The COBC Response to the State of the Union

That guy who got significantly less votes than his opponent, but then is still president because the several people in North Dakota get as many votes as the entire West Coast, made a speech yesterday. I felt it elicited a response.

Regarding the World War Two veterans and the astronauts who went to the moon, great job. Really, that was super cool. It was awesome how the WWII veterans defeated an entire nation consumed with the hatred of foreigners and religious minorities. I loved it when they did that. Specifically when they destroyed the Nazis, because Nazis are scumbags. Going to the moon was awesome too, it was really sweet how the nation used the money made from a tax rate of about 70% on any income over the equivalent of $700,000. It’s almost like if we make really wealthy people pay back into the system that allowed them to get so stinking rich, then we can do really amazing things. Maybe we should try that again.

Pretty hilarious this guy talking about overcoming partisanship. Anyone who takes that seriously has been living under a twitter free rock for the last couple years. Anyone pretending to is a hack.

I see he invited the families of people murdered by illegal immigrants. You know who isn’t here? The families of children murdered by other children. The families of people accidentally murdered by their own children. The families of people murdered en masse by some strange psychopath with an arsenal fit for a squadron of soldiers. The families of people murdered by an abusive spouse. I feel bad for the families who lost their kids, but seems like a pretty horrible way to try and make a point, parading their grief as if it proves anything.

Ah yes, the economy. Remember when the policies of George W. Bush destroyed the economy, and then Barack Obama built it back into one of the strongest in the world? Because this guy does not remember it. His good buddy Sean Hannity, a moron, denied it was even happening while it very clearly and obviously happened. Glad it’s still going strong though, way to not destroy it yet.

As far as wages going up, I’m glad to hear it. When it hits $15 an hour in Las Cruces, in El Paso, in Kansas City, let me know. That’s the baseline. In New York it should be twice that, same as in Seattle, and in San Francisco. There is exactly zero rationality behind allowing a handful of people to have billions and billions of dollars, while others starve to death. There is no justification for anyone having so much money that they couldn’t spend all of it on themselves in a million years, while children sit freezing in their homes, gnawing on bread and drinking poisoned water. We have to abandon the idea that billionaires are a laudable part of the American Dream. Their existence is a travesty, a mistake. Raising wages significantly is only the first step, and it must go hand in hand with ways to bolster our small, independent businesses, but it is the first step.

It doesn’t matter how much energy we can export (or that we are a net exporter thanks primarily to the policies of the previous president). All that matters is that we stop destroying the planet to do so. There is a big ball of thermonuclear energy sitting in the sky, ready to power millions of homes. There’s a gentle breeze outside of my window ready to augment that power. The way we discovered to power our cars and lightbulbs 150 years ago was literally the worst way to do so. We should divorce ourself from this idiotic method and become the world’s leader in renewable energy.

Ha! He actually said that the government can’t function while the president is being investigated. That is the government functioning, dummy!

Prison sentencing reform is huge, and an actual bright spot. The First Step Act, a truly bipartisan bill, is a tremendous achievement. My favorite part is that the bill acknowledges that locking people in a cage for some period of time, having them grounded by the federal government for being naughty, does not improve our society. Not every person who has committed a crime could earn their way back into civilization, but every person ought to have a chance. When they do, when they graduate or earn that certification, when they find work, when they’ve been successfully reporting to a PO for a significant period, these people need to be recognized as full citizens, voting rights and all.

Oh, I was wondering if he was going to discuss the wall. You know what would make me believe this administration cares about immigrants? If they didn’t separate small children from families seeking asylum. If they acknowledged the role United States policy had in rendering so many Central and South American countries impoverished. Even just an acknowledgement that it was totally hypocritical for the children of immigrants who live here now, which is everyone that isn’t Native American, to deny right of entry to those who wish to follow in those ancestors footprints. It is all the more stunning given that we took the whole of the Southwest, including all of California, from Mexico by force less than 200 years ago. Imagine that happening today, the United States deciding to annex the rest of Mexico. If we did, it wouldn’t even be a fraction of what we have already taken.

Our approach to immigration should take into account the fact that the vast majority of people in this country are the progeny of immigrants. It should take into account that this land was occupied by societies that were 10,000 years old before Europeans arrived and tried very hard to destroy them completely. It should take into account those same Europeans built this nation through the widespread use of human beings who were kidnapped, beaten, tortured, had their children pried from their arms, and forced to work under threat of death for over 200 years. There is no “our” that this land belongs to, this land can only be morally justified if it is approached as an experiment, one in which people from all over the world can partake in. This was not the intent of the founders of this country, not really, but it is a contemporary manifestation of the idea of the Land of the Free. Open the borders wide, provide support systems for every single human, and treat each individual with respect and judicial equality, that is the American Dream.

Great, a new trade deal, I’m sure everyone in the Apple factories all over China are super excited. the fact is that if we aren’t working to ensure that the people building our phones, computers, cars, and televisions aren’t being treated as human beings, then we are destroying peoples lives by proxy. If there are people working in sweatshops, we are employing them. If the United States is to have any relevance in the discussion of raising the standard of living across the world, that is where it starts. From what I can tell, our trade deals only affect the amount of money people who already have billions make. The prices of these things might go up or down, but until they go up in order to provide a decent wage to the people constructing these things, it’s almost irrelevant. The only relevance is to the degree the poor in our country are affected, caused to be unable to buy the things that they need, and that is a discussion that revolves around minimum wage, not trade.

Yeah, medicine is really expensive. I’m legitimately glad this is being acknowledged. Also, you know how if you are pregnant, you have to have money to have your baby in a hospital? That seems bad, too. Also all those people who lose their houses over medical care, many of whom are insured. Hey, remember how the government uses a bunch of its money to provide roads, bridges, public schools, the post office, national parks, police, and defense? What if it provided healthcare too? It seems like that would fall right in line all those things. Unless you are making millions and billions off of our current lack of a healthcare system, you don’t have an argument. We need to give every person in the United States access to medical care regardless of their financial situation. As of right now, if we do cure AIDS and cancer, it will only be for those who can afford the treatments. That is cruel. It cannot be acceptable.

Here’s a bone for the pro-lifers. Remember when men were told that they had to raise any and every child they fathered, regardless of the circumstances? Oh, that didn’t happen? Huh, then maybe we shouldn’t ask women to either.

Venezuela was brought down through the government selling out its resources to make a few people rich while the rest of the country starved. If that’s socialism, we’re already there. If you mean the kind of socialism where the government collects taxes to provide basic resources to the citizens, things like roads, bridges, public schools, the post office, national parks, police, and defense, we actually aren’t that far off either. Ensure a basic standard of living through a progressive minimum wage, and ensure that every person in the United States has access to health care, and we are in. We essentially have a foot on two different paths, the one that leads to a Venezuelan situation is not far away, and creeping closer all the time, but neither is the one that leads us to being a truly first world, 21st century, society.

Talking about the Middle East always reminds me of a Bill Hicks bit about using our weaponized technology to instead shoot food into people’s mouths. I’m tired of this president, he could have decided to focus solely on the expansion and improvement of infrastructure, on developing an exploratory space program, on being the leader who fully invested in 21st century energy, and brought its vast riches to the United States. Instead the hands of billionaires are shoved up his backside, flapping his mouth about. These ventriloquists shout about horror and fear and hate, but in every instance, even where the problems are very real, its only purpose is to distract the masses from the happiness and resources that it is being deprived of, in order to ensure that these billionaires keep their Scrooge McDuck silos of gold.

I do not believe they will win. There is a bright side to this circus of a presidency, and that is the fact it has brought together millions of people who aren’t willing to live in this world anymore. I’m so happy to see women saying they won’t put up with the bullshit of entitled men anymore, and I am just as happy to see men agreeing with them. I love seeing progressive nations around the world embracing renewable energy, and am hopeful it isn’t too late. I’m heartened by the politicians getting arrested at airports for defending a human beings right to be of their religion. I’m so glad to see people standing up for their kids, be they gay, transgender, non-binary, or anything else. I’m particularly happy about the kids stating without question that they will not stand to live in a world where going to school feels like stepping on to a battlefield. I am no Pollyanna, there is so much work to do, and it feels like for every step forward we’ve taken in the last 300 years, we are taking two steps back. I see a future, however, in which we’ve gained each of those steps and a thousand times more.

Love you,

The Church of Black Coffee

p.s. I don’t know why I even talk, Bill Hicks always already said it better.

Humans aren’t very smart.

Here’s the deal, I’m not sure all the words and stuff we’re building prove any kind of meaningful intelligence.

As far as the words go, most animals have a way to communicate the desire for coitus, impending danger, and food. It might just be the case that they don’t have any inclination to talk about anything else. I’m not sure the fact us sapiens can’t keep our mouth shut about anything makes us smarter than them.

Then there’s the building stuff part. I gotta say, seems like any animal that doesn’t have to destroy its habitat to live in it is smarter than we are. Take the fridge away from most humans and they are dead in a week, that seems kind of stupid really. It isn’t just that we can’t live in the forest, it’s that we have to chop the forest down in order to not live in it.

We can’t even use the stuff that was already lying around, the stuff every single other species on the planet thrives on without any kind of a problem. We have to make totally new shit out of everything, we have to chop trees down, how else could we have pencils? Or a place to sit? We figure out how to make plastic, quickly realize that plastic is killing everything on the planet, and so decide to make way more of it.

Now, I’m not that naive, I know the background. Destroying the planet makes people rich, so isn’t it smart to do that? Well, what the fuck? Figure out a way to get rich without destroying the goddamn planet if you’re such a genius. Maybe you can’t, but that still leaves the question of whether it is intelligent to covet massive amounts of wealth. Doesn’t it seem like achieving even the smallest degree of wisdom would involve understanding the limited capacity money has to cause happiness?

Now before you go calling me a hypocrite, allow me. I’m writing words on a plastic computer sitting on a wood desk. If blathering on while destroying the planet means being an idiot, then I’m an idiot.

I don’t really have anything to add to that.

No Know.

Long ago there was a French guy name Rene. Rene wondered to himself, “What do I know?” and began to deconstruct his knowledge.

Rene realized that most claims of knowledge are grounded in sensorial input, i.e. you see the sun and so claim knowledge that the sun exists. You hear your mother’s voice and so claim knowledge of its sound. You touch burning stick, and so claim knowledge that burning your skin hurts. Rene was not convinced that his justification was sufficient for the claim however, as the senses can deceive. If you see a tornado, what ensures that you are not dreaming it? If you smell popcorn can you be sure it isn’t a hallucination? If you see your friend, isn’t it possible you’re just wrong?

To illustrate this argument forcefully Rene asks the reader to consider a scenario. In this scenario all that exists in the universe is your mind and a demon. The demon is manipulating your mind, causing it to ‘sense’ all that you experience. So the demon causes your mind to hear friends and families, to smell eggs and gasoline, see the sun, all of it, but all the while all that actually exists is the demon and your mind. Since in that universe your experiences would be identical to the experiences you have in this universe, you can’t know for sure that that universe isn’t actually this universe, i.e. you can’t know that you aren’t being entirely deceived by your senses in regards to everything, which means you can’t claim knowledge of anything. Except, Rene continues, that you exist, for no demon, no matter how powerful, could convince something that doesn’t exist that it does. So, as you can think you experience the world, that you can think at all, is sufficient justification for knowledge that, if nothing else, you exist. You think, therefore you are. Everything else? Impossible to know.

That was a long time ago, and there hasn’t really been a solid counterargument. More contemporary epistemologists suggested that knowledge of a proposition consisted of belief in that proposition, justification for that belief, and truth of the proposition. That really just moved the mystery though, what is justification anyway? Furthermore this dude Edmund Gettier blew a hole in that idea mile wide anyway.

Gettier was a professor of philosophy somewhere who hadn’t published anything, or at least not in a while. The admin said he should, so he wrote a three page paper showing that true, justified belief was not sufficient for knowledge. Imagine you come hoime, you see your mom standing in the kitchen ,and so you think, “My mom is home.” As it turns out, what you are looking at is a hologram, however, your mom is home, just in a different room. So you believe the proposition that your mom is home, it’s true your mom is home, and the belief is justified by the fact you see your mom, but it sure doesn’t seem like you know your mom is home. Another scenario like this, you are driving through farmland, barns everywhere. What you don’t know is that there are way more barn facades than actual barns, just movie set barn faces being propped up from behind with sticks. As you drive you catch a glimpse of one of the very few actual barns and think, “That’s a barn.” You believe it’s a barn, it is a barn, and it is, again, justified by having seen it. Again though, doesn’t seem like a barn.

So what the hell? How can you know anything? No worries my friend, I got you. As long as your cool with not knowing whether you know anything, I think you might know all sorts of stuff. Or maybe nothing, but who cares?

I propose that you have knowledge of a proposition when the proposition is true, you believe it, and your justification is grounded in the truth of the proposition. By the last bit I mean your evidence could not exist unless the corresponding proposition was true. This solves the Gettier issue and Rene’s whole deal as well.

Let’s look at Gettier’s examples first. In the mom scenario, you don’t know your mom is home, because the evidence isn’t grounded in your mom being home. She is, but that’s just a coincidence, you saw a hologram and so you don’t know your mom is home. You would have believed she was home anyway. In the barn scenario you do know that that is a barn because you saw the barn, and it is a barn. If you hadn’t seen that barn you would not have believed it was a barn, because you didn’t see it. If you had seen a barn facade you might have believed it was a barn and you would have been wrong, but that’s irrelevant. You see a barn, it is a barn, you believe it’s a barn, and so you know it’s a barn.

In regards to Rene and his whole thing, well if it is a demon making everything up, then you don’t know anything. Not much of a surprise there. If you see something and it is a hallucination, a dream, a mistake, then you don’t know that thing, but if it isn’t, you do.

The cost of this position is that you never get to know that you know. It has to be the case that not only is the relevant proposition true, but that your justification couldn’t exist without that proposition being true. How do you know if your justification is grounded in the truth of the proposition? You don’t. So you can say, “I know blah blah blah” about whatever, and you might be right, and you might be wrong. C’est la vie! That was already the case anyway.

So, as to an epistemological problem you probably didn’t know existed, it’s solved already. You’re welcome.

(I’m probably wrong though).

Get to know your opinions

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I told my class that for any statement in regards to the reality of the world, any proposition, there is a significant difference between possessing knowledge of that proposition and an opinion of that proposition. We decided to try and determine what exactly the difference is. We didn’t find an answer that satisfied anyone completely, but we believe we found something meaningful. That’s what philosophy is, by the way, trying to determine the exact nature of objects and concepts. At least to a significant degree. I mention that because many people seem to think philosophy is advice. Virtually any time you hear someone say, “Well, my philosophy is…” all they are going to say is something they believe works for a particular situation. “My philosophy is, you’ve got to live and let live.” That’s advice, it’s a different word for a reason. But I digest.

One thing that is the same about knowledge and opinion is that people claim to have them. A difference is that it is very unlikely that a person can state their opinion and be wrong. If Sheila says, “I don’t like blueberries.” it would be strange if she was wrong. Not lying, wrong. There’s a difference between being wrong and lying, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole.

Let’s go down this one instead, why isn’t there a possessive pronoun for singular subjects? I said, “…a person can state their opinion and be wrong.” In that sentence I stated a singular subject, and then used ‘their’ to refer to that subject’s opinions, but ‘their’ refers to possession by a group of people, right? Actually, never mind. English is fluid, it’s just kind of sticky mess of other languages in the first place, so why don’t we just declare that ‘their’ is a possessive case gender neutral singular subject pronoun as well as a possessive case gender neutral plural subject pronoun? Done!

Anyway, you’re unlikely to state your opinion and be wrong. Your claims to knowledge though? They can definitely be wrong. Probably are wrong most of the time. I don’t mean that as an insult, I mean it in the skepticism is the deal and it’s more than likely that nothing is as it seems, so no one can or does know anything sense. So no offense. Anyway, we thought that was important, that claims to knowledge are often wrong, while claims of opinion seldom are.

Being 4th graders, they wanted to know more. So we figured out why claims of knowledge are often wrong while claims of opinion rarely are. Claims of knowledge have an associated objective fact. if you say, “I know that the sun rises in the East” it’s either true or not true. Regardless of your belief in the sun rising in the east, (and at this point we realized there was this other thing we’d have to figure out, beliefs) it either does or does not. If it does, your claim of knowledge is true, if it doesn’t it’s false. You can’t know things that aren’t true.

Opinions, on the other hand, refer to subjective truths. Having the opinion “I don’t like blueberries” is determined by not liking blueberries. So a person can rarely be wrong about their opinions, as they are just statements of their feelings.

This raised a further question, if it is necessary for a proposition to be true in order to know it, is that all that needs to be the case to know something? We figured pretty quickly that you have to believe it, whatever that means. So, I asked, if I believe that it will rain on March 27th, 2028, and it does, did I know it? They informed me I did not, it had simply been a guess. Then what does it take to know something already?

“You have to have a reason!” said one exasperated 9 year old. A reason, I said, like what? “Like proof, evidence!” Ah ha, I said. So I wrote on the board To have knowledge of a proposition (p) you must believe p, p must be true, and your belief must be justified by something. 

I asked them then, what counts as justification? But then I realized we’d been talking for 90 minutes and it was time to go to lunch.  We’ll figure it out though, 4th graders are smart.