Michael Battalio

Friday, September 27, 2013

This I Believe (part 21):

        After about four years it is time for a revisit of my “This I Believe” series. As before, I’m still having trouble defining exactly what it is I prescribe to as a worldview. I hope to figure some of what I believe here. Now a revisit on what I’m believing.

        It is very hard to shed ideas on the universe that have been indoctrinated in you since you were a baby as you've been taught by every adult you respect that the universe was created by this mythical entity with whom we each have a special connection that is also only one way.  I will provide an anecdote.  When I was in seventh or eighth grade I went to a band camp at LSU.  I befriend someone who was unabashedly atheist.  I was shocked; I couldn't comprehend how someone could deny the existence of God so vehemently.  I remember staying up nights thinking how could he continue sanely living knowing that he would just flash out of existence when he died.  He told me that merely being remembered by those around him was enough.  I was floored.  How could someone be an atheist?  I am still stunned that a 14 year old was so far along in his intellectual development.  I guess that's how it goes when you aren't indoctrinated into a religion from birth.  How interesting would society be if we weren’t all indoctrinated from birth? What if we could choose what we believed instead of having belief presented to you by the people who care for you and love you? If that isn’t Pavlovian in nature, I don’t know what is.

        Presently I think I'm making the same gradual journey from agnosticism to atheism that I made from Catholicism to agnosticism.  With every passing day I realize more and more that God doesn't exist.  I really want him to; again, I don't want to cease to exist at some point, but I just don't think he does.  I also am beginning to look with more and more disdain at people who do believe in some sort of religion.  (Some might take issue with my disdain. I’ll explore that in the next entry.) I wouldn't say that I think they are stupid, but I do think they are either misguided or deluded.  I have stopped going to Mass, but I do miss the interaction with people.  As we've talked about many times churches are one of the primary methods of meeting people.  It would be nice to have that here in TX.  I read an article a few days ago about an atheist "church" where they have a service that is explicitly for meeting like minded people.  That’s what draws most people to religion in adulthood I think – the community. So what if we could have community without all the religious baggage?

Friday, September 06, 2013

My politics (part 2): Does Government Do Good with Our Money?

        Let’s stop to consider what the government actually provides for us. It gives us infrastructure, the roads, bridges, tunnels we use everyday. It gives us defense of our borders and civil security through the police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel. It gives us new technologies through NASA, NIH, CDC, NSF, NOAA, etc. The list goes on. We needs these services for society to function in a way that allows all of us to prosper. So yes, the government does good. The problem with government is that it does more than what we all can agree on as "good". The balancing factor is that I pay taxes for programs I don't support but you might like, and you pay taxes for programs I do support but you might not. The point being that we can't all get what we want. Your money is inevitably paying for something you don't want it to pay for. That is the price you must pay to have your taxes pay for the things you do want them to pay for. Think of it as a tax on your tax. So the question becomes how much tax are you willing to pay to get what you want knowing that some of the money taken from you goes to what you don't want.

        People are selfish, including me. You see that everywhere. The rich want lower taxes, not because they are afraid they’ll become poor due to the drain on their wealth, but because they are selfish. They “worked” hard for their money, and they should keep it. Where “worked” means “were lucky” in some way. (This is a topic for another post, but everyone is lucky in some way.) Comparatively they get very little of what they want from their tax money because they don't use many of the services the government provides to the rest of us. The poor want more social services so that they don’t live in poverty. Conservatives would call that selfish because they should pull themselves up and simply work harder. The poor get a lot of services off their tax burden. And then there are people like me in the middle. We want both; we want lower taxes and more governmental services. What’s a government to do?

        The question becomes how do we balance what the rich want from government with what the poor need from government, keeping in mind that the rich are rich because the rest of us have enough income to buy whatever product or service they sell. I'm not an economist, so I can't comment on what the exact rate of progressive income tax should be. However, when discussing taxes, the rich (and conservatives) should keep in mind that the programs that help the poor survive are a kind of ongoing economic stimulus. The poor are not saving this money; they spend welfare and food stamps immediately. That money goes directly into the economy. I'll go into the spending and collection of taxes in more detail later in a future post.

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