That Which Survives

This article is republished from an earlier version on the old Slobber And Spittle. Some minor alterations have been done, but little has changed since then, and a couple of Twitter conversations have brought it to mind.

Over at his blog, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Oscar, James Ala wrote this in response to a comment I’d left at his site:

it really begs the question “why bother contesting for a leadership position if you are not going to lead?” From Poppy Bush onwards we have been inflicted with empty suits that captured the Executive as resume padding. It has been all about blind ambition linked to ego gratification; with no real desire to do the heavy lifting the job required. You can see the downward spiral from Pappy Bush, to Bill Clinton, to Shrub and, finally, to Obama.

Each iteration, each candidate, was ever more solipsistic, ever more nihilist, ever more ego driven, ever more the unprincipled political hack. Each was ever more the dog chasing the bus; totally lost when said bus ended up in the dog’s possession.

I wish I was a systems engineer, or someone who could discern how systems work. I do not have the mental discipline or the framework to achieve that kind of analysis. I just know that our system of government, especially [its] political process is fundamentally flawed. I keep looking at the results of the process and keep being amazed on how badly it fails at delivering a more perfect union.

Going Along To Get Along

Since I am, or at least was, an engineer, let me explain the political system to you.

It’s not a system.

At least, it’s not in any sense that means anything. A system is designed to accomplish something, whether it’s a documentation system, a refining system, or a computer system. Whether that something is making a project’s design understandable, processing ore, or delivering porn and kittehs to your screen, the goals are clear enough that the people designing them can figure out how to accomplish them. What is the goal of our political “system”? Beyond electing candidates, I don’t see any. We as individual voters set those goals, and as any thorough survey of the blogosphere will demonstrate, there is no universal agreement on what those goals are, nor even what categories of goals there might be. Even progressives of like mind find it hard to agree, and we’re but a vanishingly small portion of the electorate.

I do, however, see an evolutionary process. Evolution isn’t a system. It doesn’t have any goals beyond surviving long enough to reproduce. As long as a type of organism can do that, it continues. There is no ultimate goal to achieve. There is no perfect ocelot or flawless poppy. There are only ocelots and poppies that survive long enough to spread their DNA around, and those that don’t. That’s how politics works, pretty much everywhere. Only the details, the environment if you will, are different.

And that’s the little bit of understanding I can offer. Politics is an evolutionary process, and survival is getting and staying in office. Understand the environment, and the reasons politicians are the way they are will be more clear. From what I’ve noted, the politicians who are most successful are those who somehow manage to convince voters that they’re all about whatever the voters are about, which usually entails not actually being about anything in particular. That’s certainly Barack Obama’s modus operandi, and it appears to be Mitt Romney’s, as well.

As any decent introductory biology text would tell you, biological evolution has two basic drivers – variation and natural selection. “Variation” is the ability of organisms to be somehow different from their parents. Mutation and sexual reproduction both create variation. “Natural selection” is the environment’s job. The conditions that exist in an organism’s environment determine whether it will survive long enough to reproduce. If the organism is able to produce offspring, its DNA is passed on.

In the area of politics, we the voters are the environment. The money, the news, the personalities, and all the other stuff that goes into shaping what the candidates offered do and believe, is the variation. Our choices as voters determine what politicians succeed and which ones don’t. In the end, if voters choose their leaders for fatuous, self-centered reasons, then what we will end up with is fatuous, self-centered candidates.

This is why there’s a series here called “The Price of Freedom”. It’s about why it’s important to understand the issues, to understand who the candidates are and what they really believe, and to not leave your thinking to the cool people on television or radio who, often as not, are also in the business of telling you what you want to hear.

In the end, whatever we as voters choose is what we will end up with. If you choose evil, you end up with evil. What’s worse is that the evil is what you’re selecting for, so it will almost certainly get worse. There are plenty of other choices available. If the ones the main parties offer aren’t good enough, I’d suggest choosing the one who best represents what you want. If enough of us do that, the variation will change. The Tea Party proved that.

In this environment, if you select what you want, you might get it. If you don’t, then you certainly will not.

Afterword: I think it should go without saying that the picture of Dr. Evil, a character in the Austin Powers movies, is just a reference to something that’s become a cultural icon. It does not represent an endorsement of this article by the producers, cast, or production staff of this movie.

The title of this article is, of course, the title of a bad Star Trek episode. Still, like the Enterprise crew members trying to survive on the same planet with Lee Meriwether’s homicidal avatar, we seem to be stuck with a problem we can barely understand, let alone deal with intelligently. Needless to say, the creators of Star Trek aren’t in any way responsible for the contents herein.

It’s humor. Get over it.

There Are No Scientists At Time Magazine

People enjoy the view at the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon. I came. I saw. I photographed. I’m still an atheist. (Click to enlarge – it’s worth it.)

Image credit: Cujo359

Apparently, the only thing Time magazine can think to write about science these days is tripe like this from one Jeffrey Kluger:

[A]s generations of campers, sailors, hikers and explorers could attest, there’s nothing quite like nature — with its ability to elicit feelings of jaw-dropping awe — to make you contemplate the idea of a higher power. Now, a study published in Psychological Science applies the decidedly nonspiritual scientific method to that phenomenon and confirms that the awe-equals-religion equation is a very real and powerful experience — even among people who fancy themselves immune to such things.

Why There Are No Atheists at the Grand Canyon

He goes on to cite a bunch of nonsense about studies that are supposed to show that you can’t possibly gaze on a site like the Grand Canyon without feeling a little religious.

Well, Jeffrey, I have some news for you. You’re wrong. You couldn’t be more wrong if you were the most recent winner of the International “I Can’t Possibly Reach A Clear And Correct Conclusion On Any Subject More Complicated Than My Navel” Contest. In fact, you’re an idiot, and here’s some scientific proof:

Exhibit A
Exhibit B

All I felt was a bit of vertigo, plus some serious amazement that water could do that much damage. You see, all that about how people can’t see things like the Grand Canyon without being moved to spiritualism is supposition based on your own prejudices, without trying to find any evidence to the contrary. Kinda like how I’m assuming that Time doesn’t want to do anything more useful with its science section than let fools flog their religions there.

Now, go away and get an education. I’ve had enough conversations with half-wits already today.

Shine On, Harvest Moon

For once, there was an astronomical event that I could see from my home in the Pacific NW. Tonight’s harvest moon came out looking OK:

Harvest Moon, 2013

The Harvest Moon as seen from Federal Way, WA, Sept. 18, 2013. Image credit: Photo taken and processed by Cujo359

I couldn’t figure out how to get a sharp picture of the Moon with the horizon in view, unfortunately. There was just enough haze to make that too difficult for me.

It could have been worse, though. It could have been raining.

Serendipitous Twitter Messages Of The Day

On my Twitter feed, these two messages appeared right next to each other:

graphic of Twitter messages

Twitter messages by @SuzanneTwoTon and @RichardDawkins, Aug. 8, 2013

Irony doesn’t get much heavier in this corner of the universe. What I conclude from this is that if aliens contact us, the NSA will know about it, but won’t want to reveal that knowledge, because it will endanger lives in our worldwide war on Al Qaeda. No doubt someone will eventually leak that information, but everyone will ignore the news and focus on what bad manners it was to release it without authorization.

Afterword: Links to the original messages here and here.

UPDATE (and After-Afterword): About that “bad manners” link – John Lewis is one of the few congresspeople these days for whom I have undying respect. The man risked a lot more for freedom back in the day than most of us ever will. Still, it is more than a little ironic that a man who values civil liberties so much would poor-mouth the efforts of someone else who is trying to preserve them.