Extremist Nation

President Obama has not demonstrated that he is a despot and I think it is very important to say so.

Yesterday, I was reviewing my son’s logic lesson with him and we got going on the difference between statements that are contrary and those that are contradictory. My father used to tell me all the time that I was being contrary, so this is a particularly meaningful lesson for me. If he was wrong, and I was really being contradictory, I’m going to make sure he finds out!

So I was paying attention while I went over this with my son.

Here’s the difference: If two statements are both universal, they are contrary. In other words, if I say, “Every time you go to the store, you buy a radio,” and then you say, “I never buy a radio when I go to the store,” our statements are contrary.

It is very possible, indeed it is probable, that we are both wrong. Why? Because we are taking such extreme positions. This is the way we fight on a normal day. “You always…” “You never…”

And we talk past each other because of the extreme language we are using. Odds are very high that we are both wrong.

Contradictory statements are different. If I say, “Every time you go to the store, you waste my money,” and you say, “Sometimes when I go to the store, I don’t waste money,” now we have contradicted each other. This time, I have taken the extreme position, but you have taken a more moderate position. I’ve made a universal statement, but you have made what is technically a particular statement.

In this case, one of us must be right and the other must be wrong if we are talking about the same thing.

The media thrive on contraries. They love pushing people into extreme camps. Clever politicians shrewdly move their opponents into contradictory positions. They make the opponent appear extreme, while placing themselves in the ever shifting middle.

The dynamic created by these motives is not pretty. Each party presents the oppponent as an extremist and the media loves it. But now the media have been driven into extremes themselves. Fox news redresses the rather leftist leanings of the so-called mainstream media, but to highlight the differences they continually present extreme cases of any difference they can find. Then they go to extremes themselves.

Meanwhile the old media of the networks, CNN, and the major dailies holds to a basic Progressivism moderated by sales. Conservatives were made gullible to a Rush Limbaugh or a Fox News network by the absence or minimization of people who represented their views in the established media. They’ve always felt a bit hunted because the snear of the established media isn’t well-hidden.

That snear is reciprocated and multiplied by the right-wing media, with the Limbaughs and the Becks and others who abandon the essence of conservatism (reverence) to score points against the “enemy.” And of course, the hunted rednecks who vote for a Sarah Palin and want to shoot people who burn the flag (but don’t) hear the screeds of their own pent up frustration and feel, finally, at last, like they aren’t alone. So they forgive the extremism of their spokespeople (and sometimes adore them excessively – a sin both sides are prone to), and don’t recognize that the soul of their argument has been sucked out of it by the tone of its presentation.

A simple lesson in logic would have helped all of us. So would a lesson in rhetoric. And so would a paragraph in Aristotle.

In logic, we need to learn to stop arguing extremes.

From Aristotle’s politics we need to remember that we know almost nothing with certainty in the political realm. That, in fact, is why I am a conservative of the old school.  Politics is the art of decision making in community. When I make a decision alone I do so based on utter uncertainty about the future. How much more when a city, or a state, or a nation makes decisions.

So I want the upper levels of government to provide a stable structure for the lower, more local levels to make the best decisions they can with the knowledge that the state and federal government won’t arbitrarily alter reality based on who is owed favors.

We need to learn to rest in the reality that politics is difficult, that you survive in a polis, that a polis survives, when its members argue and debate instead of shooting each other, but that those arguments, as heated as they might become, lead to decisions that are never irrevocable.

We need to stop expecting so much from politics. People are always going to die, they are always going to fight, and cheat, and steal, and manipulate. Loving our neighbors can help minimize that within a few square feet of where we live and a just government can help lessen the extent of the fighting and cheating. But the hope for a new world in which people become good and fair because the state regulates them into goodness is a bit mad.

To demand too much justice too fast is to increase the likelihood of tyranny. Until the second coming, we have to do everything in our power to be just and accept that we won’t be repaid in kind.

But with those moderated expectations, we must do everything in our power to be just.

The third lesson is from rhetoric. Classical rhetoric includes a very hand element in a speech called the Division. This is where you identify exactly and precisely what the disagreement is by pushing the agreement as far as possible.

The great concern I have about the debate over “Obamacare” is the increasingly widespread claim that opponents to this law are, almost de facto, racists.

From the evidence I have seen there are some racists among the opponents and even among the tea partiers. But there aren’t as many and it doesn’t seem to me to be as strong as some Progressives want us to believe. For example, I’ve tried to find evidence for the 15 uses of the N-word or of a senator being spit on when they walked up to the capital. So far as I can tell, the second did happen, but not in the sense that we usually think of being spat on. Somebody was yelling at the senator (Lewis?) pretty aggressively and very impolitely, to the extent that he was letting fly with the saliva as people do when they are yelling out of control.

So here’s how that would appear in a “division.”

We agree that somebody in the crowd spat upon Senator Lewis. Some people present this spitting as though somebody consciously and intentionally spat on the senator as an act of contempt. Others argue that the spitting was an effect of his yelling, and not a deliberate and intentional act of spitting.

Or we could say something like ” We all agree that the person who spat on Senator Lewis was wrong to do so. Some people argue that it was wrong because it was an act of racism. Others argue that it was an act of out of control anger.”

By defining the difference more carefully, we aren’t delivered from the discussion, but we are now able to think about it more carefully and with less accusation.

Racism as a concrete reality has done untold damage to our country. Racism turned into an abstract idea probably can’t do as much damage, but it is being used to harm us as a people as well.

So when the tea partiers, for example, are portrayed as necessarily racist, I know that more careful thought needs to be applied.

We all agree that the tea partiers are angry. Some believe that they are angry because President Obama is black. Some argue that they are angry because they feel threatened by his policies.

America is undergoing some significant changes right now. Is it too much to ask that the discussion take place without the self-righteous short cut of jumping straight to the extremes? President Obama is not a despot. And the tea partiers don’t fear him because he is black.

They fear him because he went to Harvard. And as we all know, every problem this country has ever had has come from Harvard.

Steele on Obama and Race

Maybe Shelby Steele is right or maybe he is wrong, but he has written the article of articles on the question of President Obama and what it (the question) tells us about race. This article needs to be parsed.

I hope people embrace the discussion. Maybe I’ll be able to at some time here.

The Power of Symbols

I have no idea what to make of President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Honestly, when I first saw it, I was on a spoof web-site and thought it was a joke.

I can come up with no way to respect the committee selection; I cannot believe they respect President Obama as a human being with a true personhood.

I can only believe they believe he is more powerful than a human can be, which they indicated by their comments on his, what was the word, style? Tone? I think it was tone.

I can only believe, as a corollary, that they have an exagerrated sense of their own power to influence events through their symbolic gesture.

Invent a weapon; give a peace prize.

Sell computers; celebrate the environment.

Create a public school system; create the most uneducated AND ill-equipped generation in American history.

Sign peace treaties; provoke wars.

There is something deeply wrong with the political psychology of the last 150 or so years.

Could it be rooted in something so puerile as an overweening confidence in the symbolic gesture?

As a lover of symbols (such as, especially words) this abuse troubles me deeply. It bodes evil, because it is very easy to condemn and persecute people for not believing in your symbols.

For example, I love peace and am very grateful to those who preserve it for me. But I don’t count the Nobel Peace Prize givers among them. Woodrow Wilson won this prize for the treaty of  Versailles! Are you kidding me?

Sometimes they choose well. Sometimes poorly. They recognize people who share their values and beliefs by giving them a symbolic gesture. But how often do they review the effects of the choices they reward?

To drag out one more point: I don’t know enough about the Nobel committee and its specific members and its history. But is this, perhaps, the crossing of a new line? Have they ever rewarded so much tone and so little substance in the past, so early in a political career?

Is it possible to conclude, then, that this is not an attempt to influence the future more directly and more personally than ever?

Do you really have to be a conservative to wonder about the motivation behind this? Judging by the media shock, it would seem not.

Whither the Nobel Prize?

Stem Cells and Morality

Count me among the number of those disturbed by President Obama’s lifting of the ban on stem cell research. The issue itself is beyond my expertise, but there’s a principle at stake and an approach taken that concerns me deeply.

The natural sciences are not morally neutral, they are subservient to morality. They are mere knowledge, which, in turn gives power. Knowledge may conceivably be regarded as morally neutral (I don’t think I see it that way, but I can see how people would). Power cannot. Power enables action. Action is always moral.

Therefore the moral sciences provide a higher order of knowledge than scientific knowledge.

These considerations make many scientists chafe because they hear Galileo’s trial and other events echoing across the ages. The Englightenment, they insist, finally set science free. 

It did not, for the simple reason that science cannot both exist and be free. It is always bound to the humans doing it. The Enlightenment freed science from the restraints of the Catholic church, to some extent, and from religious constraints generally, for the most part.

But it didn’t set science free from the appetites and ambitions of the scientists and those who pay them. The last century has, practically and philosophically, made clear that scientific knowledge is not morally neutral if only because human beings possess it and are empowered by it.

Let us grant, then, for the sake of argument, that science should be freed from religious constraints. Should it also be freed from moral constraints? And where do those morals come from? Historically, I can only see two options: metaphysics (philosophy) and religion.

The trouble with metaphysics is its practical instability. Plato made it rather obvious that only a few people can attain to the level of metaphysical clarity that can order a society. That is at least one reason why he never opposed religion per se.

For this reason, a democracy could never survive a scientific age in which morality is based on metaphysics. If, then, we have eliminated metaphysics (philosophy) and religion, then what will we base our decisions on?

This question cannot be dodged. Politics is the domain of decision making. What is permissible in the American decision making process? Have we formally rejected religion as an element of decision making.

So again I ask: On what will we base our decisions?

The will of the people? God help us.

What is possible? Lord have mercy.

The will of an elite? Yes, that seems to be where we are headed.

What saves us so far is a constitution that restrains each of these options. That and our national customs and traditions. There are some things we just won’t tolerate. But that changes somewhat rapidly. I’ve begun to qualify to the point of rambling, but I don’t want to give the impression of hysteria. The Spirit of God is still at work.

I would urge you to read CS Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength to understand the philosophy that is poisoning our country and souls. If that is too long, read The Abolition of Man. If that is too hard (it’s his most important book), read a short essay in his book Christian Reflections called The Poison of Subjectivism. Begin with the last and work your way backward if you prefer.

You might also want to take a look at this blog by one of my favorite bloggers, John Mark Reynolds.

President Obama on the military, Ty’Sheoma Bethea, and his conclusion

I’m grateful to hear him say that we do “not torture.”

A new era of engagement has begun. We can’t be alone and the world needs us. We need to engage in negotiation with confidence and candor.

The world depends on us having a strong economy as we depend on the strength of the worlds. Deep implications to that. Not something to enter into without a lot of judgment.

The world is watching us. We hear that a lot. “In our hands lies the ability to shape our world; for good or for ill.”

“Hope comes from the dreams and aspirations of ordinary Americans who are anything but ordinary.”

He does a great job connecting to the audience. Good story teller.

The young girl from South Carolina, Ty’Sheoma Bethea, was very effective. Nevertheless, in my opinion, he sort of stumbled. He should have hit a grand slam, but he only hit a double. But that’s on rhetoric. The point was beautiful. “We aren’t quitters.” The girl inspired me and that’s what a great leader ensures.

We need to remember that 2% of the population is one out of every 50 people. Sure they all live in New York, but that’s a lot of people, over 6,000,000.

He’s a true leader. I hope he leads us in the right direction.

One last comment. He wants us to send everybody to college. I hope he has in mind something different from the typical contempoary college. If that many people go to this kind of college we’ll be wiped out by venereal diseases and people who can’t keep their commitments to their spouses and children. College might help people get jobs (though it’s vastly over valued in that regard), but it has a tendency to ruin a lot of other things.

Let me conclude by saying that President Obama has my prayers and my best wishes. We need great wisdom.

I may have some closer analysis tomorrow, but probably not. I’m heading off again so I’ll just point out that Obama’s “inherited deficit” comments are interesting and demand a close review.