A Review of “Free Will” by Sam Harris

Free Will

I recently took my wife to a massage clinic in downtown Denver and, while she was having her every aching muscle soothed and caressed, I sauntered over to the Tattered Cover to see what all the fuss was about.  For years friends have been telling me that it is the most amazing bookstore EVER, and that living in Colorado for 18 years without nary a visit was borderline blasphemous (good thing they haven’t found out I’ve also never been skiing). Continue reading


There are no answers.

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(Photos courtesy of Tony Phalen, who lives near the Century 16 theater and recently visited the memorial site)

In the wake of the Aurora theater massacre, we’re left with the same pressing question that humanity has struggled with for millenia:  Why? Continue reading

The quest for consistency

During my time in college (the first time), I stumbled upon a personal epiphany.  I wasn’t always right and occasionally I was actually wrong.  This epiphany was strictly internal and no outside influence brought it to the surface.  It was as though a light had been flicked on and I was seeing the world for what it was for the first time in my life:  A disjointed, disorienting, confusing, inconsistent arena of ideas, actions, and reactions.  A questioning and subsequent reevaluation of my faith was an immediate result of this epiphany, eventually leading to my rejection of the church.

My epiphany was an awakening to the number of inconsistencies in my beliefs and my own personal theories.  I suddenly realized that inconsistency was wrong because it led to unfairness, double standards, and confusion.  Failing to keep my political and spiritual landscape on the same playing field said volumes about my character and displayed an inability to objectively view the “big picture” and make sound judgments.

Since this epiphany, I have made it my lifelong goal to ensure consistency within my beliefs and to iron out any of the kinks that may have arisen over the years.  Engaging in thoughtful discussions with friends and family (or a “responsive chalkboard”) is one of the best ways to discover any aberrant thoughts.  Sometimes we don’t realize our own inconsistency until we’ve spoken our thoughts and another person challenges them.

The most disappointing aspect of this lifelong goal is that not everybody adheres to it.  My generation and the generation before mine seem incapable of rational thought, of keeping silent long enough to hear other voices, and are more prone to engage in shouting matches than to question their own beliefs.  This sweltering vestige of stupidity has consumed our government and now threatens our very livelihood.

I’ve found one group in particular that embraces inconsistency and seems to thrive on the chaos it breeds.  They rely on subjective information, say whatever they like to get their way, and are constantly struggling to pass legislation that either promotes inconsistency or discourages consistency.  They are the modern liberal/progressive movement, and they believe the best way to bring one group of people up is by stifling the growth of another.

The liberal movement is so fascinating to me because it is almost impossible to fully extract their thought processes and determine what crazy ideas they’ll come up with next.  They often stand by one statement and defend it to the death, only to say something that completely refutes it moments later.  The most frustrating part is that they are blind to this–no amount of discussion will reveal to them their own consistency, and one may spend hours attempting to guide them to a revelation that will simply never happen.

It is the belief of so many liberals that we must have a “fair result”, which is the backbone of their hypocrisy.  In so doing, they stifle the working class, the rich class, and the poor.  They stifle friends and family because they are so concerned about everybody ending up in the same place at the finish line that they are unwilling to compromise.

Case in point:  The current economic crisis.  Liberals continue to say that the rich must pay their “fair share” and that it’s “not fair” that 1% of the population controls 90% of the wealth in this country.  Essentially, they are saying they want more free stuff.  They believe that when we are all born we are given free stuff that we don’t have to work for, free stuff that is just divvied out and inherited, not earned.  They don’t expect to earn it, they expect to be given it.

But mention just once that they should not take as much from medicare or medicaid, or that they need to enter the job market and contribute to society, and the floodgates of anger will open.  This is because their inconsistency has created a sheltered bubble so fragile that the very thought of its destruction leads to rage.  It is a pitiful thing to watch, this desperation.  Most horrific is that our president–the Chosen One himself–Barack Obama, is the most susceptible to this phenomena.

And when the walls of their thinly constructed reality fall apart around them, liberals will immediately begin reconstructing it.  It’s as if they’re little children in a treehouse as a fire burns around them.  When one wall falls, they build it back up while closing their eyes and ears and shouting loudly to drown out the sounds of the oncoming flames.

Emotional knee-jerk reactions are the symptoms of an inconsistent worldview, and liberals utilize this strategy every waking hour of their lives.  Unable to cope with their own extremist viewpoint, they blame it on others (Obama’s favorite tactic).  And they do this in the most vicious, irritating style–such as when Obama called for civility from conservatives after the abhorrent events in Tuscon, then turned a blind eye to Maxine Water’s “The Tea Party can go to hell” statement only a few months later.  Inconsistency.

The Democratic party, and the liberals that constitute it, are a one-trick pony.  Blame the other guys.  But I suppose there isn’t much more to do when your entire platform is adjective-based and completely thought-free.  What do I mean by adjective-based?  They only use adjectives to describe the opposition, as in “the racist Tea Party” or “the warmongering Republicans” or “the stupid libertarians”.  There is no substance to the liberal thought process–just hatred of consistency and a knack for emotionally-driven knee-jerk reactions.

Don’t think for a moment that I’ve overlooked the antics of the religious right.  Fundamental religious behavior leads to witch hunts and stake-burning.  But that is a discussion for a different time–and besides, it would lead to a little inconsistency in today’s blog.

Your own responsive chalkboard

Today I had lunch with Jeremy, a friend I met through a study-buddy at college.  We meet once a week to have dinner or lunch together and just to catch up and have some “guy talk”.  While I enjoy conversations with all of my friends, none of them reach as philosophically deep a level as with Jeremy.  My other guy friends are bit younger, so I enjoy their time in different ways (usually in the form of video games or catching movies or other social gallantry).

Jeremy describes our discussions as “airtight”, meaning that whatever we talk about doesn’t leave the confines of that very discussion, and nobody else is privy to the subject matter unless we deem it appropriate.  It almost sounds like an elite book club meeting, but it’s really not–he and I are alike in the sense that we prefer clear definitions in every aspect of our lives, including events as mundane as discussions with friends.

Over the years, I’ve begun to think of our discussions as something more than just “guy talk” or the occasional venting about our jobs.  It’s become more of a “responsive chalkboard”, a safe place in which I can expose all of my ideas to part of the world and get a reality check without suffering the repercussions of a public forum.  Hence the term “responsive chalkboard”, of which “responsive” is pivotal.  Without the exchange of ideas, it is merely a chalkboard, and the ideas would not undergo improvement through exposure.

I think everybody needs to understand and appreciate the importance of having their own “responsive chalkboard”.  Our world is filled with contradictions and verisimilitude, and even different definitions of contradictions and verisimilitude, that sometimes it’s easy to believe that everybody else is crazy while you’re the only semblance of logic in a world doomed to worshiping the Kardashian sisters for eternity.

The responsive chalkboard doesn’t need to be a person, and it doesn’t necessarily need to share the same views on everything–in fact, one that diverges slightly on all the key issues is likely to be a greater source of truth than one that fully agrees throughout each exchange of ideas.  One could argue that there is no exchange of ideas when you and your chalkboard agree on a consistent basis, in which case it simply becomes a normal chalkboard used only for venting frustration.

Somehow I feel that this type of interaction between people rarely occurs in our world.  Philosophical banter is reduced to ashes in the flames of discontent, frustration, and the Internet.  Great minds are reduced to basic political destruction or are forever tainted by our unfair and inept education system.  It could be argued that there are no great minds any more, or perhaps that those still in existence are quieted by the throngs of those with no capability to utilize a responsive chalkboard.

I have a basic theory about people that states we are driven primarily by our insecurities rather than an insatiable quest for power, a theory which directly disagrees with the majority of the world.  I believe that most people think a quest for power is the fundamental problem with our society, but I believe that thirst for power is driven by insecurity.  At our very core, we are ashamed of ourselves because we see ourselves as weak and frail.  Philosophically, this could be argued that we see ourselves as weak and frail due to our own mortality, and so death (or, put more correctly, our effort to avoid death) is the primary driving force behind our actions–but that’s a discussion for a different time.

I think that having a responsive chalkboard is a healthy step to overcome our own insecurities and resist the likelihood of adopting a power-hungry nature.  It is a safe place to be challenged, to be reminded that we are all insecure, and to sort of reign in our Machiavellian tendencies.

What do you think?  What or who is your “responsive chalkboard”?