Author: Alex Wall (Page 1 of 7)

China’s ‘social credit system’: What would Lao Tzu say?

By: Brannon Gerling

Can China’s new ‘social credit system’ ethically enlighten its citizens? How would Lao Tzu (6th c. B.C.E.), the central figure in Taoism—that cherished self-exiled sage sapped by the stultifying monotony of the Zhao dynasty—treat all this ado?

Unlike Confucius’s style of virtue-based ethics which rest heavily on the sharpening of moral character, Lao Tzu’s less earthly Taoist ethics individually and transcendentally induce ethical development and hence resist the groupthink requisite for social engineering. The Chinese people’s best means to contest the regime’s new method of domestic persecution lies in their nexus to Tao. They must, as Tzu says in the Tao teh Ching, “hold fast to the original path in order to control the realm of the present.”

The Basics

Many Westerners referring to China’s new social credit system relate it to the dark-humored Black Mirror episode “Nosedive,” and the characters’ angst caused by the manic ritual of social rating isn’t unrealistic. Some of the penalties for an inadequate score will bear similar resemblance to the show: travel restrictions, throttling of Internet speeds, banning (citizens or their children) from choice schools, employment obstruction, difficulty securing loans, and, of course, public shaming.

Who might comply with the story’s credit system or cathartically screw it like the main character does in a mortifying maid-of-honor speech at her pseudo best friend’s wedding? Who really cares?

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) cares and is designing the system with ideal timing: deep learning is wielding big data to digitize everything from genome editing to reconstructions of human thinking. Perhaps the meek or stalwart will be able to ignore the credit system by living inconspicuous or prudent lives, but they will still be scrutinized. A growing network of 200 million CCTV cameras across the public and private domain will use facial recognition, body scanning, geo-tracking and other surveillance tech to track the massive swathe of addicted gamers and screen timers ushered into the largest digitally organised personality heist in history.

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Orienting Towards Dr. Mike Posner

Journey2Psychology, A Project by: Dr. MIchael Gordon 
Mike Gordon is travelling across the world to converse with influential Psychologists and discover the stories behind their work.
This journey will form the basis of a book from political animal press 
follow Dr. Gordon’s travels in full at Journey2Psychology

Over a career of more than 50 years Dr. Mike Posner of the University of Oregon has been a defining figure in Psychology — most notably for his efforts shepherding in the age of neuroscience for Psychology. In studies on attention, visual orienting, and a host of related cognitive processes, Dr. Posner and his colleagues have illustrated where and how neural circuits operate in the brain.

If I can wax poetically for a moment, one might recollect the parable of the blind men and elephant. Each one of the blind men reached out to touch the elephant and to describe their experience and each felt something different across the features of this large animal. One patted a solid mid-section, rough skinned body and declared the object to be a wall,  one felt a whip-like tail with a frayed end and shouted that the object was a broom, one grasped the thick, long trunk and exclaimed that it was a snake, and still another touched the fan-like ears and informed his peers that it was a peacock, I mean a fan. That last blind man seemed to often confuse fans and peacocks, much to the chagrin of his wife  and the bewilderment of the other blindmen. In any case, each found something important and exclaimed his excitement about this find to his colleagues! They debated and argued over their experiences. They accused each other of falsehoods and of misinterpretations — how could it be a snake when it was a broom? How could it be a broom when it was a wall? Eventually, slowly, and with much hand-wringing, they put their experiences together to construct an animal larger than any had originally thought and with more complexity than any had directly experienced.

The process of science is often thought of in this way: with each person exploring one small element of the field and declaring our amazing findings  to our peers. We debate where and how each fraction we find might fit with other findings; whether those findings are valid or questionable; and when the scientific process is successful, we eventually endeavor to support a wider understanding of the whole by integrating each of these fractional bits. Only together do they seem to produce something that we hope will approximate the whole. That is most of us working in science: working very, very hard on a little piece of the world and all its phenomena and trying to add to the collective understanding as a result. And then there is Mike Posner. He got a hold of one end of that  elephant of science and wouldn’t let go. He clawed his way across systems and through a diverse array of elements and neural processes. While there is much more we seek to understand and a tremendous amount of questions still ahead to be addressed, Dr. Posner didn’t settle for one small part. Over the last several decades he has constructed a lasting model of the divergent pieces and behaviors of the brain.   He has tested systems of processes and structure-function relationships that underlie thought, itself.

Because of the research of Dr. Posner and his colleagues, we know that a single idea will likely activate a whole subset of different parts and places in the brain. The mental/psychological experience of looking at something (let’s  say an elephant) is unified. We can orient and address our thoughts to seeing and experiencing that elephant. Posner and colleagues have explicated the neural circuitry which makes all that happen: orienting towards the elephant, processing the ears, nose,  trunk and redirecting attention towards each of those parts. Among many jaw-dropping ideas to come from this research was the diversity and location of the neural structures involved. The simple idea that many philosophers and early physiologists intuitively shared for about 1000 years is that there is a spot in the brain for one activity and a different spot in the brain for something else. Many hypothesized that neurons that work together will be sitting neatly together in a little group (or maybe even just one neuron, king of the other neurons) directing a specific behavior. That idea was kind of the basis of phrenology and other debunked early theories of how the brain is formed. Clever ideas that are totally wrong. Most neural activities draw on activity in different parts of the brain, and occurring in overlapping intervals. The activity in the brain is, to a casual observer, somewhat chaotic and divergent. It took the decades of  research from Dr. Posner and colleagues, to demonstrate where and how these neural circuits are formed, and how they relate to the seemingly effortless ability we possess to pay attention to one thing and then to transfer that attention elsewhere. Most scientists find one part of the big elephant and work on that. Dr. Posner found one part and kept on tracking, piece by piece, filling in a larger chunk of the animal than most of us knew existed.

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Psychologist on a Journey (or, Why I hit the road)

Journey2Psychology, A Project by: Dr. MIchael Gordon 
Mike Gordon is travelling across the world to converse with influential Psychologists and discover the stories behind their work.
This journey will form the basis of a book from political animal press 
follow Dr. Gordon’s travels in full at Journey2Psychology

My favorite part of Psychology has always been the stories.

My first project in grad school was to study human echolocation. I read these wonderful papers from Karl Dallenbach and colleagues from the 1940’s and 50’s wherein they expressed not just what they did but how it all happened. There was always a bit of a wry nod to others in the field. A little extra something so that their colleagues in the field might share in the fun of how that whole experiment went down.

As Psychology advanced to more recent days those little winks and nods began to disappear from our writings and, were replaced with greater rigor, more detailed analyses, and more advanced theoretical evaluation. Data, replicability, and theoretical significance are, appropriately, the prominent center of how we communicate with each other in Psychology at this time. To learn the stories of the research one needs to speak to the researchers, meet with them at conferences, and have a few laughs over a beer.

And, when I tell my students about these great studies and the fantastic advances of our time, they are often unmoved. They want to know WHO these people are. Why did those men and women bother? When I can, I tell them the stories. Stories about Tolman and his grad student noticing the mice escape the T-maze and run straight to the food; of Watson conditioning fear in an infant all while falling in love with his mentee and co-author Rosalie Rayner; of Mary Calkins who paired ideas to form memories, and initially refused to be granted the PhD she earned until Harvard relented on its policy to bestow this degree to women.

The people who struggled, fought, and sowed the field of Psychology have great stories to tell. Their stories give context to the work they’ve done and illustrate why that work is so critical. Importantly, they are also so much fun — engaging and moving experiences as these brilliant thinkers overcame the challenges in their lives and the intellectual puzzles of the paradigms.

So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m spending a year on the road to travel across the United States, to Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland, and maybe a few other places, to speak with the most influential Psychologists I can. It is a bit of an adventure that ultimately will provide a library of interviews and many wonderful stories from their lives!

I can’t wait to share all of this with you!

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Is Ecosocialism the Antidote to Black Friday?

An Interview with Victor Wallis on WHOWHATWHY

Progressive politicians from Bernie Sanders to new Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have grown increasingly bold in calling for quasi-socialist solutions as the only viable means of addressing a range of intractable, growing problems —  from the health care crisis to climate change.

Others are even more explicit, arguing that capitalism itself is at the root of the matter.

Victor Wallis, a history professor at Berklee School of Music and longtime writer and thinker on the environment, this week’s guest on the WhoWhatWhy podcast, believes that “ecosocialism” is the only answer to the existential dilemma facing America and the world.

Wallis argues that, whether one is passionate about capitalism or is troubled by its extreme manifestations no longer matters. The imperative for ever greater profits, he says, creates more of everything and more demand for everything — and inevitably produces strains the earth can no longer afford.

Maybe not what you want to hear as you contemplate yet another Black Friday spree. But maybe also a good time to hear and debate unconventional ideas.

Listen to the interview or read the transcript on WhoWhatWhy

Victor Wallis is the author of Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism.

President Donald Trump Lashes out at Mother Nature for Being a Woman

Speculation he’ll sign Executive Order renaming it “Father Nature”

Don’t Feed The Animals, A Series of Satirical Musings by: Josh Lorenzo

Washington D.C. – The President, who is no stranger to early morning tweets, continued his critique of Mother Nature today, with a series of comments that has left the meteorological community reeling, and many political figures wondering as to the timing of the remarks.

The United States hasn’t seen this kind of bullying on display by our President in at least an hour and a half.

It’s unclear what led to the social media confrontation, but aides to the President have stated that he has become increasingly annoyed at the fluctuating temperatures that have occurred in recent months.  It is their conclusion that this fluctuation is hampering his ability to deny that climate change is real.  Compounding the issue is the fact that Mother Nature is a woman.

“He hates to lose, especially to powerful women he can’t control” said one aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.  This aide overheard the President state that a man, such as Old Man Winter, wouldn’t change his mind as much as Mother Nature does.

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Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought

By: David Antonini from 1000-Word Philosophy

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), born in Hanover, Germany, was a public intellectual, refugee, and observer of European and American politics. She is especially known for her interpretation of the events that led to the rise of totalitarianism in the twentieth century.

Arendt studied under German philosophers Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers and set out to pursue a path as an academic, writing a dissertation on St. Augustine. However, Hitler, the Nazi regime’s rise to power, and the bloody Holocaust forever changed her life. Being Jewish, Arendt was forced to flee the country, seeking refuge in France and eventually the United States. After living through the outbreak of WWII, Arendt devoted the rest of her life to writing about politics, although less in a traditional philosophical sense and more in the vein of a political observer, interpreting events of the twentieth century.

This essay explains some central insights of her political thought and how she developed these concepts to overcome the loss of politics as public debate in Nazi Germany.

1. Totalitarianism and the Loss of Public Debate

 Arendt understands “politics” as public debate by a community about meaningful aspects of their shared life together. She witnessed the collapse of politics, in this sense, under Nazi totalitarianism. This form of rule seeks to diminish public debate by making it a criminal act to criticize the regime. Arendt sought to understand the rise of this unprecedented form of government, and to defend public debate against threats to its existence.

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Lady Gaga and Moral Reasoning

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

Lady Gaga’s popular song “Born This Way” (sometimes described as a “gay anthem”) affirms and celebrates various diversities as good, including sexual diversity—homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender sexuality. Why? Because, according to Gaga and many of her fans, this is how one is formed at birth, and, according to Gaga, “God makes no mistakes.”

Is this good moral reasoning? I think not. I have two arguments to support my view: one philosophical, one theological.

A philosophical argument

Here is some philosophical reasoning—which applies whether one believes in God or not.

Lady Gaga rightly encourages us to respect and accept all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. After all, each person has great intrinsic moral worth (Christians would say that this is so because each person is made in the image of God, but one needn’t be a Christian to recognize this worth). So far, so good.

But at this juncture Lady Gaga’s thinking become problematic.

Respecting and accepting all people doesn’t automatically also mean that we should accept and affirm all the behaviours of all people. Nor does it also mean that we should accept and affirm all their (our) dispositions and urges to behave in various ways.

Why not? Because not all urges and behaviours are good—some urges and behaviours are harmful to one’s self and/or others.

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A Sound Ecological Policy Cannot Be Achieved Within a Capitalist Framework

Christian Stache interviews Victor Wallis about resistance in the German Hambach Forest, class politics, technology, progress and an ecological-economic conversion.
This interview by Christian Stache of Victor Wallis was Translated with permission from the October 6 2018 issue of the Berlin-based daily newspaper junge Welt (young World), which bears no responsibility for the English-language text.

Christian Stache: Recently, a huge socio-ecological conflict escalated in the Hambach Forest in Germany. Have you heard about it in the US?

Victor Wallis: It was not widely covered in the corporate media, but there was very good coverage on the independent Democracy Now! program, whose host, Amy Goodman, spent a week in and around Bonn during the recent international conference, and visited some of the occupiers in their tree-houses. Singer/songwriter David Rovics has just now posted a tribute, in narrative and song, to the forest-protectors and to the journalist Steffen Meyn who died tragically while attempting to cover their story.

CS: How do you characterize the struggle? Are there decisive similarities with, for example, the battles against oil pipelines in North America?

VW: It is a classic case of confrontation between a big corporation and people trying to save a priceless ecosystem. There is a definite parallel with the clashes in North America, including especially the more recent battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline, in which government forces intervened decisively on the side of the corporation.

CS: You recently published Red-Green Revolution (Political Animal Press 2018) which has a special focus on ecosocialist politics. Can you explain what makes politics ecosocialist? How does it differ from the ecological politics, for example, of the Green Parties, the United Nations or the big environmental NGOs like Greenpeace?

VW: Ecosocialist politics is based on recognizing that a sound ecological policy cannot be achieved within a capitalist framework. In order to restore (to the extent possible) the health of the ecosphere, it is necessary that economic decisions be no longer based on the capitalist goals of maximizing profit and accumulating wealth. They should instead be based on the common interest of humanity, which is bound up with the health of the natural environment.

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Petroleum Junkies of the World, Unite!

by Craig Collins

I’m a fossil fuel junkie. I drive a car and use electricity. My computer, TV, telephone, refrigerator, stove, lights, water, and sewage all run on carbon-based energy. [1] All of the materials used to build my house and furniture were made with hydrocarbons. The wood, sheetrock, cement, metals, glass, wiring, pvc pipes, and other plastics were all manufactured with carboniferous energy. My high-energy lifestyle mainlines fossil fuels.

The petroleum coursing through the veins of our global economy allows me to do miraculous things. If I have the money, I can hop on a plane and be scuba diving in the Caribbean in a matter of hours. I can pick up a phone and talk to people anywhere in the world. I can buy coffee shipped from Kenya, tea from India, mangos from Mexico, rice from Thailand, and bananas from Ecuador anytime I want for a few dollars. I never have to do the backbreaking work of growing my own fruits, grains, and vegetables or raising my own livestock. I can light and heat my home, cook my food, do my laundry, and take a hot shower without ever having to collect and chop wood, haul buckets of water, or even start a fire. My family can toss their luggage into the car and journey hundreds of miles in a few hours for the cost of a tank of gas. Even with a host of servants and slaves the great kings of old could not have imagined doing many of the amazing things I can with do with the energy of fossil fuels. Power like this is addicting.

It may sound odd, but I didn’t realize I was addicted to petroleum until I was about 30. Like most Americans, I was born into a lifestyle of cheap energy and took it for granted. Growing up in the latter half of the 20th century, cars and electricity were just part of daily life. Nobody thought of it as addiction; it was progress. Every new electronic device and labor saving appliance was a testament to the miracle of modern science and technology. The future was usually portrayed as a technological utopia where all our wants and needs would be met by some new scientific wonder. Remember The Jetsons?

I felt fortunate and proud to live in America because it was the most modern country in the world. It never occurred to me that our prosperity had anything to do with our dependence on oil; in school we were told our affluence was the product of free enterprise, liberty, and democracy. I knew that every country in the world aspired to be as modern as the United States. Poor countries were trying to copy our success and our enemies behind “the iron curtain” claimed they would soon out-modernize us. Growing up, I felt sorry for people who still lived without the conveniences of modern life.

It took me years to realize that our supercharged lifestyle depends on a vanishing supply of fossil fuels and cannot possibly be reproduced on a global scale. If the people of China lived like Americans there would be more cars in China than there are in the entire world today. [2] Their cars would need all of the oil the world produces plus fifteen million extra barrels a day. China would consume two-thirds of the world’s grain harvest; burn more coal than the entire world uses today; and use twice as much paper. [3] And this is just China. The Earth simply does not have enough land, water, and hydrocarbons for everyone to live the high-energy lifestyle of Americans. In fact, America’s coveted lifestyle is running on empty and on the verge of going bust, like the boomtowns that became ghost towns after the gold rush panned out.

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Senator Orrin Hatch Time Travelling to 1851

Mission to Correct America’s Timeline by Changing the Past

Don’t Feed The Animals, A Series of Satirical Musings by: Josh Lorenzo

Washington, D.C. – In a surprising turn of events, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), has announced that he is retiring from the 115th U.S. Congress and is time travelling back to 1851.  Once there, he will run for Congress again.

The 84-year old Senator feels that this move will do him and the country some good.  “1851 certainly lines up more with my ideals and vision for what this great Country should stand for.  Too many people have rights in 2018.  Too many of them insist on being treated fairly and, frankly, it’s become rather disgusting,” said Hatch.

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