When This Is, That Is

Exploring the world of conditionality

Why We Would Have Been Better off with President McCain

Sarah Palin and John McCain in Albuquerque

John McCain and Sarah Palin, Albuquerque, NM, Sept. 6, 2008. Photo by Matthew Reichbach, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

As much as I appreciate Barack Obama for what he’s done and tried to do, I’m beginning to think we’d all have been better off had John McCain won the last election. 

Yes, it would be nice that gasoline would now be around $2 a gallon and my home double its 2007 value and not nearly half.

But I am certain about two things that would not be. 

First, there would be no Tea Party, which was an immediate reflex to Obama’s election, and the government would be humming along—and no doubt growing—nicely.

Second, we would not have Sarah Palin wandering as a free agent, continuing to pretend to know what she’s talking about. If she had been elected vice-president she would have been efficiently muzzled and hobbled to make sure she could not embarrass McCain with her disconnected blathering. Of course a Vice-president Palin would not be out there railing against Obama, who still would be a Senator from Illinois (would Rod Blagojevich still be governor?). No, her political career would have come to an effective end (if she hadn’t resigned first) at the hands of her own handlers. None of us would still be suffering the insufferable Sarah Palin.

But because she wasn’t elected vice-president, she’s still out there, within the safe confines of Fox News, where she’s encouraged to entertain and rouse Party loyalists.

I don’t see relief any time soon.

Make Chest X-Rays Mandatory for Cigarette and Cigar Purchases

Photo: Wikimedia

In 2011 the Food and Drug Administration ruled that cigarette makers put one of nine graphic images on each pack of cigarettes for sale in the United States. The purpose was to warn people of the deadly dangers of tobacco use. The ghastly images—meant to dissuade people from smoking—were to be in use by October of 2012.

In February, however, a federal judge ruled the images unconstitutional. This is a travesty, an abomination.

Smoking kills. We know that. People who smoke are slowly killing themselves. They also are slowly killing those around them who are unfortunately forced to inhale clouds of carcinogenic smoke. We have to stop this.

Click image to see all nine

But I think the government’s anti-smoking campaigns are. That’s because our perceptions have all along been misguided. For example, the tamest of the nine images says, “Warning: Tobacco smoke can harm your children.” That’s cloudy thinking.

The truth is, smoke and smoking don’t kill people. People who smoke kill people.

Is it too harsh to say smoking is not only a crime but is a sin? I don’t think so. It may not be among the biblical lists of things that evokes God’s wrath, but I think it’s safe to say God would agree that taking a life through the deliberate act of smoking is just as bad as any other way. More than anything else, this is a religious problem

We must stop these suicides and homicides. So here’s my proposal: Enact a law to make chest x-rays mandatory before purchasing of a pack of cigarettes or cigars. After the x-ray, you must then sit down with a radiologist, a cancer specialist, and a counselor. You will then be issued a certificate with a date and time stamp. After a reasonable waiting period of 24 hours (per pack or single cigar), you may present your certificate and buy your tobacco product.

I can see right off that there are some logistical and ethical problems with my plan. But I’m a big-idea person. I leave it up the lawmakers and attorneys to close the loopholes and sort through these relatively minor concerns. After all, the purpose here is to save lives. 

As I said, this is a religious and moral issue. I call on clergymen and clergywomen across the country to use their positions of influence to speak out against this dreadful scourge. Frankly, I have no idea why they haven’t been doing this all along. Perhaps they just haven’t thought about it. 

It’s terribly unfortunate that trafficking in tobacco is legal in this country. Yes, I know it goes back to colonial days, and smoking is part of the American psyche. But in this case our founders were very misguided. It’s time we got on the right track.

Disclaimer: I used to smoke. But I haven’t for more than 20 years. Make of that what you will.

The Truth and Nothing but the Truth, Maybe

why we lieIn a relative world, what is true and what is not true depends on what one believes. People tend to believe what they want to believe and nothing else. And everything a person believes is the truth. Who would say, “Everything I believe is a lie”? In a sense, people sometimes choose delusion.

Those who understand this have little trouble taking advantage of others.

In his book Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind, David Livingstone Smith makes some interesting points about the human propensity toward deception. Here are three.

First, Smith contends that the ability to deceive is a naturally selected trait. Those who can easily deceive others are more likely to survive than those who can’t.

Second, just as the ability to deceive is a naturally selected trait, so too is the ability to detect deception. Smith uses a poker game as an analogy. An excellent poker player is one who easily bluffs the other players at the table. In addition, an excellent poker player easily detects when others are bluffing. Players with neither of these skills should not play poker. I don’t play poker.

The ability to hide telling traits is the third and most interesting point Smith makes. It’s not enough merely to mask tell-tail signs of deception with a poker-face, because someone skilled in detecting deception will see through the mask. Smith contends that the greatest deceivers are those who can first deceive themselves. If I believe that what I say is true, I will have a much easier time convincing you that what I say is true. Then you become a believer. And truth becomes relative to belief.

A relative truth cannot be wholly reliable because it is based more on belief than reality.

As belief propagates in ever-widening circles it transforms into the kind of truth that must be true because “I saw it on TV (or the Internet).” That’s why negative campaign ads work so well. Negative ads need not be true. It’s necessary only that people believe they are true.

Self deception—whether by means of denial, repression, self-righteous bias, or any of the other defense mechanisms and biases psychologists have identified—is a door that always leads away from truth and toward delusion.

With this knowledge, it’s easy to see how people are so easily led astray and deluded by the used-car salesman who just wants that piece of junk off his lot or the politician who just wants your vote. Both will say anything with absolute sincerity to get what they want.

Is it possible to know the truth? Yes, but only with the understanding that belief and truth are not the same thing. You can discover truth once the layers of deception and delusion—both internal and external—are peeled away to expose things exactly as they are, not as you want them to be.

You will know you’re getting close when what you find is disagreeable and difficult to accept.

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