Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Opioid Crisis

October 17, 2017

My city of Tacoma is joining the lawsuits against drug companies that manufacture opioids. Talking with my sister, who is involved in the medical industry, here’s what I gather happened.

The medical industry has known, for a long time, that opioids are dangerous stuff. Sure, they kill pain, but they are also highly addictive. Typically, they were only used on people who were going to die anyway, cancer patients and the like. The rest of us were given other, less effective painkillers because the opioids are simply too addictive.

The drug companies, in an effort to make more money, would experiment with all sorts of opioids. Oxycontin was discovered to be just as effective as any other opioid and slightly less addictive. By “slightly”, we’re talking tiny percentages that most mortal human beings wouldn’t even be able to detect. Initially, the FDA approved it for use for end-of-life care, but due to lobbying and the fact that regulatory agencies are run by the corporations they are supposed to regulate, it got approved for the rest of us. The next thing you know, doctors are prescribing it because they were told it isn’t as addictive.

Would doctors have prescribed it if they knew it was dangerous? My sister says no, they wouldn’t have. I believe this. I can’t believe that doctors would join the medical industry with the intention to do harm. The FDA told the doctors that it wasn’t addictive, and so they prescribed it, tried to monitor its usage, but it got out of hand rather quickly, and doctors figure this out so they don’t prescribe it anymore.

The problem is that the opioids are on the street, and doctors can’t control it. Now that China and Mexico are manufacturing and smuggling them into our country, no one is ever going to control these drugs anymore. The problem with opioids is they are so highly addictive that really, the only way to handle the crisis is to not get people hooked in the first place.

What caused the opioid crisis? Some would say greed. The problem with blaming a trait of human nature is humans don’t change. We are always going to be greedy. It’s part of who we are. You can’t fix problems caused by greed by making humans less greedy.

So taking greed off the table, what caused the crisis? Assuming that humans will always be greedy, the key factor is the FDA. Statists simply don’t understand that when you form a government, it’s going to attract people who want power. The more power it has, the more people it attracts. Like mosquitoes to a bug zapper, certain kinds of people are attracted to it.

When it comes to regulatory agencies in the United States, inevitably, the corporations that those agencies were intended to regulate dominate those agencies. No matter how hard you try to eliminate corruption, it’s going to exist, and the more valuable the corruption, the more difficult it is to identify let alone eliminate.

The Opioid crisis we face today was caused by the FDA, or rather, the misguided belief that regulatory agencies can regulate industry. No, all they really end up doing is stamping bad behavior with the seal of government approval. Had there never been an FDA, doctors would each have to figure out whether this particular drug would be a fit for their particular patients.

Inevitably, doctors would form associations, and those associations, run by the doctors, would determine which drugs were good for what cases and which were not. Given the fact that getting your drug approved by these associations would be very profitable, it is inevitable that drug companies would try to get their drugs approved, perhaps by deception. The key difference between private, independent associations and the government is that when the association is corrupted, it loses its reputation and no longer becomes a valuable entity to corrupt. That is, it is in the association’s interests to not allow itself to be deceived.

Some ways they can do so is demand subscription fees from their members. These fees, and nothing else, would be used to compensate the officials in the organization. Losing members due to trust issues would mean they would lose their jobs, while maintaining the highest levels of professionalism and science would mean they get more subscribers and thus fatter paychecks.

In the future, I propose we do the following.

  1. Abolish the FDA.
  2. Allow the medical industry to form its own standards and such, privately, without the influence or color of government.
  3. Let the doctors and patients decide which organizations they will listen to. If there are bad organizations, people will figure that out pretty quickly, and they will be held to account.

Under this system, individual doctors will have to convince the community that they are good at their job. Organizations will have to convince doctors and patients that they are good at their job. And drug companies will have to tell the truth about their drugs or risk being humiliated.

Regarding the lawsuit, I hope it ends up where it belongs: At the FDA. The drug companies and the FDA should be humiliated and punished for what they have done. They should be forced to bear the cost of the opioid crisis.

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On the Big Bang

October 16, 2017

The Big Bang is one of those theories that everyone seems to believe is accepted as hard science, when it is really on a shaky foundation. Any science that has to do with “predicting” what happened millions or billions of years ago is on a shaky foundation. All it takes is new evidence and observations for the entire theory to disappear.

The Big Bang theory suffers one of the fatal flaws that Evolution suffers: It seems to evolve just fast enough to keep up with the latest observations. How many times have you read, “New fossil suggests entirely new ordering of Humanity’s ancestors, surprising scientists!” In Physics, when our theory predicts something contrary to what we see, we throw the old theory away and then create new ones, complete with new names so we don’t confuse ourselves. The evolution of Darwin is entirely different than modern evolution.

So it is with the Big Bang. It seems the harder we look into it, the more problems we see. Lately I’ve been looking into the “Young-Old Galaxy” problem. It seems that the most distant galaxies we see, which shouldn’t even exist, because they were from such a short time after the universe was created, not only appear old, but appear just as old as the Milky Way, leaving no time for stars to form, die, and form again.

At first, they added in Dark Matter, then Dark Energy. I have no idea what they are going to try to add to the Big Bang to make these contradictory observations fit! Maybe they’ll call it “Dark Time”, but I shouldn’t give them any ideas.

Regardless, materialists point to the Big Bang as the beginning of the universe. Aquinas’ First Cause argument shows why this is plain silly. You can’t be a materialist and believe that the Big Bang was the beginning of the universe. At best, you have to believe in an infinite series of causes.

Let me walk you through it. Aquinas argued that all things have a cause. That is, there is nothing that spontaneously is created in and of itself, but all things were created by something else. If you don’t accept an infinite series of creations, then you have to have the source of all creations, the First Cause, which cannot have a cause (except itself). This is God.

The nature of this First Cause is either that it exists beyond the universe, or if it were to exist in the universe, then the universe would be able to contain things that cause themselves (since the First Cause is the cause of the universe itself.)

For materialists, who believe that nothing exists except the material universe, the Big Bang cannot be the First Cause since the Big Bang, or rather, the conditions that existed before it came into existence, doesn’t exist. Thus, to believe in the Big Bang is to contradict materialism. You must reach beyond the universe to find a cause for the Big Bang, whether that is random chance in nothingness or something else. And if you accept this, then you’re joining the realm of the Platonic Realists, and thus opening yourself up to obvious proofs of God.

Ultimately, I don’t see any theory of a non-infinite universe standing the observations we have. What we see not only contradicts all of our understanding of how physics works, but calls into question what we think we see altogether. Like Descartes, we need to struggle with the fact that what we see in the sky could simply be an image, a projection, an illusion. Yes, we can measure the distance to the nearest stars with parallax (and I need to expose who difficult it is to measure how big the sun is and thus how wide our orbit is in another post), but the vast majority of stars lie far beyond this range and cannot be detected to move even the slightest and so only offer us a minimum range with parallax.

The problem of an infinite universe is an entirely new one. Why isn’t the sky filled with light? Why does anything exist at all given dS >= 0? What is really going on up there?

There are simply too many questions, and I am lead to believe that the supposed answers we have are not obviously correct. More investigation is needed.

On Family

October 4, 2017

Some sacred cows are so sacred that tipping them really, really makes people angry.

Here’s one that lately ticked off some internet commentators: If you’re not spending your life trying to make babies in families, you’re wasting your time on useless things.

That is, the highest ideal anyone can achieve in life is to become a father or mother, raise a large family, and see their children become fathers and mothers and continue on. Anything less than this is sub-optimal. Those who are perfectly capable of doing this but choose to do something else are thus wrong and I say even evil.

When you consider economics, you quickly learn about opportunity costs. That is, the cost of doing something is not just the cost of doing that thing, but the cost of not doing other things. IE, if I spend my money to buy a new car, then that means I didn’t spend my money buying stock. If my car wouldn’t have made as much money as the stock would’ve, then I lost money, overall.

Let’s consider morality, or the economics of morality. In moral systems, good is, well, good, and evil is the opposite, which is not good. If you are going to make the best decision, then that means you have considered all the possibilities and made the decision that has the best difference between good and evil. To do any less is really not as good, and since it is not good, you can consider it evil. Some evils aren’t that big of a deal, but some are really severe.

Let’s take life. If murder is wrong (and I hope we all agree that killing the innocent is wrong!) then not murdering is better than murdering. Is there something even better than not murdering? Why, bringing new life into this world. Under what circumstances? It shouldn’t be a surprise that the best circumstances for new life, for children, is to be raised in a healthy family with a mother and a father. Thus, if you think murder is wrong, then you also think the best thing you can do is get married, stay married, and raise kids.

Let’s suppose you’re one of those new-fangled atheist types who think you’ve figured out how the human mind and spirit works and want to impose your new value system on the world. You believe that life is good (I hope) and you also believe in evolution, survival of the fittest, as being the optimal strategy to preserve, prolong, even improve life. Then the logical conclusion here is that you should also procreate and bring your children into the world in the system that is most likely to have them procreate. And you’ll do this as often as possible. This is just basic common sense.

Society tells us that we should place our own needs above the needs of our spouse and our children and grandchildren. Society is wrong. Just a simple examination of the arguments I made should make clear why this is. In fact, our highest priority should be family. If we aren’t married, we should get married. Until then, we should support our family, which will form an essential fabric on which the married couples can fall back on. When it comes to child-rearing, it doesn’t matter if we’re not the father or mother, we can still do our best to be a good example and encourage others to get married and raise as many kids as possible.

Some people might try to argue that even though they aren’t actively supporting their family, getting married, encouraging others to get married, and having lots of kids while encouraging others to do so, that they are still “good”. Sure, not murdering is better than murder, but on the spectrum of goodness, it is about as distant from murder as it is from building families. Murder takes a life, not murdering doesn’t do anything, and raising children creates lives. But whereas a murder might take a single life, bringing even a single child into this world creates the possibility of millions and millions of people in future generations.

But ask yourself: So you pay taxes, keep the laws, and leave people alone. Maybe you’ve accumulated some degree of wealth, or done something nice for the community, like served in some charitable role in society. But ask yourself: Are those things really more important than bringing more life into this world?

As with any ideal, you strive to obtain it, getting as close as possible if it is not achievable. It is in the striving that we grow, not necessarily the obtaining of the goal.

 

 

 

 

What is Marxism, really?

August 27, 2017

When you dig into a philosophy, you try to find that one kernel that gives life to all the other bits of philosophy.

For instance, for LDS theology, that idea could be summed up as “revelation”, the idea that God still speaks to men. From that, we get everything else.

For Marxism, it’s very difficult to identify the core philosophy because Marxism seems to be inherently illogical. But I think I have found it.

What revealed it for me was my study of Naziism. Here’s what I uncovered about some of the central tenets of the Nazi philosophy:

  1. There is no objective, universal truth.
  2. Each race of men has a different morality and definition of truth.
  3. Truth is fungible. What is true today may be false tomorrow, replaced by a new truth. The arbiter of truth is the leader of the group.
  4. The ultimate evil is egocentrism (putting your own needs ahead of others.) The ultimate good is altruism (putting other’s needs ahead of your own.)
  5. Violence is justified.

What’s shocking is that this isn’t really that shocking anymore today. A hundred years ago, our ancestors would’ve been able to easily identify the problems with this philosophy. Today, not so much!

Marxism seems to boil down to a similar set of tenets, a sort of Naziism, so to speak, but on a different basis.

  1. There is no objective, universal truth.
  2. There is no morality. (Everything is justified.)
  3. The only truth is that there are classes of people, and they are at war with each other, always have been and always will be.
    1. The upper classes, though numerically inferior, are slave drivers who use whatever tricks they can come up with to convince the lower classes to feed them.
    2. The lower classes believe the lies of the upper classes and willingly enter slavery, without realizing that their numerical superiority gives them all the means they need to overthrow the upper classes.
  4. There is a direction to history, and it’s clear that ultimately, the lower classes will own the means of production, and the other classes will be eliminated.
  5. Since that is the ultimate destiny of mankind, we might as well get their sooner rather than later, and avoid all the bad bits that have to come in between here and there by doing it quickly.

What’s most striking to me is whereas Hitler divided humanity by race, Marx divided them by economic class. In Marx’s world, people didn’t move from one class to another; you were basically stuck where you were born. In other words, Hitler and Marx seemed to believe the same thing, just they disagreed on the distinguishing characteristic, even though they agreed that you were born into that class or race, with nothing you can do to change it.

Even though Naziism advocated the suppression of basic rights, they didn’t completely write off all morality. Marxists do. There is literally nothing that a Marxist would ever claim to be “wrong” except the oppression of the lower classes. That is, it’s perfectly ok to rape and murder little children, as long as you’re not rich!

Of note, Nazis espoused altruism. Altruism sounds nice. I mean, after all, didn’t Jesus teach his disciples to love one another? What people forget is that Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself“, meaning, you are also supposed to be egocentrist. That is, you are supposed to weigh your own needs as you weight your neighbor’s needs. As I like to put it, you can’t help anyone get rich if you’re poor yourself! As Jesus said, “First cast the beam out of your own eye!” Indeed, Jesus’ parables are full of examples of righteous people acting in their own self-interest, from the master who rewarded his servants who doubled his assets, to the master of the vineyard that built a wall and a watchtower and put servants in place to protect it, to the parable of the sower, who sows seeds and expects to reap the rewards for himself. Indeed, Judaism teaches that while you are supposed to care for the poor, you are not supposed to sacrifice yourself doing it. Let the poor glean your fields, let the travelers eat the edges of your fields, but the rest is yours to keep, and you cannot simply give it away.

What do Marxists espouse? They espouse the class struggle. Individuals won’t own the means of production, *everyone* will. This philosophy, to me, is even more detestable than Naziism. At least Nazis taught that people were human with individual needs; Marxists teach that they are nothing more than a member of a group, and only the group should benefit.

Nazis looked forward to a future when each race could live in their own lands with their own way of life and their own government. In a sick and twisted sort of way, they actually looked forward to a peaceful world. I often wonder if indeed the Nazis would’ve invaded the US if they had taken Europe; indeed, whether their goal was simply to annex all the German lands or all of Europe. (Historically, the Frankish kings that created France came from Germany as well.) Did Hitler have plans to seize the Iberian peninsula? We can’t really tell, and no one seems to be bothered to explain these things. What was Hitler’s end plan? From my limited knowledge, it was simply to unite the German peoples, create a pure race with pure blood and pure culture, and remove the rest.

What about Marxists? Marxists look forward to the inevitable moment when the rich will be eliminated, that all will be the same. In a way, Star Trek’s Borg race is the perfect ideal of what Marxism anticipated for mankind. Everyone the same, everyone owning everything altogether. This sort of reality, to me at least, is complete dehumanizing. What would “other” mean when we are all the same? Would we even have different names, or even individual personalities, with our own likes and dislikes? Or would we be expected to be identical to each other, and not just in our appearance, but out behavior and attitudes?

Most depressing is that Marxism predicts a long and brutal war as the lower classes rise up against the higher classes. They see it as inevitable. Much like Sherman’s March, where General Sherman thought he could save lives by taking them, or the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this kind of thinking truly leads to horrific behavior. I shudder to think what people might do if they felt like they were averting a greater disaster. “Let’s murder 100 million today,” they say, “Because if we don’t, then 200 million will be killed tomorrow.”

To sum this all up, let me introduce you to the liberal philosophy that our Founding Fathers espoused. I call this “Radical Whigism” because no one is using that term and it’s not overloaded.

  1. God gives individuals rights, such as the right to life and liberty. There is a long list of these rights, and we’re not going to spell it out for you but let individuals assert these rights as far as they believe God gave them to them.
  2. Government exists solely to protect rights. Any more or less than this is grounds for altering or abolishing the government.
  3. People are accountable to themselves and themselves alone.

That’s pretty much it. The Utopia that conservatives imagine is a diverse population, with people speaking whatever language they like, wearing whatever clothing they like, but all agreed that they won’t trample each other’s rights. And when someone gets it in their head that trampling rights is a good idea, we’ll bring down the force of government on their pathetic souls to make it right.

Finally, let’s consult the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for his opinion on which political philosophy we should follow. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Both Naziism and Marxism are responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths. What about Radical Whigism? If you count the Civil War casualties along with every war American participated in, it doesn’t even compare. And unlike those two philosophies, we have built a nation where anyone can come and build their own future.

On Contention

August 13, 2017

One way to tell the good guys from the bad guys is this: Contention.

Contention comes from the word “contend”, which is another word for fighting and arguing. Contention in and of itself is not bad. Hopefully, each of us live our lives daily contending with ourselves about what we should do with our time. In science, we contend with each other about science and interpreting the results of experiments. In a good religion, individuals content about what is the true and pure doctrine and what is not.

The problem of contention comes when we stop battling ideas and start battling each other. When it becomes more important that the other person lose, rather than just his ideas, we are fighting each other and not ourselves.

I believe this is what is warned about in the Bible. In the Book of Mormon, in 3 Nephi 11, Jesus spells out that contention doesn’t come from him; it comes from the devil.

When you survey the political landscape, you see people arrayed one against another, like vast armies. For your political philosophy, what is your enemy? Are you arrayed against certain ideas, or are you set against particular people or groups of people (regardless of their ideas)? If so, you’re in the wrong.

This brings to my mind a couple of things.

One of the things I have been thinking about lately is why we need to punish criminals, and what should be the punishment for certain crimes. I think it boils down to this: We punish criminals so we don’t have people taking vengeance for themselves. The amount of punishment we meet should fit the crime, so reasonable people won’t feel like they have to supplement the system. For instance, let’s say we were adamant in executing each and every murder, and our justice system worked pretty much how we wished it would. Would a cop arresting a suspected murderer feel any inclination to rough the suspect up (off the books, of course) if he knew that if he were guilty, he was going to get executed? No, I don’t think so. That’s what you have justice for: so that people don’t go around harming each other because they don’t feel like proper punishment was applied. The whole reason why mythical figures like The Punisher exists is because people feel like the guilty are not being held accountable.

So when I say something like, “We need to execute Hillary Clinton for treason against America”, I am not against Hillary directly, but the things she did. If I believed the justice system would work to uncover all of the murders and traitorous acts she was engaged in and then hold her accountable, life for life (and people have died because of her, make no mistake), then that would be the end of my statement. I wouldn’t feel any anger at Hillary. I might even feel sorry for her and her family as I watch them buckle her down to the execution chair.

In other words, a properly functioning justice system would end pretty much all the contention we have in America. If we executed murderers, rapists, and such, we wouldn’t be so angry at murderers and rapists, but merely wait until they got the inevitable justice.

When I look at what happened over the weekend in Charlottesville, this is my impression. You had a bunch of racist neo-Nazis (false flag or otherwise) and you had a bunch of so-called anti fascists (who behave like fascists.) Both hated each other’s guts, both wanted blood, and the thing is, when someone wants something, they’re going to get it, one way or the other. How do you end the contention? Swift and fair justice. Take the people who initiated violence, hold them accountable, and make it clear that there is no reason for any retribution. Life for life. If someone dies because of the bad decisions of one or more people, they need to die for it, otherwise, we’re going to have more fighting and more deaths.

The good guys, meanwhile, know that justice is coming, in this life of the next. They don’t act except out of self-defense. They hold their hands out in an honest gesture of friendship. The endure bitter abuse and intolerance and even some degree of violence, turning the other cheek, so to speak, and only resort to violence as a last measure.

Keep that in mind.

Can Censorship Work in the Internet Age?

August 11, 2017

As I watch Google and YouTube struggle to stem the tide of dank memes and pro-Trump messages, I wonder if they realize they can’t win this battle.

Recently, they de-monetized Diamond and Silk, popular supporters of Donald Trump. Of course, there is huge backlash building. Because Diamond and Silk are black women, they’re being compared to Rosa Parks.

But with so many alternatives to YouTube, and so many ways to reach their supporters, how does Google think such behavior will benefit them? It’s not like Diamond and Silk are silenced, after all.

Can censorship work in the Internet Age? The obvious answer is “No.” There’s simply too many ways to manipulate the internet to get to where you want to go, and too many alternatives to distributing information. It is a well-known fact that in North Korea, you can get access to South Korean dramas, even when people distribute pro-Christian and anti-North Korean propaganda with the shows. If even North Korea can’t block the free flow of information, what does Google think they can do?

Choose One: Oppressive Dictators or Colonialism

August 10, 2017

Apparently on facebook or something people are suddenly becoming aware that batteries are made from dirt dug out of the ground by 4 year olds enslaved in some unknown 3rd world country. Now people are upset, I guess because forced child labor is being used to build their fancy flying machines or something.

I wonder whether people even question how the world works anymore. Do they even know what is inside their phones, let alone the processes used to get that stuff in there and working? Maybe it’s a dying breed that actively questions the world, or maybe it was never really a thing that many people did.

When it comes to dirt that is in 3rd World Countries, there aren’t a lot of options to getting it. And trust me, we wouldn’t be asking for the dirt if it wasn’t cheaper and better dirt than the dirt in our own backyard.

One option is we pay some guy money to give us the dirt. With that money, he can buy stuff that people in his country has never seen before, the stuff we take for granted. He gets his hands on these things and next thing you know, he’s running his country as a brutal dictator using child labor to dig the dirt out of the ground.

Another option is we move in with our own people, take the land with the dirt on it for ourselves, and then dig the dirt out in a civilized way. Maybe we pay off the locals with tokens and trinkets to keep them happy. Maybe we hire some of them to do menial jobs that they are actually capable of doing. Maybe we just build a fence and shoot people who try to cross it. Either way, this is what colonialism is all about.

In the late 20th Century, colonialism became one of those ideas that everyone universally agreed sounded really bad. I mean, you’re “stealing” land, you’re “exploiting” people, etc… During this time, many colonial European nations began the process of handing control of their colonies back to the people from their colonies. Some worked out OK; most did not. After the Europeans left, things got markedly worse, at least for a time. Some places are still really bad. Some places are in a very precarious position and can easily go back to being bad.

Now that we see the world without colonialism, was it really such a bad idea? Are we comfortable buying dirt from brutal dictators with forced child labor? Or would we rather prefer to do things in a civilized way?

Saudi Arabia is a good example of how you can do colonialism “right”. We (meaning, all Europeans) put the Saudis in power. We moved in, with their blessing, with our machines and our people. We hired their people to do work, and it works out OK. Saudi Arabia, especially the Saudi royal family are fantastically wealthy, the average citizen in their country has more wealth than they could even imagine, and we get all the dirt (in this case, liquid dirt we call oil) we want at a good price.

China is also a good example of how you can do colonialism right, at least how we do it today. With the blessing of their leaders, we moved in, built factories, created jobs, and elevated their standard of living way beyond their imaginations. Now China is worried we will move on to other countries such as India or Vietnam or even Africa, and is trying to build what we have in their own country. (Spoiler alert: You can’t do it that way.)

Perhaps it’s time we moved into Africa as well, took over these mines (with their blessing, of course) and hired our own miners to do the work. We are already doing this all over the world with mining operations and farming and much more, so much so that when you see products enter our country from overseas, you’ll see Americans all over it. Over time, we should probably label all the parts of the world controlled by Americans and American corporations, and as we consume more and more of that map and push the native populations into their own isolated corner (with trinkets and toys and more wealth than they can imagine), we can secede and join the US, just like we did in Texas and Hawaii. I’m certainly all for that. That’s the inevitable conclusion to what happens when you invite a foreign power to setup shop in your backyard.

As to how you can civilize a nation, well, that’s another topic. I used to believe that America could do it, America could be the Rome that brings universal peace to the world, but I am not so sure anymore. We have our own problems to deal with, and we certainly can’t solve the world’s problems. And frankly, we don’t care enough about the rest of the world to give us any hope of doing it right. I mean, we didn’t even know that our electronic devices were built with child labor!

Whose Morality?

August 10, 2017

The great struggle of philosophy is the definition of good and evil. These are supernatural descriptions of actions, not objects, and so are ridiculously difficult to nail down. (If you don’t like the word “supernatural” then perhaps the word “metaphysical” will suit you better?)

Christians along with many other religions agree that morality is defined by some supernatural being. Whether the being is good and good is universal, or good is just whatever the being prefers is irrelevant.

The issue, of course, we don’t agree on that being and even if we did, we wouldn’t agree with what the being was saying.

This problem can be solved, rather simply. See, rather than relying on someone telling us what we *should* do, we can instead look at what someone actually did and model our behavior on that.

The question then becomes: Who do we model our behavior on?

Let me propose a good candidate: Jesus Christ.

Whether you believe in God or not, whether that God is even the Judeo-Christian God of the Old Testament or not, we can all agree that there exists a record of what Jesus actually did. And I think we can all agree that Jesus was a pretty good guy, no matter your background.

Let’s examine some of the things Jesus did and use them as examples for how we can behave.

  • Jesus studied and learned and grew. We can all study and learn and grow.
  • Jesus talked and walked with people from all walks of life. We can do the same.
  • Jesus taught people that whatever the law is, you can strive to do better. “Better,” for Jesus, meant putting your heart in line with your actions.
  • Jesus taught people that strict obedience to the law without pure intent is like disobedience. We are not born to be mechanical robots, but to experience life, to love and live it to the fullest, and the commandments are there to make our lives better.
  • Jesus helped people with their physical needs. Not only did he miraculous heal many people, including raising some from the dead, but he also helped people with food and clothing and other important things. We know this because Judas was in charge of the charitable funds for Jesus’ group, and questioned whether it was good to let the woman waste a fortune on bathing his feet in perfume.
  • Jesus laid down his own life for everyone. This kind of self-sacrifice is, frankly, without parallel that I know of in any religion. Jesus, the very being who we either claim was God himself or was the Son of God incarnate, came down to earth and willingly put his life in the hands of his enemies, all so that he can effect salvation for all.

If you’re an Atheist, and you struggle with the question of good and bad, why don’t you try studying the life of Jesus, read the words he actually spoke, the things he actually did, and try to learn a little more about what it means to be good in Christianity? Who knows, maybe you’ll find some inspiration for your own life.

Why Everyone Needs to Study Religion, Deeply

August 9, 2017

Watching the Google fiasco unfold, it’s clear that everyone should spend as much time studying religion as they do mathematics, programming, and civics. Seeing as religion, what we believe to be true, the standards we set, are so crucial in every aspect of our lives, it should be the first and last thing we study each day and throughout our lives.

One of the things you learn rather quickly in studying religion is that no matter what, no one can possibly live up to the impossible ideals of any religion.

Let’s walk through the waterfall of choices.

  • Shall we lie about our obedience to the standards? If we put on a good face, then we can appear to be righteous and just and not have to worry about the consequences. Except, of course, for the fact that we are leading double lives and we’re not actually keeping those standards. If no one is keeping the standards in their private life, why bother at all?
  • Shall we lower the standards? To do so is to give up. No matter how low you lower the standards, eventually, you’ll reach rock-bottom. There are always standards we aren’t willing to budge on.
  • Shall we try to force ourselves and others to live by the standards? The problems here are numerous, not the least of which is denying everyone the freedom to choose how to live their own lives. Sometimes, however, a violation of the standards are so egregious and harmful that we decide it is justifiable and preferable to deny those who violate the standards their freedoms. For instance, we will stop someone from murdering someone else. Here, we must be very careful and judicious. This is where government steps in. Gratefully, throughout most of our history, we have lived by the adage that the best government governs least. Unfortunately, it’s not so true today.
  • Do we internalize and accept the fact that we cannot live all the standards? At some point, every religious person is confronted with the fact that no matter what they do, there are always going to be contradictions between their behavior and the standards. Accepting this fact is crucial to making progress in any religion. It is, in effect, the entire reason why religion is even a thing.
  • Do we forgive and forget?  If we forgive and forget, the weight is lifted from us, and we give room for the perpetrator to try again and improve. What do you do when you kid messes up in piano practice? You practice some more, and leave that mistake behind you.

The conclusion that every (good) religion leads is the following:

  • Standards can’t be lowered.
  • Lying about obedience hurts and doesn’t help anyone.
  • Some standards are so important that we must punish violators, but we need to be very careful. (This is the realm of government.)
  • We need to accept the fact that we can’t keep all the standards.
  • We need to forgive and forget.
  • We need to keep trying.

Google doesn’t get this. They have this ideal they’d like to implement, but they are lying about their implementation, they are punishing people who seem to violate it (or rather, refuse to lie about it!), they do not internalize and accept their contradictions, and they do not forgive and forget and give people room to learn and grow.

A good study of religions would help remedy this.

Is Commerce the Anti-Zion?

August 8, 2017

This article from buildingzion.org is intensely interesting. He starts off by listing the parallels between the Zion built in Enoch’s day and the Zion built in 4th Nephi in the Book of Mormon.

Among the things he lists, he says:

It appears likely that it wasn’t just the desire for nice clothes, but it was the introduction of commerce, the buying and selling of goods and services, which triggered the collapse of their unity. Before those who desired nice clothes entered some marketplace, the people “did have their goods and their substance” in “common among them”. In other words, everyone likely had a share in the produce of the land; the people worked together as one large family to produce the goods and services they all needed. Enter commerce, and the family-style economic unity crumbles.

I am a huge fan of the free market. I have long believed, and I still do believe, that markets, free markets, are something that exist in Zion. The author is very careful to try and distinguish between Zion economics and pride-based commerce economics, and I agree with him. This might surprise many who are against capitalism as some form of evil.

Let me try to add or expound some words in a way that is more secular.

First, what is the great sin? The great sin, as I see it, is pride. This pride is the idea that you are better than someone else, more deserving of substance, more deserving of justice. The basic feeling behind pride is the exact antithesis to what Christianity is all about, which is that all can be saved if they come unto Christ, who came unto them, and we can all be the same with Christ and God. The opposite of pride is the pure love of Christ, or what we might call charity, which isn’t just helping the poor but seeing everyone as you see yourself, valuing them as much as you value yourself.

Markets and economics and money has nothing to do with pride and love. These are just things, things that are assigned value because of the way we perceive them. True, people who have a lot of stuff may be more likely to be prideful, but in my experience, I don’t see a huge difference between the rich and the poor when it comes to pride.

Now, on to economics. I believe that free markets, money, and economics has a lot to do with Zion. It’s how we use these tools that makes all the difference.

Labor and Production

It starts with production. In Zion, we are not working for ourselves, but for everyone. When you see your neighbor is struggling, you will work that much harder to help him out. The same goes for everyone else. In short, you don’t stop working once you’ve gotten everything you want. You only stop working once everyone has what they want.

This is how families work. The breadwinner doesn’t stop working when he has met all his needs; no, he continues to work once his family is all taken care of as well. Members of the family are expected to do the same.

Trade

Let’s talk about trade. In economics, we learn that only when both parties benefit do transactions occur. Thus, trading itself creates wealth. There is obviously a limit to the wealth that trading can create, but moving things and providing services is definitely helpful in directing economic resources to where they are needed the most.

In a Zion environment, if people paid attention to prices, they would know how to help those in need halfway across the world. They would also be able to find things that are cheap and plentiful, and invent new uses for them. I can’t imagine Zion working with prices and all the benefits that price signals bring.

The difference between a pride-based economy and a love-based economy is that both buyer and seller will be carefully aware of the needs of the other. In today’s economy, we see things like Wal-Mart profit sharing with their suppliers. This drives the price to the middle, where both sides can benefit. This kind of conscientious trading benefits everyone greatly, rather than the harsh and cruel tactics we often see employed when one party wants to take advantage of the other.

Money

With prices and trade comes money. We could barter one with another, but it is so much more elegant to use money than barter that I find it hard to believe that anyone, even a Zion society, wouldn’t have money.

There are several types of money. Let me list them. Keep in mind that the problem with money is making sure you don’t have too much (inflation) or too little (deflation). I hope that a Zion society would have a stable currency supply so that prices don’t change very much, if at all, making it easy to plan for the future.

Commodity Money is money based on things like gold and silver. The more of these things you have, the more money there is. You cannot expand or contract the money supply without creating or destroying these commodities, unless you are dishonest and claim to have more than you actually do. In a Zion society, there would be no dishonesty, but with commodity money, it is terribly difficult to keep track of how much money there is versus the amount of commodity, so I don’t think this would work very well.

On the other hand, if we used the commodities themselves and not certificates, this could work. This would mean actually carrying gold and silver around. Perhaps God can control how much gold and silver there is in the economy by leading people to find gold and silver or whatnot. Ultimately, the supply of gold and silver depends on what it is used for and how hard it is to get, so maybe we’d control the supply of the commodities by putting it into statues and sculptures and buildings when there is way too much of it.

Debt Money is created by banks or bank-like institutions. It all begins with a loan. Someone borrows money from the banks, and then the money enters circulation. I can’t imagine debt being a part of Zion society, so I can’t imagine this form of money existing. (We have debt money today, which I detest.)

Credit Money is the exact opposite. It is created when someone creates something of economic value. The institutions that can issue this currency are the exact opposite of banks. They don’t want to hoard money, they want to hoard goods and services. In Zion, it is obvious what institution would issue money: The bishops who manage the goods and services for the poor. The bishops can issue you credits when you do something for him or donate something to the bishop’s storehouse, and thus, you can get paid for your labor. Of course, you can just give it to him for free and tell him to keep the credits. These credits can then be traded and finally end up back in the hands of the bishop when you buy something from the storehouse.

In this way, the local bishop’s storehouse becomes part of a global network of storehouses. Say you want to buy a bed because your last bed broke. You live in a part of the country where there are no bed factories, but halfway across the world there is a bed factory and you’d like one of their beds. So you go to the bishop and ask for a bed, but the bishop says nothing is free, why don’t you turn over some of your labor or goods and he’ll issue you a credit that you can use to buy that bed yourself. Or he sends some credits to the storehouse with the beds and gets a bed sent to the storehouse that he can give to you, in exchange for credits or whatnot.

How would credit money work? The same way money works today. Each bishop has their own currency. Each bishop can issue currency as they like, but there is a global currency exchange that shows the going rate of his currency versus all the others, based on how much demand there is for his goods. If a bishop is in a poor spot of Zion where they aren’t producing things people want, then his credits will become less and less valuable. The bishop can choose to issue more credits, depreciating the value further, or he can engage the community in finding something more productive they can do, or he can ask for charity from other bishops to stabilize his credit value.

Another key benefit here is that the bishop’s storehouse becomes the storehouse. There, all economic goods will flow, and the bishop will have a part in all services rendered as well. He will have a clear picture on how people are working for each other, who needs to pick up the slack, how much their labor and their work is valued, and so much more. All the while, people get to keep what they earn, own their own things, and use their own heads to figure out the best way to do things. Thus, the bishop becomes a sort of stock market, the center of trade in any Zion city. Whether the bishop is connected to the global network or even if he is all alone, he and the people in his ward will have everything they need to build their corner of Zion.

Investment and Savings

Of note, in a Zion society, people don’t save. They turn their surplus over to the bishop. If we are using bishop’s credits as money, then they can just hand over a stack of credits to the bishop saying, “I am not going to use these.” The bishop can re-issue these or destroy them, thus maintaining some sort of control over his currency on the other end. Or if they have a surplus of goods, they can turn that over to the bishop. Or if they have too much time on their hands, they can go to the bishop and say, “What can I do?” I expect that you’ll just hand over to the bishop a stack of cash at the end of the year. The goods and services will always be traded in for credits.

Without savings, though, how do you do investments? If no one has any surplus, it would seem it is impossible to raise the money necessary to, say, build large projects and such.

This isn’t true, though. The bishop, you see, will have access to all the economic goods and resources in his area. If someone comes forward with an idea to improve the economic productivity of his ward, the bishop can invest all of his surplus into this project. If there is a project that requires more than his entire ward can do, the bishops of the region can get together and work together on it, each pitching in a few of their resources to get it done.

Indeed, what is the difference between helping the poor and investing in the future? The answer is there isn’t much of a difference at all.

Final Notes

Note that the bishop doesn’t have to use coercion at all to do his job. If someone doesn’t want to work for him, they don’t have to; they can just work for others around them. As described in the Doctrine and Covenants, if you get sick of Zion, you can leave whenever you want, and keep all the property you have. This is an important distinguishing factor between socialist ideas that rely on government force and my concept of Zion.

Most importantly, Zion can be a place where people can put all their strength and might into working for one another. It doesn’t matter what you do, you can find a way to help everyone around you, even if the things you do are not immediately needed by the people in your neighborhood.