Saturday, September 22, 2012

The great illusions of Truth and Reason:

"I've no idea what you are talking about. I'm trapped in this body and can't get out." -RadioHead

The old school will tell you that humans are the only animals with the gift of "rationality." Scientists use this supernal virtue to hypothesize and theorize. Lawyers are on a quest to find the "Reasonable Person." Ayn Rand calls it "Man's basic virtue," the source of all his other virtues. 

But I propose the antithesis: that humans are the only irrational form of life on the planet. All other life forms appear to function with efficient purpose to fulfill the necessities of existence. But we need more than necessities. It is this irrationality that guides us, shapes our perceptions, and pushes our species forward or backwards; reason is a farce, a grand illusion constructed by pompous megalomaniacs.

We find that humans are only able to absorb input through their senses and limited to expressing ideas through verbal and physical communication. We are all trapped in our bodies, and checked by the competencies of our senses. All the knowledge and awareness of reality that we possess comes to us through vibrations in the air funneled through our ears; taste bud receptors reacting to chemicals in our food and drink; reflections in the light spectrum absorbed by our eyes; textures felt by our hands. All of these elements come together to be processed in our brain. This idea is called SolipsismEssentially, it acknowledges that we reside in mutually exclusive universes only interacting with each other through superficial verbal and physical contact, which in itself are inputs processed and filtered through our individual senses. According to Solipsists, this process is the only thing we can be sure of that truly exists. 

Philosopher, Thomas Baldwin explains that, “states of consciousness are in fact, and not only in possibility, the only things which exist absolutely.” This egocentric perspective accepts that humans are constantly bombarded by the inputs of their environment, but it presumes that the individual self is in control of processing and reacting to these inputs with objective rationality derived completely from the self. To the extreme, we consider the Cartesian proposal that the inputs of the environment could potentially be mere constructions of our own minds, and that there is no physical reality at all. 

But this idea certainly doesn't conform to my rationality. If all of reality is derived from the self then why can't I control it like I do in my dreams? Why can't I fly, or shoot laser beams from my ass, or be as rich as Mitt Romney? I am but a victim of fate, locked up in a cosmic chain reaction. I can't move the world. I am just a small creature inhabiting it.

I concede, we are constructing reality through our individual thought process, but the inputs we are given to process are supplied by our environment. Because we are humans and thus, social learners. Our knowledge comes from society. Society gives us words and symbols to decipher. If our perception of reality is constructed on an individual basis and derived from our senses then our interpretations regarding the exact definitions of words are equally individualized.

With a degree of separation, our understanding of reality - of the entire universe - is completely reliant on these compressions, called words. We describe and understand our world with these labels. But we all see them a little bit differently. 

"Words are but the skin of a living thought." Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

That is why most arguments usually boil down to definition. What does it mean when one says God? or Liberal? or Freedom? Words do not function alone; they are built up with context, and the context is supplied by the society we inhabit, but yet again we are left to individually decipher that context. 

That is why most of the time, objectivity is a forced effort, an unreachable horizon. I cannot escape the cultural constructions in my brain. My ethno and egocentrisms. As much as I would like to admit that I'm not a racist or a homophobe, or a chauvinist, or a war monger, or a consumerist, or just an asshole in general, I am a product of my environment. I'm stuck being human and with all the shortcomings that come with it. I was born into a society with a history and a value system. So, how do we abandon the primitive ideas?

But therein lies another question, If I am a mere product of the societal values of my inhabitance. Is there any universal truth? Is there such a thing as human nature? Or is this just another ideological illusion created by the discourse of society? And if so, couldn't the paragons of evil in our so called nature be abandoned just as easily as they were acquired?

I accept that my perceptions of reality are shaped by the ideologues of my society, but how did society develop these ideologues to begin with? Where do the stories come from - the tropes, the archetypes, and the narratives? What is the process of etymology? How does it occur? 

The stories that shape our ideologues seem to come from individuals wrestling with their own current place in their own current society - an individual's own rationalization of the stories they have been force fed throughout their lives. So, as each former generation grapples with the issues of their time they create a new discourse for the following generation to grapple with and this process continues forcing the evolution of the human intellect. 

Yet, I must consider that if all my beliefs are mere ideologues and constructions from the past, maybe they developed with reason. Maybe religion, gender roles, and economic systems developed for reasons and purposes that I will never fully understand. Comparatively to the extent that I could never understand time beyond concepts of moments and decades.

This is the never-ending struggle of the writer: the endless task of explaining yourself - explaining or defending your vantage point of reality. 

Here I am now, and this is how I currently see things. 9-22-12 -Jerrod

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thoughts on Constitution Day

Happy Constitution Day My Fellow Americans! 

In honor of Constitution Day, I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on the sacrosanct document of great myth and folklore that defines our ideals as citizens of a great nation. As a first year law student, I have recently had my mind blown about the contents of this document and the implications thereof. Not being one to keep things to myself, I thought I would take the time to share them with you now. 

A most fascinating common misnomer about the US Constitution is the idea that it serves as a mechanism for preserving "freedom and democracy" in our great nation. This is absolutely incorrect, and I will tell you why. 

First, if the Constitution is supposed to preserve our freedom then one might consider it to be the most failed experiment in world history. Consider this: the U.S. has the largest incarcerated population of any country on Earth. According to the DOJ, 7.1 million people or 1 out of every 33 American adults are under the supervision of correctional authorities. 1.6 million of those people are living in prison. Is that because our society is increasingly criminal? Or is it because our system is increasingly overreaching? Maybe it's a sign that our police are really good at catching bad guys and we just so happen to have an unusual amount of bad guys here. Or rather that criminal defense lawyers are lazy and incompetent.

Who knows, but either way, if the Constitution was supposed to protect our society's freedom, how well is it serving that purpose with so many people sitting in jail and Congress continuing to stretch its power by passing laws such as the Patriot Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act? 

Granted, these laws are new enough that they haven't made their way through the courts to be struck down on counts of contradicting the constitution. The point remains, while we enjoy many freedoms in this country, they aren't necessarily sanctioned by the constitution. They are sanctioned by the people, and our perceptions of what is ethically, economically and legally right. Ultimately, we decide what freedoms we deserve to keep.

Second, the Constitution makes no guarantee of democracy. In fact, it guarantees otherwise by instituting the Electoral College for Presidential elections, and in what is commonly referred to as the "guarantee clause," Article IV, § 4 states, "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican form of Government." This is designed to ensure a republican form of government, not a democracy. The founders wanted it this way because they knew that pure democracy could lead to chaos. So instead, we have a representative form of democracy called a Republic. Here, the people elect others to do the work of legislating for them in hopes that these politicians will serve the interests of their constituents. This removes government action from the whims of an easily influenceable populace. 

But who is to say what the founders meant by "Republican form of government" anyway? Maybe they were merely abolishing monarchies in the states? Or maybe they simply wanted to say that government should be a public matter, which leads me to the issue of interpretation. 

The most common ways of interpreting the Constitution are: originalism, textualism, and organic. Originalism, sometimes referred to as formalism is most closely associated with conservatism. People in this camp approach every issue with the Founding Fathers in mind. They always ask the question, "What did the framers intend when they wrote this?" They believe that founding principles should dictate the course of action. So, they take what they believe those principles to have been and apply them to the issue at hand. This theory also contends that it is not the role of judges to make law, but only to uphold the law as it was intended to be upheld at the time it was written. 

The theory runs into problems when those who decide the intentions of the founders don't live in the 18th Century. What did the founders think about regulating pornography on the internet, or violent video games? How often did James Madison ponder on the government's role in space travel or drone warfare? What did Thomas Jefferson think about cloning or stem cell research or euthanasia or abortion? 

Furthermore, the theory boldly assumes that there was concurrence among the Founders; that they were all on the same page as to the purpose of enacting amendments; that the Constitutional convention was one big happy family where the parties agreed and shared values. But If you know anything about our history, you know that it was quite the contrary, and that our early political struggles were some of the most epically ruthless in our history. Shockingly enough, the founders were divided on many, if not most of the issues that they tackled. 

Most closely associated with the originalists are textualists. These folks say, if it isn't written, it doesn't apply. They look at the words of the Constitution and apply what is deemed to be the most reasonable interpretation of the written language. It is not necessarily limited to the strict words themselves, since those words gain meaning through the context in which they are used. The result is that a textualist must apply whatever context that he or she deems most appropriate for the terminology used, and they most often reach back to the time that it was written for perspective. A textualist would say that since the words "right to privacy" do not exist in the Constitution, they are not rights that Americans inherently possess. 

The problem with this theory is that it assumes objectivity in interpretation. It also runs into issues commonly referred to as the "scrivener's error". That is, when laws are interpreted literally, they sometimes have an absurd or disastrous consequence due to the incompetence or lack of foresight in the author.

Lastly, we have the organic method of interpretation. This is commonly referred to as the "living document" theory. The idea is that we look at the Constitution from our modern lens, and we apply our contemporary sensibilities in interpreting what it should mean and how it should most logically be applied to our modern lives. This approach leads to trouble through its blatant admission of bias and judicial whim. If the Constitution is subject to change with every new interpretation of it then what purpose does it serve in grounding our ideals as a nation? Why even have elected legislators to make laws when judges could freely interpret those laws subjectively with no foundation on lasting principle? It would also essentially remove the people from making the law by putting it into the hands of judges to interpret for whatever political purpose they see fit. 

Of course, I have mostly pointed out only the criticisms in these interpretation methods without actually prescribing one as the proper and most accurate. That is because I don't feel that I am yet qualified to make such a proclamation since I am still very new to the study of law and politics. Suffice to say, one day I hope to develop my own theory of interpretation that abides most closely to my own personal worldview and principles, and trust me, when I figure that out, there will be another unreasonably long blog post. Until then, I think it is safest to be weary of each method, and to take a little from each to form a well-rounded opinion.   

In ending this long-winded and somewhat irrelevant rant on the Constitution and its interpretive theory, I will conclude by saying that the founders were brilliant and prudent men with great vision and wisdom. They accomplished something amazing when they designed our system of government. But what they accomplished passed on great deal of responsibility to each and every one of us as citizens because the constitution is just a document. In actuality, it is just a fading piece of paper sitting in a glass box in Washington D.C. The task of preserving our rights lies with us because freedom is whatever we want it to be.

Friday, September 14, 2012

You Have No Faith in Medicine!

You have no faith in medicine!
Christopher Gian-Curso v State of Florida

Roger King Mozian was a musician and latin percussionist from New York known as the "Great Gringo" of Latin music. He went to NYU and was a fantastic trumpet player who gained national attention with his hit "Asia minor", which later became somewhat of a jazz standard. He also garnered some fame for his chops as a percussionist shredding marimbas for MGM records. He was crossing into new territory musically by combining elements of Eastern music with Latin and Jazz.

In 1951, in the midst of his career, he was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, by his physician, Dr. Matis. For ten years the disease lay dormant under the treatment of Dr. Matis. But in 1961, it flared up and Dr. Matis immediately recommended hospitalization and drug treatment. But Mr. Mozian must have lost faith in medicine, or maybe he grew tired of drugs, or maybe one of his friends told him of a new miracle cure through natural health, who knows why or what drove him, but Roger left Dr. Matis and sought out the treatment of a Natural Physician and licensed Chiropractor, Dr. Gian-Curso and his understudy Dr. Epstein. 

They advised him to move to Florida and escape the brutal New York winters and to partake in a different treatment plan that consisted of a vegetarian diet mixed with brief periods of fasting. At first, things were going great, Mozian was feeling happy and healthy. But then 1963, he dropped from 168 lbs to 80 lbs and on May 16, he died in a Miami hospital. 

The State of Florida immediately brought suit against Dr. Gian-Curso and his young understudy Dr. Epstein.

Dr. Gian-Curso argued that he acted in good faith within the established practices of his field of medicine. But the court wasn't hearing it. They cited a previous case where a Chiropractor took a diabetic off of insulin and the patient subsequently died, and another physician related case, Hampton v State, which the Court stated, "criminal negligence exists where the physician or surgeon, or person assuming to act as such, exhibits gross lack of competency, or gross inattention, or criminal indifference to the patient's safety, and that this may arise from his gross ignorance of the science of medicine or surgery and of the effect of the remedies employed, through his gross negligence in the application and selection of remedies and his lack of proper skill..."  

The full force of mainstream modern medicine was trumpeting against Curso and Epstein. In testimony, Roger's former physician, Dr. Matis said that "a balanced diet would be very difficult to plan for a tubercular patient without including meat." Other local doctors testified that if only Roger had been put on drug treatments, he would have lived to play music again.

In his last defense, Dr. Gian-Curso argued that proximate cause was not established. How could we know that it was the change in diet that killed him, and not just the disease flaring up again? This was left up to the jury to decide, and they ultimately said yes it was the diet and treatments of the Chiropractors that lead them to convict Dr. Gian-Curso and Dr. Epstein of Manslaughter.

Reflecting on this case I wonder: how would this play out today? Has there been enough of a shift in mainstream views regarding vegetarianism that a jury would rule differently? And wasn't it Mozian's choice to refuse drug treatment? Curso claimed that he merely discussed dietary philosophy with Mozian, and did not specifically plan out Mr. Mozian's diet. So, should Physicians be held accountable for the advice that they give, or should patients be held responsible for the choices that they make regarding alternative medicines? Food for thought for another day...

One thing is for certain, Roger King Mozian could play a mean mambo, and he will be missed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thoughts on Patriot Day

We all remember where we were at that moment on 9-11 when we heard the news. It forever changed all of our lives. It changed what it means to be an American, the definition of patriotism, the meaning of freedom and security. People instantly became heroes or villains, and our country found solidarity in mourning the dead, healing the wounded, and hating our enemies. Those enemies, as they told us, were numerous and scattered across the far reaches of the world. We declared war on "terror", and we vowed that justice would be served no matter the cost. 

But justice and vengeance are often very difficult to discern. And if there is a difference, I'm not sure that it mattered to anyone after an attack the magnitude of 9-11. 

The tide of destruction flows blood on the shore
And out of the dust, the people cry war
Lives will be taken that won't return to us
But the words of our leaders soothe sacrifice as a must

But is this the way to end a war? By earning the hate of another million more?

Movement of the mass, the machine is in full force
Bombings of cities done without remorse
Vengeance at last justice slams down her fist
Take your place as her hand checking names off the list

But is this the way to end a war? By earning the hate of another million more?

We are told that only a treasonous coward would question the validity of vengeance after so many died, so many were injured - women and children and innocent lives. But isn't that the way of war? Isn't that the evil of it? Don't innocent women and children die by our hand as well. Haven't they died in the past? Ronald Reagan said, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." And that's just the problem, war is a self-perpetuating monster that reconstitutes itself with each act of retribution disguised as justice served. 

If all the brave and honorable are called to duty, to take up arms in battle, who is left to stand up to the zealous pitch forked masses and tell them, "Wait! Enough death! Enough killing! Enough war!" 

Is there no honor in peace? Is there no valor in diplomacy? 

The tradition of war passes on from one generation to the next as young aspiring heroes, eager to prove their own patriotic virtue, blindly run into battle on the instructions of our leaders. Leaders that tell us that terror exists; that our enemies seek to destroy us; that we must strike before we are stricken.  

Shockingly enough, at one time in our country, we didn't even believe in keeping a standing army. Our Founding Fathers thought that nothing was more dangerous and tyrannical than maintaining a large military. But that sentiment changed forever with Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson. In Wilson's 1916 reelection campaign, he promised the American people that they wouldn't join the bloody slaughter of WWI. The American people elected him, perhaps naively believing that he was telling the truth and that we could actually stay out of a war that we were investing lots of money and goods in continuing. But one year later after our interests were too great to ignore, we joined the fight to ensure that our side would win. And to guarantee that we would have a say in who got what when it was all said and done. But Wilson still had to sell most Americans on the war because at that time, we weren't as blood thirsty as we are today. Mr. Wilson told the people that this would be the "war to end all wars". 

If only George Carlin had been around to tell them that "War for peace is like screwing for your virginity." 

After the war ended, Mr. Wilson declared Armistice Day on November 11. It signified the day that we laid down arms and finally discovered lasting peace. The war to end all wars was finished, and a day to recognize the cause of peace was so proclaimed. What a noble declaration? 

Later in 1954, Eisenhower must have realized that "Armistice Day" was an inappropriate name for the holiday because war was and is perpetual and the rise of the military industrial complex will ensure that laying down arms is a utopian fantasy.

It's our perceptions of bravery, justice and vengeance that urge us to radical violent action. It's our ambition and fervor to spread progress and our idea of civilization to the far reaches of the world that leads us to meddling with the self-determination of other people. It's our malicious leaders in government that channel our patriotic anger into a brutally violent war machine that is directed to exercising dominion all over the world. But it's we the people that sanction it.

What happens to the champions of peace in our history? They meet their fate as a martyrs, victims of assassination, and the cycle of violence continues. 

Will it ever be broken? When will we honor the dead, heal the wounded and end the war?

Fire Away

I wish I could be a bold patriot
without picking up a gun
I wish I could stand up for my country men
without spilling any blood

But is there a hero in our history
who didn't kill or be killed?
If you're looking for glory
you get out on a battle field

and Fire Away
in the name of God and Country
you might go down in history
when you live through hell there's a story to tell
about bravery

Did you ever buy diplomacy?
Was that just some fairy tale?
Do you think that we'll find world peace?
Show me when that hasn't failed

When you look at the page of history
it's written in the blood of men
just when you think we've had enough misery
someone drops a bomb again

and its time to Fire Away
in the name of God and Country
you might go down in history
when you live through hell there's a story to tell
about bravery