Thursday, August 9, 2018

color of the moment

not feeling blue today
life is good
not feeling cobalt either
my goth phase is well over
cornflower is right out
earthier than my mindset
cerulean ain't happening
disco glow ex-girlfriend reasons
cyan is off the mark
too old school Commodore 64
navy doesn't even bear mentioning
[mention redacted]
oh fuck it 
color me hex #31178B

Thursday, July 19, 2018

One Rule to Uphold Them All

Today I revisit my thoughts on the Platinum Rule as an upgrade to the Golden Rule. In short the often cited Golden Rule (Do Unto Others As You Would Have Done Unto Yourself) seems to me to me proselytizing in the extreme. Why should the rest of the world be treated as if your personal world view was sacrosanct. In the extreme a masochist who enjoys pain might very compassionately believe that inflicting pain on others is a most ethical path.
A logical followup to the Golden Rule is a somewhat improved Platinum Rule (Do Unto Others As They Would Have Done Unto Themselves), which explicitly takes note that every individual has a different take on any situation and we should treat their position with respect.* Thus actions desired by one can be tuned to the others desires, if we assume we understand their wants. Again in the extreme, a masochist may desire pain so even though I disagree with their point of view, I ought to act to deliver the pain they desire, even if the act itself is not my personal wish. 

These odd reflections make it apparent to me no rule can serve in all situations. Still, a primary ethical rule would be an excellent starting place to address life's ethical conundrums. To that end, I feel a significant upgrade to these metallic rules would be Rule One: Do Unto Others As Agreed Upon In Good Faith. (I am tempted to name it the Mithril Rule, but a numeric paradigm hierarchy seems more appropriate)

Rule One derives from humanity's most incredible yet too often unused gift: complex, two-way communication. Our ability to share information back and forth in iterative fashion has the potential to resolve most any human dispute and to at least mitigate those that are especially hard. Why this doesn't happen naturally seems often because we don't communicate with the second party allowing pride, power, privilege, and dogma to derail or avoid outright compassionate discourse. 

Let's look at the components of Rule One in detail:

"Do Unto Others" explicitly indicates taking action of any kind. Actions can occur reflexively, after internal thought, consideration of available evidence, and with reflection in conversation with others. Notably, thoughts and feelings are not actions in and of themselves. Only after we choose to share our ideas into reality do they manifest as actions in the world. 

"As Agreed Upon" emphasizes that a negotiation occurs before all action. Ideally, a compromise solution will come out of a thoughtful conversation between affected parties, though, arguably sometimes with imperfect results. Additionally, if the second party cannot converse (due to unconsciousness or mental inability (i.e toddler, coma patient, non-human animal, or ecosystem), the acting individual is challenged to contemplate meaningfully how their action will affect others and the world around them and adjust accordingly. (Note: The Golden and Platinum Rules are specific cases of Rule One when there is no opportunity to negotiate )

"In Good Faith" importantly underscores that we reflect upon our position, the evidence, and the liberty of the other parties when negotiating and acting. This catch-phrase intention is all too frequently ignored in practice, especially when we apply selective ethics to how we think something should happen regardless of secondary party input. 

In reality, Rule One can serve as a guidepost to encourage the best behavior and best pursuits of thoughtful, compassionate individuals. As a starting point and foundational ethic it sheds light on how to construct compassionate, effective laws, global mores and personal codes of conduct. The results of the actions we take should be continuously examined, reflected upon and tweaked to bring about the best outcomes. 

If all this seems like a lot of work to make decisions on how to act, well, damn it all, decisions should take effort because actions affect others and the world.

Rule One isn't intended to be sacred nor inflexibly dogmatic. By all means contemplate, research and innovate yourself on better ideas that can serve humanity, the planet and its ecosystems. And if you're just in a hurry and don't have the time for adequate contemplation and conversation, in a pinch you can always fall back to an action that reflects Rule Zero: Do No Harm.

* It has been suggested to me that this respectful nuance is implied, even embedded, in the Golden Rule itself. I disagree. Clarity in a guiding principle is paramount. If the intent is to treat each other with respect then there is explicit need to encourage an effective means of determining how others actually feel with regards to their respectful treatment, rather than basing it on ones own thoughts and feelings alone. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Retooling the Market Wasteland

From time immemorial we have been sold on the dominance paradigm that survival of the fittest is the Universe's prime directive. I'll concede, vertitas, the tendency for more complex systems to bubble up to the surface of reality, has indeed been the amoral principle behind matter formation, molecular aggregation and even leading to the living systems that are us and around us today.

Life itself managed to wriggle out of the interstellar womb, but not as something inherently sacred, instead as a phenomenon that was able to spread its pattern of complexity within specific environs, at least with more directed outcomes than non-biological chemistry. Humankind, by biological happenstance, currently holds the elite position of being able to spread itself and its memes throughout the sphere around us.

The leading human meme of late millennia, unsurprisingly has been market forces. Market forces were developed by humans as an extension of the survival of the fittest paradigm. Of course the things that reign victorious in a "free market" are those that serve humans, and reward idyllic Randian creators foremost. As such, libertarian purists seem to yearn for an even more unregulated market where survival of the fittest principles serve as judge, jury and executioner for any prospective products, services, or tenets.

What market forces selectively ignore when minimally regulated are the value of maintaining a fully healthy world.  Arguably, humanity has overshot its success, becoming a self worshipping plague species that barely recognizes the need to keep its own ecosystem alive and thriving. Not to mention, it fails epically where the respect of the rights of humans, other conscious creatures, and their healthy ecosystems are concerned.

The archetypal ethical solution is to do as little harm as possible. Leaving our planet behind entirely and reaching for the stars as an entire species may become the "least harm" noble path of the far future. However, in the interim science informed compassion can serve the world by shaping market forces to increase the value of respect for conscious life, limited resource use and environmental health.  Indeed, by melding heart and mind together into our society, world markets can become the constructs we desire them to be, a system which benefits the whole planet, humans included, as we begin to stretch our amazing patterns outward beyond Earth.

Thursday, June 28, 2018


States of Change is an ongoing work of serial fiction.
The speculative story-line seeks to inspire thought on ethics, culture and our planet's future.

The year is 2076, decades after Oosa's defederalization. 
Fifty independent States have forged their societies from revolutionary technology and ideology.
Prominently, The Augment, a real-time, virtual overlay of sensory data 
has become widely available for personal use throughout many of the post-fed nation-states.

More than ten thousand corporations call the Indianapolis Industrial Ring HQ. The data servers in the IIR complex collectively hum 24-7 as if it the second coming of the Cryptocurrency was underway. Even on this Sunday loop transport and automated delivery modules cart office supplies, printer rods and support personnel to and fro in a labyrinthian, video game of motion.  Suite 316 of the northwest arc houses the diminutive Genetic Crossroads Limited Partnership module.  Its minimalist sharespace is busier than most modules in the whole of the IIR. The monthly business meeting is well underway.

GCLP's business model was designed to leverage the Augment fully; strategy conferences, expert system data-sharing, state accounting and even employee morale building exercises were key aspects to that model.  In fact, the ten full-time bio-technicians employed by GCLP have only ever worked remotely. The founders Prim and Merc, however, meet monthly face-to-face to discuss personnel adjustments, mission recalibration and individual project closure.  Today, VisARs off, they focused on the last.

"...DNA Depth Analyses adequate for extended generation survivability?"

 "Check. Ten thousand life cycles assured at a ninety ninth percentile confidence level."

"Habitat flora, fauna, and resource impact meta-studies fully compliant?"

"Check. Approval confirmed by each African ecosystem council and the International Riparian Oversight Committee."

"Individual organism, environment, and global simulation data all acceptable to GCLP standards?"

"Check, check and checkuna-matata!"

Merc paused, shaking his head with a grin. "You're a strange one, Prim."

"What? You don't like my Lion King reference?"

"Lion King? Right. Okay, that about does it. All paperwork for the release of the Clarias cavernicola recovered genome is digitally signed and now submitted. If the South African government approves the funding the golden cave catfish will swim back from from extinction."

"Excellent, Merc! Pretty crazy that our little Indiana startup is making waves across the oceanographic bioscape! Resurrecting extinct fishes from the abyss! Five years ago, who would've guessed?"

"It's not surprising at all Prim. The terms you negotiated for the CRISPR PHISH protocol license has been a boon for the company. We now have seventy-five restored species to our name, with twenty-one others awaiting funding approval. Maybe fifty years ago it would've been surprising, but given the technology and ethical standards of the moment, you should be proud, not surprised."

Prim laughed. "You're right of course, but do you ever get the feeling we've overstepped. You know, kinda playing God."

"By playing God, do you mean wielding science and compassion in judicious steps to restore the damage humanity has done to the planet over the past three millennia?"

"Yep, that's the feeling--righteousness. How can we can know the long-term global outcome of resurrecting species that have been dead for decades."

"This ain't Jurassic Park. Restoring the planet's biodiversity pre-anthrocine is the company's mission and business is booming! Subtext: I think we're doing good works, Prim. God for sure has never deigned to step in so it's our responsibility to do our best."

Prim laughed again. "Talk of God and fish makes me think of the Jesus story where he magically multiplies loaves and fishes to feed his waiting audience."

"Don't know that story, but from what I hear that Jesus character had some freaky superpowers. If he was truly an ethical leader you'd think he'd have resurrected the fish in that story and set them free rather than eat them."

They both laughed.

"Ok. Business meeting complete. Dinner is my treat tonight, Prim. Clean Meat Kitchen has the new Red Steak cultivar, hot off the Middle Eastern bio-shelf."

"I'll take the treat, Merc, but I'm steering clear of the red stuff. Fake-news or not, the cultured flesh of Stalin, or any animal for that matter, just susses gross. I'll stick to my plants and veggies."

"Suit yourself."

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Of Dirt and Data

(Farside entry by Gary Larson)

As I read Gore Vidal's Creation, I'm encouraged to think about the nature of the Universe. One of Vidal's themes in the novel is that for millennia humans have attempted to separate the World into complementary categories. The Truth and The Lie, Forms and Matter. Earth, Air, Wind and Fire. Flesh and Spirit. Material and Non-material. Good and Evil. The list goes on.

In general I feel these divisions can be both misleading and useful. Each set of groupings is driven by a world view (perhaps religious or cultural) and by an interpretation (perhaps modern or classical). As long as we thoughtfully analyze the groupings and recognize a spectrum is likely in play, then I think a worthwhile conversation may be had.

To that end I propose the Dirt and Data model of the Universe:

  • Dirt is matter or light or anything that serves as a medium.
  • Data is a pattern or value that identifies the state of said Dirt.

I think this dichotomy is quite useful in that it underscores a Universe composed of stuff that has properties that over time tends to clump and organize ever more complex things without any mysterious entity pulling strings. As such the Dirt and Data model captures the essence of how the Universe works given centuries of collected scientific data.

Kim Stanley Robinson called the tendency for things to organize toward complexity "Veritas." This Veritas has been baked into the Universe How the properties and possible Data states of the Dirt have come to be originally are unknowable. Did a god design Creation, did an architect program the Hologram, did an alien monstrosity defecate the Dirt? There is no data whatsoever to support any intentionality in how we and our World got here in the first place. The scientific humility of "We don't know." must suffice...and we will likely never know.

And so we Humans, as the sole, known species that proposes and discusses explanatory ideas must factor self-deception into the existing Data we analyze. This is to say, people for eons have speculated hypothetical ideas that feel good for various reasons even when the data is absent. Hundreds of past cultures have attempted to explain how the Universe works and what our place in it is using magical stories. Most of these stories are spun, understandably, with humans playing a central role in the Universe. It is our challenge as a civilization and as individuals to investigate the Data and separate likely fiction from likely fact.

A swirl of ancient ideas surviving in our modern minds concurs with the Dirt and Data model. Our brains of complex Dirt are highly programmable with the Data that is behavior and cultural norm. These Data are communicated down to us in many ways: tradition, religion, conspiracy theory, rule-of-thumb, moral law and science. A lazy mind might accept the Data without delving further, especially if that laziness pays off by providing more pleasureful pursuits. Belief without doubt and reconsideration can mislead us away from bettering the world, toward tribalism, hate and selfishness.

As someone who grew up a god believer, I recognize even now that I have an "I want to believe" meme circulating within the Data that is my mind. Thankfully, the "I want to understand" meme has dominated the Data inside that animates my human Dirt. 

It is a tough fact to face that when I die my Dirt will be simply be recycled, and the unique Data of my consciousness will evaporate. Still, I hope (and as I strive to make true) that the Data I swirl within me will have reached others to stir their muddy curiosity and further sculpt with creativity toward Goodness.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Happy Better Holidays!

As the Summer season engages informally this weekend, rain be damned, we celebrate!

Holidays are welcomed with joy by the multitudes, especially those who work with too few vacation days. It's no wonder that that the reasons behind holidays are connected with important historical events tied to nation-forming and religious tradition.  The forging of our communities and nation states often are connected to military action and myth, alas would it not be better to celebrate the progressive movement forward as a global civilization?

I think so. To the ends of reforming our holiday system I propose these thirteen holidays to give authentic reason to celebrate!

Resolution Day (January 1) Often dismissed as frivolous the current New Years Day has so much symbolic potential. (Ideally the whole calendar should be shifted to put January 1 on the Winter Solstice to synchronize modern minds with an ancient tradition of a new beginning) Beyond the ceremony of flipping year digits, the beginning of a new year give we humans the opportunity to reflect upon our past and to form positive goals for the next annum. Rather than experiment with hangover remedies, let's make Resolution Day a day we gather with family and friends to codify the joy and meaning we will pursue for the dozen months ahead.

Humanity Day (February 1) For better or worse humans are at the center of our global civilization. Celebrating the worth of each human, therefore, should be a core holiday. Touting human individuals and the communities they belong to may seem misguided to some since our species brings such devastation to the world. Nevertheless, we are the one species we know of that can codify ideas, communicate them and implement them planet-wide and beyond. Because sapience is our unique, evolution-given gift; let us celebrate how lucky we are, help those humans who are struggling, and imagine how we might do better!

Education Day (March 1) Our gift of sapience is nothing if we do not nurture its possibilities. Every human should have access to acquiring the best skills at understanding the wealth of knowledge humanity has accumulated. The institutions, standards, and milestones of learning are all too often taken for granted. Children in economically challenged areas are most in need of educational normalization. This holiday could embrace service that seeks to widen educational access, build schools, and build mentor/mentee connections. A lifelong love of learning for all should be at the center of this celebration.

Ecology Day (April 1) We humans are indeed fools for treating our planet like a disposable candy wrapper. The interconnected ecosystems of our world have achieved an amazing, dynamic balance over the course of billions of years. We humans are one species intertwined in the living world of millions of species that call Earth home. Yet since we have incredible power to change ecosystems we should encourage greater awe in the world and its constituents around us. Celebrating the beauty and health of the planet with activism, education and outdoors activity is a great start to achieving this.

Relationship Day (May 1) We are all children of our parents, alas all too often our connection to family members and friends is left lagging to career and circumstance. Rather than genuflect toward our mothers, fathers and grandparents like holidays of old, we should each and everyone of us reach out to connect with the people that give meaning to our lives and work toward healing wounds with those we have turned away from.

Diplomacy Day (June 1) Military holidays of the past have memorialized loved ones we have lost and the causes they fought for, which can be well and good. Nevertheless, we should allow those losses and gains inspire us to do better in the future, to avoid military posturing and reduce the related hugely wasteful spending it has inculcated into our global culture. Evolution may have primed our species toward aggression; let us defy that predisposition by celebrating peaceful and constructive paths to challenge resolution.

Constitution Day (July 1) As our nation states lean ever closer toward centralized, global civilization we should continually celebrate the democratic process and its dynamic nature. Old commandments delivered my mythological characters might inspire us, alas only thoughtful discussion and tireless effort can improve gradually upon the constructs of law that our species forges to govern ourselves and our actions in this world. Constitutional achievements and aspirations deserve celebration!

Healthiness Day (August 1) Physical health is a key to living a satisfying life. This applies not only to humans, but to our sentient cousins and the environments we all live in. Celebrating healthiness reinforces the tenets of Ecology Day by centering our attentiveness on our personal lifestyles to encourage the thriving of all conscious creatures.

Economy Day (September 1) The economic market has often been cited as the lifeblood of a civilization. To that ends we should celebrate our global economy and its development toward being ever more effective.  A global economy that incorporates the true value of resources, fair labor, sentient creature well-being, and environmental health will leave selfish indicators like profit margin and national production behind will be dearly worth dancing for.

Imagination Day (October 1) Human beings are creative in their very natures. Indeed, creating and enjoying works of fiction, art and music throughout our lives is inseparable from being human. Activities that encourage the imagination inspire joyfulness in being human while developing skills and connection with fellow humans and the world.

Governance Day (November 1) In support of continual progress toward constitutional betterment, a day is set aside to enable each of us to partake in the governmental process. Voting is a key part of this holiday where all are encouraged to choose those who represent us, but to also enable us to learn how to contribute to the governing process as citizens the rest of the year.

Universe Day (December 1) Even with all our human capabilities the scale and mystery of the Universe exceeds our imagination. Our ancestors created deities and myths in an attempt to capture this awe. Our modern minds still recognize the raw awesomeness of existence, life, beauty and love. This holiday encourages us to look inward and outward toward these abstract infinities.

Thanksgiving Day (December 31) A bonus holiday at the year's end fittingly wraps up the 365.242189 rotations our planet went through. Giving thanks for every moment, every person, every breath, every thought, every creature, every meal, ever experience, every everything is well deserved. Not to mention it links us with Resolution Day to start and improve upon the annual cycle once more!

(And celebrate these better holidays we should; in fact, we should dedicate the whole month after each holiday to address finer points behind the meaning each holiday began with.)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Facts Taking Flight

I was paddling the Johnstone Strait many years ago when my guide informed me of a bird identification rule-of-thumb. "Notice that bird flying above," he said. "The feathers sticking from the wing's ends are called pinions. For example, crows have five pinions, while ravens have four." After a pause he added, "so you might say the difference between a crow and a raven is a matter of a pinion."

Groans aside, this joke underscores the inherent difficulty we as individuals have communicating with our peers what is taking place in reality. Recently, I've been confronted by family members who argue facts are merely a person's opinion, a new acquaintance who insists the Moon landing never happened, and a misguided leader who tweets that reliable journalistic sources are nothing but big fake news.

Testable, reproducible evidence alongside supportable logic is what separates fact from fiction, alas it does not do so with the certainty that too many ideologies themselves profess. When our thought processes pursue a rational route, the likelihood of a claim can be determined so as to better integrate ideas with our world view and or implement policy, personal, national or global.

The sun rising is an apocryphal example where widespread belief matched statistical evidence until subtle frame of reference clues were included in the scientific evaluation. Most people today subscribe to the updated idea that the Earth moves around the Sun. Casually we still describe the sun as rising as a relative (and poetic) rather than absolute indication of motion. (Fun fact: the Sun itself moves too; it revolves around the Milky Way's center of mass, in a ellipse that is not flat, but which has a constantly changing sinusoidal altitude).

Importantly, total certainty is never the outcome of a rational analysis. This gives wiggle room for extraordinary beliefs to override even the most sensible, scientific, logical conclusions, especially when testability is thrown aside. As an extreme, consider the scenario in which some imagined higher power has just recreated the whole Universe three seconds ago, complete with every motion and memory intact. This scenario is untestable, and in such an imagined world we can have no certainty of anything, which is why the inherent idea that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" enables us to operate with sanity in the real world.

Sadly, there is little hope I'll be able to convince everyone I meet that we evolved alongside all life on Earth, that Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, or even that there are no angels dancing on the pinheads stuck in a presidential voodoo doll.  Still maybe I can get a laugh or two out of the trials and tribulations of ravens and crows vying for prominence in a punch line.

In the wake of groaning chuckles, I might just be able to slip in a comment that doing good for goodness sake is the way to go!