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Category: Big Picture

Fair is Fair
I may never get over the creepiness of my own government spying on me. Especially since the creepiness has been hot-dipped in a pool of outrage because I am actually paying for this betrayal.

Please don’t worry, the NSA says. We don’t track the content of calls, emails, tweets, postings, and other exercises of the freedom of speech. We’re not after you; we’re after the people who are after you. You know, the terrorists.

Okay, I get that. That’s what government is for, after all — to protect us from people who never learned how to be nice. I also get that, in an increasingly complicated world, solutions to our problems might need to be complicated, too. And that might mean that I need to trade off my right to privacy for safety’s sake. I’m even fine with that — as long as it’s a fair bargain.

Here’s what bothers me: not that my right to privacy went poof in the name of security, but that I’m not getting as much in return for it as I should. We’re all going to die someday, whether in bed or on board an exploding 747, and when we do, we’re done. But that disturbing photo of me — the one with the tarantula and the feather boa — could live forever on the internet if some nosey parker gets hold of it. If it weren’t for the NSA, that wouldn’t have been possible. So, in return for my lost privacy, I think I’m entitled to a little more…

For starters, I want the people behind those “Cardholder Services” robocalls hunted down and robocalled with a rototiller. The NSA can do that, can’t they?

Also, what ever happened Laneal McRory, my would-be, mostly-imaginary quasi-girlfriend from the seventh grade? I just want to know, that’s all.

My neighbor recently put up this new, strange-looking antenna. Is he part of the monstrous cabal that’s trying to control my thought waves with sonar? It would be a tremendous relief to know…one way or the other.

If it’s possible, I’d like the Swiss bank account numbers of the Wall Street rat-bastards who ripped off the country for billions back in 2008. No reason, just curious.

And while we’re at it, could I have the home phone of that s.o.b. who cut me off yesterday? I have some robocallers I’d like him to meet.

That should do it for now, I guess, although I’ll probably think of a few other things later. Come to think of it, I’d like the deal to include an option for me to ask for more private information about other people any time I want. The only new right that might make up for the loss of my right to privacy might be the right to know anything I want about anybody else forever and ever.

Fair is fair, after all, and the same goes for unfair.
Stay Right Where You Are
Okay, let's get the bad news out of the way first. We can't travel anymore. Travel is responsible for a full quarter of all the greenhouse gases we produce, so if we want to stop global warming, we'll just have to stop moving around.

Why do people even bother with travel anyway? If you want to see the Eiffel Tower, you just Google it, and there it is. You just saved yourself thousands of dollars and a lot of aggravation.

I know that travel is seen by many people as something truly wonderful. It's so broadening, they say. It renews the spirit, cures boredom, lets us see the world through new eyes. It's this scintillating escape from the soul-killing tedium of normal existence. Fine, I'll admit all that. But think about it - can't you get the same results by abusing drugs? All at a fraction of the cost in the comfort of your own home? You see? I'll bet you we won't even to miss travel when it's gone.

In fact, we don't even need drugs. Every dividend we pick up from traveling can also be found within a ten-mile radius of our homes. Are we so bereft of imagination, for instance, that we can't find a cure for boredom in our own back yards? Isn't reading a perfectly respectable way to get our broadening on? And if we really want to renew ourselves, why not get a heart transplant? It's covered by Obamacare, isn't it?

Besides, don't we all want to be home all the time anyway? When you're at home, you're in charge. There's no consulting, no planning, no voting. You decide what to do and when. You don't have to do anything, really, but if you do, there is a huge list of possibilities, all known and road-tested. You can eat cheap meals of predictable quality, sleep in a comfortable bed, and know exactly where everything is.

When you're out traveling, by contrast, you're moving through a world filled with uncertainty. Mistakes will almost certainly be made, resources cannot help but be wasted, time is bound to be squandered. You're constantly called upon to make critical decisions without adequate information, and the chances that you'll screw up only multiply the further you get from home. All the while, you're surrounded by strangers who speak only gibberish and who might be plotting against you right under your nose! You may be renewing your spirit, but you're doing it while walking blindfolded on a tightrope, and the slightest misstep would mean certain death.

Okay, that may have been a bit over the top. Let's be serious, then. Travel is fun. The unknown and uncertainty are actually kind of a rush. It tests your wits. It allows you to see yourself against a different background, to deepen your enjoyment of your time here on Earth. It's a gateway to knowledge and wisdom. And yes, we will miss it when it's gone.

But it's got to go. And we're not just talking about cars here. Did you know that just looking at an airplane can bring on species extinctions? No, we'll just have to stay close to home from now on - within a ten-mile radius, let's say, and only on foot, bike, or in electric vehicles.

So please, stay home …and save the Earth. If we don't, then we'll have to start addressing an even bigger source of greenhouse gases - farts.

And no, I'm not kidding.
Must Wear Corrective Lenses
Yes, I know that bad things happen in the world. I am aware of the dangerous trends that threaten us all. We are all going to die in the end. And yet, even if it turns out that I’m kidding myself, I prefer to be an optimist rather than a pessimist. For me it comes down to this choice: do I want to feel good most of the time, or do I want to feel lousy?

Just don’t call me a cockeyed optimist. I have a slight astigmatism, is all.
Free (hah!) Will
I didn’t think much about free will until I got to college. Then came Philosophy 1 and my introduction to the theory of Determinism. If this is your first encounter with this numbing concept, I apologize. Your comfy world view is about to be upended and spilled out onto the Parcheesi board of your life. As you will soon see, however, there was nothing I could have done to prevent this from happening. No offense; it was simply meant to be.

Determinism asserts that everything that happens must happen because it has been caused by all that has gone before, all the way back to the First Cause (if there was such a thing). That fabric of causality can only unfold in one way, and every event within it is predetermined from here to the end of time (if there is to be such an event). The universe is fully determined and immutable forever. Within such a framework, I am sad to say, there is no place for free will.

The first time I heard this line of reasoning, I immediately accepted it as true. Of course every event is an outgrowth of previous events. That’s obvious, it seemed to me. Furthermore, the mesh of causality could certainly be fine enough to include the most complex human motivations, genetic structure, and ways of being. Not only is our behavior predetermined, then, we are predetermined.

This realization is a double-edged sword. Cosmically, we’re off the hook for anything we do (and that’s a relief), but at the same time our lives are rendered utterly meaningless. That’s kind of a tough sword to swallow, philosophically. Ever since that first collision with Determinism, I’ve been trying to square my acceptance of a universe that is already written in stone with my conviction that what I do makes a difference. It’s proven to be a difficult task. Until now.

Though it is not widely known, I am something of an amateur theoretical physicist. Furthermore, I am happy to report that my research in this field has brought my decades-long struggle with the free will/determinism conundrum to an end. I call my discovery the Negligible Differentiation Effect, or NDE. I won’t get into all the technical stuff about event eruptions along intertwining chains of causality projected within a four-dimensional field of space/time. Most of you would be bored by the math. Suffice it to say that free will does exist after all — but not quite in the way we have imagined.

Here’s how it works. Within the parameters the NDE, we have a narrow range of control over the events we experience. We can make real choices which are not predetermined. We can choose to have granola for breakfast, for example, or we can choose Dinosaur Eggs Benedict, and that choice would be wholly our own and utterly unaffected by events that have preceded it. So yes, there is free will — but there is a catch, as well. Our choices, no matter how consequential they may seem, will have no effect on subsequent events. The egg dish might well cause us to experience an episode of indigestion that we would not have had with the cereal, but that slight variation in events will bring about a negligible differentiation among succeeding events. Such choices disappear into a kind of causal vortex within the NDE and hence count for nothing in the grand scheme of things. I could show you the calcs, but you are fated neither to understand nor to care, so why bother?

Perhaps it would be helpful if you imagined the entire universe of events, from the beginning to the end of time, as a giant tree sloth covered with a thin layer of slime. That slime is the NDE. It has an interesting sheen to it, especially when the sloth is moving, but it will wash right off in the first rain.

Again, I should apologize… for that sloth metaphor and for what I’ve done to your peace of mind. The only thing my years of work have accomplished is to replace one double-edged sword with a smaller, tarnished one. I should apologize, but I won’t. It is what it is, as they say, and it couldn’t have been anything else. It was set in stone, you see, and covered with slime.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon