Sunday, September 30, 2018

Dear Bethel Missionary Baptist Church of Creswell, Oregon:

If you're going to send your moral entrepreneurs to knock on my front door and proselytize to me about the Bible, you simply must bring your 'A' game next time! The two young men you sent over were cutting and running in less than 10 minutes. I thought my eternal salvation deserved a bit more of their attention, especially given that they thought it wise to spend a Saturday evening knocking on my door to begin with.

Yes, I gave them a warm up act of reading a few very brief Bible passages and accepted that these claims may even be internally consistent... but then I pointed out that they failed to establish even the basic pretext of authority that the Bible would have for the metaphysical claims they were making about the universe, the epistemology of conscious experience, and the ability for non-physical beings of immense power to sometimes author specific books - but not films or computer software.

They presented an interesting theory about how they were the "real Jews" - which certainly surprised my upstairs neighbors who are of Jewish ancestry and watched with a mix of horror and amusement at this exchange. The two young men with Bibles in hand also seemed quite certain that The Book of Mormon was a "fraud" even though it contains claims of the same deficient evidentiary qualities as their own religious literature.

And this notion that I should want to go to Heaven even though they claimed my pets and non-believer friends won't be waiting for me is a really tough sell. If you're going to fabricate eternal promises, at least make them reasonably appealing to convey.

In any case... upon your Bible hucksters' next visit, please plan to stay for at least an hour because we have many basic logical and factual premises to establish before we can take on authority the claims you are making to be true. And if they could become less visibly agitated and defeated when their statements are challenged, that would be great!

You know where I live and I know your arguments better than you do.

Sincerely,
Danny Ledonne
atheist with respect to the ≈10,000 gods which humans have believed in at one time or another

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Andrew Yang Wants an Economy for Normal People

We have seen, and will continue to see, market forces that seek to maximize profit potential with the assumption that human flourishing will be an inevitable byproduct. There are clearly problems with this assumption already. But with increasing automation and AI, there is no good reason to believe this will be remotely true in the future.

Consider many (if not most) care-giving positions: home health care, teaching, child care and youth development, social workers, elderly care, animal welfare, environmental protection and cleanup. These and countless other occupations serve vital social functions yet have little economic incentive. People essentially commit to a life in poverty just to take on these careers - yet society would be nearly unbearable without them.

Add to this the ongoing de-skilling of various professions or outright automation of entire industries and we have a very bleak future for most humans ("normal people") in the mid-21st century and beyond. So long as a meaningful life and sustainable living are tied to economic structures which reward disruptive, concentrated monetary accumulation, most people will continue to see their quality of life diminish as a small oligarchy of tech wizards and financial elite consolidate most available resources.

"The War on Normal People" author and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang appears to be among the foremost leaders in the USA discussing this issue. He is certainly worth watching and listening to.

Related to this, Google's AlphaZero AI has become the undisputed champion of Chess. And unlike previous software programs like Stockfish which were programmed by humans, AlphaZero taught itself to play Chess and became better than every human player... in four hours. AlphaZero is actually more creative than most human chess players - another metric that didn't seem likely just a few years ago. Machines appear capable of learning something new more effectively and efficiently than humans could ever hope to.

The superiority of AI won't stop with games like Chess or Go, or even with automated cars and chat bots. Most of the jobs that most of us have will be performed more effectively by machines or with only minimal human oversight, and likely within most of our lifetimes.

If we don't de-couple our sense of purpose from work, if we don't separate how we obtain food, housing, and other essentials from performing profitable tasks, there won't be much of an economy left in which most humans can participate. The more one pays attention to the developments in AI and automation, the more clear it becomes that we are on a collision course with very grim prospects for most people unless economic and social structures are significantly redesigned with humans in mind.