Countdown to Looking Glass

I highly recommend the movie Countdown to Looking Glass. Through a series of newscasts by a fictional television network (CVN), we see a chain reaction that takes a mere eight days to go from the default by three South American countries on loans from the United States to the detonation of a nuclear weapon in the Persian Gulf.

Eerily, I realized that I watched people watch the media watch the world end. Complete with commercial breaks.

The credible ease with which one thing led to another was nothing less than frightening. It was like dominoes: once the chips are in place, all it takes is a single trigger, and the end is inevitable. Just like the nuclear fission process itself.

But perhaps what was more frightening was that only one television network aired the movie – and it did so at 2:15 a.m. on Christmas Eve. Apparently our real networks are not nearly as committed as the fictional CVN to keeping their viewers aware and informed. Those domino chips are in place.


Kids Behind the Wheel

The other day, I was walking with my dog on the gravel/dirt road I live on. It’s a back road that might see a dozen cars in a day. As one such car passed us, I noticed that a kid was at the wheel in dad’s lap. Proud dad, happy kid.

What is it with that? Why, of all the adult things, do parents push their kids into that one? Mis-asked the question. It’s not the parents, it’s the dads. And usually, it’s their sons, not their daughters.

Given that men are worse drivers than women (ask the insurance companies – why do you think young males pay such a high premium?), perhaps it makes sense: boys need all the practice they can get. But surely it would be better to take them to a go-cart track.

Proud dad, happy kid. I get the impression it’s not practice. Is it a rite of passage to manhood? Continue reading


I Don’t Have a Conscience

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the term “conscientious objector” – especially as it is used, to identify those entitled for exclusion from military service (whether in body or in wallet) on the basis of moral principles. I object to military service, on that basis, but I don’t have a conscience.

Phrases such as “Follow your conscience” and “Do what your conscience tells you” suggest that one’s conscience is a fixed sort of thing, an unchanging absolute. Indeed, it often sounds like one’s conscience is innate, something we’re born with. And something quite separate from us, a sort of homonculus, or at least an ‘inner voice’ (the voice of God?). Chomsky may have proven that there are innate structures of language in the human brain, but to date, to my knowledge, no one has proven there are, in the human brain, innate moral principles. Nor, despite a dictionary definition of conscience as “the moral sense of right and wrong”, has such a sixth (?) sense been established.

On the contrary, our ‘conscience’ is acquired: Continue reading


Arrogance, I think

Fresh from the office of my supervisor who persists in gently giving me unsolicited advice, despite being neither older nor wiser, I’m struck by Rousseau’s tone (in his “Marriage”): “Extreme in all things, they [women] devote themselves to their play with greater zeal than boys. This is the second defect. This zeal must be kept within bounds. It is the cause of several vices peculiar to women, among others the capricious changing of their tastes from day to day. Do not deprive them of mirth, laughter, noise and romping games, but prevent them tiring of one game and turning to another. They must get used to being stopped in the middle of their play and put to other tasks without protest on their part.” I have as much trouble imagining the absolute certainty, the arrogance, required to initiate, let alone sustain, such pontification as I do imagining myself putting an arm around the shoulder of the guy who works in Accounting, and telling him what he should be doing with his life. Even if I were his supervisor. I simply could not go on and on like that, not even to students, nor even to children. Not even at forty.

At least not without the qualifier ‘I think…’, Continue reading


Impoverished Scientists

To read the science journals, one would think animal life consists of nothing but predation and reproduction, both thoroughly competitive in nature. The absence of any capacity for pleasure, or at least for non-competitive pleasure, is frightening. Lining a nest with warm and soft material is not for comfort, but to “increase the survival rate of offspring” and arranging for others to watch the baby during long and deep dives is not from affection but to “maximize reproductive success”.

This is of concern for two reasons. First, to judge by my own life and that of the dog with whom I live, that view is, to say the least, narrow and thus incomplete.

Second, what does it reveal of the scientists? Continue reading


Profit and Loss – and You’ve Lost Your Marbles

Years ago, Joseph Schumacher examined the ethics of unlimited growth and concluded that “Small is beautiful.” The business world, with no shortage of conglomerates and an increasing number of mergers, seems to have missed the message.

One might quip ‘Well, that’s because hedonistic greed governs the business mind,’ but a quick survey of a second year Business class – in which not one student answered the question ‘Why is profit good?’ with ‘Because it gives me pleasure, it makes me happy, I wanna be a rich sonovabitch’ – suggests that either denial starts early or something else is going on. (Or both.)

Most students responded, by the way, with something like ‘Profit is good because it enables you to expand: to hire more people, to establish branches in other cities, to increase production.’ ‘And why is this expansion good?’ ‘Well, because then you can make more profit.’ (Can you say ‘circular’?)

The concept of limitlessness is ingrained in business policy and practice. Why is this so? Continue reading


Suicide, Insurance, and Dead Sugar Daddies

I’ve been thinking that, with the exception of those who are paralyzed or severely physically debilitated, people who seek euthanasia are cowards. They are grossly inconsiderate and amazingly irresponsible. I mean, if you’re ready to die, then die. But do it yourself! Don’t ask someone else to kill you, and then live with it. What an awful request to make, of anyone! It’s your life – it’s your death.

However, just recently the insurance connection clicked into place: if you suicide, the company won’t pay – so it’s for the sake of your loved ones that you endure or entreat –

So all these intellectual and ethical gymnastics we’re sweating over – passive/active, terminal sedation or physician-assisted suicide, the double effect, euthanasia or eugenics – it’s all because the insurance companies won’t pay? Wouldn’t it be so much easier, and, I suspect, cheaper, to simply legislate that they must? (Especially when the suicide simply hastens – what would otherwise be a slow and painful – death?) The financial desires of a certain private sector industry should not override our freedom to die!

Well, they don’t really. Continue reading


Casual Day at The Office

Every second Friday is ‘Casual Day’ at the office–the principal lets us wear jeans to school. I need two degrees to do my job, but apparently I just can’t seem to dress myself.

In addition to that of infantilizing the subordinates, Causal Day underscores the tradition of hypocrisy, the tradition of pretending: financial advisors who work on your portfolio at home probably do most of their work in jeans and a sweatshirt; they just change, they just put on the facade, the uniform of authority and competence, when they’re in their office. Do they think we’re idiots? Do they think we judge a book by its cover, do they think we’re fooled that easily?

Well, yes, they do. And they’re right. Behold the power of a suitcoat and tie: it says ‘I’m to be respected’. Anyone up on charges who borrows a suit for his day in court knows that. Oh, but the judge would be a fool to be suckered in by that. Yes–and so are we. Continue reading


A License to Parent?

We have successfully cloned a sheep; it is not unreasonable, then, to believe we may soon be able to create human life. Despite Frankensteinish visions of a brave new world, I’m sure we’ll develop carefully considered policies and procedures to regulate the activity.

For example, I doubt we’ll allow someone to create his own private workforce or his own little army.

And I suspect we’ll prohibit cloning oneself for mere ego gratification.

Doing it just because it’s fun will certainly be illegal. And I expect it won’t even be imaginable to do it ‘without really thinking about it’, let alone ‘by accident’.

I suspect we’ll enforce some sort of quality control, such that cloned human beings shall not exist in pain or be severely ‘compromised’ with respect to basic biological or biochemical functioning.

And I suspect one will have to apply for a license and satisfy rigorous screening standards. I assume this will include the submission, and approval, of a detailed plan regarding responsibility for the cloned human being; surely we won’t allow a scientist to create it and then just leave it on the lab’s doorstep one night when he leaves.

Now the thing is, we can already create human life.  Kids do it every day. Continue reading


Grade Ten History

Remember grade ten history? Okay, quick question: history of what? Of ideas? Of art? Of really stupid jokes? No! Of conflict! And mostly interpersonal conflict charading as intergroup conflict. That’s what grade ten history was all about.

And grade eleven history and grade twelve history too.

First, let’s call it what it is. And this is not a minor point. It’s like teaching nothing but limericks in a course called “Poetry”. Now it would be bad enough for kids to grow up thinking that’s all the poetry there is, but if they grow up thinking that’s all there is to history, well, Houston, we have a problem. No history of ideas, or art, no history of discovery, no history of cultural development–what an incredible disservice not only to those who made such history, but of course to those denied that knowledge.

But that’s minor damage compared to this: Continue reading