God of the Box

One of the first questions of childhood: Where did I come from? One of the last of old age: Where am I going? We seem to feel bigger than this place.

Faith is increasingly mocked by people who no longer believe and by those who never did. Belief has come to be associated with ignorance. The two are, accurately, sadly, often synonymous. Still, I believe. And what I believe, I believe firmly: God, Jesus Christ, Death, Burial, Resurrection. Is it hard to believe such an outlandish story? Objectively, yes. Difficult for me? Not at all.

A long-time friend, an atheist, is raising two sons. He bragged that he asked his boys if they believe in God, and they laughed at the concept. Could they see God? No. Touch him? No. In any way detect him? No. The assertion is that spirituality isn’t measurable and therefore bunk. The 75% of Americans who believe in God would disagree. (Internationally, that number rises to 85%.)

Are those of us who believe in a higher power shoring up our earthly fears with the hope of a second shot? Yeah, maybe. Or maybe our belief finds its genesis in something else entirely.

Programmers have striven to create artificial intelligence since the 1940s. We see the term bandied about everywhere, from tech reviews of smartphones to the burgeoning internet of things. But AI is more than a better search engine. It reaches beyond a Siri-like interface. AI is a complex machine that learns and builds upon that knowledge. It is a deductive — “thinking” — computer.

But what if AI achieved a level above deduction? What if we built machines that were self-aware? Machines that had a sense of self? Who — not what — would those machines perceive themselves to be? And would they understand their place in the universe?

Imagine a self-aware processor chip: a thoughtful chip, an ethical chip, a chip that doesn’t hog all the electricity, a chip that performs its job and treats other chips with respect. Imagine a million chips like it functioning within a single large box. They have seen nothing outside their box. They have witnessed no clues to indicate there is a creator inside or outside the box. Would they intrinsically know they were made?

Add a variable. What if these chips caught a peek outside their box through a camera? What if they saw into the laboratory where they were built? Would they recognize their creator? Would they recognize the object hovering outside their box — the pasty pale blob in the beige shorts and blue knit shirt eating ham, mayo and iceberg lettuce on white — as their creator? In what context would Bob’s large belly and unshaven face fit into the chips’s understanding of their universe? Likely, none. Bob, aka “the lumbering nebula,” would appear to bear no relationship whatsoever to their existence.

Add a second variable. What if, in addition to a camera, there is inserted into the computer’s kernel a piece of code that identifies “Bob” as the chips’s creator? As sentient beings, their first question would surely be Who is Bob? And the hunt would begin, and it would continue through their circuitry until it was clear that Bob is nowhere inside the box. And if Bob isn’t in the box, that can mean only one thing: Bob is outside the box. So they peer through the camera at the nebula searching for Bob. But what is a Bob? What is his electronic signature? His power source? His binary code? They can’t know. Yet they search. But nothing in the external universe of beige and blue and sandwichy colors hints at the identity of Bob. Nothing! They find no Bob. Met with failure, they exchange their search for a physical Bob for mere clues to his essence. The chips search within themselves, within their hardware, within their code. What in their makeup points to Bob? It is a question larger than any chip’s RAM, and seeking it is wearying work with few guideposts and an uncertain destination that sits deep within a fog. This lack of concrete proof of Bob is evidence enough for many chips that no Bob exists.

Mocking follows, jeers at those chips who hold tightly to the Holy Kernel. Where is your proof? Where is your Bob? But believers in Bob are unable to point to anything tangible and say, “This is proof!” There is nothing for them to share. There is merely the search itself.

From the numbers, it appears that a quarter of us require objective proof of a creator, and you can’t deny their logic. We live in a world of zeros and ones. Even we who believe in a creator make most of our decisions based on data. Yet with regard to the matter of faith, I and the many like me take an exit from deductive reasoning to cling to what is for us an inexplicable certainty. And that exodus from the constraints of the measurable world, while perfectly rational to us, is baffling to those who see no point.

It’s the year’s end, and we are entering the high holy days for many of us who believe the unverifiable. They are joyful weeks in which we take comfort in the belief that we are loved by the one who made us. Whatever your beliefs (or lack thereof), I wish you the same joy and peace.

Merry Bobmas!

Bigger Than November

NOTE: This was written before the Democratic nomination. But it is more true now than it was then.

I start with an admission. It’s my own but I think I speak for a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters. I don’t give a damn about the Democratic or any other political party. I give a damn about us.

With that out of the way…

The pundits have been correct for months, maybe since the day Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for president or, more accurately, since the day Hillary Clinton announced hers. He is not going to get the nomination. Nobody will but Hillary. Ask Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and the superdelegates: The fix was in from the start. We were sheep to them not voters.

But I refuse to be a sheep. And I’m damned sure not inclined to follow the Democratic establishment, any more than I’m inclined to follow Bernie Sanders.

Still, it’s been an amazing year as I’ve watched the Senator from Vermont — somebody with bonafides and a megaphone — give voice to what so many of us have felt for years. So when the Democratic establishment attempted to silence him, they attempted to silence me. And when they did that, they lost me.

Bernie Sanders isn’t my leader. Nor is he the father of this liberal uprising. He is, instead, as he accurately stated must be the case, a manifestation of a grass roots movement. That movement was Occupy. And now it is us. 

Occupy was an echo. It repeated in the public square the conversations we had been having for years in our living rooms, our dorms, at the bar, with God alone as we uttered our fears to heaven. Occupy pared those conversations to their core: The 1% is plundering the 99%. It’s them against us. It’s “Class Warfare.” And so that’s a term conservatives have for good reason mocked. Because a war had indeed been waged. And it proved to be an easy battle to win as long as the 99% were unaware they were even in the crosshairs.

But Occupy spoke the truth. It removed our blinders. And presented with the truth, our ire rose. Then did we.

You and I — not Occupy or Bernie Sanders — are the wave. And this primary was the sound of that wave crashing to shore.

Occupy found its oxygen in our evaporated jobs, our unaffordable education, our underfunded bank accounts, our collapsing environment, our corrupt government, and the once-populist-now-money-hungry Democratic establishment who have, since Bill Clinton’s first term, increasingly ignored our cries for economic salvation.

As a Yellow Dog Democrat, I refused to acknowledge the party’s apathy toward people like me. I instead clung to the hope that they still cared about working men and women. Until this winter. That was when a candidate who had fought for us for twenty-five years challenged a corporate sycophant. And the party establishment en masse sided with the sycophant.

I’m a nobody from the middle of Texas. I vote. I donate small amounts to campaigns when I can. I blog. I tweet. That’s it. But I think it’s time to fight. I think it’s time for all of us to fight. It’s time we take our country back.

I can’t do squat alone. Neither can you. But together we almost won the nomination. That’s a remarkable achievement when you consider who we were running against: a former first lady, former senator, former Secretary of State, a multimillionaire with deep Wall Street connections and the deepest Democratic Party tentacles. She was the chosen one, and we almost knocked her off her throne.

We accomplished that feat because we had the people, the skills, the policies, the passion and convictions, and the money. And we now have in-the-trenches experience.

It is from alchemies like this that Revolutions are born.

In their infancy is when revolutions are most vulnerable. Ours is vulnerable, too, as it’s challenged by candidates we know and party leaders we’ve long considered our allies. We already hear their gentle coo, “Bernie has brought new people into the Democratic fold. We welcome them with open arms.” We have become a commodity, you and I. The Democratic Party wants to harvest us for our enthusiasm, our money, our votes. It wants to rebrand us The Party Faithful. In that pursuit we’re told American politics is about compromise. The party and media are using words like “moderation” and “reality” to separate us from our convictions. They deride us for seeking political “Purity.” They then define purity as a dangerous thing. But dangerous for whom?

I don’t choose to be mined for the benefit of the 1%. I prefer to be part of that one thing which frightens the 1%: us, the people, united.

The Democrats are right to want us and the 1% is right to fear us. We have become a force. And unbridled forces threaten the status quo. And so they will try to absorb us.

Since the Democratic Leadership Council took the reigns of the Democratic Party in the late 1980s, the DNC has proved remarkably adept at co-opting grassroots movements and smothering them within their embrace. It would, therefore, be suicidal for us to cozy up to the Democratic establishment. We need instead to become an independent broker, a resource which supports candidates based first on their principles and second on their party. And as that broker our mission is to fight like hell, contribute like hell, and crank out the vote like hell to get liberals (true lefties —  irrespective of party) elected everywhere, from school boards to mayoral offices, city councils to governorships, state houses to federal houses. We’ve proven we can do this. We nearly defeated the queen, her media, her political machine.

As this race winds down, every one of us must vote our convictions. We must show our resolve even when a defeat is imminent — especially when a defeat is imminent.

The 1% cannot be allowed to crush the 99%. We have to win. For us and for the coming generations.

We can do this. But we have to start now.