Saturday, September 4, 2010

Screw Liberté, No Égalité and WTF is Fraternité?

First the French government went a bit mad about the Burqa and decided to ban it.

Some former French goverment, it seems, also saw fit to have a French Constitution too and this burqa ban has now raised questions of constitutionality and concerns about personal freedoms and religious stereotyping.

It turns out that even though the burqa ban is still a current state policy, they have laws which suggest this kind of minority persecution is such a bad idea that it's 100% illegal to tell a person not to wear a hat because it covers your face unless of course you're on a motorcycle.

Now sections of the French public and the French government have certainly not stopped bashing on Islam in general using the burqa as an emotional lever, but just because you have one minority to pick on doesn't mean you have to stop there. There's just no good reason to sit still on other issues of prejudice when you have people like the GOP running parts of Europe.

Instead, as well all know, it's also time to start bashing another minority. It's an old minority everyone loves to hate. Both Hitler and Stalin felt they should be wiped out. A lot of modern Europe seems to wish they'd succeeded.

Yes... Gypsies, or Roma as they are now called. All over Europe wherever there is wealth the poor are moving in, so a flood of migrants from east to West has the West struggling to know how to handle it. So, it's time to "do something" about them.

Them means the conspicuously poor, the people it's been popular and okay to hate for centuries.

Hating on gypsies is a popular and quite an old European sport dating back centuries: In Italy they've already started demolishing gypsy dwellings, bulldozing poverty stricken shanties and forcing people to disband and flee. Indeed there's talk all over Europe of deporting the Gypsies.

The problem with that being, the Eastern European nations they migrated from are now actually EU member states and their migration is completely legal and they have complete legal status in France, Italy, Germany, Austria, pretty much all of Europe excepting Switzerland.

As such, it's actually against the European Union constitution to deport citizens of one EU country who are originally from another EU country based on the fact that they're poor.

That's the European Union law. But meh. Fuck them.

There is activity though. This AP story says,

"Organizers said demonstrations were taking place in 135 cities and towns across France, and others were planned outside French embassies in capitals such as London, Brussels and Bucharest."

It is excellent to know that so many people taking to the streets all over parts of Europe but that raises the question of why more people did not attend and moreover why other countries like Italy, with the same kind of illegal policies are not witnessing the same kinds of rallies. One rally in the Czech Republic in May boasted a whopping 200 or so people.

I'm not we're claiming we're perfect. It's almost - though not quite - analogous to the Arizona law and the Federal jursidiction over issues concerning Constitutional rights of people to walk around without the concern of racial profiling.

Arizona should find out that it has absolutely no legal standing to enforce its laws, since that's clearly the case.

So too in Europe member nations should be held to their own central constitution. This is going to be a show of how the EU constitution really fails to be enforcible.

So states can behave more or less as though the EU constitution doesn't exist when it suits them.

The same prejudicial policy of deporting the Roma is being touted all over central and Western Europe, with varying degrees of political support. What stands out though is France has a recent history of picking on minority issues to divide the culture, a GOP trick.

France has not got Italy's problem of pandemic corruption dating back two thousand glorious years, nor does it have a total bastard like Silvio Berlusconi as leader.

Sarkozy has many flaws no doubt, he's notoriously vain about his height for one thing, but the French guy with short man syndrome is nothing like the Mafia media baron trying to keep a country's media hostage while his ministers flee, having serial affairs with multiples of women and musing on which players belong in the Milan Football Team.

It's something which might be expected from Italy in other words since the place has not really enjoyed a stable government since Marcus Aurellius was Emperor and today it is more or less Berlusconi's private bidet.

The French, on the other hand, have been real pioneers in advancing social welfare and have created a large network of human rights organizations and activists.

Paris erupts into regular student protests and semi-regular student riots. Most of the time it's a progressive society and it appears - from the outside - to even tolerate the German tourists. And the British.

So, what the hell happened to France? Why are the protests so small when it comes to Gypsies? And why is there all of this anger and resent to human beings - why is this such a hot button issue in Europe of today?

So here's what I'm really leading too. Does France need a hug?

I'm personally volunteering to hug Sophie Marceau. As many times as it takes to make France see reason on this issue. I am very dedicated to this selfless and important cause. I think you will agree that this is a wonderful plan with a high chance of success.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What is Altruism?

My sister read Rand's The Fountainhead and was completely revolted by her bleak vision of human social interactions. She portrays all acts of kindness as acts of pure selfishness in the end. In Randworld, altruism is a form of glib selfishness.

So, the warm inner glow of personal pride which comes from another person's well being, though it came at your own expense, well Rand says stop that shit. Grow up. Be selfish and unapologetic. You can see why the Cons eat it up.

My sister, like many, found Rand revolting and yet she found that idea of altruism as connected to selfishness as hard to escape, even though it didn't seem a very nice view of the world she was rattled by it. She and I have talked about this a lot over the last few years. Finally I think I made a breakthrough. This is what I wish I'd said, not what I actually said which was even longer winded and even less coherent.

Whatever selfishness is, our relationship to it is somehow linked to our survival.

The feeling of warmth most people feel when helping another person at cost to ourselves is a form of natural, biological reward. Endorphins! Party in the brain! Just chemicals. No morals. No ethics, just natural selection giving us a buzz for doing something helpful to others at our own expense.

As I really did say to my sister - she is the least selfish person I know really - just think like a selfish person for a moment and experience the actual difference.

Suppose that a person is unconcsious in the water. A selfish young man says to himself, I won't jump into the water to save them because I'll get my new Nikes wet. That's not a very good reason, so they begin to find others. It's not my job, Hassellhof's babes should show up any moment... The person who is selfish does things purely in their own interests and then rationalizes why afterwards.

Meanwhile a sick old granny who can barely breathe and is scared of drowning herself struggles against the waves to pull the person from the water. She acts before a lot of thinking has really taken place and only after is she at all likely to try and rationalize her behavior.

So who is actually the more selfish? The sick Granny who will have the reward of knowing she risked her life to save another or the guy who was too worried about his shoes and feels the smaller warmth of having spared his Nikes from the water? How is this supposed selfishness being assessed in different cases, in other words?

It's like something Typo said elsewhere about words and the definitions we give to things. They really matter and here we have a classic instance of human compassion being depicted as this terribly wrong thing which - in Randworld - really stems from the need to feel a biochemical reward.

Well imaginary Granny scenarios are contrived. Here's the thing that clinched it. I went all Godwin's law on her.

I said something like, what about the selfishness of those who hid Jewish friends during the holocaust as compared to the selfishness of those who turned their 'friends' in?

What was their relative reward/risk table and payout in a game that's lose lose and where win win means they all get to live?

After 6 months of keeping a secret family that can get you killed, did it still seem like a warm glow all the time? This idea of selfishness in the midst of altruism stems entirely from one hidden assumption: all acts of altruism are assumed to be about as complex as a grandfather spoiling a child absolutely rotten because it makes the grandfather feel good to see the child happy.

Once that kind of example is used to set Rand's bleak themes into motion, it's never questioned and more examples like it follow where there really is a questionable relationship between action and reward and the motives. If all you see is that pattern, it's not a really useful and open way of thinking about the vast complexity of human relationships.

It was nice to have this quiet discussion with my sister, gentle and thoughtful as always, but this time a real breakthrough. Her sense of relief was palpable. She cracked her way through the illusion Rand creates by thinking and thinking and thinking. My sister got that problem beat. It was great. She could see: hang on a moment, this is just wrong. Something about this whole way of valuing behavior in such black and white terms is absolutely wrong.

It was a good time to shut up and say no more.

I loved watching her relief. I mean I can think of no other word for what I saw.

It wasn't like some earth shattering thing, but she clearly was never happy with this idea. She kept bringing it to me to kind of debate it, sometimes for hours, so I figured either she was hoping to change my mind or hoping I would change hers and I saw my answer to that when she seemed to kind of take a step back as the Rand on her back, spitting its poison in her ear for about two years, fell silent for a moment.

I had one more argument held in reserve. Something I was thinking about. I mean my sister forces me to debate this so I end up contingency thinking and preparing a line of argument for the next round. I don't think I'll ever have to say it. But here it is anyways.

Note also that people who are actually psychopaths or narcissists do not have any response of warmth for an unselfish act. They don't report having any happiness associated with acts of kindness to others. The endorphin trigger for being, you know, nice because being nice feels nice... well it just ain't there.

Since they get no biological reward for cooperations where they break even, let alone where they lose out, they just don't and can't behave decently to anyone, except because of conventions. They need some conventions to "fit" into society at all but they never actually trust anyone with anything at all so they don't ever bond to others or feel emotions that we take as normal.

Those are characteristic traits of anyone who is actually unable to act altruistically, indeed they often learn to feel reward for acts in which other people suffer harm.

The person I've just described is the person Ayn Rand holds up as the norm. If anything Rand's philosophy and view of the decent human motives as all selfish at heart, tells you about Rand herself and not the normal human being.

As a footnote, I feel very selfish indeed for helping my sister to see a new path through the stupid maze Rand led her into. It's been maybe two years of talking about this every few months.

There's no question that blogging about my happiness really is a selfish thing, but blogging about my wonderful sister and her remarkable intellectual honesty also makes me a happy Smiley.