What The Comment Section Is Teaching Us

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Kris Morgan 7/8/2018

It seems like everyone on social media has been part of a thread that has gone off the deep end. Political discussions there are flooded with name-calling, condescending attitudes, and all-to-often the mention of Adolf Hitler. In fact, the Nazis have been mentioned so frequently that we now have ‘Godwin’s Law’, which states that “if you mention Adolf Hitler or Nazis within a discussion thread, you’ve automatically ended whatever discussion you were taking part in.” None of this is to say that there is no truth being shared, but it is regularly drowned by deflections, personal attacks, misinformation, cognitive dissonance, and other barriers. It is very tempting to conclude that there’s not a lot we can learn on a discussion thread, but that’s not quite true.

Veterans of social media will instantly agree with two basic conclusions drawn from the comment section. First, everyone thinks they are right. No matter how well or how poorly informed a person may be, when a position is taken, it is taken definitively. The individual, aware of the never-ending feed of fake news, conspiracy theories, and other seemingly-less-intelligent people on the web is very unlikely to change. To us, our beliefs and the reasons behind them are clear, so what kind of person disagrees? A wrong one.

Secondly, the politically active among us must realize that we are not all going to agree, probably ever. While we have general groups of conservatives, liberals, libertarians, etc., each of us is also unique in life experience and knowledge. The idea of two people agreeing on every foreseeable situation in human affairs is unimaginable. Though it may not seem it, there is a foundation from which we can move forward. If we acknowledge our disagreements, rather than preach our own version of the gospel, there is no reason we cannot move past them together, as there is a third truth we have to keep in mind.

Deep down, kept away from comment sections, or “in places you don’t talk about at parties,” we know that we don’t know everything. We are fallible, have biases, dissonance, and are even aware of the sway in the media we consume. So we share this world, full of different people, each believing themself to be right, and yet none is omniscient. What do we do when we all think we are right, our opinions rarely change, and none of us even has all the necessary information?

The only sane position is freedom. Freedom from coercion brought upon us from political and private entities. This means limiting government to the defense of individual liberty and private property rights. Only in this framework will we all be able to try what we believe is right and determine for ourselves if we are satisfied with the results.

Just because a group of people want a welfare state doesn’t make it the job of the politicians to threaten anyone who doesn’t participate with fines or jail. Just because someone thinks the Middle East should be invaded and occupied doesn’t mean soldiers who swore an oath to defend the United States should face a Courts Martial for not taking part in it. Just because some among us think the risk is too great to use new drugs before they’ve had the chance to be properly tested by the FDA doesn’t mean anyone should be banned from making a different decision for themselves.

The common belief is that there is strength in numbers. This is difficult to dispute on a battlefield, however, civil society is not a war zone. Our disagreements make us strong. Who among us hasn’t been forced through debate to find new ways to articulate their positions or address concerns they have never considered?

Private charity is a great example of how differences in opinion can help us cover our bases. Some believe it enables people, while others focus on helping the less fortunate. This has the effect of sending two important messages simultaneously. First, it tells people that there are those among us who are willing to help in times of need. Missions, food trucks, and other charitable services feed the homeless daily. At the same time, charity can be pulled at any time. If people get the sense they are being taken advantage of, they will likely pull their resources. This fact is a deterrent to people who are capable of doing more, but would be happy to live off charity.

We may want numbers, but what we need more than anything is a willingness to debate. Rather than trying to stamp out opposing views through law, we should welcome them. When the goal is to expand our horizons, and make our ideas, and ourselves, as good as possible, disagreement is extremely beneficial. Besides, it’s not as though we are going to wake up one day and find we all share the exact same beliefs.

Solidarity works out for the squad of soldiers on the battlefield only because the intellectual labor has already been done. Behind the scenes, where Generals and Admirals regularly meet with top government officials, disagreement refines the strategy. Let’s be the best version of ourselves we can, by supporting each other’s freedom to act on our own opinions. Ironically, taking power out of the picture could lead to more willingness to listen on all our parts.

 

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Betrayal Of The American Media

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Kris Morgan, September 6, 2017

I know everyone loves their right to bear arms, but freedom of the press is first in America’s Bill of Rights.  The right to bear arms exists for the instance that our government becomes unbearable. Freedom of speech is designed to stop tyranny from forming.  The late Former President John F. Kennedy articulated the importance of the press on April 27, 1961 when he addressed the profession directly, stating:

 
“…And that is why our press was protected by the first amendment.  The only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution– not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply give the public what it wants–but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion… And so it is to the printing press, to the recorder of man’s deeds, the keeper of his conscience, the courier of his news, that we look for strength and assistance, confident that with your help man will be what he was born to be, free and independent.”  

 
Media today is certainly not focused on being watchdogs of government overreach.  Instead we have what we all know to be the liberal media and conservative media. Deep down we know we are getting a spin, but hope that the effects are negligible and the facts are solid.   We are in the midst of an anti-intellectual movement that is powered by these left/right biases. Conservatives and liberals tend to stick to their own sides in media consumption. As a result, each thinks the other nothing short of pure evil.  

 
This observation was echoed by Mediaite when they published the following in an article: “Most of those who get their news only from Fox News, Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity & Breitbart.com think Donald Trump is a savior who is certain to win (the 2016 election) and that Hillary Clinton is the anti-Christ [sic].  Almost everyone who only consumes the New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN, NPR & The Huffington Post are sure the opposite is true.”

 
These attitudes stop intellectual discourse before it even starts.  How can people with differing points of view possibly have a productive conversation if they each go in thinking of the other person as the devil?

According to Business Insider, as of 1983, 90% of everything we read, hear, and see is owned by just six corporations.  Prior, it took 50 companies to make that same market share. This is important because it’s much easier to manipulate a handful of companies than 50.  The lack of diversity in mainstream media is most visible when government wants war.

 
On the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, Howard Kurtz (CNN) reflected on the beginnings of the war and wrote “Major news organizations aided and abetted the Bush administration’s march to war on what turned out to be faulty promises.  All too often, skepticism was checked at the door, and the shaky claims of top officials and unnamed sources were trumpeted as fact… From August 2002 through the March 19, 2003 launch of the war, I found more than 140 front-page stories that focused heavily on administration rhetoric against Iraq.”  

 
While we do appreciate people like Mr. Kurtz writing such pieces years later, the damage is done.  War is the first example used in this essay, but the media’s weakness is not limited there. How economic circumstances are reported is also not entirely factual.

 
Matthew Stein of the Huffington Post opened an article on the 2007 financial collapse with criticism of the free market.  “Unregulated greed will result in the demise of our planet just as surely as it is causing the collapse of our economy.”  Indeed, there is always a tendency to blame free markets for all economic woes and praise government for economic boons. That is to be expected when the two major parties are products of Keynesian economics.  For a market to be free, all levels of government (Federal, State, and Local) have to restrict their actions to   the protection of private property. No economy riddled with regulations, taxation, fiat currency, central banking, wars, uncertainty about those in power, a welfare state, etc. can be said to be free.  It makes absolutely no sense to blame that which doesn’t exist.

 
Before 2007, for about two decades, the central bankers at the Federal Reserve and politicians alike specifically focused on giving cheap credit in the housing sector.  In essence, they inflated a bubble that was certain to burst. Credit and interest rates are reflections of assets on hand and time-preference.  Using politics to control interest rates obscures the information entrepreneurs use to gauge how many resources are available and where to invest.  It’s easier to spend $100 in your wallet if you think you have $1,000 in the bank. What happens when you spend that money, only to realize later that your account is also empty?  Free Market? You might as well blame space aliens, at least then it might be possible.

 
When I was younger I dutifully watched the news.  I believed I was staying informed about the world.  However, I later realized I was exposing myself to story after story of some evil crime taking place; people harming their own babies, shootings, robberies, assaults, etc.  After years of studying economics, philosophy, politics, logic, etc. I came to the conclusion that the media is nothing more than the watchdog of the people. Rather than keeping an eye on government acquiring unjust power, the news seems more interested in running negative stories that originate in the general public, almost as a reminder of why we ‘need’ the state.

When politics is involved, reporters seem to act like starving dogs at a dinner table, waiting for their masters to offer up any extra crumbs, begging our politicians to answer a question or provide a comment, so they can simply repeat it.  This is not the media JFK spoke about in his brilliant speech.  I am not alone in this observation.  The Guardian published an article explaining some of the negative effects of consuming too much news as well as the impotence of the media in explaining how the world actually works.

 
Although much more could be written on this topic, I think it would be more productive to start brainstorming what changes we can make.  The news gives us information about events taking place and provides us with some hard facts. However, when we dive into any analyses that requires serious thought, such as economics or whether or not to support wars, we have to research these topics in detail.  It is irresponsible to use sound-bites from biased media to make long-lasting decisions. Don’t be afraid to study opinions that contradict your own. Most people stick to media and explanations that reflect their own assumptions about the world.  We are all prone to this behavior. Opening ourselves up to the possibility that we are wrong, or have been taught incorrectly by people we love and trust, creates uneasiness.  Rather than put our first instincts to the test as we should, we tend to associate with people who echo our own bias.

 
The world, with its nuclear weapons and tools for economic manipulation, cannot afford to be ruled by people who are not willing to step outside their comfort zones.  Spotting our biases is not hard. Simply ask yourself why you believe X, and if you don’t have evidence and logic in your answer, then your stance is based on assumption.  Ask yourself why others believe the opposite you do. Study their literature. Converse with those of varying viewpoints. Leave the “anyone who disagrees with me is the devil” stuff at home.  While there are exceptions to every rule, for the most part we all want the same things, to be physically and financially secure and have long, happy, and productive lives. It may be more beneficial in debate, especially on social media, to determine if you and the other person share the same values before you begin.  

 
I presented this article for two major reasons.  First, libertarianism takes a great deal of abstract reasoning to fully grasp, which is why we are so often painted as people who want the poor to die off and everyone else to shoot up heroin.  Second as long as we let the news control us, by feeding us constant streams of negativity which make us fearful, we lose domestically and we lose internationally. We cannot expect to make sound decisions when we are driven by anxiety.   When our population digs deep and pushes back against this news lead anti-intellectualism we will get on track towards real virtue.

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The Why of Government

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Kristopher Morgan, July 13, 2017

It’s a question every libertarian faces at some point in our lives.  The origins of governments as they exist today, in the form of the state (a monopoly of legitimate coercion), are important to understand if we are ever going to break this vicious cycle.  We can gain an intuitive understanding of how governments were first formed by looking at the evolution of man and the formation of history’s earliest civilization.  The journey begins before the arrival of modern man.

 

Who We Were Before

We have all heard the scientific name Homo Sapiens, but you may be unaware that Homo Sapiens evolved from an earlier form of man called Homo Erectus.  As can be guessed, the name signifies the first time the genus could stand upright.  Existing around two million years ago up to about 200,000 years ago, not only were they taller than their predecessors, their brains were around 50% greater in volume (still only 60% that of modern man). Their large brains gave them the capacity to cook with fire and make tools.  As Homo Erectus gained more intelligence and used more tools, modern man was ready to make an appearance, as what we call a Neanderthal.

Neanderthals not only used tools and controlled fire, they also buried their dead and may have had language.  They lived in what is referred to today as a nuclear family, and even took care of others who were too sick to care for themselves.  Their diets consisted of meat, cooked vegetables, and they occasionally engaged in cannibalism.  Brutish as they seem to have been, and dumb as portrayed, it is believed that breeding with their evolutionary superiors is what lead to their extinction.  Modern man has only been on the scene for the last 30,000 – 50,000 years.  

The human brain thrives when stress is reduced, so it’s likely as man learned to use tools and become more productive, stress over survival was reduced and intelligence gained.  People today will hopefully never know what it’s like to have to resort to cannibalism as a means of survival… but what we can do is imagine the amount of stress that might cause a person to feel.  Before civilizations could rise, farming had to be learned in the area of food production.  As hunter-gatherers learned to farm land, modern civilization formed.  Before examining humanity’s earliest civilizations, we should know something about what conditions were like just before.

 

Pre-Civilization

Prior to farming, our ancestors survived as hunter-gatherers.  Since people traveled in groups of about twelve, decisions were made on the basis of consensus.  Each small group was part of a “clan” that consisted of about a hundred adults.  There were elders who were seen as wise, or even mystical, but they didn’t have authority the way we think of it today.  They were merely trusted to know what is best.  These societies, existing between 10,000bc to present, are the closest thing we know of that could be considered a voluntaryist egalitarian society. All food and resources are shared equally out of a sense of equal needs and social justice. In such small groups, where everyone needs food and everyone labors fairly equally, who has the right to more than others? Eventually hunter-gatherers realized seeds are what make plant food grow, and accrued the idea of farming.

 

Farming And The Dawn of Civilization

The discovery of farming methods, as well as the domestication of animals, is what lead to civilization.  Farming makes it possible for large groups of people to remain in one place and settle, rather than roam the land searching for food.  The first place to achieve civilization was called Mesopotamia, around 3300bc; a land we refer to today as Iraq.  This was roughly 5,500 years ago, and again, modern man has existed for 30,000 – 50,000yrs.  Mesopotamian government was as one today might expect; a series of city-states owned by Gods with the inhabitants subject to their will.  Distribution of food and resources came from the temple itself, located at the center of the city, where the farmers and craftsmen worked.  

 

The Go-Between

There seems to be very little written about what exactly happened when societies began farming and civilizations formed.  Drawing on what has been presented about hunter-gatherer values, as well as some basic facts about the forming of Ancient Mesopotamia, some logical conclusions can be made.

Farming had to have been first discovered by a few, while other hunter-gatherer tribes continued to search for food.  In fact, according to the timemaps article referenced above, the coming together of civilization “is the result of gradual steps taken over hundreds, even thousands, of years, and only appears to arrive fully formed as written records begin to shed their light”.  Writing came about around 3,500bc but civilization itself may have been established as early as 5,000bc, a 1,500 year gap.  While gathering crops, the gatherers may have come across farms and, not understanding the principles of farming, helped themselves.  The farmers, on the other hand, were finally beginning to produce enough food to eat and survive comfortably.  They had to protect their food from the gatherers.  The only two means to do this would have been peaceful or violent, and we must keep in mind the stress levels early farmers still felt living on subsistence.  Since governments today use violent means to enforce law, we shall turn our attention there.

By violent means, farmers would have repelled intruders on their land.  Rather than opening up the farm for others to join, they would have been upset and fought off the looters.  The likelihood of this method being preferred would become greater the bigger society grew.  Hunter-gatherers often spent their entire lives never meeting another person outside their clan, so it’s likely their ability to sympathize, and therefore behave peacefully, didn’t extend to those beyond their own.

To take on the task of securing the farmland, the bigger and stronger of the population may have been offered food (among other incentives) in exchange for security; an early system of barter.  As farms grew and networked with other farms, the possibility that during periods of low yield, due to circumstances such as famines, climate changes, droughts, etc. some farmers were unable to pay their share of food to those in charge of security.  The security force (hungry, scared, and angry) would have outed such farmers for not paying their fair share, resulting in the rest having to give more; the birth of what we call taxation.  From this point the dots are easy to connect.  Realizing that security forces could be used to make an easier living, the meaning of security could be manipulated the same way it is today.  Including ways that make people believe aggression is security and security alone is just isolationism.  Everything else governments do has been brought about in the same way, politics, and through the same tool, fear.

However accurate this narrative on the formation of governments may be, we still have to wonder why it persists.  Surely modern man and modern society have outgrown our barbaric roots, so what gives?  Well, it turns out we may not be as smart as we think. Though, we are making progress.

 

Why It Continues

As we know, governments have been part of the human experience for almost 7,000 years, since Ancient Mesopotamia.  They began during a time when the world may have been more Hobbesian than we realize, as stress levels were very high due to subsistence.  Today we have far more than we need, which gives humanity the extra time it takes to ask serious questions about the nature of our governments.  Our emotional styles have also moved towards less anxiety, which makes it possible for us to think more clearly and be more accepting of peaceful government.

We have much to overcome intellectually.  The creative use of language noted above has evolved to what we now call propaganda.  In politics, this is what is winning the day; emotionally charged rhetoric designed to excite and feed off fear.  We have news feeds, videos, and pictures that are used by our rulers to make the emotional case for their actions.  Our children are taught politically correct history, in which our government is portrayed as society’s saviour.  Spending our formative years learning such things and pledging our allegiance to “the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands” is all that is needed to lock most people in the statist mindset for their entire lives.  Consider that empiricism itself is only a few hundred years old.

Should people try to break free of their training and be objective, there is a natural psychological barrier holding them back called cognitive dissonance.  When they are faced with information that contradicts their current beliefs, they have a natural need to defend their present beliefs against others.  Dissonance stems from a need for consistency and certainty, which we all have, and it should not be underestimated.  The scientific community has a system of peer review that sprung up naturally in large part due to confirmation bias, a product of dissonance.  We accept and absorb information that confirms what we already believe.  Anyone not aware of this phenomena runs the risk of closing themselves off to ideas that might be more logically consistent and empirically valid.

Conclusions

Governments formed when hunter-gatherers first learned to farm.  They had to have a way of protecting their crops from other hunter-gatherers who had not yet learned the skill.  Those in charge of protecting the farm didn’t have time to grow crops as well, so an early form of barter was established, food for security. Some realized life might be easier in the ranks of security.  During famines and other low yield times, security forces would have used public pressure to gain food from those refusing to pay what they agreed.  Other farmers wanting security for their land would have either gave extra food or joined in in pressuring those who didn’t pay.  This would be the launching pad for taxation.

We still have governments today for a variety of reasons.  Not only have they been a part of life since the first civilizations were formed, not only do we experience dissonance when challenged with the very idea that governments are evil by their nature, but parenting, that is the shaping of future generations, is riddled with barbarism.  The granting of human rights to children is a relatively new concept in the history of parenting.  Lloyd Demause covers the history of parenting and it’s effects on countries in “The Emotional Life of Nations”, a book that is a crucial read for anyone wanting to know how the family ties in to what form of government we create.  We all hear about genetics and nurture, but rarely does anyone mention the phrase psychogenics.

There are steps we can all take to create a better future.  As parents, we can look at embracing parenting techniques that keep our children with a positive emotional style.  Non-parents, please don’t operate under the assumption that the job of the parent is to control their kids so you don’t get annoyed.  All adults can take steps, such as meditation or therapy, to improve our own emotional styles.  The government we have is often a reflection of the overall emotional state we are in.  In short, as Mother Teresa put it, “If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.”

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