Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Does God lie?

Im talking about the Judeo-Christian God, the God I believe in. I believe God can lie if he wants to, and if he does who's to call him on it? Certainly not me. But does he? The record shows that God is capable of doing some pretty nasty stuff, and the record itself is a charge sheet against God.

In several instances in the Bible, God had a direct hand in the deaths of several people: men, women, children, babies. In the book of Job, he and Satan colluded in the deaths of Job's 10 children and their servants. In the conquest of Canaan, God orders his people to spare no living thing, including their livestock and household pets. This was planned, premeditated mass culling of several people, some--if not most--of them certainly innocent, children and babies among the victims. In a legal sense this was murder; this was genocide--crimes against humanity. If he's capable of these deeds, lying can't be all that difficult for him.

In Hebrews 6:18 its says:
so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.

This is often used to show that it is impossible for God to lie and therefore doesnt. But a closer examination of the context of this verse shows that this isnt the case at all. This is clearer if you read the preceding verse before verse 18.
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.

When the writer of Hebrews said it is impossible for God to lie, he was referring to the 'two unchangeable things,' namely, God's promise, and God's oath. In other words, if God is making a promise, he is not lying; if God is making an oath, he is not lying. Those are the only two things that the writer of Hebrews says is covered by the 'impossible to lie' clause. Everything else is open. For everything else, he can lie.

I asked an officemate, "If God ordered you to kill somebody, if he ordered you to kill several children in a mall, and you were 100% sure that it is God that's ordering you, would you do it?" He said, yes he will do it if he were absolutely sure it was God. He cited the case of Abraham whom God ordered to make a sacrifice out of his son, which was counted to him as righteousness.

"Therefore," I said, "you would have no problem at all should God order you to lie."

"None at all," he said. "If God orders someone to lie, then it must be because it will result in a greater good."

"If God can order you to lie, what would prevent him from lying himself, if it suits his purpose? If it will result in a greater good?" The answer of course is nothing. Nothing would prevent him from lying.

All these are hypothetical of course. Unlike God ordering people killed, and killing people himself (as he did with the first-born of the Egyptians--some of whom were innocent babies.), I dont know of anything in the record that says God or Jesus lied or ordered people to lie. The closest I can come up with is when Jesus said John 7:8 that he isnt going to the feast in Jerusalem, then when everyone else has gone, he went. But that wasnt really a lie. When he said he wasnt going, his reason was that his time had not yet come. Maybe his time to go came later.

Is there a fundamental difference between God killing people and God lying such that he can do one but not the other? The only thing I can think of is that God can unkill people, but he cannot unlie. If we humans are ready to charge him with murder, then all he has to do is bring us to the resurrection and show us the people that were killed all in the pink of health. No corpse, no murder. But the truth? Murder is a crime against a person, but lying is a crime against something more sacred. Lying is a crime against the truth. God will mess with me and you for whatever purpose, but he probably will not mess with the truth. He will not lie.

Monday, February 26, 2007

This one's for Freud

... and Ate Fiona.

In my dream I was standing in front of the mirror preparing to shave. I lathered up, and wet my 14-peso, disposable, twin-blade razor and prepared to scrape the past day's fuzz. I looked in the mirror and damn if that isnt Brad-friggin-Pitt staring back at me. My face looked exactly like Mr. Pitt's. Of course in the dream I wasnt freaked out since in the dream, that was how I really looked like.

The key to this dream's interpretation is what Mr. Pitt symbolizes to me. Let me list down a few items. Mr. Pitt is:

1) A gifted actor whose acting doesnt get respect from his peers because they think he won the genetic lotto and they believe he parlayed that into his stardom. (Personally, I think Mr. Pitt has serious acting chops. See Fight Club.)

2) A man who recklessly tried to take on a force of nature like Angelina Jolie, thinking he can tame her, probably still believing he can tame her, deluding himself that he can tame her, but is instead overwhelmed, his claim to individuality and self buffeted by Ms. Jolie's awesome power, and succumbs and is reduced to, as Michael Douglas once noted, someone who follows Angelina around carrying her babies.

Frankly I dont recognize myself in any of that, but really, the person we least recognize sometimes--indeed oftentimes--is ourself. We have delusions of who we are, an image we created for the benefit of the outside world, and that image sometimes fools even us, such that when confronted by our real self, we say, "Who the frag are you?"

(Ok so I recognize one part of the Pitt dream. The part about the genetic lotto. Nyaahahahahaa!!!)

The implications of software

In the Dilbert Blog, Scott Adams ponders:

How does something that is NOT here touch something that IS here? It makes no sense.

I dont know if Mr Adams means that the something that is not here cannot be apprehended by the senses, hence it couldnt possibly touch the something that is here, OR if he means that the idea that something that isnt here touches something that is here is absurd, or impossible (makes no sense), but whatever it is he meant, I'll try to show that something that is 'not here' can touch something that 'is here' and it is occurring right now as you read this.

If you take a sledgehammer to your computer, smashing it into uselessness, did you do damage to its software? That is, if your computer is running, say, Windows 2000 with a whole suite of applications in it such as MS Word, Photoshop, Firefox, etc, did you, in bringing sledgehammer to the hardware, do damage to Windows 2000 and the other software installed in it?

I submit that you did not do any damage to the software at all. Being non-material, it is not subject to physical damage and decay. To say that you damaged the software is like saying you burned Hamlet when you tossed your copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare into the fire. When you smashed your computer with the sledgehammer, you damaged your computer hardware's ability to access the software, but the software itself was not damaged, nor can it be damaged by any means of entropy or physical violence. The software isnt located in the computer. It isnt located anywhere. It's a non-material phenomenon that exists independent of the hardware that runs it. Even killing all the software's authors and burning all their notebooks will not destroy the software.

But apart from the hardware, the software is useless. It contains the medium by which the hardware reads the software and follows its instructions. And apart from the software, the hardware is useless. Without the software, your computer is just an expensive paperweight. To be properly called a computer, your machine needs both.

If this sounds like a pitch for Mind-Body dualism, it's because it is. I believe the computer industry has laid to rest (for me at least) the issue because it offers answers to objections against it, particularly the argument articulated by The Dilbert Blog (although Dilbert wasnt objecting to dualism in that particular blog entry).

But I think the major objection to dualism doesnt come from its inability to answer the something-without-any-physical-properties-could-have-any-physical-effects question. I think the major objection to it comes from what it implies. As Ive tried to show above, mind is analogous to software, and software dont write themselves. Someone wrote it. It came from someone's mind, a product of someone's intelligence. Who wrote Mind 1.x? The physical evidence doesnt say, but as the experience of Mr Adams showed when he wrote about intelligent design theory, opponents of the theory will try to inject theology into the discussion even though the theory itself has no theology. They dont like the possibility that there might be other intelligence in the universe (or universes) that would be capable of making simple things like, say, other universes, especially when arguments like that open the door to religious people to wag their fingers at them and say, See? They hate that.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Sovereign and Mercantile Order of SM

In the comments section of the previous entry wherein I contemplated on a limited suffrage based on intellectual and moral merit, I acknowledged the impracticality (if not the impossibility) of taking back the genie of universal suffrage once it's out of the bottle as it is here in the Philippines. Having tasted the right to help determine the amoral aristocracy who will rule over them by casting a vote, it will be impossible for the people to give the right to vote up to a select few. The sense of power it gives them, the sense of importance the political oligarchy gives to them during the campaign, is seductive. To institute a merit-based suffrage, you need to start your own country.

Which got me to thinking: How do you start your own country? How did the Singaporeans do it? I suppose a defined territory would be the first order of business. You won't need much. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta's territory is limited to a couple of buildings in Rome, yet it has a flag, a constitution, a national anthem, issues its own passports, and has a permanent observer status in the United Nations. SM Mall of Asia has a larger territory than the SMOM. In fact, SM could be its own country.

Let's say for example that Henry Sy decided to declare all SM malls sovereign territory, what else does he need to do? I guess he needs a permanent population. That's easy. He could grant citizenship to all SM board members and regular employees. He would need a government, too. Again no sweat. Every corporate structure has a built-in government. He needs to be able to enter into diplomatic relations with other sovereign states. Being a mega-billion peso business, Im sure Mr. Sy and his lieutenants already do this in a business capacity. That's just one step away from cultural exchange and other diplomatic relations. They already have a flag, a national anthem, and a state motto (We got it all.) I guess theyre on their way to sovereignty if they could get the government of the Philippines to recognize them, and with the government we now have, everything is negotiable.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A thought experiment on universal suffrage

In Manuel L. Quezon III's blog entry Philippine Political Culture, he quotes President Jose P. Laurel:

The whole history of government shows that public affairs would be better administered and the welfare of the people better subserved in the hands of a moral and intellectual aristocracy. The people cannot be governors and governed at the same time… On the other hand, a good and efficient government, a benevolent government, may exist and continue indefinitely to function with admirable harmony, when men of superior moral and intellectual endowments are in control of the state.

Let's take JP Laurel's moral and intellectual aristocracy for a spin, shall we? If this is the ideal, i think it would be easier and more efficient in this case to do away with universal suffrage and instead have the citizens go through a proving process for moral and intellectual 'proficiency' before they are allowed to vote. People will dismiss this as arbitrary but then again so is arbitrarily setting the voting age to 18 and above. Why not 17? Or 25? Or 40, the same minimum age for one to be president? Laurel's benevolent government may not continue indefinitely however, so as to prevent MLQ3's concern:

The problem of course, is that who will ensure that the aristocracy will be of the mind and not a replacement oligarchy as greedy and stupid as what came before?

The answer is: The voters will through regular elections. The qualified voters, that is. Voters of proven moral and intellectual capacity. How will we determine who is qualified? I'll get back to that in a bit.

In our society, universal suffrage is sacrosanct. Tampering with it is heretical. But if you think about it, universal suffrage could easily morph into the tyranny of the amoral majority. In a society where the grip on sound moral foundations is becoming increasingly tenuous as ours is, moral leadership would be at the bottom of the criteria for choosing leaders. The main criteria would be: What could he or she do for me? The subtext being, and the others be damned. In a society like ours therefore, to eliminate the tyranny of the amoral majority, you allow only the moral and intellectual minority the right to vote. This does not in any way impinge upon the inalienable rights of the citizens to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To those of us (that is, to me) who see these rights as sacrosanct, the manner with which we choose our leaders isnt that important as long as the government we choose to govern us would not impinge on our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As long as the government does not tamper with these rights, and as long as the government is there to secure these rights, then it has my consent to govern over me even if I werent deemed qualified to cast a vote. The moment it impinges on these rights, it loses my consent to govern over me. Suffrage is not one of the inalienable rights mentioned by the founding fathers of the American Revolution. For them, a government only has to govern with the consent of the people.

So where did universal suffrage come from? I could be wrong (in fact I probably am) but I suppose it started with Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address where he began his speech with "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" and ended his speech with , "...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

First, 'all men are created equal.' The context within which this should be read is that all men are created equal in the sense that all men have the same inalienable rights, and not in the sense that all men are equal equal, for clearly all men are not equal. Some have more ability than others. The only thing that prevents a stronger and smarter man from taking advantage of a weaker man is his moral code and his recognition that his fellow man, even though he is weaker, also has rights to life, liberty, and so forth.

Next, 'government of the people, by the people, for the people.' The founding fathers wanted a government for the people, and of the people. By the people? This is construed as universal suffrage, something that the founding fathers never mentioned in their declaration. In fact, universal suffrage is a fairly recent phenomenon. Granted, suffrage was granted in the early days using highly questionable criteria such as land ownership, gender, or color of the skin. These are highly unjust criteria that are against any moral government which is the sort of government we want. The suffrage this thought experiment seeks is granted only to citizens of proven moral and intellectual standing, and does not give weight to a citizen's wealth, gender, religion, ethnicity. I dont know if Honest Abe had universal suffrage in mind when he said 'by the people'. Maybe he didnt.

How do we go about selecting the qualified voters? First, we have to raise the voting age to 35. Not too old to be cynical, and still young enough to be in touch with his or her youthful idealism. I see a written exam. I see the exam administered and written by the nation's intellectuals and would have emphasis on critical thinking, some grasp of economics probably, and history certainly. These tests can be administered to whomever wishes who is at least 21 years of age and is a citizen of the republic. That would give the administrators more than 10 years to evaluate the test results (since there arent going to be any right and wrong answers, the emphasis being on how well the examinees presented their case.) That takes care of the intellectual part. The moral part is tougher. Written recommendations from civic groups, religious leaders, and the like would be involved most probably and thoroughly investigated in a transparent process. Those who satisfy the moral and intellectual criteria will be allowed to vote as soon as they are 35 years of age and have not been convicted of any crime. Now faced with voters like that, I bet we'll see a marked improvement in the quality of the candidates seeking public office. There will be none of the accusations leveled at artistas and the like for voters like that will look at a candidate's ability no matter what the candidate's profession is, be it soap opera superstar or university professor.

Universal suffrage, the tyranny of the majority, was most likely instituted through the efforts of what would be termed 'liberals' today. It has the faintest hints of socialism in it. Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers of the American creed probably didnt have it in mind when they began their great experiment.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Love, thy name is Misery

In keeping with the Love theme...

I was at lunch with the officemates yesterday and it being Valentine's Day, the conversation turned to the dreaded L word. How important is it in a lasting relationship? And what the hell is it? Im of the opinion that love is not that important. It was probably what brought you together, but it won't sustain the relationship. Things like respect, commitment, responsibility are more important than love, which could be just a fleeting chemical reaction. There was general disagreement of course, because of the almost mystical definition of what love is, and the romantic notions the officemates have about it. Some were of the opinion that respect, commitment, and responsibility fall under its banner, to which I objected because one could have respect, commitment, and responsibility even without it and are therefore independent of it. Arranged marriages, for example, could be lasting even if there isnt any love in it. The sense of duty--to family, to society, to traditions--counts as a major force in keeping the relationship going, and who knows? Something like love could actually spring forth from it. And even if it doesnt, it would still work. And the persons involved might even be happy with the arrangement, especially if they believe that love isnt a requirement. Contrast that to all your relationships before where love was involved. If it were the most important, then why didnt it last? Clearly, for a lasting relationship, you need more than love, if you need love at all. Perhaps all it needs to be is mutually beneficial.

But even if we had difficulty agreeing on a definition of love, everyone seemed to agree that one of its characteristics, if we are to consider it 'true,' is selflessness. Giving without expecting anything in return. I agreed to this as well, and put forth this proposition: We can be sure, absolutely sure, that a love we feel for another person is true if it makes us miserable. If love is all giving, without expecting anything in return, without getting anything--anything--in return, then love makes us miserable. For humans, selfish creature that they are, can only be happy by getting, whether it is a smile, a sense of satisfaction, a kind word, or a ton of cash. Those who say that they are happy with giving are still getting something from the act of giving. It makes them feel good. When giving to an object of our love, we are happiest if the loved one gives something back. It is not loving that makes us happy, it's being loved in return that does. If we are being loved in return, if it makes us happy, if we are getting something from the relationship, we can not be sure if the love we're giving to the other person is genuine, because we can never be sure if the love we're giving is a truly selfless act, and therefore true love. We can only be sure about the truth of our love if we arent getting anything in return, but we still give, and this makes us miserable. Consider: if your love is true and you dont ask anything in return--not faithfulness, not respect, not courtesy, nothing--would you be happy if your girlfriend boinks other guys? If you would, you need to have your head examined.

But, but, but... love is supposed to make you happy, doesnt it? Love gives you wings, makes you soar, and all those Hallmark-y things it's supposed to do to you. Eee-eeeengk. Again, it is not loving someone that does that to you, it is being loved by someone that does it, which is really a selfish thing. And that's what we humans are: we're selfish. That's why selfless acts are so anomalous, so remarkable, so noble. Loving makes us superhuman. But it doesnt make us happy.

And it doesnt help keep us together, despite what the song says. Love being a selfless act is inimical to making a relationship last, a relationship being based on mutual benefit, and is therefore not selfless, and incompatible with love. My advice therefore to the officemates: seek a mutually beneficial relationship if you want it to last and treat love as if it were a minor distraction that youll eventually outgrow as the relationship matures.

Was I being facetious? Im not telling.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A sleuth of bears

I wonder when the association of teddy bears to Valentine's started. Bears are hardly symbols of love, but one sees at this time of year various forms of heart-adorned ursine facsimiles marketed as gifts to that special someone. Bears are vicious, dangerous killers, and are solitary animals with a very brief courtship period--hardly a symbol of companionship and cohabitation. The male boinks the female, then leaves her to raise the cubs alone. I wonder at the endurance of a relationship that has the bear as a symbol, no matter how cute and cuddly it is.

But perhaps the symbolism has nothing to do with bears as paragons of a long-lasting relationship. It is instead a symbol of a transformation that someone's love has brought forth in the giver of the said bear. The man is saying: I am a ravenous, lethal, blood-thirsty killer, but you have transformed me into a cuddly, cute, hug-able ball of fur. This of course turns the inamorata, heart aflutter, into a compliant, quivering mass of jello, but at the same time, as she rejoices in her victory, her conquest seemingly complete, she ignores the warning concomitant with the confession of subservience, and is the cause of much heartache. The warning is this: I am still a bear.

Friday, February 09, 2007

We're aliens

The International Panel on Climate Change, a group of more than 2000 researchers from 130 countries came out with their report recently stating that climate change--global warming--is likely man-made. This drew a reaction from scientists who disagree that human activities cause global warming. Truth be told, I too am of the opinion that climate is such a complex thing that it is impossible to eliminate all possible causes of global warming in a study of climate data, and it's not enough to conclude that human activity is the culprit. After all, the earth has been in cycles of warming and cooling even before someone invented the SUV. The sun also has its own cycles that could be affecting our climate: Mars is experiencing glacial shrinking and as far as I can tell, there are no humans on Mars. But what I dont get is the seeming shrugging of it all by the skeptics of the IPCC report. I have this vibe from them that, hey, it's not our fault. It's a natural occurrence so let's just relax. But if you think about it, the fact that global warming isnt our fault, that it's a naturally occurring cycle that has nothing to do with our activities is even scarier. It means we can't do anything about it. The world could warm up like a siopao in the microwave, melting glaciers, raising sea levels, producing super typhoons and we can do absolutely nothing. It's Nature, man. Nature always wins. The findings of those scientists who say human activity is to blame for climate change is at least offering us some cold--pardon the pun--comfort that there is still something we can do to remedy things if we act quickly.

But it's all one big mess. It's political mess and not necessarily scientific. The "It's all our fault" school of global warming is accusing the deniers, the "We didnt do it" school, of being in the payroll of the oil companies, while the deniers are pointing to an international cabal of left-wing Europeans that's behind the "It's all our fault" school. Their target is the USA, whom they accuse of emitting the most greenhouse gases and want the US to institute safeguards that will slow down its economy (so they can compete?). And with eco-warriors such as Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore and James Lovelock going to bat for nuclear energy, it could open the door for attacks from the deniers of human-induced climate change by accusing the other side of being in the payroll of the nuclear power corporations.

If the IPCC report is correct, and it's all our fault, it could only bolster a theory I have that we dont belong here. Without us, Nature would go its merry way, adjusting itself, intricately balancing its processes in a forever dance with the rest of the Universe to protect the life in it: if it gets too cold, the earth will emit greenhouse gases to warm things up; if it gets too warm, it'll cool things down by producing more reflecting clouds. All was well, the earth taking care of things more or less for eons, such that even if it gets hit every once in a while by cataclysmic forces such as comet impact and what-not, life survives. All was well, that is, until we showed up. And once we did, we left a wide swath of death and destruction in our wake. We use up material that will take the earth millions of years to replace, throwing our trash in the land, sea, and air in the process, and we dont care. Natural selection more-or-less worked and is the rule for every other living creature but we defied even that. We are not subject to the laws of evolution where only the best get to procreate and leave a next generation that's better than the previous one. And we have messed up natural selection for the rest of the living things too. We choose the individuals and species that get to reproduce, even to the extent of genetically modifying some of them, arrogating unto ourselves what was once Nature's function, creating horrible imbalances in the process. I mean, wouldnt you call it an imbalance when a large part of the methane we throw into the atmosphere comes from cow fart? Domestic cattle being one of the species that we humans created from Nature's original stock, blessed and anointed as worthy of being allowed to live?

But like I said, Nature always wins. It takes its time, perhaps allowing us more time to reconsider our ways and play by its rules for the good of all, but eventually it will act. It already has its defenses in place: viruses ready to mutate into people killers as soon as Nature gives word, killer storms fueled by warmer, moister air, and the earth's own shrugs. When nature scratches this itch that is the human race, there's no getting out of the way.

What the hell are we? Agent Smith in The Matrix called us a virus. Perhaps we are. We clearly dont belong here, or if we do belong here, we are an arrogant specie that will not play by Nature's laws like the rest of the creatures on this planet do. But where did we get this arrogance? There is an interesting myth in Genesis (and I mean myth as it originally meant--a story that expresses a truth so profound and inexpressible that it can only be told via poetry or allegory) where God told Adam and Eve not to partake of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but they did so anyway and became, like the serpent told them, like gods. And gods, being gods, dont think the laws apply to them. That's us. We have become as arrogant gods who need to be taught a lesson in humility. In Genesis, God banished Adam and Eve from the garden where they originally belonged. They didnt originally belong here. They were--we are-- aliens.