Sep 19, 2014

Self-Esteem: The Reflection of Our Actions by Isaac Snow

Self-esteem, being our evaluation of the self, is the highest thing we can hope for, and thus it is important to analyze where our notions of self-esteem lie. Self-esteem is set by the rational reflection of the self's power of acting. It is affected by the praise and blame from others, as well as the self's notion of what right actions are and the ability to abide by those notions. If one allows external elements to affect his opinion of what constitutes correct actions, he runs the risk of shying away from the activities that are truly meaningful. Submission to outside influence causes a person to place emphasis in his evaluation of self-esteem in actions he does not consciously agree with. Thus, if he is not excellent in those actions, he diminishes his self-esteem meaninglessly. Even if he does excel in those action the disjointedness of the external pressure and internal, unconscious rejection prevents authentic happiness. This essay seeks to determine how a man living in our society can attempt to gain control over his own happiness by placing the authority of the definition of meaningful actions internally.

Aristotle speaks of happiness as a consequence of acting in accordance to virtue. Happiness is thus an activity and not an end state. A person can only be happy, as a consequence, when they act in what he and others believe is a virtuous manner. In the absence of a teleological end-purpose, man is given the ability to define his own meaning within the limitations of his immutable psychology and physiology. Therefor a person has the ability to define is own meaning of virtue (and hence the actions that will lead to his happiness), but to the extent that he is a social animal, he lacks a comprehensive control over his ability to craft his own notions; therefor, man is reliant on society for even his abstract happiness.

This inability to define one's own meaning of virtue conflicts with the typical Canadian view (and possibly other groupings of people I don't have direct contact with) as many see their jobs as solely a source of income, and the income as a means to achieving happiness. The truly happy people are the one's who balance a job that they love with a fulfilling personal life. But these people are only happy by chance. It is by chance that their perceptions of fulfillment align with what society forces them to do. The easy way to happiness within a strict society is to simply line up your will with what society demands of you. If society says the virtuous man works hard, work hard. However, in deeper reflection these people of false assimilation may be found to not be truly happy at all. The happy man is the man who, on his deathbed, can look back on his life and say, "that is what I wanted to do as those actions are what I felt meaningful, and I excelled in my performance." What the Stoic's prescribe is falsity; and dishonesty to one's self necessarily distorts and diminishes one's self-esteem.

The external show of happiness itself becomes an important part of a person's assimilation in society, as few people tolerate an outwardly unhappy person. This unhappy person, although more honest than if he were to assume a 'happy' countenance, is unlikely to obtain the career positions and social relations that would allow full assimilation into society. Thus, if he refuses to fake his true feelings, he will maintain his position as a reject; and, furthermore, this will hamper his ability to achieve the real emotion of happiness. The person that rejects the social definitions of virtuous actions, yet attempts to perform them anyways, going so far as to accept the external evaluations, will stimulate in himself a negative self-esteem, even if he is judged positively as those positive evaluations are of actions he rejects as unimportant.

External evaluation effects self-esteem, although it is different to it. Eternal evaluation effects self-esteem to the extent that, as social animals, we are conscious of the opinions others hold of us and reflect this in our self-esteem. Our view of the external opinions may, of course, very likely be inaccurate.There is an element of our own will when determining how other feel about us.

We have, as a capitalist society, a seemingly objective way of performing our analysis of external evaluation through our monetary worth. It is not uncommon to evaluate people based on their perceived potential to generate monetary value for the evaluator. Using this measure, the worth of the individual is necessarily reduced as the immaterial parts of ourselves are not able to be valued. This type of behaviour is destructive because it necessarily scorns those things that have no apparent monetary value. Erich Fromm gives an example of this under-appreciation. The employees of a department store underestimate the worth of the individual. The individual is not valued because he is only important as far as he represents the universal customer. If he is being mistreated, the store is not worried about his individual mistreatment, but solely that his mistreatment "would indicate that there was something wrong and it might mean that the store would lose other customers for the same reason." Fromm summarizes: "as an abstract customer he is important; as a concrete customer he is utterly unimportant." No one at the store cares about the individual person, but only his utility and his representation as a general customer. Thus, we need to be weary of allowing any sort of outside evaluation enter into the reflection of our abilities that produces our self-esteem.

Everyday the individual is considered differently, and thus valued differently, by the various parties that we interact with. At work I am valued at the value I deliver to the company, at school I am valued at the value of my scholarly input, and even in social relations I am the value that I deliver to that person. With these reference points in mind, we base our self-worth on our ability to market ourselves. We are worth what others say we are worth; and one of our most important 'virtuous actions' is the ability to simply appear valuable to others; even if that means deceiving the other person or assuming a false personality. This is a type of circular reasoning that distorts our self-esteem, and ultimately leads to a temporary, positive self-esteem that is actually empty as it is not built on our ability to perform meaningful actions.

There are only two parties that could possibly put the full value of our self in view: the self itself and the people who truly love us. As true love is hard to achieve, and may be impossible; especially if we begin with a lack of real self-esteem, we must achieve the confidence required to evaluate ourselves (without pride, the overestimation and distortion of our true abilities) and accept our results. The results, if accepted, will either allow our self-esteem to flourish, or indicate areas where we need to improve. I am not advocating a complete disregard of external sources of valuation, only that they are inadequate and must be viewed abreast to our own evaluation - to either support it or point out flaws in our reflection, but never to replace.

Many people in first-world countries suffer from depression. People view this as a purported paradox: How can people living in comfortable conditions with relatively high incomes be less happy than those living with poverty in hostile environments? The question is confounded further when we acknowledge that many statistics use purchasing power as a proxy for happiness. The answer to the 'paradox' lies in the individual's ability to align his actions with the virtues that he deems to be fulfilling. The wealthy man is unhappy because he spends his time engaged in meaningless activities. The poverty-stricken man in contrast spends his time engaged in meaningful activities; these activities are meaningful if only because they contribute to the perseverance of self. The man living in a wealthy country with social programs has his basic physiological needs met; thus, he needs to create meaning in higher-order actions. This is a difficult task, and many fall victim to the errors discussed previously.

As an example, it can be said that the archetypical Canadian father is at work 40 hours per week; yet, research supports the hypothesis that a father is with his children only 6.5 hours per week. Being with your child is more likely to rank as a more meaningful activity than work. A person who seeks a positive self-esteem will find a better balance of work and family; sacrificing a higher income if need be (this is justified if spending time with your children is more important than the extraneous products and services you could otherwise afford). Within a first-world country a person with a young child has many options concerning the child's care and has the ability to choose to accept certain services like warfare in light of the work-family balance. A person in a third-world country may consider work as a means for his child's perseverance as meaningful enough, and opt to spend less personal time with his family. The point is that our self-esteem is affected by our external conditions as our evaluation of virtuous actions are contingent on what is possible.

Self-esteem is a joy that arises from considering our virtues in a positive way. The idea of our weakness is a sadness. Thus it is important to be able to consider ourselves in a positive way, but this is only possible if we have an appropriate sense of what virtues are important. If we lack a strong self, we run the risk of valuing ourselves based on the virtues that those others posit. My boss considers me virtuous when I over-work myself. The store owner sees my virtue in my extraordinary spending habits and ability to support the payments. If these are among the only affects on my identity of virtues, I risk skewing the criteria for my self-esteem. My self-esteem will be based on the consideration of virtues that are inappropriate. And this will be a difficult habit to break out of. Once I've built my self-esteem on inappropriate virtues I will lack the strength to dismiss those virtues for more appropriate ones. With confidence in our own definitions of virtues and our valuations of our actions in accordance to those virtues, whilst taking into account, albeit with skepticism to its accuracy, external valuations, we will be able to achieve positive self-esteem and true happiness.

Isaac Snow
Prideful in Kelowna, BC
June 2014

Aug 22, 2014

A Plea for Dionysian Consciousness by Samuel Bucker

Many philosophers concerning themselves with the notion of happiness, and the acquirement of such, have come to the general agreement that a personal emphasis on reason is vital. Reason allows us to soberly avoid negative emotions, as well as plan coming events that will prove beneficial. However, reason can lead us to unavoidable and unpleasant conclusions. The pursuit of Truth necessitates that we accepts certain unpleasantness, as well as incorporate propositions that may negate life. Reason gives us an appreciation of the meaningless of existence, but it doesn't provide an opportunity to move past this. In fact, reason raises this concern above all else. When reflecting on one's existence, one distorts the Truth out of the psychological and physiological inability to obtain pure, disinterested, objective truth. For this reason it can be recommended that one engage in his own truth making when analyzing his self. By using creative and artistic powers we can distort our own history to create one that facilitates the will to life. A distorted view of reality, the unreason, can bring joy to our lives and meaning to our existence that would be excluded with strict adherence to reason.

Being is, in reality, a connected series of has-beens. When we finally come to death we understand the termination of our being, and thus conclude that being is something that was. The past is our being. In this way, we have the power to alter our own beings through our interpretation of our personal history.

Nietzsche in his Birth of Tragedy states:

There is an ancient story that king Midas hunted in the forest a long time for the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, without capturing him. When at last he fell into his hands, the king asked what was best of all and most desirable for man. Fixed and immovable, the demon remained silent till at last, forced by the king, he broke out with shrill laughter into these words: "Oh, wretched race of a day, children of chance and misery, why do ye compel me to say to you what it were most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is for ever beyond your reach : not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. The second best for you, however, is soon to die."
It is this predicament that reason leads us into: life is misery and we may as well end it as soon as possible. The pursuit of truth is taken as a moral commandment from society. Those who engage in lies are ostracized. But this is because the 'liar' is a liar in the relationship to society. The public liar is selfish and attempts to further his own ends at the expense of others through his lies. The liar is one who challenges the notions of truth held by society. But what is truth? If it is based on the ability to uphold correspondence with others, truth is simply a social construct that we must abide by - at the risk of being labelled a liar if we do not.  In one's personal, internal life - the life that does not affect others, at least not directly but only indirectly through the affects that it has on the person's will and behavior - he has the ability to alter his interpretation of his experience. Every time one recalls a memory this memory is recreated. A memory therefor is an inaccurate representation of the original perception of the experience he submitted to. These inaccuracies, or distortions, come from a multiplicity of factors - internal and external. Considering the fact that memory is wrong, why not alter the memory to personal benefit? If to recall a memory in one way leads to a affirmation of the will to life, why deny it in favour of an interpretation that leads to life's denial? I say we should be the artist of our own being. We should revel in the drunk interpretation and shutdown the sober, life denying one.

The pursuit of truth leaves us trapped between the two paradigms that purport to be its arbiters. Science rejects spirituality and leaves us to the dark abyss of existence. Religion, on the other hand, demands absolute resignation to an illogical doctrine. Only in the self itself are we to find an alternative; the creation of the 'truth' that leads to a life affirming state of being.

Human life without art is a mistake. An aesthetically void existence is one where man is a simple compound of needs that are to be satisfied. Once these needs are satisfied he is subjected to a perpetual state of boredom until new needs arise. Boredom is just the affirmation of the emptiness of life. Even our seemingly wholesome desire to birth a family is birthed from the stranglehold of necessity and desire to escape boredom. We have a psychological need to seek out sex, and are subjected to intense pleasures during copulation. If one were to have a sober view of sex and the subsequent birth of a new life, would they then engage in the activity? No, they do so because they are slaves of the passions. It is only when the will is brought to the forefront, and we interact with reality in some way, that we transcend an existence based on needs and escape the looming staticity of boredom. Art is the most direct way of interacting with reality; we shape reality without restriction. Music is the only art form void of reference. Reference ties us to reality. No-reference enables us to create our own, personal world. Music is the pure engagement of will in reality. By engaging with reality on our own terms, in contrast to simply doing what we must out of necessity due to the physiological inveigle of Perseverance, we give life meaning. We must make a symphony out of our history.

The pursuit of truth and commitment to reason commits one to accept a notion of the self and reality that is life denying. By artistically interpreting our lives and engaging our will in reality, we transcend doldrum and affirm life. Life is not a motion picture that we are to sit back and watch; and recall prior scenes with perfect clarity. We are to alter the course of our lives through engagement, and alter the recollection of the past to improve the whole. What is the pursuit of truth but the pursuit towards a better life?

Samuel Bucker
Fucked up on 'shrooms somewhere in the Central Okanagan
May 2014

Aug 8, 2014

Reading Genesis by Andrew Anson

I've never had much exposure to the Bible. I was raised in a predominately atheist house-hold; although that word was never used. My mother went through a few phases of religion leaning, and would drag my father and us children to church on Sunday. These phases would last a couple months; up until she decided to submit to our pleas (my father included) that church was awful. I didn't enjoy it simply because it was boring. I had no rejection in principal. I think I could find that now; this essay won't go into those details though. My social circle was also very non-religious, expounding only those religious preachings that are so common place in society they have lost their direct link to religion. Like many social norms, the origin becomes irrelevant - we simply live with them and only contemplative people, or those with specific goals in mind, chose to challenge them to the chagrin of the passive folks who want to justify their behavior through appeal to the authority of time. The secular public school system also introduced to me no formal teachings of religion, only to the veiled, religious affected philosophies of certain school teachers. So as a rational man, steeped in a constant diet of a society affected by multiple ideologies, I now approach the first book of the Bible. Perhaps I should have taken the advice of St. Augustine, who claimed that the Bible should be read beyond its literal meaning, and sought the assistance of a professional.

It's interesting to read the source after being exposed to the effects of the Bible all of my life. It's not often we get the opportunity to approach the source of such an affection. Experiencing the stories that have been re-told and bastardized in various media in their accepted form is an elucidating experience. The various quotes lifted from the book, that we see everyday, are interesting to see in context - many of which are taken completely out of context, and thus distorted.

One such quote I saw recently in a church read, lovingly, "Walk about the land through its length and its breadth". In context though, God gave Abram (later renamed Abraham) the land (which was already inhabited, so God usurped the land) for him and his seed, God's chosen people. The irony is readily apparent. The pleasant church goer who plastered that quote on the wall didn't understand that if I'm not of Abraham's seed, I have no right to be on that land at all. I can't walk about the land because its all private property, and the last time I did that I got physically assaulted (in the Bible, God would probably get me killed). Ultimately, I'm stuck walking around my apartment, which is only mine temporarily and as long as I continue to make rent payments. I suppose this interpretation of the quote comes off as cynical, but it's hard not to be. The early followers of this new religion reveled in their being God's favorites. Judaism is exclusionary in nature. I speculate that this was a source of the contention that has brought them so much hatred over the centuries. Just as the teacher's favourite in the classroom is bullied by his classmates, the Jews were bullied by their religious opponents.

The Jews declared themselves different from the dirty desert dwellers (and on par with the clean Egyptians) by instituting a doctrine of circumcision. Circumcision, the practice of cutting off a piece of a child's penis, is given in Genesis as a commandment of God. If I don't become circumcised, God says I "shall be cut off from [my] people (but not the tip of my penis)". My parents, through the nonact of avoiding my circumcision, have condemned me to isolation. Perhaps this is why I am unable to walk the lands freely.

Genesis places a lot of significance on continuing your family line. There is, however, not much emphasis placed on the value of family in itself; rather the emphasis is that the family is a possession and the sons and daughters are your continuation. Abraham is extremely stressed over not having a son, and impregnates his slave girl at the risk of ruining his marriage. He ultimately pleas to God, whom grants Abraham's wife (who no longer has womanly flows at her 90 years of age) a pregnancy. Yes, the son, poor Isaac had to suckle 90 year old nipples. In another example of the importance of the continuation of the family line, the two daughter's of Lot, desperate to have children, get Lot drunk and have sex with him. This focus on the family is consistent with the Bible's religious focus on property. In order to maintain hold on property one must have a family to pass it down to. God isn't concerned with the incest and the sex with slave girls, but he is concerned with Abimelech taking a married woman, but only to the extent that a married woman is someone else's property. God also takes no issue with Abraham owning slaves, firmly suggesting that Abraham mutilate their penises.

The Abraham sacrificing his son story is possibly the most important story in Genesis. Faith occurs when you give resignation, absolute resignation, to God. Abraham is either a murderer or a hero of faith. Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling analyzes this story in an interesting and rewarding way. It gives a meta-commentary to the story that the Bible is sorely lacking. The Bible gives a very literal account of the stories; this supports St. Augustine's assertion that one must have outside help to understand the book. This outside help, however, would allow the ability for people to distort the 'truths' of the Bible.

God, as an abstract concept, is used numerous times by characters in Genesis to achieve their selfish ends. The name of God is used by Jacob to deceive his father Isaac into blessing him instead of the brother Esau. Later, the name of God is used to make sure Jacob doesn't "take any wives besides [Laban's] daughters". Laban states, "though no one else is present, remember, God is witness between you and me! May the Lord look out between you and me when we are out of each other's site". This is one of the reasons, I wager, religion was used by statesmen and property owners: it allows laws to perpetuate without surveillance (something that is not as relevant modern times, as statesmen have infrastructures like the NSA).

I remember when I was a teenager I fell into depression; the type of depression that most teenagers must go through, and I sought out help in a few places. One of the places that I was going to turn to was religion. I picked up the Bible, but was uninterested in the creation myth so I put it away. And I'm glad I did as I don't believe that reading this would have helped me see value in existence in any way. I learned that one must submit to a being more powerful than one's self; that I must be initiated through bodily mutilation; I must never question its authority; and that I must spread my seed in order to maintain and grow the kingdom of my possessions. The surface of the story of Genesis and my non-literal interpretations reveal nothing that is useful; it contains no moral guidance, no advice, and no justification for life. Perhaps, it is as St. Augustine asserts; we must seek guidance in experts to understand the significance of the stories; or, perhaps, I end up regretfully agreeing with Richard Dawkins who claimed of the Bible: "Why bother with it?". This statement, given during a TV show panel discussion, was responded with indignant cries from the other panel members and the studio audience. But, if one must seek assistance in interpretation, one must submit to the authority of antiquity and the genesis of knowledge will never be revealed. 

Andrew Anson
Still seeking a meaning to being in Kelowna, BC
June, 2014

Jul 25, 2014

The Ethical Duties of "Corporations" by Kirk Jackson

A corporation, dealing with it as an abstract entity, has two main duties: the first, to seek a profit; the second, to obey the law. The second duty is problematic with large corporations due to various phenomena. Firstly, corporations have the ability to bypass the law when paying the fines associated with their infractions is lesser than the benefit of breaking the law. Secondly, a large corporations have an influence on the law, either through the importance to the economy by its size, or its political ties concerning key employees and shareholders directly holding important government positions or possessing the ability to affect those who do. Because corporations can break the law (or alter it, which is, in effect, the same thing) moral philosophers deem it important to draw up an ethical system to govern corporations.

Deontology is a normative ethical principle that sets out to judge one’s actions based on its adherence to a set of guidelines or rules. It is a duty based ethical system. This is strongly contrasted to consequentialist ethical principle such as utilitarianism where the outcome is the basis for judgment. Kant utilizes deontology to create his ethical system; he states that a man must act in a morally right way and from duty, and that the consequences of the actions do not make the actions right or wrong but rather the intent and motives of the man who does the action. In opposition to utilitarianism because Kant does not believe that morality should be given a purpose outside of itself. A moral act is moral regardless of the consequences.

Kant does not encourage acting in order to obtain happiness, as is one of the founding guidelines of utilitarianism. Acting upon a categorical imperative is more fundamental than acting in order to achieve happiness. However, Kant also said, “A man even has an indirect duty to seek happiness. The more he is troubled by the burdens of anxiety and need, the more he may be tempted to fail in his duty. Even apart from duty, everyone has the most fundamental urge to be happy, since the idea of happiness more or less sums up in our minds the satisfaction of all our desires, cares, and needs.”

Kantian Deontology which is often summarized with the following statement by Kant: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end”. Kant did not intend to say that one should never be used as a means to end but that one should never be exclusively a means to an end.

Kant went further to claim that a party is not necessarily being ethical if they are only doing the right thing out of prudence. The essence of morality according to Kant is derived not from what the duty may have prescribed but from the concept of law (not to be confused with a nation’s law). In today’s highly regulated business environment this has a large impact. Many corporations, it may be assumed in example, only act in an outcome that is considered ethical because they are forced to by forces such as the law. If it does not act this way it may be fined, leading to less profit than acting in accordance to the law (atleast this is one of the purposes of fines, it may appear to some that the fines are insufficient to produce the best possible outcome for society). In Kantian ethics this behavior is deemed reprehensible. A corporation should act ethical out of duty and obligation not simply because it is prudent to do so. Kant worries more about the motives than the consequences. In the increasing globalization of large corporation this idea takes on an even greater weight. Many developing countries still do not have the legal infrastructure necessary to prevent unethical corporations from taking advantage and its citizens are left to the moral whims of corporations.

This subject takes us to Kant’s categorical imperative. He states it as follows, “I ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law.” A corporation should not take advantage of consumers of developing nations because that would make for a lousy imperative. Kant believed that the man should act as if the principle were to be set as a law in the “kingdom of ends”.

The categorical imperative gives us a necessary but not sufficient criterion of virtue. For example one of Kant’s categorical imperatives is to not commit suicide. He offers no reasons as to why one should not commit suicide. In order to practically use the categorical imperative one must look at the consequences of the actions undertaken. Kantian ethics has been criticized for not providing a concrete application in various ethical dilemmas. For example, I jump into my car in the morning to go to work, but if everyone in the world were to do the same thing the Earth would choke to death; so should I not drive my car to work? Most people may be able to accept the former imperative; that of treating man as the ends and not merely the means; this could be taken as a form of human rights put into ethical law, but many circumstances require a more rigorous ethical platform.

I stated earlier that Kantian ethics has its foundation in the idea that ethics is based on adhering to a set of obligations and duties. But where do these duties come from? Do they come from the state? That’s hardly a satisfactory answer as ethics would be highly subjective to time and culture. Do they come from a greater power? In this modern business environment of numerous different religious beliefs it is hardly prudent for society to base its ethics on the guidelines associated with a divine creator. Some philosophers defend the view that a common morality exists and is the foundation of all theories of morality. This could explain why people accept Kant’s statement of treating people not exclusively as means to an end. Modern biochemical science has attempted to isolate a brain chemical that scientifically explains this phenomenon of human compassion. These finding may have a drastic impact on theories of common morality. Many ethical dilemmas are simply caused by differing interpretations of the event and not so of the principles governing the conclusion.

Kantian ethics also raises numerous questions about the ethical treatment of things outside of human kind. What kind of treatment to lesser creatures such as dogs, cattle, chickens etc. deserve? How should humans treat Earth and nature? Using Kant’s categorical imperative could possibly provide numerous divergent and impractical answers.

Modern thought places much more emphasis on empirical facts and purports that very little can be proved a priori. This poses a problem when a society attempts to convince a corporation to act ethically and not simply by the law. Ultimately, however, it is up to society to define what it believes is ethical and have these beliefs reflected in law. These ethical laws provide the concrete framework for corporations to follow that is lacking in Kantian ethics. Perhaps, all we can expect of corporations is for them to be prudent. A corporation has a duty to its shareholders to deliver a profit, and to society to operate within the boundaries of law. For example, a corporation treats it employees ethically because (a) its the law and (b) it has a positive effect on the bottom line.

I was surprised when I first heard the idea that corporations are not affected by Kantian ethics because they are not technically humans, although legally defined as a separate legal entity. I put corporation in quotations in the title of this post to highlight that a corporation is not a thing in the world but a construct of human relations.

Humans within a corporation may be completely indifferent to the actions of the corporation. For example, I worked at a casino a few years ago. I felt that the casino was taking advantage of many gambling addicts. But, I wasn't the casino. I wasn't in charge. So I just let it go. However, a corporation is people and people need to be aware of their actions, regardless of their orders. A member of a corporation is not absolved from the ethical implications of his actions simply because he was following orders. The "blame", if you wish to call it that, falls upon all members involved. A corporation involved in ethical decision making needs to remove its veil and the people involved need to truly feel involved in the actions undertaken. When a corporation does something unethical, there needs to be real responsibility by all the people involved from the board of directors and CEO who set the broader strategy, to the people involved in the implementation of the actions, and even to the members of government who need to set appropriate laws.

At the end of the business day we all go home to our families and friends and we would do well to not lose touch with our individual humanity and empathy while at work. Profits and money are meaningless without the people that we love (especially considering our fiduciary monetary system relies on others). If we wish to enjoy the care and love of our family, we must also enable others to do the same; meaning we should not abuse our corporate power. Obeying the Kantian maxim of treating people not merely as means to an end will have a positive societal, economic and, individual impact. Kantian ethics does not provide a fully applicable ethical principle to be used in all business situations but it is useful in helping us focus on the most important thing: people.

Kirk Jackson
Admitting that this blog is created by people in Kelowna, BC
October 8, 2013

Jul 11, 2014

Property Rights versus Economic Equality by Isaac Snow

Distributive justice concerns the nature of a socially just allocation of the goods in a society. Like all discussions on a topic concerning justice, there are numerous basic stances on what qualifies as a just distribution. John Rawls approaches the concept of distributive justice from an egalitarian point of view. A strict egalitarian notion of distributive justice would have everyone in society have the same level of material goods and services. Rawls distinguishes himself from this stance by introducing his 'difference principle', He contends that any just conception of freedom is one that would be agreed upon and accepted by everyone from a fair position. This conception of freedom would theoretically be developed in the concept Rawl’s introduces as the 'original position'. The concept states that the initial negotiations of society's distributions would happen behind a veil of ignorance. Meaning the negotiators, including all in the society, would not be aware of their own individual position. In the end the principle of justice settled upon would be fair. This theory requires that individuals that are in a well-off position agree to a distributive rule that may not be in their individual favor. Rawls believes that a society is well ordered when members of the society agree on and know the principles of social justice and the institutions in the society satisfy these principles.

Rawls’ distribution theory helps to maximize the position if the most disadvantaged. A redistribution is considered just when it would help to improve the situation of the most disadvantaged. Rawls allows inequalities to the extent that the inequalities make the least advantaged better off then they would be under a strict egalitarian system. This makes the assumption that the possibility of earning greater income gives the incentive to the individual to put forth greater productive effort that he wouldn't under a strict egalitarian system.

Another American philosopher Robert Nozick, in contrast to Rawls, begins his theory of distributive justice from a libertarian stance and proposes what he calls the 'entitlement theory'. The entitlement theory states that a just situation would allow a person to hold property that he has lawful entitlement to and transfer it at his discretion with no outside interference. This stance necessarily conflicts with Rawls as it would be unjust under the Nozick system to take from the rich and give to the poor. Nozick holds that property rights are non-negotiable and an individual’s personal liberty makes state policies of redistribution illegitimate.

Rawls introduces two principles of justice. The first is liberty wherein each person has a right to the extensive schemes of standard civil liberties such as freedom of speech and voting rights. The second principle is the difference principle. This second principle has less priority than the first. The difference principle states that social and economic inequalities need to meet two conditions. They must be to the greatest benefit of the least advantages and be attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair opportunity. The difference principle is a maxi-min principle and a legitimate constraint on the liberty principle.

Rawls does take into account the economists notion of incentive. The overall economic wealth of a society would be reduced – and therefore the worst off left even worse off – if incentives are taken away. Inequalities can constitute incentives that increase the overall economic pie can make everyone better off. Rawls states that society must redistribute income up to the point where the wealth of the representative poorest individual is maximized. Rawls makes a few statements concerning redistribution. He believes that society should equalize the prospects of those whom were not born in to wealthy families by redistributing the undeserved gain of children of rich families. Rawls wants to try to equalize the inequalities created by society and historical circumstances. Rawls also does not see the reason to allow distribution of wealth to be allowed by natural endowments. A man’s natural endowments are not considered his own property, but that of society’s. Rawls subscribes to the Kantian theory of equality in moral dignity. Nozick as well agrees with these Kantian ideas. Rawls’ Kantian theories help to prevent the individual ignorance of utilitarian principles but also prevents libertarianism’s inability to account for arbitrary inequalities of fortune. Rawls’ goal is to put individuals in the position they would have been in if not for undeserved circumstances. Rawls contends that his theories are political and not metaphysical in that the theories do not require agreements in morality. His theories demand democracy and prior agreement – so that disagreements are resolved not by force.

Nozick approaches property rights from a different point of view than Rawls. This difference is the main elements of the two philosophers’ disagreement. Rawls’ theories include a personal property right that is defended in terms of moral capacities and self-respect. Nozick approaches property rights from a libertarian point of view that is similar to the classical liberalism of John Locke but diverts on a few conclusions. Nozick believes that the distribution of goods is just if brought about by a free exchange among consenting adults and from a just starting position. He argues that the term distributive justice is inappropriate as there is no central distribution and all distribution was made by individual decisions. This remains just even in the face of large inequalities that may arise from the process. Nozick argues that property rights are non-negotiable and that personal liberty makes state policies of redistribution illegitimate; whereas Rawls sees no reason why the greater gains of some shouldn’t compensate for the lesser losses of others. Differences in wealth are mostly due to arbitrary matters and are not justified. Nozick fears a reduction of wealth creation that could result from a coercive redistribution. Nozick seems to have a greater fear of this than Rawls. Rawls sees his redistribution as resulting from prior agreements and in a non-violent and non-coercive manner.

Nozick believes that justice in holdings is historical and depends on what has actually happened. Injustice in past holdings is an issue that he approaches as well. Redistribution of holdings could be considered just if it is a rectification of a past injustice. This introduces another of the core differences in the two men’s philosophies. Nozick approaches the idea of distributive justice from a historical point of view. The current position of individuals is justified by the legitimate acquisitions and transactions of the past. Rawls looks at distributive justice from a “current-time slice” point of view. The current position of individuals is all that matters. Any redistribution that can help make the worst off better is considered and could be considered justified.

Nozick’s entitlement theory may not be fully adequate when explaining why a person is more deserving than another for getting more goods or social status but it is a better explanation than Rawls gives. What claim can an individual make under Rawls philosophy to be more “deserving” than another? That he has more urgent need or a more significant need? Individuals made the original acquisitions and voluntary transfers and these individuals have a legitimate entitlement to the goods that I do not think should be overridden. Rawls theory faces the problem that it would be difficult to get a well-off person to accept that he should have less in order to help the worst-off segment. On what basis is worthiness decided? Rawls might say, urgency of need and significance of need.

Nozick comments on the concept of patterning. Where the distribution is a society is hypothetically composed by patterned distributions (such as by IQ). Nozick’s entitlement theory is not a patterned system due to liberty – which allows freedom in transaction. Rawls end-state ideas may require constant governmental intervention to maintain the specific pattern that is (perhaps arbitrarily) considered to be preferable. Nozick diminishes the importance that Rawls puts on the worst-off segment of society. Nozick also criticizes Rawls tendency to group individuals into social classes when an individual in the “original position” would not be concerned about groups but about himself.

Comparing the two philosophers to the current Canadian stance we can see that with progressive tax rates Canadian law has adopted a philosophy that may be agreeable with Rawls. Wealthy citizens have a smaller need with each marginal increase in wealth; thus, a dollar to a poor person means more than another dollar to a wealthy person. With this in mind, Canadian law attempts to redistribute wealth with significance in mind.
From an economic point of view, Nozick holds a more persuasive position. His theories are in line with modern economic thinking, namely that the free operation of the market will lead to the greatest amount of wealth in society and that transactions arising from liberty are justified. However, Rawls current-time slice view is ideal in helping all members of a society enjoy life. It is fully in line with Kantian deontological ethics.

However, I argue, with economic theory in mind, that a redistribution of wealth under Rawls principles will do more harm than good for society because it violates an individual’s right to property and reduces private incentive to create more utility. Nozick holds the position that has the least issues even if it may not be compatible with many notions of justice as it may not adequately treat everyone as moral equals. I believe that the entitlement theory is a better alternative than the insecure contract Rawls proposes.

Isaac Snow
Distributing this paper justly from Kelowna, BC
September 2013

Further Reading: 

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Jun 27, 2014

My Eyes Burned With Anguish: The Joycean Epiphany by Thomas Tomas

James Joyce knows how to write a short story. In “Araby” the narrator tells a story of himself as a young man developing his sexual awareness and social role as an adult. The story concludes with the young man experiencing, in the form of a literary epiphany, what he considers to be an insight into the essential meaning of his infatuation with Mangan’s sister. The narrator states that he “saw [him]self as a creature driven and derided by vanity” thus ending his idealized, heroic, pseudo-religious conquest for her love. I believe that the narrator recounting his story tries to integrate his current ideology concerning lust with his boyhood daydreaming. The diction used by the narrator shows a conscious effort to highlight the foolishness of his infatuation. He states that Mangan’s sister’s name was “like a summons to all my foolish blood”, and the narrator criticizes himself for thinking “little of the future”. After telling Mangan’s sister that he would bring an item back from the Araby the narrator states, “what innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts”.

The young man’s epiphany, which strengthens his general negative attitude to his own unrestrained sexual and romantic urges and desire for the exploration of life’s possibilities (which was realized in part, albeit unpleasantly, by going to the Araby), was influenced by both his family and his education at the Christian Brothers’ School. Upon simply entering the Araby the young man experiences anguish brought about from his Catholic upbringing as he sees “two men . . . counting money on a salver”. This brings to the young man’s mind Matthew 21, “[Jesus] said to them, ‘my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers’”. The very act of exploring different social paradigms has been predeterminately condemned by the young man through his social and cultural upbringing. The young man’s abandonment of love is consistent with his social environment, as there is no appreciation of love and sex by the adult figures. In addition, the young man occupies a space that once belonged to a Catholic priest, a position that requires a vow of celibacy. The narrator may say that he was foolish but the anguish and anger he experiences is a result of the hopelessness he feels in his social situation. Joyce employs an unreliable narrator who mistakes the true reasons why he gave up his quest for Mangan’s sister. The narrator internalizes the ideals instilled upon him, and during his epiphany believes them to be his own thoughts. The inauthentically internalized morality of his society restricts the young man's emotional freedom. The epiphany experienced in the end is an epiphany in the true sense of the word: a divine manifestation; furthermore, a divine manifestation of the religious ideology.

This epiphany is a religious manifestation. The passage into adult hood for a young man of lower-middle class in Dublin at the time was not a pleasant passage. The young man attempts to go to the Araby but arrives when it is closing down. This could be interpreted as the end of the fun playfulness of childhood, when the children would “play till [their] bodies glowed”, into the serious and loveless world of adult life. The narrator unfortunately defends the sexual and exploratory repression that he experienced as a youth.

Thomas Tomas
Sexually deprived in Kelowna, BC
May 2014

Read the story online at

Jun 13, 2014

"I'd Eat Healthy If It Were Affordable": Government Policy Regarding Healthy Living by James Thumb

“What You Eat is Your Business” is an article written by Radley Balko and published by the Cato Institute in May 2004. Balko argues that government intervention in the food industry is not the correct way to go about improving the diet of citizens. He suggests that the government should put the financial responsibility of health on the individual. Its important to note that Cato states that it is a "public policy research organization — a think tank – dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace." So what does Balko suggest the government do and how do I feel about these ideas?

Balko suggests some very sensible policy changes to create incentives to induce individuals to make better health choices; however, he is too polemical in his condemnation of the current government policy. It is true that more responsibility should be placed on the individual. This makes sense from an economic incentive point of view. Without the private financial incentive to lead a healthy life style individuals are more likely to become obese. With a private incentive, due to higher health insurance premiums, individuals will theoretically make better health choices. Yet, Balko appears to be against such government interventions such as the “fat tax” on high-calorie foods that some politicians are calling for. This tax would represent that private financial incentive to make better health choices. Balko, in his fear of government intervention, is making a grave mistake. Despite what Balko says, Government should attempt to go, in the words of Balko, “between you and your waistline”. Government should introduce policy to the point that the benefits outweigh the costs. The costs of introducing new bicycle trails and sidewalks may very well be less than the money saved on health costs; as citizens are hopefully getting more exercise. Its not an issue of invasion of one's choices but rather a proactive attempt to save on expenses. Very few people would suggest that traffic lights, which are an invasion of one's choices, are a poor policy decision because they reduce the number of accidents and eventually turn to a positive financial decision. Reducing obesity not only reduces the social costs related to health problems but also increases everyone's enjoyment of life. Balko specifically criticizes policy that requires the removal of junk food from school vending machines. I went to a highschool that had no junk food in the vending machines, and I really don't think any of the students missed it - in fact, it was a benefit to have fruit available at reasonable prices.

Balko should analyze the current trends in the health movement to discover what is working. For example, it is extremely important to reduce the marketing of unhealthy foods to children. Children are unable to make rational decisions as an adult should be expected to do. He does suggest, to my pleasure, that "government ought to be working to foster a sense of responsibility in and ownership of our own health and well-being". I just don't see the issue in such dichotomous terms. I think that public school education should teach students about proper health and nutrition (parents have a responsibility as well), but government should also give incentives to eat healthy; just as they tax cigarettes and liquor.

A major issue that Balko brings up is the control of health insurance. He complains, “We’re becoming less responsible for our own health, and more responsible for everyone else’s.” The government has prevented health insurance from charging higher premiums to obese clients. As obese people are more prone to needing health insurance this cost is then reflected in higher premiums for all members, including healthy clients that are less likely to be at risk for certain common illnesses related to obesity. I do not know enough about private health insurance companies in the USA to comment on this issue but it does make sense, as Balko suggests, to "reward healthy lifestyles, and penalize poor ones".

The fear of government interference in the free market is a major theme of Balko’s paper. He fears that the government will take too much control of what food is available to the general public. Balko believes that government should not intervene in issues of obesity; in fact Balko states that, “the best way to alleviate the obesity ‘public health’ crisis is to remove obesity from the realm of public health". Obesity occurs for numerous reasons outside of free choice of diet and exercise. There could be numerous other reasons for obesity; in which some cases it may be wrong to blame the individual. It may be prudent to blame the macro-culture of the country, or, in other cases, over-eating can be viewed as a mental illness. I mentioned earlier that spending money on new bicycle trails in the city could help reduce obesity. It may not be correct to fully blame policy, but a city that does not offer places for activities will have a higher obesity rate.

Balko raises a few concerns that are relevant when making normative health policy statements. He should, however, allow the possibility that government policy, if used correctly, can bring about situations that have a net benefit on society. Government has the right to spend money wisely to save money in the long run.

James Thumb
Socializing your diet from Vernon, BC
March 2014

Link to the article:

May 30, 2014

Planned Obsolescence

This essay examines the struggle at the heart of the planned obsolescence struggle; summed up in two contrasting quotes:

1) "Anyone who believes that infinite growth is compatible with a finite planet is either a fool or an economist" (Kenneth Boulding), and

2) "Any professor who revises a textbook but still makes it so students can use the old version is a fool"

Planned obsolescence occurs when a manufacturer of a product designs it in such a way that it becomes obsolete in a set time period. The product can become obsolete due to mechanical failure, or more complicatedly, from it's becoming unfashionable (see bottom for full list of planned obsolescence strategies). The purpose of a planned obsolescence strategy is to have the consumer replace the product with a new one. A never ending gobstopper, although a great product, won't make a company any money because the child would only ever need to buy one. Planned obsolescence can become a dangerous business practice as consumers become resistant to repurchase if the product becomes obsolete to quickly. For example, the gobstopper that only last a couple seconds won't be repurchased by the child as he will choose a competing product. Planned obsolescence has negative effects on consumer welfare and the environment, but is not a conspiracy and can be combated through increased industry competition, consumer value of product durability, and public policy.

A longer product life time is seen by consumers as an advantage, therefore a longer lasting product will, all else being equal, be more competitive than the shorter lasting product.  In a competitive market, if consumers value a long product life, manufacturers will deliver that feature. This defense of planned obsolescence, unfortunately, relies on the premise that consumers have an understanding of the product life span during the purchase decision making process, as well as value that factor in their decision. The success of planned obsolescence strategies can be curtailed by consumer education and fair disclosure of expected product life time. There are many other factors that consumers will take into account when purchasing a product, and it is completely reasonable that even will full knowledge of the durability of two products, at the same price a consumer may opt for the less durable product in light of superior product attributes in other areas. To reduce planned obsolescence Consumers should place more value on the eco-efficient and sustainable attributes of products.

Planned obsolescence is often viewed as an evil conspiracy on behalf of the manufacturers and marketers, but it should be viewed as a competitive force compatible with capitalism. The later notion is more compatible with a sober view of the market. The defenders of the conspiracy notion need maintain that the main manufacturers in the specific industry have entered into a pact to maintain an obsolescence scheme. This claim only works if the industry is monopolistic or oligopolistic because they are more sensitive to industry agreements. A pact of this kind is illegal under most national business laws, so no new policy would need to be created, but simply enforced.

Other critics of planned obsolescence claim outright that it is a market failure; therefore it demands government intervention to reduce it. For example, Apple has designed its iPods in such a way that the battery is irreplaceable. This practice should be unacceptable. Government could enforce certain manufacturing practices to ensure fair play. It should work towards introducing standardization of some elements in products such as printer tone cartridges, shavers, and batteries. This standardization gives more control to the consumer, increases competition towards supplying the product at a lower cost and reduces the ability for an individual company to have control over the product life. We saw this type of intervention recently with cell-phone chargers, and I don't think there is a cell-phone owner out there that can claim this was a bad idea.

Government can also reduce planned obsolescence problems by introducing taxes. There are two methods that it can employ: a tax that effects the sellers, or a tax that effects the buyers. The latter takes the form of environmental fees that the consumer pays when he makes the purchase - this in effect internalizes the value that consumers should have for eco-friendly products that they may not have. In an educated environment, where consumers value their environmental footprint, this would not be necessary. The method that effects sellers takes the form of sellers being forced to take back expired products and recycle them. This increases the cost of the product to the sellers, and will be reflected in higher product pricing. Both have the same effect on pricing, but I argue that the latter has a more efficient result.

Planned Obsolescence if left unchecked may diminish consumer welfare and may have unsustainable effects on the environment. Planned obsolescence can be controlled through competitive market forces, consumer education, and government policy. There are numerous things that you can do to help prevent the effects of planned obsolescence. During the purchase decision, put emphasis on the longevity of the product and choose products that are repairable and up-gradable. Don't replace products simply because they look worn-out or are no longer 'fashionable' - make it fashionable to be eco-friendly. Boycott companies that don't support its old products. Demand government regulations on planned obsolescence. Each one of the six strategies listed below can be fought against by consumers and pleas to government. It is up to us to shift the consumer paradigm to one that values long lasting, eco-friendly products.

Isaac Snow
Replacing yet another iPod in Vernon, BC
May 2014

(Appendix) Planned Obsolescence Strategies:

  1. Limited function life (ie iPod batteries die after 2 years)
  2. Limited opportunities for repair (ie iPod batteries can not be replaced)
  3. Design aesthetics (ie iPod gets scratched easily prompting disposal)
  4. Fashion (ie new iPod is hip, old iPod is super lame)
  5. Technological updates (ie new iPod holds more music - new iPod is better)
  6. Technological incompatibility (ie old iPod doesn't work with new iTunes)

May 16, 2014

Girl Archetypes in Entertainment by Sandra Turner

The feminist essay "Construction of the Female Self: Feminist Readings of the Disney Heroine" explores the makeup of the female self as portrayed in Disney films. The writers demand that Disney create female characters that are driven out of their comfort zones and find their own unique voices. They demand that the female characters develop a "sense of self in a culture other than the dominant Anglo culture" with a destiny that is not simply that of "heterosexual romantic fulfillment". As with many of my critiques of feminist literature, I believe that these issues exist with all types of people; furthermore, I believe that everyone has the right to define their own persona even if it is one that is not typically acceptable for their gender/race/class etc.

The essay purports that most classic Disney heroines are not very heroic; most needing to be rescued by a male love interest. The male characters typically have complex and numerous goals and aspirations; the female characters have a more simple goal of the "happy ending", which is typically marriage to the male. However, as "Construction of the Female Self" explores, Disney has been creating more complex and rewarding female characters in recent years. Even modern films have, however, fallen into the trap of creating narrow-minded, stereotypical characters. Although not a Disney film, "Brave" is a recent film that stars a young female heroine named Princess Merida. One of the complaints that I have personally heard is that she was rendered on film to be more pretty that she should have been. The character has complexity in that she defies a long standing (presumably male created) custom for the better of her kingdom. She must fight a curse with only her own physical prowess. However, the film studio still decided to make her into a fairly typical pretty girl (with red hair to mix it up).

One of the key issues, I think, is the influence that Disney has on the perceptions of young girls and the general public. I do not think that Disney has any special ethical or social obligation when creating its female characters in its films. Disney has been creating more complex characters because that is what the viewing audience wants to see. Disney simply reflects the general consensus of what a female should be. "Construction of the Female Self" does not explore the general template used for character other than female heroines. I am sure that a study done into the other characters would show that even the male heroes follow a set pattern. Most of the males are interested in restoring order and finding a woman to marry. If it is demanded that film makers should create complex female characters, it should also be demanded of them to create complex male characters (and, I suppose, we should add in non-binary sex types too).

Disney creates character archetypes that its young viewers see as models of people, behaviors and personalities. These archetypes are artificial reflections of reality. As a young girl I not only believed authentic the motivations of Disney heroines, I aspired to mimic their personalities and assimilate them into my persona. It is not, however, the case that all young girls will be greatly influenced by these characters. A young boy can choose to mimic the princess too. A young girl can choose to mimic the masculine hero. A feminine trait doesn't necessarily only appeal to females. The writers of "Construction of the Female Self" fear that girls will develop narrow-minded, Disney heroine ideologies; but I conclude that that is a narrow-minded fear. In society today, it is more acceptable for a girl to dress in a masculine manner (jeans, boots, shirts, short hair) than for a boy to dress in a feminine manner (long hair, make-up, skirts). This seems to suggest that young girls have the ability to adopt the personas of the male characters more easily than a young boy can adopt the personas of the female characters.

Females had over many centuries of male domination lost power both economically and politically. For this power to be restored females must make an active attempt at reclaiming it, and one of the first steps is to regain confidence in their own individual selves. Disney, in this age of movie watching, has inadvertently been giving a key role in the development of the female psyche. Young girls watching the films see what they can do with life. With the recent improvements in the female construction, I believe that this internal power can be applied to all genders. Currently everyone is trapped inside an androcentric society, but I believe the age of gender roles is coming to a close, and the future is one where the individual defines his own character and role in society without gender bias.

Sandra Turner
Adopting masculine traits in Vernon, BC
May 2014

May 2, 2014

Confessions of a Canadian Torrent-User by Isaac Snow

"The Pirate Bay Universal access to human knowledge is in our grasp, for the first time in the history of the world. This is not a bad thing."

In Canada we have little to fear about torrenting. In years of using peer-to-peer networks, I have had no issues with any legal matters, and I have yet to hear any personal accounts of personal issues concerning the legality of sharing copyrighted material. This essay seeks to understand the moral issues concerning digital piracy.

The internet is a glorious place for sharing knowledge and accessing knowledge. Websites like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and even the better pages of Wikipedia allow people access to a wide range of topics that is only matched in good libraries. But purchasing a computer and getting an internet connection, or even simply having a shared computer, can be much more economically reasonable than building a library for people to go to. The City of Kelowna has three different libraries, including a huge one downtown. It even offers intra-library loans, where I can request to borrow a book from another library and the library will get it shipped to my location. I once ordered a book from Ontario... they shipped a book to me from over 3500 km away. Torrenting is like living right beside amazing library, like having a friend with an enormous record collection, like attending a school with advanced computer software.

Torrenting is a specific method of sharing and duplicating media through the internet. Instead of shipping a book from Ontario I could go onto one of numerous websites and torrent an electronic version of the book. If the book is unrestricted, without copyrights, I could often go to a hosting site such a Project Gutenberg and receive a direct download. Torrenting is an alternative method from direct download in that it uses peers from around the world to download from and is the method often used to share copyrighted material that sites like Project Gutenberg would not host. A torrent tracker uses a specific code to receive information concerning a media file. It then proceeds to download the file from information hosted and sent from peers (other people around the world that have the torrent file and the media file). Essentially, the computer is creating a duplicate file of a file numerous people from around the world currently have.

Pete Townshend of The Who fame, in a talk on torrenting, related pirating his music to going onto his property and stealing his daughters bicycle. This is irrational and a fallacy. Torrenting is not stealing because to steal is to take. In this case nothing is being lost; as a download I have not stolen his daughters bike, I have been given the blueprints and my computer recreated the bicycle. A torrent, in effect, creates a second bicycle. His daughter gets to keep hers, and now I can give my daughter one too. There is no theft as there is no object of thievery. Torrenting Townshend's rock music is illegal because it breaks his copyright on the music. A copyright is the the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same. Because I have not received permission from Townshend I am illegally duplicating his music, but not stealing.

This conflation of stealing and duplicating is perpetuated by the confusion that by torrenting you are 'stealing' by (possibly) taking away the potential that you would have purchased the media. I would have bought The Who's album but why bother? I just grabbed a digital copy for free! I put 'possibly' in brackets in the first statement because I could always go out and purchase the album after I've downloaded it. In fact, its quite possible that I would have never heard the album, or given it a chance until I downloaded it; this has a greater potential with lesser-known bands - which is probably why the main critics of torrenting are big name bands, people who take it for granted that they won the career lottery when they were able to create music for a living.

Duplicating copyrighted media has always existed. However the computer age has complicated things. Computer media, in relation to traditional forms of media such as vinyl, fall under a different category of good due to its form. In standard economic terms, digital files are public goods being non-excludable (anyone can get it) and non-rivalrous (there is an unlimited quantity). Traditionally these media types have been private goods, excludable and rivalrous. Anti-torrentors, if they do not use the term, refer to the free-rider market failure when they claim that media will cease to be produced if torrenting becomes the norm.

An obvious criticism of torrent sites is that the statement above, "Universal access to human knowledge is in our grasp, for the first time in the history of the world" is thoroughly misleading as Pirate Bay and the majority of torrent sites have a lack of educational material relative to the mass amounts of entertainment media on display. This however is no fault of the system but rather displays the interests of the users. If torrenting becomes a more popular thing we should expect to see an increase in educational material.

One of my favourite comic strip sites The Dog House Diaries operates under a "Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License". Which means, as the website states, "you may share, copy, reprint, or publish [the] comics as long as you provide the source." I look forward to more creators using this method. Other creators operate under advertisements and donations for their income (The Partially Examined Life podcast, Red Letter Media, etc.) New funding techniques such as those employed by Kickstarter enable creators to get the funding they need to create these projects. Often times, in the case of computer media creations, the funders simply get first dibs on the media and credit as producers.

I look forward to the day where musicians and producers aren't paid millions for creating pop songs. True musicians will pursue their love without the promise of a well-paying career. And with modern recording technology creating a high quality album is possible on a budget. I look forward to the day when software is designed openly and programmers build upon each others work. The future is friendly, and one where people who work in entertainment and computer coding do so for the love of the craft and survive on charitable contributions and/or a second job.

Update June 12:

Tesla Motors have removed their ownership of all their patents so anyone can use them.

Taken from:

"When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors"

This is the same attitude that I have long held towards all intellectual protection. The world would be better off without it. Creators will still create. Innovates will still innovate. And all will be more effective with the ability to access, to use, and to build on past creations.

Update June 21:

Record labels are now claiming that legally purchases MP3's are too long-lasting and convenient to allow consumers to resell them. Link. So now the record companies don't even want us to have a product at all. When a consumer purchases a digital music file they are in reality simply purchasing the right to listen to the song. The consumer owns nothing. It would follow then that a 'pirate' is also 'stealing' nothing.

Isaac Snow
Busy working at his day job (and totally not duplicating copyrighted material) in Vernon, BC
March 2014

Apr 18, 2014

TV as Mental Nourishment: It’s All in the Attitude by James Thumb

Steven Johnson makes the daring assertion in his essay "Watching TV Makes You Smarter" an excerpt from his book Everything Bad is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (2005) that TV is getting more intellectually challenging. According to him, modern TV now challenges the mind in ways similar to reading. He argues that even "trash" TV has improved over the years. If one compares the "trash" of today to that of thirty years ago, he asserts that current TV shows are more complex than older shows. TV has introduced more complex narratives, interweaving plot threads, and more complex character schematics. This complexity, he claims, makes TV watching a rewarding and mentally healthy activity. He further states that a parent should “encourage '24' over 'Law and Order'” for his or her child because 24 is a more intricate show. Johnson concludes that parents should judge their children's TV viewing not by the violent content or moral depravity but rather by the complexity of the show.

I argue that TV watching is not mentally healthy solely because it is now more complicated. If TV watching is mentally healthy now then it would be true that it has always been. Intellectual stimulation can occur in all facets of life. The stimulus does not matter to the intellectual for the intellectual can sometimes gain more from the back of his or her eyelids than from a complex novel. Johnson makes a logical fallacy when he assumes that complexity will lead to mental nourishment. When it comes to TV watching it is not what you watch but how you watch. A parent cannot justify allowing his or her child to watch numerous hours of TV because the TV show is complex. I am not arguing here that TV is not complex and intricate. I am not comparing TV to literature as that would be comparing two completely different mediums of entertainment. TV can be mentally stimulating, but that is not because it has multiple plots and more subtle narratives. It is not because it has complex character networks or uses technological jargon. All media types can be compatible with learning and any TV show can be compatible with learning.

Johnson is right that TV can be very content heavy but he overlooks a critical problem: TV takes more time to watch. One of the benefits of TV that Johnson points out is that often times the show will have plot lines that continue through numerous episodes. I am a fairly active viewer of the TV show Doctor Who. I've seen how that show has been able to combine a single plot each episode with a longer plot that typically gets started and resolved within a season, or about 12 episodes. The seasons themselves have plot lines that weave through. Often times a character that the viewer hasn't seen in quite a while will come into a new episode and deliver a critical plot development. I, as a viewer, enjoy this; it rewards me for my show loyalty. Johnson points out that TV is now often sold as anthology collections on DVD. I can now buy the last season of Doctor Who to watch again on my own time. Both of these developments, the long plot lines and the DVD sales, have clear economic incentives. TV producers make money off my now intense loyalty.  Johnson critiques simple TV shows that follow a similar plot format every episode. But the beautiful thing about those simple shows is that the viewer does NOT have to watch every episode, or re-watch episodes. I can sit down and watch a single episode of, for example, “Friends” and enjoy it and then never watch another episode ever again. This is not possible with many modern TV shows; if I was to watch a single episode of “The West Wing” I would be lost and confused (I assume based on how complex Johnson says it is). Modern technology has given TV the economic incentive to become more complex, but it also demands consumers to be more loyal to their favorite shows. The viewer needs to balance his or her time watching TV with other activities. I have a friend who told me in great detail the overall theme of the works of Woody Allen. I’m a big fan of Allen’s movies and I was agreeing with my friend’s statements. It turns out he had only ever seen one of Allen’s movies, and only the first half of it! He had given it enough thought that he was able to discover Allen’s themes, recurring elements, characters, symbolisms, and so on . The viewer shouldn't have to spend hundreds of hours watching “Doctor Who” to get mental stimulation from it.

Johnson assumes that viewers will exercise their minds due to the complexity of modern TV. I do not think this is a fair statement. Just because modern TV is harder to follow does not mean that the viewer will put more effort into the show. I am sure that there are a lot of very attentive and active viewers of TV but I am not alone when I say that I typically put on the TV to relax. TV gets turned on at the end of a long day of school or work, it’s a mental spa. The viewers that follow this behavior would be wrong to claim, in any way, that TV is making them smarter. It is up to the individual to participate in the story and to decide whether or not the TV is beneficial. The issue with children watching TV is in the hands of the parents. I would allow my child to watch Doctor Who with me, if afterwards we discussed the plot and the characters; thus proving that the child did pay attention and analyzed the content. It’s the discussion and the thought after the watching that makes the difference between being a passive TV slug and an intellectual mental live-wire.

TV can be an intellectually stimulating activity, Johnson is correct in that regard. The viewer must still be cautious about the amount of time spent watching TV. The viewer should take action as to not become a modern day Don Quixote. By this I mean that even healthy activities, like reading or watching TV, can be harmful if they take up too much of your life. The viewer also needs to be a good judge of the amount of cognitive thought going in to the activities. Literature has an advantage in that regard, it’s much harder to sleep through a book than a TV show. In conclusion, TV watching is a nutritious activity if the viewer has the right attitude.

James Thumb
Watching smart people TV in Penticton, BC
December 2013

Read Johnson's essay here

Apr 4, 2014

Positive and Negative Freedom, an Introduction by Isaac Snow

The classic notion of negative freedom comes from Hobbes and means that a person is free when he can do what he is able to do without human interference. Outer blocks that arise as a result of human arrangements take away this freedom. Isaiah Berlin uses Hobbe’s notion of freedom with some added elements to create a definition for negative freedom. He believes that there is more to freedom than Hobbe's freedom; for example, coercion, which is allowed under Hobbe's notion, is not compatible with Berlin's negative freedom.

Berlin defines positive freedom as concerning the question, “what, or who, is the source of control or interference, that can determine someone to do, or be, one thing rather than another?”. Positive freedom only occurs when the individual takes control of his life and realizes his fundamental purpose. This definition of freedom actually allows for some restriction to negative freedom; for example, a child can be restrained from doing something that may hurt him by an adult assuming that the adult is helping the child to achieve his true will. The child is now acting the way he would if he were in full control of his mind and the scenario.

Berlin believes that positive and negative freedoms are in direct conflict with each other. Positive freedom in Berlin’s sense can lead to external control being compatible with freedom. Freedom can be made to mean whatever the manipulator wishes. Society can be ruled in a totalitarian way based on the idea that a doctrine can be written that gives the power to the people in control to determine the way the individual should live his or her life. The interests of the individual, in this society, are no longer related to the individual but to the society as a whole; individuals are free in the positive sense if they are coerced into acting out these interests. Ultimately, what is best for the child in our example is defined by the parent.

The Canadian Philosopher Charles Taylor has a slightly different understanding of positive and negative freedom. He defines negative freedom as an opportunity concept of freedom; freedom is a matter of what we can do. He examines two countries, Albania and England, using negative freedom and comes to the disagreeable position that Albania is more free than England due to England's mass amount of traffic lights; thus concluding that negative freedom is an indefensible view of freedom. Alternatively, positive freedom contains an exercise concept; freedom includes the idea that one needs to be able to realize himself in his own way, thus the free man exercises control over his life.

Taylor believes this later concept of freedom is superior because it allows the discrimination among motivations. Taylor's positive freedom also takes into account the fact that humans experience some desires and goals as intrinsically more significant than others; negative freedom does not allow for any notion of significance. A man is not free if he is motivated by fear, inauthentically internalized standards, or false consciousness, as these elements serve to thwart his self-realization. Taylor does not allow positive freedom to lead to justified totalitarianism because the individual is the final arbiter on his self-realization, and no rulers can define what is best for the individual.

In the end I believe that Taylor does have the stronger argument. I definitely believe that the notion of freedom is much more than simple external blocks. For example, I do not feel free if I am psychologically forced to fuel my drug addiction; even if I have plenty of money to afford it. I think that freedom can be compatible with governance. For example, The British Columbia Lottery Corporation offers a voluntary self-exclusion program. This program gives addicts an opportunity to restrict their own freedom of gambling. The man who joins this program willingly restricts his opportunity to go into casinos, but he gains freedom from his addiction. The man is more free than he was before. Ultimately, the concept of freedom needs to move away from the allowance of instinct into the allowance and drive towards self-realization. Defenders of negative freedom need to be more willing to adjust their views in order to take into account higher order desires, motivation, and significance. Freedom consists of the absence of external blocks caused by human intervention and the absence of internal mental blocks that prevent the man from realizing his potential.

“There can be no real freedom without the freedom to fail”
Erich Fromm

Isaac Snow
With the freedom to publish in Vernon, BC
January, 2014

Further Reading:

The Stanford Encyclopedia has a nice article discussing these two types of freedom. I recommend reading it for a more thorough discussion than what is presented here

Mar 14, 2014

Homeless People and Empty Churches by Sandra Turner

Painting by Jason
People sleeping out on the streets and numerous large empty buildings with crosses on them. This seems like an odd combination to have in a city. There are many churches in the Kelowna area with large, open areas that seem suited to housing homeless during the night. Homeless shelters face high demand, especially in the winter months. Churches should open their doors in times of high need. Churches could also work with local fire departments in times of evacuation to provide shelter to those affected.

Of course simply allowing homeless people to sleep in churches won't work for many reasons.

  1. Additional liability issues regarding housing people
  2. Community issues regarding increased homeless populations, as any incentive will bring in homeless people from neighboring communities
  3. Churches will need to acquire special permits to get legal permission
  4. The users of the facilities could abuse the privilege in a number of ways including drug use and property damage
  5. There would be an increased expense for the church to provide sleeping materials and heating during cold months
  6. There is an incentive for non-homeless people in the community to use the facilities - for example, I may use the church instead of paying rent on my own place

Each one of these issues will need to be addressed before churches can open their doors.

In the mean time there are other ways to address the issue of homelessness, such as raising money for organizations that provide shelter and other resources for the homeless.

A local homeless shelter, Inn From the Cold, promotes fundraising programs such as "Push to End Homelessness". In this event, well-to-do people organize teams that decorate shopping carts (probably not stolen) and race them through the city. Each team is expected to raise at least $1000, which supports one homeless person to go to the Inn from the Cold for one and a half months. This program seems to be just a fair bit patronizing to the people it is trying to help. It'd be like living in a trailer park and the rich guys down the street organize teams and decorate trailer homes and proceed to race them down a hill... and then give an organization a thousand dollars to help you buy groceries. Of course, no one presumed to get the involvement of the homeless.

How pissed would you be, as a homeless man, watching these ladies run past you?
I'd propose an event or activity that includes both well-to-do people and the homeless. There seems to be an arbitrary gap of association between the two groups of people. This event would have the goal of bridging this gap and creating communication between the groups.
In the end, I believe members of the community should work together to help to worse off members. This help should not simply be voluntary donations or even non-voluntary taxes (and subsequent government spending on the issues), but rather it should be addressed in a personal manner. By engaging with homeless people in a personal matter we can discover the true causes of their situation and be better able to help them instead of simply throwing money at the matter and buying them a month out of the rain here and there.

"Broadly, homelessness is viewed as either the result of individual choices and/or a poor work ethic, or as a symptom of, or response to more complex social problems."  Research Starters Sociology, 2009

Sandra Turner
Writing from her home in Penticton, BC
June 2014

Feb 14, 2014

Ethics: A Possible Origin by Samuel Bucker

Ethics and morality are rules or guides on what is right or wrong; good or bad. In this essay I would like to examine the origin of the dominant morality in our society today.

Morality is a type of ideology that is developed over time since birth and comes from a variety of sources including parents and society (teachers, friends, the media). As such, it is not a concrete concept; it changes over time and varies between different cultures and societies. For example, even within Canada some believe it is immoral to have extra-marital sex, and other believe that this kind of activity is perfectly fine. Anyone that has studied history knows that morality changes over time, and anyone that has traveled extensively knows that it changes between cultures. Morality is not law, although some laws do reflect the dominant morality of the society it governs. Morality is defined by the society that you associate with. If you are a church goer church will form a major basis of your morality. Your career, the friends you associate with, and any other influence you allow forms your morality. Morality as such appeals to no logical system, it just simply exists and can provide illegitimate reasons for action or inaction.

Ethics, to make a distinction from morality, is something that should be more applicable throughout various times and societies; it takes the form of a system. Ethics appeals to some sort of logic; an explanation of its reasoning. An example of an ethical system is utilitarianism, which states that which is acceptable is that which provides the most good for the defined society. These broad-form systems often do not provide a practical guide in everyday life; no one is expected to measure the impact of each of their actions throughout the day. Another system of ethics is to determine the best action by reference to a 'rule-book'. The most obvious example in our society is the Bible. This is also unsatisfactory because there are situations that are not covered at all by the Bible, and people can interpret the Bible differently. Our dominant morality originates from appeals to ethical systems and cultural tradition.

One theory on ethics is that ethics is sourced from biological desire mixed with intellectual evaluation. To illustrate what I mean by this let us imagine a single agent: A man alone with himself trapped on an island. The man may have numerous desires but foremost in his mind right now are fatigue and hunger. It would be considered 'good' if he were able to satisfy any of these desires, but his intelligence will tell him that he should post-pone rest in order to catch a rabbit because he knows that if he sleeps now he may starve to death (Russell, 1927). We see this kind of dominance of desire take place between two agents as well, I may very well want to murder a man but society has a stronger desire to have me not commit murder. The origin of ethics is in this internal as well as external judgement. The external judgement, over time, is internalized by the original agent. I believe that it is unethical to commit murder because my society has convinced me it is.

This brings the discussion back around to the legitimacy of morality. The original ethics was sensible, but morals are extraneous and possibly destructive. A young man has the desire to have sex, and decides that this desire can be overcome by masturbation. But, if the young man is a Christian he has been taught that masturbation is "immoral" and he internalizes this opinion and it factors into his internal evaluation of desire. Thus, when our young man does decide to masturbate he can not help but feel 'bad' about his actions.

So where do these seemingly irrational moral values, such as the "no-no" to masturbation, come from? A possible answer is that these values are illegitimate; they have been implanted in our social consciousness as a form of control. Nietzsche's analogy of the lambs and eagles could help to support this hypothesis:
…That lambs bear ill-will towards large birds of prey is hardly strange: but in itself no reason to blame large birds of prey for making off with little lambs. And if the lambs say among themselves ‘These birds of prey are evil; and whoever is as little of a bird of prey as possible, indeed, rather the opposite, a lamb – should he not be said to be good?’, then there can be no objection to setting up an ideal like this, even if the birds of prey might look down on it a little contemptuously and perhaps say to themselves: ‘We bear them no ill-will at all, these good lambs – indeed, we love them: there is nothing tastier than a tender lamb.’ To demand of strength that it should not express itself as strength, that it should not be a will to overcome, overthrow, dominate, a thirst for enemies and resistance and triumph, makes as little sense as to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength.
In this analogy the lambs want to assimilate the birds of prey into their ideology and to take control of their actions by denoting them as 'evil'. Once the birds of prey accept that their actions are evil, when they internalize the judgment, they will either cease to commit the actions and become lambs or despair in their inability to. This type of morality argues that birds of prey can become lambs and blames the birds of prey for failing to do so. In our on-going example, the man is wrongly told that masturbation is bad, and then is further demonized for his inability to curb his sexual desire. The judged person could, however, be more like the contemptuous bird of prey who refuses to admit the legitimacy of the lambs' claim.

We should govern our actions by listening to our higher order desires (the one that tells us to put off sleep to chase that rabbit), which requires dedication and self-control. Society restricts our actions by putting in laws that reflect its higher order desires; which is, hopefully, to increase the welfare of its people. Unfortunately, often one of our higher order desires is to simply fit in to society and have social relations; unfortunate because it often requires conforming to pre-existing moral values that may interfere with our other desires, such as the religious boy who desires to follow his church and fulfill his sexual desires. The bird of prey, with all of his strengths, will be forced to not express them and assimilate into society.

Samuel Bucker
Reconsidering his values in Kelowna, BC
April 2014


Bertrand Russell, Outline of Philosophy
Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic