You Have a Choice

You have a choice.

You can be shot.

You can be drowned.

You can be burned alive.

Or you can walk away safely.

Hmm… how do we decide?

On the news, we hear all about the choice to be drowned or burned alive. It really, really seems like being burned alive would be a much worse death than being drowned. It’s not much of a contest between the two, really.

All over the internet, too. In the news. Everywhere. We see quite a lot of evidence that death by being burned alive would be much worse than death by drowning. Really, no contest.

Being drowned versus being burned alive. Repeatedly, we’re told these are our only two options, and we somehow seem to believe it.

But it’s not true. We could choose the widely ignored option, the one no one wants to tell you about. We could choose to walk away safely.

“But!” so many people scream, “A vote to walk away safely is a vote to be burned alive!

Oh. It is, is it?

“Being burned alive would be the worst! You have to vote for drowning!”

Do I? Do I really? How is that a win? Could anyone explain that to me?

“It’s the lesser of two evils. You have to vote for the second worst evil, always.

I can’t, uh… vote for the third or fourth worst evil? How about the least evil? I can’t do that? I’m not allowed? I don’t have permission to vote for anything but the second-worst evil?

Nope. Guess not. Satan’s left-hand man or nothing, I guess.

Is it not obvious that the two-party system is designed like a pair of sheepdogs forcing us in exactly the direction they want us to go? The presidential candidate was hand-selected for us. The vote is effectively just a minor formality so far as the two-party system is concerned.

Having two options is the closest thing to having none. And if those options are carefully selected, if one is obviously much better than the other, or simply appears so, then we do effectively have no choice.

But we don’t have only two options. We have more than two, in fact. We have, in fact, thirty different candidates running for president. Thirty!

Thirty. And you’re ignoring the existence of twenty-eight of them in order to vote for the second worst of them all. Why? How does this help you in any way?

Yes, being burned alive would be much worse than being drowned, but neither option is a win for you.

Turning and running; walking away slowly; saying, “Please don’t kill me,”; curling up in a ball and crying; turning around and skipping gleefully; punching the person who presents these options to you in the face… these are all ignored in favor of drowning. I don’t think that’s very bright.

I’m going to take this from another angle now.

We often hear it said that a vote for the Green Party candidate is a vote for the Republican candidate. We also hear that a vote for the Libertarian candidate is a vote for the Democrat. My brother is voting for Chris Keniston. So here’s my question: Who is he voting for?

Think about this. My brother is voting for Chris Keniston. Who is he voting for?

The answer is obvious. He is voting for Chris Keniston. I just told you that. It was given. It is not true that he will vote for the Republican candidate, or the Democratic candidate. It’s also not true that he will vote for the Green Party candidate or the Libertarian Party candidate. He is, in fact, voting for Chris Keniston.

But how? How is this possible? I can hear your confusion. This runs completely contrary to everything you’ve been told all of your life. You have been told, “You may vote for A or B and only A or B. If you cast a vote for C or D or E, F, G, H, I, J, or K, your vote will be changed over into a vote for either A or B, arbitrarily.”

Okay, sounds good, right? I mean, you haven’t bothered to question this. You haven’t bothered to ask yourself whether this makes sense, whether it’s even true, or whether you should just go along with it as though it’s a good way to for this whole mess to operate.

I’m voting for Jill Stein. I’m very sure of this.

Am I voting for Donald Trump? No.

Am I voting for Hillary Clinton?

No.

Am I voting for Chris Keniston?

No. No, I am not voting for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, or Chris Kensiton. I am also not voting for Darrell Castle or Zoltan Istvan or any of the others.

I am voting for Jill Stein.

Why am I not actually voting for Donald Trump?

The simple answer: I am voting for Jill Stein.

Why do people say that a vote for Stein is a vote for Trump? This is the real question. They say this because they mistakenly believe they have only two options. They mistakenly believe that there are only two candidates running for president. They mistakenly believe that I believe that there are only two candidates running for president.

This is their reasoning: Imagine that everyone votes only for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, like good little boys and girls, and Hillary, for example, receives 54% of the vote. Donald Trump, then, receives 46% of the vote, right? Right?

Yes. That’s right.

Now, the same scenario, but with a third party added. The third party receives 10% of the vote. A third party vote is a vote for Trump, right? Or is a third party vote a vote for Clinton? I hear it both ways, and consistently so. But I get it. It’s assumed that the Green Party steals votes exclusively from the Democrats and the Libertarian Party steals votes exclusively from the Republicans. This isn’t true, but let’s go with it anyway. Let’s say the third party is the Green Party. Hillary then receives 44% of the vote, Trump receives 46% of the vote and, of course, Stein gets her 10%.

This is the fear. I get it. I get it, I really do. I see this scenario playing out in your heads. I hear you talking about it. I understand. But your fears are not grounded in reason.

Why?

First, let’s go back to the game of numbers before we get to the heart of the matter. In this nightmare scenario we still include only three candidates. But this isn’t representative of reality at all because Gary Johnson is also a candidate. And we have no idea whether someone else like Keniston will surprise us – that’s the very nature of being surprised, right? Further, Gary Johnson consistently polls higher than Stein. She can’t be a spoiler for Hillary, even granting the mistaken assumption that she can only steal from Hillary, if Johnson is an even greater spoiler for Trump, as the polls — which I expect are totally wrong — do happen to show.

Now, consider: before this election really got rolling, I was planning to vote for Jill Stein, assuming she ran again, or the Green Party candidate, whoever it was. Jill Stein had my vote before I knew she was even running again.

Then Bernie came along.

And threatened to steal my vote away from the Green Party.

Do you see that? Do you see what happened?

If Bernie had won the Democratic primary election he would have stolen a vote away from a Green Party candidate in the general election.

But he’s gone so I’m back to Plan A. My vote remains securely with Jill Stein.

Judging by my vote alone, in what sense is Stein a spoiler for Hillary?

Think about that.

My vote belonged to Stein. Hillary failed to steal it away.

Hillary failed to be a “spoiler” for Stein, as Bernie Sanders would have been. So, would Jill Stein be a spoiler for Hillary in this instance? No. She would not.

Why?

Because Hillary, under no circumstances, ever owned my vote.

Hillary Rodham Clinton never owned my vote!

I don’t belong to her. My vote doesn’t belong to her. She isn’t entitled to it. If it weren’t for Stein I might not be voting at all. Or maybe I’d be following my brother just for kicks and vote Keniston. Or maybe I’d vote for Clifton Roberts, assuming I could in my state. If I voted at all, lacking both Sanders and Stein, I would vote third party. Something remarkable would have to happen for the Democrats to steal my vote away.

Voting for Clinton is probably a bigger mistake than voting for Trump.

If you disagree with this, you are shortsighted. Try, please, to think more than a year or two into the future. Try to think about this entire process, the entire system, into the future.

Things suck. And they’re getting worse. We are speeding toward oblivion as it is. Trump would be a heavier foot on the accelerator. Hillary would simply stay the course. The difference between these two scenarios is a change in speed, and the change would be the alarm. If Trump is elected, there will more likely be retaliation, and a call to arms against our charge into oblivion. If Hillary is elected, especially given the victory over Trump, there will instead be a false sense of security. We would avoid the disaster that is Trump. We can relax. Relief.

Wrong.

Staying the course is dangerous. Staying the course is not an option. We are still headed toward certain destruction and as we all know the powers that are plowing forward toward this end have Hillary in her pocket. This is widely known. We all know that politicians are bought out. But since we see this as normal, we don’t seem to care.

We must break free of this trap. We must break free of the two party system, which is used to shepherd us into complacency as the whole planet swirls down the drain. Whether they do it intentionally or not, the two parties act as a single entity. Try not to see them as acting against each other, but as acting together as two oars on a canoe. They push and pull against each other and hold an unsteady equilibrium at worst. This is possible with three parties, but isn’t as easy. The difference between three and two is enormous.

Think about the game rock, paper, scissors. Rock is good against scissors, scissors is good against paper, paper is good against rock. Try to imagine a game like this in which there are only two options. Imagine if it were a game called rock and paper, in which rock is good against paper and paper is good against rock.

Do you see?

But we don’t even need to go this far.

I assert that every vote for Clinton is a vote stolen from Stein. I can just as well assert that every vote for Trump or Johnson is also a vote stolen from Stein.

I can pretend, as so many do, that this is a two-candidate race, and say that a vote for any candidate but Jill Stein is a vote for Trump.

This is the simple fact of the whole voting process: If enough people vote for Jill Stein, she will win, not someone else. Candidates win because we vote for them, not the other way around.

We’re going to lose.

We are going to lose either in the short term if Trump is elected or the long term if Clinton is elected.

The longer this goes on, the harder it becomes to change. We are catalyzed now to change. Now is the time. Now is our greatest opportunity.

More of the same – complacency – is the most dangerous option available to us.

There is nothing rational about giving up.

Whether your candidate can win or not is not the question. You have no control over anyone’s behavior but your own. The only question worth anything is, “Did you vote for the right candidate yourself?”

Is Hillary the correct candidate?

Is she going to create a Green New Deal? I remember when Obama promised something of the sort. I believe he actually likened his plan to an Apollo program for saving the environment. For saving the planet.

But that didn’t happen.

Is Hillary going to be the one to do what is absolutely necessary to create radical change as quickly and effectively as possible?

No. She is a fan of small incremental change. That’s like her thing. And small incremental change is like code for no change whatsoever, which means going down the drain.

The planet is going down the drain. I know old people often don’t really care. They’ll be dead by the time it happens, they mostly incorrectly imagine, and their grandchildren are apparently too distant to trigger maternal instincts anymore. But I have a niece who in two days will be five years old. I know that the world she inherits will not be as nice as the one I inherited from my parents, which was more messed up, probably, than I have even discovered yet. The planet is going down the drain and we simply do not have the option of waiting for this mythical small incremental change to occur.

Does Hillary even have the freedom to do what is necessary, safely tucked away as she is in the pockets of those who purchased her?

No. If Hillary wins, we will have elected a puppet who has been bought and paid for. As we are accustomed.

This decision is exactly like any other decision, like every other behavior in your life.

In my personal view, what defines a decision is not what it creates, as we do not have control over consequences. What we do have control over, so far as we have control over anything, is the act of decision itself, and thus what defines a choice is the spirit by which it is made, the impulse that created it, the fuel that drives it.

A choice made by habit is lazy.

A choice made from fear is cowardly.

A choice made without considering the options is ignorant.

If we have any power in this election, it is largely through our vote. We must cast our vote for the best candidate according our personal understanding and judgement or else forfeit what little power we have altogether.

The biggest way people give up power is by not knowing we have it to start with.

— Alice Walker

I am telling you now: You do have power.

Maybe it’s small,  but the power you have is greater than zero.

And the difference between something and nothing is infinite.

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In Mind

My world burned December 21, 2012, and from the ashes a new one emerged.

I won’t describe the burning, but the seed of transformation appeared immediately after when I stumbled across this blog.

More specifically, I encountered this simple, absolutely brilliant argument:

Materialism requires the following four statements about reality to be true:

  1. Your conscious perceptions exist;
  2. The conscious perceptions of other living entities, different from your own, also exist;
  3. There are things that exist independently of, and outside, conscious perception;
  4. Things that exist independently of, and outside, conscious perception generate conscious perception.

The first statement is very similar to the famous cogito ergo sum. If there is anything you can be absolutely certain of, it is that your perceptions exist; in order to refer to anything else, you would have to refer to your perceptions first.

The second statement involves a small leap of faith. It supposes another instance of the one thing known for sure to exist. It proposes that your perceptions are not the only perceptions.

Statement three requires a huge leap of faith. It postulates not another instance of a known thing, but whole new ontological category. It postulates that there exist not only your perceptions but things outside of those perceptions, which you can not know even in principle, because to know them would be to have them within your conscious perception.

The fourth statement is a far greater leap of faith, as it supposes not only that there exist things outside of consciousness but that they generate consciousness. As Bernardo says, “This is quite an extraordinary statement in that it completely inverts the natural order of inference: normally, one infers the unknown from the known, not the known from the unknown.”

The fourth point — essentially, the assertion that mind is generated from matter — is the most problematic and its greatest problem is well known to the field of study called philosophy of mind as the Hard Problem of Consciousness. The whole Universe can be described by physics by the usual means and nowhere within the resulting calculations would we ever find consciousness. We would never, in any possible mathematical formula, find experience. There is nothing red or blue about a wavelength of light, for example, and nothing red or blue about the firing of neurons in the back of your head. A complete mathematical description of the Universe simply is not a complete description of the Universe.

The most common attempt to solve the Hard Problem is to appeal to the principle of emergence, often likening consciousness to the emergent properties of water, which are not found in the molecules of water themselves. A water molecule is not wet. On the level of molecules, wetness as a property simply doesn’t exist, but when water molecules interact wetness seems to appear out of nowhere. At first glance, this may seem like a fine attempt at an explanation, but it ultimately fails, and very simply. What emerges from a system can always be derived from the properties of the system. Using the water as our example, the behavior of water referred to as “wet” can be modeled from the behavior of individual water molecules. So, also, can the hexagonal structure of a snowflake. As David Chalmers says in his book The Conscious Mind,

But emergent properties of this sort are not analogous to consciousness. What is interesting about these cases is that the relevant properties are not obvious consequences of low-level laws; but they are still logically supervenient on low-level facts.

That is, the behavior of a school of fish is dependent upon and explained by true facts about the fish. What is sometimes called strong emergence, the kind of emergence proposed to explain the emergence of consciousness, is really a form of property dualism in that it proposes that a phenomenon may exist independent of the facts of its parts, thus it is itself a refutation of Materialism.

In order to avoid the problems inherent in the assertion that mind is a product of mindless matter, many people increasingly turn to Panpsychism for an explanation. Panpsychism is the doctrine that consciousness is inherent in all things — that consciousness is an irreducible property of matter. This does eliminate the Hard Problem, sort of, but it seems to put the cart before the horse.

The problem with Panpsychism is that it still assumes points three and four of the Materialist ontology to be true. Panpsychism solves some problems created by the fourth point, but essentially ignores that the problems need not be in the first place.

Matter is, fundamentally, an inference. Even within the Materialist framework matter of itself is inherently unknowable. Within the Materialist framework, everything we know is an attempt at a reconstruction of the world by our brains, as informed by our senses. According to Materialism, the whole Universe as you can ever know it is inside your head and you as a personal consciousness are trapped forever inside of it. According to the Materialist ontology, what is truly real is a shadow universe, akin to a set of mathematical equations, which informs the universe we know and which is fundamentally inaccessible to us, always and forever.

We know matter only as a concept. Matter is an abstraction, and the abstraction is derived from experience. Thus, Materialism seeks to explain experience itself in terms of an abstraction, which is itself derived from experience. Materialism, we see, is an exercise in circular reasoning.

Bernardo likes to say that proposing the existence of this hidden universe outside of mind is no different from proposing the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Most of this clicked with me instantly that morning. I understood it without a problem. But some of this has taken some time to develop, in particular the felt, intuitive understanding of what this means. Old habits of thought take time to adjust and I can tell even now, nearly four years later, that I am still adjusting in some ways.

I’ll try to show you what I mean. Have a look for yourself.

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Take a look at something. Anything. By seeing, that which is seen is in consciousness. You are aware of it, even if you insist that what you see is solely a creation of your brain. Even if you insist that it is an illusion, the illusion is what you see. What you see is in consciousness; it is a particular excitation of consciousness, and the same is true for what you hear and what you feel and anything you happen to imagine. We quickly realize that that is all there is. Stated very simply, we are only aware of that of which we are aware, or if you prefer: we are not aware of what we are not aware of. Everything you know is in some sense in consciousness.

Observe your own body. Your arms and legs. Even the thoughts running through your head and these words born of these letters. These are all within consciousness. Consciousness, therefore, is not inside of your head — reach up and touch it. Rather, your head is inside consciousness. Your body is within consciousness, and so, also, is the rest of the Universe.

Your mind is not inside of your brain; your brain is inside Mind.

When I finally realized this point — that mind is a container within which I and the world exist — everything seemed to pop out at me, as though the world had been flat for so many years and in an instant returned to its proper three-dimensional state.

Look at that glass of water on the desk or whatever it is, wherever it happens to be. Look at it! It is really there. I mean it is really, really there! It has shape, place, tangibility.

What we are dealing with now, having discarded the third and fourth assertions of the Materialist ontology, is an Idealist ontology, and as we have seen, an Idealist ontology is immeasurably more parsimonious than Materialism in that it explains literally everything that Materialism explains and very probably much more while using fewer assumptions.

In our attempts to explain or describe the world, we are forced to explain each given thing in terms of something else. And we then explain that in terms of another thing, and so on until eventually we are forced to stop at what we call an ontological primitive — something that can not be explained in terms of anything else, something in terms of which everything else is explained or described.

Physicalism, the specific form of Materialism we actually encounter every day, informed by physics as we know it, holds a whole array of particles and forces and physical laws to be brute fact. They simply exist. Every fundamental particle and force and law of nature is thus an ontological primitive, as are space and time.

Idealism entails only one ontological primitive: Mind.

Everything you know is an excitation of Mind.

Everything you don’t know is also an excitation of Mind.

So many constraints fall away. The Universe opens itself up to us.

My body is an image of a process in Mind. When this image passes away, the form of my self-reflective awareness may be dramatically altered, but Mind itself remains.

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Bernardo likes to use whirlpools to illuminate the discussion. He says that we are like whirlpools in a vast river, and, as such, suggesting that brains generate consciousness is like suggesting that whirlpools generate water. Again, my brain is the image of a process in consciousness much like fire is the image of combustion, not the cause of combustion. Fire is what combustion looks like and my brain is what certain processes in consciousness look like when observed from a second-person perspective. Ripples in the water, then, are things that we observe in our environment, particular excitations of consciousness, which can enter into individual self-reflective centers of lucid awareness.

But most importantly, we are all a part of the same river. We are all living a shared dream. This waking world that we all seem to inhabit together, which seems to be the same for everyone, then, is what we can call consensus reality. We all act together to create it. In so many ways, we seek agreement on what reality is. It’s passed on to us through our parents, through language, through the rest of the community and reinforced in so many ways through conversation, books, television, and so on. Storytelling is world building.

Reality is Mind. The content of reality is story; its structure, myth.

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We can come to the same place from another angle. This is a quote by one of my other great inspirations, Richard Tarnas, in his book Cosmos and Psyche:

Let us, then, take our strategy of critical self-reflection one crucial and perhaps inevitable step further. Let us apply it to the fundamental governing assumption and starting point of the modern world view–a pervasive assumption that subtly continues to influence the postmodern turn as well–that any meaning and purpose the human mind perceives in the universe does not exist intrinsically in the universe but is constructed and projected onto it by the human mind. Might not this be the final, most global anthropocentric delusion of all? For is it not an extraordinary act of human hubris–literally, a hubris of cosmic proportions–to assume that the exclusive source of all meaning and purpose in the universe is ultimately centered in the human mind, which is therefore absolutely unique and special and in this sense superior to the entire cosmos? To presume that the universe utterly lacks what we human beings, the offspring and expression of that universe, conspicuously possess? To assume that the part somehow radically differs from and transcends the whole? To base our entire worldview on the a priori principle that whenever human beings perceive any patterns of psychological or spiritual significance in the nonhuman world, any signs of interiority and mind, any suggestion of purposefully coherent order and intelligible meaning, these must be understood as no more than human constructions and projections, as ultimately rooted in the human mind and never in the world?

Perhaps this complete voiding of the cosmos, this absolute privileging of the human, is the ultimate act of anthropocentric projection, the most subtle yet prodigious form of human self-aggrandizement. Perhaps the modern mind has been projecting soullessness and mindlessness on a cosmic scale, systematically filtering and eliciting all data according to its self-elevating assumptions at the very moment we believed we were “cleansing” our minds of “distortions.” Have we been living in a self-produced bubble of cosmic isolation? Perhaps the very attempt to de-anthropomorphize reality in such an absolute and simplistic manner is itself a supremely anthropocentric act.

The Universe speaks to us. We only need to learn how to listen.