Friday, July 20, 2018

The Human Species

“We humans are a special species, we are at the top of the evolutionary pyramid, we are what God aimed at when he set evolution in motion.” 

“Well, that is a lovely thought, but it is not really true. Every individual creature that is alive today – humans, primates, mammals, dolphins – are as highly evolved as are you and me. They are all products of 450 million years of uninterrupted evolutionary success, just like you and me. No predator ever made a meal out of any of them before they had children. None of our ancestors, no matter how distant, ever died of an accident or a disease before they had children, more ancestors” 

“But we are surely superior to them all, to all non-human creatures, aren’t we?” 

“What does superior mean? Other species have been around longer than us, survived as a single species, longer than us. Cockroaches have been around for some 300 million years, while the Homo genus has been around for less than 2.5 million years and the Homo Sapiens species some 300,000 years. And our future looks much more vulnerable to extinction than their future. Cockroaches have been around much longer than we have, and they are much more likely to survive natural or un-natural catastrophes than we are. That make us superior to cockroaches?” 

“Well, OK, how about bigger brains than any other species?” 

“Whales have bigger brains.” 

“OK, fine, but look what human beings have done: we have artists, authors, composers; we have scientists and inventors; we have religious and military and political leaders. No other creatures have ever given birth to such as us.” 

“You are talking about Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Picasso; Homer, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Bach and Mozart; Newton, Galileo, Einstein, Edison and Tesla; the Buddha, Jesus, St. Paul and Muhammad; Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, FDR, and Winston Churchill. Maybe more, surely more, than these few “immortal” (because they will never be forgotten) humans. But still, how many “immortals” can you name, you and all your friends, how many can you name? If you had a month, could you name 1000? Even with the help of Google and Wikipedia, could you and your friends name 10,000? How many “immortal” human beings have there been since the beginning of recorded history, names that will still shine bright a thousand years from now? Less than 10,000. Even if it is that many, that is still one human in a million. We humans like to feel that we are superior to all the rest of God’s creation, yet it is less than one in a million of us whose lives you would put on display to show how great all of us are. But fewer than one in a million human beings puts a small dent in the universe. As for you and me, aren’t we really closer to chimpanzees than to Leonardo?” 

“Oh, man, you are depressing me.” 

“But am I wrong, is the average human being closer to Leonardo -- to any of the members of the list that I have challenged you to draw up -- than he is to a chimpanzee? I doubt it. I like to think that some of us are at least “smart chimpanzees.” You surely know someone who is smarter than you and everyone else you know, but does he belong in your short list of immortal human beings, or is he just a smart chimpanzee? And just between you and me, the vast majority of humans are not even smart chimpanzees; they are just ordinary chimpanzees! 

What am I trying to say here? That the next time we want to beat our breast for “how great am I” or “how great are we,” try a little humility, it doesn’t look so damned foolish. We are a remarkable species, but you and I will never even meet anyone who makes us so. Just a bunch of names that we all know.

And, as long as we are willing to pat ourselves on the back for the achievements of a few others, we will never individually achieve what we are able to, and we will thereby lead smaller lives than we need to. And as long as we lead unnecessarily small lives, we will never rise to the level to be able to win for ourselves a true democracy, where We the People do indeed rule. And the light of self-rule will go out for a thousand years, if we “ordinary chimpanzees” survive that long!

Humility.  A little bit of it goes a long way.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Wedding Cakes

The Supreme Court case, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 584 U.S. ___ (2018), was decided on June 4th in favor of the cakeshop, by a 7-2 vote, 2 of the 4 liberal judges dissenting.

Here are the essential details:

In July 2012, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, a gay couple who were planning to wed, entered Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado to order a wedding cake. At the time, Colorado law did not honor gay marriages; so, the couple had planned to travel to Massachusetts – where gay marriages were legal – get married there, fly home and celebrate their union with their family and friends; it was for this after-party that the couple wanted a special cake. Jack Phillips, the owner of the bakery, was a man of “sincerely held (Christian) religious beliefs,” and he refused to make the couple a cake, based on his religious belief that marriage was between a man and a woman. There was no discussion of a message or customization or even any decoration of the cake; the discussion never went beyond a gay couple wanting the cakeshop to make a wedding cake for them and the owner refusing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Social Security: A Reality Check

You ask a Millennial about Social Security and he’ll tell you, with the utter certainty that Millennials everywhere can’t help but feel, “it won’t be there when I retire, so what is the point; and why should I pay into it when I won’t get anything back?”

And, of course, he is right.  If nothing is done to change how Social Security is collected and disbursed, it surely will go bankrupt well before our Millennial retires.  It is an excellent example, too, of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Social Security will die for sure if enough Americans believe it is doomed, beyond rescue.  Because if you are sure it will die, why would you waste time and energy trying to save it?

Monday, February 26, 2018

On Regulations, Again

No one likes regulations, none of us likes to be told what to do, no one whose freedom is constrained likes regulations.  But everyone else – the beneficiaries of regulations – loves regulations, as we do want others to conform to our social norms.  Indeed, life would be much more difficult (for most people) without regulations (on others).

Then, considering that 100 times as many people are beneficiaries of each regulation as are limited by it, why is “regulation” such a filthy word?  Why does everyone seem to hate regulations?  Because we only think of the regulations that constrain us, not those that benefit us.  And because we take for granted the regulations that benefit us, while those that constrain us keep us fighting mad, working to reverse the damned things.  So it goes.

What else needs to be said?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Václav Havel's Speech to U.S. Congress

Jeff Flake mentions this speech in his new book, Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle.  I think it warrants being re-printed and read.
Dear Mr. President, dear senators and members of the House, ladies and gentlemen:
My advisers advised me to speak on this important occasion in Czech. I don't know why. Perhaps they wanted you to enjoy the sweet sounds of my mother tongue.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

White Collar Crime

Think Equifax and Wells Fargo.

Millions of American people were compromised, tens or hundreds of thousands were inconvenienced, and thousands were damaged beyond repair.

When a poor man steals an apple from a grocery stand, he earns himself a month in prison.  When an addict gets caught with the goods (cocaine, marijuana), in some states he is locked up and they throw away the key.  When a corporate big shot gets caught in a national scandal affecting millions of people, he may resign, but he still receives his golden parachute and he doesn’t forfeit any of his ill-gotten wealth.  And he never goes to prison (two Enron officials excepted).

Monday, October 2, 2017

Las Vegas Shooting

I’ll be brief.

One more massacre on American soil, committed by a crazy man with an automatic weapon.  But he may not have been crazy until he went crazy (we don’t know his story yet).

The Second Amendment reads: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Many Constitutional “experts” like to disregard the first thirteen words, a dependent clause.  I am NOT arguing that the people should NOT have the right of armed self-defense (against a neighbor, not a foreign military power), but I am