Computer Software | Miami/Fort Lauderdale Area, US
Extensive background building line-of-business database applications that are integrated with desktop productivity tools. Project-oriented focus, helping small businesses and departments within larger enterprises migrate from cumbersome, obsolescing workflows to robust, modern solutions.
Senior-level expertise developing and upgrading Tax Lien acquisition and servicing systems. Application solutions built for Property Tax Lien and Deed Investors range from data-driven document assembly, automated auction list management, property diligence review, bid stratification and submission, portfolio management (including multi-investor servicing systems), and REO management. Provides industry policy analysis via LienWatch.com.
Inventor of a series of Web-based projects related to interactive crowd-sourcing and online town halls. The working prototypes that emerged from these efforts are at the forefront of online preference voting technology.
2015 - Present
Application Consultant / Alpine, an ITW Company
Performance troubleshooting and speed optimization, focused on data loading, for an upcoming release of the firm's market-leading business management application.
1988 - Present
Database Application Specialist / RKEY Toolmakers
I have been building and upgrading custom databases and line-of-business applications for clients who need careful attention to their unique requirements. Most of my clients are based in South Florida, but I have also built systems across the United States and overseas. I have extensive experience developing state-of-the-art acquisition and servicing systems for Tax Lien Investors. I have built mission critical desktop systems for specialized law practices, and I am also engaged in the deployment of leading edge public opinion research tools.
ETL Consultant / PBACO Palm Beach Accountable Care Organization
Focused on developing a system of ETL packages to automate the import of source data provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), along with in-house data that had been archived in disparate formats.This involved cleaning datasets from two distinct affordable care organizations and consolidating them under a single entity in order to support reporting and ongoing extension. The result was a properly-normalized schema and front-end application prototype that would meet legal requirements for privacy notification and identity masking. I also provided technical support to the firm’s team of database analysts.
Database Application Developer / Elias B. Rudnikas, PA
Most recently, created a data management/document assembly system using C# and MS SQL 2012. That system integrates and upgrades a very successful suite of contact and billing database applications I built for this small law firm in the early 1990s.
Database Application Developer / CR South
Developed a suite of mission-critical applications for the Tax Lien investment arm of a Real Estate firm. Custom creations included: ETL packages (SSIS) for conversion/merging of vendor-supplied data into relational form; rapid creation of C#-based Winform apps for diligence review, strategic modelling, auction support, and portfolio servicing.
Programmer/Functional Lead / BankAtlantic
I architected, developed, and managed a mission-critical suite of data applications for a steadily growing, highly succesful investment department. Created the first two versions of the central application, and played a lead role in transition to the third. Tools included Microsoft SQL Server, VB.NET, Crystal Reports, Delphi, Paradox, InfoPower, DevExpress, Infragistics, Visio, and VBA for integration with Microsoft Office applications.
PH.D. / University of Miami
I enrolled in the International Studies graduate program in the mid-1980s, initially to pursue an MA. My initial research focus was US-Soviet technology transfer. I was then recruited into the Ph.D. program and awarded a very prestigious Fellowship. I left for a variety of reasons, and began working in Miami as a database application developer. I was later invited back, and switched my research focus to Internet Governance. Being in and out of school over such a long span, I used to tell my nieces and nephews I was in the 27th grade.
I may quibble with Reid Hoffman and John Battelle in parsing the differences between Web 1.0, 2.0, and so on, or on the nature of explicit data vs. implicit data vs. shadow data, but, when it comes to summing up the most important long-term shift in our material and cultural reality, Hoffman’s take on ubiquity definitely nails it.
As I watched this video and thought about the coming Age of Ubiquity, it occurred to me that the generation born in this decade could properly be called Generation U. By the time they reach young adulthood, human society will be permeated by hyperconnectivity. At least 2 of the planet’s 7 billion people have Internet connectivity today. That will easily double by the end of this decade, and those connections will be considerably richer than anything we have yet experienced. Another 2 billion or so will be children for whom expectations of joining a culture of hyperconnectivity will be as natural and expected as getting right-sized shoes and clothing as they grow. So there will be at least 6 billion hyperconnected humans by 2030.
It it’s true, as I expect, that Generation U will be raised in a milieu characterized by persistently ubiquitous public exposure, I can’t help but wonder if peoples’ merciful treatment of each other will keep pace with their capacity to know each others’ every error and trespass.
Here’s a short paper by Robert Bodle being delivered to the IGF/Giganet in Nairobi that addresses some of the key points in the online anonymity debate. I haven’t spent enough time with it to weigh in with a useful response, but it seems to offer a solid foundation for starting a conversation.
I’ve been half-monitoring CPSR’s Internet Governance list since my dissertation writing days. The activity of the conversation seems to be picking up recently. That often signals that something big and relevant is happening in realspace, but I’m not on top of current events in IG enough for intelligent speculation about what that might be.
In any case, Michael Gurstein started a very intriguing thread titled, “Re: [governance] MEASURING the digital space – whose MEASURES apply, and whose do not.” So I chimed in.
Michael Gurstein’s reflection on “what and whose measures apply in the digital space” strikes me as very productive. Having been curious for quite some time about the extent to which the advent of the Internet compares to the advent of the movable type printing technology, I’ll offer this conjecture about the implications.
Key measures of human agency in the pre-Westphalian era in Europe included concerns such as who could get into heaven and who could legitimately be crowned king, queen, prince, etc. The socially accepted chain of authority generally led up through officials of the Holy Roman Empire as the effective gatekeepers of such things. (Keeping in mind that any given Pope and his appointed agents claim to be acting as proxy for a divine gatekeeper.)
The Gutenberg revolution facilitated the emergence of sovereign royals — and ultimately sovereign nation-states — who were, among other things, gatekeepers of national citizenship, contractual regimes, and property rights within bounded territories.
In both cases, given this view of things, gatekeepers played an essential role conferring agency within a social structure. Gatekeeping roles will be no less important in the densely internetworked future. That why there was such a big fight over DNS administration… possessing one’s “name” was once considered essential to having an effective presence on the Web. Now we see battles between Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, other private operators, and also various state-controlled social networks, all vying to be the gatekeeper of one’s authentic presence on line.
In all of these spaces, pre-Westphalian, Westphalian, and post-Westphalian, there’s a consistent concerning with counting who is an agent and measuring the relative powers of those agents.
Publicness is a reasonably OK term for what I call hypersourcing. There was just a fairly long thread on Google+ about the video embedded below. I don’t know how to link the whole thread here, but here’s what I contributed.
When people all live in glass houses will they finally learn not to throw stones?
The shift we’re about to go through is likely to be even more significant then the one sparked by Gutenberg. As the modern practice of privacy collapses, humans will be forced to confront the extent to which our common security ultimately depends on fostering a culture of compassion and mercy.
Our species has confronted that challenge before. See Karen Armstrong’s “The Great Transformation.” The real question is whether we can master that lesson in an enduring way this time around.
With luck, the preamble to Purpose Driven Web will be online in a week or so. It’s not particularly long, but most of my free time has been going into upgrading and polishing the suite of ranked choice voting tools that I’ve been developing.
In the meantime, here are a couple of more links commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Web. This one, from the Economist, strikes me as far better than most that have been published, but some of the reader comments reflected disappointment. And another, from Business Standard, also does a fair job presenting the basic facts and raising the implications. Interestingly enough, Tim Berners-Lee got some well-deserved celebrity treatment, when an online magazine pitched at the “over 50” crowd named him as an inspirational figure.
I found a couple of other reports about the 20th anniversary of the Web that seem to do a better job than the ones mentioned in my previous post. This one, from the BBC, is a bit cheery, but certainly fine for your mum. And this one, from a site called TheNextWeb.com, is more detailed, in order to set up a promo video about the semantic web.
The 20th anniversary of the public announcement of the Web passed this weekend. I’ve seen two mentions of it in the press so far, both of which got some basic facts very very wrong. And both were from authors at technically-oriented sites where writers and editors alike would presumably know better.
The first, at TechCrunch, announced the 20th anniversary of the Internet. The title was changed after readers complained. But the URL for the article still has it wrong.
The second, at Wired, claims that the first webpage was published on August 6, 1991, and misleadingly cites CERN about the location of the page. Of course, that page was in operation for some months before the project was announced on USENET. That announcement, in my view, should be upheld as the key threshoid event for the Web. Berners-Lee, on the other hand, prefers to commemorate late December 1990, when his code began to run.
It’s lamentable that so few people even bothered to recall this significant date. August 6th 2011 was also the 46th anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb, and that got some deserved attention. But most media observers (and Google’s Doodle) were consumed by recalling the 100th anniversary of Lucille Ball’s birth. She was undeniably a great talent and performer, but which of these events will ultimately prove to have a greater impact on our lives over the coming days, years, and centuries?
I was recently brushing up on Gary Johnson news, and came across an article that was published during his previous run for President, headed by a massive photo of him posed shirtless on a mountain bike.
Aha, I thought. Early evidence of Johnson’s long and dedicated preparation to share a stage with Putin.
Then I found a hot-off-the-presses campaign video. It focused on foreign policy, denouncing “erratic military interventions” by the US in the Middle East. Despite a silly part where he called himself a “chess player” who wants America to “rule the world with diplomacy and free trade,” it wasn’t bad.
I could see why many people might find the overall presentation honest, passionate, and persuasive. I could also see his appeal to members of the military and why he polls so well among them.
But that video was too little too late. It should have been rolled out months ago, as a provocative conversation-starter at the beginning of the campaign rather than a lonely whimper at the end.
I hadn’t done much reading on Johnson since right after his second “Aleppo moment.” That was the time he couldn’t name a living foreign leader he admired, and then proceeded to give the world reason to wonder whether he could name a foreign leader at all.
It appalled me. After the first flub, there was still a chance to take up habits appropriate for the Oval Office. Johnson needed make his campaign a model of how to hit the ground running as a presentable President. By failing to build any foreign policy fluency, Johnson had squandered a national stage yet again, proving himself a serial flop in the role of champion against interventionism.
Do Libertarians recognize how badly Johnson hurt their brand? He out-gaffed Sarah Palin. She had been plucked from small town Alaska, from a culture that was happily remote from global complexities. But Johnson had been seeking the Presidency for years. He had more than enough time to think ahead about moves to make, how they might play out, and how to avoid Fool’s mate.
Still, Johnson’s cheering section hung on. Donations flooded in after the first mistake. Endorsement by the Chicago Tribune dulled the sting of the second. The paper called him the “principled option” of this election…. artful words that signaled more dismay at Trump’s and Clinton’s perceived lack of principles than excitement over his.
Even though I don’t support Johnson (to stop Trump, I’ll vote for Clinton), there was a time when I was rooting for him to get into the debates. I was hoping to see someone step up and stand out with a cogent argument against no-fly zones in Syria. Third parties have often played a role in changing the American conversation, and Libertarians had a fair shot at it this year.
But Johnson didn’t seem to understand that great principles need great champions. Making the case for an anti-war message takes more than an amiable anti-war sentiment. It takes good persuasive arguments crafted for the benefit of a truth-impoverished nation. The intelligent arguments that voters deserve are long overdue.
Then I found another emblematic Johnson video. He was on a park bench, bragging to an interviewer that he could win the Presidential debate while sticking out his tongue and making sounds that were intentionally incoherent.
In this season of Trump, maybe. But in more sober times, definitely not.
So Johnson’s brand is set. He’ll always be the guy who knew next to nothing about foreign affairs because that was all he thought would need to know.
He owns the caricature, and he’s embraced it by playing to it. Now we can find interviews where he dismisses the Hillary-like virtues of “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” on background details.
To prove how low he could go, Johnson adopted the Trump-style practice of tweeting out condescending hyperbole, announcing that no foreign leader merits his admiration anyway. Because nothing’s funnier than directing gratuitous insults toward every other country in the world.
As President, I expect I’ll always have admiration for any other heads of state who want to have productive conversations that advance normal and mutually beneficial relations between our people. That’s how things work in business. It’s great to have reliable partnerships.
More specifically, I’m deeply impressed by the position achieved by Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India. He was elected to serve the worlds’ largest democracy, a country three times the size of the United States. I wish him well and I look forward to meeting him.
And you can count me among those many Americans who are rooting for Angela Merkel in Germany, and Theresa May in the UK, as they navigate their countries through huge, transformative challenges.
But there’s another leader we should be talking about… Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin.
One of the strangest things about this strange election is that the Republican candidate has expressed such open fondness for him. Donald Trump and his supporters even cheer for Russian cyber-meddling.
On the other side, the Hillary Clinton has compared Putin to Hitler. Despite the reservations of most Democrats, including the President, she promotes the very unfriendly folly of a US-led no-fly zone over Syria.
Given the controversy, it’s fair to ask whether I admire President Putin, or not.
Americans once considered Putin a sincere, forward-thinking man dedicated to transforming Russia from bureaucratic Communism into a modern market economy. Now he looks more and more like a media-savvy autocrat who dreams of making an old empire great again. Some Americans like that kind of politician. Some are very skeptical.
We can’t ignore the implications of personality on our relationship with Russia, but It helps to keep history in mind.
Despite huge ideological differences, the people of the United States and the Soviet Union fought on the same side in World War II. We recognized the Nazi regime as a common enemy, along with its creed of racial supremacy. That alliance was possible because of an underlying philosophical affinity. At heart, both capitalism and communism oppose racism and prefer broad prosperity.
But after Hitler was defeated our alliance unraveled. Each side insisted that the other’s political system belonged on the ash heap of history. That hostility didn’t give peace much of a chance. Over the years, each superpower put too little effort into modeling durable economic success at home, and too much into searching for foreign monsters to destroy.
Our conflicts dominated a long stretch of the 20th Century. We called it a Cold War, but it was deadly hot for people in places like Vietnam and Afghanistan. Though it ended peacefully when the Soviet state collapsed, many issues are now coming back to haunt us. Some people worry about a sequel.
Consider these Cold War echoes:
Russia and America are again fighting proxy wars. This time the killing fields are in Syria.
There’s also a dangerous revival of the arms race. Too much money is going to people who profit from weapons and war, while too much effort is going into muscle-flexing and brinksmanship.
Capitalism versus Communism is no longer the central ideological antagonism, but there’s still lots of grist for the propaganda mills. Both sides are masters at ginning up hostility against a scary, deplorable adversary. So, just as Soviet-era media ran newsreels about the Jim Crow South to warn against the injustices of capitalism, Russian television is showcasing our Presidential debates to warn against the depravity of US-style democracy.
Nevertheless, if the Cold War can have a sequel, so can our World War II alliance.
Existential threats loom again. The Russians are as alarmed as we are about by the rise of what they call takfiri. It’s a more precise identification than ours. Their word conveys the idea of violent, uncompromising dogmatism. It spares them pointless debates over the metaphysical etymology of “radical Islamic terrorism.”
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is an obvious argument for a comeback alliance. But there are more assuring ones. Russians and Americans can find fortitude in deeper, binding values.
Unlike takfiri, we’re appalled by parents who raise their children for suicide. Unlike takfiri, we cherish the truths revealed by modern science, and seek disclosure of more. Unlike takfiri, neither of us wish to see our world crowning the ash heap of history, and certainly not on the pretext that a war of Armageddon would deliver paradise.
For some time now, Putin’s government has been proposing a United Front against the takfiri. Given our common interests and affinities, it’s a prospect to consider. But doing so would oblige both sides to confront doubts about the other’s trustworthiness for such an ambitious partnership.
The Russians don’t look like appealing allies to many Americans. Not now. There are many reasons, but Russia’s position on the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 stands out.
Moscow claims there’s insufficient evidence to conclude that the deed was done with a missile system provided by the Russian Federation. That’s the official line, and the one most Russians seem to believe.
It’s crazy and wrong. It’s so bizarre, it needs to be called out. It’s equivalent to claiming there’s not enough evidence to prove that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. It’s a showstopper for Americans who would rightly ask, “How much confidence can we have in the credibility and judgment of people who are as self-deluded as birthers?”
The worst kind of dishonesty is when you’re dishonest with yourself.
We can anticipate that the Russians might respond, tit for tat, pivoting to their own long list of grievances, criticisms, and fears. That would get us nowhere. Again. It’s the dreary theme of our current relationship.
Our best chance to close this chapter depends on both sides attaining a shared, transformative insight. Here’s a suggestion for one: People are very good at pointing out hypocrisy, except when they look in a mirror.
We Americans all look forward to seeing new pictures of President Putin riding his horse, but we would be delighted to hear his honest views on how to establish a fact-based mutual understanding of the international situation.
If the Russians can ever come to terms with the truth about MH17, they might also come to recognize the degree to which people who want peace matter. It’s a movement that spans borders. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose, but you know we’re here.
We lost in 2003 when we failed to prevent George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, but we won in 2013 when the British Parliament, pushed by the British public, blocked David Cameron’s plans for military action against Syrian government forces. That move, plus opposition in the US (in which Libertarians played a leading role), prompted Barack Obama to back down from his famous “red line” pledge.
Soon after, the Russian government initiated a proposal that led to removal of chemical weapons from the Syrian government’s control. It was a hopeful moment, but it was only a moment. The lopsided fighting continued, abundantly fueled by Assad’s “conventional” arsenal, fomenting chaos across the world.
It’s not clear why the Russian people have been so silent so long about the atrocities committed by their Syrian client.
We know that the powers-that-be in Russia are elite masters of media management, no less skilled than their American counterparts. We also realize that no nation is immune from being bamboozled by a jingoist press. Still, for the long run, there’s every reason to believe that there are many Russians who are savvy enough to figure that out, who are moral enough to be revolted by the injustices done in their name, and who will dare to show leadership by speaking truth to power.
Those are people to be admired, because those are the kinds of people we aspire to be and with whom we can seek to build reliable partnerships.
From time to time we Americans need to take a break from the unpopularity contest of our Presidential campaign and turn our attention to urgent, important issues. So, let’s be clear. The US should not be getting into the business of bombing allies of the Russian Federation. If we sincerely intend to stay out that business, imposing a no-fly zone over Syria is the wrong thing to do.
The Libertarian Party insists on this, not for the sake of being friendly to Putin, but for the sake of daring to give peace a better chance than the political leaders who are perpetuating this tragedy.
There’s an old saying that war is God’s way of teaching geography to Americans. These days, even that may not be enough.
Now, because of Gary Johnson’s Aleppo gaffe, that city has become a little more familiar to most Americans than it was a few weeks ago. But, what’s truly regrettable about his embarrassing moment is that it puts us deeper in the dark. The media had a feast with it, and continued to neglect the conversations we need to have. Aleppo became a story with no moral…
I was rooting for Johnson to get into the debates. I was hoping he would be there to present a sober and compelling case against the neocon agenda. Combining military belligerence with thoughtless adventurism should never again be America’s default international problem-solving strategy. That argument needs to be made convincingly… both to the American people, and to the other candidates on that stage.
I appreciate Johnson’s skepticism about the utility of our military involvements. But making foreign policy needs more than gut instinct. It takes discipline to calculate and advance American interests. The better we can articulate the world, the better we can navigate it and weather its storms.
By not doing his homework, Johnson squandered a huge opportunity. He had a chance to present an informed and thoughtful argument against interventionism that all Americans need to hear. He missed it.
To be clear, I voted for Bernie Sanders during the primaries, and my vote will go to Clinton in order to stop Trump. I’m also appalled that Johnson favors private prisons and opposes the minimum wage. But my opposition to regime-change interventionism is so strong that I’d probably put him ahead of Clinton if we could rank our choices when we vote. But we can’t.
The best we can hope for is that people who can offer good sense on an issue make full use of their powers to do so when given the chance.
So, if Gary Johnson ever wakes up from this bad dream and gets another open shot at the question, here’s the kind of answer that I think would better serve the American people.
Mike Barnicle: What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?
Gary Johnson: That’s a question that needs to be considered at length, because injustice and instability within Syria spreads beyond Syria. The civil war has resulted in over 400,000 dead and displaced millions of people. The humanitarian crisis triggers a refugee crisis which triggers an immigration crisis which triggers a resource crisis. And that triggers the rise of xenophobia and racism in the West. At the same time, huge ungoverned swaths of Syria have become like a Mad Max crucible for terrorism.
Right now, the Obama Administration is making the correct move. They should keep looking for ways to work more closely with the Russian government. The immediate goal should be to broker a cease fire that can alleviate suffering in Aleppo and other besieged cities. That will open the way to a long-term political solution.
But overall, the Administration’s policy has been counterproductive. They don’t understand what America should NOT do. We shouldn’t be joining the circular firing squad called the Syrian civil war. We certainly shouldn’t be imposing a no fly zone there, as Hillary Clinton called for. The American people need to keep in mind that ISIS and Al Qaeda don’t have planes. It was a mistake for the President to demand “Assad must go.” Even if we personally wish for that outcome, that’s not a proper commitment for US policy.
Those us of who opposed the Iraq War before it started should keep saying “We told you so.” The American people have to learn to recognize the wrong turns of history. We need to identify mistakes. Because, if we ignore them we’ll keep repeating them, and then we’re doomed to a hellish world of unintended consequences. That means we need to admit, loud and clear, that the regime-change road-show was a flop.
That doesn’t mean we should simply turn away from the crisis. We’re not isolationists. The United States still has obligations under the international doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect.” So, once we make it plain that our involvement in humanitarian interventions is not a pretext for regime change, we’ll be in a better position to accelerate our work with Russia to bring about a resolution.
Willie Geist: So an alliance with Russia is the solution to Syria. Do you think Vladimir Putin in Russia is a good and reliable partner?
Gary Johnson: The ultimate solution to Syria can’t be imposed from the outside. It has to come from the inside. The Russians can help a lot, and it’s certainly in their interest to do so. They’re at least as vulnerable to terrorism from that region than we are, and they know it. The success of any partnerships between the US and Russia will hinge upon advancing our mutual interests. Of which there are many. Once we get over our Cold War baggage, we could be very formidable partners.
But we also have to be frank with them. Overall so far, Russia’s behavior in Syria has been far more counterproductive than ours. Assad is their client. He’s killed 360,000 of his own people.
Historical trial and error offers some lessons that are valid for Syrians, for Russians, and for Americans.
When you make it your business to deny people the right to pursue their own sovereign aspirations, you’re going to make enemies a lot faster than you can conquer or kill them. You’ll never get real security that way.
The long-term solution to this crisis depends on people waking up to their own best interests in security, prosperity, and respectability. Enabling the murder of 360,000 people does not get you any of that.
This is a presentation I gave at an Institute for General Semantics Symposium in 2013. I definitely need to improve my story telling skills and narrative movement. But I’m still fascinated by the material.
Capitalism offers real opportunities to advance social justice. Across America and across the world, capitalist-driven innovation and entrepreneurship has generated profound benefits for human well-being. Yet, it’s also true that unbridled capitalism can lead to suffering and misery. The challenge of our time is to leverage the virtues of capitalism and defeat its excesses.
Purple Capitalism sees economic freedom and social justice as complementary ideals, linked by the imperatives of human empowerment and moral fairness. We’ve seen how energetic competition in open markets elevates diversity and inclusion over outdated hierarchies. We’ve seen how the pursuit of happiness is most likely to succeed when it’s built from a broad foundation of mutual benefit rather than brute, abusive exploitation. Over the long run, we’ve seen how capitalism can serve the cause of progress.
Security and prosperity are native human desires. Traditional capitalism is a system of rules for channeling those urges into a strategy for building national wealth. It favors personal self-interest over state planning to motivate individual effort. But when constructive appetites give way to destructive avarice, or when structural incentives give rise to perverse outcomes, the orthodoxies of forbearance fail. The fullest benefits of capitalism cannot be achieved without confronting the hazards of unconstrained capitalism.
A Program for Purple Capitalism
Overcome the perils of capitalism.
Be alert to perverse incentives.
Say No to private prisons.
Profit-seeking motivates investment in innovations that put more people in prison for longer times.
Say No to private armies.
Dependence on mercenary power weakens official chains of command over the conduct of policy.
Say No to private self-regulation.
Like foxes guarding chicken coops, un-monitored producers externalize costs at society’s expense.
Advance the promise of capitalism.
Be alert to progressive alignments.
Say Yes to extension of property rights.
Women and others who were once treated as property have won the freedom to own property.
Say Yes to equal opportunity.
Competitive businesses seek employees by merit, and act accordingly to extinguish workplace biases.
Say Yes to entrepreneurial innovators.
Freedom to trade goods and services fosters organic spread of skills and self-empowerment.
Posted this on FB not long ago, and now I’m cross-posting here.
Things are moving fast on this planet. If we intend to get smarter about where we want to go, it’s important not to forget where we’ve been. I started writing this several days ago for a group I’m a member of, The Open Source Party. After last night, it needed some updating. Now that it’s finally finished, I’ve decided to share it with everybody.
See that crooked sky? A few steps away, a black man was shot dead in his car.
The World Wide Web has been raining with images like this. That particular one exposed another day of horror and injustice in America. It’s a portrait of our brutal history, and of our chronic failure to overcome it.
The deluge doesn’t stop. Suddenly, a page is turned, presenting a new chapter of gore, with its own festering puzzle.
Ironically, these images are artifacts of a great technological revolution, instantly broadcast and globally shared. The Internet is awash with reminders of how primitive we are.
If we can see raw injustice in real time, can we see our way out of it? What would it take to get to a world where such horrors are rarely repeated, rather than just rarely shown?
It would take dedication to getting smarter faster about what pictures we need our electric clouds to drop. That would be a true revolution.
Maybe this machine is doing us a favor. By grabbing our attention this way, it’s making us witness our reflection so often, we might finally learn to face it.
It’s easy to say that the world seems crazier. But what makes our new reality so different is that the crazy is always on. We’ve gotten really good at equipping ourselves with instant feeds of hateful programming via globally-interconnected devices. We’ve gotten really good at saturating our minds with crazy-making stories.
Rather than just go bonkers by bingeing on out-of-control feedback, I suggest getting better at putting smarterfaster-making stories into heavy rotation.
Run-amok malevolence doesn’t deserve the last word. As humans, we still come endowed with capacities for collaborative problem-solving. Let’s leverage those.
It’s not a matter of shutting down the crazy channel. That dam has already broken. It’s a matter of tapping our reservoirs of sanity.
The wider Open Source community generally organizes around free speech commitments rather than social justice priorities. This group’s attention has been more narrowly focused on election reform. But broader kinds of conversations like this need to be put in bounds from time to time. Right now especially. There’s too much at stake to ignore it.
Fixing this election law or that ballot technology are always good things to do, but they aren’t the key to organizing a properly functioning government. And open source democracy certainly isn’t the sine qua non for a culture of well-being.
That doesn’t mean the values and programs we talk about here are simply irrelevant. Who wouldn’t agree that our governments and systems of justice need platforms that bake in transparent, accountable processes?
If we keep asking ourselves why we want that, we’ll find more in common with why other people in other change-driven groups want what they want… In every case we’ll encounter a constitutional desire to bend the universe toward fairness.
These nasty civilizational selfies we’ve been taking remind us how sharp that bend needs to be.
Last week’s tragedies across America demand we look for overarching values. This week’s abomination in France demand we never give up.
I submitted a video to the “What Does it Mean to Human” contest sponsored by the Big History Project. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the cut for the top 25. That suprised me, because I thought had done a pretty good job of resonating with Big History’s themes about thresholds of complexity. In any case, there’s no doubt in my mind that they picked the right winner… Abby Lammers. She made the the same fundamental point that John Green made in the video I pointed out last time, and she did it in a very succinct and engaging way. I’m looking forward her next videos. My video is below, followed by playlist I put together of the entries I considered most worth watching, starting with Abby’s.
I’m a huge fan of the Big History Project, and just got the email about their new contest. It’s focused on getting people to create videos to answer the question, “What does it mean to be human?”
There were three example videos, including one from Big History’s big benefactor, Bill Gates (@BillGates). Another was by Jacqueline Howard (@JacqEHoward), the Science Editor at Huffington Post proxy. But the one that really stood out was by John Green (@johngreen), who’s one of the vlogbrothers on YouTube.
The Secular Progressive Reporter has no authority over this blog, I’m someone else… Craig Simon, @gitis on Twitter, SecularProgress on YouTube, and aliased as Flywheel at various places around the web, including here. The other site’s proprietor is unknown to me. I’ll call that person SPR.
SPR and I clearly have many views in common. We admire Neil deGrasse Tyson and Tim Minchin. We want to showcase science. We follow each other on Twitter. We’ve chosen similar titles.
But don’t mix us up. Every page under SPR’s control proclaims:
Reason leads to science. Science undermines religion. Religion corrupts politics. Irreligion leads to progress. Thus, the future is Secular Progressivism.
That objectionable slogan will never be mine. The premise is solid, but the ensuing statements betray faulty assumptions, weak logic, gratuitous hostility, and unwarranted conclusions.
What’s written below should make the follwing sentence plain to everyone: I reject SPR’s impoverished worldview.
Let’s consider the slogan line by line.
Reason leads to science.
Reasoning is both a skill and a basic human faculty, rooted in pattern finding. We are born with a capacity for reason, just as we are physiologically endowed with capacities for sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. All of these capacities can be cultivated and refined in combination with each other. Our abilities to sense reality are complemented by our abilities to make sense of reality.
Reasoning facilitates the self-interested evaluation of reality. It’s a truth-seeking endeavor. Greater skill at reasoning motivates the gathering of evidence and the organizing of reflection. Disciplines of systematic critical method arise from that.
The skilled practice of science is a mature, symbiotic process of experiential anchoring and explanatory integration… sensing and making sense.
The very word “science” is shaped by that linking of skills. Consider some etymological cousins… decision, precision, discern, concise, conscience, and scissors. All share the root concepts of tool use in the service of intentional, purposive shedding off or cutting off. A world that exists is torn apart, its pieces refit for a world to be realized.
In light of these definitions, the notion that reason leads to science shouldn’t be controversial. It’s a fine philosophy. My argument against SPR begins with the next part of the slogan.
Science undermines religion.
When we recognize science as a truth-seeking endeavor, we unleash our powers to undermine belief in falsehood. SPR clearly associates religion with falsehood. Is this warranted?
SPR would certainly agree that “Science undermines supernaturalism.” That is, science undermines belief in explanations that contradict available evidence or break physical laws. Scientific investigation builds understanding of such laws, often by making rubble of entrenched false beliefs.
Science narrates histories of paradigmatic collapse and creation.Inadequate worldviews regarding the nature of motion, thermodynamics, chemistry, and biology cannot withstand honest investigation. Weak beliefs are toppled as science accelerates processes for learning how to learn.
Technology these days makes a fashion of disruption; deeper mastery of science fosters an ethic for answering mystery with puzzle solving.
The process of moving closer to truth undermines trust in supernatural confabulations. That is how reason leads. Science is a tool for challenging falsehood and credulity. It strengthens our powers of discernment.
It’s safe to presume that SPR equates supernaturalism and religion. I do not. Beyond the word religion, we might also disagree on use of terms such as God and deity. But our differences are not simply a matter of competing semantic claims
It’s important to make clear that not all religions postulate supernatural deities. Benedict Spinoza inspired modern pantheism by unburdening himself of useless superstition and then equating God with Nature. His religious perspective rules out supernaturalism by allowing us to recognize the substance of the eternal Cosmos as a self-caused essential existence persisted only by itself, Just as we may cultivate a sense of reason, we may cultivate a sense of deity.
Outspoken opponents of religion typically associate it with primitive cosmologies and tyrannical institutions. Those are dangers they wish to see undermined. I observe those same dangers within a broader context… people who portray themselves as truth echoers, delegated as such by some cosmically-founded agent or absolutist principle. That is the larger problem. Members of religious cultures are not immune to such dangerous delusions, and neither are proponents of scientific ones. The antidote is honesty about one’s own potential for getting things wrong.
Voltaire argued, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” To imagine the prospect of encountering God raises the stakes of human existence. It fortifies the obligation of truth seeking as a fundamental human interest. Shedding the fetters of supernaturalism permits a more honest encounter with nature, and promises a more durably sublime one. Enthusiasm for a true religion is best served by endeavoring to cherish truth.
Religion corrupts politics.
Yes, there is much evidence of this. To be fair, we could list social pathologies that are far more corrupting. And, to be fair again, the practice of politics has been no less corrupting to religion than vice versa.
Perhaps we can agree on a practical approach to overcoming corruption: It requires that our religious and political institutions be fortified to uphold and reward habits of truth seeking.
Irreligion leads to progress.
Here we see SPR’s call to action. The word religion is deployed pejoratively, as if its conquest would herald a transformative advance for human wellbeing. Boiled down, however, the sentence is a muddled restatement of the original premise, which was “reason leads to science.”
“Supernaturalism cripples progress” puts things better, presuming the point is to break constraints or warn of danger. But the tone of SPR’s shrill, name-baiting formulation, “Irreligion leads to progress,” resonates with insult. It conveys an alarming hostility moored in lazy disregard for human complexity. I object to this part of SPR’s slogan, and feel obliged to go on the record by saying so. Please, dear reader, don’t confuse us.
SPR and I might agree on the general desirability of progress, but I prefer to animate that desire through constructive endeavor. Obsessive name baiting does nothing to advance the frontiers of scientific discovery. A more honorable call to action would light a candle rather than curse the darkness.
Thus, the future is Secular Progressivism
SPR apparently hoped to finish with a syllogism, but instead spouted silly determinism. In fact, nothing about the existence of reason predicts fulfilment of a cosmic master plan. There’s no guaranteed destiny. Wishing for freedom doesn’t establish freedom, only the opportunity to reach for it.
Reason well exercised can take us a long way, but the endeavor is ours to direct.
SPR wants to raise a flag for secular progress, but upholds a poor standard. Proclaiming piety for reason obliges better explanations of what reason is, and what it motivates. Secular Progressivism is an appealing banner, but SPR’s version is too tattered and empty to merit a following.
If SPR wants to renounce the original slogan and win me as an ally, this alternative works better.
Reason leads to science. Science leads to making sense of what we sense. Truth seeking leads to knowledge of nature. Alignment with nature leads to progress. Secular Progress is a truth seeking endeavor.
Dolors, the physicist/mathematician/philosopher who posts as Cracking the Nutshell on YouTube, publishes more content than I can regularly follow, but this morning I watched one that was so good, I felt motivated to comment.
She’s also a respectful critic of Sam Harris. We need more of those.
Here’s the comment:
Great quote from Carl Jung at 10:26… “I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” You also made a point that I’ve always thought needs to be amplified. People who use language like “I had no choice” are excusing themselves for behaving like puppets on a string, and implicitly denying their own free will.
In my view, freedom means demanding responsibility for the consequences of your choices, and refusing to live by excuses. Sure, there are long chains of causal constraints on the choices available to us, but the exercise of consciousness opens awareness of what choices remain available.
What’s particularly interesting is OUR SENSE of free will (and, for that matter, our sense of consciousness). My view on this is that those senses can be matured and cultivated. Just as an infant isn’t born with fully developed senses of taste, hearing, vision, etc., neither are we born with a fully developed sense of free will. We can shut our eyes to it, like feigning blindness, or we can to learn to become deeply cognitive of our abilities to exercise it, like connoisseurs of sophisticated music and wine.
I’m a big fan of Bill Maher and rarely miss his show. I agree with a lot of what he says, but certainly not everything. I’m also very attentive to Sam Harris. He’s become one of the leading proponents of the notions that consciousness and free will are illusions (ideas I oppose), and he’s been exceptionally disciplined and precise in making his arguments.
So I was very attentive to the famous debate with Ben Affleck about liberal attitudes toward Islamic illiberalism, and I posted my response in a couple of places online, including Juan Cole’s Informed Comment and as at the Young Turks YouTube channel. My response is below the video.
Here’s why I think Harris’s comments on Islam reveal his bigotry. At one point in the discussion on Bill Maher’s show he described his “onion layer” theory of ruthless Jihadi murderers at the center, and violence-condoning conservatives the next layer out, together accounting for a huge percentage of the world’s Muslim population. He also described an outermost layer of “nominal” Muslims who would reject such violence.
In his view, evidently, the only good Muslim is a “nominal” Muslim. Yet, I think he would admit that, throughout history, devotees of supernatural religions have continually re-interpreted their founding texts to sanctify an astoundingly wide variety of cultural behaviors. For example, Islamic culture once led the world in scientific investigation and architecture on the justification of seeking the patterns of God
My point is that supernatural religions by definition allow for lots of flexibility. They are ungrounded by evidence, and can be put to any use that adherents prefer… their truths are in the eye of the believing beholder. Self proclaimed “devout” Muslims can therefore consider themselves obliged to behave as benevolent humanitarians OR crusading murderers, just like Christians. Yet Harris would insist that any devout Muslim is a threat. Wrong and unfair.