One in a Million

I can make something happen that has less than a one-in-a-million chance of happening. I can make it happen every time. So can you.

  • Take 20 pieces of paper.
  • Hand them to 20 different people.
  • Have each person secretly write either the number 1 or the number 2 on each piece of paper.
  • Gather all of the pieces of paper together.
  • In any order, record the 1s and 2s from the pieces of paper.
  • Note the order of the numbers.

The “one-in-a-million chance” is the odds of a particular order of occurrence happening in the future. With 20 items, the chance of any particular order of 1s and 2s occurring is 1 in 1,048,576, a less than a one-in-a-million chance.

Looking at our list of numbers we can see that one of those 1,048,576 possibilities will have happened, so we have now made something happen that had less than one-in-a-million chance of happening. Once it has happened, the “chance” is 100%.

From this we can understand that to ascribe cause for any state because the odds are so overwhelmingly against that state being achieved merely by chance is not supportable. But it is commonly done.

We often accept the conclusion that something happened, then something else happened, so the second happened because of the first, sometimes saying, “Because what are the odds of that happening by chance?” or “That can’t be a coincidence!”

This is called the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy, usually shortened to simply post hoc. Latin for “After(ward) this, therefore because of this.” My copy of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary puts it like this: “Relating to or being the fallacy of arguing from temporal sequence to causal relation.”

In other words, “Because this happened after that, that caused this.”

The classic example of this fallacy is stating that the chance of the universe being the way it is is so miniscule that there must be a divine hand guiding creation. Faulty logic.

It should also be noted that simply because the reasoning is faulty, the conclusion is not necessarily wrong.

What do you think?

We are of the Earth

It is said that the fact that each of us is not now dirt is merely a matter of timing.

It is also said that we replace every cell in our bodies at least every three and a half years. We build those cells from what we breathe, what we drink, and what we eat – the air, water and soil of the Earth.

And the same is true of all animals and plants.

We, all living things, build ourselves from the substance of the others, in an endless cycle of sharing and interdependence essential to our very existences.

From the breeze that whispers, to the storm winds that blow, we are of the Earth.

From the rain that falls and moistens the soil, to the streams that flow to the sea, to the mist that rises in the cool of the day, we are of the Earth.

From the microbiology of the soil, to the plants of land and sea, to the animals that feed on the plants, to the animals that feed on other animals, we are of the Earth.

And we are blessed in all that.

The Party of Death

In my youth, when I was first paying attention to politics, it was simple: there were the “print and spend” conservatives (represented by the Republican Party), and the “tax and spend liberals” (represented by the Democratic Party).

Conservatives were in favor of rugged individualism, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, and the constitution – particularly the right to own guns. Conservatives were against big government, government deficits, the intrusion of government into the private lives of citizens, foreign adventurism, international obligations such as the United Nations, and crime in general.

All easily, coherently, reasonably defensible positions.

Over the years, the conservatives (or at least the Republican Party) got more and more conservative, until they are now full-goose bozo. They are now rabidly in favor of the extremely wealthy in opposition to everyone else, increasing the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands (primarily those of corporations in contrast to people), the elimination of Constitutional rights for US citizens in the name of security, foreign adventurism on a scale previously undreamed of in human history, paid for by cutting programs supporting working people and with loans from foreign governments, international treaties that undermine the sovereignty of the nation, and the divine right to own any weapons you can get your hands on.

Harder positions to support, for most people.

On a national level, the legislators from the Republican Party have adopted a strategy of blocking any and all measures to provide support for the working people of the United States. They vote no for any program of social uplift, and no to holding multi-national corporations responsible for their actions. In fact, they vote no for almost everything.

That is not actually correct. What the Republican legislators do, in a block and almost without exception, is prevent any vote on measures which would provide any relief or benefit to the vast majority of the people living in the United States, refusing to feed or shelter or provide access to basic health care because “we can’t afford it”, inevitably leading to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of us every year.

They have been called “The Party of No.”

That is also not actually correct. They vote yes on a number of things, and the pattern is clear.

They vote yes on war, borrowing money to send troops halfway around the world to kill people, including innocent civilians, and to destroy hospitals, water systems, sewage treatment plants, electric generation facilities, roads, and everything else that makes civil life possible (“collateral damage”). They vote yes on increasing militarization of domestic law enforcement agencies. They vote yes on increased intrusion and surveillance by the government into the private lives of residents of the United States – including those who are not accused of any crime. They vote yes on arresting and detaining residents of the United States without due process of law.

At the same time, Republican legislators block any participation in international courts of law (except to assert rights of corporations), the investigation of high-ranking Republican officials (although Democratic officials are fair game), and any attempt at holding those guilty of leading the United States into policies and practices that are in direct violation of international law and treaty.

In short, the Republican Party is not “The Party of No.” It is “The Party of Death.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party (increasingly less representative of “liberals”) has adopted a political strategy of “so long as the Republicans are moving to the right, we’ll keep moving to the right, staying just to the left of the Republicans. We’ll get all the votes we have been (after all, who else will they be able to vote for?), plus we’ll pick up more and more conservatives who think the Republicans are too conservative.” The underlying slogan being, “Vote for us, we’re not as bad as the other guy!”

Also hard positions to support, for most people.

So, a growing percentage of people who are eligible to vote don’t even register, and many who do register, don’t vote.

And all in all, it has worked fairly well. For the politicians

For most Americans, it has sucked.

But now we are at that terminal stage, where we have a party of the extreme right, and a party of the right, a few folks in the historical middle, (with no national party, and labeled by both the Republican and Democratic Parties as “leftists and radicals”) and no actual left.

And corporations now, more than ever, control political speech in America, since the US Supreme Court has given them unfettered access to political campaigns (and therefore, legislators), and courts have even made it clear that news organizations can knowingly lie.

Isn’t it time to vote for those few remaining candidates who remember what a democracy ought to be like? (That would be the “progressives” and “the radical left.”)

After all, they’re not as bad as the other guys, are they?

Or, you might even run for office yourself, if you are willing to stand up against corporate politics, thereby demonstrating there are still vertebrates among us.

What do you think?

Equality vs. Equity

“We are all equal, but some of us are more equal than others”

I recently read a quote about how the law treats everyone equally – the rich as well as the poor are prohibited from begging and living on the streets, a rough reminder of the difference between equality and equity.

Of course, the current “health care reform” fast footwork in Congress is another, perhaps more immediate for some, example that we are all to be treated equally before the law. The wealthy as well as the poor are equally required to have health insurance. If your employer doesn’t provide it, you must purchase it from an insurance company. I assume that if you are already enrolled in Medicare, that counts. I don’t know if that means that you will now be required to also enroll in all the parts of Medicare.

This blatant strong-arming to force everyone to buy health insurance on the open market, or pay a fine, is a product of heavy corporate lobbying. By the way, lobbying is another example of equality before the law: we all have an equal right to pay a few hundred thousand dollars a year to keep a full time lobbyist in Washington to convince legislators to pass legislation that represents our interests. Of course, most of us can’t write it off as a business expense…

Now, equity, on the other hand, would prevent one group of people (corporations, the wealthy, religious groups, environmentalists, etc.) from having more influence on legislation than individuals. Sounds kind of subversive, doesn’t it?

Does equity, instead of equality, sound like a great idea? Well, keep in mind that the essence of democracy is the right to be wrong, and we live in the most democratic nation in history. Just ask us.

What do you think?

Time for Some Tough Decisions

Dr. Albert Bartlett has brilliantly noted: “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.”

We are the first generation who inhabits a world in the near vertical stretch of exponential growth in every sector of human society. No (previous) generation in the history of our species has ever experienced this reality. We are currently living through a historically brief phenomenon, which is wholly unsustainable, and which in all probability, has only one outcome.

No one in their right mind wants to believe any of this to be true.
– Daniel Drumright

Nevertheless, it is true.

It is time to face the reality of our situation, and make the tough choices. The first choice is: are we willing to recognize that there are physical realities that are not subject to manipulation by science, technology, faith or hope?

If not, then we need do nothing, and “what will be, will be.”

If so, then there are some other things we need to acknowledge:

– We are at an unavoidable turning point in human history, and our actions now will determine whether or not human civilization, and even the human race, will last past the current generation.

– Human civilization worldwide is based on the exploitation of non-renewable resources. Many of these resources are now running out.

– Anyone who consumes more than they produce is being subsidized, usually by a combination of other people’s efforts and cheap energy.

– We are running out of cheap energy. At the levels we currently use energy, there is no functional replacement for our major source of cheap energy (petroleum) available. There is no prospect of a replacement for petroleum in the foreseeable future – not solar, not wind, not nuclear fission or fusion, not coal, not tidal – no source at all.

– Based on what we know of the natural dynamic balance of the natural world, in any sound vision of sustainability there will be only a fraction of the current human population.

So, what can we do?

We can change the way we live. Starting today.

We all live in a web of possibility. There are things we can do and things we cannot do. Every time we make a decision we change the web.

If we all decided tomorrow that we should park our cars and walk to work we could not do it. Most of us live too far a distance from work to walk there daily. What we can do is look for work (or create a new job) that we can walk to.

If we all decided tomorrow that we would stop funding military activities throughout the world we could not do it, because we no longer have the ability to control the parts of our governments that makes those decisions. What we can do is elect different people to office, or better yet, rebuild community from the local level so that we take back control of our lives and our governments.

If we all decided tomorrow that we would have no more than one child, those of us with more than one child would be making the decision too late. And while it is conceivable that we could kill all those “extra” children, I think most of us would find that unacceptable. What we can do is change the social contract so that having only one child per couple is the norm. (If, for four generations, each couple had only one child, the human population would drop to one sixteenth, or 6.25% of its current size. That population may well be sustainable.)

If we all decided tomorrow that we would not buy anything made from plastic, nor use any containers made with plastic, we probably could not do it. What we can do is pay attention to what we buy and what we use, avoid plastic whenever possible, and let our preferences and buying decisions be known.

If we all decided tomorrow that we would repair things rather than replace them we could not always do it. What we can do is, when we buy new (or better yet, used) things, select those that will last for a long time, and can be repaired if and when they need it.

Each action we take influences the web of possibility. When we take responsibility for our decisions we make better decisions. When we avoid using plastic we make it more possible for others to make things that do not contain plastic, supporting the use of renewable, rather than non-renewable resources. When we walk to work instead of drive we make it more possible for others to walk also, and we encourage allocation of resources to support walkers in preference to drivers. We also cut down on air pollution, which helps restore clean air, and hence, supports better health for all. When we prefer locally made products we help create local jobs.

If we focus on living satisfying lives, based on real wealth* instead of consumption and distraction, we may find that we are happier, healthier, and no longer facing the imminent destruction of our own lives as well as that of the planet.

The biosphere which supports all life, and the only life we’ve ever discovered to exist in the known universe, is in an acute and exponential stage of collapse. This is empirically irrefutable. If humanity continues to function under the same economic, political and social ethos it does today, we will simply drive ourselves into extinction, along with most of life on the planet, and in all probability, within our current lifespan.
–    Daniel Drumright

What do you think?

*clean air, clean water, healthful food, clothing, shelter, good health, companionship and meaningful occupation.