation. No executive should issue orders except to his troops and employees. Anyone exceeding these limits should immediately be removed from office by impeachment because they are a threat to our liberty.
  8. An end to over-litigation. The laws of our country are unjust, in that they are used to punish those who have done no wrong with tort laws and allow the criminal to go free. Let our laws be simple and just so that we no longer have need of lawyers. Do not allow our constitution to be interpreted as giving shelter to the guilty or limiting the freedoms of the individual.

We boldly declare that freedom and liberty are dramatically different than tyranny and slavery. In a free society, government works differently than in an enslaved society. Our governments should be eternally fearful of the will of the people, forever locked in by the limits of the constitution which creates them, and ever subservient to the people, both the individual and as a whole.

We emphatically reject the tenets of communism, socialism, fascism, totalitarianism, colonialism, and every other form of government or political idea that sets one person above another, that limits the freedom of the individual for the “greater good”, or attempts to convince any individual that they have no rights or fewer rights than the rights man is endowed with by their Creator.

We boldly declare that in our society, the checks and balances in our government includes the individual, private organizations such as businesses or churches or political groups, and federated governments such as the local, state, and federal governments. By distributing the power to govern among these people, organizations, and governments, no one person or group of people is able to obtain much power over the rest.

We also declare that there is enough in this world, and to spare, if the individual is freed from the constraints of government to seek his own fortune in life. We also declare that the man who has obtained wealth is capable of providing charity to the poor, jobs to those who want them, and also to pursue the critical role of participating in politics to keep government constrained. We encourage all men, everywhere, to embrace their freedom, seek their own fortunes, and once having obtained it, spend their time and resources as they see fit in service to their fellowman, without the entanglement of government.

What’s the big deal about idols?

August 22, 2016 by

The second of the Ten Commandments seems rather straightforward. On first reading, we might rightly wonder what it has to do with our day. It seems backwards and anachronistic.

First, let’s look at what was likely happening at the time of the people of Israel. Then we’ll look at the commandment in its full glory, and finally, we’ll bring it up to our day.

The people of Israel had just been freed from the kingdom of Egypt. We don’t know a whole lot about Egypt, but we do know that like many societies we find throughout world history, they had set up a caste system of sorts. At the top were the pharaoh and the priests.

The pharaoh wasn’t just a president or king. He was a god, in a very real sense. We know that the pharaoh was just a man dressed up in a funny costume, but to the people of Israel and Egypt, he was something much much more, someone who had to not only be obeyed but adored and worshiped.

The priests set themselves up in a similar position. Although the priests did not claim to be gods themselves, they did claim to speak for the gods and communicate the will of the gods to the people. They were the keepers of their religious traditions and ceremonies. When Moses came and demonstrated the power of God, this was not just a threat to the power of the pharaoh but all of the priests as well. It was a threat to the entire structure of Egyptian society.

Egyptian society doesn’t sound that bad, though. I mean, the religion the priests taught to the people was at least somewhat reasonable. If you live rightly, treat your neighbors with respect and kindness, then when you die, your heart will be measured against a feather and if it is found to be light as a feather, then you can go on to eternal happiness. But if you carry around weight like regret or hatred and such, you are in grave danger.

Of course, this leads to an immediate question: What do you do about those things in your life that try to tear you down? How do you let go? How do you move on? We don’t know what the Egyptian system was, but judging on other societies and cultures, it was probably something along the lines of giving something up or making a donation or doing some extraordinary deed.

Which brings to the center a question: Why? How can making a donation or giving up something or doing an extraordinary deed erase the fact that you’ve done something wrong? Is it all just a giant deception, meant to enrich the pharaoh and his priests and keep them in power? Or does it actually work?

In my previous post, I showed how the God of Israel presented himself to the people of Israel as the Liberator God, and demanded that no other god should be put before him. This sets liberation and freedom as the utmost priority and the purpose of the other nine commandments. This commandment against making and worshiping idols is one of the most important things we need to do to establish our own liberty.

Let’s look at the text of the second commandment to find some insight into why this commandment is so important and how we are to obey it.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

The first part talks about making idols. Specifically, the Lord is talking about copying things we might find in heaven or earth, or even under the water. Making these images is not a problem, however. What is a problem is made clear in the second verse. That is, worshiping and serving them.

God explains why this troubles Him, and why it is a problem.

First, God says he is jealous. Really, this word is a mistranslation. The word in Hebrew is “qannah”, which means “possessing sensitive and deep feelings”. God is comparing Himself with anything we can make or copy in this world. He says that he, unlike all those other things, has feelings, deep feelings, and they are very sensitive feelings. A better translation might be “I am a passionate God”.

Then, he says that effects of the sins of the fathers translate down to the third or fourth generations. That is, “Like father, like son”. When we make idols and worship them, our kids will do the same. Another saying is, “Monkey see, monkey do.” One of the problems of worshiping idols is that our children and the people around us will copy us.

Finally, God says that he is merciful if you love him and keep his commandments.

When you read this commandment closely, it seems it is saying much more than “Don’t worship idols.” It is saying, “Look, the things that you are going to end up worshiping are not me. They don’t have emotions and feelings. People are going to copy you. And besides, I am merciful if you simply love me and keep my commandments.”

Let’s get back to the gods and priests of Egypt, and compare the God of Israel with them.

The gods of Egypt:

  • Were statues and ideas that had no emotions.
  • Demanded certain kinds of behavior.
  • Demanded some kind of sacrifice or offering if that behavior wasn’t met.

The God of Israel:

  • Actually cared.
  • Didn’t want to model bad behavior for the children of Israel.
  • Said that as long as you love me and keep the commandments, he will forgive those who are in trouble.

This is a striking comparison.

Statues and idols that men set up as gods don’t really care about people. They are distant and passionless. The God of Israel really cares and feels emotions.

The gods of Egypt had an arbitrary set of requirements. The God of Israel merely wanted to have the children of Israel grow up in freedom and liberty rather than revert back to bondage.

The gods of Egypt demanded sacrifice and tribute for past sins. The God of Israel simply wants obedience and love, and is merciful, looking forward to the future rather than dwelling on the past.

What does this have to do with our day? Simply put, we are making idols every day. We make idols of things we create. We make idols of things we imagine. We make idols of other people. In order to understand what an idol is, you need to understand what worship is. Worship is simply reverence or regard, those things you think are very important and worthy of contemplating or celebrating.

When we praise logic and reason and science, we are worshiping it. When we praise love and kindness, we are worshiping it. When we set someone up as a superhuman, we are worshiping him. We all have a natural tendency to worship things and people rather than the True and Living God. We need to watch ourselves and keep things in focus.

Remind yourself: Does the thing you honor and revere have emotions? Do they know you and care about you? Are they interested in seeing your children and grand children and great grand children grow up in freedom and liberty? What do they ask of us? What happens when we don’t conform, how do they ask us to get back into their good graces?

Take, for instance, science. Science doesn’t care about us. Science doesn’t care about our kids. Science doesn’t even recognize liberty, let alone try to free us. Science demands exactness and perfection, and brutally condemns error and mistakes without even a hint of mercy. If we cross science, what can we possibly do to regain its regard? Nothing.

Or love. Love doesn’t care about us. Love doesn’t care about our kids. It’s a feeling that has no feeling. Love doesn’t recognize liberty. What does love demand? Our unceasing attention and devotion. And what if we cross love? There is little hope of ever gaining back its trust, and then only if we promise to sacrifice our entire selves for it.

You can do this exercise for everything. Does President Obama deserve our worship, or Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton? What of the Hollywood celebrities? Or do we put Einstein or Newton or Feynman on that golden altar of reverence and respect? What about people like Martin Luther King, Jr.? What are we expected to do if we honor them, and what happens if we make a mistake in our devotion? What does it take to get back in good standing?

The bottom line is this. If you are going to worship something (and we all are), then we had better only worship a God who has passions, who cares about our great grand children, who liberates us, and who promises to forgive us for the low, low price of love and obedience going forward. There is no easier god to serve than the God of Israel, and there is no more rewarding and caring God than Him either.

By worshiping the True and Living God, we fill the void of worship so that other things can’t consume it. The next few commandments deal with ways to keep the God of Israel in the forefront of our thoughts, and give us mental markers to determine where we are at and where we need to go.

Commandment Numero Uno: Not what you think

August 16, 2016 by

Most people, when they consider the Ten Commandments, start in the middle with, “Don’t kill”, “Don’t steal”, etc…

They also think Moses gave the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel on tablets of stone. While true, that was not the first time the children of Israel heard the commandments.

In Exodus 19, the chapter before Exodus 20, which contains the Ten Commandments, the record states that God commanded Moses to purify the people of Israel and bring them to Mount Sinai. The people did so, and Moses went up to the mountain to speak with the Lord before coming down again to face the people. At this point, the Lord God spoke with his own voice to the people of Israel, giving them the Ten Commandments.

Imagine that! We often think Moses acted as an intermediary between God and the people, but here we see that God gave his law first directly to the people, in their own ears, so they could hear his voice. At the end, the people rejected God and told Moses they were too scared to deal with Him. They would rather have Moses be their communicator than God.

This is the sort of being God is. He is infinitely powerful. But He is trying to reach us. He wants to speak to us with His own voice directly into our very souls. But how do we treat God? We send Him away, and want someone else to bear that burden. We don’t want to be in contact with Him.

Nevertheless, the awful reality of God is reality. It is only awful when we refuse to accept it. The moment we accept God for what He is and what He wants to do, we can see clearly and act properly.

God’s first message to the people of Israel could’ve been “You Idiots!” The people of Israel, up to that point, had complained and whined and rejected pretty much everything God did for them. The moment he would give them one thing, they would whine for something else.

Or perhaps God could’ve said, “Look how powerful I am! I created the heavens and the earth! I rule over everything!”

That’s not what he said, and that’s not what we should remember God for.

Instead, he said:

I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Think of that! This is a God who wants to be remembered as a great liberator. He took us out of bondage and slavery, and brought us out so we can be free. I hope that rather than remembering God as the Creator God, or the Destroyer God, or the God of Justice or even the God of Mercy and Love and Kindness, we remember that he is the Liberator God. His first act with us was to grant us our free will. We have the power to choose between good and evil. It is our choice and our choice alone, and he has already moved heaven and earth to ensure we all get that choice.

If there is a reason why God is distant, it is because we want Him to be. He will not come where He is not invited. He will not act unless He is asked.

And so, in that context, a Divine Being of Supreme Power and Omnipotence, speaking directly to His people “I liberated you”, this is the first commandment:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

The utter sublimity of this commandment cannot be exaggerated. After pondering on it for decades, I still feel like I have a lot to learn. Let me share some of my insights.

First, what god could possibly be greater than a Liberator God? Can there be any greater act than saving us from ourselves? Can there be anything more meaningful? Other cultures and religions talk of gods who created things and gave birth to mankind and did amazing things and such, but really, why should anyone care about any of that? It is the gods who saved people that give us reason to pay attention and worship. Only that sort of god has any meaning and any relevance in our lives.

Next, why would we want to place anything in front of that aspect of God? Think for a moment with me. Suppose you are an atheist and you believe that gods are things we invent for whatever reason and aren’t real. OK, let’s invent a god. Let’s make it a really, really good god, something that we would actually want people to admire and worship and honor and respect and model. Can anything be better than liberty, a god who grants liberty and turns slavery into freedom? This is, after all, what I think most people buy into atheism for: They think they are being freed from the shackles of misinformation and tradition by adopting no gods at all. In a way, aren’t all atheists really worshipers of the God of Liberty? Isn’t that the one force of nature they really want to connect to?

And then there’s this: Suppose you had a thousand different gods to choose from. What would you be like if you voluntarily chose something else besides the liberty god as the supreme god? I think there are some things we rightfully rule as right out: death, wealth, pleasure. But what about love? Can love supersede liberty? We often watch the tragedies of people who fell in love and became slaves to it, and we silently wish they would break free and instead live their own lives rather than let someone else control theirs. It’s pretty trivial to show how everything is really less important than liberty. As Americans, we rightfully tout freedom, liberty, individual rights and such as what makes us better than anyone else in the world. I mean, England has a queen. Is that really better than liberty?

But there’s this, too. Sometimes, people become gods in our own minds. We mock the Romans for allowing them to think of their Caesars as gods, but do we not also mock people who foolishly put their trust in Napoleon or Hitler or Stalin? If there’s going to be a god we all worship, let it not be any one of us! It seems the moment we place someone on that pedestal, we’re soon going to find our liberty lacking. One of the most serious complaints I had against Barack Obama in 2008 was that people were setting him up as some sort of savior when he had no power to save. What is going to happen when they finally realize they have misplaced their trust? I similarly feel sorry for those who put their trust in any politician or public figure.

Let me summarize:

  • The most important aspect of God in our lives is the fact that he liberates us.
  • There is no more important aspect of anything that is superior to liberty.
  • We certainly don’t want to put any person ahead of that aspect.

This is what God is truly asking. He’s not asking us to worship God. He is saying, “Don’t put things in front of me” and by “me” he means “that Thing that saved you from slavery”. So he’s saying, “Don’t put things ahead of your liberty”.

The first commandment is definitely not, “Worship me!” It’s simply this: Don’t worship anything more than your liberator and your liberty. Those are the most important things, and you need to hold on to those things jealously.

The Ten Commandments are not a recipe for restriction and pain. That’s not the point, and that’s not the effect. It is a recipe for liberty, and preserving liberty, and gaining liberty. If libertarians could agree on what key behaviors would lead to maximum liberty, it would be the Ten Commandments. If atheists could agree on what is wrong with religion, they would write the Ten Commandments to prevent us from doing those bad things.

This is the message God chose to share with the people of Israel. This is the preface to the Ten Commandments and this is the first commandment, the most important of them all.

I freed you. Don’t let anything get in front of that.

Need I say more?

PS. I should add one note: The people of Israel rejected this God. How often do we see people, in the very moment we work a miracle in their lives such that they become free for the first time, that they turn back to their bondage? This is the sad state of humanity, and something we must continually remember. Rather than mock the Israelites, why don’t we recognize how we are doing that to ourselves? How we jeopardize our own liberty by our own actions, and squander the precious gift of liberty we have been given by forces seen or unseen?

A Bible Renaissance

August 12, 2016 by

The Renaissance is widely touted as the birth of our modern era. It was in this era that scholars and scientists appeared, and art flourished and our civilization really began. Or so we were told.

What we’re forgetting is that the Renaissance wasn’t a new thing: It was literally a rebirth, a birth of something old so long forgotten that it felt new again. The Renaissance was a rediscovery of certain truths that had been forgotten, hidden away in dusty books that only a few people used to have access to. The Renaissance started with the Bible, specifically, the Bible becoming available to the people for the first time in a very, very long time.

As we watch Western Civilization collapse (and we can see it collapsing in slow motion, if we simply open our eyes), we rightly wonder: Where did we go wrong? Can we fix what is broken? Or must we start something new?

In my mind, we can trace the roots of our destruction to the abandonment of our foundation. We can fix what is broken by restoring that foundation. And what we must do will feel new to a lot of people, but is really something very, very old.

As the title suggests, I believe that the key to a future renaissance is the Bible. As a culture, we have forgotten about this book. We have forgotten what it says. We have forgotten what it means. We have forgotten why it is so important and why it is the key to our past success. And in forgetting, we wonder how they did it.

The Bible can become the foundation on which we build society. We don’t need a government program or witch hunts or anything like that to make it happen. The formula is really simple.

Step one is YOU read the Bible, cover to cover. If you’ve done it before, then it’s time to do it again. And when I say read, I don’t mean mindlessly repeating the words on the page in your mind, but absorbing their meaning deep into your soul. Let the stories echo in your heart and mind. Let the words guide you and direct you.

Step two is reading the Bible with your family. Teach your spouse, your children, your parents the words in that book. Teach them the stories and the parables and the moral messages.

Step three is sharing the Bible with others. This means taking the stories outside of your bedroom or study and churches into the community, into your workplace, into your social circles. In sharing the Bible, encourage people to read it for themselves.

The Bible’s story and message is one of profound love and respect. It is a message of peace. It teaches us how we can juggle the facts of justice and mercy. Justice demands we behave a certain way to obtain promised rewards. Mercy gives us the benefit of a doubt and lets us recover from our inevitable mistakes. It shows us why and how we can love those different from ourselves, and treat them with respect and at the same time, secure our own blessings of liberty and happiness regardless of how they choose to behave.

The Bible tells us the principle struggle is fought within our own hearts, and that everything outside of us is really a reflection of what is inside of us. It teaches us to focus on our own state of mind before worrying about others. It teaches us how to find peace in the middle of conflict, how to turn violence into safety, how to turn hate into love.

We can’t retreat from society anymore. There is no escape from it. The Benedict Option is not available for us. We must confront the fact of our state and our society’s state head on and we can only do that with the words found in the Bible.

A word of caution: Beware of those who confuse the simple teachings of the Bible or who try to super-impose their own ideas on top of it. Let the Bible speak for itself, let its words, and not the words of an interpreter, enter your mind and heart. Your mind is just as capable as any Bible scholar’s mind. They are not the gatekeepers to unlocking the message of the Bible.

The Twin Evils: Basically Good and Tabula Rasa

July 27, 2016 by

At the core of the discussion between liberals and conservatives is a key philosophical difference. That philosophical difference is seen in the answer to this question:

Are people basically good or basically evil?

There is a third option, tabula rasa, is the idea that people are a blank slate, neither good nor evil until they are taught to be so.

At the heart of conservatism is this assumption: people are basically evil. At the heart of liberalism is the other assumption: either people are basically good, or they are a blank slate (and we just need to program them the right way.)

I won’t go into much of the philosophical reasons for thinking one or the other things, but I will point out the implications in relation to government.

First, the conservative viewpoint. People are basically evil. Note: all people, not just other people or “those” people. When conservatives see BLM celebrating the murder of cops, or ISIS claiming credit for the killing of an elderly priest, we see ourselves. We know that without government, we would likely be doing the same things they are doing.

By government, I mean “governing” as in that thing you do to yourself and others to keep them behaving well and properly. Good government starts with self-government and self-mastery. This involves introspection and circumspection and careful consideration of the effects of our choices on our lives and others, and carefully selecting one course over another being aware of the fact that we are fallible, mortal beings prone to evil.

Once you can properly govern yourself, then you govern others, starting with your family and then reaching out into the community and the nation. Those who cannot govern themselves really have no right to govern others, while those who have mastered the government of self are likely good candidates for governing others.

While we recognize the need of government, self and otherwise, we also recognize the fact that governors are made of the same mortal, fallible and evil stuff as we are. Thus, you need to govern the government. This is the purpose behind the strict limits that the constitution places on our federal government, why it reads like a short list of things the government can do and a long, long list of thing the government cannot do. This is also why we like to keep a close eye on what government is doing and sound the alarms whenever it approaches those limits or dares to look over them.

In this way, we can create a system where basically evil creatures can act mostly good, most of the time.

There are parallels in the real world. Take, for instance, engineering. We know that we are fallible, illogical creatures and yet we are not only able to discern principles that govern how things behave, but create systems that are reliable when their components are not reliable. By carefully managing the complexities and intricacies of a design, we can uncover a combination that will self-govern to eliminate error. It takes a lot of work to get it right, and when you think you have it right, it takes even more work to make sure you know you have it right, but it can be done, as long as you follow some basic principles and don’t cut any corners.

People who believe that people are basically good logically shouldn’t see the need for any government. The only thing government can do is limit people from being the best they can be. Note that conservatives are not against government, they simply want limited, constrained government. People who advocate no government would be properly called anarchists, which means, literally, “no ruler.” In anarchy, people would be able to exercise their goodness to the fullest extent.

If there is a government, then these same people would advocate for unlimited powers for that government, for much of the same reason. If people are basically good, then we can trust the government, which is made of people, to be basically good.

Of course, I’ve only met a few people who actually believe that all people are basically good. Most try to juggle basic philosophy by saying “These people are basically good, while those people are basically evil.” This is nothing short of racism, classism, and every sort of -ism you can imagine. The lines we draw between good and evil people are arbitrary and capricious. Those who participate in this should worry that one day, they will be on the wrong side of that line.

Perhaps they try to resolve this philosophical dilemma with tabular rasa. Maybe it’s not fundamental human nature to be good or evil, but a product of our environment. To me, this is the worst sort of philosophy because of what it concludes.

The natural conclusion is, “We must teach everyone to be good!” If only it were that simple! Nevertheless, this is the driving force behind spending untold trillions on public education. Needless to say, it has been a colossal waste and failure. Build as many schools as you like, send as many teachers you like, and fund them with as much money as you like, you can never force anyone to get educated. At best, you can provide means, but in the end, it is up to them to obtain it for themselves.

The other natural conclusion is the horror of classism. That is, put the people with the proper education in control, and send the rest to forced education camps. You may catch a scientist expressing sentiments like these, uttered in phrases like “If only smart people ran the government” or “the science is simple, so simple only government can screw it up.” I beg people who hold these ideas to consider why they think they are superior to others, what makes them worthy to lead or decide while others with human brains that don’t operate much different than theirs should simply fall in line and obey without hesitation. The natural conclusion of this sort of thinking is the key element behind the ancient evil of aristocracy (rule by the noble). Sure, they may think they are setting up a perfect system that can never be corrupted, but it is odd, isn’t it, how that system often goes horribly corrupt even before the first generation has passed away?

Philosophy is an important thing. The way you see the world, especially the way you see others, will dramatically influence the types of choices you make and the value system you see. Until we learn that we are all basically evil, we really haven’t a hope to overcoming that evil.

What about their jobs?

July 26, 2016 by

I work at a company involved in machine learning. Some of the applications of machine learning were mentioned, one of them being autonomous vehicles.

A lady in our company, not on the tech side, of course, wondered aloud, “Why do people want autonomous vehicles?” I replied to her, “It will save billions and billions of dollars.” She asked, “How?” I said, “Imagine never having to pay a taxi driver ever again.”

Her instinct was, “What about their jobs?” My reply was, “Go look up ‘luddite’ on Google.”

Any new technology is going to eliminate jobs. The bigger and better the change, the more jobs that will disappear. It has been this way ever since the beginning of time. Today, in America, only a tiny fraction of our population is involved in farming. It used to be the vast majority of people were working farms. This is one example of how technology has eliminated jobs.

People erroneously think that jobs are a zero-sum game. That is, there can only be so many jobs in the world, and when jobs are lost, they are never coming back. While it is true there can only be so many jobs in the world (after all, there are only so many people), it is not true that eliminating some jobs will mean there are fewer jobs overall.

See, jobs don’t really exist, not like tables and chairs. Jobs have zero mass, zero energy. Jobs can be created as quickly as they are destroyed. Jobs are created when a boss says, “You’re hired!” and disappear when they say “You’re fired!”

A better way to look at it is this. Consider each possible job there could ever be. This would be something much greater than the number of people in the world squared, since each person could potentially offer any particular other person an infinite number of possible jobs.

For each possible job, consider that the person hiring the other person can pay any amount of money, from $0 to all the money in the world. Also consider that the value of the work can be anything from negative to infinite. That is, I could hire someone, and they could burn down my business and get me thrown in jail, or they could make me the richest person in the history of the earth.

That’s the total number of jobs that can ever exist.

The jobs that are currently active are those jobs where the cost is smaller than the benefit. If it weren’t so, the person hiring would fire the employee, since they cost more than they bring in. That’s just simple math.

But that’s not enough. In addition to that, the person hired has to accept the job, meaning, they will likely look around for a better job if it exists. So really, the total number of current jobs is all those jobs where the employer would make some money at least, and all those people who are willing to work for that price because there’s not much better out there.

What happens when new technology, like autonomous vehicles, come alone, is the value of the jobs all shift. Driving is not so valuable anymore because a machine can do it for cheaper, faster, better. That means those jobs go away, but there are a very large number of other, potential jobs. All the taxi drives, all the uber drivers, everyone everywhere who drives, will find something else to do.

Granted, it might not pay as much. That’s sad. But the truth is, with the new technology, money is more valuable. It can buy more than it used to. So even if they get paid less, they can take a little solace in the fact that it’s now cheaper to get a ride.

But usually, new technologies create new opportunities. For instance, how many people were employed programming robots in automated factories in the 1920’s? Today, we have a very large number of people involved in the problem of programming robots and making new robots, opportunities that didn’t exist a long time ago. So while taxi drivers won’t be driving taxis anymore, they may be doing something much more valuable, like programming those taxi cabs or maybe something we can’t even imagine. After all, if I told you ten years ago that there would be a lot of people driving uber, you’d think I was crazy. Those jobs came into existence because technology made it cheap enough to do something like that.

Overfitting

July 21, 2016 by

This will be a fairly technical post, but it shouldn’t be too bad.

I’m currently working at a job where we do a ton of machine learning. Machine learning is basically do statistics with a lot of computers. There’s really no magic there, despite warnings from people with a lot of money and brainpower.

Machine learning is really a set of tricks that we’ve learned to solve a particularly hard kind of problem. The problem is summarized here.

  • Go get a bunch of data.
  • Look at the data really, really hard.
  • Try to figure out what the data is telling you about how the universe works.

This is pretty much a summary of every scientific discipline ever.

Note that the “try to figure out” part is often expressed in different ways, the other two common forms being: “make a prediction that is accurate” or “decide what we should do differently to get different results.” Both of these are just restatements of the problem of figuring out what the data tells you about the universe.

Now, there are a number of ways people go wrong when they do this kind of thing. I won’t bore you with all the tiny details of how to even begin to understand what you are looking at and how to make sense of it.

One common problem is called “overfitting”. The way it manifests itself is you propose a theory about the data that explains the data really, really well. In fact, remarkably well. But then, when you try out the idea in reality, it is horrible.

In order to understand this, imagine a scatterplot of data points. You want to predict what value you should get depending on where you’re at along the X-axis. What you could do is just draw lines connecting all the point together. This graph will accurately predict every value you’ve seen in the data, but it will not be a very good predictor of how reality behaves (in the vast majority of cases.)

In physics, we sometimes do the same things. We have common patterns we follow to try and avoid this. One of the patterns is “Don’t look at the data before making your theories.” That is, try to make your theories out of previous theories and new assumptions. This is like trying to hit a bullseye wearing a blindfold. The problem with this method is it is very inefficient, and there is only so many ideas we can come up with. However, when you do find that needle in the haystack, the theory that does a good job at matching the data, then we think we’re pretty close to reality. The best part is we know how that theory was put together, and we can think about it and reason about it.

This is what Newton did. Or really, it would’ve been what he did except he was familiar with the data, and he was looking for a reason why things moved the way they did. So really, it didn’t work that way in practice. And it never does. Theoretical physicists do look at data. They get inspired by it.

The issue is when you look at the data, and you see shapes, you propose math that explains those shapes, and then you try to figure out what it all means. The truth is that there are a lot of shapes that will fit that data. Some of them are worse than others. And you really have no way of knowing that the shape that fits best is really the shape that represents reality. True, the more points of data you have, the more certain you are about that shape being the right shape, but you can never reach a point where you can say “This is the only shape that works well.” It gets even worse when you consider the fact that the data you have collected is not and never can be 100% accurate.

What does this have to do with conservatism?

Conservatism is one of those “inside out” philosophies on par with Newtonian Mechanics. It is a collection of ideas, “shapes” if you will, about how the world works. Philosophers and logicians have argued about these ideas for a very long time. They’ve been around for such a long time that they aren’t new anymore.

Granted, sometimes the shapes fit the data really well, and sometimes they don’t. There are other shapes you can find that fits the data better than conservatism. That isn’t really the problem we’re trying to solve, though. Focusing on what fits the data best gets you shapes that fit the data well but don’t have much power in understanding what is really going on.

The other type of philosophy when it comes to these sorts of things are the “outside in” philosophies. In these philosophies, you look really, really hard at the data, find a really good shape that fits, and then declare that to be the ultimate truth. Then from that newly discovered ultimate truth, you make predictions and take courses of action. This seems very reasonable, but as I said earlier, it has the fundamental flaw of overfitting.

The way this philosophy pops up is in comments like, “There are poor people. We have to do something!” or “The rich make a lot of money! We have to do something!”

And if that something is aimed at changing the metric, and you make proposals based on conclusions drawn solely on the data, you’re going to get some really bad ideas. For instance, we could kill all the rich people and the poor people and that would certainly eliminate the problem of poverty and wealth disparity. Obviously, something is hopefully telling you something is fundamentally wrong with this proposal. But don’t you also feel like there is something wrong with the idea of taxing and giving money away?

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve personally seen data-driven thinking lead people astray. When I worked at Amazon, we were almost cult-like in our devotion to data, but we knew about overfitting and we tried to avoid it. This was years ago, but we used to run A/B testing on various changes to the website. We developed ideas about why people clicked on some things and not other things. Some of our ideas were pretty fantastic, and entire teams were formed to pursue them. In the end, we discovered that the data seemed to be telling us people click on new things but they really don’t like things to change very much. That’s why Amazon.com doesn’t really look very much different than it did a decade ago.

In your own life, be very careful about making decisions based on data. Be careful about overfitting. Be careful about reading too much into the data you see. Remember that the shape you think fits the data isn’t necessarily true even if it is the best shape.

If you really want to understand something, you have to develop theories in an almost clean-room environment free from data. Once those ideas are developed, then you can test them to see if they pan out. But be careful about reading the data too closely, since it can lead you astray.

Also, this is why I don’t like string theory. It’s a plain and simple case of overfitting. They literally pick and choose which versions of string theory they like based on how well it fits the data.

And this is why I don’t like political decisions being made with graphs in the background.

The Law

July 17, 2016 by

Seeing the attacks in France and the attacks on our people here in the United States, both by ISIS and by the Black Lives Matter movement reminds me of how important law is. By law, I mean the natural law that applies everywhere at all time, that assigns a value of right or wrong to every action we take.

We live in a world where we think we can invent laws. This is not so. The universe is already governed by laws. Our choice is between governments which enact laws accordingly or governments which presume they can rewrite the laws of nature. We suffer under the fools who take upon themselves the role of God and decide they can control people and shape them with unjust and unworthy laws.

If you want to see what a moral law looks like, a law that is tuned to set a people free from their own faults and live in peace with themselves and their neighbors, you don’t have to look further than the Law of Moses as outlined in the Bible.

I shall revisit that law to recover some of the essential elements.

First, the laws that there shall be no God but God. This is encoded in the first three commandments. The first says that God is the same God who freed the Israelites from the Egyptians, and there shall be no other god before Him. The second that there shall be no worshipping of idols. The third that you shall not take the Lord’s name in vain. The first law says that the position of God is already filled, and that by a God who redeems and liberates people. Can there be a greater God with greater good than this? The second says you should not worship things that aren’t God. We have a tendency to worship things rather than God, and doing so sets us up for disappointment. The third says that you should not invoke the name of God unless He told you to. It says that the false prophets who proclaim to represent God but fail to deliver should not be tolerated.

Can I emphasize how important it is that we, as a people, align our worshiping instinct and settle on the worship of a being who has at in his heart’s desire our freedom and liberty?

The next law has to do with the Sabbath. The Sabbath is more than a day off from work. It is a day to recognize the importance of rest and the importance of re-tuning ourselves to God. It is a sign that we believe there is something more important than work. It is a time to re-teach ourselves, our families, and our neighbors what is truly most important.

The fifth law is about family. The Bible only commands us to honor two beings: Our mother and our father. Without the family and a proper respect for parents, how long can a society last? Thus, the promise that we can live a long time in the land if we simply remember to honor our own parents.

The sixth law forbids murder. (Although it is often translated as killing, subsequent punishments make it clear that God wants certain people to be killed.) I think it is safe to say that we all agree, world-wide that murder is wrong. Or do we? How important it is that we place life at such a high priority!

The seventh has to do with sexual purity by forbidding adultery. The Laws of Moses made it clear that adultery or anything like it was a gross sin and violation of the fundamental commandments. In marriage we find the only appropriate place to express our sexual desires. The result of sexual activity is, of course, children. Certainly, the opposite of “thou shalt not commit adultery” is “thou shalt have plenty of sexual relations with your spouse.”

The eighth has to do with property. Don’t steal. Again, the opposite would be “respect other’s property.” Property rights is the key foundation to material wealth.

The ninth is a restriction on speech. “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” In other words, don’t lie about what you see. The punishment according to the Law of Moses for bearing false witness was to punish the liar with the same punishment the victim would’ve received. How sound our legal system would be if we prosecuted those who lie in their testimony! But more important, it sets a limit to how far you can exercise your speech, and deceiving and lying to people is not ok.

The last commandment has to do with coveting. The point of coveting is not to have the same things as what your neighbor has, but to have the very things your neighbor has. If we want something our neighbor has, we should work to make it ourselves, or trade for it. The converse of the commandment is “Be happy that your neighbor has nice things.” I am reminded of the tradition found in almost every society of people calling for celebration when something good happens to them. Not to brag, of course, but to share the joy.

These ten basic commandments are the foundation of Western Civilization. They are the key to peace and happiness in any society. We cannot omit one and expect good things to happen.

But these are only ten basic commandments.

The Savior spoke of the two great commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments provide a framework for everything we do. Atheists might object to the “loving God” part, but let’s be clear: The worship of God is the worship of perfection and the embodiment of all that is good in the universe. Who can do anything but worship perfection? And by satisfying our in-grown desire to worship something, we eliminate any possibility of being lead to worship something less. And the commandment of our neighbor is the basis of the Golden Rule: Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. What wise words!

But the Savior expanded upon the ten commandments, setting them as the bare minimum of behavior. He called for people to not even get angry with each other and call each other names. He called for people to forgive one another. He called for people to not even break the laws in their hearts. The Savior’s way is the better way. It doesn’t eliminate the Ten Commandments but elevates them as the bedrock of society. You can choose to live on the rock, but we can build our houses on that rock, too.

Once we agree to a law, the question then becomes: What should we do to those who refuse to keep them? The Law of Moses makes it clear what to do with murderers and rapists and thieves. It is even clear on what should be done to those who fail to acknowledge their parents or God. There must be some punishment attached to a violation of the law, and there must be some system of fairly distributing that punishment. Some of the commandments God reserves punishment for himself. Others he commands us to deal out the punishment. We would be wise to consider carefully which system makes the most sense for our people and our time.

The bottom line, though, is this: We cannot wish or hope the world would be a better place. We have been entrusted with sovereignty, the right to rule ourselves. We must acknowledge that our laws need to be enforced, our enemies fought, and victory won.

The Problem is Gun-Free Zones

July 14, 2016 by

If you were to compare all the recent mass-shootings in America with gun free zones, you’d notice a pattern. Almost all of them happen in gun-free zones.

We used to say that a gun society is a polite society. You are going to be respectful and polite to others when you know that they could lose their cool and shoot you in the face.

I would like to add that a gun society is a safe society. No one is going to attempt a mass shooting when they know that each one of their potential victims is packing heat. And if they are dumb enough to try, then they won’t get very far before being shot themselves.

As an individual, you can ask businesses which post “no guns allowed” at the door what they are doing to protect the people inside from mass shooters. You can remind them that almost all of the mass-shootings happen in gun-free zones, and you are putting your life in danger by entering their gun-free zone.

Perhaps one day we’ll have laws that require owners of gun-free zones to properly secure and protect those areas.

Whig Theory

July 5, 2016 by

There isn’t a lot written about Whig Theory. It is, however, a fundamental concept which we must understand.

The basic idea of Whig Theory is something like this.

  • God gives us rights. That is, the things we should do, moral imperatives.
  • We form governments, like kings and parliament, with the intent to secure those rights and protect them.
  • Governments tend to usurp those rights and oppress the people. Governments rarely, if ever, protect rights and cease oppression.
  • We should resist usurpations and oppressions with force if necessary, because they are wrong and against God’s commandments.
  • If God favors us because we are righteous, he will bless our efforts to resist with liberty. If He doesn’t favor us because we are not righteous, then we will fail. In either case, it is God’s will and how can we oppose his will?
  • Thus, it is the duty of the people to be righteous and to resist government oppression.

These ideas might sound foreign and strange, but they permeate many important episodes of our American history. In reality, the American Revolution began in England while the colonies were just being born. The political and religious movements born from the English Civil War found their way to our shores, and was the blackpowder that was lit with the American Revolution. When you look at English history, you are really looking at American history.

In fact, even in today’s society, these ideas are a part of our political discussion. IE, “We should abolish welfare and the taxes used to fund it.” “But what about the poor?” “The poor should work hard and feed themselves rather than being idle and eat other people’s food.” “But if they aren’t smart enough and good enough, what then?” “Are you arguing that the poor are somehow subhuman, incapable of feeding and clothing and sheltering themselves? If so, then they do not deserve liberty but should embrace their slavery.” “Are you comparing the poor on welfare to slaves?” “Yes, I am; the man who cannot feed himself and relies on someone else to feed them is no more than a slave to those who feed them.”

The ultimate question that Whigism asks is: “Are you good enough to be free?” If you’re not, then you deserve to be a serf, and you should pray that God lets the chains of servitude rest lightly on your wrists. If you are good enough to be free, then no one should be your master.

The ultimate struggle of Whigs is not the political struggle, it is the struggle of oneself against one’s nature. Overcome the limiting factors we each face, and you will find the wealth and prosperity God promises to those willing to keep his commandments.

I should add a note about what it is that God commands us. One of the first commandments is to be fruitful and multiply. Another commandment is to be wise and treat your neighbors like yourself. Another commandment is to be charitable and kind to those less fortunate than you, but do not make them into your servants and slaves. Still another is to be faithful to your family and teach them the principles that will make them successful in their own lives. Really, the commandments of God are the commandments of perfect reason and sincerity and natural law. Those who act according to them find themselves in control of their circumstances and those who do not find themselves subject to their circumstances.

Ramadan Violence

July 5, 2016 by

It seems not even Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been spared suicide bombers in public places. ISIS claims credit, of course.

What does it mean?

I have a few thoughts.

I think people don’t really understand what ISIS is. It is not a rogue nation. It is, in fact, a restoration of an old system that the Muslims used to rule the world. ISIS is a caliphate, an are of the world ruled by a caliph. A caliph is a person who claims to be a successor of the prophet Mohammed. The caliph combines these roles as heads of both church and state for the Muslim people.

The caliphate is the ultimate government, and all people under the jurisdiction of the caliphate must be subject to them. That means that they must be abolished, or become subject to the new caliph.

What the newspapers and media aren’t talking about when they talk about ISIS is this fundamental fact. The entire nation of ISIS isn’t something we’re familiar with nor do we remember how to deal with. It’s time we remembered.

The other thought is that Muslim extremists are more likely to kill other Muslims than Christians or Buddhists or Jews. That is, the greatest danger to Islam is not Christianity or Hindus or anything like that — it is Islam. If we are, in any way, compassionate towards the Muslim people or Islam, then it demands we identify and eliminate the radical portions of their community. It is because of people like George W. Bush who waged war on Iraq and Afghanistan and terrorism worldwide that so many Muslim lives have been spared. The greatest liberator of the Muslims and the greatest protector of Muslims has been him.

Keep in mind that our if the radical Islams waged war only on themselves, we would have no moral justification to wage war on them. It is only when they pour out of their borders and wage war on us that we are morally obligated to fight.


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