Sunday, March 28, 2010

Faith and Force as Corrolaries: Part 1 - Faith and Reason

This is my first installment of an answer I have promised to a friend in answer to the following question: "What is the objective validation of the relationship between faith and force?" I don't think I can hope to do all of that in a single post so I will attempt to tackle it in pieces.

By the end of this post, I would like to establish a clear definition of what mystic faith is and in the process we will discuss reason.  But before we do that, I would like to talk about what faith is not.  A lot of people, when they talk about faith are really talking about a lot of different things.

For instance, the term faith can be used to mean hope or optimism.  I think most would regard hope and optimism to be part of a cheerful outlook based on positive thinking.  I would agree.  But these things are not what I mean when I talk about mystic faith. To be hopeful or optimistic about the future does not necessarily mean that you are naive about it nor that you have accepted some premise based on intuition, supernatural or otherwise.  I have experienced situations where people to come to the defense of faith, even if they don't believe in a god and I wonder if it is because there is some confusion of faith with hope and optimism.

I also don't mean confidence in your abilities or in the character of someone you are counting on, friend or family. What I mean when I talk about faith as a destructive force in our society, is when people talk about believing or knowing things for which they have no evidence.  That is, faith as a form of cognition.  That is, mystic faith.  The chief example of this is knowing or accepting that God exists.  This is the opposite of reason.

What is reason?  That's when you take the information provided by your senses and, with a focused mind, apply logic and integrate that data into conceptual knowledge.  Reason is the means by which we as human beings know anything that we can properly claim as knowledge.  It consists of the fundamental means, concept-formation, by which we break down and organize information and, ultimately, to discover how to live on this earth.  Every discovery and invention of value, which includes science, agriculture, industry, individual rights, have all been discovered by means of reason.

When a person claims to know something by faith, they have no sensory evidence on which their claim is based.  Or they claim some amount of sensory evidence with which they cannot logically demonstrate their claim.  There is no way to prove any claim that doesn't fundamentally rest on sensory data bound by logic.  Why is that?  I will quote Leonard Peikoff: "'Proof,' in the full sense, is the process of deriving a conclusion step by step from the evidence of the senses, each step being taken in accordance with the laws of logic."

So how can bona-fide agreement be established for something which someone claims know by mystic faith?  It can't.  It's impossible.  People may certainly have accepted the same premise on faith, but that does not constitute bona-fide agreement of a certainty established by reason.  And I would dare to claim that you cannot call it agreement when people are battered at a very young age by the two-pronged attack of social pressure to conform and moral commandments from their parents.  Employing the methods of the fraudulent intellectual who claims about some complex theory that either you understand it self-evidently or you are incapable, you are given a similar kind of shell game to play:  either you accept the existence of god on faith, or god has not granted his grace to you because you have displeased him. It is an exceptional youth that is able to weather the ostracism he will have to endure to have integrity at such a young age.

Proving faith-based claims is impossible because proof is a concept which belongs only to the realm of reason, and reason can only act on that which exists.  It has nothing to do with the make-believe.  The fundamental requirement to agreeing on something is an objective reality (existence) as a common frame of reference. That which you cannot prove, you cannot know.  That which you do not know, you cannot agree upon.   

Ayn Rand is quoted as saying that Reason rests on a single axiom: the law of identity.  This means that something cannot be and not-be at the same time and in the same way.  Or taken another way, that there are no contradictions.  This is a fundamental that makes logic and proof possible.  If there can be contradictions, then there can be no logic and no proofs. 

If to think is to live, then what does it say about those who claim to know by not thinking? Says Bill Maher: " Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It's nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith and enable and elevate it are intellectual slave holders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction."  We will go into lunacy and destruction in a future installment.

To be continued...

Moral Hazard from Refusing to Price Life-Saving Treatments

Regarding my last post, I thought of another factor to consider.

If we are allowed to spend as much of other peoples' money as we need provided that the justification is life or death, that also causes costs to go through the roof. Again, this is a problem of allocation. And what I am considering is the question of what happens if you don't put a price on potentially life-saving treatments.

As a sort of case-study, let us consider the example of people who spend thousands of dollars on their pets just to watch them die over a slightly longer period of time. Similar to a human medical crisis, this is a horrible situation. People typically don't buy pet insurance but they don't blame the vet for killing their pet if things don't work out.

Because they are directly paying the cost, pet owners tend to be very engaged during this process. They consider questions such as:
- What kind of treatment or diagnostic is the vet recommending?
- What are the chances of long term survival and what will quality of life be like during that time?

Some diagnostics and attempted treatments at this point can turn out to be quite expensive. If someone else were footing the bill, these questions would not be considered.

What is my point? Moral Hazard. If you are permitted to spend other peoples' money in life or death situations, you no longer have to consider how much it costs or what it buys.  There is no concept of value in proportion to cost. The only requirement is that every last possible treatment option was considered and implemented. In business, we would call this "throwing money at the problem".  The irony is that this type of behavior entails a callous and inhuman disregard for the people who are footing the bill.

It seems to me that attempting to eliminate pricing from the consideration of life-saving methods does have the effect of implementing and institutionalizing the immoral.  Why is that?  Because inevitably, you come down to the fact that pricing is a medium of exchange for human production, which is human thought and effort.  If price is no object, then neither are the lives and effort of the people you take from to fund your "life-saving" crusade.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Technocrat's Challenge on the topic of Health Care Ethics

Looks like my last post about Dingell's gaffe has started a discussion of sorts.  I'm glad. This particular discussion is with my friend, whom I will abbreviate as CC.  I've had many illuminating discussions with him.  He's very thoughtful and I've always appreciated this aspect of his character so I am always glad to hear his opinions and reasoning on thing and to exchange with him my thinking.

He has asked me to set aside these considerations:

  • [The history of] what has happened up to this point to bring government mandates on Health care/Insurance providers and the rest of us.
He has asked me to consider a list of premises which considers to be the core of the health debate:
  • Statement: The current health care model imposes a monetary value to the life of a human.
    • Some (not all) people who work and pay for good health insurance have been put into a position where they have to acquire more money in order to either continue living or reduce any physical/emotional suffering. 
    • Sometimes the amount of money required is beyond their own abilities to acquire so they will die or continue to suffer.
    • Some (not all) people have been denied health care insurance or offered insurance at a cost that far exceeds their ability to pay.
    • As a engineer, I can reduce this down to (more money = Live, else die or suffer).  I can even boil this down to Human life = $$$$, where $$$$ is based on current supply/demand and profit margin for a particular medical treatment.
Distilled Answer - 260 words.

Living in a free society, does entail putting a price on life-saving medical treatments.  That is what makes the creation of these treatents possible.  We certainly don't expect these people to work for free, especially when they have to go through years of training to become highly specialized doctors and scientists.

It's unfortunate that people are in such desperate need when they are in harm's way due to a medical condition but that is not the fault of the doctor or the insurance company who are only each trying to do their part.  The insurance companies shouldn't be punished for trying to reduce risks via pricing and selection.  That is part of how insurance fundamentally functions as a risk mitigation device.

Similarly it would be unfair to hold a mortgage on the rest of society by the mere fact of your desperate need.  Need doesn't give anyone a right to override the individual rights of others. If you cannot afford a treatment, you are not entitled to pick the pockets of others to pay for it.  You must ask for charity. 

Finally, you can't ignore the role of Congress in destroying private individual health insurance via tax subsidies to employers for health benefits and arduous regulations which have serious economic effects.  You cannot have a full discussion of the morality of medicine and health insurance without discussing the regulatory framework and incentives that the government has created.  A return to a free market would bring competition, rewarding efficiency and innovation, thus making medical goods and services cheap and plentiful.

Re: Dingell - Controlling the People

There is a money quote from Congressman Dingell in the American Thinker Blog.  The quote is captured in the title:
Rep. Dingell: It's taken a long time to 'control the people'

I was witness to a Facebook comment on this article where a person I believe to be a conservative expressed that the sympathetic on the left would either deny the meaning of his statement or think that it was acceptable and here was my response:

There will always be people who do not need evidence to hold and maintain beliefs about the nature of reality and morality.  If people needed a rational basis, that is evidence derived from fact for everything that they hold to be true, how could religion be taken seriously either metaphysically or ethically? 

Dingell likely believes that his "control", which instruments government initiation of force, is a proper and valid action of the government of a free people.  And he could not do it without the support of a vast majority of citizenry who think that it could be a noble enough goal to permit the government to force insurance companies to structure their services in a certain way, and to force others to bear the increased cost.  Only the power of morality can make the kinds of mental gymnastics possible which would permit this kind of naked government force.  Dingell's statement was likely more honest than he really wanted to be.  Faith and Force are corollaries.

The morality of altruism is what needs to be challenged here.  This is the one that says that you have no right to exist except in service to others.  It says that everyone else's need is the first mortgage on your life and you are evil if you do not serve it.  It makes a virtue of need (no matter how it is arrived at) rather than for each person to think and then work for his own gain because his nature as a human being demands that as the price of his survival.  This last is what makes altruism is evil and destructive.

Two underpinnings keep the poison of altruism alive in the American bloodstream:  Religion, its origin, keeps it alive on the right, and a Kantian-influenced pragmatic philosophy on the left which permits contradictions as truth.  The conservatives were supposed to be the defenders of Capitalism, of individual rights.  But you can't claim a right to your life, liberty, and property if you also claim that you exist to serve others.  Capitalism cannot exist without a proper moral base.  Altruism is the moral base of socialism and the purported justification of every kind of tyranny over men.  It can't happen any other way.

Unfortunately, unless we can shift this trend in the nation, we are cooked.  Unless the intellectual trend in America discovers reason and egoism we stand no chance of having a moral leg to stand on when we claim a right to our lives and our livelihood.  We will fall toward statism of one variant or another - likely fascism.

I saw this about a year ago, which is about when I started my hobby of intellectual activism.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Letter to My Congressman: In Response to "Responsible Health Care Reform"

Dear Congressman Wolf,

I recently watched your video "Responsible Health Care Reform" and I wanted to discuss it.

I agree with opposing a bill on their use of procedural tactics to attempt to get it passed by stealth.  But there are moral and economic grounds which are more important on which one ought to oppose even the existing government involvement in medical care, such as the Medicare program.

You say that you want to fix what's broken while keeping what works, and then you go on to talk about securing Medicare.  Well Congressman Wolf, if Medicare needs securing it is because it is broken.  And I will argue that it is broken because it is wrong in fact and in principle.

Economically, Medicare serves to isolate the users of medical services from the costs of the services that they use.  The result of this will always be increased demand for services and thus the explosion of costs, which the government must always control by rationing in some form or another.  The form doesn't matter.  What matters is that there is an inherent contradiction in the premise behind Medicare.

Politically and Morally, the Medicare program is based on the idea that the government can manufacture a right to medical care since all people need it.  It is wrong because the government cannot manufacture rights to goods or services without violating someone's rights.  Any government action that does not serve to protect fundamental individual rights to life, liberty, and property must *necessarily* result in the government acting to violate rights to the same.

Programs like Medicare initiate government force against citizens who have not broken any laws or violated anyone's rights.  It is a form of redistribution of property by use of compulsory taxation for a program that will benefit anyone other than oneself and does not act to protect fundamental individual rights.  And in the process it ends up dictating to doctors how they will do their jobs because people can no longer afford to purchase medical care outside the auspices of such a program.

(edit 3/21 - add: From an economic standpoint...) The fundamental issue is NOT how we get insurance coverage for those who don't have it.  The fundamental issue is how do we make medical care affordable.  Only a solution that addresses the fundamental issues will solve the problems with medical care.  Medicare has failed because it has attempted to address the issue of coverage without caring about affordability.  The same will be true of National Health Care. 

In order to make the best medical care affordable to American citizens (which is the ultimate goal), we need to return to a system of free trade on a free market by removing ALL of the onerous government regulations strangling innovation and eliminating ALL government handout programs which create incessant demand.  This means a repeal of programs such as Medicare because they are impractical and immoral.

I encourage you to read this article, Health Care is Not a Right, by Leonard Peikoff

Francis Luong

(edit 3/21 - comment: Although I identify the fundamental economic issue, there is also a fundamental political philosophy issue: the question of whether we consider men free and ends in themselves.  This is something that I indicate in the penultimate paragraph but I fail to make explicit.  Oh well... something for next time.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Palm Pre Plus - Closing Out Week 3

It's coming down to the point where I will have to put my money where my mouth is if I want to keep the Palm Pre Plus.  At this point, I am weighing my decision but it doesn't seem as if I will keep it..

Summary
I like the innovations presented in the phone.  It introduces some neat new usability concepts.  It does well enough for messaging and e-mail.  Limited app support means you will be relying on the browser for lots of things. I only partly like using it as a phone. 

Bottom Line: The competition is stiff and the extra $30/month for the data plan makes me very particular.

Details -  What I Like About the Phone
  • Hardware
    • Bright screen. Even at the lowest setting it looks sharp.
    • Decent Battery Life. After the v1.4 upgrade hit, I can now get through a full day on a single charge without running below 20% capacity.
    • Small formfactor. Fits in the pocket and the hand nicely.  However this is only a half-win because it means having the smaller screen.
    • Mute Switch.  A nice feature and it is well placed so that I don't hit the switch by accident.  (I hear this happens with the iPhone mute switch)
  • Operating System
    • Gestures.  Gesture-oriented interface and Card View multitasking is very usable as a means to manage open applications. 
    • Notifications. Nice notification system with gesture swipe dismissal.
    • Universal search. Start typing in card view and it brings up matching apps/contacts or if not matching, can search the internet
  • Applications
    • Messaging App.  Conversation-threaded SMS/IM client is good. You can find any conversation by typing the person's name.  Auto splits long SMS messages for you.

Details - What I Don't Like About the Phone
  • Hardware
    • The inconsistent keyboard.  I thought I'd like it but between it double-registering some key presses and failing to register other key presses, it is an aggravating experience.  I can get this level of inconsistency with virtual keyboards but also have the benefit of predictive spell correction.
    • Screen Resolution.  It's the same as the iPhones but with a smaller screen so you often have to use landscape view for readability.  Not every software application supports landscape reading. 
    • Nerfed GPS.  This is only available to Verizon's VzNav app.  Boo!
  • Operating System
    • Vanishing features after upgrade. 1.4 upgrade gave me better battery life, video recording, and program launch indicators.  Thank you.  What did it take away?  Forward swipe gesture and PDF view pinch zoom.
    • Slow slow slow.  Sometimes, the device gets really jittery - for instance when you click on a notification and it takes multiple seconds to get to the target app - even if it's already open.
  • Applications
    • Messaging client vs. notifications.  When you're in a SMS/IM conversation with someone, any incoming message hits the notification area first and doesn't show up in the messaging client for a few seconds - even if it's the foreground app.
    • E-mail client does not implement threaded conversations.  I think this is because it supports Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Exchange ActiveSync, etc.  That's broad support but I only use Gmail so I don't care how broad the support is.
    • PDF Reading.  You have to download hacks for the phone to be able to rotate/landscape-view PDFs.  I don't read PDFs all the time but often enough that this is annoying. Reading on the go is a crucial smartphone function and should be rock solid.
  • Phone Functions
    • Phone Usability.  You can't answer calls if wearing gloves.  When I'm going through my call log or contacts, I dial people by accident frequently.  My LG ENV2 feature-phone was a better phone overall.
    • Bluetooth headset support is half-baked.  Sometimes I will have my headset fully connected, press the green phone icon to take an incoming call and, instead of it coming across the headset, I end up having to hold the phone to my ear.  

Friday, March 12, 2010

Win 7 - Explorer Non-Refresh

I encountered an odd situation last night where I was attempting to create a new folder and it wouldn't show up.  Poking around, I came to realize that the folders were there but the explorer window was not auto refreshing.  When I tried to close all of my extra programs I noticed that iTunes was non-responsive and all of my attempts to close it including killing the process would not work... until I unplugged my iPod Shuffle (3rd gen).

Very strange.

I think it's an indicator that Windows is handling hangups more gracefully but perhaps a quiet notification somewhere would help out more advanced users to self-troubleshoot.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Palm Pre Day 10 - Camera Fluke led to Rapid Battery Churn and the Device Felt Hot to Touch

After opening the camera app and then closing it without taking a photo, my phone started getting really hot and was burning through the battery capacity really quickly. I performed a soft-reboot (orange-shift-r) to prevent the phone from overheating or running down the battery.  I was unable to reproduce this behavior after reboot.

I also started a post on the forum in case anyone has had a similar experience to relate.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Quickie Palm Pre Update - Life after WebOS 1.4

WebOS 1.4 came this weekend - yay!
  • Battery life seems much improved - especially when the phone is at idle
  • It seems as though the screen takes longer to turn on when it goes to sleep now.  This is not consistent.
  • Found out you can move the cursor around if you hold the "Orange" button while dragging on the screen.

A Brilliant Nugget from Explore Atlas Shrugged, Session 13

I particularly enjoyed Diana's discussion of Francisco's words to Dagny Taggart upon discovering that she is alive and in the Valley.  He remarks:

"You still love me.  Even if there's one expression of it that you'll always feel and want but will not give me any longer.  I'm still what I was and you'll still see it and you'll always grant me the same response even if there's a greater one that you grant to another man.  No matter what you feel for him it will not change what you feel for me and it won't be treason to either because it comes from the same root..."

Diana's summation after some elaboration: "Just because you desire something doesn't mean that it's good for you.  And just because something is good for you under certain circumstances doesn't mean that it's good for you under any and all circumstances."

It's a brilliant echo of Rand's idea that a rational man doesn't "seek any values out of context".  Nicely done.