Archive for August, 2015
My first year seminar this year is a new one, called “Brave New World: In Search of the Future.” The theme of the course is to figure out what the world will be like a hundred years from now.
I’m excited to jump into this course, which has two texts (one optimistic, one more pessimistic) but requires the students themselves to investigate different ideas and visions of what the future will bring. But we’ll start by reading the book Brave New World, which was Aldous Huxley’s vision of the future published in 1932. So the first part of the semester we’ll look at the past – what kind of world surrounded Huxley that impacted his vision?
Science had been rocked by quantum mechanics and relativity. The eugenics craze had everyone thinking humans were perfectible. Racism was second nature; Americans were not as far from Nazis in how they looked at the world as we’d like to think – indeed the aviation hero Charles Lindbergh was quite enamored with the National Socialists. Communism had already taken Russia, and Hitler was on the rise in Germany. The world had entered the Great Depression. That was the context that inspired Huxley’s book, and we’ll discuss what he saw, and whether it was accurate, and why he had that particular vision.
Then we pivot to the present, and start to think of the future. The optimistic book is Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku. It’s really less about physics than technology and how the current technological revolution will keep changing our lives. In general he sees real problems (e.g., global warming will alter the face of the planet) but that we’ll have the ingenuity to deal with problems and keep moving forward.
The pessimistic read is “Dodging extinction,” by Anthony Barnosky, and will deal with some of the concerns by paleontologists that the changes we’re making to our ecosystem may endanger our survival as a species.
Both views – and many others – are legitimate. There are the optimists who poo-poo “gloom and doomers” and insist all is hunky dory and we’ll solve any problem that arises. Others are convinced the end is near. In reality, nobody knows. It is possible that technology will solve the problems of global warming, it’s possible things will get very bad very fast. Anyone who says they are sure is a fool.
That’s the beauty of the course – we are dealing with a question for which there is no clear answer. There is, in fact, persuasive evidence for diverse conclusions. The challenge is to get people to look beyond their bias. People who for political reasons are biased against seeing global warming as real often simply shut themselves out from the evidence. They ridicule it, cherry pick alternatives, but do not actually acknowledge the wealth of data that exists that says human caused global warming is real. That’s a typical human attribute – to ignore what we don’t want to believe.
Of course, there is a lot of evidence that the impact of global warming won’t be as bad as some of the predictions, or that humans will adapt. Those who are convinced global warming is the number one problem we face tend to dismiss that evidence as well. Everyone has to admit there is a massive amount of uncertainty, meaning that there is a lot of room for alternate claims.
And of course there are a myriad of other issues: the rise of artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, exploring outer space, the meaning of life, whether the planet is going to buckle from over population and resource use or if technology is going to solve such problems.
Perhaps the most interesting issue involves what it means to be human. We’re living in a very materialist era, where economic growth and material accomplishment define human value. But is that right approach? Psychologists have already disproven the old “homo economus” version of humanity (the idea that we are in pursuit of self-interest as rational actors maximizing expected utility), but what are we? How will the future affect what we think about life, being human and what values we hold?
This should be a fun course!
For a vocal minority, immigration is the biggest problem facing this country. They believe we are being “invaded” by hordes of lazy, shiftless foreigners who want to destroy America from within. That is all pure delusion, but politics and fear often evade rational thought. Indeed, some of the most vocal anti-immigrant voices have never had any negative contact with immigrants. Often they are just annoyed that Lowes has Spanish signage or they have to choose a language on their ATM.
The Europeans have similar vocal minorities, convinced that there is a huge danger from those “others” who are strange, different, smell funny and will undermine the core identity and values of society. In Europe this shows itself through strong right wing nationalist parties that can get up to about 20% of the vote (that seems a ceiling for this paranoid world view). In the US we have a two party system, so they have no natural political outlet.
For Republicans this creates a quandry. In 2007 the anti-immigrant crowd rose to defeat a proposal by President Bush to reform immigration and give people here illegally a path to citizenship. Bush’s approach was well thought out, and had political benefits for the GOP. Many Latinos are socially conservative and Republicans felt they had an advantage to win them over to their party – no mean feat given that this is the fastest growing voting demographic. They still may have that advantage in the long run, but for now the extremists are causing Republicans headaches.
For Republicans running in deeply conservative states or in the primaries there is a lot to gain by having a harsh anti-immigrant stance. It stokes the emotions of the nativists, and people vote more on emotion than reason. With the primaries dominated by activists and hard core political junkies, the anti-immigrant vote is magnified and has given Donald Trump command of the GOP field for now.
Once you get to the general election this spells danger. First, there are almost 30 million Latinos eligible to vote in the US, about 12% of the population. That may not sound like much, but it’s the fastest growing voter demographic. This means that even if all illegals were deported you’d still have the ATM’s asking what language to use – even with no new immigrants, this is the fastest growing group of Americans.
In recent elections Latino turnout has been about 50%, though rising. It is conceivable that a strong anti-immigrant stance will increase anger and push the voter turnout up, something that could not only swing the general election but potentially many Congressional districts and Senate races.
Beyond that, in a country strapped with debt and a variety of problems, the cost of a Trump like “deport them all” solution is mind boggling – probably at least $200 billion.
Now, the total undocumented immigrant population is 11 million, 6.5 million of those Mexican. That number is lower than it was about eight years ago, as enforcement along with fewer job opportunities meant many people returned and fewer arrived. Indeed, the number seems to have stabilized. So the idea that they are pouring across the border in some kind of invasion is simply dead wrong.
There is no way this country will pay $200 billion to solve a problem that is already being solved. Moreover some of the solutions – end birthright citizenship (problematic for a number of reasons, and almost uncertainly unconstitutional), building a massive wall, deporting everyone and their families – would require a massively powerful government intrusion on peoples’ lives. Some people are fine with that since they believe foreigners will be the victims, but government power has a way of expanding.
So here’s the dilemma – It’s unlikely Democratic voters will be swayed to vote Republican by the anti-immigrant rhetoric. That’s red meat to the right wing crowd. It’s very likely independents and even moderate Republicans will be turned off by such extremism and vote Democratic, and that Latinos and Democrats in general will be energized to fight against this neo-fascist rhetoric. Moreover, given social media and the ubiquitous use of sound bites and film, candidates won’t be able to pivot away to a more reasonable position come general election time as they did in the past.
How will Republicans handle it? Some are playing it smartly. John Kasich, for instance, refuses to engage in that kind of rhetoric, as do a number of others. If they can weather the Trumpstorm and end up the nominee, they’ll be able to pivot rather easily. Jeb Bush, while stumbling a bit on the term “anchor baby,” has an Mexican immigrant wife and spent time living in Mexico – he might have the easiest sell. But he has to get through the primaries.
If it does come down to, say, Bush vs. Clinton, will the extremists fall into line? Vote for Bush because they find Hillary so distasteful? Or will they take on the “they’re all the same” kind of rhetoric of the extremists and sit it out? Will nominating a moderate be enough, or will have Trump and Co. damaged the Republican brand in its appeal especially to Latinos? What will the down-ballot impact be?
There are two results I see as most likely: 1) The GOP nominates someone like Bush, he effectively pivots, and runs a strong campaign; and 2) The GOP nominates someone who has engaged in the harsh rhetoric, and it leads to a Republican fiasco in 2016 – perhaps including the loss of both the House and Senate. Democrats may hope for the latter, but the former seems more likely. After all, despite all the harsh rhetoric from the right wing against McCain and Romney, they ended up with the GOP nomination.
Still, if President Bush had prevailed in 2007, the Republicans would be in a much stronger position.
(Note: this is part 13 of a series called “Quantum Life,” in which I post the contents of a strange ‘guide book’ I found for a game called “Quantum Life.” It is in English, which the book calls a “Quantum Life language,” unable to capture all the complexities of the world as it really is. Most importantly, “true reality” according to the book is outside space-time, something our language cannot express. I’m not sure where this book came from – this finishes the section on suffering).
Physical Suffering in Quantum Life, P II – Suffering “by chance”
Players in Quantum Life seek in general to learn by experience, with the true nature of reality hidden. Hence the need to remove memories, cut off connection with the whole (the unity of all), and position players in space-time, which makes it seem that the individual is moving one step at a time through “life.”
However, the environment in which the game is played does come from the inner connection with the whole, even if recognition of this is blocked. It gets expressed in the aesthetics of the game – nature, beauty, color and the richness of the world as experienced. Indeed, creative energy from the unity of all provides the backdrop of the lessons of the game. Perhaps the most powerful of these is chance and so-called “acts of God.”
Perhaps the best way to explain how this works is to look at one event in one of the probable lines of the game. In many time lines, November 1, 1755 was a tremendously horrible day for the city of Lisbon, Portugal. An unexpected earthquake killed 84,246 people (the total varies among the various time lines – the number here reflects the time line in which this handbook is currently located).
It should be noted that players enter the game with a sense of what the game has in store for them; tragedies and chance encounters are often planned out – though once in the game choices can alter the best laid plans. In this case, those living in Lisbon knew they would be part of a horrific event. Players were drawn there in part for the drama – to experience what it is like to perish in a major earthquake, with the inner knowledge that it’s just a game. For others this played a part in personal lessons, and others choose it as part of a larger cultural or “group” symbol.
It may seem odd to think of a tragedy as a symbol, but this one was. When it hit, the Empress of the Austrian Empire, Maria Theresa, was in labor, ready to give birth on November 2nd to her daughter Marie Antoinette. Her daughter would in time be married to the future King of France, and later executed by guillotine at the time of the French revolution. That revolution would mark a dramatic change in the culture of that particular time line, touching all lives on the planet.
The earthquake symbolized the power of that change. Yet it played a greater role. French enlightenment thinkers Jean Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire each saw it is symbolic of the nature of reality. For Rousseau, who believed in a God which expressed itself in nature, it was a sign that it was unnatural to live in cities. Rousseau was born with a strong sense of the inner unity – it was not cut off as much as in most – and interpreted it as being from a deity that was perfect and loving. That deity would not cause suffering; so the people were to blame.
Voltaire, who had chosen a series of personal tragedies designed to put him in cynical frame of mind at the time of the quake, was horrified. He visited Lisbon and saw the suffering, and could not believe that any loving God would allow this. He wrote the book Candide which concluded that while God must have created the world, there was no sign that God cares for its creation. God doesn’t need love from humans, humans need love from humans. This would become secular humanism and part of the then growing enlightenment.
From that time on, a massive shift started for the entire planet, leading to major events and transformations. It represents the beginning of an extremely exciting and dramatic phase of the game.
What does this show? First, tragedies and “acts of God” are not random, nor are they bad. Only in that moment do they seem horrific, and that’s part of the experience. They are always symbolic, and reflect the energy from the unity of all expressed within the quantum life environment. Only when separated from their context does it appear these are random tragedies. Mass murders and genocides are also symbolic, and part of larger ideas being played out by groups of players. Always, these are symbolic expressions that sophisticated players can understand if they see them as such.
The same is true with death and disease. All players leave Quantum Life at some point, there is nothing inherently better by playing longer in one given life time. Someone can have value in a life ending at age 14 that goes beyond what another player might experience in 80 years. A person who dies naturally at 97 may have died as a small child in an accident the life “before.” Every death has symbolic meaning in how and when it happens, and wide spread events like epidemics also have broader cultural symbolic value.
Players know deep down when this is occurring and the pain and suffering is less than that discussed in part 1, where the cause comes from player choices rather than deep symbolism emerging from the unity of all as it gets expressed in the game environment. Again, the language of space-time makes this very difficult to translate, but no player is truly disconnected, and thus inevitably energy from the unity of all gets expressed creatively in the game.
The physical suffering is real, but a necessary part of the experience. Some players in fact become addicted to dramatic and painful deaths that others need to help them move on. Immersion back into the unity of all after a life ends quickly leads the players to recognize the power of what they experienced and learn. Almost always, they eagerly choose to play again.
-end of transcribing for today-
Earlier posts in the quantum life series:
Quantum Life – August 3, 2010
How to Play Quantum Life – August 4, 2010
Why Play Quantum Life – August 5, 2010
The Soul in Quantum Life – August 20, 2010
Getting Started with Quantum Life – October 1, 2010
Quantum Life: Birth and Pre-Birth – November 22, 2010
Quantum Life: Childhood – July 20, 2012
Quantum Life: Obstacles – July 29, 2012
Quantum Life: Empaths and Extensions – August 8, 2012
Evil in Quantum Life – October 8, 2012
Mates in Quantum Life – May 9, 2013
Physical Suffering in Quantum Life, P I – May 14, 2013
The headlines, especially on the right, make things seem dire for Hillary. The FBI is checking her e-mail server to see if she had any classified information on her private server! They parlay that into the usual accusations that Hillary (or the Clintons) are untrustworthy, dirty, or worse. Those surprised by the venom launched at Obama don’t recall how similar attacks were launched against the Clintons in the 90s. They don’t stick because nothing is there, save Bill’s infamous affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Still, Democrats are getting nervous. Not only do they worry about the e-mail affair, but they recall how her well oiled campaign machine, seemingly unstoppable in 2007, was thrown off the tracks by Barack Obama’s insurgent rise to the top. Maybe she just isn’t a good candidate. Except for two relatively easy Senate bids in New York, she doesn’t have an electoral track record. She wouldn’t even have had those wins if her husband hadn’t been President. Democrats worry that if Republicans get a quality candidate (Kasich, Rubio, Fiorina, or Walker), she’ll not be able to pull it off.
Add to that the unexpected surge of Bernie Sanders. A Senator who once called himself a socialist (he doesn’t do that anymore) is sparking support among the same progressives that made Obama’s rise possible. Yet unlike Obama he’s an old, white man who doesn’t seem to have broad appeal. How can he be so strong? In this context Joe Biden is considering entering the fray, albeit with a weird promise to only serve one term. I like Biden, but he’s even more unlikely to win the Presidency than Sanders.
But don’t write Hillary off, she’s still the most likely to get the nomination and the Presidency.
First, she has money, support, an infrastructure, and an energized base. Many of her supporters were furious that Obama upended her in 2008 and still want her to be the first female President. If anything this early challenge, compared to this point in 2007 when she seemed unstoppable, is going to get her campaign in a serious fight mode.
Second, the e-mail affair only has traction among the right wing, and it’ll run it’s course long before the 2016 calendar year begins. Just as the Baltimore riots won’t hurt O’Malley, this will be old news in a short while. If something like this is going to come out, better it be in the summer the year before the election. When you look closely, she’s actually a clean candidate. The attempts to create scandals around her have failed, and while she can be criticized for carelessness, others in government have done the same – it’s a problem more with how to deal with modern communication technology than any sort of “scandal.”
Third, she is more qualified now than she was in 2008, and the timing is better. Thanks to President Obama, she has had four years of grueling foreign policy work as Secretary of State, making her more ready than ever for that 3:00 AM call. In 2008 the country was sick of the status quo, and Obama won in part due to anger about the Iraq war and the economic collapse. She was a status quo candidate – harkening back to the 90s. People wanted fresh. In 2016 things have stabilized and her message of competence and experience will sell much better.
For the Hillary haters – the good news is that you can enjoy the emotion of attacking Hillary, maybe for nearly another decade. She still remains the best bet to move into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January 2017. If she does, she’ll definitely have shown persistence and resilience.
Target is the phenomenally successful discount star based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their name is on Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, and the Target Center, where the Timberwolves play basketball and I saw Billy Joel in concert in 1989. In some ways the corporation is indicative of the changes in retail sales in the last decades.
Back in the 70s Dayton’s was the department store king in Minneapolis. Current Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is from that family, and no one would have predicted that downtown Minneapolis would ever be without a Dayton’s (or it’s competitor Donaldson’s – both visible on the opening credits of the Mary Tyler Moore show). But Dayton’s is gone. Dayton Hudson corporation acquired Marshall Fields in 1990, and is now named Target Corporation.
Back in 1962 two discount chains began. Down in Arkansas Sam Walton began Walmart, and Dayton’s opened Target as it’s discount store. Still, the discount stores were secondary until in the late 70s when the oil crises and recession suddenly made discount anything all the rage. I recall Target coming to Sioux Falls in 1980 and quickly becoming a hit – Walmart had not yet reached the upper midwest at that time.
Target quickly eclipsed Dayton’s and became the core part of the new Target Corporation empire, as Target often was perceived as an upscale version of Walmart – cleaner, a bit more expensive, and with better groomed clientele. It now reaches to Maine!
The other day Target announced that it is no longer going to differentiate between boys and girls sections in the toy aisles. They claimed customers complained that the division made no sense, and that some toys (like Legos and even Nerf guns) are increasingly popular with girls. No reports that boys were yearning for Barbie dolls though!
It seems like a good move. The toys will be grouped by age or some other logical point, and there is less a sense that boys and girls have to have different toys. But to many on the right the move sparked rage. Read the comments this man got when he fooled people on Facebook into thinking his was the Target page.
The claims are a bit silly. Target is trying to turn kids gay, Target wants to deny children their gender, Target is pandering to adults who want political correctness, and calls for boycotts. I found it hard to believe that the comments there were indicative of any large swathe of people, but in googling this, there are a lot of people enraged that Target dare have gender neutral toy aisles!
Even Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, has called for a boycott. Graham is a bit of an extremist, but it’s fascinating to see people on the right seethe over something as minor as toy aisle signage. Fox News, which seems to feed on the emotional insecurity of conservatives, also was up in arms over the change. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between news from The Onion and what’s real!
Why all the fuss? First, it’s only toys. You’ll still have boys and girls clothing sections, and bathrooms remain gendered. That’s different than my place of employment, which is going to gender neutral restrooms campus wide.
I think it’s a reaction to the ongoing and deepening cultural shift in the country evidenced by public support for gay marriage and increasing tolerance of transgender people. Not long ago gays were kept in the closet, and the idea of gay marriage seemed as recently as the 1990s to be extremist. Caitlyn Jenner would not have been so celebrated even 15 years ago.
This shift is seen throughout society, and to those used to traditional, conservative values, it seems like the whole country is going crazy. They can’t get how things that they see as self-evidently weird are not only accepted, but seen as a new normal. They’re angry that they can’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, defining as religious freedom the right to act on what is now recognized as bigotry.
Target is a symbol; their actions are the latest indication that they have lost control of the culture, that a new generation with new ideas is leading the way. And it’s really not a right-left issue either. Talk to young conservatives and more often than not they are fine with gay marriage and these cultural issues. It’s really the “moral majority” generation that came of age when Jerry Falwell was calling for a culture war that is up in arms.
They’re mad for a logical reason – they lost the culture war, and Target’s move is just the latest reminder.
At one point Donald Trump seemed a relic of the past. A celeb in the 80s, ridiculed by Bloom County and known for conspicuous consumption, it seemed bankruptcies and time made him irrelevant. Later I heard he had a reality show and the catch phrase “you’re fired,” but I never watched or thought about that much.
So how do we get to a point where he’s the leading candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination? And can he win?
The answer to the first question says a lot about Trump and what propelled him to his current position. He became politically relevant when he embraced the “birther” cause, claiming he had special investigators who determined that it was almost certain that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Typical Trump – the birther cause was one that most Republicans either shied away from or treated ambiguously (‘I think he was born in Hawaii, but I understand the concern.’)
Not Trump. He went all in, with grandiose claims of his own investigation and proof. Soon he was the darling of the birther crowd (probably his core constituency to this day – they bonded with him). But then it appeared Trump was humiliated and put in his place at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner. That was the day Obama published his real birth certificate and then ridiculed Trump, who was in the audience showing no humor.
And while the birther controversy died down, Trump never surrendered. Most people thought he had been politically destroyed. There was talk of him running for President in 2012, but it never materialized.
That episode says a lot about Trump – he knows how to grab center stage, will say anything to get attention (whether true or not) and never backs down, even if all the smart people say it’s time to apologize and move on. He’s in constant fight mode, any sign of regret or retreat is seen as weakness, and when the vultures are circling, he doubles down. To those sick of scripted boring candidates who say what is expected (but never follow through), Trump is a welcome relief.
Take his reaction to how Bernie Sanders handled “Black Lives Matter.” After they disrupted one of his events, Sanders met with the group and actually integrated them into his message and program. Trump’s reaction: Sanders is weak and disgusting, caving into pressure. Trump’s people would physically remove the protesters. That’s Trump – strength is a virtue, and backing down, compromising, or just not trying to win is not only weak, but disgusting. That’s how Trump lives his life.
So can he win? Of course. But it is very unlikely.
The Republican field has 16 or so candidates. At this point, the plurality in the polls is around 20%. One person in five. Looked at that way, Trump is not exactly being embraced by the Republican faithful! So what does he need to do to win?
- Gain support as the field narrows. Soon Republicans with little support will realize they lack the resources and capacity to compete in this marathon. Trump has to gain a chunk of their supporters if he’s to have a chance. It’s very unlikely that people who don’t now support Trump would turn to him. If Rand drops out, his supporters may find Rubio or Walker a much better choice than Trump, for example.
- Marginalize Walker and Christie. If anyone is looking for a “Trump lite,” those two qualify. (I suspect it’s rare that Christie is considered ‘lite’.) Christie is the no-nonsense tell it like it is candidate who actually is smart and understands the policy issues. He is more measured in how he fights, always keeping a door open for compromise. Walker is resting on his “I took on the unions and got the liberals really pissed and won” record to gain support. Walker, like Trump, doesn’t back down and considers that a strength. Unlike Trump, he saves his venom for true political foes, not reporters like Meghan Kelley.
- Start a winning streak in the early caucuses/primaries, and start to be seen as Presidential enough. In other words, at some point being Trump will get him a chunk of support, but also set a ceiling. To break through that ceiling, he has to at some point stop the bombast and appear reasonable. I don’t think Trump can do it – his strength and weakness is that he can’t help but be himself.