What I’ve Learned this Past Year — 2009 Edition

Instead of doing New Years Resolutions, I’ve decided to look in the past and see how I’ve learned.  To me, if one hasn’t learned things within the past year, then it’s as if one hasn’t gained wisdom.  And if that’s the case, then was that past year even worth living?  Thus, here’s a list of things that I’ve learned this past year:

Ethics

  • Comparing Animals with Humans. Animals are never a good idea when you want to figure out the right thing to do for humanity.
  • Why be natural? “We should do it because it’s natural.”  That’s just another way of saying, “we should do it because it’s tradition.”
  • The Solution to Same-Sex Marriage.  It’d probably be best if we privatized marriage.  It’s the only compromise we have.  You can see it on my post on Nudge.

War

This is probably the most controversial one, so let’s get started.

  • Realism is more accurate than ever. In terms of international politics, realism is, for better or for worse, the most reliable answer.  This past year, I’ve sat in a class at WSU that dealt with anthropology, war, and radical Islam.  This class really blew my mind.  In the beginning, I was one of those who was totally against the War in Iraq.  Indeed, I was originally against the War in Afghanistan because I was one of those that had the mentality of “can’t we all just get together and listen to each other?  Where we can sing Koombya?”  Now, I feel like we have to stay.  I recall Plato’s dictum: “Never discourage anyone who continues to make progress, no matter how slow.”  However, I recall Hume and the psychologists who say that as soon as one reaches adulthood, it’s extremely hard to make them progress.  They’re already set in their ways; they already have established habits.  Thus, when it comes to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s more complex than “it’s moral” or “it’s immoral.”  Thus, there’s no such thing as “it’s a just war” or “it’s an unjust war.”  It’s always for a reason as to why we’re there and it has nothing to do with “we’re doing it for the oil” or “we’re doing it to liberate the people.”  The Realist is willing to admit that.
  • The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan won’t end very soon. Here’s the deal: if we leave right now, the Taliban will group up and plan another attack.  We can’t leave.  However, if we stay, it’s just going to be a never-ending battle because we are fighting a guerrilla war with a group of people, not a country.  How can we fight a ragtag group of people?  I’ve always said that if you can’t figure out the answer, always follow the money.  So ask yourself this: who’s funding the Taliban?  There are three answers: the opiate fields (which isn’t much), they have figured out a way to channel US funding money from the US to Pakistan into Taliban hands (again, not much), and they have outside sources that are funding them, like Saudi Arabia (BINGO!).  Saudi Arabia are the number one country funding the Taliban (and other jihadist groups).  They can do this because they’re a rich country mainly from their oil supply.  Now we are the number one country that is buying up their oil.  Thus, we are simultaneously fighting and supporting the War on Terror.  We must cut off the funds.  How can we do this?  We must stop buying oil and then convince the rest of the world to follow suit.  But how?  Oil is such a huge commodity in demand.  How can we all of the sudden cut off our oil supply?  Here’s the answer: we need another source of fuel.  It seems that the only way to do this is through a Green Revolution. That’s right.  Even if Global Warming isn’t true, we need to pretend that it is in order to fight the War on Terror.  This will cut off the source of Taliban funding, and then from there, we can criticize the Saudi government for violating human rights, and not turn a blind eye because we need the oil.  This is the only Realist answer I see.
  • Torture is always, always, always wrong.
  • Clausewitz is Needed. From Cluasewitz, there is a Trinity of War: the Government, the Military, and the people.  Thus, war is always political.  The govt. provides the execution, the military is the means, and the people provides the will.  The people are the engine of war.  Thus, the best war is where you subordinate the military point of view to the political.  This is why Napoleon, Caeser, and King Solomon were great warriors, it’s because they knew how to play politics.  The political aim always have military objectives.
    • Everything in war is simple.  But the simplest thing is always difficult.  Things can always go wrong.
  • Sun-Tzu is Needed. Thus, we need to learn about Taoism.  War is always about the survival of the state.  War and statecraft are intertwined.  Never forget that.  Statecraft is too important to be left with the politicians.  The stronger something becomes, the weaker it gets.
    • Your most important weapon is deception.
    • Wait until the enemy is exhausted.
    • Win without fighting.
    • DO NOT USE PRINCIPLES!  Wars change, so you too must change.
    • “Know thy enemy.”  You must always know why the enemy is attacking.  If you do not know this, you will fail!
    • If you can’t defeat them, wear them down.
    • If this is not in the interest of the state, DO NOT ACT!
    • If you’re weak, do not fight.
    • Agitate the enemy to make them fight.  Never let them rest.
  • We need to amend the Constitution. Because of the need for Sun-Tzu, the world is much more complex and globalized.  The Amendment would say that the President must have also had some military background.
  • Don’t rely on technology too much. Our military has been shortened dramatically because we relied too much on the atom bomb.  Using drones isn’t going to be much of an effect.  Human intelligence is what is needed.
  • Mainstream Muslims are Needed. Many mainstream Muslims say that the terrorists are not true Muslims.  Ok, let’s take them at their word.  We should collect a lot of mainstream Muslims and establish a leadership.  From there, make an announcement in the Middle East saying that terrorists are not true Muslims.  Thus, if these people die, they will not get a Muslim burial.  Once the terrorists hear this, they will probably not want to fight (part of being a martyr is to get a Muslim burial).  Thus, this will be an incentive to not join up and fight.
  • Fareed Zakaria is the Man. You can see why here, here, here, here, and here,

Laws

  • No one can graduate from high school unless one is fluent in some foreign language. Our world will be left behind if we don’t catch up.  China and India are slowly rising and they’re going to leave us in the dust.  On advantage they have is they know more than one language.  Of course, English is the language practically everyone in the world knows.  Thus, to catch up, we need to learn another language.
  • As soon as one graduates from high school, one must serve the country for two years. This can be military, peace corps, or even working behind a desk as long as it’s for the government.
  • When it Comes to Liberty, Mill is Needed. The Harm Principle is probably the best Principle in the history of just theory.

Truth

  • The truth isn’t always black and white. If anything, the truth is more complex than I’ve imagined.  Always look at the issue with two opposite angles.  If anything the truth is a mixture of both.
  • Ideals can get you into Trouble. Principles are against empirical data.  If you had to choose between principles and empirical data, always choose the data, even if you don’t like the consequences of said data.
  • Skepticism is not the same Thing as Cynicism. Skepticism is placing doubt on something; cynicism is being pessimistic about it.  For example, I am skeptical that we are going to get rid of nuclear weapons, but I’m not cynical about it.

Economics

  • Greg Mankiw, an economics Professor from Harvard, has a blog based on his economics classes.  This particular blog deals with the top ten books that he teaches for his class.  I liked how he polled his students at the end of the class:
  • I also asked the students how their views had changed over the course of the semester. Those who started out liberal said they came to appreciate market mechanisms more. Those who started out conservative said they came to appreciate the market’s limitations. In other words, after a few months of reading and discussing economics and public policy, most of them moved toward the political center and closer to agreement.

    I vow to read all of those books next year.

  • Big Business isn’t that bad. Most, but not all businesses, are in business because they have a product to sell.  If you have a certain demand on a product, they business will cater to your demand.
  • However, Paul Krugman is the man when it comes to economics.
  • Capital Punishment is bad economics. If you want to help the economy, I suggest states to abolish capital punishment.  Yeah, you can say that the criminal deserves to die.  But those are principles.  Sorry, but pragmatics trumps principles in my opinion.
  • Giving Aid to Africa Probably isn’t the Best Solution. It turns out that the leaders of the country just steal the money which makes the people of the country grow poorer.
  • Taxes! Taxes aren’t that bad. In fact, they’re quite beneficial.  But if you want, they are beneficial to you as well.
  • We are not Homo Economicus.  Sure, there are some people who live out their whole lives making a profit, but not everyone is like that.  (To see why, look at my blog on Nudge.)  We are irrational on the economic stuff.  Thus, we do need help, but not someone making our decisions for us.  (If anything, this is probably the one that has seriously influenced my thinking most of all.  I’m seriously impressed with this.)
  • Just straight out, I need to study more economics.
  • Globalization isn’t that bad. In fact, it could probably help bringing about a more peaceful world.

Science

Politics

  • Should we Trust the Government? Yes, unless there’s a reason why we shouldn’t. I find it odd that people go about their daily lives and they trust strangers.  After all, we seriously doubt that some stranger is going to come in at Wal-Mart and start shooting the place up.  Those instances, are the exception.  It seems that the government is doing the same thing but people don’t want to admit it or else they’re only focusing on the bad.
  • President George W. Bush. He was probably the worst president in the history of the US and most likely, he lied.
  • On the other hand, Obama has been a huge disappointment. Obama has constantly said throughout his campaign that we need “hope and change” (whatever that means).  However, everything has been the same with the Bush administration except for four things: (1) health care reform, (2) overturning Bush’s policy on stem cell research, (3) a global warming summit (although that resulted nowhere), and (4) Obama is a much more eloquent speaker.  So far, the taxes, bailouts, and economies are the same.  (That’s something I don’t get, why weren’t there any tea parties during the Bush administration if their economic policies are the same.  That’s another story.)  If Obama keeps going down this road, he won’t win in 2012 and his presidency will be seen as a failure.  His administration says that all of this is needed because things would be worse off if they didn’t do the bailouts.  Bailout = recession; no bailout = depression.  Recession is better than depression.  Therefore, we should do the bailout.  I can understand this argument.  But why not tell the American people this?  It’s as if the Obama Administration is saying, “Trust us and everything will be ok.”  Here’s the problem: the American people are starting to lose their trust in the government.  Thus, you need to show them that you can be trusted.  Constantly saying “Trust us” is just as bad as a rhetorical sophist.
  • Republican will die, unless they do something drastic, like head towards a libertarian route and get rid of the Religious Right baggage.
  • Orwell is good, but we must never forget Huxley.
  • Conservativism has a rich history and is more complex than I Thought. Unfortunately, I doubt anyone will want to learn about it and see why they are conservative.

Teaching

  • I must realize that it’s impossible to teach the material to everyone.  I can’t make everyone care about the material.  It’s up to the student if s/he wants to learn the materials.
  • Continue to teach existentialism. I’ve noticed that people aren’t aware of how free they are unless they learn existentialism.  From there, they begin to care about the world they’re living in.
  • Implement the Socratic Method more often.  (However, this can have drawbacks.)
  • Presentations in Intro Classes are Pointless. When teachers always made students to presentations, I’ve often thought that they were pointless.  But I wanted to see if there was any value to it so I tried it on my Humanities class.  I’ve realized something.  They are pointless!  Student presentations are ways to simply waste time because the teacher doesn’t have enough material to teach.  I had to take out a lot of material just so that I could fit in student presentations.  They’re worthless!  Thus, anyone who wants to have student presentations in an intro class are simply lazy teachers.
  • Ideology Trumps Logic. People would rather hold on to their beliefs, even if it makes them illogical. Thus, Clifford’s article “The Ethics of Belief” is vital to read.  This applies to other fields like health care, for example.
  • When it comes to convincing people, Hume and Marx are closer to the truth. Logic hardly changes peoples minds.  Hume says that our ethics (and hence the things we value) are based on emotion.  Thus, for Hume, if you want to change people’s mind, you must appeal to their emotional strings.  For Marx, our values and our whole ideals comes from our economics.  Thus, if you want to change people’s minds, you cannot change their ideology.  Instead, you must change the structure of economics.

Personal

  • This is my last year in Utah. Take advantage of it.
  • The point of philosophy isn’t to be clever, but to live the good life. The only way to live a good life is to figure out what to believe, why I believe it, and to see if my views are consistent.
  • In personal relationships, it doesn’t matter what they think, say, or believe.  All it matters is what they do.
  • The words “I love you” is tricky business. But then again, love is always a tricky business.
  • Keeping and Dissolving Friends. I’m actually writing a paper about this.  Keeping friends is easy, but they seem more like acquaintances.  Dissolving them is harder, but it’s for the best sometimes.
    • Just because people happen to like each other, that doesn’t mean that it’s a perfect friendship.
    • Perhaps perfect friendship doesn’t exist anymore.
  • Women have it hard, but don’t assume the men have it easy.
  • If I start to feel like I’m certain about a certain issue, always end it with “. . . but I could be wrong.” Always read the opposite side.  The truth could be there and you never expected it.  I’ve always made fun of Glen Beck and Sean Hannity but I’ve never watched a full episode of them.  Thus, I will watch one full episode of each of their shows to get a full opinion.
    • Proving someone wrong only seems to work in an academic setting.
    • Great advice from economist Steven E. Landsburg: “Argue passionately for your beliefs; listen intently to your adversaries, and root for yourself to lose.  When you lose, you’ve learned something.”  Again, he mentions that when your opponent makes and argument that you don’t understand, don’t say to yourself, “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Instead, say, “I have failed to understand him.”
  • There was never an age of the Ideal Marriage. The 1950’s were not a great period.  In fact, it was probably the most stressful.
  • No matter how nice I am, people are always offended when I prove them wrong.  I don’t try to be.  But it’s hard to say, “You’re wrong and I’ve proved you wrong.  But please, don’t be offended by it.  In fact, you should be happy because now you have gotten rid of a false belief!”
  • Things are funnier when there are more people. Try watching Superbad or The Hangover by yourself.  Now watch them with a group of people.  Why is it that a group of people makes the movies funnier?  Do we laugh because other people do?  But I’ve noticed that we often look at each other to see their reactions to the comedy.  They laugh, therefore I laugh.  How odd that comedy gets funnier when there’s more people around.
  • Being Passionate about Something is a Double-Edged Sword. Sometimes, I envy people who are extremely passionate about something.  There are people who are way into cars, sports, computers, politics, religion, and other sorts of hobbies.  Me?  I guess I’m passionate about making logical arguments.  (I know, that seems like a paradox.)  Being passionate about something is great because that’s how you see a meaning for living: it’s something that you’re willing to live for, and perhaps willing to die for as well.  I, however, can’t see myself dying for something.  As Bertrand Russell once said: “I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.”  For me, I simply can’t understand why anyone would die for an idea, or even a belief.  Dying for other people, yes, I can see that.  But not for a belief.  Being passionate about something seems to give up the idea that you might be wrong.  I see this all the time.  The more passionate someone is, the more unlikely to budge.  Thus, what can one do?  On the one hand, being passionate about something gives one meaning and their perspective of the world is revolved around this idea.  On the other hand, it seems to bring about a way where the world must be this way.  Being logical is perceived as arrogant or even agnostic because it’s seen as a fence-sitter.  Like I said, I sometimes envy people who are passionate about something, but logic usually overpowers my emotions.
  • Never settle. No offense to my married friends, but I don’t think I can see myself getting married, at least anytime soon.  Marriage always entails a sense of “settling down,” whatever that means.  And when I think of settling down, I always think of the “pre-marriage” as the adventurous person, one who always takes risks and adventures, always does the traveling and pursuing whatever goals they can accomplish.  But by “settling down,” it entails that the adventures are over and now it’s time to relax and take it easy.  I’m not the type that can simply “relax.”  I always have to do something–whether it’s reading, writing, learning about the world, conversing with people, or even discovering about the world by experiences.  Life never stops.  Sure, you can still live by being a couch potato.  But that’s not truly living, that’s just simply surviving.  Anyone can survive; it takes guts to live.  A story: John Dewey, a famous pragmatic philosopher in the 1930s told a group of people about how to live.  An elderly woman approached Dewey after the lecture and she said: “Mr. Dewey, you describe life as though one climbed a mountain to the top and then descended, only to climb another mountain to the top.  Mr. Dewey, what happens when there are no more mountains to climb?”  Dewey answered back: “You die, Madam!”  To me, never having any mountains isn’t just a physical death, but it’s a death of living life.  It’s where one begins to “settle.”  I will always climb mountains until I die!
    • This is probably why I’m more of a “doing” philosopher rather than a “being” philosopher.
    • I think another reason is because I don’t like “relaxing.”  To me relaxing = laziness.  I know that they’re not the same, but the way I see it, life is extremely short.  Why would I want to waste it on relaxing?  In fact, I often feel guilty when I relax or when I’m doing nothing.  I must always do something because I want to experience as much as I can.  Doing nothing bothers me.  I can’t relax.  Paradoxically, relaxing stresses me out.  I have to constantly do something.
    • I don’t think I’ll be a good Taoist.

And finally. . .

Don’t Become Such a Philosopher

Have you ever had a religious debate where the other person had the totally opposite view as you?  Did you convert that person?  Did that person convert you?  The answer is probably no.  Always look at the context.  You must always do philosophy, and not merely show off the knowledge.  However, one must never stop thinking. Getting people to think is always rewarding, but it is up to the other person if they want to do the thinking, to gain the wisdom.  In other words, I can show them the way out of the cave, but it is up to them if they want to leave it.

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About shaunmiller

I am a Ph. D student at Marquette University. The primary purpose of this blog is to get my ideas out there, and then have other people scrutinize, critique, build upon, and systematize beliefs. This blog will sometimes pertain to what I'm learning in my classes, but it will occasionally deal with non-classroom issues that I'm thinking about as well.
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8 Responses to What I’ve Learned this Past Year — 2009 Edition

  1. Handsome Matt says:

    I’m glad your blog popped up as a suggested read. I’m constantly amazed at the depth of some your thoughts and arguments. I don’t agree with everything you say, but the fact that you approach it so well thought out deserves my respect.

    It’s funny though that you mention the Republican party needs to drop the religious baggage. Many of my more conservative Christian acquaintances and friends would vote Democrat if they dropped the abortion baggage.

    • shaunmiller says:

      Thanks Matt. I always try to get my ideas out there for them to be critiqued or else to be explicated more deeply.

      As for the Republican vs. Democratic divide, I recall Alan Dershowitz, an American lawyer, explaining how the Republican party had become more religious since the 1970’s. His idea was that in the 1970’s Roe v. Wade was passed which made the conservatives and Republicans furious. However, it seemed unlikely that it would be overturned. Thus, while politicians advocated of trying to overturn Roe v. Wade, almost everyone knew that it wasn’t going to happen. Thus, the people still voted for the conservatives because, after all, Roe v. Wade won’t be overturned and so they’ll just vote for the conservative candidate. Thus, this may have made Republicans more right-wing. Before this, they were Rockefeller Republicans. But they voted Republican because it couldn’t be overturned. Whether it’s true or not is up to debate, but it’s an interesting idea nonetheless.

  2. Handsome Matt says:

    I would also argue that Nixon’s appeal to the “Silent Majority” was also an act that moved the Republican party towards religion. That “Silent Majority” seemed to be made up mostly of religious conservatives, so their beliefs would naturally come out more as they voted for religious candidates, and candidates would state more and more religious ideas in order to win elections. It became a cycle, that even has influenced the Democratic party now; Every candidate talks about their faith in an effort to get votes.

    And Roe v. Wade is right up there with the Scopes-Monkey trial in the annals of wrongs against conservative Christians. I have issues with Roe v Wade for different reasons, but that’s a bitter, bitter subject for many in the “religious right.”

  3. Huenemann says:

    Wow! what an eventful year for you. Regarding war, politics, etc., be sure at some point you view Thomas P.M. Barnett’s TED talk, at:

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/thomas_barnett_draws_a_new_map_for_peace.html

    Pretty much in line with your developing realism.

    • shaunmiller says:

      Thanks Prof. Huenemann. I have seen it before and I find it pretty interesting. I’m still reconciling realism into my framework into my belief structure. Maybe it’s the pessimism in me.

  4. thekillerj says:

    I haven’t read it all yet, but I can’t believe our beliefs are about the same on war. The apocalypse must be around the corner…

  5. thekillerj says:

    You said,
    “I must realize that it’s impossible to teach the material to everyone. I can’t make everyone care about the material. It’s up to the student if s/he wants to learn the materials.”

    How true that is. Replace “student” with “client” and I’m in the same dilemma.

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