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Monday, November 23, 2009


Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on Sep 29, 2009 8:21 AM PDT

This essay is dedicated to Kurt Vonnegut, the deeply compassionate WWII prisoner of war who sought to understand the meaning of his life and explain it with humor. This seemed to be an effort to conquer the demons within him that tormented him after living through the horror of Dresden with his German captors. In the end he seemed to have succumbed to his disappointment, but in his valiant struggle he seems to have given the strength to his son Mark to overcome his own demons, as described in The Eden Express.

We are often puzzled by the irrational behavior of seemingly well-intentioned people, such as the angry mobs who gather at the town halls meetings of our Senators and Representatives who come to discuss their ideas of how to confront the problems we all face as Americans and citizens of the world. Often spontaneously, they angrily drown out with pre-programmed slogans any real debate.

They do not seem to recognize that our only hope of finding solutions to our common problems is through reasoned discourse on the proposals of those who will eventually make the decisions that they were elected to make on our behalf. They feel marginalized, but do not understand that it is their own behavior and lack of understanding of the political process that has stripped them of the power to have a voice in decision making.

The stubborn insistence on rejecting reasoned compromise dooms them to be forever without real representation in Congress, except during those frightening periods when mass delusionality reigns and they elect equally confused, angry and unreasoning representatives who ultimately serve the interests of those orchestrating the madness. The authoritarian impulse that drives them to attempt to impose their world view is the reason that they cannot succeed, for a freedom loving people will resist such fascist efforts.

To solve the problems of our nation so that we may contribute to solving the problems of the world rather than being a chief culprit in their creation, we must engage these angry and frightened individuals in the debate about what form of government best serves the needs of We the People. To do so requires that we understand the patterns of thinking that drive their behavior, and the motivation to choose specific beliefs about the nature of political reality which drives these decisions. This understanding depends on understanding basic concepts of logic, psychology, emotion, and political theory. This will be the subject of this and the next essays.

To begin with, it is necessary to understand that all decision making begins by making assumptions. Godel proved that nothing can be known with certainty independent of these assumptions. This is often misunderstood to mean that nothing can be known with certainty. The truth is that while reasoning begins with making assumptions, the validity of both the assumptions and our resulting conclusions can be tested by testing the predictions based on the conclusions we draw.

If we begin with only logically binary assumptions and proceed by generating binary if/then propositions, we will eventually get to logical contradictions which allow us to re-examine the premises we chose between at the point where the logical contradiction arose. We then need only proceed from that point, reversing the binary conclusions we made that were contradicted by the result of our original chain of logic. Ultimately, if only one possible conclusion can be drawn logically through this chain of reasoning, we will have arrived at the truth of the matter. The inherent flaw in the reasoning of these acolytes of Ayn Rand is that they refuse to test their assumptions against some objective measure of the reality the rest of us share.

Theoretically, the rigorous application of logic can be used to prove the validity of almost any proposition whose opposite is the only possible alternative.  This could even apply to such basic questions as whether or not God exists. The assumptions of our models of reality can be tested by direct experiment or thought experiment, but we must keep in mind that our measurements of physical phenomena are influenced by the very act of measurement, as all things are connected and their interaction changes the very thing being measured.

This is the essence of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which states that one cannot simultaneously measure both the position and velocity of what are described in models of physics as particles. This means that we can do no better at explaining the world than to resort to unprovable models about the nature of physical reality. The same principles apply to the construction of models of social and political reality. However, we can logically prove any proposition in theory by proving that the opposite assumption from that premise is logically inconsistent with one of the two possibilities from which this reasoning process leads.

With this in mind, we are ready to critically evaluate various assumptions held by those who would argue that man is basically selfish, that this is a necessary precondition to successful adaptation to changing environmental conditions and that therefore, acting in self-interest or the interests of a group to which one affiliates is good for ones’ self or one's close associates.

I like to think that all such associations amount to what Kurt Vonnegut described as granfaloons, a nonsense word he coined because he realized that these tribal distinctions are totally arbitrary and nonsensical. Once one performs the simple thought experiment that proves that because of the inter-relatedness of all mankind, tribal distinctions are destructive of self, society and ultimately all of humanity, it is obvious that acting the interest only of a segment of humanity destroys any hope of achieving one’s original goal. This is such a trivial matter that it will be left as an exercise to the reader. Let us assume the validity of the latter argument in order to proceed to explore in the next two essays why anyone would choose to accept these archaic and destructive notions.

In the words of Ambrosia and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr:

Oh, a sleeping drunkard up in Central Park,
or the lion hunter In the jungle dark,
or the Chinese dentist Or the British Queen;
They all fit together In the same machine.

Nice, nice, very nice.
Nice, nice, very nice.
So many people in the same device.

Oh a whirling dervish and a dancing bear,
or a Ginger Rogers and a Fred Astaire,
or a teenage rocker or the girls in France;
Yes, we all are partners in this cosmic dance.

Nice, nice, very nice.
Nice, nice, very nice.
So many people in the same device.

I wanted all things to make sense
so we'd be happy instead of tense.

Oh a sleeping drunkard Up in Central Park,
or the lion hunter In the jungle dark,
or the Chinese dentist or the British Queen;
They all fit together In the same machine.

Nice, nice, very nice.
Nice, nice, very nice.
So many people in the same device.
So many people in the same device.

Please give generously to NAMI, the Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or any of the many other deserving mental health support groups.

Rick Staggenborg, MD

On the Lower Umpqua Rver, somewhere in Soouthwestern Oregon.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the more difficult essays in this book to fully comprehend, but one important enough to deserve some elaboration.

    The essay is essentially laying the groundwork for understanding some of the ways we as a people have become so confused that we lash out in blind anger at those toward whom we should be looking to help take us out of the misery our elected officials have created for us.

    Not all of our Senators and certainly not all of our Representatives are stupid, venal or corrupt. Most of them are merely confused and intellectually and morally incapable of distinguishing their perceived self-interest from the interests of the People who elected thm to serve their needs. They are in a very real sense psychotic in beleiving that they can accept tremendous amounts of cash from corporations and remain dedicated servants of the People.

    Polticians and the mass media use emotionally laden language to persuade the People to consistnetly vote against their self interest. They endlessly demonize honest opponents who simply point out that the real enemy is the corporatocracy and their tools in the Senate. They have been remarkably effective at keeping people so angry on the Left and Right that they fight each other instead of the common enemy who want to enslave us all in a worldwide web of fascism.

    The only hope for getting out of this mess alive is to quit labelling ourselves and letting others label us. The problem is worst when we willingly assume the beliefs that the corproate media promotes as reality. We thereby factionalize ourselves and serve the corproate interest even while indirectly causing the conditions that anger and frighten us to worsen.

    Is there an answer? Of course. All we have to do is recognize that we are all one human family and to start treating ourselves like the loving brothers and sisters we were meant to be.

    If we are going to use emotional reasoning to save the world from fascist enslavement, we must reach out to each other in loving kindness and tell the truth to one another about our fears, hopes and dreams. Emotionally charged words are much more powerful when they are the truth.

    Positive emotional reasoning is a preventative for the mental illness resulting form lying to one's self all of one's life. To change the world, we must first accept it for what it is. Then we must proceed to logically decide how to change it into the world we want it to be. All of this must be done calmly and rationally. It requires not only an extensive knowledge base but the rigorous application of logic and to successfully change the world together. Since no one can know everything, it is necessary to forgive old slights and wrongdoing so that we can put our heads and hearts together to do what needs to be done to save human civilization from itself.

    We can stop Armageddon if we believe we can and this is the message that I will continue to lovingly deliver to anyone who will listen. Some of that family of Man are my children and future grandchildren, my parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and great nieces and nephews.


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