Friday, July 22, 2016

Freedum Vs Freedom: What's the Difference and Why Should We Care? USA! USA! Edition

Freedom. No single word is found more often on the lips of the American politician. It is 'Murika's rallying cry. But what does it mean? And, once we've settled on a meaning, what sorts of actions does that value commit us to? 

As everyone knows, 99% of philosophy consists in asking, "Ah, ha! But what do you mean by X?" That's pretty much all philosophers do. All day. We argue about what words mean. 

Of course, I'm being facetious. Nevertheless, at least part of philosophy is getting clear on the meanings of terms. Meanings do matter, after all--for both practical and theoretical concerns. Suppose you're debating with someone over whether happiness is the meaning of life. If you think happiness is a psychologically pleasant state then you'll formulate your argument one way. On the other hand, if you think, as Aristotle did, that happiness is a way of living--i.e.., living virtuously--then you will formulate different arguments. 

It's also possible for two people to agree that happiness is the meaning of life but disagree about what 'happiness' means. Unless they first clarify their terms, they'll end of talking past each other without any advance in the dialectic. In a political context, they'll likely advocate different policies and fail to understand why they disagree. 

A: "This policy will promote the general happiness (meaning pleasure)"
B: "No, it won't because it undermines virtue!
A: "Huh? What has virtue got to do with happiness?

In a way, I think this is what's going in with respect to 'freedom'.  In America there are two meanings to the term. I'll call the first 'freedum' and the second 'freedom'. People agree that freedom is important but are talking past each other. [Note: There are actually more meanings for freedom, but I'm going to focus on only two of them].

Very simply, freedum is the combination of the absence of coercion combined with capacity to act according to your immediate desires. This is 'Murika's definition of freedom. In my more cynical moods, I call it the freedum to be an idiot. 

Ain't no gubmint gonna tell me what to do. If I want to walk around nekit in my front yard and shit on my lawn--it's my property and I'll do what I want. If I want to drive a diesel monster truck to and from work, despite the fact that I'm unnecessarily polluting the air, ain't no gubmint gonna tell me not to. I gots freedum. 

Freedum is the type of freedom an animal in the wild has. A desire pops up and no one is there to tell that animal that it can't act on that desire if it so chooses--no matter the content of the desire. 

Before dismissing freedum as somehow beneath a thinking creature, freedum does have value. Very few of us would want to live in a world where we were restricted from acting according to our desires. There are many important political freedoms that fit with what I've called freedum: Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to marry whomever you please, etc...

The main point, (to be expanded in the next section) is that at the level of the individual merely acting on whatever fancy enters one's pointy head is an impoverished view of freedom.

I've been overly disparaging of freedum to make a point. It isn't the only kind of freedom worth having, and, I will suggest, there is a more valuable kind of freedom which should sometimes eclipse freedum

The absence of coercion is one thing but is doin' whatever the f*ck I want all there is to freedom? Perhaps, if you're a 13 year-old. 

Kant and subsequent philosophers noted that merely acting according to our desires isn't genuine freedom (to be fair, the idea starts with Socrates and Plato). In broad terms, freedom is acting according to reason. Let me explain:

You don't choose to have the particular desires and preferences that you have. For example, when you get a craving for ice cream, you didn't choose to have that desire. You just have the craving. Acting on your various occurrent desires requires no deliberation. You just act on whichever is strongest. On the other hand, freedom is rationally deliberating on your current set of desires (for current and future ends) and figuring out what the rational/best thing to do/pursue would be, then acting in accordance with what reason tells you to do. 

Similarly, we don't choose our preferences. You don't choose to like the foods, activities, people, books, etc.. that you do. For example, no one says "I think today I'm going to like studying philosophy" or "I'm going to like carpentry". You just do

Freedum would be simply taking these preferences and desires at face value. So long as no external force prevented you from pursuing and fulfilling them, you have freedum. But Kant's point is that genuine freedom takes more than this. As rational creatures we can take our sets of desires and preferences and submit them to rational scrutiny. We can rationally deliberate over whether they are good desires and preferences to have and whether it would be good to act on those desires and preferences. Freedom is freeing ourselves from our unreflective brute inclinations and instead carefully considering what we ought to do.

Freedom is not simply accepting my brute desire to eat a whole pizza to myself--cuz ain't nobody gonna tell me what to do. Freedom is rationally deliberating about whether it would be good for me to eat that whole pizza, concluding that it isn't, then acting in accordance with this conclusion. 

To drive the point home, if freedom were merely a matter of acting on our desires in the absence of coercion, we'd have to say the heroine addict is just as free as the person who carefully plans out and lives a successful and purposeful life.  Thinking this way confuses freedum for freedom and it turns freedom into a mockery of a travesty of a sham. 

Another way of thinking of freedom is self-legislation. I rationally deliberate upon a set of principles and values according to which I live my life. When a desire arises that clashes with my rationally arrived at principles and values (as will happen frequently), I accord my action with my principles and values--not the haphazard desire. 

For example, perhaps one of my values is to become a great philosophy teacher. To do this I know that in the evenings I have to spend time planning my lectures. However, sometimes in the evening I instead have an overwhelming desire to watch a movie. I am free when I live in accordance with my rationally conceived values and principles. And so, if I refuse to indulge the desire I am free. 

Conversely, I might think, "YOLO!!!". If I acquiesce to my occurrent desire, I give up on my own rules and values. I'm not in control of my life anymore--there are no principles guiding my actions. Like Otis, I just act on whatever fancy happens to enter my head in that moment. But I'm not free when I do whatever the f*ck I want. In such a case I only possess freedum

We can think of this notion of freedom not only at the individual but also at the political level. Political freedom can also be understood as self-legislation. We govern ourselves as a society according to the rules, principles, and values that we collectively rationally agree to. Of course, there will be disagreement within a society over exactly what those rules will be. Figuring out what to do in cases of disagreement is the heart and soul of contemporary political philosophy. I won't go into it in this post--I only want to suggest how Kant's idea of freedom extends to the political realm. (For an overview of how political philosophers approach the problem of political freedom, self-legislation, and disagreement see this post.)

Hegel and Marx
Hegel and Marx build on Kant but kick it up a notch in terms of explaining why you aren't free when you merely act on your desires. The best way to understand is by way of my version of an analogy which I loosely borrow from Peter Singer (Singer's original analogy concerns deodorant products).

Economist think an economy is good to the degree that people's actual preferences are satisfied. But the philosopher asks two further question: (a) why do people in that economy have the particular preferences that they do? and (b) are these good preferences to have? 

Take for example the massive popularity of fast food in the US of A. An economist will say that an economy is good in so far as people's preferences for fast food are being met.  The philosopher asks: (a) why do people in the US of A desire fast food so much? and (b) are these preferences for fast food good? Let's examine each in turn.

A little reflection provides several answers to (a) at various levels of analysis. The first point to consider is that the desire for fast food didn't arise spontaneously. It is the result of carefully crafted marketing campaigns to generate the desires. This insight counts as a strike against the idea that someone is free when they act according to their desire for fast food.  The desire came from without, not from within and an action is free only in so far it is the product of conscious deliberation. There's a lot more to the story which I discuss below.

The short version of the story is that our desires and preferences are the product of complex environmental factors external to us. Since their origin is external, accepting and acting upon them isn't commensurate with authentic freedom. Freedom, as should be clear by now, is acting on desires and preferences generated and reflected upon internally.  

Hegel's point (more fully developed in Marx) is that our political preferences--our values and principles that we think ought to order our society--are just like our preferences for fast food. They are the product of our particular place in history and its institutions, attitudes, and practices.

Marx emphasized that our values and preferences don't just shape our institutions and practices (namely capitalism) but our institutions and practices also serve to reinforce the prevailing values and preferences. To understand, we can return to the fast food analogy. 

People have the preference and desire for fast food because not just because of clever marketing but because of our existing practices and the very structure of our institutions. The practice of eating fast food reenforces the preference and serves to generate the desire. The structure of our cities, neighborhoods, and food production systems also serve to generate and reinforce our desire for fast food. 

When you're hungry and out of the house, what's the quickest easiest meal? Fast food restaurants are on every corner. It's much easier to find and pull into a drive thru than to find a quick affordable healthy option. And so, the very structure of our world (in some neighborhoods more than others) pushes us toward fast food. When it's all around us, the desire seems endogenous when in fact it isn't.

We can take further steps back in our analysis and ask why it is that we don't have time for sit down meals. This is also a contingent fact about how are world is currently structured. But it also pushes us toward the practice of eating fast food, desiring fast food, and further creates demand for fast food restaurants which in turn reinforces those material structures in our world. 

We can play this game all day but the point remains the same. Many values, desires, and preferences that we might think come from within, in fact don't. The structure of our world, our institutions, and our practices all serve to generate and reinforce values which fold back on themselves to reinforce the existing structures and practices that were their genesis. Freedom is about acting on internally generated (and deliberated upon) preferences, values, and desires. We are frequently mistaken about the origins of many of our desires; thus, we are also mistaken about the nature of our choices and actions with respect to freedom.

Once we've applied our critique of our values, practices, desires, etc... we must do the real philosophical work. We need to figure out what values and desires we would rationally will that are independent of being externally generated. Returning to the analogy, What would I rationally want to eat--devoid of external forces generating my various gustatory desires? 

More generally, what are the authentic unpolluted rational desires for human beings? For Kant there are universal rational answers to this question since reason is universal and we all (to varying degrees) possess rationality. If we all go to the same well, we all drink the same water. There are universal right answers for what humans should desire. (It's not clear in Kant's philosophy how specific those desires would be). 

Hegel's insight is that we never make choices completely divorced from an implicit value system. Just as we can never perfectly escape our own subjective point of view, we can't escape our point in history and all its implicit accompanying beliefs, values, practices, and attitudes. Nevertheless, through critical analysis we can come to understand the source and origins of our existing institutions, practices, and values and apply rational deliberation to them and the desires they generate.

To continue with the analogy, Kant might have us ban all the fast food restaurants along all the forces that created them. We couldn't rationally want to eat fast food, and so away with it! Hegel would tell us that since we can never exist apart from a value-laden environment we should do the best with the one we currently inhabit:  take the existing fast food restaurants and improve through application of rational deliberation. Fast food restaurants are both good and bad: They offer food that is quick, affordable, and convenient. Unfortunately, the food itself isn't good for us. So, let's tinker with the menu but preserve what's good. Marx might agree with Hegel regarding the menu change, but you best believe he'd also insist labor practices be changed too! 

Let's now apply this framework to life choices. Consider the fact that many students want to be business majors. Why? At the level of freedum, they may just have the brute desire. But a Hegalian analysis gives us much more to consider. We ask, why do they have that brute desire in the first place? If we look around at the structure of our society (capitalism) and the values it inculcates (money, power), the answer is apparent. In a capitalist society, status, power, and success are all tightly bound to how much money one has. Without money, you're in for a rough life.

In one sense, we can say these students are rationally choosing and are thus making choices consistent with freedom. They recognize that in order to be successful in the US of A you need money. Thus, if they had competing desires to go into social work or fine arts, we might say they are rational in choosing to study bidniz. 

But the Hegelian point cuts deeper. It asks how we came to value money so highly in the first place which in turn leads students to have the desire to pursue business degrees. What are the structures, institutions, practices, and attitudes that shape and maintain our value systems which in turn shape our desires? Since we didn't choose the conditions out of which our values arose, there is a sense in which we are not free when we accept them uncritically and the desires they generate--even when they are rational to pursue within a particular historical context.

It can be rational to desire money in a capitalist system and so in a sense you're free when you order your life in pursuit of it. On the other hand, in so far as you don't reflect on the social and historical origins of your deeply held desires and values you are not free. You mistakenly assume that values in your world are eternal and objective. They are the right ones. You fail to see that they are a contingency of your location in history. In so far as you don't see the contingency of your core values and desires, and don't subject them to critical analysis and rational scrutiny, your choices are not consistent with freedom. Otherwise stated, for your choices to be truly free in the Hegelian sense, you have to recognize that your values and desires are the product of your society, your location in history, and a function of various institutions, structures, practices, and attitudes. Only after you've done this intellectual work can a choice be considered to be free.

The next time someone rants about Freedom!!!1!1!!!! USA #1!!!!1!1!! or a politician makes proclamations about freedom, take a moment to reflect on whether they're primarily concerned with freedum or freedom. It's true that the gubbamint can constrain your freedum and that's something we should avoid. But if you reflect a little you might find that restricting your own freedum is sometimes consistent with freedom. And freedom, it seems to me, is frequently to be preferred to freedum. Especially when it comes to living in large groups...

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

You CAN Make Friends with Salad: Giving Up Meat without Giving Up Gainz

This post has been a long time coming. Over the last few years I've had a lot people ask me how to reconcile a vegetarian diet with high-level athletic training. Before getting into the nuts and beans, let me first emphasize that I follow a vegetarian--not a vegan diet. There are some examples of successful purely vegan high-level athletes, however, my own experiment with it didn't go well; therefore, it won't work for any of you (anecdote alert!). See end of article for tips for vegan athletes (Thank you to Marcus Schultz-Bergin).

My biggest worry about switching to a vegetarian diet was that I wouldn't get enough protein and I'd consume too many carbs. Most athletes have grown up with the belief that we need at least 1gram of protein for every pound of bodyweight/day. It turns out that's just a myth. It's totally unsupported by any evidence. (Who knew the supplement industry would overstate claims?) You likely don't need more than 0.6 grams/lb.

So, if you're 180 lbs you only need 108 grams which is significantly less than the 180 grams you've been feeding yourself. Basically, Big Sup wants you to believe you need all that protein, but the best evidence suggests you don't--even if you're an experienced athlete. In fact, the evidence suggests that the longer you've been training, the less protein you need (see link below).

Here are a few highlight from what I take to be the definitive article on protein consumption for strength athletes:
• Tarnopolsky et al. (1992) observed no differences in whole body protein synthesis or indexes of lean body mass in strength athletes consuming either 0.64g/lb or 1.10g/lb over a 2 week period. Protein oxidation did increase in the high protein group, indicating a nutrient overload.
• Walberg et al. (1988) found that 0.73g/lb was sufficient to maintain positive nitrogen balance in cutting weightlifters over a 7 day time period.
• Tarnopolsky et al. (1988) found that only 0.37g/lb was required to maintain positive nitrogen balance in elite bodybuilders (over 5 years of experience, possible previous use of androgens) over a 10 day period. 0.45g/lb was sufficient to maintain lean body mass in bodybuilders over a 2 week period. The authors suggested that 0.55g/lb was sufficient for bodybuilders.
• Lemon et al. (1992) found no differences in muscle mass or strength gains in novice bodybuilders consuming either 0.61g/lb or 1.19g/lb over a 4 week period. Based on nitrogen balance data, the authors recommended 0.75g/lb.
• Hoffman et al. (2006) found no differences in body composition, strength or resting hormonal concentrations in strength athletes consuming either 0.77g/lb or >0.91g/lb over a 3 month period.
The other issue with vegetarianism is getting your protein without all them carbs. Beans are one of the best sources of vegetarian protein but they come with carbs. And if you regularly eat them with rice, you risk committing carbocide. All them gainz but no one can see your abs. I am cri :'(

Below I've listed my usual recipes. I've managed to build a meal plan that isn't carb heavy. In short, you CAN make friends with salad if you're willing to grab a few handfuls of nuts...Deez nutz! Ha! Got 'em! Also, eggs and tofu/tofu-based products are your best friends.

Quick Commentary on the Ethics of Eating
The fact that you're reading this entry suggests you're already at least moderately motivated to reduce your meat consumption. From my perspective since the health claims are generally overblown (although not completely without merit) there are two main lines of argument for going vegetarian: Concern for animal welfare and concern for the environment. Most people come to vegetarianism (or veganism) primarily out of concern for the former. Sometimes the two align, sometimes they pull apart. I'm not going to rehash all the familiar arguments but I do want to point out a few things about some of the choices I've made. If you don't care what I think, skip to the next section.

If you're going to be vegetarian instead of vegan you have to accept that your dietary choices will impose some degree of suffering on the animals from whom you get your protein. My position on these issues is still in a state of flux but I'll briefly outline the reasons for the choices I've made. First of all, factory farmed meats are off the menu. There are no plausible arguments for the practice.

I eat shrimp, mollusks, eggs, whey protein, and very occasionally responsibly-sourced fish. The easiest to justify eating are the mollusks. It's unlikely they have much if any capacity to suffer. The main concern is environmental: they are sometimes harvested in ways that destroy ecosystems (see links to below). 

Shrimp are bugs. I don't feel bad about eating bugs (how's that for a convincing argument?). The main concerns with shrimp are the methods by which they are farmed and the labor practices involved. Shrimp from SE Asia comes at tragic environmental cost and is often harvested using slave labor.  If you didn't think there was enough wrong with the world, read here:

Despite the fact that the dairy industry is largely morally indefensible, I consume whey protein powder because it is a waste product of cheese and yogurt-making. Prior to the rise in popularity of protein powder, whey was a massive environmental headache. For example,  Chobani in it's NY plant produces 1 million lbs of greek yogurt every day. For every pound of greek yogurt there are 3 pounds of waste (you do the math). In NY state alone 150 million tonnes of whey is produced/year. That waste is acidic and basically destroys all aquatic life if it ends up in waterways.

A popular disposal method is burning it but that consumes a lot of energy (i.e., fossil fuels). So, although I don't purchase primary dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), I'm reconciled with consuming what would otherwise be a waste product. Full disclosure: I'll eat cheese/pizza if I'm at an event where it's already being offered. I will also eat ice cream very occasionally in the summer.

As for fish, the ethical concern is that, in commercial fishing, the fish often suffer for long periods of time before they are finally killed. The latest and best research shows that fish have the capacity for suffering and pain

The environmental concern is that most fishing stocks are critically overfished. From 1970-2012 the marine vertebrate population has decreased by 49%. At current rates of fishing, most important fish stocks will be extinct within 10-15 years. Tuna is foremost among them; in fact, Blue Fin tuna is down 70%. This is why I don't eat tuna anymore. They're basically going to be extinct soon unless we change our consumption habits.

Bycatch is another big problem. Depending on the source, for every pound of fish in the supermarket 10lbs (often much more) is thrown out as by-catch. Others estimate that bycatch represents 40% of worldwide catch. That translates into 63 billion lbs per year of marine life killed for no reason. That's not just a tragic waste of life and disruption of ecosystems, but it effectively eliminates a food supply for fish higher up in the food chain.

For an excellent resource on responsible aquaculture and unthreatened fish stocks, I suggest taking a look at this website:  They also have an app so if you're in the supermarket or at a restaurant you can quickly check if what you're about to buy is responsibly managed.  

In short, our oceans are pretty much fucked so be judicious in selecting fish if you're going to eat fish. I usually only eat farmed fish since it's sustainable (so long as the farm adheres to best practices).  This is not to say all wild fish aquaculture is bad but before selecting DO YOR REESURCH!!!1!!!1!!! (If you give a fuck). At some point I'll write a post suggesting that environmentalists should be the strongest proponents of (well-regulated) fish farms and GMO salmon. Ideology and fear-mongering notwithstanding, all things considered that's definitely where the evidence points.

Basically, by going vegetarian you're not going to be perfect but this doesn't imply an all-or-nothing approach (see: nirvana fallacy). With informed choices we can at least minimize our negative impact on both animals and the environment.

General Tips for Eating Healthfully
Prepare, prepare, prepare! When do we mess up on our clean eating? When we're hangry and "there's nothing to eat." Always make sure you have ingredients on hand for quick meals and make sure protein is prepped. As a vegetarian (at least my version) that means:
  • Boil eggs a dozen at a time. If you have hard-boiled eggs on hand, you have a no-prep source of protein. Use it to make a 'sammich' or eat them as they are.
  • Stock a variety of protein bars.
  • Have tofu in the fridge. It the summer it's good cold with some soy sauce, sesame oil, and sriracha. Half a block is 30 grams of protein! 
  • Have cans of beans in kitchen.
  • Bulk-buy green pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, almonds, flax seeds, and chia seeds.
  • Have lots of peanut butter stocked.
Verboten Foodz--Aus of ze Haus!!!! If you can't see it, you're less likely to eat it. Do not bring junk food into the house. You're way less likely to eat a bunch of junk food if eating it requires getting off your ass and driving to the store to get it. Save it for cheat day!

Avoiding Carbs While Getting Enough Protein: 
Hold your breath. As a vegetarian, you can't just cook up a piece of meat or grab a burger anytime you're hungry. As I mentioned in the intro you have to plan a bit if you want to avoid committing carbocide. However, it's not really a big deal. In fact, it's no trouble at all once you properly stock your kitchen.

Over the course of a regular day I eat 4 small-ish meals and consume one protein shake. I might also have a banana or energy bar before working out. Notice that I get my protein from a variety of sources throughout the day to ensure I get all the essential amino acids.

  • Meal 1: Breakfast is almost always peanut butter and whole grain toast. 
  • Meal 2: One bean-based meal. This is usually post-workout meal so place it appropriately in your schedule.
  • Meal 3: Some kind of egg-based meal. Maybe an egg sammich with avocado or something. Maybe a salad with egg, seeds, and nuts.
  • Meal 4: Tofu-based meal. In the summer I'll often just have cold tofu (see recipe below). If you feel like cooking, stirfry tofu is always good. The latest generation of fake meats are almost indistinguishable from real meat. The difference is negligible anyway. If I have the choice between a cruelty-free, environmentally responsible burger and one that isn't AND they basically taste the same, why on earth wouldn't I eat the veggie burger? Some of my favorite fake meat products are: Gardein's beef tips, chicken strips for stir fry, ground beef, and burgers. Qu'orn fake turkey dinner is also amazing. All of these products are available in the freezer section of your local supermarket. If I can find them in the supermarkets of Bowling fucking Green, Ohio, you can find them where you live. 
  • Meal 3 or 4: Mega Salad (see two sections below)

Meal Plan and Recipes (Summer)
Nine times out ten, breakfast is peanut butter and whole grain toast with about a liter of tea. Occasionally, I'll have eggs with toast.

Depending on where I am and how much time I have, it will vary.
If I'm aus of ze haus at my office, I might open up a can of chick peas, drain them, pour in some olive oil and hot sauce. You'd be surprised how good it tastes. I know I was the first time.

Alternatively, I might go to Subguey and get an egg sub or if there's a salad bar I'll do that. I'll select all the beans for my toppings and maybe get egg as well if they have it.

If I'm at home I'll usually make either an egg sammich with avocado or I'll make one of my mega-salads (see video).

Protein shake and banana

First and Second Dinner:
Bean dish. There are many many ways to prepare beans. In the summer, it's often too hot to cook so I used canned beans. In the winter I'll cook up a 3 day supply and make soups and stews. Here are some simple recipes that don't require any cooking but if you prefer to eat them warm, simply combine the ingredients in a large pan:

Spicy Cold Tofu:
  • 1/2 block of tofu
  • sesame oil
  • soy sauce
  • Sriracha
  • optional: sprinkle with sesame seeds
Chickpea curry: 
  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained
  • curry powder
  • mayo
  • garlic
  • sunflower seeds
  • raw or sautéed onion or chives
  • sautéed mushrooms if you're feeling fancy
  • salt&pepper to taste
  • optional: chopped hard-boiled egg
  • optional: sautéed shrimp
Chickpeas in pesto:
  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained
  • olive oil
  • tablespoon of pesto
  • half an avocado
  • sunflower seeds
  • tablespoon of flax seeds
  • diced tomato
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • diced cheese (if you eat cheese)
  • optional: raw or sauteed onion
  • optional: chopped hard-boiled egg
  • optional: sautéed shrimp.
Super Speedy Chickpea Dish:
  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained
  • olive oil
  • hot sauce 
  • Optional: chopped hard-boiled egg
Speedy Black Bean Chili: 
  • can of black beans, drained.
  • chili powder
  • garlic
  • fresh basil if you've got some
  • sautéed or raw onions
  • sautéed or steamed mustard greens
  • sautéed mushrooms
  • optional: chopped hard-boiled egg or top with a fried egg sunny side up
  • optional: sautéed shrimp
Super Speedy Black Bean Meal:
  • can o' black beans, drained
  • Lowry salt
  • olive oil
  • hot sauce
  • optional: chopped hard-boiled egg
  • optional: cubed cheese
  • fresh parsley and/or basil if you have it
Mega Salad (see below)

Leaning Out with the Mega Salad:
In the summer we all want those abs to emerge quickly from their winter slumber. To get my abs to pop, I only eat mega salads for about 2 or 3 weeks for all meals (except for breakfast). 

How to make the Mega Salad:

Mega salad: 
Get yourself a family-sized salad bowl. You're going to fill it.
  • 2 or 3 different leafy greens. About 3 or 4 leafs of each. I usually use romaine, kale, and mustard greens. Avoid iceberg.
  • 1 tomato
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 lg carrot
  • 1 head of broccoli (just use 1/2 if it's really big--TWSS)
  • 1 handful of green pumpkin seeds
  • 1 handful of sunflower seeds
  • 1 handful of sliced almonds
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of flax seeds
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of chia seeds
  • olives, pickles, pickled jalepeno---whatever you like.
  • Optional: Add 1/2 a can of your choice of beans if you're feeling low on carbs
  • Optional: 1 or 2 hardboiled eggs chopped
  • Optional: 1/2 a block of tofu cubed
  • Optional: sauteed/grilled shrimp of fish
  • Optional: cheese cubed (if you eat cheese)
Because the mega salad will feel full after eating it. I'm usually unable to finish a whole one if I've added one of the options. The good news is that you're full but you haven't really consumed a lot of calories. And your carbs are very low. Do this for 2 or 3 weeks and you will be noticeably leaner. Oh, invest in a wide variety of salad dressings so you don't get bored (but be sensible with regards to caloric content). 

Concerns about Soy and Estrogen
The science isn't settled here. I've done my own reesurch as well as asked a couple of experts. Here is from personal correspondence on my behalf between Pat Brown, fancy Stanford professor of biochemistry (and my sister's Ph.D advisor) and my sister.
There are compounds with estrogenic effects (phytoestrogens) as well as compounds that can increase circulating androgens in soy as well as lots of other plant foods. So there have been a lot of studies (hundreds of papers) looking at their hypothetical effects (both positive and negative) on male or female fertility, hormone-sensitive cancers (eg., breast and prostate) and other hormone-influenced human physiology and disease.

The upshot is that while there are many weak associations in model systems, there is essentially zero good evidence of any meaningful effect on fertility, cancer, diabetes or any of the other health outcomes that have been studied.
About a year ago when looking into this stuff, I read a study comparing gains in lean muscle mass between experienced bodybuilders consuming 30g of soy vs consuming 30g of whey. There were no differences between groups in gains of lean body mass, neither were there were differences in hormone levels. (I can't find that study at the moment but will link to it when I find it).

Basically, I usually eat one soy-based meal a day which is about 20-30g of soy. That seems safe.

For a longer than I care to admit, I knew vegetarianism was the logical consequence of my ethical and environmental commitments. I was hesitant to change my diet because I thought I wouldn't be able to train like I want to (selfish bastard). I also thought that even if I could train as hard as I like on a vegetarian diet, it would take way too much meal prep time. It turns out both of those concerns were ill-founded.

You can have it all: You can eat more or less consistently with your ethical and environmental commitments while also getting enough protein and avoiding expending unrealistic amounts of time and energy on meal-prep.

Now go forth and make gainz, but this time with less animal suffering.

Bonus Round: Resources for Vegan Athletes
No Meat Athlete (ultramarathon running rather than lifting, but some more general stuff) -

Vegan Proteins (main site is a vegan protein supplement site, but they have a blog with more general stuff too) -

Vega (maker of vegan protein and meal replacement stuff, but again also has general stuff like recipes and a blog with advice) -

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Understanding Philosophy in the Real World: Brexit

My second semester of teaching philosophy 101 I had that student; the one that every teacher dreads. You know, the one that sits there all class with a scowl on her face and only opens her mouth to say "What's the point? Why are we even doing this?".  Next to math teachers, philosophy teachers probably have to deal with this the most. When handled incorrectly, this type of student can pollute the whole atmosphere of the class making the entire semester difficult. There are a variety of ways to handle such students. 

My response was to take her concerns seriously. If she couldn't see the value and importance of what I was teaching, at least a quarter of the students were probably thinking the same thing. [That figure comes from extensively polling my intuitions]. From that point forward I promised myself that I'd begin each lesson with a real world issue where the philosophical concept of the day played a pivotal role. If I couldn't show that the concept has real-world applicability and importance, I'd take it out of the syllabus. And that's what I've done ever since. (Bye-bye Gettier epicycles...)

From teaching this way I've learned that philosophy is all around us in every aspect of our lives--even more than even I had imagined. You can't see what you aren't looking for. But if you grow accustomed to looking, you'll be astounded with how embedded in philosophy our lives are.

With all that in mind I want to take the whole Brexit debacle as an opportunity to explore three closely related topics in political philosophy: (a) representative vs direct democracy, (b) idealization, and (c) voting rules. My aim is to show how philosophical decisions shape political events. 

(Here's an excellent companion article by political philosophers).

Representative vs Direct Democracy

Pre-theoretically, most of us think of democracy as meaning something akin to self-rule. We, the people, are sovereign and so the rules that govern society (us) come from us, not from some external power. We (the governed) vote on the nature and content of the rules, policies, and institutions that we want to be governed by. In short, we self-legislate. 

Ok, so we self-legislate. How do we do that? Does each citizen need to vote every time a new law or policy is proposed?  Direct democracy is the idea that citizens vote directly on policy.  This may, at first blush, seem like a good idea. If I'm going to be governed by a law or bear the consequences of a policy, I want to have a say in it. In small organizations this kind of process makes sense. However, as an organization's size grows from team or village-size to that of a modern nation-state, direct democracy will be hugely impractical for a variety of reasons. 

First, in a large political community the amount of time each citizen would have to spend voting on a daily basis would significantly undermine their ability to go about their work day. And it's not just time spent voting. We might hope that citizens spend time familiarizing themselves with the relevant arguments and data associated with each issue. This again in hugely impractical given the breadth and depth of knowledge required to know everything about everything. If we want voters to be informed voters, not only would citizens need to set aside time each day to vote but they also have to set time aside to DO THEY'RE REESURCH!!!!11!!!. 

Besides, anyone who has spent more that 5 seconds in the comments section of the internet can tell you that what many people think is doing research is in fact a massive exercise in motivated reasoning. I find reading the comments section of most online articles to be the best possible argument against direct democracy. 

This leads us to the idea of representative gubbamint. Instead of each citizen giving up most of their day voting and doing research, they can pick someone who knows their interests and can represent them in gubbamint. This is what's meant by representative government: citizens select representatives from their respective communities that are familiar with their interests.  Enter the politician. 

Brexit and Representative Democracy

Here's the dealy-yo. It's very doubtful that any political arrangement will be perfect (excluding putting philosophers in charge of everything). There will always be trade-offs. With representative democracy we overcome many of the shortcomings of direct democracy (I'll discuss more of them in the next section). But we create new problems. 

First, since each citizen doesn't actually vote on policy, the representative has to interpret what his constituency would have voted for. There are many ways interpretation can go wrong. And this doesn't even include some subgroups' disproportionate influence or that the representative can be constrained by party politics (which of course, they always are to various degrees). 

Another major problem with interpretation is that people can be mistaken about what's in their own best interest. As a representative, do you vote according to what they actually say they want (even though it ultimately undermines their interests) or do you vote according to what a reasonable expert thinks would best advance their interests? I'll deal with this problem in detail in the idealization section below.

The next major problem takes a bit of background explanation. The whole point of democracy is self-rule. Ideally, the rules that govern us are represent our own will. Otherwise, to various degrees we are being coerced by what feels like (or is) an alien power. And nobody likes being told to follow rules they don't agree with.  

As a political community grows in size and complexity each sub-community has proportionately less influence over the rules by which they will be governed. This is just a fact about numbers. If your community represents only 3% of the population then your political weight in terms of shaping policy is quite small. 

Add to the numbers phenomena the fact that the diversity of values also increases as political communities expand. In a small political community there are more personal interactions and shared ways of living. It follows that fundamental values will tend to be relatively homogenous and so political disagreement over fundamental values is less likely. As political communities expand however, the likelihood of disagreement over fundamental values increases. Pair this fact with a sub-community's diminished political power to shape the laws and policies by which it is governed and you have a great recipe for political alienation. 

These concepts give us a helpful lens through which to understand the "take our country back" sentiment in Brexit (and "Make America Great Again" in US of A). The people who voted for Bexit don't feel as though they have any say in the laws and policies that govern them and that those laws are (perceived to be) inconsistent with their own values and beliefs. And, they are right. If democracy is conceived of as self-rule, their communities have very little influence over the policy according to which they are governed. Second, they don't recognize as their own the perceived values according to which they are governed (set by EU policy). 

This is not meant as a defense of Brexit supporters, only an explanation. That said, let me point out that the above reasons for resisting yet another level of gubbamint and for favoring local levels are probabilistic. There's no logical contradiction between a local government, tyranny, and despotism. 

Furthermore, there are reasons to think that the same people who voted for Brexit voted against their own interests. (Aside from the philosophical ones discussed below, here are some empirical ones from a libertarian blog which one would expect to be against centralization).

Let me explain:


A naive view of people and politics suggests that people always know what's best for them. But this is obviously false. Such a view assumes perfect information and perfect reasoning. A mere moments reflection on one's own past or a perusal of the comments section of a vaccine article reveals that we can very often be mistaken about our own good. Thus, it looks like we have the makings of a dilemma: People make mistakes about their own good which implies that if we want to avoid bad policy experts ought to decide policy but at the same time democracy requires that citizens have a role in forming policy. We want to avoid coercing people--even if it's for their own good. 

Deriving solutions to this dilemma is the meat and potatoes of political philosophy. One of the more popular methods is to suggest some degree of cognitive idealization. Let me explain: we know that real people have false beliefs and make bad inferences. That's how they end up having false beliefs about what policy would actually best advance their interests. Proponents of idealization suggest that policy reflect what people would want if we (to varying degrees) idealized away their false beliefs and bad inferences. In other words, policy should be what people would want if they were rational and didn't have false beliefs. 

Let me illustrate. I've decided that you are in charge of me but you can only apply rules to me that I consent to. I walk into a donut shop and I see all the delicious donuts. I want to order 3 donuts. I believe that I want to order and eat 3 donuts. It turns out that eating 3 donuts would actually be inconsistent with what I truly value: the maintenance of my health and washboard abs. 

You know this but the overwhelming olfactory and visual stimulation has overwhelmed by brain. I have false beliefs about what's good for me. On a view of democracy where policy is set by people's actual desires and beliefs, you must buy me the donuts. It's what I actually want despite the fact that eating 3 donuts would be contrary to my core values (get it?) and interests. 

An idealization view, on the other hand, wouldn't give me the donuts. The idealization view idealizes away my false beliefs and bad inferences ("I'm going to feel so good if I eat those 3 donuts", "I'd be really happy if I ate all these donuts"). My belief that I want to eat 3 donuts is actually inconsistent with my more fundamental values (health and abs). Thus, if you prevented me from eating all three, it would not be contrary to democratic values. You wouldn't be coercing me because the policy you are imposing on me is actually consistent with my own values if I just thought about it a bit more. I am still self-legislating. You're just correcting for the vicissitudes of my passions. 

Within the literature there is dispute over just how much idealization we should do. If we idealize too much then the resulting policies won't be recognizable to the imperfect people they end up governing. Thus, although consistent with their interests, they will be perceived as coercion by an alien power. 

Others advocate some version of moderate idealization. Kevin Vallier suggests we idealize only in so far as actual people can recognize their own core values and beliefs in the resulting policy. The criticism of this view is that we still sometimes get people voting for bad policy if they have bad/false core beliefs or racist/zenophobic/homophobic values. 

Idealization and Brexit

Idealization gives us another lens through which to understand the Brexit vote. The vote was a referendum; i.e., direct democracy. In other words, there was no opportunity to correct (if need be) people's votes with idealization. If it turns out that it would actually be in most Brits' actual interest to stay in the EU, too bad. There's no way for a representative to correct for the error. 

The fact of the matter is that even most (all?) experts aren't clear on what the consequences of Brexit will be and so it's hardly likely that people in the general public made this judgment in an informed way.  Really, the vote was a "feel-off". Votes were more likely the result of raw emotion than any kind of informed deliberation over trade offs between values and likely consequences. 

If we take the reports in the media seriously,  there now seems to be growing buyers remorse among some of the no-vote contingent. The immediate adverse effect on the British economy (and people's pension funds) is making people seriously reconsider whether they voted on good information and whether their "no" vote was actually consistent with their core values, desires, and interests. 

Voting Rules

The quick about-face points to another issue in political philosophy: Voting rules. For many political issues, timing is everything. Poll people at two different points in time--even days apart--and you can get very different results. For example, if you'd polled Americans pre-9-11 about extending executive powers, the overwhelming majority would have said no. Just a few days after 9-11, many saw no problem with it. Now, it's being called into question again. 

This points to the idea that for major national-level decisions, you want some kind of voting rule in place that ensures the will of the people is stable and not the product of short-term current events. The Brexit referendum used a one-time majority rule vote. That doesn't do much to hedge against the vicissitudes of the unwashed masses. 

Consider also, about 70% of the country turned out to vote, just over half of which voted "no". That means about 35% of the population determined the fate of the remaining 65%. In the US constitutional reforms require 2/3 majority in both legislative houses (read: representative democracy/idealization). The higher bar ensures the changes reflect the publics' stable attitudes. The one-time majoritarian referendum does not. 


There are legitimate concerns with representative democracy in diverse large political communities. One's proportionate influence over policy diminishes and one must coexist within a greater diversity of values. When people lose the ability to shape the policy and institutions by which they are governed--even if it's in their own long-term interest--they push back. No one likes to be told how to live by a perceived-to-be alien power. It's not unreasonable to believe that as we add layers of government, institutions become less representative of local interests and values. Autonomy is undermined. Of course, these are probabilistic assumptions and the ultimate truth will vary across actual cases.

It's logically possible to believe both that all of the reasons for voting for Brexit are valid and still maintain that it is in the British public's own interest to stay (on balance). In fact, at least some observers suggest that there will be less rather than more overall autonomy with BrexitAt the end of the day, we'll have to see how it plays out. 

My own tentative view is that the world of nationalist isolated nation-states has had its chance. A casual look back at history tells us that what Europeans gain with the EU is so much greater than what they lose. I submit that Brexiters are confusing relative costs for absolute costs. They see the costs of the current state of affairs on their self-determination. And they are without a doubt right. But these cost are being considered as absolute costs. In fact, the costs must be weighted relative to the alternatives. And as I've already mentioned, we needn't look too far into history to see the costs of a nationalist Europe. 

Finally, we should ask what Brexiters are trying to achieve. What is their metric of success? How will they know if it was a good decision? None of this is really clear beyond a greater sense of self-determination even if on the whole they end up worse off. If so, we can make sense of the Brexit vote through the eyes of Dostoevsky's Underground Man:

I would not be at all surprised, for instance, if suddenly and without the slightest possible reason a gentleman of an ignoble or rather reactionary and sardonic countenance were to arise amid all that future reign of universal common sense and, gripping his sides firmly with his hands, were to say to us all, "Well, gentlemen, what about giving this common sense a mighty kick and letting it scatter in the dust before our feet simply to send all those logarithms to the devil so that we can again live according to our foolish will?"  
...Man has always and everywhere--whoever he may be--preferred to do as he chose, and not in the least as his reason or advantage dictated; and one may choose to do something even if it is against on's own advantage, and sometimes one positively should. One's own free and unfettered choice, one's own whims, however wild, one's own fancy, overwrought thou it sometimes may be to the point of madness [. . .]
All man wants is an absolutely free choice, however dear that freedom may cost him and wherever it may lead him to...