Opiates of the Masses

No, really.

Memories are fallible. I’d thought I had written on this topic of opiates and public policy at length. And perhaps I have. Just not here. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Searching my blog for my take on opiates, I find that I cite Marx’s ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses‘, four times—make that five. But nothing more.

Carl Hart recently published a book on his heroin use—Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear. By some accounts, Carl might appear to be the stereotypical heroin addict in the United States. Well, he’s black, so there’s that. But that’s where the stereotype ends.

Carl Hart is a professor of neuroscience in the psychology department of Ivy League, Columbia University—at least before he published his book. I’ve not read his book, but at my blog I’ve provided a link to the Guardian article, which prompted this post.

The gist I get from having read the Atlantic article is that the public health narrative surrounding heroin and other illicit drugs is akin to the hype of the days when Reefer Madness was all the moral outrage. And make no mistake—this outrage has everything to do with moral one-upmanship and nothing to do with health outcomes. This is pure and simple cultural performativism signalling the higher ground one occupies. As is common enough, many people have actually internalised their misinformation and disinformation to the point they truly believe there is a medical basis to their belief systems. If they are at all introspective, they would see that morals and Calvinism have nothing to do with this purported health care policy. It’s a seemingly reasonable, logical place to arrive. No emotional element is necessary.

But allow me to step back for a moment. Am I saying that there are no possible harmful effect for consuming drugs and other chemicals? No. Am I claiming that no one has ever died as a result of chemical intoxication or overdose? No, again. Am I saying that drug abuse does not incapacitate some people? Nope. I am saying none of the above. I am claiming that hyperbole abounds, the causal connection is overattributed, and cofactors are ignored in favour of an orthodox etiology.

For the record, I am a teetotaler. I do not abuse or even use chemicals referred to as drugs—illicit or otherwise. I don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke cigarettes. I don’t even drink coffee or covfefe. I do drink Coca Cola, so my big vice in this regard is caffeine. Even rarely do I take ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

As I note in my Defence of Capitalism post, it’s difficult to get good second-hand information of illicit drugs. The medical-industrial complex and the official police state peddle fear and disinformation. Whether they believe the information they dispense is true or not is irrelevant. What is important is the low truth content. It makes one wonder what to trust and what not to when these agencies routinely propagate falsehoods and misrepresent truth.

This misrepresentation isn’t limited to opiates. I found it interesting when Michael Phelps won gold at the Olympics, only to announce that he was the consummate pothead, and smoking weed was part of his daily routine. Here’s what the official Olympics website says about him, by the time he retired at Rio 2016 at the age of 31, Michael Phelps had collected a total of 23 golds, three silvers and two bronzes at the Olympics, a record-breaking haul that looks unlikely to be bettered for many years to come. So much for the lazy stoner stereotype. As marijuana becomes more accepted by mainstream culture, we come to notice that many of the so-called mental health issues were just fabricated. The purpose was to shroud a moral argument in medical legitimacy. Whether the healthcare industry was complicit or it was the law enforcement regime gone rogue is a separate question. Yet again, it undermines the legitimacy of any claims.

In 2020, the world encountered the Coronavirus, COVID-19. And medical expertise, particularly around immunology and the spread of pathogens, came into question. In the United States and United Kingdom, their misinformation was further exacerbated by administrations hostile to science. But given the history of misinformation for political purposes, it may be premature to blame the general public for being reluctant to trust the alarms. They’ve created the classic Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario. And so the question becomes what health information can one trust? And who is the authoritative source?

Listen to this as a podcast on Spotify

What Reason?

Any system built on the presumption of widespread capacity for reason is bound to fail. The ability for most humans to ‘reason’ is clearly abridged and homoeopathic. And this is before one factors in cognitive deficits and biases. This is separate from sense perception limitations.

Nietzsche was right to separate the masters from the herd, but there are those in both classes with these limited capacities, though in different proportions.

People are predictably irrational

In economics, we have to define reason so narrowly just to create support the barebones argument that humans are rational actors—that given a choice, a person will take the option that leaves them relatively better off—, and even with this definition, we meet disappointment because people are predictably irrational, so they make choices that violates this Utilitarian principle. And it only gets worse when the choices require deeper knowledge or insights.

Democracy is destined to fail

This is why democracy is a destined to fail—it requires deeper knowledge or insights. The common denominator is people, most of whom are fed a steady diet of the superiority of humans over other species and lifeforms and who don’t question the self-serving hubris. They don’t even effectively evaluate their place in the system and their lack of contribution to it.

To the masters, who are aware of the limited abilities of the herd to reason, it seems like hunting fish in a barrel. If we convince the herd that they have some control over their destinies, that’s as far as it needs to go, but among the masters, there are subclasses, so people in these factions are also vying for position, so each employs rhetoric to persuade herd factions.

No one is sheltered from the limitations of reason

To the people out reading and writing blogs and such, confirmation bias notwithstanding, they may more likely to be ‘reasonable’ or able to reason, but try as they may, no one is sheltered from the limitations of reason.

More on this later…

Property, Tax

Interestingly, I started this blog exploring property, a concept that makes no sense to me, and continued on a Postmodern journey to discount rights and truth. And then Enlightenment thinking in and of itself. I think of these still, most recently turning onto the concept of Democracy. Whilst researching de Tocqueville, I happened upon this letter by Ben Franklin. What on? Property. And taxation.

Property

CHAPTER 16|Document 12

Benjamin Franklin to Robert Morris

25 Dec. 1783

Writings 9:138

The Remissness of our People in Paying Taxes is highly blameable;

the Unwillingness to pay them is still more so.

Benjamin Franklin

The Remissness of our People in Paying Taxes is highly blameable; the Unwillingness to pay them is still more so. I see, in some Resolutions of Town Meetings, a Remonstrance against giving Congress a Power to take, as they call it, the People’s Money out of their Pockets, tho’ only to pay the Interest and Principal of Debts duly contracted. They seem to mistake the Point. Money, justly due from the People, is their Creditors’ Money, and no longer the Money of the People, who, if they withold it, should be compell’d to pay by some Law.

Franklin calls out those citizens unwilling to contribute their fair share to the commonwealth.

Property superfluous to [the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species] is the Property of the Publick

Benjamin Franklin

All Property, indeed, except the Savage’s temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.

Franklin is supportive of Locke’s property of ‘life, liberty, and property’ fame, but he is decidedly not a fan of passing along excess generational wealth. In fact, he feels that such excess property should accrue to the public.

To those unwilling to play by these rules, banishment to the wolves is not too good for them. Stripping them of citizenship is not too harsh a punishment.

He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages

Benjamin Franklin


The Founders’ Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 16, Document 12
http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch16s12.html
The University of Chicago Press

The Writings of Benjamin Franklin. Edited by Albert Henry Smyth. 10 vols. New York: Macmillan Co., 1905–7.

Easy to print version.

Vantage

A runner helps a competing runner to complete and win a race. The competitor had been confused, as signage was in a language foreign to him, so the other helped him out.

Iván Fernández Anaya and Adel Mutai Race

Although the debate in the comments thread on LinkedIn of whether the rules of the event supersede the overarching human condition leans heavily toward cooperation over competition, some are vehemently opposed to the thought of ‘breaking the rules’ of the contest.

I suggest that this is an issue of framing. Sporting events are a wholly contained subset of the human condition. If you visualise this as a Venn diagramme envisaged as camera lenses, you’ll see that the event is a deliberate tight shot. One with the broader human experience cropped out. But the viewer has the ability to pull back and capture a wider shot. This shot recognises factors other than winning a petty sporting event. It emphasises cooperation over competition.

There is no moral imperative here. One may adopt either lens without shame. As for me—and apparently most—, the wider shot is preferred. But a wider lens is not always the default view for humans.

Humanism

When it comes to how, as people, we fit into the larger universe, we tend to adopt a human-centric view. And one doesn’t need to be a Humanist to take this position. Most religions do this by proxy, where the gods have appointed humans as the Ones.

How can one not be a racist?

This is the same choice as whether to adopt a tight or a wide shot. And some people take an even tighter shot, where the focus is on nationality or race or colour or sex or gender or affluence or whatever. But the wide shot captures all species on the same plane. Peter Singer is the leading Western philosopher in this space. In his world, Humanism, this human-centred view, is Speciesism.

The most common responses to this charge are to dismiss it on the grounds that ‘humans are superior for reasons’ or that ‘as long as we consider the biosphere as a system, we can still take an elevated position’. I don’t truly accept either of these positions. The first is, frankly, narcissistic, as is the second, but humans have an abysmal track record when systems thinking and complexity are involved.

How can one not be a Speciesist?

The obvious question, then, akin to, ‘How can one not be a racist?’ in these #BlackLivesMatter times, is ‘How can one not be a Speciesist?’ But there are still wider lenses as we pull back to capture the entire taxonomy. We can elevate species to genus to family, order, class, phylum, kingdom, domain, or life. And why stop there except for moral convenience?

Ask yourself: What lens are you using? What is your frame? Where is your focus? What is your depth of field?

Humanism is Speciesism

Why is racism wrong but speciesism OK? Primarily, other species have no voice, and to have no voice is to have no say. This advert got my attention.

Joaquin Phoenix Advert

Humanism is part and parcel of specious Enlightenment tripe, where ‘coincidentally‘ humans put themselves at the forefront. Copernicus removed Earth from the centre — though to be fair, even Christians had elevated gender-non-specific-Man above other animals — , but Humanism makes it more poignant that it’s Man at centre not God. Gods be damned. In fact, it’s often an afterthought that humans are animals at all, despite only the slightest veneer of consciousness and, more to the point, language to separate us from them.

Otherness has proven itself to be an evolutionary survival aspects, one that has brought me tho a point where I can write this, so one can call it natural, another term fraught with connotational baggage. To be able to differentiate and discriminate appear to be valuable attributes, but how much is enough, and how much is too much.

Buddhism teaches that we are all one with the cosmos, that any distinction is an illusion. Buddhist Enlightenment — not to be confused with Western Enlightenment — is to understand this, to not be bound to the illusion.

But, if racism is wrong, why is speciesism OK? Humans do give some animals some rights, and some places give different animals different rights, whilst other give animals categorically more and fewer rights. Some places ascribe divinity upon animals, elevating them above humans.

Racism seems to be more wrong because humans are more genetically homogeneous — at least phenotypically. Other mammals and herptiles don’t look so much like us. In observation, when they do, we have an additional layer of empathy, so chimps and canines with expressive eyes gain sympathy not afforded crustaceans and pinnipeds.

I don’t have an answer save to say that it’s just convenient and some day we may see a world as portrayed by science fiction where some — mostly bipedal species — live quasi-harmoniously with humans. But even there, humans are always the start, front and centre to provide to moral POV.

Political Path

People can change.

Although I have changed my opinion and perspective over the years, I feel that most people settle into their ways, fixing their positions with an unhealthy dose of confirmation bias. I’d like to think that I could change my position materially from where I am now given the introduction of new evidence, but I don’t think it’s likely. First off: because I am coming from a vantage where I feel I am ‘right’.

Don’t believe everything you think.

— Various

Of course, there is no absolute right, but from the perspective of the times and place and some triangulation, I’ll say ‘relatively right’.

Rewinding…

When I left high school in 1979, I considered myself to be generally Conservative — at least as I understood the word to mean and without dimension or nuance. I’m not sure I had a great grasp of the definition.

Upon graduation, I entered the military. I remember in conversation with a mate that I was a Conservative. He laughed, and said I was the least Conservative person he’d ever come across. I was perplexed, but I had to reorient my self-perspective.

New Definition

I decided that I was a Conservative — a Fiscal Conservative —, but I was a Social Liberal. I’d pretty much been a Social Justice Warrior (SJW), concerned with the underdogs, but it wouldn’t be on my dime — or the prospect I had for future nickels and dimes.

I held this position for years — until I realised that the two positions were untenable. You can’t simultaneously offer full social equality for free, and these were rights we were discussing. Fundamental rights. If money was the friction between a right and its realisation, then it needed to be spent. Fiscal Conservatism be damned!

Politicus Interruptus

Somewhere in the fray, I had dabbled with Libertarianism. Again, I dismissed this as an untenable fantasy. There had never been even close to an instance of this working, and it goes against the grain of all social concepts. It’s built on a dream — somehow anarchy without the anarchy, so anarchy + magic.

Progress

At some point, I didn’t like the PR of the Liberal tag, so I opted for Progressive. In the real world, I tend to side pragmatically with Progressives — the Bernie Sanders crowd in the US — , though I understand the illusion of progress and of politics in general.

Searching further to find a political identity, I settle on anarcho-syndicalism, the system I most identify with today, though there are only slightly more examples of this as there are Libertarian instances, a problem being that when some people see a leaderless group, they see it as a vacuum, and history repeats itself, so I’m not sure how sustainable this system could be.

This is now…

I am under no delusion that there is a right way for society to exist. I do believe there are plenty of wrong ways, but there are too many dimensions and complexities to have a single way. After all, how are you optimising the system? Trade-offs exist, and making a choice to maximise X might (and does) mean that Y is no longer maximised. Do you make X = 10 and Y = 8, or do you settle for X = 9 and Y = 9? And there are decidedly more than just X and Y.

There is no real reason to believe that society or even humans should exists, but given consciousness and self-preservation urges, I’ll take that as a given. That’s an inviolable metanarrative element.

Gay Genes

I’ve been so busy attending to other things, that my blogging here has gone by the wayside. Philosophy is an activity meant for those with spare time.

Besides philosophy, genetics is an interest of mine. An article I was reading, Genetics may explain up to 25% of same-sex behavior, giant analysis reveals, prompted me to react and respond. This article by the Economist came out ,too.

As the article states, there is no one gene, and we can’t even predict ‘gayness’ based on some configuration of genes. That humans’ knowledge of genetics is so nascent is one reason, and over-imagining the impact of genes on behaviours may be a problem. Just because you want to find a relationship doesn’t mean one exists.

My take is that genetics establish a predisposition. Genes may limit your height to 180 cm, but environmental factors may not allow you to reach this limit, and anything short of genetic modification will not allow you to surpass this limit.

I don’t see a reason for sexual orientation to be different. One may have a propensity to same sex attraction, let’s say 70%, but if environmental factors fail to catalyse this predilection, it may never manifest. Even this is too simplistic.

Being ‘gay’ is an identity marker. Just because a person has same-sex relationships does not mean the person identifies as gay. Moreover, one can be ‘virginal’ or celibate and otherwise have had unexpressed same-sex tendencies. More-moreover, ‘gay’ is not about activity; it’s an emotional attraction. A ‘gay’ person might have sex outside of their identity orientation for myriad reasons, for example, access to a partner of the preferred orientation (say, prisoners) or for survival (say, prostitutes).

On balance, I’d argue that this is a quixotic venture into finding the underpinning of a human social construct. Once again, humans obsessed with categorisation, as if finding a category provides special meaning to the thing in it.

Good to Coöperate: Property

I happened upon an entry in Current Anthropology: Is It Good to Cooperate? [PDF] (Volume 60, Number 1, February 2019), wherein the authors claim there are 7 universal moral codes. The universality is suspect insomuch as they found a preponderance of observations, so unanimity was not always found. I am also concerned with the specificity of the definition of property.

The group studied ethnographic accounts of ethics from 60 societies, across over 600 sources. The universal rules of morality are:

  1. Help your family
  2. Help your group
  3. Return favours
  4. Be brave
  5. Defer to superiors
  6. Divide resources fairly
  7. Respect others’ property

It’s well past my bedtime, and I should be sleeping, so I just want to pick out one of these universals: property rights.


La propriété, c’est le vol!

What is Property? — PIERRE-JOSEPH PROUDHON

Property can mean several things: In the description of methodology, it appears that these authors are referring to property rather than possession, as a key identifier is the ability to transfer property intergenerationally. What is the scope of the definition of property. There is a difference between passing along a family home and passing along vacant property a world away. Is rent-seeking property ownership universal? Would all societies subscribe to the notion held by Western Capitalism, wherein one can own property that, theoretically, one may never have seen? In the United States, they have concepts like intellectual property, which is at best a subversion of the notion.


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There may be a problem with reading (or at least posting) at 2AM—and property is a hot button item for me. I may have been hyper-focused on the intergenerational wealth transfer. I’d like to read more about how other societies view this as well as which ones do and don’t. Of course, I’d like to understand how the interviewers couched the questions.

In the end, the summary was about possession and not property:

Private property, in some form or other, appears to be a cross-cultural universal (Herskovits 1952). Morality-as-cooperation leads us to expect that this type of cooperative behavior—deferring to prior possession—will be regarded as morally good .

Op. cit.

As an anti-Capitalist, I notice that no claims are being made into the morality of competition. I may may a few posts on my observations of the remaining 6 list items.

Natural Causes

Some of us are concerned with the metanarratives underlying society, but and given society is apt to have many competing metanarratives. Logical Positivists tapped into the narrative of science, which is a primary theme of Enlightenment thinking. This was supposed to have supplanted the narrative of superstition, except it didn’t. And a sort of empirical, scientific Nature was supposed to have supplanted the metaphysical gods, except it didn’t.

Illuminati Eye Symbol

Apart from the problem that a supernatural God was replaced with a sort of animated Nature, some people just didn’t buy into the new narrative. Today, in the 21st Century Western world, some people still subscribe to these pre-Enlightenment notions, but that’s not the root of the issue. Neither is necessarily right or wrong. And in a Hegelian synthesis, some people assuage the ensuing cognitive dissonance by merging the two and cherry-picking the ones that work for them. These people usually have little difficulty finding people who believe that the earth is 4.5 billion or 6 thousand years old, that Ayurvedic medicine is superior or inferior to Allopathic medicine, that vaccines cause or don’t cause autism, that homeopathy is effective or ineffective, that the Illuminati are some secret society that rules the world or not.

Many people still can’t get past an appeal to nature, whence the Organic and traditional medicine movements. This is not to say that some or all of these claims might have validity; it’s just to say that ‘because it’s natural’ is not a suitable defence. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day—unless it’s set to a 24-hour display, in which case it’s only right once a day.

Without rehashing the argument whole hog, we know that poison ivy and uranium, arsenic, and cyanide are all natural. Not many attempt to defend this with an appeal to nature, so this suffers from selection bias from the start.

you cannot go against nature
because if you do
go against nature
it's part of nature, too

— Love and Rockets, No New Tale to Tell

The larger issue is about how we define nature. I don’t recall if this was Lyotard or Lacan (and I don’t feel like looking for the cross-reference at the moment), but by definition everything observed is natural, whether physical or behaviour.

Love and Rockets – No New Tell to Tell

Some humans—notably the Enlightened ones—like to view themselves as somehow above nature, but the veneer is nanometers thin and threadbare at that. And these people extend this concept to behaviour. As the song goes, you can’t go against nature because when you do, when you observe it, it is by definition part of nature, too.

Oftentimes, this becomes a moral argument: this or that is unnatural. Certain sexual activities are usually held up as examples, and yet many of these activities are not only practised by many humans, they are also practised by members of other species. The argument is that we need to elevate about nature, an so they are making some appeal to meta-nature or some such.

In any case, the complaint shouldn’t be whether it’s natural anyway. It might rather be couched in some instances as not ‘naturally occurring’, so plastics would not happen save for manufacture, but neither would asphalt or telephones or televisions or processed foods, so I find it to be disingenuous to rail against some items that do not occur naturally whilst ignoring the ones you happen to find useful.