Monday, December 26, 2016

President Trump Confined to White House, Refuses to take Revolving Door

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C.—After much legal wrangling, President-elect Donald Trump and his children, Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr. divested themselves of their holdings in Trump's dozens of companies so that they could carry out their duties as president and as top advisors without the taint of blatant conflicts of interest. But after their term in office, they found it impossible to physically leave the White House, because they refused to use any of the hundreds of revolving doors back to the private sector, these being the only doors leading out of the building.

After the formation of the military-industrial complex in the aftermath of WWII, the White House was outfitted with a plethora of revolving doors, with at least one in every room in the complex. Each of those doors returns the public official to a lucrative position in a think tank, lobby firm, or bank where the former politician can legally sell his or her political connections for private gain. Once the political favours are cashed in, the private citizen returns to the public sector via one of the many revolving doors, to procure a new round of connections.

Political analysts have speculated that because Trump and his family lacked political experience prior to Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, they were unaware that selling their holdings in their corporation was futile as a means of avoiding conflicts of interest, unless they planned to remain in the White House indefinitely.

“There’s no other way out,” complained Donald Trump, weeks after his term as president ended. “That’s what they don’t tell you. To leave you have to take one of the revolving doors or you’re stuck here forever.”

Donald Trump has been stuck in a White House broom closet for two months and three days. To his immediate left is a revolving door to the Fox News Corporation, which has offered him a leadership role in its television business, but Trump has refused to leave in that fashion for fear of having a conflict of interest.

“Did I act as president, knowing I’d have all these business opportunities afterward to enrich myself beyond my wildest dreams?” asked Trump, rhetorically. “Did I give Fox News special access while I was president, under the unstated assumption that they’d return the favour after I left office? Isn’t that the way to skirt the law and make a sham of our democratic republic? Well, not Trump! I’m the most ethical person who ever lived. So I’m staying in the White House until they figure out a way to install a door here that doesn’t revolve round and round between the government and a quid pro quo in some private enterprise.”

The head of the American Institute of Architects has weighed in on the matter, saying “There’s just no way to install such a door. If you tried to put a nonrevolving door in the White House, the thing would collapse under the White House’s gravitational pull. There’s just way too much power there for any such door to withstand the pressure to revolve round and round like a perpetual motion machine.”

Ivanka Trump attempted to limbo her way beneath a half-closed window, but injured her back in the process and has been confined to a White House medical facility for weeks after her term as advisor to President Trump ended.

The incoming president has expressed annoyance that Donald Trump and his family of advisors have refused to leave. “It’s time for them to go,” said the newly-elected president. “I’ve got work to do rebuilding the country after the apocalypse Trump dumped on us. They should take the cushy jobs they’re being offered as unofficial rewards for their ‘service’ in this Kafkaesque, Huxleyan nightmare we call a nation, and go.”

Sunday, December 25, 2016

American Hypocrisy Fuels Interdimensional Starship

Dateline: WATERLOO, ON—A team of scientists and engineers at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario has invented a technique for converting American leaders’ hypocrisy into fuel to power an interdimensional starship.

Thorsten Dillydally, leader of the team of researchers, was led to his hypothesis after sitting through press coverage of the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails, which tilted the election towards a Trump victory of the presidency in 2016.

“I noticed something strange about the coverage,” said Professor Dillydally. “The hypocrisy was off the charts. I mean literally, I pointed my chutzpah meter at the television and the meter blew up in my face. It dawned on me that effrontery of that magnitude is scarily powerful. The trick was to harness it for some greater good.”

The professor theorized that “ordinary hypocrisy occurs when someone pretends, say, to have never smoked even though they’ve actually smoked maybe a few times in their life. But what if someone has the gall to declare she’s never, ever smoked even though she’s smoked literally a trillion times, has cloned herself and forced the clones to smoke at all hours of the day, has in fact twelve cigarettes dangling from her mouth at the very moment she says she’s never smoked, and on top of all that she's the very inventor of the modern cigarette and owner of all cigarette companies?

“When the ratio between what’s said and what’s factually so is 1:1,000,000,000,000, the energy levels are potent indeed, meaning they’re cosmically significant. That is, when you say you’ve never done something, but you’ve actually done it at least a trillion times, there must be some untold form of energy that could support such an awesome display. Or so we hypothesized.”

In the case of Russian meddling in the American election, the professor set about reading something he called “books,” to confirm his suspicion that important information was being left out of the corporate media reports of the event.

“It turns out,” said the professor, “that while both Democratic and Republican politicians as well as the pundits and Washington press corps were busy playing the victims of Putin’s assault on their democracy, the United States is the world champion in subverting elections. For decades, the CIA and American Special Forces have spread disinformation and orchestrated coups or assassinations in almost every country on Earth. From the stage-managing of foreign elections in client states, the bribery of foreign leaders, or the orchestrating of coups in the Philippines, Italy, Lebanon, Indonesia, Vietnam, Guyana, Japan, Nepal, Laos, Brazil, Guatemala, Bolivia, Chile, Portugal, Jamaica, Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti, Bulgaria, Albania, Russia, Mongolia, Bosnia, Iran, the Congo, Ecuador, Greece, and most other parts of the world; to Washington law firms’ support for dictators in oppressing their people and marginalizing their opponents; to using the NSA to spy on the EU, UN, World Bank, and IMF; to vitiating America's own elections by gerrymandering, voter suppression, and demagoguery, no country’s meager resume of covert activities comes close to the digest of America’s accomplishments on the subject of subverting democracies.”

Indeed, researchers at the Perimeter Institute learned that the American government wasn’t content with picking winners and losers just in our present timeline, but funded a project for building a time machine so that CIA operatives could travel to the distant past and to alternative realities to spy on foreign human and alien leaders and to meddle with their countries’ elections.

Confirming that the Chutzpah Ratio of one-to-a-trillion held in the case of the American political class’s response to the Russian hacking, Professor Dillydally still lacked a technique for harnessing the awesome energies he assumed could only have been responsible for such lopsided hypocrisy. While watching the news coverage, the professor “noticed that the American officials who feigned to be aghast that any country would stoop to such an unholy feat of diabolism, to tamper with another country’s election, invariably cried as they did so.”

Posing as janitors, the researchers collected samples of those tears at press conferences, analyzed them under an electron microscope and made their breakthrough discovery: swimming and thrashing amongst the water, lipid, and other molecules were tens of billions of miniature crocodiles.

“These ‘crocodile tears,’ as we’ve come to call them were the key,” said the professor. “They’re like the singularity in a black hole, great masses compressed to a tiny size, thus containing enormous potential energy which we tapped to create our interdimensional fuel.”

The team’s starship is set to launch to realms unknown on April Fools’ Day, 2020. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Irrelevance of Scientific Determinism

Freewill is a conundrum. We feel free, as though we can control ourselves and decide what to do rather than being forced along a certain path like a leaf blowing in the wind. But we can’t understand how we could be free, because understanding involves positing causes on top of causes and analyzing one thing in terms of something else. A fallen leaf moves along a certain path, because the leaf is blown by the wind. And why does the wind blow? That’s because of differences in atmospheric pressure. But why does wind blow this way rather than that? Well, that’s because the wind encounters objects in its path, including the curled-up shape of the leaf, which create pockets of turbulence and eddies. And why is the fallen leaf curled up so that it spins as it blows? That, in turn is because the leaf is dead, and so water and minerals no longer flow through its veins, preserving its former structure. And so on and so on until the process of understanding one event encompasses the history of life on Earth and the causes of our planet’s formation in the story of the whole universe. The one event of the leaf’s swirling in the breeze pales next to the immensity of what you have to know to understand why that event happened as it did.

Indeed, biologists and neuroscientists already have sufficient knowledge of how the body works, to render nonsensical our feeling that we have freewill. Yuval Harari summarizes some of the relevant findings in Homo Deus. Brain processes, he points out, are either deterministic or random. A neuron will fire either in response to stimuli or spontaneously due to the intrinsic uncertainty of the chemical factors involved such as the timing of the release of neurotransmitters. Virtually never-ending causal chains and randomness don’t leave room for personal autonomy. Moreover, although an action may be uncoerced, we don’t choose our desires. What we want is caused either by our genetic programming, by the formative environment in which we learned how to behave as children, or by the accumulation of our experiences. Desires have unconscious causes, as is shown by the fact that scientists observing brain activity can predict what a subject will do before the subject is consciously aware of her decision.

Also, with respect to what scientists can empirically confirm, there is no such thing as the single, essential self, let alone an immaterial spirit; instead, the brain is divided into regions that have different, sometimes conflicting functions. As Harari puts it, there’s the experiencing self, the part of the brain that processes moment-by-moment stimuli, and then there’s the narrating self, the part that gives meaning to experience by telling us what to think or feel and by ignoring most of the information processed by the experiencing self. We identify with our inner monologue because it adds meaning to our life. “It doesn’t matter that the plot is full of lies and lacunas,” writes Harari, “and that it is rewritten again and again, so that today’s story flatly contradicts yesterday’s; the important thing is that we always retain the feeling that we have a single unchanging identity from birth to death” (299). Finally, says Harari, we cling to the fiction of a soul, of a single self that bears ultimate responsibility for our actions, because we can’t bear the alternative that everything we do is in vain. “Paradoxically, the more sacrifices we make for an imaginary story, the stronger the story becomes, because we desperately want to give meaning to these sacrifices and to the suffering we have caused” (300).  

Instead of challenging the scientific deconstruction of the self, I want to consider two meta-questions. First, is the notion of a scientific theory of freewill even coherent or is instead personal freedom naturally impossible from a scientific point of view? Second, what would a free creature look like in nature, speaking hypothetically? How would this creature’s internal components have to be arranged to liberate it from the rest of the world so that we could reasonably think of it as being both free and real? 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Clash of Worldviews: The Meaning of Trumpism

MODERATOR: Good evening and welcome back to Clash of Worldviews, the show in which we try to get to the bottom of big issues. You may have heard that President-Elect Donald Trump is a charlatan and an ogre, and that Hillary Clinton is crooked and phony. But Trump’s election has cast doubt on so much of our conventional wisdom that we’re still wondering—as though lost in a wasteland—just what the true meaning of Trump’s election might be. To help answer that question, we’ve asked Adam Garnett, famed liberal humanist and Hillary Clinton supporter, and Fred Gulpa, a Donald Trump supporter and self-described member of the alt-right to be with us to discuss the matter. Gentlemen, who would like to begin? What is Trumpism all about? 

ADAM: In a word, Trump is about himself, while his supporters are about having a laugh at the country’s expense. They’re not downtrodden, these older white working class folks; they’re just venting because they’ve fared badly under globalization, they know the days of exclusive white power or imperialism are over, and they mean to take the country down with them. If they can’t rule any longer like they used to in the first half of the last century, they’re going to pollute the discourse with their vulgarity and send a bull into the china shop.

FRED: So “they’re not downtrodden,” but they’ve also “fared badly under globalization”? Which is it, I wonder? You see how the elites can’t even think straight? No wonder they were ripe for being humiliated by Trump and by the rise of the alt-right!

ADAM: I meant that these Trumpists have benefited from governmental support. They’re part of the middle class, but they’d like to blow up the social system, thus committing collective suicide by voting against their economic interest. Trump, in other words, isn’t an expression of revolt against the powers that be. Instead, he’s a rogue power, an agent of anarchy.

FRED: Keep telling yourself that, Adam! Keep patting yourself on the back. You’re one of the good guys, right? Not some useful idiot to plutocrats.

ADAM: And who are you, Freddy? What vile hate speech will you treat us to this evening? I can hardly wait to plug my ears.

FRED: Yeah, because you’re a feminized liberal who can’t stomach the naked truth. You think Trump’s supporters are all morons and only liberals have reason on their side. That’s where you’re wrong. Many of Trump’s voters aren’t highly educated, but that doesn’t make them stupid. Just look at what foolishness was wrought by Clinton’s neoliberal class of professionals: they’re the Ivy Leaguers but they got it all wrong. Their polls, their history lessons, their self-serving analyses were so many paper tigers squashed by the juggernaut Trump. You think Hillary Clinton deserved to win, because she was the more rational and responsible candidate. That’s what that euphemism was about: Trump supposedly lacked “the demeanor to be president.” But you know what Hillary Clinton lacked? An honest bone in her body. She couldn’t speak the unpopular truth to the public and she lost because hardly anyone trusted that she would change the United States for the better.

ADAM: And what will Trump do? Wave his magic wand and make American great again? Is that supposed to be some profound truth he told?

FRED: Trump doesn’t speak in fancy academic double-talk. I’ll grant you that. His language is seldom precise, but the essence of his diagnosis was highly negative and thus accurate. Trump’s view of America’s standing in the world is apocalyptic, as even the Democrats pointed out. Maybe Trump exaggerates for rhetorical effect, but his main point is that the United States isn’t doing well on the whole. That’s the truth that Hillary Clinton couldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, because she had to own Obama’s legacy. The public no longer respects the system, they were disappointed by Obama who ran falsely as a change candidate, and they wanted a leader from outside the corrupt establishment who would at least have a fighting chance of effecting radical change.

ADAM: Who is supposed to benefit from Trump’s administration? Surely you don’t mean the older blue collar whites who have been misled by Republicans for decades. Surely you’re aware that the Republicans have used social wedge issues to stir up animosities and compel these folks to vote against their economic interest. Surely you understand that trickle-down economics just further enriches the top one percent while everyone else falls further behind, that a smaller government with fewer taxes gets out of the way only of giant corporations which are already as powerful as some entire countries, but that the little guy may need government support if he’s going to survive globalization.

FRED: But he’s not going to survive globalization. Again, that’s the sort of dark truth you don’t want to hear. The system that maintains the economic status quo is rigged against him. That’s the system that Obama and Hillary defend as the technocratic managers they are. That’s the system we want Trump to destroy.