Tag: harris

Democracy: Perpetually at Odds with Unmolested Capitalism

Tu Lee | United States

America was birthed not just as a reaction to expensive tea, but as part of a more bedrock fight to preserve unfettered capitalism. As such, it should be expected that any notion to undermine this with socialist ideals would deeply offend even the most flimsily rooted patriots. As to not offend these types, welfare was initially pitched as “the opportunity to live in decency and dignity” by LBJ or even adherent to a more adequate “second Bill of Rights” by FDR. As a stale Democratic Party struggles to maintain their hold on an American public which increasingly views Revolutionary era capitalism as a decorative fantasy we are merely obligated to include in high school history textbooks, these niceties have been quickly abandoned. Just recently Democratic Senator Kamala Harris introduced $6,000 lump-sum checks to the poor and Democratic Senator Cory Booker flashed plumper $50,000 cash prizes to those who elect to prop up him and his regime. Our political discourse has reached a tipping point; politicians have ditched the previous sensitivity to blatantly bribe the remaining non-voting poor on the taxpayer’s dime. The politicians offer these bribes out in the open with their backs turned to those still expecting better acting on the American Playhouse stage. Disappointed as we may be as spectators, this new jump from our politicians erodes away a crucial truth about the relationship between Democracy and Capitalism.

Seemingly out of a Bernie Sanders daydream, the Pareto principle describes a widely present phenomenon where a small section of a population controls a vast majority of a resource. More commonly this is called the 80/20 rule, and it can apply to anything from wealth to consumption of healthcare resources. Essentially, most people are more or less mediocre producers, and those who happen to be good producers are exponentially amazing producers (think the Bill Gates or Trumps of the world). Interestingly, this general distribution occurs in wealth-generating economies regardless of historical or geographical context. If Democracy is equally representative, the Pareto principle tells us it will advocate for the worst 80% of contributors to the economy in disregard to the exceptionally great top 20% of contributors. While the advocation for the lazy majority could be peaceful, it’s often too effective for politicians to resist energizing the lower class against the upper class to maximize voter turnout. Jealously is stirred up and the democratic mass easily swallows the narrative of a rigged playing field or even the scapegoating of unrelated everyday problems. So long as historically inevitable Pareto distributions continue to exist in society, then Democracy, if truly representative of the masses, will fundamentally serve to throttle the economy’s greatest producers and therefore the fuel of the economy itself.

Why should the genius working day and night for the bettering of the society, his only roadblocks the laws vomited out of his country’s legislative belly have no recourse against the bum and his mindless kin? What is usually pitched as a loophole in our Democracy is actually one of it’s greatest unintended features. It makes sense that someone intelligent enough to sit on the peak of a Pareto distribution would be smart enough to tweak the governmental game when unfairly pressed. Whether it be through Super PACs, lobbying, or revolving doors, the nudging is not boundless and must happen within a degree reasonable enough to stay under the public radar. The natural tendency of those at the top to weasel into power over politics is a healthy restraint of Democracy, even if this assertion occurs in largely unsavory ways. Regardless of this, in Democracy’s immutable quest to serve the unconstrained will of the masses there will always be inherent toxicity, economic asphyxiation, and demonization of those who serve the country most by the very same masses who are simultaneously surrendering their own wealth voluntarily to those demonized.

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Sam Harris and Scientific Morality Show the Height of Hubris

By Kaihua Zhou | United States

Merriam-Webster defines hubris as “exaggerated pride or self-confidence”. It is the most characteristic crime of intellectuals. In so many cases, they identify an existing issue and propose a baseless solution. Such is the case of Sam Harris, who is a philosopher and neuroscientist. Harris draws attention to a serious issue: religious extremism. However, his solution of atheism and scientific morality clearly shows his hubris, as his reasoning is deeply flawed.

Harris: Hubris and Worldview

Perilous pessimism flavors Harris’s worldview. According to him, the root cause of religious extremism is religion itself:

If you really believe that calling God by the right name can spell the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering, then it becomes quite reasonable to treat heretics and unbelievers rather badly. The stakes of our religious differences are immeasurably higher than those born of mere tribalism, racism, or politics. -Sam Harris

Note that Harris identifies religion solely as a cause of religious extremism. Economics, government structure, and education do not figure into the equation. Such is Harris’ hubris. If religion is inherently dangerous, we would expect religiously diverse communities to be unstable.

Stability and Religion

However, Singapore, the world’s most religiously diverse nation, is quite the opposite. 34% of its inhabitants are Buddhist, 18% are Muslim, and 14% are Christian. Of course, each religion argues that its truths are universal; their faithful followers believe in eternal consequences.

Despite these distinct religious communities, Singapore enjoys a considerable amount of what Harris calls “human flourishing.” Singapore is economically prosperous: its unemployment rate is about 2.2% and its GDP is 527 billion dollars. Surely, religious life is not the only cause of prosperity, or even necessarily one of them. Nevertheless, it presents a powerful counterexample to the claim that religion alone results in intolerance and instability.

Science and Morality

This flawed explanation of religious extremism is evidence of hubris. Though Harris claims to support scientific approaches to essential questions, he ignores clearly proven evidence that goes against his claim.

In fact, his scientific look at morality appears to be further evidence of his own hubris. Harris views moral questions primary in terms of consciousness:

Without a doubt, it is important to know the facts when looking at moral questions. We understand human flourishing in terms of economics (standards of living, the poverty line) and psychology (mental health). These facts can help alleviate suffering. For example, a proper medical diagnosis of PTSD or depression helps someone cope with their illness.

For Morality, Fact is Not Everything

Still, facts do not provide a compelling reason to be concerned with human suffering. Consider two individuals. One is a lifelong religious leader who has taken an active political role. Another is a former mathematics professor.  Which of these individuals is more likely to have a concentrated understanding of facts? If Harris is correct, the professor will be in a better position to answer moral questions, due to his understanding of fact. They will be more attached to reality and more tolerant, by his own logic.

However, the first man in the scenario is the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. The second, on the other hand, is the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. Where did Harris’ hypothesis fall short? A former mathematics professor is more likely to be unbound by arbitrary dogma. Despite this, Kaczynski was unconcerned whether or not his victims were flourishing.  He perfectly understood that his actions would result in human suffering.

This is not to suggest that Gyatso’s religious beliefs alone have given him greater moral expertise than Kaczynski. This would ignore the sophistication of human motivation. It does, however, refute Harris’ claim that facts can primarily answer moral questions, as Gyatso is not a murderer. It appears that knowledge does not necessarily allow someone to properly answer moral questions. There must, thus, be another way to determine this. Making such rigid criteria allows for vast errors. Not every man wise in fact can answer questions of opinion.

How To Address Religious Extremism

What can we do to address religious extremism? Rule of law, separation of church and state, and freedom of speech provide a beginning.  The United States and much of the West benefit from these institutions. Thankfully, they are largely free of religious violence. This accomplishment did not require societies to wholly abandon their religious traditions and adopt an empirical moral philosophy.

Yet, this is precisely the solution Harris uncompromisingly prescribes. Such is the height of his hubris, seeing science alone as a savior of humanity. Science cannot hope to resolve issues of morality without cooperating or begrudgingly tolerating religion. To say otherwise is to be blinded by pride.

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