Friday, December 09, 2005

Idealism vs. Pragmatism: The false dichotomy

Here comes a really long one. I was inspired by the article by Rik Perlman that one of you cited. (If anyone feels like letting Perlman know....)

Idealism vs. Pragmatism: The false dichotomy that has ruined both left and right

In tracing the long journey of neoconservative transformation, from the political wilderness of 1964 to controlling all the nation’s levers of power, journalist Rick Perlstein, author of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, describes a tense, decades-long process that gyrated between two alluring attractor states -- idealism and pragmatism - each of them offering both a bright and a dark side.

 “Richard Nixon once instructed a new staffer, Richard Whalen, "Flexibility is the first principle of politics." The conservative movement has understood itself to be the people who unflaggingly answered back to Nixon: "Principle rises above politics." That's a quote from Alf Regnery, in a profile of him this fall in the Washington Post.”

Or, as expressed by conservative philosopher Russell Kirk, conservatism is anchored in: "belief in a transcendent moral order." In the certainty of core beliefs that are absolute and unchanging.

Of course, statements like this are meant to sound admirable, and especially to contrast against Nixon’s famed “realpolitik” flexibility, which was so protean and redefinable that it could range from the very worst dirty tricks all the way up to acts of geopolitical genius -- e.g. reaching out to China -- that redefined the world power balance at a single stroke. (Indeed, many on the right have not forgiven, even though the left conveniently forgets, that Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency and proposed a national Health Care bill more far-reaching than Hillary Clinton’s.)

Of course, the irony is greatest when you contemplate how similar this all seems, to quandaries faced by the left, where idealists also claim to base their indignant, uncompromising stand upon a bedrock of fundamental moral principles, while expressing contempt for compromisers, or those who would trade essential truth for practical power.

At both extremes -- the dogmatically principled left and the creed-grounded right -- you never hear anyone mention the most obvious and blatant lesson of human nature -- and human history. That we are relentless and marvelously creative self-deluders. And the most attractive, most voluptuous of our delusions are those incantations that just happen to make “our side” seem saintly and right.

(The truest and deepest cleft in our society must be between those who notice -- and smell something’s too convenient, too suspiciously tidy -- when we see only evidence that makes us feel superior... versus those who never catch or notice this irony. That the universe seems always to confirm just what we want it to. People on one side of this psychological divide are able to say the words that underlie all of science and democracy, as well as true-creativity. The words: I might be wrong. People on the other side -- even very learned and intelligent people -- could read this paragraph a hundred times, without ever truly grasping what it means.)

It may seem that I am bad-mouthing idealism. And yet, what else can one call the passion that a decent person calls upon, whenever we rise up, risking our lives to defend the finest notions -- those of tolerance, freedom, beauty and love? Idealism is as necessary as air. When people turn their backs on principle, you get the very worst side of pragmatism... a cynical pursuit of short-term gain at the expense of others. Contempt and amoral rationalization. Mere manipulative cleverness that has no guiding or trustworthy theme. Or, the thing that even conservatives of his day, like Barry Goldwater, despised most about Richard Nixon.

Cheating.

So, what am I saying? Are both idealism and pragmatism doomed to be scuzzy? One, a tendency toward druglike sanctimony and delusion? The other, a cesspit for the power-hungry?

Fortunately, there are more than enough counter-examples to show that this is not a bipolar situation at all. A better metaphor would portray four attractor states. There are pragmatists who understand a need for solid values. There are idealists grasp the concept of humility.

It is possible, in both cases, to say aloud those wise words from a Dirty Harry move... ”A man’s got to know his limitations.”

conscience-of-a-conservativeOr, as Barry Goldwater put it in Conscience of a Conservative: "we entrust the conduct of our affairs to men who understand that their first duty as public officials is to divest themselves of the power they have been given." This concept goes back to the original American Cincinnatus, George Washington, whose example once had force and redolence in our lives. Before he faded into a cartoon figure with wooden teeth.

Indeed, the entire Enlightenment Experiment has been based upon the notion of taking the very best parts of both idealism and pragmatism and applying them to a steady project of improving society, improving ourselves. An idealism that assertively protects both human rights and individual opportunity clearly feeds into the practical fecundity of both market competition and social cooperation, making each of these tools more effective. The wealth and knowledge thus generated then nurtures further idealistic efforts to expand rights and opportunities.

This virtuous cycle, featuring mutual support between idealistic missions and pragmatic projects, once was the very thing that the word “liberal” originally stood for. And it has been outstandingly successful.

Alas, the problem with the Enlightenment Experiment is that these “mature” approaches to idealism and pragmatism do not nourish our older, darker natures. Look at 99% of past human cultures. Read history. You will see elites of both church and state performing two essential rites.

Glorifying and sanctifying their own worldview... and taking every practical measure to ensure a monopoly of power.

In other words, history shows that idealism and pragmatism have never been opposites or enemies! Instead, they served as partners for oppression, throughout our long, pre enlightenment past. From Plato to Machiavelli to Hegel, the rationalizations offered by bright “idealists” ultimately boiled down to “give power to my favored elites.” These habits run deep through our past; they cling tenaciously and they will die hard.

Hence -- bearing all of this in mind -- is it any wonder how the long struggle over the heart of conservatism finally turned out? In their naive oscillation between “purist” idealism and sell-out pragmatism, the final answer was a rationalized compromise that offered a way to have both.

At the University of Chicago, Professor Leo Strauss tutored future leaders of neoconservatism in platonic techniques for rationalizing pure and self-serving monopolies of power, creating a marvelously self-satisfying notion that lying is moral, patriotic and good -- so long as it is done by princely young philosopher kings. Turning Barry Goldwater’s wrenching call for self-restraint upon its head, the Straussians turned into a prescription to “take power, hold it tenaciously, and call it good.”

In replicating the behavior and rationalizations of every past kingdom, these transformed neoconservative thinkers saw no irony. Nor, while preaching that everybody should read Thucydides, do any of them look in the mirror and see a fellow by the name of Alcibiades.

Rik Perlstein, who knows nearly all of the modern conservative thinkers and philosophers, studied their behavior during that long journey from political exile to triumphant power. He offers a thesis that today’s Republicans “are less the party of Goldwater, and more the party of Watergate.”

Well, Perlman knows this topic much better than I do. Nevertheless, and with all due respect, let me suggest that the situation can be viewed a bit differently. Not as a swing between idealism and pragmatism. But rather as a choosing of the dark side of both.

Goldwater and Nixon are both viewed as martyrs by neoconservatism. Their defeats (in 64 and 73) fuel “never-again” zeal. But in a strange twist, both men are revered for their worst traits, their better parts abandoned. The Barry Goldwater who was a self-doubting idealist, whose solid values include a skeptical, Lockean awareness of human self-deception, is no longer part of the discussion. Nor is Richard Nixon perceived as the pragmatic negotiator, the gamesman who could offer a health care package and start the EPA, just before rocking Soviet momentum off course by rushing off to China. What remains is Goldwater the simplistic dogmatist, and the Nixon who would do anything for power.

(Indeed, some in Arizona recall how the elderly Goldwater proclaimed a fraternal liking of both Clintons and disdain for the recent crop of amoral, secretive neocons. They joke that the state might supply all its power from the spinning in Goldwater’s grave.)

Does this indictment of the right, for choosing the “dark side,”make the far left any better?

Not much. Certainly, they carry the same human impulses, inherited from the same oppressive, rationalizing ancestors. The crucial ability to say “I might be wrong” is every bit as much absent from dogmatic ideologues on that side, as it is on the right.

No, the difference between today’s far-left and far-right is very simple. Role models for the right pervade all of history. Alliances of practical kings and idealistic clergy are seen everywhere in the human past, and their pattern -- described by Machiavelli -- is engraved in human nature.

The left, on the other hand, envisions itself detached from history, and even from human nature. Their idealism appears to be about the New Man (as Lenin called him). They want power, desperately, but feel uncomfortable with the gritty methods that may be necessary to achieve it. They despise the approach of Locke and Franklin as too-American, too-modernist, too much the work of gritty engineers, artisans and bourgeois shopkeepers. And yet, they cannot bring themselves to organize for all out, streetfighting demagoguery, the way the neocons have tactically fomented “culture war,” because that might mean talking to the people. The people. Ew.

Liberals -- true liberals -- have got to face facts. They will not find anything useful or sensible on the left. Not even political streetfighters who are worth a damn. Nor will it do any good to try and copy the methodologies that brought the rightwing back from exile, to wield almost-ultimate power. They are scripted by feudal aristocracy and copying their techniques will do liberals no good at all.

There really is only one place for liberals... and for Barry Goldwater conservatives... to go.

Back to Locke and Franklin. To Truman and Ike. To the new style of cooperation between idealism and pragmatism. The idealism of openness and the pragmatism of accountability. The idealism of opportunity and the pragmatism of ambitious projects. The idealism of cooperation and the pragmatism of competitive markets. The bright and honest style of combining both human traits, though -- as the neocons have proved -- always the harder style to undertake.

The combination that defied our benighted feudal past, filling our world with wonders and offered billions hope.

Abandoning the nonsense of "left-vs-right," we must wage this fight as a battle between past and future. Between our fallible human natures and all the things we want ourselves to become.

103 comments:

Don Quijote said...

Liberals -- true liberals -- have got to face facts. They will not find anything useful or sensible on the left. Not even political streetfighters who are worth a damn.

Fine, I hope you don't mind living in a fascist theocracy.

You 're already halfway there...

David Brin said...

Define a silly person. Does not comprehend what he is reading, so he simply insults. Thanks for illustrating precisely what I was talking about.

Arthur said...

"Or, as expressed by conservative philosopher Russell Kirk, conservatism is anchored in: "belief in a transcendent moral order." In the certainty of core beliefs that are absolute and unchanging."

Might I present another dichotomy for you to ponder, David Brin?

Eternalism vs. Secularism

"Eternalism focuses on changing the individual by teaching him correct principles. Secularism tends to deal increasingly with adjustments outside man."

"For the purpose of this brief discussion, eternalism is defined as that view of man and the universe which not only acknowledges, but exults in, the existence of a Heavenly Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, who have authored and implemented a redeeming plan for mankind. Secularism is herein defined as that view of man and the universe which is essentially irreligious with regard to the existence of God and cosmic purpose for man, but which is not necessarily irreverent with regard to man and his worth."

I recommend a reading of this article by Neal A. Maxwell, "Eternalism vs. Secularism."

You may find it in the search results from this link http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll?f=templates$fn=default.htm$xhitlist_q=secularism$xhitlist_x=Simple$xhitlist_s=relevance-weight$xhitlist_d=$xhitlist_hc=%5BXML%5D%5Bkwic%2C0%5D$xhitlist_xsl=xhitlist.xsl$xhitlist_vpc=first$xhitlist_sel=title%3Bpath%3Bcontent-type%3Bhome-title%3Bhit-context%3Bfield%3Azr%3Bfield%3ARef

redkitty said...

David Brin --
I'm afraid you can count me as another who is having trouble comprehending what he is reading. As is often the case in your posts, you seem to be steadily working toward a cogent point when suddenly you go charging off in a random direction, flailing around after some imaginary strawman you call "the Left". It's very like watching the intellectual equivalent of a Tourette's attack.

Coming from someone else, I might not find this quite so alarming, but I have read a good bit of your writing, both fiction and non-fiction, and had developed a mental image of someone who was both rational and reasonable.

Let me be clear: I've ground my teeth down to nubbins from watching the so-called Left in the U.S. veer off into tribalism and irrationality while oligarchs and whackjobs proceeded to take over the country. Even so, I just don't recognize the "Left" you seem to be picturing in your head. Not as a significant political force, at any rate. Seems more like you have some bee in your bonnet that up and stings you from time to time. I'm just saying...

Don Quijote said...

Not even political streetfighters who are worth a damn.

Once upon a time the Dems had a natural consistency of Street Fighters, the Union Movement. Unfortunatly, the Dems in an attempt to be "Liberals" sold out their base (made it difficult to organize, made it easy to bust Unions) which got destroyed in the last thirty odd years. So now the Dems don't have any leftish mass movement behind them, just a bunch of interest groups. Since the Dems don't have a mass movement behind them, and as long as they aren't willing to use class warfare as a weapon against the right, they are going to keep getting their asses handed to them.

At the present time, the Dems have nothing to offer Joe SixPack other than the incompetance & criminality of the right, and that won't get you very far, after all Joe SixPack just reelected Bush.

Frank said...

Arthur: 'I recommend a reading of this article by Neal A. Maxwell, "Eternalism vs. Secularism." '

Don't modernist (secular?) concepts like transparancy, accountability, social mobility and positive sum strategies strike you as "eternal" principles? Where is the dichotomy ?

Rob Perkins said...

Arthur, I like Maxwell probably just about as much as you do, but I think his stuff depends so completely on a Mormon context that non-Mormons would have trouble parsing him.

Anyone who reads the article Arthur recommended, I'd be interested in knowing how it comes across.

Rob Perkins said...

I also shortened Frank's link, which didn't lead directly to the article he cited. this one does:

http://snipurl.com/ko08

Frank said...

Maxwell seems okay. A rational moderate with a religious bias. Someone who wants to offer practicle advice but only from a religious point of view. I disagree with him though that secularists don't have a handle on the concept of principles, but I guess that's still better than saying that secular people have by definition no principles at all.

His makes a remark in the article: "But we cannot tame our technology without taming ourselves." He wrote this in 1974 so perhaps it was impossible for him to imagine a transparant society in which we choose to use technology to "tame" each other.

(BTW Rob: it's not my link, it's arthurs' :)

TC said...

“ There really is only one place for liberals... and for Barry Goldwater conservatives... to go… Back to Locke and Franklin. To Truman and Ike. To the new style of cooperation between idealism and pragmatism.”

That’s a good quote – a seriously good quote. I think it makes even more sense if viewed through the context of this one:

“Abandoning the nonsense of "left-vs-right," we must wage this fight as a battle between past and future. Between our fallible human natures and all the things we want ourselves to become.”

I think past and future are absolutely the battleground. It really struck me the other day as I was talking to my dad. We grew up on a small family farm. I helped raise swine, beef cattle, dairy cattle, and 2000 acres of grain. It was a great life, and he’s still living it.

Not me. Today, I design J2EE systems that handle hundreds of millions of dollars of financial transactions a day. When my dad asked how my week had been, I realized I didn’t have a way to convey it to him. I could say thing like such and such a project was going well, but I couldn’t go into any detail whatsoever. There is a huge gulf between us. The words servlet and runtime and JDBC as individual concepts I could take the time to describe, but the world in which those things exist and live? The network from the MAC layer to the TCP/IP stack through the OS constructs?

It’s not that my dad’s ignorant. He’s on the Internet, he’s using e-mail. But the skillset he uses to tear down a huge diesel engine in a farm tractor is wildly different from the skillset I need to use Universal Modeling Language (UML) to design and build complex applications or troubleshoot database performance issues under varying load conditions.

And I’m just a corporate developer. The stuff I do doesn’t compare in complexity to the folks who maintains the even more complicated operating system kernels or database engines. And those folks are only computer developers. Their work doesn’t hold a candle to the depth of education and theory that a theoretical physicist or molecular biologist needs!

How do we communicate what a high-tech, forward looking world offers to a population who can’t grasp what we’re saying? I know I can point out the benefits of technology, but folks need more than that – they need to understand what we as a society need to do to support that level of research and development. In other words, a Jeffersonian democracy demands an educated voter.

I guess this is just my long-winded way to say that I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your call to go back to the basics of democracy. It’s precisely there that we’ll find the theory to move American democracy forward.

As a side note: I agree that the real enemy is anyone who seeks power not for service, but for self. No matter what the benefits of technology or social progress or anything, if someone’s in power for the sake of self, they’ll resist anything that smacks of a loss of power. Liberal or conservative or right or left, it doesn’t matter. Keeping such people away from power was a hallmark of American democracy, and it was only a matter time before evil folk figured ways around the old controls. It’s time to upgrade the protections.

TC said...

RedKitty wrote, "I'm afraid you can count me as another who is having trouble comprehending what he is reading. As is often the case in your posts, you seem to be steadily working toward a cogent point when suddenly you go charging off in a random direction, flailing around after some imaginary strawman you call ‘the Left’. It's very like watching the intellectual equivalent of a Tourette's attack."

If I may be so bold as to offer an opinion, I think that Mr. Brin is struggling with the tension between his (apparently) clear understanding of the present with his memories of the past. He’d like to embrace today’s liberalism because of what it used to mean, but the current climate’s not helping at all.

I may be reading my own experience into it, but I remember when liberalism meant – and I hesitate to use such a plebian reference as this one when so many others are using more scholarly references – _Star Trek_ (original series). During my politically formative years, _Star Trek_ represented everything I thought liberalism should be. It envisioned a future where we humans overcame our darker tendencies and moved into a beautiful future. How many episodes dealt with destroying political or social constraints on freedom? They even had an episode reacting to Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae and its infringement on individual reproductive freedoms, for heaven’s sake!

Today’s liberalism, as expressed through the Democratic party, doesn’t seem to resemble that philosophy very much. It’s almost completely reactionary – all of their positions on the surface seem to be anti-neocon. The vision seems to be gone, and that’s really sad.

I know I’m hopelessly simplifying and I could be utterly and completely wrong, but that’s how it looks to me.

Nate said...

@tc

"
Today’s liberalism, as expressed through the Democratic party, doesn’t seem to resemble that philosophy very much. It’s almost completely reactionary – all of their positions on the surface seem to be anti-neocon. The vision seems to be gone, and that’s really sad."


Well, I don't know about liberalism being expressed through the Democratic Party, truth be told, most of the Democratic Party is hanging out about where the Republicans were ~20 years or so ago, back when they were sane(er).

This, I speculate, comes from the Democrats trying to be "moderate" and compromise, while the factions in charge of the Republicans have no interest in compromise these days, so even if you force them to compromise, they just use that compromise as a springboard to new and even wackier bits of insanity, since after all, "moderate" is between the "conservative Republicans" and the "liberal Democrats," right? There's no point in compromising with people who aren't interested in compromise.

However, I'd also chalk up the "reactionary" seeming positions of the Democrats to the fact they have no actual power these days. Republicans control all of government, and are happy to force through bills by tiny majorities. Without at least part of the governments in their hands, it's really hard to get the stenographer portions of the press to pay any attention to what they're saying. And without power, they're desperately fighting holding battles to keep the necons from driving too many crazy things through. There's a lot of causes, many of which are the Democrats' own faults.

But that aside, I have to agree with the others who're confused why so many of Dr. Brin's recent entries turn into bashing this strawman of "the Left" as if it existed or had any power in this country. I also have to agree with don quijote about the labor movement's decline working in parallel with the decline of the Democrats and important parts of liberalism. The Internet has started to notice with things like House of Labor" to educate other factions about labor issues and get people talking, but there's more to the decline of unions than just Democrats signing on to things like NAFTA.

Rob Perkins said...

Sorry Frank, I stand corrected.

Neal Maxwell died a couple of years ago of lukemia, but was around to see the advent and first popular uses of the Internet. He was learned enough as a historian to see it put to the same first uses (hate and porn) as the printing press itself.

What I suppose is that it failed to impress him as a new thing at all. New, yes, in terms of new ways to do the same old things; we supposed, for example, that the telephone, radio, and the television would all help to herald the better angels of our natures.

Well, they didn't. We remained human, because our premises really didn't change much.

Also, the audience for his article was the circulation of a Church magazine, and since he pretty much published only in those forums or in the general conferences of that Church, I doubt he ever left that context after the 70's, so there's no way to tell how he would have tailored his arguments for a secular audience.

Whether or not secularists really have the kind of handle on principles Maxwell considered essential probably as easy to discern as simply waiting and watching the results of the secularist approach.

Secularism, it seems to me, tries to take the best of all the philosophies of man, cherry-picking the good from the rest and putting together what seems appropriate for the problems we have today. It's flexible enough, if its leading thinkers remain humble about things, to change as the problems change. And it's a dang noble idea, and so far appears to be working in some areas of our societies (where we're trying it), expanding opportunities once denied to minority groups, erasing absurdities related to interrace and cross-religion interaction, etc.

So I think the root cause of trouble with secularism isn't going to be its premises, so much as it's going to be simple human pride; sticking to the solutions of yesterday instead of reevaluating those solutions in terms of what problems we have *today*. For example, whether "affirmative action" was in hindsight helpful or not, or is useful today, whether the idea of organized skilled labor unions can be flexible enough in larger markets where the idea hasn't caught on, whether we can support the elderly of our country in the manner they're accustomed, with only three salaries per retiree instead of 17, etc.

And it remains to be seen, in my opinion (since secularism as an approach is only in its 3rd or 4th decade of being tried on any large scale), whether secularism can live up to its promises. So far, in the main, so very, very good.

We won't know for sure *unless* human pride among our leaders can be overcome sufficiently to flex the way we need to flex to solve tomorrow's troubles with tomorrow's solutions, instead of yesterday's.

Right now, on that metric alone, (and I include Clinton's stubborn denial of something which could have been much smaller, had he simply told the truth) I don't think we'll hold it together.

But I will work for, and vote for, the entities and people who will try to hold it together.

@Nate, I don't see David's criticism of "the Left" as strawmanning; there are people in that camp who are simply doing things which don't endear themselves to most Americans. Unless they draw closer to pragmatic principled populism, they can't win back representative or executive power.

Nate said...

@Rob Perkins

"I don't see David's criticism of "the Left" as strawmanning; there are people in that camp who are simply doing things which don't endear themselves to most Americans. Unless they draw closer to pragmatic principled populism, they can't win back representative or executive power."

The fundamental flaw with that argument, as I see it, is not just that "The Left" is a strawman because it is weak, powerless, and/or nonexistent, but moreover that the "conservatives" currently in power do a lot of things that don't endear themselves to most Americans. And they are nowhere near "pragmatic principled populism". At least not as far as I can see. Which means either a) the American public really don't care about pragmatic principled populism, b) the "conservatives" in power are very good at talking the talk and acting reasonable, c) a lack of pragmatic principled populism isn't the problem with "The Left", or d) some combination of the above. I'm inclined toward d myself.

Don Quijote said...

can anyone please define pragmatic principled populism

Arthur said...

Elder James E. Faust wrote a most notable article titled "A New Civil Religion."

What is this new civil religion?

"The civil religion I refer to is a secular religion. It has no moral absolutes. It is nondenominational. It is nontheistic. It is politically focused. It is antagonistic to religion. It rejects the historic religious traditions of America. It feels strange. If this trend continues, nonbelief will be more honored than belief. While all beliefs must be protected, are atheism, agnosticism, cyncism, and moral relativism to be more safeguarded and valued than Christianity, Judaism, and the tenets of Islam, which hold that there is a Supreme Being and that mortals are accountable to him? If so, this would, in my opinion, place America in great moral jeopardy." -Elder James E. Faust "A New Civil Religion."

I encourage all who are interested in the debate concerning secularism and what Neal A. Maxwell defines as Eternalism: a belief and exultation in Heavenly Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, to read this article.

The link below will direct you to a search results area. In the search results you'll find the article mentioned above as well as a host of others.



http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll?f=templates$fn=default.htm$xhitlist_q=secularism$xhitlist_x=Simple$xhitlist_s=relevance-weight$xhitlist_d=$xhitlist_hc=%5BXML%5D%5Bkwic%2C0%5D$xhitlist_xsl=xhitlist.xsl$xhitlist_vpc=first$xhitlist_sel=title%3Bpath%3Bcontent-type%3Bhome-title%3Bhit-context%3Bfield%3Azr%3Bfield%3ARef

Frank said...

Don Quijote:"can anyone please define pragmatic principled populism"

How about: picking your battles and mingling with the "common" folk (after having left the ivory tower)?

Don Quijote said...

How about: picking your battles and mingling with the "common" folk (after having left the ivory tower)?

That really narrowed it down.

Now define "common" folk.

jomama said...

Anyone her for an ethical pragmatism?

Then you can forget about politics of any type.

Rob Perkins said...

Frank, that's basically what I was going for.

A PPPopulist *has* principles ("We hold these truths to be self-evident..."), and attacks problems as they arise with energy and cleverness, willing to set aside old solutions which don't work anymore, or refine old solutions which partially work into new solutions which work better.

But, he doesn't let stiff idealism prevent him from listening to loyal opposing counterparts. Clinton played that game with great competence. So did Nixon, in certain contexts.

Certain adjustments to the tax code and the welfare system, for example, during the split-power years of Clinton, are examples of pragmatic principled populism. Everyone wants to help the poor (or see the poor helped) *and* pay lower taxes, but not if the medium and long term cost of both are too high.

David Brin said...

At least Nate tries to understand. He actually reads and asks “is this what you mean?” As aooposed to Redkitty, once again, name-calling without actually arguing. And yet, still, Nate fails to step back and take notice of what has happened to several liberals on this list. They read along, nodding, as I skewer the mad, moronic neocon monsters for 80% of my political ravings... then, when I aim maybe 15 or 20% criticism leftward, they go like one of those computers that Captain Kirk routinely talked into freezing up or spitting smoke, unable to deal with a logical conundrum.

...does...not...compute... therefore Brin must be ... illogical,,, Tourette... a fascist.... yes, that’s it... an anti labor, crypto right wing fascist... yes, that must explain... illiogical...

Oh, sure, right. Let me get this straight. There’s nothing to complain about, regarding a movement that can never admit victory, always uses guilt to “motivate” (i.e alienate) people...

.... has managed to make almost the entire working class so hostile that the LEAST well-off white workers all vote for plutocrat masters...

... a movement that cannot count on two hands the number of military, farm or church-going Americans left who do not SPIT on the word “libersl”... oh, nothing to complain about there!

Or the fact that their methodology has left the opposition stonger after every single election for a generation. Please read that fact again. All the “return to our values and adamant insistent on party line PC messages has relentlessly resulted in every election increasing tghe grip that the kleptocrats have around our nation’s throat!

Oh, but No. Nothing needs re-evaluation or CITOKATE. nooooooooo I won’t listen, you fascist, tourette tooll-of the.. Na-na-Na-na-Na-na-Na-na-Na-na-Na-na-Na-na-Na-na-

Please forgive the exaggerations and excessive drama, above. But I am tire of lefties digging in their heels and refusing to even remotely contemplate the kind of criticism that might empower them to become a potent political force, instead of a pathetic mockery of one.

Try this on. There is a fundamental technique of maturity in argument called “paraphrasing”... in which you attempt to rephrase what the other person is saying, in order to prove that you actually read and understood him, in order thereupon to have credibility to demolish his reasoning.

Many people who attend this blog get this. Certainly several of our conservatives do. It’s why this site is a center for evenhanded argument and open-mindedness, even when participants approach from diverse partisan backgrounds.

Note how differently the conservatives in this blog community react, the 80% of the time that I attack the right, than Nate and Redkitty and Quijote reacted to my 20% criticism of the left. Many of the conservatives paraphrase and nitpick and argue... but that’s not those on the left. Simply because I am aiming some criticism leftward -- aimed at their pragmatic inability to help get rid of the right! -- they simply and blanketly dismiss me as having a Tourette attack. Indeed, this response is a perfect illustration of my point, that leftists cannot think pragmatically.

If they did, they would be attracted to criticism like mine, and sift it for valuable lessons, instead of howling at the slightest touch of CITOKATE. Note the whole point of this series... to understand how the right studied, revised tactics, and came roaring back. There is no such re-evaluation on the left. Only sanctimony.

You say there is nobody on the left behaving in the way that I describe?

How about the members of Codepink, who dress up in absurd costumes and follow “traitors” around, interrupting their speeches with shrill ululations, until the patient speaker has to ask cops to haul them away? And the speakers they are interrupting and denouncing? (And thus suppressing free speech.) Um... how about Hillary Clinton?

Yes, she and every other Democratic politician who does not hew the precise PC party line -- in other words, not just opposing the war, but opposing it for exactly the prescribed set of reasons -- is labeled a “DINO” (Democrat In Name Only). Nor are these caricatures a negligible and tiny factor. They are supported by that obvious Republican mole, Cindy Sheehan, and by that tragic loss-to-reason, Michael Moore (who could have been so much more than he became.) If the neocons wanted to create poster boys to help rally their side, a few images of these maniacs were worth 10,000 votes to Carl Rove.

It has become so embarrassing that even the arch-conservative San Diego Union says that democracy has suffered, because the Democratic Party has become so weakened from within that it cannot even hope to serve as a balancing force.

“Democrats can’t elect a president without support from millions of moderates or independents. To win, the party must reach out to centrists -- including people who backed the war or who regret the decision to go to war yet think a pullout would be catastrophic.”

(Let me add another category. People like me, who feel the Bushites utterly betrayed the Iraqi people in 1991 by leaving that monster on their necks. We owed it to those suffering millions to get rid of our former pampered client, Saddam. But not stupidly, viciously, stupidly, immorally, stupidly, and with an insane war plan created by proved morons who think torture makes us look good. Oh... and stupidly.)

The SD Union goes on: “But this faction just doesn’t care. It would rather have the Democratic Party be a small tent full of ideological clones -- who hold centrist sellouts and Red State America in equal contempt -- than a big tent that could actually change American politics. And this faction is so influential that its spiritual leader, Howard Dean, is party chairman.”

You don’t agree? Fine! Then argue! Actually read and understand my points, before howling at me... and thus PROVING my point. That the left is not willing to learn anything other than standard dogma. And thus, we will be stuck with rightist monsters who ARE practical men.

David Brin said...

On a completely different topic....Arthur veers over to matters of faith with:

"For the purpose of this brief discussion, eternalism is defined as that view of man and the universe which not only acknowledges, but exults in, the existence of a Heavenly Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, who have authored and implemented a redeeming plan for mankind. Secularism is herein defined as that view of man and the universe which is essentially irreligious with regard to the existence of God and cosmic purpose for man, but which is not necessarily irreverent with regard to man and his worth."

Ooooooooooog! You actually can foist this upon us without wincing or writhing or laughing????

Can't you see a person tendentiously creating a false dichotomy with the sole purpose of casting a strawman opponent to be knocked down?

What utter drivel!

With a wave of the arm, he wipes from the board millions of scientists and scientific modernists who have faith in something eternal, but who also believe in the progressive improvability of humankind. They don’t fit the dichotomy, so ignore them!

With another wave, he blows away every alternative religious view of the Creator... including every single possible viewpoint that does not portray Him obsessively damning children to eternal hell for inheriting an Original Sin that two ignorant teenagers committed in a garden, 6,000 years ago. (Thus requiring an act of ritual human sacrifice so that innocent children can be “redeemed” from pre-planned eternal torment for a sin that they never had any part of. A doom that needn’t have been applied in the first place.)

By clearing the board of all but two simplistic players, this deeply, deeply vile so-called “philosopher” can then proceed -- as all platonists proceed -- through a pre-set series of if-then statements that were designed from the very beginning to “prove” the point that he always meant to reach, as a foregone conclusion.

Let me look you in the eyes and tell you that this dichotomy has no bearing whatsoever upon me, or upon my own mix of faith and humanist ambition. Like the extreme left and the extreme right, it is a silly and downright evil caricature of argument that has one purpose only, to draw everybody into screeching across an artificial, indignant divide. (And especially to make it inevitable that the strawman “secularists” will be exposed as having no soul.... those poor damned creatures. But they made their choice...)

The top priority is to distract from a totally different possibility.

That God, as a decent Father would do, wants us to use our minds to solve problems and rise up and get better! Including better at doing “secular” things like science.

Take Albert Einstein, who was clearly favored with a special grace of tongues, permitting him to converse with the Creator in the very language thet He used to make Creation.

Einstein pondered that the rules of this cosmos did not have to be comprehensible. But they are! So clearly that they must have been written that way in order to be learned by others, starting from almost nothing.

Almost as if we meant to enter His workroom, to unroll the blueprints, and start fiddling -- like bright young apprentices -- on our own. Hence explaining His relative distance in everyday life, watching to see what we will do. Whether we’ll have the brains... and the guts.

Well? does this worldview fit anywhere in that “philosopher’s” tidy, tendentious, outrageous and despicable strawman dichotomy?

No, the two simplistic positions that he portrays are in themselves partners on the same side of a genuine divide, between dogmatic would-be tyrants-of-the-mind on one side... and people who recognize a complex, challenging world around them, and who welcome the teamwork of many different people of good will, in the great apprenticeship project of figuring it all out.

And yes, some of these diverse people of goodwill actually believe that science is not just “secularism.” It is sacred. It is revelation. It is learning the language of God.

THAT is the dichotomy. Between those who find this project admirable, and those who need to dive into certainty... and use that certainty as a weapon to lash out against their neighbors...

...whether than certainty is secular humanist or based upon a single, dogmatic book.

-----

uh... sorry... a button got pressed. More on this someday when I start that “12 Theological Questions piece”...

Meanwhile, sorry if I offended anybody. Take it as a rant directed at those who have the unmitigated and cruel gall to tell me and my kids that we are “damned”... and then have the utter-psycho hypocrisy to claim that this “fact” “saddens” them. What liars....

Rob Perkins said...

David,

Neal Maxwell didn't ever believe in Original Sin. Never, ever. "We believe that men will [not] be punished... for Adam's transgression."

And he very clearly identified his strawman and the purpose for his comparison, which was not to compare Mormonism to *all religions*, but to compare Mormonism to a rising American philosophy, one which you have also at least tangentially lamented!

So, no, in its context, not drivel at all. Just an internal document with a couple of generally good ideas, which (as I pointed out in my first answer) probably wouldn't make the needed sense to non-Mormons as it does to Mormons.

"Well? does this worldview fit anywhere in that “philosopher’s” tidy, tendentious, outrageous and despicable strawman dichotomy?"

Um... yes! Arthur offered you a document directed internally to Mormons, which assumed a context you do not share. You've been to BYU; did your hosts remind you of tidy, tendentious, outrageous, despicable demagogues?

Well, some of them. It's a university campus after all. But the sci-fi club which hosted you?

Even so, I did wince, because I think Arthur is evangelizing Mormonism here without recognizing the makeup of this bunch or the purpose of its blogerator. It's too far out of context to avoid the kind of ranting knee jerk that you pounded out.

And, no, Mormons don't think you and your kids are "damned", in the dichotomous sense I think you mean it. It's as though you took *my* religion and used it as a springboard to criticize Catholics or Evangelicals. In that kind of thing, I'm not offended, I'm simply "saddened" by the arrogance of trad Christianity towards non-Christians, and let's not forget where they lump *me* when they do it...

David Brin said...

Let me make clear that my objection is not to Mormonism, in particular. Indeed, they are TEOLOGICALLY very interesting, in many ways that they are trying to soft-pedal, nowadays. e.g. the notion of almost infinite human improvability in an infinite plurality of worlds. These concepts are, indeed, compatible with modernism...

... which may be one reason that the contemporary church hierarchy, which is PSYCHOLOGICALLY extremely conservative and reactionary, has downplayed the Smithian theological aspects that can only be called... well... science fictional.

And yes, I can see that the philosopher's strawman might have been temporary and "for the sake of argument" in a more benign context than I impute. Certainly I create "dichotomies" now and then, for that very purpose... even while decalring that I despise simplistic strawman dichotomies.

Still, the points of my rant stand. I will not abide by people portraying everything that is not their particular brand of soulfull as inherently soul-less.

People who do that may be surprised how many times -- in any sane Purgatory -- they will be forced to write "I will paraphrase my opponents' meaning, instead of making strawman caricatures out of them."

I will have to write it a few billion times, I guess. But then, during breaks, I doubt the monitors will mind if I tinker and make a printing press.

Don Quijote said...

How about the members of Codepink, who dress up in absurd costumes and follow “traitors” around, interrupting their speeches with shrill ululations, until the patient speaker has to ask cops to haul them away? And the speakers they are interrupting and denouncing? (And thus suppressing free speech.) Um... how about Hillary Clinton?

Let me humbly apologise on the behalf of CodePink, Raging Grannies, the Answer Coalition and Moveon.org for having offended the delicate sensibilities of Middle America in a way that 100,000 Dead Iraqis, 500,000 dead Iraqi Children in the 90's, or a destroyed American City (New Orleans) has not been able to do.

Now having watched these horrid leftist at work for the last few years, there is no doubt that their influence is without equal, after putting a few hundred thousand leftist activist in the streets of NY, DC, SF and other Major American cities to protest our forth coming great adventure in the ME, every republican and over half of the Dems voted for it.

traitors...

Having watched Max Cleland losing his seat over his lack of Patriotism, Jack Murtha being called a coward, and seeing John Kerry being swiftboated, what can I do but humbly apoligise... NOT!

As for Hillary, my senator, if she wants my vote, she better come against the war, or send a daughter to Iraq, if she wants my vote.

Now on the bright side, if Middle America, Fly over Country, Jesus Land whatever you care to call the empty part of America is so deeply offended by the left, they can keep on enjoying the Bush Economy.

And you are right, I will not give the right a single damn inch, cause the only thing you get for giving in to the righ is the shaft (Clinton , Impeachment).

TC said...

Mr. Brin said, “With another wave, he blows away every alternative religious view of the Creator... including every single possible viewpoint that does not portray Him obsessively damning children to eternal hell for inheriting an Original Sin that two ignorant teenagers committed in a garden, 6,000 years ago. (Thus requiring an act of ritual human sacrifice so that innocent children can be “redeemed” from pre-planned eternal torment for a sin that they never had any part of. A doom that needn’t have been applied in the first place.)”

I intentionally steered clear of the theological difficulties in Arthur’s post, because I’m still waiting for you to post your religious essay. It’s your blog, and you set the tone. But since you brought it up…

You may already know this, and please forgive me if I’m stating what’s already well known, but at least from the Roman Catholic perspective, Original Sin isn’t viewed as an act by “two ignorant teenagers”. It’s viewed as some undefined act that on one hand damaged the link between human will (volition) and the human intellect, and on the other hand damaged the natural environment.

I’ve often wondered if it wasn’t collateral damage from battles waged in semi-parallel dimensions.

Also from a Catholic perspective, an innocent child by definition cannot be condemned to hell. Theologians used to say that an unbaptized child goes to Limbo, but I don’t know many theologians who still hold that view. That was an imperfect attempt by humands to express something they didn’t fully (and still don’t fully) understand. Even in the case of no formal Baptism, Catholic thought recognizes Baptism by Desire, which means any human who tries to do good, by nature of that desire, is Baptized and “eligible” for salvation.

Which is another way of saying that human ritual, while it can have a positive psychological effect on an individual and the community to which that individual belongs, is not in itself a necessary mechanism to bring humans closer to the divine. In other words, human power structures aren’t the answer.

And all of this, of course, is a tangent that suggests that the dichotomy isn’t between secularism and any “religious” –ism, but between folks of good will and folks bent on power.

A minor nitpick. I’d suggest that Arthur didn’t move the conversation into matters of faith. Faith doesn’t mean you can believe anything, even if it doesn’t make sense. Faith means you accept an event like the Incarnation, but what follows from that Revelatory event still must obey the laws of nature. At least, that’s how I view it from the perspective of an Aristotelian Thomism as opposed to an Augustinian Platonist.

I’ll go back to waiting for your essay on religion now.

Anonymous said...

Throwing some fat on the fire -- fat laced with bits of magnesium -- I offer Penn Jillette's entry on NPR's "This I believe" series:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5015557

As DB has mentioned before, the fact that guys like Penn Jillette are no longer liable to be burned at the stake is an unmistakable sign of human progress.

Stefan

Simon Neville said...

Hey Folks,

This is a lively discussion, very lively and all the better for it.

I thought a very interesting point was made early on by “TC”, and that is the fact about knowledge/education. For those of you who have taken a look at the sinceslicedbread website have probably noticed that there is a large percentage of posts on education. One could view this as people wanting the best for the children, I view it as a cry of desperation with people realizing that the school system didn’t properly prepare them for today’s world and not wanting their children to suffer the same fate (I know for a fact that if you’re 35 and you have a 10-15yo child, they are probably studying form the same book you did!!!! Scary.

I remember quite a few years ago, there was this public commercial with all these famous people coming on and saying ignorance causes racism (i.e. you fear what you don’t understand) so stay in school. It was a very Liberal ad, but what a message!!! For me ignorance is at the heart of all today’s problems.

Don’t understand the internet- better fear it- Repubs
Don’t understand a new health agenda- better fear it- Repubs
Don’t understand Muslims- better fear them- Repubs
Don’t understand China- better fear it- Repubs
Don’t understand Bio-foods- better fear it- Repubs

For me the best thing the Modernists/Dems can do is to educate. In 2 ways

Long term: get’em while their young. Learnt this from the neo-cons. No better way to build a support base then to make sure the next generation grows up with your philosophy.

Short Term: but together a big ass media package to educate people like TC dad and even myself. Don’t rely on the discovery and nature channels, make clear simple pamphlets, explaining whatever, sent them out in newspapers, educate the people and they will lose their fear, once they lose their fear, they will vote with logic and practicality, and not emotion. With that kind of voting modernists will everytime.

Simon Neville

Simon Neville said...

Now for part II (shorter)

This will undoubtedly offend some people, religion is an important aspect of human civilization I agree with that. But to say that Christianity is the zenith of human religion is delusional.

Christianity hasn’t been around for that long in the history of mankind, and probably won’t be around for that much longer. Religions come and go like civilizations, Romans had their gods, Greeks had their gods, so did the Egyptians. If we go even further back, Sumerians and the first farmers had theirs and not to mention the Aztecs. Those gods have come and gone, great things and terrible deeds have been done in their names.

In today’s world maybe half (what does India, China and, and the rest of Asia equal?) doesn’t believe in any form of the “One” god theory. The Eternal questions arises “Are they all wrong? or Are we?

I believe it is important to understand religion (I have read the Bible, the Koran and Buddhist teachings) because it enable you to communicate better with people who believe.
But I hope (especially for western societies) that we have reached a point were we can look back on history and see the different religions and their effect on society. With this can come acceptance of what religion means to you, but also acceptance that “your” religion in just a passing trend (albeit a couple of thousands years trend). I believe with these acceptance people can use religion to provide nourishment for their spirits and accept that not all spirits need the same nourishment.

So to put it bluntly people time to face some facts: The world revolves around the sun, The world is not flat, and your religion is a personal, transitory thing (which means keep it to yourself).

Simon Neville

Rob Perkins said...

Let me make clear that my objection is not to Mormonism, in particular. Indeed, they are TEOLOGICALLY very interesting, in many ways that they are trying to soft-pedal, nowadays. e.g. the notion of almost infinite human improvability in an infinite plurality of worlds. These concepts are, indeed, compatible with modernism...

You find among the Mormon Church leaders an interesting mix, but as before, I think you mischaracterize the contextual setup our missionaries provide as soft-pedal.

It's just a matter of my understanding something from the "inside", as opposed to understanding of something from the "outside". You'd probably chuckle at how I tried to describe the motivation behind kosher eating, come to think of it...

That, and (I've mentioned this before) the picture evoked among most non-Mormons by "infinite human improvability in infinite plurality of worlds" isn't at all the only picture possible from the few things we believe about the afterlife, and not the only picture we speculate about internally.

And this is not a case of me arrogantly claiming to understand something I think you haven't! Rather, I think *I* don't understand it either.

... which may be one reason that the contemporary church hierarchy, which is PSYCHOLOGICALLY extremely conservative and reactionary, has downplayed the Smithian theological aspects that can only be called... well... science fictional.

The conservative and reactionary elements you see are likely related to the knee jerk you gave to Arthur's excerpt of Maxwell. Mormonism simply put is not Catholicism, or any of its offshoots.

And we still teach the "science-fictiony" stuff to one another, once we're sure the student is on the same premises as we are.

So no, I don't think the body of men who make up the Council of Twelve Apostles in Mormonism can be described the way you describe them. Among them is a thoracic heart surgery pioneer, a physicist, a few business executive types, two or three university professor types, and a retired Boeing 747 pilot from Germany.

And half of *them* are/were Democrats.

Rob Perkins said...

Faith means you accept an event like the Incarnation, but what follows from that Revelatory event still must obey the laws of nature. At least, that’s how I view it from the perspective of an Aristotelian Thomism as opposed to an Augustinian Platonist.

I don't think that's at all what faith is, or that that's all faith is.

And I really want David to post his essay on the subject.

David Brin said...

Thanks Quijote, for once again PRECIESELY illustrating my point, without ever showing the slightest awareness of the irony, or how perfectly you demonstrate the validity of my criticism. Your howl, aimed at a strawman and not at me, ignored every single point about my CITOKATE suggestions, which were aimed at helping liberals to eject the neocon morons who put us in this war. Demonstratin exactly how to lose, you portray my very act of constructive criticism as support for the war! Congratulastions.

I think the rest of you are starting to see what I mean. Please scan upward and read Quijote line by line. This is how the left collaborates with the right, against itself and against the middle. Rove loves these guys.

TC, I am well aware of the strenuous efforts in many Catholic circles, that have drawn the Church toward the high middle ground where it can coexist with science. Indeed, their formal creation dotrine is now similar to that held by most devout scientists... that the Big Bang was a genuine ex nihilio act of “creation via startup conditions” which would eventually lead to us... with plenty of room for occasional later interventions, especially in matters of the soul. This does not mean that I am at peace with all aspects of Catholic theology. But it means that they are willing at least to see that Galileo was meant to happen, and that there is more “work” yet for apprentices to achieve, without yearning for a dismally simpleminded apolalypse.

How ironic, that so many movies portray catholic priests involved in Revelations-style apocalyptic “666-stuff.” when Catholicism actually has been downplaying that, compared to the LeHaye crowd.

Simon, very good point about fear, as a driver for much of the war against modernism. Of course the most deadly wing of this reactionary drive is on the right. But let me remind you that fear of ENGINEERING, especially the kind of hubristic mistakes portrayed by Chichton & Atwood, is what drives an awful lot of anti-modernism on the left. If this were overcome, then LIBERALS (as opposed to leftists) could stack a number of bargaining chips on their side of the table, in order to entice quasi-reasonable enterprise conservtives to rejoin the modernist middle. Chips like super-careful nuclear power could be offered, in exchange for a factor of ten increase in sustainables research.

In order to do this, liberalism must regain the confidence it needs to shrug off the yattering shrill imbecillity of the insipid left. And then, so eviscerate the neocons that the whole concept of culture war is buried forever.

Please do not get me wrong. liberalism is FAR closer to this goal than conservatism is, on its side! In fact, despite Howard Dean, the DEMOCRATIC PARTY is still mostly run by moderate liberal modernists... the only major institution in American life that can still make that claim. Anyone who thinks that Bill Clinton was a freakazoid lefty is probably unable to tell his hand from a garden spade.

Rob, if what you say is true, and I hope so, then maybe some new words will be coming forth soon from the Great Basin. One can hope.

Nate said...

I don't have time to do a proper post, but I wanted to make one comment before going to bed. Dr. Brin, you keep referring to "far left wackos" like... Howard Dean. And Michael Moore. Now, I haven't been to Michael Moore's website in several months, maybe he'd descended into some kind of screaming insanity, but Farenheit 9/11 was no crazed lefty rant, though IMO, it spent far too long implying dastardly deals between Bush and the Saudis. But at that, it stopped short of things you yourself have come out and said.

As for Dean, where's the far-leftiness? He was the five term governor of Vermont, a largely rural state. He pushed for a balanced budget and fiscal restraint in Vermont. He was endorsed by the NRA seven times. He signed civil unions into law. There's not much crazy lefty history there. He opposed the war in Iraq, and criticized "mainstream" Democrats for that and for not standing up to the Republicans. And he's insulted Republicans some times, only to get bashed by his own side worse than the Republicans. So, uh, where's the crazy far left looniness?

(As another aside, in some ways, Hillary Clinton would be the worst candidate the Democrats could run, the Republicans are all convinced she's a raving communist, and a lot of Democrats are convinced she's almost a Republican. That's not a good way to start off.)

Frank said...

Off topic, I hate to be the bearer of bad news so i'm just gonna say that in the long term this could be good news:

"After almost a decade of explosive growth in its electronics sector, China has overtaken the United States as the world's biggest supplier of information technology goods"

Question is, does this boost china's confidence in it's communist philosophy or in it's kapitalist reforms policy...?

Don Quijote said...

In fact, despite Howard Dean, the DEMOCRATIC PARTY is still mostly run by moderate liberal modernists... the only major institution in American life that can still make that claim.

This is the party that was too cowardly to vote en masse against George's great Iraqi adventure, the Party that voted to destroy bankcrupcy (the big giveaway to MNBA, Citibank, etc..).

This is a party that is going to keep getting it's ass kicked, because it has nothing to offer Joe Sixpack, is not willing to fight for anything and that just keeps rolling over in front of the Right. If, due to the incompetance of the right, the Dems manage to pull victory from the jaws of defeat,they will lack the guts to investigate the case for the Iraq war, or do anything that will damage the right or it's infrastructure, and we will be back where we are at the present time within a couple of election cycles.

And the war against chrismas will continue...

Anonymous said...

Don Q...

For years I have complained about one issue voters on the Right... people who would compromise everything they hold near and dear to vote Republican over one issue (pick the issue: abortion, Gays, guns, defense, whatever). And I would point out ALL the other issues, and even how the one issue was not going to change (no sign of a Republican effort to REALLY stop abortion, the constant cutting of Vet Bennies, etc.)... and still they voted for the Republicans.

Now you stand here, with your rants on 'purity of purpose'... you would sacrifice your country to the fascistic theocracy you decry in the name of 'purity'.

The country is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats... and you encourage Democrats to split their votes between Democrats, 3rd party wannabees and 'might as well stay home they're all corrupt'... I guess you enjoy living under the Republicans.

Remember this, Don Q... The Nazi's were not the majority in Germany when they took power. Thier opponents divided themselves so badly the only way to hold power was to compromise with the fascists.
(For those who think I play favorites, something similar happened in Russia with the Communists... a series of compromises which always ended with the Communists in charge and the one time allies purged)

There are no saints running for office, Don Q. Isn't it better to win while admitting the sin than to lose with a halo? Or to make the choice more extremistly sarcastic...
Would you rather cry in your beer that your compromised to win, or proclaim your purity in a gulag awaiting the noose?

HawkerHurricane

Rob Perkins said...

Rob, if what you say is true, and I hope so, then maybe some new words will be coming forth soon from the Great Basin. One can hope.

Dunno. It really depends on the subject. On some subjects, such as contraception, the Church's policies moved in accord with the rising dependability of contraceptive technologies. On race relations, it simply took awhile longer to see certain absurdities for what they were.

On other subjects, they dig in their heels quite spectacularly. In a nation where gambling is about as much a pasttime as coffee drinking, the Church is opposed to both for reasons which perplex most of the world, and has been for all 175 years of its existence.

And, we don't talk a lot about gay marriage (a subject which has been done to death lately and elsewhere, so perhaps there's no point), but there is a line in the sand about that one, and a specacularly stern warning to Church members not to let that opposition spill into indignant vilification, or overt persecution of any homosexual. The official policy begins with a statement that the subject of homosexuality is complicated, with an implication that anything we choose to "do about it" must be grounded in sincere love.

Aside from those, what hope do you have that Mormon leadership will change its tone or its proclamations from the Great Basin?

reason said...

I agree with Nate, that David sometimes should choose his targets with more care. I would like to see him point to specific instances of the behaviour he is talking about from the left, rather than just labelling a whole and very diverse movement.

That said, I have enjoyed this debate even if I feel the original essay could be polished a bit. I see myself as a bit of an anti-ideologist and so I see the topic as a very important one. To the me the one key argument against any ideology is always "but what if you are wrong - could you live with what you have done then?" Name one ideology that history has proved correct.

Given this I'm a bit surprised that the first post by Arthur was picked up on, but the second much more offensive quote was ignored. The problem with this quote is that it identifies something that does not exist (a new civic religion), and then it makes what I would consider are very strange value judgements for a liberal (in the true sense) democracy.

Rob Perkins said...

Reason, I fail to see why Faust's statement is offensive. The basis for his claim of America in moral jeopardy isn't the rising secular philosophy alone, it's the recent (very recent) accord of primacy of that philosophy to the detriment of more traditional religions.

Why is that offensive?

Frank said...

@Rob:

Faust makes remarks like "There are natural safeguards in a God-fearing people that promote respect for law and order, decency, and public civility." (which strikes me as a rather naive conviction) and "In a people who are not God-fearing, however, these characteristics are notably absent." How is a secular person not offended by these words?

Arthur said...

"Mormonism" includes all truth. Whether it is found in science or wherever. "Mormonism," embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to "Mormonism." The truth and sound doctrine posessed by the sectarian world, and they have got a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as Mormons are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel.

One last thing...

Our religion measures, weighs, and circumscribes all the wisdom in the world--all that God has ever revealed to man. God has revealed all the truth that is now in the possession of the world, whether it be scientific or religious. The whole world are under obligation to him for what they know and enjoy; they are indebted to him for it all, and I acknowledge him in all things.

One more article that may interest the lot of you. It is called "Absolute Truth."

There is a God, David Brin. And whether you want to believe it or not He does love you.

"All things denote that there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator" (Alma 30:44).

We can look up at they sky at night and have an idea of what Alma meant. There are millions of stars and planets in perfect order. They did not get there by chance. We can see the work of God in the heavens and the earth. The many beautiful plants, the many kinds of animals, the mountains, the rivers, the clouds that bring us rain and snow--all these testify to us that there is a God.

I've read some of Carl Sagan. It seems to me that he had trouble with the concept of faith..thinking that it's a weakness of character. Faith is the exact opposite. Faith is a "hope for things which are not seen, which are true" (Alma 32:21; see also Hebrews 11:1.) Faith is a principle of power that motivates our day-to-day activities.

Would we study and learn if we did not believe we could obtain wisdom and knowledge? Would we work each day if we did not hope that by doing so we could accomplish something? Would a farmer plant if he did not expect to harvest? Each day we act upon things we hope for when we cannot see the end result. This is faith. (see Hebrews 11:3).

The article titled "Absolute Truth" is located at this link in the search results.

http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll?f=templates$fn=default.htm$xhitlist_q=Absolute%20Truth$xhitlist_x=Simple$xhitlist_s=relevance-weight$xhitlist_d=$xhitlist_hc=%5BXML%5D%5Bkwic%2C0%5D$xhitlist_xsl=xhitlist.xsl$xhitlist_vpc=first$xhitlist_sel=title%3Bpath%3Bcontent-type%3Bhome-title%3Bhit-context%3Bfield%3Azr%3Bfield%3ARef

Rob Perkins said...

No, I was referring to the excerpt Arthur quoted.

As to the one Frank quoted, I don't know, because I haven't seen the context of Faust's words (I only skimmed the article.)

As to Arthur's last bit of alienation, here just above, let me just say I've got my face in my hands as I await the drubbing David and others here are about to give him, in the sincere hope I won't be swept along with that backlash...

(At no point did *I* think of David as someone who does not believe in God...)

That is, Arthur, consider your audience! You're doin' it wrong for this bunch!

David Brin said...

Relax, Rob. I can tell the difference between Christians who sincerely "love" me and those others who use the word "love" as a baseball bat. These are the same mental states that make a husband and wife in a sadomasochistic relationship each come up with justifications for he black eyes.

In my town, the spittle is flying all over the place over "Christmas is BAAAAAACK!" Amid venom being spewed at straw man "political correctness police"... without ever actually naming any PC cops or citing a single case where the word "holiday" hurt anybody.

In fact, I have plenty of problems with the portion of the left that includes PC cops, who have helped give Rove fodder for these rhythmic sallies in the Culture War. Back when they insisted on "gay marriage" instead of "domestic partners", it gave GWB the boost he needed for reelection.

But in this case, the retaliation is against a nonexistent provocation. Nobody took Christmas away from anybody. At all.

Forgive the rant. I know that you aren't a nutcase. But every dogma in American life is being LED by nutcases, nowadays.

Including this small corner where the dogma of modernism is pushed. By a nut case sci fi guy...

...but at least he gets the joke. Find me another guru who does! ;-)

redkitty said...

Dear Mr. Brin --

I didn't intend to comment further than describing my reaction to a tic or blind spot I've noted in some of your posts. Also, Nate has already covered most of the that ground. However, since you've metaphorically called me out, I'll try to respond, hopefully without getting into a pissing contest in your online parlor. Speaking generally, you at times seem unaware that you have a tendency not to practice what you are preaching. It can be hard to tell whether you are inspired by reasoned passion or by an unruly hemmorhoid.

You've repeatedly accused others of not reading and/or comprehending your posts. Why then do I get the distinct impression that you yourself only read the first third of my short missive before dashing off a heated response?

Brin - "[Nate] actually reads and asks “is this what you mean?” As aooposed to Redkitty, once again, name-calling without actually arguing."

Name-calling? I don't think so. I described my reaction to some of your usages. Indeed, my own post was prompted by the impression that you were indulging in some name-calling yourself. In passing, I note that you've already lumped me in with the mindless, reflexive hordes of "the Left" in spite of the fact that I haven't yet stated any ideological position whatsoever. I freely admit that I wasn't attempting to construct an argument. Can't answer a point I don't think you have made. I did hope I might evoke a little reflection, or some explication.

You go on to suggest "paraphrasing" your views as a proper gambit. Since I agree with most of what you are saying here, that's a wash. For the rest, your view of "the Left" seems so scattershot that I am at a loss to comprehend, much less paraphrase. When you cast yourself as Kirk and your (mild) critics as the frustrated computer, you are pretty close to the mark (that's not a compliment). As Nate points out, if your conception of leftist extremism encompasses Howard Dean, well what else can I say but "urkkk..... DOES NOT COMPUTE!!!". And Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore... are "maniacs"? Ooookay. You say "potato" I say strawman. I think you are casting much too wide a net.

Brin - "Yes, she [Hillary] and every other Democratic politician who does not hew the precise PC party line -- in other words, not just opposing the war, but opposing it for exactly the prescribed set of reasons -- is labeled a “DINO” (Democrat In Name Only)."

I try to keep up, but if Hillary has offered any tangible opposition to the occupation of Iraq -- for whatever reasons -- it's news to me. And although it's irrelevant, I can't resist pointing out that she was in fact a Republican before she hooked up with Bill. More to the point, I would suggest that many of her Leftish critics see her as a clumsy opportunist, and as a corporatist, not as someone who has Fallen Away From the True Faith. The same goes for a number of other prominent Democrats. I do agree that there actually is a party line on a limited set of issues -- things like abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, and the loonieness of the Left -- but I would say that is more a function of interest groups within the Democratic Party than of any broadly generalized entity called "the Left".

Brin - "The left, on the other hand, envisions itself detached from history, and even from human nature. Their idealism appears to be about the New Man (as Lenin called him). They want power, desperately, but feel uncomfortable with the gritty methods that may be necessary to achieve it. They despise the approach of Locke and Franklin as too-American, too-modernist, too much the work of gritty engineers, artisans and bourgeois shopkeepers. And yet, they cannot bring themselves to organize for all out, streetfighting demagoguery, the way the neocons have tactically fomented “culture war,” because that might mean talking to the people. The people. Ew"

The above seems to be the 15% criticism you were directing at the Left in your original post. It sounds impressive, but past the first couple of sentences it is just too free floating and devoid of referents... honestly, I can't extract much meaning from this except that you are expressing contempt for whoever you picture as being on the left. It sounds as though you might be advocating the same sort of brutally dishonest propaganda campaign that the Right has engaged in, but that can't be what you mean... I hope. Not enough shared assumptions, perhaps. Let's stipulate that some of the "leftist" proclivities you find distasteful evoke a similar response in me. But when you refer to a "movement" on the Left -- something counterpoised to the very real and organized operation on the Right -- nah, I think you are seeing ghosts. Constructs.

Really, I get that you may not like the style of some who are identified as "on the left". That could be a valid topic of discussion, but often what I hear actually coming out of your mouth is the same broad-brush demonization that one hears from right-wing propagandists like Limbaugh and Hannity. Yet you claim to be offering up constructive criticism.

Your attitude of virtuous centrism echoes the dynamic that I observed between the centrist Dems and the Naderites in the 2000 election. Clearly, the Dems needed the votes of the Nader camp, most of whom I believe were making a stand on principle with the rather forlorn hope of forcing some perfectly valid issues into consideration. Did the Dems seek a coalition, offer concessions or inclusion or do anything whatsoever except spit in the Naderites' faces? And yet to this day the so-called "pragmatic centrists" are still going on about how those raving ideologues (strawman!) stabbed them in the back. Would you join them in asserting that the Nader supporters should have abandoned their actual goals and settled for opposing the Republicans? As usual? You can make an argument, yes, but I don't see how it's a given. The Naderites had no power to actually direct events. Where is the responsibility of the "centrists" who did have that power?

Brin - "Does this indictment of the right, for choosing the “dark side,”make the far left any better? Not much. Certainly, they carry the same human impulses, inherited from the same oppressive, rationalizing ancestors. The crucial ability to say “I might be wrong” is every bit as much absent from dogmatic ideologues on that side, as it is on the right."

Is it your notion that self-styled "centrists" and "moderates" (or "liberals" as you would have it) are necessarily less subject to dogmatism or delusion? I think you know better than to fall into that very popular fallacy. I'm less sure you would agree with me that the more radical solution is sometimes the most "pragmatic". You are tired of lefties "digging in their heels", David? Well, I have significant differences with many who would put themselves in that camp, yes I do. But I am even more weary of reflexive centrism, of seeing "the Left" used as a whipping boy while we all drift farther into market and religious fundamentalisms.

I'll end this now before I drift any farther myself. Oh, and I'm glad to see you do get the joke.

Tony Fisk said...

...and how're you doing it for this bunch, Rob?;-)

That's OK. If you bring a point of view to an argument, presumably you want someone else to take it away with them.

Looking at what Arthur has to say, it occurs to me what a trap a self consistent inner logic can be: A 'crooked house' of a gilded cage where each room leads, with such seamless logic, into the next.

But where has the front door gone?

"(insert mindset here) embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity."

So the outside door is shut, and sealed, and expunged from conscious thought.

And yet, isn't this the very trap we seek when we go looking for a 'theory of everything'? Don't we get anxious when the walls of our snug little house start to shake, and *things* leer in at the windows?

Things like 'accelerating' deep space probes, or when the ornate new dwelling we are building with bits of string appears to encompass everything *but* this universe.

(Help! We've locked ourselves out!)

----
Quoth Brin:
...but at least he gets the joke. Find me another guru who does! ;-)

As it happens, I stumbled across the blog of a certain Tenzin Gyatso the other day. For a reincarnated god-king, he comes across as a pretty pragmatic sort of chap. Here is an excerpt:

"If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.
"

So it sounds like buddhists let the delivery man in occasionally.

(Actually, David, he has a few things to say on recent advances on neuropshychology which may have a bearing on your 'open letter')

Simon Neville said...

LOL Rob,you're almost right. I read Arthur's post and got all fired up, was ready to spout off examples of Buddhism saying the same words (except there is no "God" to help you) etc. etc. and then I realized he's right. Thats is his belief and he does believe strongly it seems. So strongly that he has LOST the power of logic and reason, because in his entire post he didn't make a single arguement or really defend his side, he just sermonized.
No worries Rob, you're not painted with the same brush and you and I can as reasonable people discuss today's problems and Arthur can take solace in his spiritual peace.

And Arthur if you're reading the key word about God is "Transitory" meaning here for a short period of time.

Simon Neville

Catfish 'n Cod said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Catfish 'n Cod said...

http://rawstory.com/news/2005/
Diebold_CEO_resigns_after_
reports_of_1212.html

Diebold's CEO goes down after -- hey hey! -- someone blew the whistle.

Advantage: Team Brin!

Tony Fisk said...

Nice one!

Anonymous said...

Usually at antiwar demonstrations (in the late 1960s) I was among those standing behind the Quakers and Catholics -- and facing away from them.

We needed to be there to watch out for the "Revolutionary Communist Party" and suchlike, who loved to come up behind the pacifists and throw bottles and bricks over their heads at the police.

Point being -- watch your back, and also watch your opposition's back.

There's always someone happy to provoke a fight between people who are upset, and have the energy to change things, if they can get organized and cooperate.

Paraphrasing is good. Ascertaining the real origin of the brickbats is good.

Tony Fisk said...

@redkitty:
I know what you mean about the 'broad brushstrokes' sometimes.

I won't put words in mouths. Suffice to say the standard advice is to grow a skin and not take it too personally when the firehose catches you occasionally. (not that I think you have)

Feel free to yip if you think a corn's been trodden on. (ie CITOKATE)

And remember that other people are reading too.

y'know, I've been mulling this bit about the 'lefties' howling down anyone who exhibits anything less than absolute adherence to the party line and have concluded that it's Platonic Idealism in another garb: abstract theoretical perfection unsullied by grubby practicalities.

Bitzers: the best breed of dog.

----

As an example of idealists huffing over what ought to be done with an imperfect world, check this WC article on 'Regulations and Business Strategy'. (especially the comments)

reason said...

Rob Perkins,
not only is Fausts statement offensive, but so is your justification of it. I think you have a major blindspot. Why should "traditional religion" (and how come that includes Judaism and Islam but not Shamanism?) have precedence. And why should it be a good thing to have allegance to an invisible God, for whom many people seem to say contradictory things, as against having allegence to mankind who I can see and talk to?

If you think such a thing is good for you, then well and good, but it is not right to imply that it is necessarily a good thing for a tolerant society to give precedence to.

reason said...

Rob Perkins,
perhaps the problem is a misunderstanding of the meaning of secular.
It does not exclude religion, it excludes giving precedence to any particular religious tradition. That is it excludes the religious from anywhere that it does not intrinsically belong.
I went to a Catholic school, and believe me what a religious society does is not to improve morals or behaviour, but to drive dissent underground. Certain ideas are not free to be discussed. What you end up with is hypocrisy. To see the result look to Washington (especially the Texans).

Mabus said...

Um...guys...I was starting to think maybe I was a little thick compared to some of you, but I recognize a rhetorical maneuver when I see one.

Dr. Brin wants to attract over to his side conservatives who are fed up with Bush but are uneasy about the liberal backlash they expect is coming. They don't want to jump from the frying pan into the fire--from one set of feudal overlords (corrupt plutocrats) to another (callous bureaucrats). (I've got one overprotective mother already--I don't want to live in a nanny state.) So, of course, he's got to reassure them that he identifies with their concerns but doesn't think what they fear is likely now. From a certain perspective, he's actually agreeing with you--he says outright the people he's describing don't constitute a meaningful political force at the moment.

So far as I can tell, it's working--more or less. I'm not sure we're the sort of conservatives he's looking for, but there are several of us here hanging on his every word. Well...most of them.

Frank said...

Regarding Howard Deans' alleged looniness, he did say things like "This is a struggle of good and evil. And we're the good." at a democratic rally and "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for..." somewhere else. Now, you could argue (as I'm sure Dean did) that these words were taken all out of context, but they are still pretty silly statements (that were of course exploited by the republicans).

Rob Perkins said...

@Reason

I haven't justified Faust's statement. You surprise me actually, in that you've apparantly failed to notice that Faust and you have different definitions of "secularist". Perhaps this is why you became offended.

If that's the case, then you and he don't have a problem which can be solved through reasonable argument. You have different premises, which means you have blind spots about one another's positions.

The best example is your characterization of a religious society. I, too, went to Church schools (at the college level, mind), but my experience there was not at all the same as yours among your Catholic teachers. Open discussion among our numbers is always welcome. 2/3 of our meetings are all about kicking ideas around.

The second-best also comes from your response. I and Faust do not believe in an invisible God.

reason said...

Rob,
there is no accounting for jargon or human belief.
But you surprise me - your God is visible? What does she look like then? -)

Rob Perkins said...

@Reason --

To quote a brinksman, "There you go again."

David, is this an example of leftist self-destructive behavior? Being so dismissive of people with overt organized religious faith that there's really no point talking to them?

reason said...

Rob
are you telling me you can't take a joke?

But seriously, I understood that Faust was implying (and it seems from the detailed quote somebody else provided I was right) that his genus of religion was morally superior to everybody else's. Now it seems you are saying that securalism is some sort of sect that is morally inferior and he was just criticising this particular securalism (rather than what is generally understood by secularism).

If he had picked on materialism, or jingoism or even communism I might have found it an acceptable argument because it identifies a particular moral degeneracy. But just not being accountable to a supreme being is not a clear proof of moral degeneracy at least not to me. (I would have thought 9/11 was a very good counter argument). It is offensive to assume your own moral superiority - and you unconsciously supported him in it.

Saying that your god is visible is irrelevant. The point is that you can't use a god as a point of reference for a universal moral order if his opinion cannot be asked or challenged to the satisfaction of at least a super majority.

reason said...

Rob,

" Being so dismissive of people with overt organized religious faith that there's really no point talking to them?"

Don't you religious people unconsiously do the same to everybody else. Take your own mob. Isn't sending innocent teenagers in embarrassing clothes out to tell grown adults how they should live their lives a bit well - arrogant?

Rob Perkins said...

I will not be provoked, nor will I return any further provocation. Thank you.

Cliff McCarthy said...

Sorry to distract from all the tangents, but I would like to offer some feedback on the original article. I think this article gets very close to being the political wake-up call that many people need to hear right now. But I think something that would help clarify the message would be to explicitly specify what the "four attractor states" are. Naming those states would probably help. Maybe it even calls for a diagram or something. I think establishing that mental picture early on would help provide a framework for understanding the rest of the commentary. So when Locke and Franklin are mentioned, for example, it will be easier to keep track of which quadrant they're in, versus which quadrants are currently home to the Republican and Democratic parties, and which state we should be seeking to advance towards the future instead of regressing to the past.

firefall said...

Alcibiades in the mirror? Please! Not even a Kleon, more likely just a series of Hyperbolus (boles?)

firefall said...

"I agree that the real enemy is anyone who seeks power not for service, but for self. No matter what the benefits of technology or social progress or anything, if someone’s in power for the sake of self, they’ll resist anything that smacks of a loss of power"

but ... everyone who seeks power, seeks it for self. No, not being cynical, this is the only realistic assessment: if you don't want power for yourself, you dont have sufficient drive to achieve it (& there I speak of myself). The trick is to get people who are willing to provide _good_ government in order to retain power, and to have a system that encourages that.

Rob Perkins said...

I've noticed at least two kinds of people attracted to government leadership work, those who seek power, and those who seek opportunity for service. The latter can quickly morph into the former, though, and a combination of the two probably sits in the heart of every congresscritter.

Point being, if we characterize *every* person in power in terms of hunger for it, I think we're missing a dimension.

Frank said...

Strictly speaking it doesn't matter what a politician really wants. The only thing that matters is what he\she actually does, which is where accountability has an important role to play. The people who voted the politician into government owe it to themselves to keep an eye on this public servant(!), perhaps they should be just as hungry for (indirect) political power as any statesman.

Rob, can you explain what you think is so important about that "missing dimension" ?

Rob Perkins said...

Frank, I meant a dimension missing in evaluations about the character of any public servant.

And I disagree, because I think that wants and thoughts inform deeds. Therefore what a politician wants is very important; I think (for example) that a person motivated primarily by service will go to great lengths to include his entire constituency rather than just a base of dependable voters for reelection.

Frank said...

@ Rob:

What i meant was: yes, it's better to have a politician who wants to do the right thing from the start than one that needs to be 're-educated' through accountability. But from the perspective of a political system it shouldn't matter what any politician thinks because in reality it is not possible to know this... until this person visibly executes his\her plans.

TC said...

Firefall said, "but ... everyone who seeks power, seeks it for self. No, not being cynical, this is the only realistic assessment: if you don't want power for yourself, you dont have sufficient drive to achieve it (& there I speak of myself). The trick is to get people who are willing to provide _good_ government in order to retain power, and to have a system that encourages that."

I've met just a few people who don't seek it for themselves, but who seek it reluctantly out of a sense of responsibility. Those are the ones I want in power!

It may seem like I'm splitting hairs, and who knows, maybe I am. But I've never met anyone who wanted power who'd be someone I'd trust with power.

It's not that I disagree with you entirely. I think you're right about the desire versus the drive. And you might be right, realistically speaking, that the trick's to find folks with the balance. My experiences leaves me somewhat pessimistic, though.

Anonymous said...

"Anyone who actively wants and seeks the office of the president should be banned from ever holding it."

I don't know who said it, it's not original with me.

HH

Rik said...

Ya know, we had a politician - not so long ago - who said: I say what I think and I do as I say. People loved it, but any sane person can see it's untenable. Hence the importance of appearances and keeping them up.

As for religion: I think dogma and doctrine are decreasing in importance. It's increasingly about expression, which allows much more and/and, instead of either/or. Read: religious consciousness is simply adapting to the extremely romantic mediaculture. Hence the growing southern christianity (african-style, I mean) and the similar evangelical movements in Asia.

- America exceptional? Ha! You're just exceptional because EUROPE is exceptional! -

In the meantime those who feel there must be Something, some sort of Higher Power, yet see the bible only as an historically Important Book and don't go to church, can only play. You know, a lot of things are very multifunctional, if you toy a bit with them...

MichaelRuschena said...

@Anonymous said...
"Anyone who actively wants and seeks the office of the president should be banned from ever holding it."

I don't know who said it, it's not original with me.


Sounds like Douglas Adams, _Restaurant at the end of the Universe_ (chapter 28):
"The major problem - one of the major problems, for there are several - one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them. To summarize: it is a well known fact, that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem."

But there may be others predating Adams.

David Brin said...

Sorry to have been so absent.

Cliff McC, you get the prize (though many here including Redkitty made excellent posts.) Why? Because you actually were helpful! You asked for a specific clarification, which I'll try to attach below. The ATTRACTOR STATE DIAGRAM which should be inserted into the main posting above.

Before that though. Look, there is one distinction between sincere service and powergrabbing. It is both idealistic and practical.

Do you evade accountability or do you grit your teeth and welcome it?

There is NO justification for this administration's isolation, evasion of the press and dedication to secrecy. There is none and never can be any. It is politically neutral and utterly, utterly damning.

=======

INSERT-REPLACEMENT

======


So, what am I saying? Are both idealism and pragmatism doomed to be scuzzy? One, a tendency toward druglike sanctimony and delusion? The other, a cesspit for the power-hungry?

Fortunately, there are more than enough counter-examples to show that this is not a bipolar situation at all. A better metaphor would portray four attractor states.


On the High Road... there are pragmatists who understand a need for solid values, or at least for accountability. At least they are able to say aloud those wise words from a Dirty Harry move... ”A man’s got to know his limitations.”


And there are idealists who grasp the concept of humility. Or, as Barry Goldwater put it in Conscience of a Conservative: "we entrust the conduct of our affairs to men who understand that their first duty as public officials is to divest themselves of the power they have been given." This concept goes back to the original American Cincinnatus, George Washington, whose example once had force and redolence in our lives. Before he faded into a cartoon figure with wooden teeth.


FOUR POLITICAL ATTRACTOR STATES
(Independent of petty details like left-vs-right)


Open Pragmatism <-- the High Road --> the Idealism of Humilty
(seek negotiated solutions . . . . . . . . . .(Hold even yourself suspect of
using all tools) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . seeking too much power)


Ferocious Pragmatism <-- the Low Road --> the Idealism of Pure Dogma
(seek power at all cost) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (justify your side virtuous; foes=evil)


What becomes clear, from looking at this chart, is that we’ve all been a bit mistaken in our cliches! We have been assuming -- as the conservative intellectuals of 1964 and 1974 assumed -- that there is an inherent divide between pragmatism and idealism that cannot be breached. It is a matter of personality difference, as much as dogma, we’re told....

...and that is right, to an extent. Those who think in pure, platonic essences do tend to keep thinking that way, even some of the famous neoconservatives who were once self-proclaimed Trotsky socialists, made the leap from left to right quite easily, but never changed a scintilla of their weakness for pure dogma.

Nevertheless, if you look across the centuries and you’ll see countless cases where pragmatists and idealists have worked out a modus vivendi. A methodology for working together. For seeing that each side provides the other’s needs. The most blatant example is the one that most pervades history -- the alliance of brutally pragmatic feudal or monarchal warlords with philosophers and clergy who adeptly wove rationalizations and explanations for the inherent goodness and righteousness of aristocratic power. That is the traditional “low road.”

There is also a High Road alliance between pragmatism and idealism, though history shows it to have been difficult and rare. Indeed, the entire Enlightenment Experiment has been based upon the notion of taking the very best parts of both and applying them to a steady project of improving society, improving ourselves.

An idealism that assertively protects both human rights and individual opportunity clearly feeds into the practical fecundity of both market competition and social cooperation, making each of these tools more effective. The wealth and knowledge that is thus generated then nurtures further idealistic efforts to expand rights and opportunities. Note that this model honors both the public schools and civil rights laws of the moderate-idealist left and the economic-liberal stimulation of small business that today is associated with the moderate right. Both of these idealistic moves stimulated increasing numbers of liberated and confident individuals to generate further wealth, then further idealism, and so on.

This virtuous cycle, featuring mutual support between idealistic missions and pragmatic projects, was the very thing that the word “liberal” originally stood for. And it has been outstandingly successful.

Alas, the problem with the Enlightenment Experiment is that these “mature” approaches to combining idealism and pragmatism do not nourish our older, darker natures. Again, look at 99% of past human cultures. Read history. You will see elites of both church and state performing two essential rites.

Glorifying and sanctifying their own worldview... and taking every practical measure to ensure a monopoly of power.

In other words, the Low Road. The attractor state in which idealists sell out for a mainline rush of indignation, justifying pragmatists who think of nothing but power.

======

Steve said...

On the action vs. intent of political electees...

I heard an amazing story on This American Life (IMHO the most interesting thing in any media today). I looked for a link to the story but couldn't find it. It was about an idealist who got elected. I hate to give away the story, but it ends up that you can be an idealist and get elected, but to get re-elected you have to make some very fundamental changes in yourself. You must become very focused on money for the next election, you must pretend to like everybody you meet. You must present a false face to the world.

The person in question saw what he was becoming, and gave it up. From the story I interpret that this was not about making ideological compromises per se, but rather making compromises to his humanity (my interpretation). Perhaps this was his post-facto explanation with the past as he wished it, perhaps it was a unique situation. But I find it a powerful concept to think about if the US political system as currently practiced actually selects against the type of people who post here: the type of person who might be drawn to service in the public sector out of a desire to leave things better than when they got there. And that there would be a choice between getting re-elected or becoming one of the sleazy politicians of whatever ideology.

Steve said...

The premise that religious people are by their religiousity (if that is a word) are more moral than those who are not is belied by the number of really bad people who have been very religious - examples can be found from any religion you care to name, none are exempt. Ergo, religion by itself does not a moral person make. Does the converse stand: A moral person can be made without religion?

Although raised as a Episcopalian, I am not religious. I have read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and some of the Koran, some Buddhist works, and Mary Baker Eddy's work. I am not ignorant of religion. I feel no spiritual lack, I read these things because I am interested, or at times baffled. I don't think that there is a God since I see no reason why One (or Many) would exist. But I haven't noticed that the universe has been constrained by my expectations on other things, so I could be wrong. However, I see no reason to live my life as if there were a God since how would an objective person choose which flavor to practice? Pascal's Wager doesn't say which flavor to practice, and woe betide you if you choose, say, Baptist instead of worshipping the "real" God Zeus (or whatever) and really cheese Him/Her/It/Them off and suffer eternal (fill in the damnation of your choice).

As a side note, my family and I are the happiest people I know. We lead a nice life which we achieve through hard work, taking risks, and whatever social advantages lower-middle class white people start off with. We have had ups and downs through which we have struggled, learned, and persevered, all without asking for divine intervention. You'll have to take me at my word when I say that I have learned to be very principled and ethical, though my morals differ in significant ways from most people. I care very deeply for humanity and for the fate of my country (USA) and the planet. People who meet me socially comment on how good-natured I am. I constantly am amazed by the sheer beauty and wonder of this universe, which I try to convey to my friends.

And all that last paragraph amounts to nothing when someone I know socially brings up religion. In every case in my experience, when I tell a religious person that I just don't need religion, I get a negative reaction somewhere on the spectrum. You will know what the spectrum of responses has been, since you have probably experienced it on one side or the other.

So I have been trained by these experiences, against my will, to wonder if only non-theists can be truly ethical. A non-theist arrives at their code of behavior without fear of retribution from a God Who, by definition, is beyond our understanding or, at worst, a man-made set of rules purported to be from a God that are millenia out of date. (Half-point to the LDS here since they claim their revelation occured much more recently.) Granted, some non-theistic people mess it up, just as theistic people do. But those who make it have an internally (relative to the prinicples) and externally (relating to everyone else) consistent set of principles that maximizes cooperation and, I would contend, happiness. A theist at best has a conditioned set of rules that might work in some context, but which cannot adapt to new situations. And really, should someone be rewarded for following a prescribed set of rules or for finding their own creative solution that works best for them and the people around them in the environment in which they find themselves?

Thus I have come to think that a non-religious, and necessarily non-anti-religious, ethic is necessary (this was what I was hoping for when I read the title, "A New Civil Religion," alas). I don't think that the "moral degradation of the nation" is a product of secularism, it seems to me that it is a symptom of its lack, or at least of conflicting messages. I guess I am looking for a post-religious mind set that has no problem with people being religious, since this seems to fill a great need in many or most people, but that celebrates the inherent worth of mass-that-has-become-sentient such as ourselves. I consider what Dr. Brin calls "modernity" to be, partially, such an animal.

As for "faith" I don't know how to feel about that because I am still seeking what this means. Does one need faith to appreciate the loveliness of the stars or the precise chaos of the orbits of the planets? No, one has only to study astronomy and ballistics. Does one need faith to appreciate the beauty of mass learning to know itself, going from inanimate chemicals to simple cells to consiousness? No, one only needs to study biology. How about faith that things will be better tomorrow than they are today? This strikes me as dangerous complacency - I think it can be better tomorrow, but we need practical people to make it so. Does one need faith to face death? Ah, there's the rub! Personally, I think it is a grown-up thing to contemplate that your personality will cease upon your death, and to plan accordingly, so that those you come into contact with will carry a positive impression of you until their own deaths, and thus enhace the species as a whole. I could be verrrry surprised when I die, but I will have lived a good life and lived it well, treated others with respect and empathy, and done as well as I could to maximize happiness. If this condemns me to Hades because I didn't believe in the "real" God Zeus, well so be it. I'll see you there!

I don't try to "convert" my religious friends to my way of thinking, nor am I trying to convert you. But I think my way of thinking has a beauty and elegance that is just as worthy of consideration and protection as any religion. Perhaps even more so, since I think that only by fighting for a non-religious civil society can all viewpoints be protected equally for the benefit of all.

Anonymous said...

@Steve

I believe I know precisely which episode of This American Life you are talking about. It is episode #298: Getting and Spending in the first act. Play the realaudio file linked below and go to the time 7:46 minutes.

http://www.thislife.org/ra/298.ram

The bit about the politician is short but very telling.

reason said...

Steve,
beautifully written essay. I wish I could write like that. I second everything you say.

Rob,
sorry about my wicked sense of humour. Comes from growing up watching Dave Allen. Good night and may your God go with you. Sorry you won't be provoked anymore, it was fun.

But surely you must admit that "securalist religion" is self-contradictory, complete nonsense. And haven't you noticed that the torturer-in-chiefs are all deeply religious and the human rights supporters mostly secular. My fear is that deferring to an almighty being provides a good excuse for gross inhumanity.

reason said...

By the way we are way off topic.

I'm wondering how many dichotomies are not false? Dichotomies are a habit of thought aren't they. Wasn't Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance about something like that?

Another good one would be Conservative versus Radical, sometimes the only way to be conservative is to be radical (i.e. when the environment is changing rapidly). I don't think it is like that yet - so why is it that the current "Conservative" government is extremly radical? A nice paradox to think about. But in general I think David is spot on, on this one.

As for not offending deeply held beliefs, well I try to keep my mouth shut. Doesn't stop me dreaming of sometimes expressing my real opinions freely and passionately.

It is a bit of a problem when some people hold things sacred that other people think are hillarious isn't it? And it is not obviously something that is easy to overcome, even with openness. Now I love Monty Python and Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe, but I could understand how some people might be offended.

I would much prefer that everybody learnt the difference between THEMSELVES and THEIR IDEAS (OR BELIEFS - whatever exactly that means - I'm not sure I really know. I only think in terms of probabilities but maybe I'm odd. I studied statistics but I know from experience that stochasticism is not a natural concept for humans). Criticising or rejecting their ideas is not the same thing as criticising or rejecting them as people. That is my idealistic position, but sometimes it is pragmatic to keep your mouth shut. Idealistically, Americans should be prepared to elect people from all religious or non-religious persausions so long as they subscribe to democratic principles and are capable (like the rest of the Western world), but perhaps it is pragmatic to find (at least nominally) Christian candidates. So yes one needs to be both idealistic and pragmatic, but sometimes there IS a tradeoff.

I would have thought the real issue was one of priorities, which fights to pick. To me the most important issue at the moment (and I'm not American, I'm just speaking as an interested spectator) - and apart from the coming economic and ecological tidal wave that I suspect is just over the horizon - is the erosion of American democracy. I don't understand why Democratic politicians (as against bloggers) aren't jumping all over this. Justice should not only be done, IT SHOULD BE SEEN TO BE DONE. Processes should not only be clean, THEY SHOULD BE OBVIOUSLY CLEAN. If the Republicans have nothing to hide, THEY SHOULDN'T BE HIDING ANYTHING. This can be presented as a bi-partisan thing - surely many Republicans also don't want to run the risk of being seen as the party of sleaze.

Rob Perkins said...

@Reason

Sometimes I just don't know how to take a joke. I don't know who Dave Allen is! :-)

Part of that stems from this format, which can't convey your tone of voice or the expression on your face. Or mine.

But I'm dead earnest when I say that I think "secularist religion" is not nonsense; I think it's a rising Western philosophy, a bastardization of Enlightenment tenets which, like all philosophies, carries unprovables in its premises. Thus, even secularism requires "faith" in *something*.

@Steve -- "Ergo, religion by itself does not a moral person make. Does the converse stand: A moral person can be made without religion?"

Sure. You beg your question a bit by claiming to be what you say is possible. Still, I wonder; I think most of us in the U.S. are at least nominally religious, playing Pascal's Wager and believing (as I do) that given a God, He must know the ignorant mess we're in, and be willing to take that into account when considering us.

I take that from the countless times I've heard someone say, "I'm not a church-goer; I'm going to be the best kindest person I know how and let God, if He's out there, sort the rest out for me."

Rob Perkins said...

"Criticising or rejecting their ideas is not the same thing as criticising or rejecting them as people."

Go back and look over Faust's and Maxwell's talks with that in mind. It changes the tenor of the ideas presented, don't you think?

It's also the reason I can enjoy Monty Python and Douglas Adams without trouble.

reason said...

Rob,


1. Don't you know the -) symbol? It means tongue in cheek - don't take this seriously.

2.
From wikipedia:

"... It is also important to remember that secularism does not necessarily equate to atheism; indeed, many secularists have counted themselves among the religious."

Secular just means "not pertaining to religion". So it really escapes me how "securalist religion" is anything but an oxymoron. I really think you are using jargon.

3.
I don't want to deconstruct the articles because it is really off topic. But they were full of subjective language and hidden assumptions. They were clearly designed for a particular audience, and not a rigorously argumentative one. To be blunt they shouldn't have been posted here.

4. http://hem.passagen.se/ericopy/Erics_alternativa/Dave_Allen.htm

Rik said...

It sounds a bit like The Phantom Menace, false dichomoties. Luke Skywalker modernists are in retreat, while The Empire Strikes Back. WTF? There's a dutch historian who thinks Europe committed cultural & political suicide in two world wars; this would have to affect the US as well. Pre WWII culture demonized far more than we do today; it was far more extreme. This would make Der Untergang a symbol of old Europe. But if it is true, it is also coming to an end, that End of History thingie again. That would partly explain present confusion, people clinging to a museum faith, where everyone can see (or read as in Jack Miles's biography of god) that people have had different conceptions of the deity through the ages. Most people find the present an-arkhia hard to swallow (what is the relativism but an exaggerations of the original, and not so bad, idea?), but it's probably here to stay. No one will tell you what to make of your life. Hence the obsession with squaky clean 'role models', who will fail time and time again. Somehow we want categories, we desire certainty, we must know what tomorrow will bring... even when No-one answers.
We also suffer from lack of Shakespeares (there's a gawdawful amount of junk in the original), when skollywood seems obsessed with cgi. With rhyme everywhere, it oughta be obvious that Bill, Tasso, Ariosto and Spenser are anything but dead. Great literature, after all, is about the perennial human obsessions: sex & death. We can still do that, can't we?

And make no mistake: in this day and age, you can be both a punk and a catholic. Rejoice! Fear not: red lips, red heels, the redcrosseknight is cummin'...

Rob Perkins said...

1 - Nope, sure didn't. Still, when you joke about religion, even tongue in cheek... Well, I remember talking about the "Church of Bob" once with some people I didn't know too well. Turned out they were devout Catholics. Whoops!

2 - Wiki has its uses, but for defining controversial terms, it's not so good.

3 - Agreed, on pretty much all counts. There's a place for Arthur's evangelism, but here lecturing David probably isn't it.

4 - Thanks

Nicq MacDonald said...

Having been raised with religious training (in the Lutheran church) by a religious mother and an atheist father (who was himself raised Lutheran), I think that a religious upbringing is important for young people, and can actually be more stimulating, helpful and formative than stifling. As Lou Marinoff, the founder of Philosophical Counseling, once said, "I think children should read the bible in school. And the Talmud, the Qu'ran, the Pali Canon, the Tao Te Ching, the Analects, and the Upanishads. Young people need a moral vocabulary."

That said, it seems that religion is something that can either mature (into a rational or post-rational faith); be "grown out of" (in the case of rational atheists who are either uninterested in metaphysical matters or are never exposed to a theology beyond the level of "big daddy in the sky"); or stagnate (in the case of people who choose to believe in literal myths and have little understanding of theology). The problem most intellectuals today have is that this third kind of religiosity seems to want to dominate; and the neoconservatives are more than happy to use this "opium" faith as a tool. In college (where I attended a Lutheran school), I often noted a great deal of controversy between the "literal" Christians and the "existential" Christians, both in the student body (Groups like the CCC vs. the aspiring seminarians) and between professors. There are sectarian differences too; Lutherans seem to be much less literal than many protestants, which is no suprise, given their great intellectual tradition (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Schweitzer, Tillich, Niebuhr and Barth are just a few of the figures its produced).

But, what I'm trying to get at is that faith is often a developmental matter; these various religious views map quite well onto a "stages of moral development model" (such as Kohlberg, Graves, or Beck and Cowan's "Spiral Dynamics")

reason said...

Nicq,
It escapes me why you can't be athiest and interested in metaphysics. Your list is not exhaustive. But again isn't this off topic?
I also humbly suggest that it might be possible that your upbringing was stimulated because of the differences between your parents, not because it was religious. That is you grew up exposed to different views.

Todd said...

Anyone who liked or at least thought interesting Steve's "on the action vs. intent of political electees..." comment might also be interested in:

http://www.nonesoblind.org/blog/?p=82

Steve said...

@ Dr. Brin - can't you just feel the paroxysms awaiting your religious essay? :o)

@Rob,

Truly I wasn't begging the question. I think that I am moral, but then presumeably so did Hitler, so I recognize that I cannot be an independent judge of that. I have met people who have told me that I cannot be moral if I am not religious and I don't believe in their God. So to me it is still an open question, at least in the realm of religion.

My mother-in-law sees how happy I make her daughter, how amazing our kids are, and still thinks we might go to Hell. Can I blame her if she is trying to convert us? At the same time, I am not interested in being in a situation where she tries to do so. So we have a detente and don't talk about it (and not all people are as lucky as I am in in-laws!).

This shows my point in a microcosm. In a society where there is more than one religion, or religion and non-religion, the only solution I can think of is an areligious civil ethic that respects all equally. And I think that the only way to get there is by using a human-created code of ethics. I mean, I have yet to hear a religion whose Deity espouses acceptance of other religions, so I think we won't be able to rely on divine inspiration for that one.

Rob, your brand of tolerance is very pleasing, and very unusual in my experience. Do you think that your hypothesis about good people going to Heaven regardless of religion will be selected for in the "religious ecology," or is it doomed to fail against exlusionist "camels through the eye of a needle" hypotheses? Which one will resonate more with believers? The "We are the chosen ones and only we are going to be rewarded. Now pass the collection plate," or "Our way is just one of many of getting to Heaven, just being a good person is enough. Now pass the collection plate." (OK, NOW maybe I am begging the question! LOL!)

Nicq MacDonald said...

"It escapes me why you can't be athiest and interested in metaphysics. Your list is not exhaustive."

No, it's not exaustive, and it's not impossible to be an atheist and be interested in metaphysics- in fact it's quite common. But there are many people who aren't religious and aren't bothered by questions of ultimate concern as well- they simply do what they do.

"I also humbly suggest that it might be possible that your upbringing was stimulated because of the differences between your parents, not because it was religious. That is you grew up exposed to different views."

Well, yes, but I have noted differences between people I've known with religious upbringings and those without; and, oddly enough, the people I know with a religious background are typically better informed, more tolerant, and more morally developed than their non-religiously raised counterparts. This is hardly universal, and most of my acquaintances and friends to which this applies are themselves nonpracticing (as am I). But many developmentalists think that a religious foundation, or some other form of discipline and "character building" (such as Scouting, for instance) is very helpful for young people- and, in my experience, I must agree.

michael vassar said...

On the topic of the treatment of non-believers by believers

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2005_12/007757.php

michael vassar said...

Leave it to me to try to trump Firefall's cynicism, but I think that the problem goes deeper than selfish drives being the only motivation that can inspire a person to attain power. I think that the public actually *prefers* to follow a power-crazed sociopath to an idealist, given those two choices. They can at least understand the sociopath.

Given history, I'm not sure they are wrong. The great relativly unselfish Ubermenchen idealists of the 20th century, Lennin, Hitler, Mao, Stalin... even Gandi. Each of them has the blood of millions on their hands.

I suppose Ghengis Khan wasn't an idealist though.

Nicq MacDonald said...

michael: At heart, weren't all of them really just cynical sociopathic opportunists who exploited a facade of twisted idealism in the pursuit of power?

Steve said...

@ Nicq and others

Here is my thinking about religious training: I am trying (against impossible odds I might add) to protect my daughters from religion until they have formed their strong personalities. I think that there is much cultural wisdom, ethics, and poetry in the religions of the world, but it is like alchohol - addictive when exposed at an early age. Let them get perspective before we trot out the scary stories. That way they can learn the cultural foundations without getting the mythic baggage. IMHO.

michael vassar said...

No Nicq, none of them really were, not even Gandhi (OK, maybe Stalin, but the smart money doubts it). Look at Gandhi's bio and Hitlers and you will see that the two of them are Totally cut from the same cloth.

Steve said...

Back to dichotomies...

Here is some grist for the mill...in statistics we need to consider the level of data, but also the "true" source.

I can have dichotomous data that is truly dichotomous (there are only two possible categories: on/off, cracked/not cracked) or dichotomous that is underlying continuous (example: pass/fail based on some continuous measure like temperature). Sometimes we need to treat these types of data very differently analytically.

So idealism and pragmatism is a dichotomy, but underlying continuous. And, if Dr. Brin is right, missing an additional dimension to be of any use.

Steve "StatBoy"

Rob Perkins said...

"The "We are the chosen ones and only we are going to be rewarded. Now pass the collection plate," or "Our way is just one of many of getting to Heaven, just being a good person is enough. Now pass the collection plate."[?]"

I think the latter succeeds where there is prosperity, and the former where there is not. My own ideas don't even lie on that spectrum, since "getting to heaven" is a more complex thing IMO.

Steve said...

Rob,

Maybe. I'd like to see data on how well the Evangelicals do correlated with a prosperity measure.

I agree that prosperity gives us the luxury and time to appreciate others outside our genetic circle. I'd like to think that, even with a fairly humdrum economy, we would be far along that path (Americans' definition of "poor" and "prosperity" should cause us to hang our heads in shame when we consider the lot of most in this world). It could be that the non-tolerant religious are the ones that make the most noise and are therefore the ones that get heard (though that tends to be a feedback loop).

But I also note in most people, religious and not, that there seems to be a huge urge to be part of something exclusive (excluding others), whether it is a sports team, a club, a religion, or whatever. To be amongst the Chosen Few, even for something as silly as a supporter of a football team, seems to be a powerful elixir, and possibly addictive (see Dr. Brin's open letter on that!). I think the appeal of Preacher A is related to more than prosperity, but I could be wrong! I have to admit that even when I was an altar boy I didn't get the point of religion. Lacking the gene or something I guess.

Postulating a Heaven, I would think that attaining it would be more complex than showing up for Church and tithing/donating to it. But that is my own human idea of what would make sense. And humans have looked at all of our Holy Books and found evidence for pretty much whatever they were looking for, so who knows? Maybe it is that simple.

reason said...

As an Aussie, I'm all for team sports. Great character building and gives that destructive us versus them biz a wizz in a healthy controlled environment. Teaches discipline and responsibility, and the necessity of occasionally suppressing your own ego for a greater good. And all without any restrictive ideological nonsense. (We use artificially contrived rules instead). Aussies make team sports of everything by the way - ever noticed how our tennis players always excel at doubles?

michael vassar said...

Steve; America's poor have lots of material goods compared to the poor of other countries, but when it comes to economic opportunity, time with their families, and general security they are squarely among the middle income nations. In terms of the ability to raise a family and make sure that their children will have economic opportunities at least as good as their own, I'm not sure they are even at that level.

Almost 30% of our households are below the $18,000 income that is the official poverty line for a family of four. That's rich by global standards, but in most countries it's also more than the mortgage cost for a median house. while in the US it's less than the median mortgage cost. That's right. 30% of US households have pre-tax incomes less than the cost of a median mortgage!

In terms of the quantity of necessity goods they can purchase with an hour's labor, America's poor are much worse off than those in the better developing nations, such as Costa Rica. How long till we cross China?

michael vassar said...

Oh, and Steve and Rob...
If you are serious about going to heaven, but don't think that tithing and church will get you there, and if you're looking for a heaven that will admit everyone, consider tithing here
www.singinst.org

Steve said...

@ michael vasser

I didn't mean to imply that US poor have it easy, and it has gotten significantly more difficult in recent years. But these are problems of being healthy and, as you said, raising a family with more opportunity. It is significantly different from many of the world's poor who worry about surviving. It is bad in both places but in different ways. And yes, I fear that we are heading to a highly stratified society with poor in the US that are as bad off as anywhere.

[irony on] Gotta fund those tax cuts somehow! [irony off]

jomama said...

What Michael Ruschena said.

How anyone can still believe there's a political "solution" to anything is beyond me.

Jonathan said...

The discussion of selfishness v. society reminds me of a conversation from the cut-scene at the end of the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, when the various protagonists are standing over the fallen body of corupt cop Frank Tenpenny. Someone asks what became of former gang kingpin Big Smoke, to which CJ (the main character) responds that Big Smoke is no more.

CJ's sister, Kendl, seeing CJ's unhappiness at the loss of someone he once counted as a friend, tells him, "That [n-word edited] was always alone, always out for Self!"

The Truth, an aged hippie, replies, "That's the surest path to Hell, man. Well, that or two ounces of mescaline and fifteen tabs of acid."

Emily said...

The most important point of the post, the one I believe got lost in the quagmire of religous and political digression I just valiantly plowed through, was the idea of "I might be wrong." Only a few of you perform that act of submission before setting forth on your political crusade. Granted, diluting one's own argument with the probability that every individual is subjective and fallible blunts one's righteousness and generally causes one's cause, as it were, to remain in the purgatory of committee. Idealism is the fuel that can get you there, but pragmatism provides an actual destination.

I get the vibe that many of those who post here are coming from either a sociolgical or computer science perspective. I come from an environmental one. Perhaps it is simplistic of me to abandon the throretical debate, but I believe the best way to understand a concept is to apply it directly to what you know (the main reason I read Mr. Brin's novels so insatiably.) I grew up with the 90's pop-culture notion that polluters are evil (as in my favorite cheesy Saturday morning cartoons--Captain Planet and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:) ) The players in pop-culture are clearly delineated as evil/good, dark side of the Force/light side, Republican/Democrat, conservative/ liberal. However, as you grow up, you realize that most "polluters" are like the woman I babysat for when I was twelve--normal, rather nice working people who would rather throw out a recyclable plastic jar than find a better way to rinse out the peanut butter (because they think they have better uses for their time--such as raising their children.) Idealistically, I would condemn this lazy, consumerisitic sow to the ever-filling landfill hell of her own making. However, I got my tree-hugging tendencies from my grandfather's flea market example of letting nothing go to waste--what I consider to be pragmatism at its finest--not the quasi-religous fervor of Greenpeace and all the other organizations that influenced my particular generation of environmentalists.

I do not believe my anecdote is an extraordinary one--substitute any cause and this is anyone's evolution from teen thought to adult thought. Delineate good and evil as you will, and we all have our shades, but someday you have to stop debating and start DOING.

Furthermore, since strawman was brought up, may I point out that when I read my newspaper's readers page, religion stands out as the number one culprit. I understand that it shapes how people see things, BUT I cannot count how many discourses I have read that devolve from reasonable and relevant to whackjob just as they had me nodding in agreement. "Yes, David Brin, there is a God" has no place in a debate because it cannot be proven for or against so believe what you will and stop witnessing to the rest of us.

And for the number-two culprit: this obsession with labeling EVERYTHING with multi-adjectival strings of words that are as exact as can be in description but are then forever shortened to a string of alphabet-soup. (e.g. pragmatic principled populism/PPP) Then what do we argue about, hmmmm? Whether whatever is ABC or more correctly XYZ. Or whether you can really label labels. What a distraction.

Thanks for getting me thinking, for what it's worth in prose:P