18 October, 2004

A Lack of Substance (or: From Flaky to Wiki)

I just finished my calculus midterm.


What I like most about take-home exams is that while taking the test you can listen to OCR songs and play games of chess and scrabble at the same time. Plus, if you get stuck on a problem, you can always sleep on it and try again the following day. I think that whenever I finally get a job teaching mathematics, I'm going to primarily give take-home exams. It just seems better to me.

Y'know, it's a very scary thought to think of me teaching. Not two years ago, I was what CHL called a Rand-head, though I denied it at the time. And it is only in the past week that I have started reading things like Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica. (Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry on this book is only a paragraph long... Perhaps I should try getting off my ass and actually doing something constructive for once by writing about it.) I know that perhaps it seems strange to others that I would comment on this, but it is a big deal to me. I am not well trained, and it bothers me.

Now I know that others will probably groan at this point. I know that Russ would say: "What do you want to be trained for? Training is brain-washing." Just the other day, I spoke of philosophers needing to know the now almost universally defunct Aristotle in front of Matt, and his immediate knee-jerk reaction was wonder at why anyone should study a historical philosophy that has little relevance to what is commonly believed in today. So why should I worry about my training? After all, I am at least somewhat adequate at argument, and I know enough in my own fields to be moderately aware of what is going on.

But... It's just not enough.


It seems like most everything I've done in my life has been pretty damned half-assed. I dropped out of school, opting instead for a GED. I never worked in any job for longer than a few months at the most. Every essay I've written has been decidedly subpar, and every argument I've been in has resulted in little-to-no difference in the minds of those I argued against.

It's not that I'm not intelligent; I've seen the world around me, and I realize my own proficiency when it comes to mathematics, physics, or philosophy. But... I'm just not... reliable.

This semester, I signed up for an English class that looked interesting, just as an elective course. But I've missed five classes so far, and missed reading two of the books on the syllabus for the class. Even in my most advanced math class, I recently got a note from my professor telling me that I had already missed one class, and that if I was absent again, he would have to drop me. His statement hit pretty hard, since I am, after all, his favorite student -- but he's right: I need to be responsible.


About a year ago, I wrote a primer on the MTGN forums concerning the virtue of skeptical thinking. I cited Carl Sagan's Demon Haunted World and Robert Carroll's Skeptic's Dictionary as references, but... ::sigh:: I've always felt particularly crappy about the primer I wrote. As I was writing it, I kept thinking to myself over and over again: "Why am I bothering to write this? There are literally dozens of essays on exactly this same topic, the best two of which I'm citing here, but why bother writing an essay when I could just link to these better writers instead?"

Now, when I look back on it, I shudder. The essay is badly written and hard to follow. Those aren't exactly the best qualities for a primer to have. It is by no means concise, let alone elegant. I used bad word choices. I used "e.g." where I should have put "i.e.". I added no new information that Sagan, Carroll, et al had already spoken adequately on. It was a worthless, useless essay, unless it might have caused someone to see the citations given and actually follow up on them. (Yeah, right.)

But I still remember the day I wrote it. I was browsing the forums, watching my peers write the most disturbing and horribly thought out posts and actually trying to pass off the incoherence as argument. And I just happened to have come across Sagan's Demon Haunted World earlier that day by Dr. Allin, and I decided to try and get out Sagan's message to my fellow forum readers.

It seems virtuous enough when I put it like that, except I left out one thing. When I wrote the essay, I did so thinking that I was doing a service, since surely none of the others had read the book before. Only the next day, I come to find out that CHL and others had already read the book, and it hit me: I know virtually nothing that others do not know more of.


My dad recently asked me to do some more work on his website, yet I haven't even started on it. I tried writing javascript code for a banner and couldn't get it to work. For a banner. I'm talking intro-level scripting here, and I couldn't get it to work.

It's enough to make one feel rather worthless.


None of this would really be that big a deal, except these are the fields that I am actually intent upon knowing about. Just the other day, David asked me some random question on Lorentz fields, fully expecting that I would know the answer right away -- and I certainly should have! -- but I could not even remember where the name Lorentz came from. I could not place the name of a Nobel-prize winning theoretical physicist, who got his prize for correctly predicting the electron! For someone who insists that one of his fields is physics, this kind of thing should be a piece of cake, but instead I had to do a google search in order to answer David's question.

::sigh::



To accomplish nothing substantive is extremely disappointing to me. I still remember the old middle school days when Emp and I 'proved' 2=1, though we divided by zero, and when we 'proved' all triangles were isosceles, though we misused the visual geometry when we should have looked to the actual axioms instead. But these are extreme examples. I can remember when I first read Euclid's Elements, proving on my own the propositions before reading Euclid's proof. Or when I worked on raw data from particle interactions to see if I could reproduce some of the old Fermilab results. Doing stuff back then was enjoyable, even if only because it felt like I was actually doing something. I think the main cause of my depression between middle school and my college years was my lack of doing anything at all. ::sigh:: So many years wasted...


I would like to actually do something substantive. I feel like I'm on a roll after finishing this calculus midterm; I think I'm actually going to try and write a Wikipedia article on Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica. And I'm not going to do this half-assed, either. I'm going to do the research necessary to write a well thought out article, covering as many aspects as possible on the topic.

Wish me luck.

05 October, 2004

St. Joseph's Chapel (or: Reason vs. Doctrine: A Schizophrenic Debate)

What a beautiful chapel we have on campus. The marble floors and the vaulted ceilings are nothing when put up against European standards, but the flamboyant tresses and angelic figures make up an impressive facade next to the other buildings in olde towne Mobile, Alabama, much as Hamlet shines next to the crap of modern writers, despite its best speech using four opening lines with four feminine endings and including the stutter in blank verse: "WhethER 'tis noblER in the mind to suffER".

Still, seeing as how I live in the heart of darkness itself, the feeling of standing alone in the chapel late at night while everyone else is fast asleep is breathtaking. The limit of my architectural knowledge lies at the National Cathedral in D.C., and from what I understand, this is next to nothing in comparison to the town houses of Europe (not counting the cathedral in Milan -- ugh). So it is certainly understandable when I am awestruck by its (relative) magnificence; that, and then there's also the fact that my tuition went toward paying for this bloated two-dimensional pickwick-paper-like thing. One would almost expect me to be disgusted by the extravagance, but if I were disgusted by all that should disgust me, I'd never do anything with my life except exude disgusted... er, disgust.

Anyway, when it's late at night and the catholic masses lie dormant, the chapel is a good place to be. The new pipe organ (to be constructed in Germany, no less) has not yet arrived, but in the meantime a small organ resides in its place, along with a grand piano of dubious tuning. (It seems the middle 'C' on the organ differs from the grand by quite a wide margin.) Playing in front of an audience never did suit me entirely well, but when the whole of the college is nowhere near, I do not mind a little harmless ivory-tickling every now and then. And though the architectural style of the chapel is quite atrocious (even more so considering its recent restoration), the completely accidental harmonics of the inner structure is quite impressive. (At least it is for a Mobile-area native like myself; every concert I've gone to has used the historic-yet-harmonically-dissonant Saenger Theatre.)

But what impresses me even more is how easily my mood may change whenever I visit the chapel. It is as though the chapel itself acts as a conduit of sorts, allowing the progression of my mood to travel more freely in either direction. Generally, I admit, the chapel has a calming effect, reminding me that peaceful contemplation has been regarded as a virtue by many in the world, and that I should not worry so at the state of drunken stupors rampaging across campus each and every weekend. But occasionally I will be standing there, aghast at the horrors done in the name of religion, and I will feel that much more intensely adamant that the world harbors none who would understand the never-spoken-of eleventh virtue as a means between the extremes of hedonism and an overly charitable philosophy.

So it does not surprise me so much as one might think it should when, on a recent visit to St. Joseph's chapel, I paced the floors arguing incessantly with an incorporeal vision of God himself, trying to get a common consensus of what is.

Now I imagine that most who read this will pass off my odd quirks such as speaking aloud to a non-existent deity as indicative of insanity, or at least stupidity. But personally, I find that my private antics are helpful toward coming to determinations within my own mind. Not two years previous to this, I considered myself quite enamored with objectivism, and though none could adequately argue me to anything more than a standstill on the matter, I maintained a modicum of decency clothed in self-consistency. Many of my friends at the time (including Revolution1916, CoolHandLuke, Highroller, Harm'sWay, & ChildOfBabylon) considered my objectivist views to be (how should I put it?) quite questionable, yet, strangely enough, their respect for my focus on debate over dogmatism kept them at my throat without hating my guts (at least I hope they didn't hate me). And now, as a self-proclaimed liberal and practicing vegetarian, I seem to have come full circle à la Vico (too bad literature cannot yet say the same). The exegesis of this modification of base "first-cause" value system is directly delineated by one thing, and one thing only: argument. It is through argument that I have come to follow, understand, or even acknowledge any major system of thought. Without argument, I would be no more than least of my contemporaries. And so it is that my "odd quirks" are important to who I am as a person -- not by their 'quirkiness', but by their predilection toward argument.

The argument in question is one hinted at by my reading of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. It is written by one Ludwig Wittgenstein, a philosopher of admitted importance, though due to relevance or ridiculousness I have not yet been able to determine. The argument flowed as follows:

I stated unequivocally in the presence of God's own residence the fact that certainty of scientific structures is completely different (i.e., a difference in kind, rather than in degree) than the absurdity of certainty in any religious belief. Of course, a counter was immediately (and forcibly) given:

"If a man is told to believe that the doubt of Thomas is wrong, his immediate thoughts and reactions are exactly the same as they would be if he were told that the light would come on once a particular switch were flipped. The minds of two different people in these two situations would be similar in kind, though perhaps not in degree, since the immediate reaction is based on emotional attachment alone. But even after a period of thought on the matter, continued belief in their respective propositions would rely upon observation, and not upon any tyrannical decree of thought. While it may be true that each side has its own oddballs who may believe Thomas is wrong to doubt even after repeated highly regarded theses that doubt is necessary for theological belief to hold true, or that the light switch should continue to work even during the wrath of a tornado downs the power station, strictly competent adherents to both sides may agree that the continued belief in any proposition should rest entirely upon constant observation."

The specific examples of the argument were given to me as I walked beside the walls of the chapel; Thomas was brought up when I saw the fourteenth station of the cross, and remembered the admonition given him for doubting the resurrection, and a light switch was brought up when I noticed the switches on the back of the altar, invisible to the parishioners who always sit in front of it.

"But," I countered after a moment, "a believer in a doctrine of God employs faith; a believer in science employs reason."

"Not so; as you yourself said, they both are 'believers', and the reason we give that name to both is because they share the property of employing belief, reason-based or otherwise."

"Fine, but a reason-based belief is clearly superior to a doctrine-based belief."

"Why?"

"Because reason is not dogmatic, but it is..."

"What? What is it?"

I stumbled here, almost tripping over myself. I was too deeply immersed in thought to be able to continue my pacing.

"What were you going to say? Were you about to say that reason is self-evident? And if so, wouldn't that mean it were also dogmatic?"

The worst part about arguing with someone who is not there is that you feel really stupid when the nonexistent being beats you in an argument. "Then must we admit that reason-based belief is no different in kind from doctrine-based belief?"

I waited for a response, as I always do. But strangely, every time I am trounced in an argument and concede to the opposing side, the speaker for the opposition disappears, unable (or at least unwilling) to return again. I have often thought that my inner psyche, torn though it must be to think of such delusions, has some kind of reason for torturing me like this. Then again, what does it say about me when I always wait for a final word from a speaker who not only was never there, but then refuses to speak to me after I am persuaded to the speaker's side? Obviously, I am mentally ill in some fashion of the phrase. Of course, the whole of this paragraph is nothing but conclusions made by applying logical rules to propositions already asserted to be true -- in other words, reasoned thought. So my very justification for believing what I do doesn't even hold against the weight of its own elucidations. Reason itself seems to be quite suicidal, reducing its own importance to that of blind belief.

I am reminded of the judicial department of the United States of America. The Constitution does not specifically allow for the judicial branch to declare laws to be unconstitutional -- this would violate the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of government. Yet in Marbury v. Madison (1803), judicial review was established by admitting that the court had no jurisdiction over the matter in the first place. By limiting its own power to rule, the Supreme Court magnified its power tremendously. Could reason be taking a similar route to increased importance?

(I realize the way that I stated the previous sentence would imply an Aristotelian final cause of reason "doing" this for a particular purpose, but what I mean to say is grounded more on whether reason-based belief might be understood as "more important" by relegating itself to equal importance with doctrine-based belief.)

If reason is no longer a special method with regard to determination of belief, then it behooves us to notice what about reason differentiates it from other bases for belief. Clearly, when we speak of doctrinal belief, our continued belief in a doctrine comes from "jibing" what the belief says and what we feel to be true. However, when we speak of reasoned belief, our continued belief in a proposition comes from "jibing" what the belief says and what the rules of logic (which we feel to be true) says about that proposition's consistency. In both cases, belief is implemented, and neither case immediately seems superior to the other. But a difference between them does exist, and that difference is most clearly illustrated by showing that reasoned belief comes not through what we feel is true, but from what logical rules say can be true in addition to what we "feel". And since the logical rules are merely relations between "things" that determine truth or falsity, reasoned belief relies upon a relation of what is said compared to other things that are said. For truth and falsity can only be determined through comparisons to other truths and falsities, and they rely upon one another, each not making sense without the other.

Therefore, reasoned belief is uniquely determined as a comparative belief with other propositions. Whereas doctrinal belief can never be said to be ultimately true nor false, reasoned belief can -- not because what is talked about really is true or false (blind belief must still be maintained), but because what is talked about is considered true when placed in a universe containing other statements "verifying" its truthfulness. In this way, the word "truth" is relegated to merely signifying "not contradictory with other true propositions" -- yet even then, the definition of truth becomes circular, since the concept of contradictory statements depends entirely upon concepts which require the concept of "truth" to be understood. It is a hodgepodge of relationary statements that depend upon one another in order to even exist, much like Google's PageRank system of deciding which website to list first for a particular search.

So what does all of this mean? That reasoned belief is "better" than doctrinal belief, despite only by degree and not in kind? That I should stop visiting the chapel late at night when I should be studying for a test? That I write the worst LiveJournal updates logically possible whilst using the most pedantic ink-horn terminology available? Or maybe all of the above. (Except the first one. I'm not sure that I fully showed how it can be considered "better".)

::sigh:: I'm lucky that I already have a girlfriend. Because if I didn't, I have absolutely no idea as to how I would ever get one.

20 September, 2004

Hurricane Ivan

"It is as though we're fleeing Saigon circa 1975." --Matt (aka The Blessed Lunatic)

Such was said as we pulled out of the driveway of Spring Hill College to our salvation from the upcoming flood: Matt's house. To tell the truth, at the time it did not seem to be that big a deal. I've experienced more than a few hurricanes (once even in the eye of a hurricane), so I felt like I knew what I was talking about. "If they evacuate the college, it will be just to please the parents who've never been through a hurricane," I told Matt only hours before. "Hurricanes are bad only in that they affect large areas; it can't possibly do anything that damaging here at the college." Matt nodded agreeably in the way that he does when he totally disagrees with you yet doesn't wish to voice his disagreement. "Even if they do issue an evacuation order, it won't be that bad. Trust me on this one. I've swum in pools many a time while a hurricane raged overhead."

Fast forward ten hours.

I awake with a ringing in my ears as the door is being pounded upon. I steal a quick glance at the alarm clock only to find it pre-8 a.m. -- which might as well be considered the previous day as far as I'm concerned. After grabbing a towel, I stumble to the door and open it slightly, mumbling an incomprehensible greeting.

"Classes are cancelled, and we're shutting down the college. If you're planning on leaving, you have to be gone before 1 in the afternoon, because we're closing the gates then and we won't let anyone in or out. Now are you staying or going?"

It took a few seconds before the question fully registered, and I mumbled under my breath that I didn't know. I don't think he could have heard me, but he must have been used to dealing with this barely-awake state when he gave his spiel to the odd dozen students before me, because he immediately replied with: "Well, if you're staying, then sign your name on my door. Otherwise, be out by 1 p.m."

I quickly got dressed and went to Matt's room. I'm not sure exactly what I planned upon saying once I got there, but I went anyway. On the way over, I glanced at the hurricane evacuation sheet they gave us. It clearly said that the people who were staying would have to stay in the hallways of the basement of Murray.

Now I'm not sure if this has been made clear to others already or not, but Murray Hall is a condemned building. I knew right then and there that there was no way that I'd be staying on campus.

Somehow, minutes later, I found myself invited to Matt's house. At the time, I wasn't sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing. Hell, even now I don't know if it was a good thing or a bad thing. But I accepted nonetheless. My alternative was Russ's house, and though I would have loved to stay there, I assume it would have been crowded what with David, Russ's family, and the illegal immigrants that Russ talks about all the time. Well, that wasn't the deciding factor. The deciding factor was that Matt was vegetarian like me, so I felt better about the food issue.

But I have to admit that despite all of this, as Matt related our departure to that of helicopters speeding away from Saigon, I still did not think that it could be that bad.

Boy, was I wrong.

The eye of the hurricane hit Gulf Shores, Alabama, where my sister Anh currently resides with our mother, and the winds were so bad there that it picked up their carport and threw it on their vehicle. The roof of the shed was also torn away and flew to who knows where. Thankfully there were no trees in their yard, or else it might have been much worse than it was. Strangely, my ten-year-old sister slept through the whole thing.

My grandmother, who lives in Mobile not five kilometers away from me, lost the roof of her shed, a portion of her fence, and electricity indefinitely. My uncle Mike went to check on her just after the hurricane, found that there was no air conditioning in the house, and forced her to retreat to Gulfport, Mississippi, for a few days. But when they got back, there still wasn't any electricity there, and even as of now she is w/o power. I would worry more about her, but my cousin Amanda is dropping by there every day after school, so she should be okay.

Pensacola, Florida, was hit the worst of all, as it was the largest city closest on the eastern side of the hurricane; I know of only one friend that lives there, but thankfully she and her family is okay. The city was hit very badly, and she said that the houses around her were all torn and tattered, but her house suffered only the loss of siding and electricity.

But despite the death toll attributed to the hurricane and the seriousness of the aftereffects surrounding it, the one thing that keeps coming back into my mind are those damned lovebugs. As Matt and I drove down the interstate both ways we could not help but kill them in droves, splattering across the windshield and grill. As Matt so aptly commented: "Whole families of them are being massacred; and there's absolutely nothing that I can do about it!" We were driving a death machine, killing and maiming by the hundreds. It was horrible. Plus, the windshield was so scattered with white guts that we could barely make out the road.

And if you add to all of this the departure of Alaina from Herbie's house, an issue of a debt I haven't the possibility of immediate repayment, and the foreknowledge of three long and difficult upcoming tests one after the other starting on the morn... ::sigh::

Well, to tell the truth, I feel quite prone to agreeing with Matt's self-acknowledged mantra: Everything sucks.

05 May, 2004

An Unfinished Lincoln & Machiavelli Entry

In my last journal entry (which I doubt any have even bothered to read at all), I ended my thoughts prematurely do to it being final exams week. But tests are now over, and I finally have the ability to explain what I meant when I spoke of Lincoln and Machiavelli.

This country was founded on September 17, 1787. On this day, the Constitution was signed by our founding fathers, and the United States of America was born into existence.

But I wonder how many of you readers actually knew that, despite having been American citizens for all of your life.

But why is it that American citizens are not taught the birthday of their own country? Why is it that if you ask any random guy on the street when the United States was founded, you will hear the date of July 4, 1776 instead? Does anyone even know what was written on that day?

On July 4, Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence. An important document, to be sure, but it is rather retarded to think of it as the birth of this nation. In fact, no one thought of the Declaration as the beginning of the United States until some eighty years after the US was in existence. In 1800, if you had asked a guy off the street, he would have said September 17, 1787 was the birth of this nation. The same is true for 1850. But by 1900, the guy on the street would say July 4, 1776 instead.

Why?

The answer is horrifyingly simple. On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg address in Gettysburg, PA. Here, reprinted in full, is what he said there on that day:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who died here that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have hallowed it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Did you catch his references? His address was simple, yet brilliant. In giving this speech, he changed the course of history for the United States, and thus the world. How is it that such a simle address at a battlefield site could have so much power?

First, he begins his address with "fourscore and seven years ago", which refers back to 1776, and not to 1787. But it isn't a mistake on his part; it is a carefully orchestrated plan to create a new nation. I'll explain what I mean by that in a minute. Second, he

04 May, 2004

Lincoln on Civil (Dis)Obedience

The following is an assigned essay which was completed for a grade. Unfortunately, some formatting has been lost in the transition to LJ.

Eric J. Herboso
Mr. Mullek
American Political Thought
Tuesday, May 04, 2004




Lincoln on Civil (Dis)Obedience




The issue of civil obedience is of paramount importance in today's society. From Switzerland's etoy.com's illegal yet nonviolent attack upon the now defunct etoys.com to the web sit-ins organized by the Zapatistas in Mexico, the idea of civil disobedience has taken root in today's world society as the only method left for effective change. But while most of those who practice civil disobedience today believe they owe the concept of civil disobedience to Gandhi, King, and Thoreau, the true origins of this way of thinking may come from where most would least expect it: the United States' Abraham Lincoln.

In Lincoln's Lyceum address, what is preached may not at first seem to be civil disobedience, seeing as how he practically says the exact oposite of this: “Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others” (Lincoln 3); but in reality, the idea behind his words are equivalent to what all who practice civil disobedience believe in: change through law, and not through anarchy (Lincoln 2). It is hard to see this at first, because of the name given to civil disobedience, which emphasizes the revolutionary natue of it: breaking the law in an attempt to change the law. But the real crux of the civil disobedience idea is not that laws are broken because they are bad and should not be followed, but because by paying the penalty for an unjust law, others may see its injustice.

Once it is clear that the whole point is not to break a bad law, but rather to be seen to be punished for breaking a bad law, the connection between Lincoln's Lyceum address and King et al becomes much more clear. What at first seemed to be a diametrically opposed position can now be viewed as the same basic idea being put into action in different ways.

To show this more clearly, consider these two passages: “good men, men who love tranquility, who desire to abide by the laws, and enjoy their benefits, who would gladly spill their blood in the defense of their country; seeing their property destroyed; their families insulted, and their lives endangered; their persons injured; and seeing nothing in prospect that forebodes a change for the better; become tired of, and disgusted with, a Government that offers them no protection; and are not much averse to a change in which they imagine they have nothing to lose” (Lincoln 3). In other words: revolution.

And now King: “I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth” (King 3). “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue” (King 3). It is obvious that they are agreed on the point of stability. King does not profess a need for revolution, he agrees with and even quotes from Lincoln in his rhetoric.

Lincoln was speaking to a group that was starting to turn to vigilantism: "[there is] the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice" (Lincoln 2). The United States was anything but united at that point, and people were starting to take the law into their own hands. His words, which preached obedience to the law first, were based on the idea that the alternative of chaos will always be far worse. King and other civil disobedience leaders would agree on this fulcrum point, and from there, everything changed. Instead of Marx's call to arms for a universal brotherhood, Plato's removal of adults from the Republic, or even Machiavelli's attempt to temper the tyrant, there was instead a turn toward the nonviolent method of civil disobedience.

The internet group etoy.com was approached at the height of the internet boom in late 1999 by American marketshare powerhouse etoys.com with an offer to buy out the former group's domain name, which had been registered and in use for many years by that time. When etoy.com refused to sell repeated times, the American based corporation giant pursued a legal remedy, and completely shut down access to etoy.com. Enraged by their flagrant use of money to abuse the legal system governing international suits between litigants in separate countries, etoy.com got the word out in cyberspace, and the following Christmas, thousands upon thousands of angry anti-big business net users simultaneously used programs to automatically log onto etoys.com, place large amounts of random items in the shopping carts, and then canceled their purchases right before checkout. The huge traffic volume that continued for twelve days, twenty-four hours a day nonstop during the already busy Christmas season completely clogged the etoys.com servers, and by March of next year, etoys.com filed for bankruptcy. (Note that the action taken, while illegal, was still nonviolent, and would have been perfectly legal if every participant had individually written his or her own program to clog the server.) The purpose of the action was to bring attention to the existence of a bad loophole in international law with regard to domain registry, and it succeeded (Wishart 2). This process, most similar to King's sit-ins organized in the southern United States, is flawed only in that it only has the capacity to hit one site at a time, and thus cannot have the same affect as sit-ins which occur in every segregated café on the block. Because of this, the organizers must choose particularly bad sites to hit; and the effect of hitting a particularly bad site probably only makes the other less offensive sites look that much better. In other words, this method of civil disobedience is less effective at changing policy even while it is more effective in efficiency and target viability.

In 1991, Peter Singer brought Lincoln's ideas to the forefront once again, but this time in regard to animal rights. The problem was that whereas Lincoln spoke in terms of following the law even at the expense of justice (because of the debatable opinion that without law, there can be no justice), and King elaborated merely upon the exposing of a bad law, Singer had to come up with a method of trying to get a nonexistent good law placed into effect. Singer, whose argument is based upon the premise that all living beings with the capacity to feel pain should be awarded the same basic rights regardless of species, believes that it is imperative that a law restricting the legality of humans to hurt other species should be implemented immediately, and with all due haste (Singer 3). Whatever one's opinion on the matter may be, it must be admitted that if Singer's premise is correct, then the absence of a law protecting animals from such abuse is of a far more alarming nature than any civil rights violation made since Pol Pot.

What makes these contemporary examples of civil disobedience so interesting is not only their particular nature as current events, but also as clear examples of how civil disobedience (and the civil obedience that follows from it) has evolved since Lincoln's time.




Lincoln, Abraham, au. “Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions”, or the Lyceum Address, American Political Rhetoric, 4e. Peter Lawler & Robert Schaefer, ed.
Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham, MD: 2001.

King, Martin Luther, Jr., au. “Letter From Birmingham Jail”, American Political Rhetoric, 4e. Peter Lawler & Robert Schaefer, ed.
Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham, MD: 2001.

Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation.
Avon: New York, NY: 1991.

Wishart, Adam & Regula Bochsler. Leaving Reality Behind.
Ecco: Switzerland: 2003.

02 May, 2004

My_Friend, Chapstick, & The Death Of Logic

I was contacted today by an old acquaintance that I haven't spoken to in nearly a year. The IM conversation started as you might imagine it to start -- with friendly banter and an update on one another's status. But, after a slight lull in the conversaton, he mentioned his old girlfriend, Z-. Last I heard, he was about to ask her to marry him. They seemed to be a quite happy couple, and I can recall being very happy for them way back when.

But the conversation was about to take on a rather negative turn.

(The name of my friend and his contemporaris have been changed for the sake of anonymity.)

--begin copied text (w/ minor alterations)--
My_Friend: Back in September, our [Z- and his] friend K- went missing
My_Friend: About 3 weeks later, in early October, they found her body
My_Friend: I flew down for the funeral
My_Friend: And then about a week after that, Z- and her friend D- were arrested for doing it
My_Friend: And they're still in jail, awaiting trial
My_Friend: Bail is in the millions somewhere, so it's out of the question
Eric J Herboso: That... sounds like a rather extreme situation.
My_Friend: You have a gift for understatement, lol
Eric J Herboso: They've been awaiting trial since October?
My_Friend: yeah
My_Friend: They've been waiving the speedy trial thing
My_Friend: To give their lawyers more time to prepare, I guess
My_Friend: It looks like her lawyer is going to the DA with a deal sometime this week
My_Friend: With that deal, it'd be 10 years plus 3, 6, or 11 years, served concurrently
Eric J Herboso: Wow.
My_Friend: If it goes to trial, it could be as much as 50 to life
My_Friend: heh, I had the ring picked out and everything
Eric J Herboso: Compared to fifty years, I suppose a deal would be preferable... But it still seems like such a very large chuck of time.
My_Friend: It's a huge chunk of time
My_Friend: We're 20
My_Friend: That's a longass time
Eric J Herboso: I cannot imagine the progression of dealing with this kind of situation from when you first found out to now...
Eric J Herboso: Just the utter intitial shock of it all would... overwhelm me.
My_Friend: Honestly, things haven't changed too much for me on that front
My_Friend: Everyone was so angry with her
My_Friend: And my first thought was "Fuck. How can I help?"
My_Friend: And that's still basically my only thought, it's just frustrating as hell because there's nothing I can do
Eric J Herboso: For you, this has been a part of your reality for months now. I cannot... cannot even imagine...
My_Friend: yeah, it blows
My_Friend: But I refuse to be unhappy
My_Friend: heh, to quote myself...
My_Friend: "I am invincible. I have to be. I choose to be, because I have no choice."
My_Friend: If I'm not, who will be? I have to hold everything together
Eric J Herboso: I suppose... you may be right at that. Still, I just...
Eric J Herboso: ...wow.
My_Friend: It was an accident, though... just to clarify
Eric J Herboso: What happened?
My_Friend: They were playing a prank on her, trying to scare her a bit. D- brought his gun. For some reason, there were bullets in it and the safety was off. It went off in his hand when Z- and K- both had their backs turned to him. K- got hit in the back of the head. The coroner concluded that she was dead before she hit the ground. Z- saw her body twitching and, thinking she was in pain, shot her again to let her go
--end copied text--

I could not believe my eyes. What a situation to be in....

It really made me think, y'know? About how lucky I am to have all that I do. I mean.... I'm attending college at a small Jesuit institution, I have my entire family begging me to visit them during the summer vacation, I am able to enjoy the company of the love of my life nearly every day, I am financially comfortable and am in perfect health....

Sometimes, I get stressed out by the world around me. By the guy that rearranges ketchup bottles every day, and the distance between myself and the one I care about most... By final exams and healthy vegan meal options... By capitalism and war and -- well, pretty much everything, I guess.

But reading My_Friend's account of what happened with him in the past six months really struck home with me. It made me really think about how appreciative I should be to be in the situation that I am in. Where I am is not that bad at all, actually. I'd go so far as to consider myself quite lucky, in fact.

I am reminded of a previous journal entry I wrote once, a long while back.

(The following is copied (with minor aesthetic corrections) from an earlier journal entry retitled "The Chapstick Conspiracy" made on 15OCT02.)

--begin copied text (w/ minor alterations)--

My lips never chap.

I don't mean to say that my lips are superior to others, but I've never experienced chapped lips.

I never really noticed this fact until I started the dating game oh so many years ago... Nearly every girl I've gone out with, you see, is the type that uses makeup only very sparingly, and only then if the occasion is overly formal. That's just always been my preference with women. Anyway, I noticed the fact that even these women used clear 'lipstick' at times, and I remember asking the purpose of applying lipstick that had no color. I was informed that it wasn't lipstick they were using; rather it was chapstick. I was completely ignorant to even the idea of chapstick back then, so I had to actually ask what the purpose of chapstick was.

It was then that I realized that my lips have never ever in all of my entire life ever been chapped.

Could it be, I remember asking myself, whether chapstick might have an agent in it that makes your lips chapped days later, so as to make a person who uses chapstick addicted to life on the stuff? But no, that was ignorance talking. (At least I hope so.) Still, I've never touched chapstick in all this time. I've refused to kiss people that have chapstick on solely for the fear that perhaps coming into contact with the stuff even once will cause me to purchase chapstick for the rest of my life.

I am a crazy man.

Intellectually, I know there is no 'chapstick conspiracy'. But why then do I still avoid chapstick? Nowadays, when I am offered the stuff, I still say no, but my inner reasoning is because I imagine the stuff will taste or feel nasty on my lips. Never once have I tried it, though. Not even a smidgen. Am I nuts?

Still, you have to admit that I have never had chapped lips, so maybe there is something to my insane strategy here...

::sigh:: No, I'm just crazy, that's all. I think one thing intellectually, and yet I act another way entirely. How can I let this happen to myself? How can I, a totally and completely logical person who thrives on proof and sound reason be reduced to a person that refuses chapstick at all costs?

Perhaps I should try chapstick, just once. That would prove that I believe in reason, and not fantasy.

But is there anything wrong with believing in fantasy? What harm is there in believing that there are gremlins inside your computer? Or that your vehicle has a personality? How is it that I can discriminate so harshly against these things when I myself refuse chapstick? Furthermore, why cannot I just avoid chapstick for the rest of my life and think nothing of it? Why does everything have to turn into an argument with me, even when I am talking to myself?

Ach... There are so many questions, and yet so few answers.

"All or none, Eric."
All or none? What do you mean?
"If you wish to believe in reason, then you must wholly believe in reason. To accept one single flaw is to negate your entire belief."
But why? Is there not room in logic for simple play? Can I not just pretend that there is a chapstick conspiracy?
"Not if you wish to pursue logic. Logic accepts no flaw. One single fallacy makes the entire system fall apart."

::sigh:: I'm right, you know. All or none. And yet I have such a desire for it to be none... Oh, how free I would be if I threw away my logic and flew amongst the faeries, dancing in the wind and singing to the pixies... How wonderful life would be if I never had to argue again, but rather could accept anything I wished as the utmost truth and free from disrepute of any kind... How lovely thou wouldst seem, were reason not my claim to fame...

Alas, I am logical. To a fault.

And yet...

"No."
But --
"I said no."

::sigh:: I truly am an intellectual dreamer... I wish for one thing, and yet praise another. But the saddest part is that I know the logic side of me is right, no matter how much I wish the dreaming side were instead. I know that my logic side is right because of infallible arguments. It is impossible to argue against logical truths. I wish it were not so, but wishing does not change anything. Logic conquers all. And there is nothing I can do to stop it.

I think I should be committed. I am, after all, only partly sane. ::sigh:: I am scared to go to a mental health doctor because I am afraid that I would be locked away from society. I am afraid that if a professional were to see the real me, they would be too scared to allow me existence in the public domain.

Perhaps it is this same belief that makes truly too crazy to be allowed outside.

I would never kill anyone. At least I don't think I would. I would like to believe that if my emotional side ever wanted to kill, then my logical side would not permit it. And if my logical side wanted to kill, then my emotional side would not permit it. But what proof have I that such a scenario might pan out in just such a way?

"Eric, I have a hypothetical question for you."
Go ahead.
"If killing were legal, and you would not be punished for murder by society or by survivors of the victim, would you kill?"
Not if I had no reason to.
"Pretend you hated the guy. Would you kill him?"
Killing him would not solve my hatred for him. Rather, I would prefer to convince him that he was wrong and I right in whatever dispute started this hatred.
"What if someone you loved asked you to kill him? Would you do it?"
You mean what if my true love asked me to do it?
"Yes, that is what I mean exactly."
Hell, yes, I would kill him, and without a second thought. For my true love, I would do anything. Anything at all.

I would be committed, wouldn't I?

::sigh::

--end copied text--



Who I am has changed much in the intervening years. Just the other day, I was having an argument (as I am oft wont to do) with my friends at the dinner table, and the topic of logic came up. Said I:
"If I were to drop one french fry from each hand onto the table, how many french fries would then be on the table? Logic would tell us two; but what right has logic to say this? On what basis does logic make this determination? Recall that the reason logic states this is empirical in nature, and not logical."

"But, Eric," they invariably reply, "surely you would not say that 1+1=2 is eexperimental in nature at all! It is perfectly logical to maintain that the concept of 1+1=2 without looking at any physical objects whatsoever!"

"But this is exactly what I am saying! Think about how math originally came to be -- you have these cavemen, and they see one and one come together numerous times, and each time they see it happen, they see two objects as the result. It is from these numrous 'experiments' that simple addition is originally based upon, and nothing more."

"I may grant that fact," Russ admits, "but it does you no help with proving your point. Perhaps humans did come to perceive the concept of simple addition via crude empirical methods, but once discovered, the conception of addition holds true regardless of experimentation."

"You forget that if mathematics is not applied to a thing, then it is purely hypothetical in nature. But I will dismiss that, too, and get to the core of what I am saying. Just because 1+1 has always been shown to equal 2 in the past does not mean that it will continue to do so in the future. I have dropped these friench fries onto the table numerous time already, and each time, after I dropped them, there were two french fries on the table. But so what? I cannot see into the future, and neither can you. How can you say with such utter certainty that the next time I drop the french fries, it will still be two on the table? Is it not possible that after dropping the french fries, there would be three?"

"Of course, it's not possible!" This time it is Jay that speaks up to the defense of reason. "How can you even attempt to maintain such a thing?"

"Let me give an example of what I mean, and perhaps it will be made more clear.

"Imagine a hypothetical universe identical to our own, except for one slight variance: whenever a coin is tossed, it comes up heads 75% of the time. By this, of course, I mean that the chances of anything occurring have been altered in this fashion, and not just coins. A die, for example, would give unequal odds for each face, and so on.

"(To help with the usefulness of this example, consider that if there are multiple universes, then there might exist two universes differing only in the number of heads flipped in relation to tails. While the "true" probability of throwing a head might be 50%, in the first universe, there might be 10 heads thrown for every 9 tails, and in the second, there might be 9 heads thrown for every 10 tails. Following the bell curve of universes with differing coin tosses, there must exist a universe way on the fringe of the bell curve such that in its universe, there might be 10 heads thrown for every 1 tails. You get the idea.)

"Now, imagine how probability would have been observed in this universe. Notice that the first mathematicians would notice the frequency of heads over tails, and they would note the frequency with care. Whereas in our universe, we determined rather early on that the frequency of heads to tails was due to surface area and weight disposition, in this hypothetical universe, an explanation might be longer in coming. But rest assured that they would find an explanation. And I don't mean something magical or mysterious. It would never even be a mystery. It would be commonplace to them, for that is how it would be for them all of the time. And one day in their history, some bright mathematician would "discover" some rule of probability which governs their world, and that rule would be fully consistent with everything else they mathematically 'knew' in that universe.

"Now, if you will admit to the possibility of this situation, and I'm sure that you must, then you must admit to the arbitrary nature that probability in our universe is described by. And if I can make you doubt probability, how far away am I from causing you to doubt simple addition, too?

"If you imagine another hypothetical universe where whenever someone dropped a french fry from each hand onto the table, there was always three french fries on the table afterward, then can you imagine their mathematicians tring to describe their world?

"It is no wonder, then, why I call mathematics arbitrary, and completely dependent upon experiment. And anything dependent upon experiment cannot and should not be counted upon to further apply in the future, even if it always has in the past."



Ever since I first read Gödel in my freshman year of college, I've been torn with the concept of mathematics as either incomplete or inconsistent. It bothered me a great deal. But after delving more and more into Descartes and thinking more and more about what constitutes true reality, I came to the stark realization that I was moving toward something even worse than pure nihlism: I was becoming agnostic in every sense of the word, even in reference to logic.

I have reached a state in this point of my life where even conceptual ideas seem rather suspect, and what little remains of my life is there merely from feeling, rather than thought. I truly am an intellectual dreamer, but in a way different from how I thought I meant it years ago. Instead of the phrase being rather doublespeak in nature, I have come to realize that I intellect those things that I dream.

(I say "come to realize" rather than "have changed to thinking" because in reality, this is what I've been doing all along -- I just never realized it. In Heideggerian terms, I finally 'glimpsed' of the truth of my existence. Of course, don't tell anyone you saw me reference Heidegger -- to be frank, I think he's pretty full of shit.)

Am I fully sane? Probably not. But what has changed is my outlook on the meaning of 'sanity'. What constitutes a sane person is the same conceptualization as what constituted the "better race" so many years ago. The scientific community once accepted and even revered the work of Franz Boas, who "proved" that the white race was superior to all other races, due to brain size. (His findings assumed a bigger brain mass meant a superior being, and it also assumed that the shape of the cranium was a final determinant of brain size. Both assumptions are untrue.) But one cannot look at what amounts of some chemical most people have in their brains, and then say that other people with differing amounts must have a "chemical imbalance". It is imbalanced precisely because the conderation for "well-balanced" people is what the majority of people have. Now, I'm not saying that different levels of chemicals do not affect things, but I am saying that the decision of which is correct is determined not by science, but by the arbitrary definition of what most people have.

Would I kill a person, if everything wrong with killing were removed? Probably not. But what has changed is not my thought processes, but rather my definition of 'right' and 'wrong'. I admit that my consideration of what is 'right' has come to me via a rather awkward route of Nietzsche, but at least I have that concept of morality now. Given the same set of questions as before, I can honestly say that I would still not kill. Not because of Kant's categorical imperative, or Plato's idea of The Good, but because I chose my own horizon, and its view of morality is such that I cannot kill.

Does that make me hypocritical, what with my horizon being arbitrary and all? I don't think it does. The reason I say this is because it is my horizon, and I am within it. To me, it is not arbitrary at all, for it has already been chosen. It is like Lincoln saying "four score and seven years ago", or Machiavelli advising rulers to build their castle walls with bricks sticking out on the sides. I know that this sparse explanation is not enough to explain what I mean, but I must postpone a full explanation of why I think it is not arbitrary until another day. And I promise to tie up the loose end of Lincoln and Machiavelli when I do that, too.

Until then, I have final exams to study for.... ::sigh::

01 May, 2004

The Silver Screen Survey

Yes, I know that surveys are silly. But well-written surveys can truly tell a lot about a person in only a few mere lines.

Feel free to copy this survey to your own journal, should you feel the desire to (or else if you're just really bored).

Thanks in advance to my best friend Robin for creating the survey. (c;


The Silver Screen Survey, all about movies:

Favorite movie of all time: Cool Hand Luke
Favorite musical: Grease
Favorite comedy: Princess Bride
Favorite satire: La Vita e Bella
Favorite romance: Escaflowne
Favorite drama: Shawshank Redemption
Favorite epic: The Godfather & Sequels
Favorite dramedy: Being John Malkovich
Favorite "indie": Pulp Fiction
Favorite big studio: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Favorite trilogy: The Back To The Future Trilogy
Favorite dualgie (with one sequel): The Predator Movies
Favorite quadrie (with three sequels): The Alien Series
Favorite horror: Evil Dead
Favorite action: Star Wars
Favorite genre-defying: Citizen Kane
Favorite teen flick: Grease
Favorite Sci-Fi: The Day The Earth Stood Still
Favorite period piece: Star Trek
Favorite dance-themed movie: Mary Poppins
Favorite John Travolta movie: Grease
Favorite made-for-tv: Babylon 5
Favorite foreign film: Escaflowne
Favorite documentary: Bowling For Columbine
Favorite book adaptation: Animal Farm
Favorite play adaptation: Sweeny Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Favorite love scene in film: Mary Poppins, where the whole movie is about the best kind of love there is!
Favorite film adapted from a tv show: Cowboy Bebop
Favorite filmmaker: Robin Raven
Favorite film actor: Hmm...
Favorite film actress: Robin Raven
Favorite movie soundtrack: Cowboy Bebop
Favorite format (theater, dvd, etc.): *.VOB files
Favorite genre: Anything Thought-Provoking
Favorite actress to play you in a movie: Robin Raven
Favorite actor to play you in a movie: Me. (c;
(both of the above apply to both sexes)
Favorite thing about movies: The music!

26 April, 2004

On Truth (& A Refutation of Descartes' Cogito)

Unlike the ancients, I do not believe that the noblest end is to think. Nor would I even grant that to think is at least the noblest end of man. But put this aside for the moment. I will grant thought as the pinnacle of existence for the purposes of this argument, so that I may best illustrate my point.

Even if the true end of man is to think, why is it that this would be so? (I realize it is odd to grant a point not to use it as a premise, but rather as a conclusion, but if the reader will bear with me, I am sure they will see the reason for my attacking the argument in this way.) The reason, as given by the ancients (and almost unilaterally agreed upon until the Heideggerian reopening of the question), is this: only because it is through thought that we may be closest to what is (e.g., the truth, the good, or the God) that it may be true that the end of man is to think.

Thus, if one accepts God's existence, the noblest quest is to try to know God. But notice this is merely a corollary to the main idea that the noblest quest is to try to know truth.

As such, I strive to know truth. (This is despite my inability to grant thought as the pinnacle of existence, as stated earlier. The reason why will become clear soon enough.) Not relative truth, nor what others would call fact, but real, solid, truth. As in the complete opposite of falsehood.

The truth I speak of is necessary truth, concepts (or events, or whatever you choose to call them) that must be, no matter what. I am speaking on a level which transcends even Descartes. This is way past the cogito.

Am I? I mean this question quite literally. Do I exist? Descartes says that if I think that I am writing this question, I may not actually be writing this question, but at least I think I am writing it, which means that I must be thinking. And if I think, then there must be something which is having a thought, and whatever that thing may be, it must necessarily exist.

But Descartes fails in this argument. Such has been made quite clear in numerous doctoral theses over the many years. If one still remains unconvinced that Descartes' argument fails, I will briefly introduce my own counterargument here, which to my knowledge has not been made elsewhere.

My counterargument:

Even if it is granted that if one's existence is guaranteed by their thought, their thought may never be shown to truly exist. What I mean by this is that we, as observers, determine what the meaning of existence is. We call the existence of a thing "something", while we call its absence "nothing". But we, in all our years as observers, have never seen "nothing". Instead, all we see is "something". And we try to give this concept of "nothing" a descriptive quality that we truly do not have the ability to judge.

Imagine a field filled with "nothing". We observe this field, and we see nothing. If one were to ask what the electrical charge was at a certain point, we would say that they are nonexistent.

Now, imagine a field filled with protons, a very different situation than the one filled with "nothing". If one were to ask what the electrical charge was at a certain point, we would have the exact same answer as before: they are nonexistent.

Then imagine a single anti-proton inserted into the former field of nothingness. We would then say that the electric charge at this single point is -1, and that at all other points in the field, the electric charge is 0.

Now consider in the latter field filled with protons that we remove a single proton. What would we say about the field now? The same as in the previous example: the electric charge at this single point is -1, and at all other points in the field, the electric charge is 0.

Which is the truth? As Feynman once quipped, is the positron merely an absence of a electron, or is it the other way around? Or is it neither? The point of this argument is not to show that it is one or the other, but rather to show that we cannot know which situation is the true reality.

Now consider Descartes. He says he is thinking. Or at least he thinks he is thinking. But regardless, he must exist, right? But this is not neccessarily so, even if you grant the hypothesis of his cogito, since the antecedent of his hypothetical cannot be established. Is it not possible that true nothingness -- the absence of all which is something -- is what Descartes considers his own state of thinking? I am not arguing that this is the necessary case, nor even a likely case, but I am arguing that you can never establish for a fact that the act of thinking is "something" rather than 'nothing", and so Descartes may not definitely assert his own existence.


And so, with even Descartes falling short of what may be called true truth, the question rears its ugly head once more: Am I?

I'm not sure.

I am bombarded on all sides by arguments for the existence of Jesus' divinity, or at least Abraham's god, or if not that, then at least the civil war, and when I am still unable to profess true belief, they all look at me increduously and declare that surely I must at least believe in their existence, for if that much is not granted, then how can we even speak to one another? But even Descartes never granted others' existence. He only granted his own.

What bothers me most is my own hypocrasy. You see, I enjoy life. A lot. I like to think. I like to play games. I like to argue with people. I love, and I feel loved. I live my life with regard to what I consider is good, going so far as to commit to charities, and to remain a strict vegetarian. My actions are consistent with a man who cares about things, and who thinks he can make the world a better place.

But I do not get my notion of what is better from God. Instead, it is rather more like Zarathustra. I think, and if I consider what I think to be bad, then I deem it bad. If I consider it to be good, then I deem it good. Granted, my considerations are heavily influenced by the Christian society that I was brought up in, but if one puts this aside, then my situation is the worst form of idolatry: To me, I am God.

Unlike with Boethius, it is not philosophy which consoles me, but rather it is philosophy which terrifies me. It is the wonderfulness of the life around me which keeps me from depression. Not the thoughts that logic give me so readily.

Do I exist? If I am truly truthful with myself, I am forced to answer that I do not know. Is there anything, then, that I might know?

I ask this question of myself, and I am amazed at my own answer. If it is a question of belief, then I can only believe what I feel to be true. And there is only one thing that really and truly feels true to me:

Love.

I love Robin. I love my life. I love the world, and all that is in it. This feels true to me, just as it feels morally wrong when I see someone kicking a dog, or eating meat. Not because I see the necessity of kicking a dog to be morally wrong, but because I feel kicking a dog is morally wrong.

By what other method may I attempt to define truth? True truth remains unnattainable, by every method I've considered. But if one creates their own horizon, rather than accepting that which they are given, then truth suddenly becomes attainable, since that truth is defined by one's very existence.

My truth is that of love. Zarathustra's truth may differ from mine, but they have come about in the same way. And I am proud of this meaning of truth. I am proud because it is the strictest interpretation that truth can be tied down to. Sure, I could easily give looser meanings for truth... But this is as strict as it gets. This is the best that can be done. And I am proud of it.

04 April, 2004

An Interesting Day

Today was an...interesting day.

This morning, I awoke to a knock on the door. Before I even opened my eyes, Dorek had unlocked the door, and Matt walked into the room. "Oh, sorry, guys; did I wake y'all up?" Matt's accent is distinctively not Southern, but he still occasionally lapses into the vocabulary of a Southerner. I suppose that is what he gets for having lived down here for so long.

I was still too groggy to get up, but I listened as Matt explained his presence. "My car stereo was jacked last night." The words bounced around in my head a few times while I considered what he was saying. To me, I suppose, it was at first unbelievable; mainly because I've never had anything stolen from me before (anything sans a few minor type two Magic cards, that is), and also because I had assumed our closed campus community was safe enough to prevent such inane things from occurring. I suppose that in reality, these thoughts of mine are merely proof that I am still far too naive in how I view the world around me.

"You need to call campus security, Matt. Call them, and see what they say." I was still slightly asleep at this point, and I recall being slightly surprised in that Matt wasn't even spazzing all that much. Somehow, it just seemed wrong that his level of spazziness was not even close to what I had seen him capable of in the past. I suppose serious incidents such as this, then, have some alternate effect on him....

After he called campus security, he went out to meet them at his car. He was gone for a few minutes, or maybe even longer -- I can't remember as I may have fallen asleep again in the meantime -- and when he arrived again, he mentioned having to clean out the glass from his car -- whomever had stolen his cd player had apparently broken through his passenger side window in order to get to it.

So Dorek and I went out to his car to help clean up the mess. It was horrible. The window had shattered into a huge amount of tiny pieces, and we needed to pick up every last one of them, since Matt had a four hour drive to make back home, and we didn't want one of the pieces to be picked up by the wind (coming from the open passenger window) and cut him while he was on the interstate.

So we each took up a plastic bag, and we began getting all of the glass out of his car. It was tedious work. All three of us got cuts while picking up the tiny shards, and some of the glass was so hard to get at, that we had to go find a vacuum to pick all of it up.

After the big pieces were accounted for, we went to Drumheller's, and he let us borrow an extension cord and a vacuum. Then we went back to our dorm (they in the car, while I went back by foot), and picked up two more extension cords so that we could get electricity from inside the building to reach all the way to the car. While Dorek and Matt vacuumed, I went upstairs to take a shower and finish waking up. It was time for me to change, anyway -- I had been wearing the same clothes for three days, despite my having finished doing my laundry two days ago. That alone is a good way of showing how lazy I truly am.

When we were done, we opted to go out to eat. We called Drumheller and David, and while David decided not to come, the rest of us went out to the Olive Garden.

I adore Italian food. My maternal grandfather was Italian, and my entire family has always enjoyed eating Italian food. It is one of those things that I enjoy immensely.

I had a wonderful time there. We talked of light hearted things, and put the incident from earlier today out of our minds. The food was utterly delicious; I would have loved to get a dessert as well, but I was so full by the end of the meal that I couldn't eat another bite. Afterward, we went to EBGames, as we so often do, and we looked around at all of the games we always look at, yet so rarely buy. (Or is once a month more than just rarely?)

Then we went to Best Buy, and Drumheller bought an Anti-virus program that he could have gotten for free from elsewhere, had he been willing to do so underhandedly. I would say that I respect him for not having taken the free copied version that we had on hand to give to him, but the real reason he bought a registered copy was because the money he was spending was his parents', and by spending money at Best Buy, he got more "Rewards Zone" points. So his reasoning was entirely selfish in this instance.

I don't usually write entries of this sort, where I talk only of my day, or what has happened during it, but today was the kind of day that just had to be written about. At least, I think it was.

What a way to begin my Spring Break....

02 April, 2004

Rearranging Ketchup Bottles

He still works there.

Every day I see him, rearranging the ketchup bottles. Except on weekends. He has weekends off.

I wonder if he ever notices me watching him. Today, he wore black jeans. His face reminds me of how old these college grounds are. There is a building on campus that was built before the civil war. The grass I walk upon as I go to class each day was once mowed by the hard work of slaves.

Please don't get me wrong. This college is a Jesuit college, and it is famous for being the very first in the South to integrate both blacks and women, before it was mandatory by law to do so. I have always ben quite impressed with the Jesuit culture and history, for as long as I've been aware of it.

But there is still an underclass here. I see them every afternoon, when I stop to look at the construction site on the library and new chapel. Once, I even noticed a guy named Chris that went to middle school with me. Apparently, Chris works construction now. I wonder how he must feel in seeing that I am attending school here.

I'm talking to myself, now; I realize this. You, of whom is reading my words, take this fact for granted: I am not writing to you. I am not interested in converting anyone from whatever point of view they might hold. I am not to that point yet. Before it is okay for me to try to convince another, I must first convince myself. And this is the argument of that convincing process.

I have heard people say that those who do not make as much money do not deserve to make money. While I am unsure as to whether or not this is true, Iwish to admit it for the sake of this argument. I want to see if their argument holds even when their premises are taken to be true.

Let us say, then, that these people have less income because they do not work hard, or they are lazy, or they are stupid, or they make bad life choices. While others, who do make good money, work hard, and do the right things.

This does not change the existence of slavery -- it only changes the form and definition of the slave.

Whereas slaves were once determined by color of skin or makeup of gender, now we see them (even if the aforementioned premise is admitted) determined by stupidity, laziness, or bad life choices. How is it right, even if Chris did not do the right things, that he should have to build the schoolhouse that I will attend?

I am reminded of a journal entry I made on 11/19/2002, when I first started to realize these things:

--begin copied text taken from part of "Anarchy Versus ... Me?", 11/19/02--

He is there every day when I go to the cafeteria for food. Forty hours a week he toils, sometimes more. Yes, he gets paid, but so what? How does he get out?

"How does he evade the system?" my friend asks me.

I'm stumped. I sit for five or so seconds, and the smile on his face grows as others at the table snicker at my expense. It is the first time they've ever seen me hesitate.

I have to answer with something... anything. "Well, ..." I imagine a bead of sweat rolling down my forehead, but it is too cool for any such thing to happen. "... he shouldn't procreate. If he can't give a good life to his children, then he shouldn't have any; this will break the cycle, and the children that are born into this world will be better off than otherwise."

"So we should round up all the poor people and have them spayed? Then we can use them for slave labor afterwards and it'll all be good, right?" The snickers become outright bursts of laughter, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

"No, no -- they shouldn't be forced into it, but surely you see why --"

"No, I don't see, Eric. What do you mean? What are you getting at?"

...

I look at him, and I see what I see everyday that I come to the cafeteria. He walks from table to table, fixing chairs and sweeping floors and rearranging ketchup bottles.

Am I really doing this to him? Is it really people like me who have dictated that his life be as it is? My glass of tea is empty, so I excuse myself for another round. Is this what capitalism really means? That I am better than him? Why am I better than him? I can't stop glancing at him as I walk through the cafeteria. I worked hard to get where I am; I am working hard even now. Why should he get what I get if all he does is rearrange ketchup bottles? I fill my glass with tea. But he has no choice; where else can he go? This is the best job he can get? Could you do better if you were in his position?

I pour out the tea, disgusted with myself. I look at my hand, quivering in the bland light of the cafeteria, and I see the scar. Greg's scar. It was his sword that pierced me that night; it was my thoughts that night that scared me more than any other night I've ever been alive. I lied that night. I know not why, but I did. It wasn't a big deal at the time, but now, looking back, I know how important that night was to my life. On that night, I was the one rearranging ketchup bottles. By choice.
What am I here for? Why do I do what I now do? Why do I have such thoughts? ...such hurt?

Absalom? No. God, I hope not.
Tyson? Perhaps. I don't think so, though.
Conan? ... Maybe. Maybe so.

That's scary, you know. Really scary.

--end copied text--




The slavery is not ended, but only the face of how it is done is changed. To work for another is to be cheated, regardless of the price given for it. If I sell you a thing, why would you ever buy it for what it is truly worth? If you did that, then you could construct it of your own free will for the same cost. Instead, you pay more than what it is worth -- though from my perspective, and not neccessarily your own. But the difference in our perspectives is due to a difference in how much money we have in the first place! It is a circular thing. If I sold a for what it is worth, then I'd be seling at cost, and I wouldn't be making money. By definition, I must sell for more than what a thing is worth, preferably in a situation where it is sold for less than what it is worth to you (otherwise, why would you even buy the thing?). But the whole relative difference in price is based entirely upon whomever has the means of production. If I can produce at an easier rate than you, then there exists a cost for an item where what is above cost for me is below cost for you, and I can make money while you are saved the expense of having to obtain the means of production that I already have. But how is it that I get the means of production in the first place?


This world is not just, and I do not like it. Some form of justice in this world should be in existence. Even if it is my own. Does it truly take the Übermensch to get things done? And if I want it done my own way, does it have to be me that does something about it?

There is something inherently selfish here in these thoughts of mine that anybody else would forever consider selfless.

I said that I hoped I was not Absalom. I was referring to catholic history there. It scares me that I even considered Mike Tyson's use of force. And the Conan reference, to those who missed it (which was everyone by my last count), was for Conan O'Brian, a tak show host who uses such thoughts as humorous material.

There is a fourth option... One that I had notconsidered at the time. That of Nietszche. But... The odds are against it. Still, were it true...

But it isn't, Eric. Quit hoping.


I am a selfish, selfish man.

)c:

22 March, 2004

Getting My Feet Wet

Maybe it is just that I had a particularly odd way of growing up, but I was never taught as a child that I should wear "shower shoes" while in the shower. It was never a concern for me.

Throughout the many years, I have taken many, many showers, yet in not a single one of them that I can sincerely recall did I ever wear shoes in the shower. I suppose the subject of shoes worn in the shower was just too alien to my previous experience for me to come up with on my own.

The first time I took a shower in a public setting was in middle school. I was in a boarding school at the time, with a roommate and everything. I was never told to use shower shoes while there. I never noticed any others wearing shower shoes while there. It just didn't ever come to mind.

Fast forward to my college days. In the second semester of my freshman year, I moved into a dormitory on campus. I lived alone, without a roommate. No one ever told me about shower shoes, so I continued to go without them.

But now, this year, I finally have a roommate. And one of the first things he brought up about my habits was this: "why do you never wear shoes in the shower?"

The first time he mentioned it, it took a while to register. Shoes in the shower? I mean, for a person like me who has never been exposed to the idea, it seems quite odd. You must understand: when I think of shoes and water together, I remember the times when I was little and would jump into puddles in the rain. My shoes would get horribly wet then, and I would have to squish my way to whatever destination I was headed. And whenever this happened, I had to let the shoes dry on the front doorstep. To take them inside would be pure heresy.

So you might imagine that it took me a while before I understood what was meant by shower shoes. But I did understand the concept, after a time. I'm not utterly stupid, after all.

The only thing is... Now it seems that I need shower shoes. But I'm left in a quandary. You see, I have only very limited funds to buy things with. And from those funds, I would tend to want to purchase those things which would help me out the most. And, quite frankly, shower shoes just aren't very high on that list.

So today, when I took my shower, I once again failed to wear shoes. Just like yesterday. And the day before.

I suppose it makes me a rather strange person. To value other things (video games, eating out w/ friends, etc.) over shower shoes. But I even checked the prices on them, and they're so very expensive! Even the cheapest, at five dollars, is not worth the money I'd spend on it. Remember, when one's funds are limited, five dollars is an extraordinarily huge sum of money. I don't think I could take that kind of a hit on my savings account.

But, I suppose, this is all beside the point. What does it matter, really, whether I wear shower shoes or not? My friends seem to think it a dreadfully important thing. My experience (so far) has shown it to be quite otherwise. This summer, I think, I will purchase shower shoes. But until then, there is just too much other stuff that I'd rather spend my money on.

Like Metroid: Zero Mission. That really does look to be an interesting game. It will definitely be my next purchase. But shower shoes? Eh, they can wait.
Current Music: Moonlight Sonata, by Beethoven

08 March, 2004

My First Journal Entry

Well, I've finally started a LiveJournal. Certainly took me long enough.

I suppose I should start by introducing myself -- it does seem to be the proper thing to do, though I admit that I'm not sure whom I am introducing myself to, seeing as how no one yet reads nor even looks at this journal. Hmm... I guess I will just have to address this introduction of myself to the rare reader who finds my journal later on, and decides to read my first entry, on a whim, just to see what it might be like. I wonder how much time will pass before anyone reads this first entry of mine...

Sorry about all that. I do tend to ramble at times. My apologies. Anyway, moving on...

My name is Eric Jonathan Herboso. When witing my name, I generally write it as: "Eric J. Herboso". The use of my middle initial is somewhat important to me. I am twenty-two years old, born on the evening of July 1, 1981. I look older, however, and I feel younger. (I'm so odd.)

I am currently an undergraduate student at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, majoring in mathematics and philosophy, with a minor in literature and a peculiar emphasis on political science. I plan to switch over to physics once in grad school in Los Angeles, California. After that, my future plans are to teach college-level physics and mathematics courses at a small private institution.

I love to argue and debate. Almost any topic will do: philosophy, logic, religion, politics, mathematics, literature -- hell, even video games make for interesting discussion with me. (Ask me about Rinoa Heartilly if you've played all the way through FFVIII.) I love to read; mostly, I read nonfiction essays and such, but I do adore great literature almost as much as I abhor bad literature. I am an incessant writer... Sometimes I think it is to make up for not talking much most of the time. But then again, when I get into a good argument, I do tend to talk almost as much as I write. I like composing music, usually of the background kind, and always instrumental. I love playing games: Magic: The Gathering, StarCraft, Final Fantasy and Axis & Allies immediately come to mind.

Before I get into the familiar grind of blogging, however, I would like to point out that I have had an ongoing online journal since October first, 2001. Unfortunately, at the time I had chosen freeopendiary.com as my journal webhost, and they have been -- how should I put it? -- quite inefficient at the job. Of course, free is free, no matter how one looks at it, and it has only been quite recently that LiveJournal has started accepting new journalers without using a code of some kind first.

Unfortunately, I took down most of the entries from my freeopendiary journal, but if you're interested, you can still see a few of them at http://www.opendiary.com/entrylist.asp?authorcode=B441946. I warn you, though: pop-ups abound there. Note also that I spent much of my time there both writing to and reading the entries of two other freeopendiary users: Harm's Way, an 18 year old college freshman that is well versed in literature, poetry, and cursing -- I'm not sure which he's best at, but it's definitely one of those three; and Child Of Babylon, an 18 year old college freshman that has a sincere capacity for thought, emotion, truth, and the situation of the human soul in joy and turmoil -- and she also has a very blunt and open perception of the passions of humanity.

You may also find interesting the journals of those I know on LiveJournal already: Robin Raven, the one person I admire most in this world for following her dreams and actually coming through with them --she is my best friend and confidant, and the one woman that I have ever loved in my life; and The Blessed Lunatic, the only one of my friends at Spring Hill College that has a LiveJournal account.

Keep in mind that not every subsequent entry will be original; I have a tendency to quote sections of text that I find interesting before I give my reaction to them. But don't worry about ever being confused, because, if anything, I am always extremely careful about citing everything I quote from elsewhere. Note also that I will sometimes quote myself from an earlier journal entry, whether written on paper or online, as sometimes it is relevant to the day at hand.

And with that, I suppose I will start this journal. You may expect my next entry to be one more typical of the entries I plan to write in this journal.

Until then...

-EjH

On the Failure of the Experiment of the Constitution of the United States of America

The following is an assigned essay which was completed for a grade. Unfortunately, some formatting has been lost in the transition to LJ.

Eric J. Herboso
Mr. Mullek
American Political Thought
Tuesday, March 08, 2004




On the Failure of the Experiment
of the Constitution of the
United States of America




The construction of the Constitution of the United States of America, as an experiment, is ruined. Since the birth of the nation, the Constitution has been changed in ways that it was never intended to be changed by, though it was always a given that the means to change it should be there in some fashion. One cannot now look at the United States in order to say something about the formation of the Constitution originally, because in the intervening two hundred years, too much has changed in too many ways. Not only is the control for the experiment nonexistent, but also the parameters of the experiment have changed so drastically so many times that no data can any longer be inferred from the current state of the union with regards to the original formation of the document of the Constitution. One example of such drastic change would be the centralization of government seen in the Reconstruction amendments, “which profoundly shifted the balance of power between state governments and the federal government” (Amar, 2).

It is a shame that the experiment was not allowed to continue as was the intent of the framers. "The ability of states to diverge in manners not inconsistent with the national Constitution reflects the true wisdom of federalism: not only the freedom to set a different course, but the power to do so as well" (DuPont, 4). But that wisdom is now gone, for the powers all seem to be in the hands of the national government now.

Madison himself made quite clear that the intention of the framers was to make sure the powers delegated "to the federal government are few and defined... [and] the powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the state" (Hutchins, Fed. 45).

Yet today's system has almost no memory of that intention. Ex-Governor DuPont writes: "the most outrageous act of the Supreme Court in recent history, clearly usurping the powers of the states, is represented by a school desegregation case from Kansas City, Missouri. In that case, the federal district court realigned the school district, finding that it was segregated, and ordered the school district to raise local taxes to pay for the expenses caused by the court's decrees. The Supreme Court upheld this action, finding that it was 'plainly a judicial act within the power of a federal court, (MO v. Jenkins, 1990)' despite the fact that it violated the Missouri Constitution" (DuPont, 3).

The experiment of the Constitution, then, is a failure. Not in the sense that the Constitution failed to work, but that the experiment itself failed to work. The only means for an examination of the experiment of the Constitution is to be more in depth with the arguments made for and against that Constitution at the time prior to its ratification, rather than with the details of events and facts dealing solely with an era too far removed from the time of the document's forming. Thankfully, these arguments can be seen most distinctly in the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, and they are clearly the most important philosophical work to ever come out of the United States' founding.

On September 17, 1787, the Constitutional Convention at which the Constitution's final version was finally approved came to a close, and though the four month debate over forming "a more perfect union" (Hutchins, Con., Pre.) was over, the new debate over ratification had only just begun. (It should be noted that even at the very last minute of the Constitutional Convention, a change was made in Article I, Section 2, Clause 3: instead of the maximum number of representatives not being allowed to exceed one for every forty thousand persons, the maximum was lowered to one for every thirty thousand. This makes it clear that even at the close of the Convention, and even with the "unanimous consent of the States" (Hutchins, Con., Art. VII), there was still much consternation as to the agreement to the document. Benjamin Franklin said it best: "I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best" (Farrand, 643).)

This debate of the Federalists, newly started and rife with intent, would eventually succeed, and the Constitution would be ratified. But the experiment itself would fail, and so the big question seems to remain still unanswered: “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether hey are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force” (Hutchins, Fed. 1). For while the Constitution was eventually ratified, and while the United States does still exist, it exists in a way that would seem to be based more on ‘accident and force’. The reconstruction amendments came about from the force of a country torn by civil war, trying to reclaim (too much) power over its individual states.

There remains little left of the untainted experiment today, despite the Constitution having survived over two centuries. For example, from the very beginning, the Commerce Clause (“To regulate commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”: Hutchins, Con., Art. I, §8, Cl. 3): “served to prohibit the states from regulating any economic activity not completely local in character, while the national government regulated activities only truly interstate and commercial in scope” (DuPont, 2). But this all changed with the New Deal: “the Supreme Court began to allow Congress to regulate activities within states, as long as Congress could show that the activity had some effect, whether direct or indirect, on interstate commerce” (DupPont 2). Of course, it’s hard to think of some activity that doesn’t have at least some indirect effect upon commerce.

It would be truly interesting to see if a society could ever make up good government through ‘reflection and choice’ – but unfortunately, as long we continue looking toward the United States for the results to the experiment of the Constitution, we will only see the result of ‘accident’ (like a poorly worded Commerce Clause) and ‘force’ (like federal legislation mandating a minimum drinking age of twenty-one in each state, or else losing road construction funds).



Amar, Akhil Reed. “Anti-Federalists, The Federalist Papers, and the big argument for union”, Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy.
Winter 1993: Vol 16, Issue 1, p111, 8p.

DuPont, Pete. “Federalism in the twenty-first century: Will states exist?”,
Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy.
Winter 1993: Vol 16, Issue 1, p136, 12p.

Farrand, Max, ed. The Records Of The Federal Convention Of 1787, Vol. II.
James Madison, et al., au.
Yale University Press: New Haven, CT: 1908.

Hutchins, Robert, ed. Great Books Of The Western World, Vol 43:
“American State Papers, The Federalist, & J. S. Mill”. Hamilton, Madison, Jay, et al., au.
Encyclopedia Britannica: Chicago, IL: 1952.

Lawler, Peter & Robert Schaefer, ed. American Political Rhetoric, 4e.
Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham, MD: 2001.