Sunday, February 2, 2014

On the Absurdity of Life

Assertion:  Life is absurd.
Abert Camus considered Sisyphus to be a great example of the absurd life

One might like to think there is cosmic justice, or karma, or an afterlife in which one is either punished or rewarded based on what one believes (and, one would imagine, who one persecutes) in this life. It is a comforting thought and, perhaps, it is true. But I don't think so and I have seen no evidence to prove it.

It is comforting because of a tendancy towards arrogance which makes humans want to think that, since we are here, we must be here for a purpose. If there is a purpose, then we can succeed or fail and, if we can succeed or fail, then there must be some reward or punishment for doing so.

A greater string of non sequitors has never been written, though.

There is nothing in the Universe that suggests a purpose for anything. Cause, yes. Purpose, no. The premise that I have a purpose does not follow from the fact that I am here. As for whether I am here is a fact or not, I shall side with Descarte. I Am. Simply. That is the starting point of all our knowledge and without making an enormous and blind leap of faith we cannot get from here to the assertion that there is a purpose for my being here.

Cause galore, of course, but no purpose.

It is comforting because bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people and it is nice to think that things will all even out in the end. Behave in accordance with whatever religion or creed in which you were indoctrinated and you will be rewarded or be punished for eternity, or at least with a future lifetime as a lesser life form.

But if I try to be good because I choose to be, and someone else tries to be good for hope of reward or threat of punishment who, then, is the moral one? And if there is no ultimate reward or punishment, then what is the basis and reason for morality?

Cogito ergo sum. That must be the start.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Where is the Justice?

I used to wonder what caused a woman to stay in an abusive relationship but then I came to understand the why: erosion.  I think that if some of the things that happened later in the relationship had happened early on then she would have had enough self esteem and personal energy to extricate herself.  But the really bad stuff doesn't happen early on.  It starts small and when she forgives him, against her better judgement, she loses a bit of the energy it takes to escape the gravity of the relationship.  She might make it into orbit but eventually falls back in.  As time goes on, and the injustice in the relationship increases, she becomes more and more powerless to escape.  The gravity of her situation crushes her.
In my adulthood I have seen an erosion of the justice system.  When Rodney King was beat and the police subsequently found not guilty of brutality I hung my head in shame.  I understand that he fled from the police.  I understand he may have endangered civilians.  But the police clearly acted with anger and, when you are beaten with anger, you are beaten far more than is necessary.
I was living in Alabama at the time of the trial.  I was only recently made aware that there was still active racism in America.  Growing up in the mid-west, I never noticed it.  I thought the racial sensitivity training we underwent periodically in the Army was a throwback from the fifties and sixties not unlike the haircuts and prohibition on blue jeans off post.  But what I saw in some areas made it clear that there was still a great deal of racial tension and bigotry alive and well.
Perhaps the ruling in the Rodney King case was a result of racism.  Perhaps letting OJ Simpson off for murder was a misguided attempt at racial atonement.  But, gun to my head, I'd say it was the first indicator at how bad the judicial disparity in this country would get.  OJ Simpson was both famous and wealthy, and he got away with murder.
Since that time I have watched a relentless parade of examples of how money and fame will let you get away with everything from drunk driving to possession of heroin to child molestation to destroying the financial security of America.  I have seen little to no justice.
Jerry Sandusky raped kids, and was caught by his staff.  But the staff just went to their bosses to find out what to do, not the police.  And the people at Penn state chose to cover it up, and they said nothing, because he was helping them win football games.  Just like the Catholic Church covering up the molestation of countless choir boys, their actions were not just sinful, they were also felonies.
But where are the criminal trials of the Catholic Church or the faculty at Penn State?  Unlikely to happen, based on history.  It has been over four years since the collapse of our economy and, aside from making them apologize to Congress for breaking our laws, little has been done to those who perpetrated that collapse.  Not that one can really compare the two primary acts in themselves, but the secondary acts are both example of many people knowing something wrong was happening and actively ignoring it.  They are both examples of people placing their own welfare far and away above the welfare of others.
I don't think people even expect justice any more, any more than they expect Congress to accomplish anything.  Our expectations have eroded to the point where we have almost lost faith in our ability to peacefully make changes to the way justice is served.  We have been captured in the gravity of the black hole of a corrupt and stratified system that displays such disparity that it seems impossible to change because we have to use that system to change it.
How much does must a woman endure before she breaks free from an unhealthy relationship?  How much must America endure before She says, "Enough!"

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Buddhist, a Muslim, and a Jew Walk into a Bar
What it Takes to be a Spiritual Leader
The United States Army concept of leadership under which I was trained defined the four types of authority under which a leader may operate, as well as the types of power which a leader might wield.  Of the four types of authority, charismatic authority is the only authority with no external prerequisites.  Coincidentally, of the many types of power defined, one of them is charismatic.  There are many roads a person may travel which lead them to become a spiritual leader, and there are many attributes which may help them to be effective.  But there is one trait they absolutely must develop if they are to have any success at all.  In order to be an effective spiritual leader, they must have charisma.

Buddha was born a prince, and was “raised in great physical comfort (shielded) from human suffering” (Harter 1-1545).  Jesus was born the son of a carpenter.   It was a respectable occupation with a good future, but his family had to flee their homeland soon after he was born because of the persecution of the local government (Holy Bible Mathew 2:13).  Mohammed was born under the least hospitable conditions.  He was an orphan and for that he was rejected even by the wet nurses (Ishaq 2-135).

Each of these men had a very different life path ahead of him at birth, and they all travelled wildly different roads, yet they all made a similar contribution to humanity.  They each founded (or caused to be founded) a major religion.  These three men now have (collectively) over 3.6 billion followers (Robinson).  That is over half of the world's population.  The only similarity between these men was the courage of their convictions and the ability to convince others to follow.

A leader, by definition, provides purpose, direction, and motivation to achieve some goal.  One of the most effective methods of providing motivation is to convince the group that what they seek they will find if they follow your lead.  This requires the group to leave its comfort zone, for if it did not then the group would already have what it seeks.  Most people don't like to leave their comfort zone, which is why they have a tendency to wait around for shepherds to show them the way.  The additional prodding of the leader is designed to motivate them towards their ultimate goal: spiritual fulfillment.

For the spiritual leader, often the purpose of a group is pre-defined by the spiritual expectations of the group.  The group likely lacks direction, however, and this lack of direction leads to a feeling of hopelessness where spiritual growth is concerned.  It is from this spiritual malaise that a leader often emerges, and teaches the flock to reevaluate their beliefs.  Though the group may want a leader that will change their external situation, the change introduced is usually internal. Buddha taught that to escape the cycle of life and death we must change who we are by following the Eightfold Path (Basham 1-1558).

Part of a spiritual leader's charisma is their compassion for their fellow Man.  Jesus taught his followers to “love (their) enemies, and pray for their persecutors” (Holy Bible Mathew 5:44).  It was no small request, since persecution was common.  The great majority of spiritual leaders whom history remembers are revolutionaries.  Their purpose is to overthrow the status quo, and it is this aspect which puts them at odds with the powers that be.  Mohammed was actually seen as an enemy of the people because he spoke against the polytheistic views of the established religion (Ishaq  141).

The current establishment is ineffective at providing the leadership to help people reach spiritual fulfillment, else there would be no need for a new leader to rise.  However, the new leader is bereft of the power of the establishment.  Not only is he without the authentic authority of the established leadership, he must have something which convinces those who would follow to break with traditional leadership at the risk of persecution or even death.

Expert power may bolster a leader’s charisma.  Luke tells of a young Jesus who was so well versed in the scriptures that he could hold his own against the scribes of the temple (Holy Bible Luke 2:49).  The story is (perhaps) embellished by Mark, who follows it up with a story of young Jesus casting a demon out of a man (Holy Bible Mark 1:25), but purpose of the story is to establish the authority of Jesus.  Expert power revolves around what a person knows and what a person can do.  But it is not necessary to the spiritual leader.

Mohammed was reported to be an illiterate (Harter 2-98) who would be unable to have any direct knowledge of the scriptures, unless of course he were able to convince his followers that his knowledge came directly from a divine messenger.  And since these revelations were in direct contradiction of the current understanding of the divine, it required a tremendous amount of charisma to gain followers willing to risk their lives.

One can only presume that these men were absolutely certain in the validity of the things they said.  The strength of that belief gave power to their charisma.  In a land of confusion, people will follow the man who seems to know what he is talking about.  This is a very dangerous trait of mankind, one which other leaders (Hitler, Stalin, Bush, et al) have abused to the great detriment of our species.  They have all preyed upon some longing in the spirit of those that follow.  Tragedies like Jonestown and Waco are grim reminders of what happens when people put their faith in the words of Man.

In order to be an effective spiritual leader one need not be well versed in religious texts, though it helps.  One need not be touched by the hand of God, though the fire in one’s eyes may help convince the leery.   One need not have wealth or power.  One need not even preach peace and harmony; there are those that will follow.  But a spiritual leader, like any leader, must have charisma.  A hammer can build a house, or it can bludgeon a skull.  Charisma, too, is a double edged sword.  Whether the benefits gained from the teachings of men like Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed outweigh the tragedies perpetrated in their names remains to be seen.

Works Cited
Basham, A.L.  “Samyutta Nikaya”, Bedford Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Paul Davis, et al. Book 1. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. 1558-1559.
Harter, Alanya.  “Buddhist Texts, Fourth Century B.C.E.-First Century C.E.”, The Bedford Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Paul Davis, et al. Book 1. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. 1543-1548.
Harter, Alanya.  “The Qur’an”, The Bedford Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Paul Davis, et al. Book 2. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. 97-105.
Holy Bible: King James Version.  Holman Bible Publishers: Nashville, 1982.
Ishaq, Muhammad Ibn. “The Life of Muhammed.” The Bedford Anthology of World Literature. Ed. paul Davis, et al. Book 2. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. 134-157.
Robinson, B.A.  World Religions.   2009.  17 Nov. 2009. .

Monday, February 13, 2012

Debate: You are better off buying a pet from a breeder

 Transcripts of an online debate between myself and another.
(I take the Con)

I thank my opponent for her impassioned, albeit narrowly focused, response.

My opponent has certainly made some interesting arguments to support her position.  And, while it is refreshing to read of someone who has such faith in a group of people, many of her assertions are such broad generalizations that I cannot accept them as valid.

She is assigning qualities to an entire set based on her interactions with an extremely small subset.  She has, it would seem, had some excellent interactions with the breeders with which she was worked.  Indeed, she has had such wonderful experiences that she desires to be a breeder.  Certainly she would not think ill of a group of people she wants to join.

Having personally known three, and wanting to become one myself, I can say with total certainty that reputable, well-meaning breeders exist. These are the ones I am defending.

It is quite understandable and simple human nature to assign certain characteristics to an entire group of people based on the first experiences with a particular member of the set.  The implication is that she has had negative interactions with what few shelters she has dealt with (if any).  She has offered no indication on what merit she judges the entire set of shelters or the entire set of breeders.

So, while it heartens me to know that one can have such a string of successes in ones interactions with a subset of society, I know that this does not give one proof of the characteristics of the rest of the set.  My opponent clearly stated in her instigating round that if one uses statistics, one has to cite sources.  Granted, numeric statistics have not been used, but implied statistics (making sweeping statements without qualification) have been used repeatedly without any citations whatsoever except her limited experience.

These are all sweeping generalizations my opponent has made without providing foundation:
  • Shelters don’t ensure this. They do not even try.
  • There is no screening process whatsoever.
  • They do not care where these animals go, or where they end up.
  • Breeders are selective about who owns their animals, because they truly care about the individuals that they raised from birth.
  • [Breeders] are helping the entire species, by(...) ensuring that each and every one of their animals goes to a loving home.
  • If an animal bred by a breeder cannot find a home, for any reason, the breeder will keep them as a pet, and the animal will receive just as much affection and care as their prize champions.
  • And I say with utmost certainty and conviction that this would never have happened had Mr. Fluffy been born to a breeder.

Certitude is not the test of certainty. We have been cocksure of many things that were not so.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Specific Refutations

Some people simply do not have the time and patience to tame a feral cat, or train a hyperactive dog.

Of course they don't.  But people who do not have time to train a hyperactive dog should also not get a Jack Russel Terrier from the breeder, correct?  People who do not have time and patience should get a digital aquarium.  Any kind of dog needs training, regardless of the source.  That is why a pet is a commitment.

It is not difficult to quickly ascertain the personality of an animal.  Is it socialized?  Is it hyper?  Is it aggressive?  Is it scared of people?  I am no animal expert, but even I can figure these out in a few minutes of interaction with the animal.  And, while it can certainly be said that an animal might exhibit other traits once brought to the home, it cannot be said that this is particular to rescue animals.

Any pet-quality pedigree is spayed or neutered.
Pro gives no evidence to support her claim.

I have never adopted an animal in which neutering was not a requirement.  Any of the links to shelters and animal societies I have included on this page will show that most shelters have a policy towards neutering.  Even if Pro's unfounded assertion is true, it does not differentiate the breeder from the shelter in a positive way.

Instead of letting these animals be adopted, shelters kill them. This is a practice that I simply cannot condone.

I won't argue that animals are not euthanized.  But if you do not condone the practice, then do something about it.  Quit breeding animals, neuter the ones you have, and adopt instead of purchase.  Purebred animals account for 30% of the animals in shelters [2].  Even if this were not the case, your judgement is unfair.  You assert (I disagree, with caveat) that some animals are too far gone to be rehabilitated and so should not be adopted, then you criticize the shelters for not letting them be adopted.  And your solution to this is to breed more animals?  You are putting fresh paint on rotted wood.  Your solution only hides the problem.

Furthermore, shelters create a cycle. People buy animals on a whim. Let’s say a puppy.  They buy it thinking it’s cute, and don’t take it to the veterinarian.

First, let me reiterate that shelters do far more than you seem willing to give them credit for.  A good shelter[3] will have animals checked by veterinarians and inoculated before adoption[4], and those that don't will likely have a veterinary visit as a stipulation of adoption.  Though my experience is not all inclusive, I have adopted animals from three different shelters (two in Missouri and one in Alabama) and worked with one shelter closely (in Oklahoma).  Two of these provided the inoculations and veterinary checkups and charged a flat fee, while the other two required that a document from a licensed veterinarian be returned within a month, stating the neutering, vaccinations, and examinations had been performed.

Second, the assertion that people never buy a purebred puppy on a whim is outlandish at best.  That is why there are so many purebreds in shelters.  If someone wants a puppy, they won't likely go to a shelter, because shelters have mostly adult animals[7].

There is nothing wrong with wanting to know the history of your animal. If I bought a dog that belonged to Michael Vick, I’d like to know about it. And a shelter would not be able to tell me.

Yeah, they would.  And it is proof against your assertion that some animals are too far gone for training[8].  I did not contradict myself, perhaps you had trouble parsing my statement, and that is my fault.  I said that a dog that was genetically inclined to be aggressive and then trained to be aggressive may or may not be trained away from it.  I know how hard it is to overcome genetic tendencies, and so I have to stipulate that some dogs, because of reinforced genetics, will not be successfully rehabilitated.

I asserted that dogs that have only been trained to be aggressive can always be re-trained.  It takes time and love and patience, and so people that just have money should probably stay away from it. It has taken three years of love and affection with constant positive reinforcement, but fifteen of Michael Vick's dogs, that some experts said should have been put down, are successfully being rehabilitated.  John Garcia, the manager of the Best Friends Animal Society, asserts that even dogs that have been bred and reinforced can be restored.

A veterinarian simply cannot screen for every single genetic disease known to feline kind.

Nope.  But by your own assertion breeders can only tell you if there is a history of the disease in the family.  So, does one take a chance on the animal?  Then what difference does it make that you knew the family history?  Does one refuse to take a chance on the animal?  Then why did the breeders breed an animal that had a history of disease?

I am, perhaps, old fashioned in thinking it is not always best to know the future.  What choices would my parents have made if they could have seen what a genetic tendency I had to be a problem child?  What choices would a man make if he knew his fiancee' comes from a history of cancer?  One takes a chance getting out of bed in the morning.  The only certainty in life is that we don't make it out alive.  Not being able to stack the deck is not a good reason to not play the game.

The only way to stop pets from going to shelters is to ensure that they really do go to good, loving homes.  Shelters don’t ensure this. They do not even try. Literally anyone with $200 in their pocket can buy an animal from a shelter.  There is no screening process whatsoever. They do not care where these animals go, or where they end up.

I have already given evidence of the absurdity of the claim that shelters do not try to place animals in a good home.  And to say that the people do not even care is hateful, to say the least.  The people I have worked with are some of the most selfless, caring individuals I have ever met that give of their time, money, and heart to help these animals out.  Shame on my opponent for making such a statement.

The logic here is that, [referring to the high cost of purchasing from a breeder] if you can afford to buy the pet initially, then you can afford to feed it, too. And as it grows up, you can afford to take it to the vet for shots. And if something happens, you can afford to take care of that as well.

First, by saying 'if something happens' you support my contention that not even knowing the family history or genetic makeup of an animal is proof of future health or behavior.

Second, the amount of money a person has is not related to the morality of a person.  Just because a person HAS the money to take care of a pet is no indication that they WILL take care of the pet.

But shelters are like a band-aid on a broken bone.
Yeah, but if all you have is a band-aid, you do what you can.  That is still better than sitting on the sidelines saying, "It shouldn't be like this."  The fact is, it IS like this.

My opponent’s arguments in the previous round have mainly been emotional. He makes a valid point that animals in shelters are in immediate need.

But that is what the debate is about, right?  The emotional impact of adopting a pet versus buying a breed?  We're not talking about show animals, we are talking about pets.

I would argue that buying a pet is also an investment. It's an emotional investment.

I completely agree.  It is an investment.  And what gives someone the highest payoff to my emotional investment?  I suppose that depends on the type of person they are.

I am the kind of person that can see the world as a flawed place, knowing that I will probably never change all of it (a hard lesson for me to learn), will still try to make it a little better each day.  Helen Keller said that, "I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do[9].  It is hard, and it is sometimes frustrating, and often the only reward I get is that I respect the man I see shaving every morning.  But that is enough.  That is more than enough.

I get a very good feeling when I have helped someone or something.  I am filled with compassion when I see the plight of shelter animals.  I am filled with gratefulness that I have had the pleasure to share my love with such wonderful creatures, creatures that may have died had I not stepped in.  The emotional return on my investments has been enormous.

Many of the reasons that Pro has given have largely been unfair and unfounded generalizations.  I have shown how she is mistaken in her portrayal of shelters, and so such comparisons can not be used to make the case that it is better for someone to purchase from a breeder than adopt from a shelter.

I agree with Pro that responsible breeders are not the same as puppy mills, but I disagree with her sweeping conclusion that they are all as wonderful as those with which she has come in contact.  I agree with pro that many animals are euthanized every day in America.  I disagree that the solution is to purposefully breed more animals.  Pro asserts that the breeders are happy to provide a loving home for all the animals that they breed.  If this is true, I suggest they be left to it, and everyone else go rescue an animal from their local shelter.

This debate is about the positive return one receives from buying a bred animal compared to rescuing an animal in need.  Granted, this has much to do with the type of person someone is, but if someone has any kind of a heart, then the emotional return they get from helping an animal in need and providing a loving home most likely is greater than that from taking a pet from an already loving home.

I know I am better off from having rescued any of my animals, and so I urge the audience to vote Con.