Towards A Good Samaritan World

Friday, December 29, 2006


I have generally been skeptical of Barack Obama because it seems that he doesn't take substantive positions on anything. But with this column, I guess Obama becomes (unless he was already) the most high-profile advocate of "phased redeployment" from Iraq:

Now we are faced with a quagmire to which there are no good answers. But the one that makes very little sense is to put tens of thousands more young Americans in harm's way without changing a strategy that has failed by almost every imaginable account.

In escalating this war with a so-called "surge" of troops, the President would be overriding the expressed concerns of Generals on the ground, Secretary Powell, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and the American people. Colin Powell has said that placing more troops in the crossfire of a civil war simply will not work. General John Abizaid, our top commander in the Middle East, said just last month that, "I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future." Even the Joint Chiefs of Staff have expressed concern, saying that a surge in troop levels "could lead to more attacks by al-Qaeda" and "provide more targets for Sunni insurgents." Once again, the President is defying good counsel and common sense...

There is no military solution to this war. Our troops can help suppress the violence, but they cannot solve its root causes. And all the troops in the world won't be able to force Shia, Sunni, and Kurd to sit down at a table, resolve their differences, and forge a lasting peace. In fact, adding more troops will only push this political settlement further and further into the future, as it tells the Iraqis that no matter how much of a mess they make, the American military will always be there to clean it up.

That is why I believe we must begin a phased redeployment of American troops to signal to the government and people of Iraq, and others who have a stake in stabilizing the country - that ours is not an open-ended commitment. They must step up. The status quo cannot hold.

If "there is no military solution," does it follow that "we must begin a phased redeployment?" What does "there is no military solution" mean, anyway? Isn't it better to frame the issue in terms of whether redeploying would be "better" or "worse"-- and for whom? What does Obama think will happen, if we pull out? Does he think an American pullout will make Iraq more peaceful, because the US presence provokes anger and violence? Or will it make the civil war worse, but it won't be our problem anymore? Perhaps it will allow the Shiites to expel the Sunnis, and this serves our interests, because the Sunnis are our enemies and the Shiites are semi-allies, and/or because a Sunni-Shiite duel will distract both sides from fighting us?

And why should the redeployment be "phased?" To me, it sounds like Obama's arguments point towards an immediate redeployment.

Give Obama credit for making his Iraq position clearer than John Kerry ever did. (A very low bar.) But I would have to hear more about the motivations and arguments behind his position, and about his broader geostrategic outlook, before this guy deserves my trust. Or other Americans'.


The death of Ronald Reagan in 2004 served to humiliate the Democrats in the midst of a crucial election year: an outpouring of eulogies to Reagan was a reminder that another "crusading," tax-cutting president, despised by liberals and the media at the time, with an embarrassingly binary view of good and evil, had been vindicated by history to the extent that even his erstwhile enemies dared not jeopardize their political futures by criticizing his memory. The subtext to voters: take the MSM's contempt for George W. Bush with a grain of salt. They did, and re-elected him to the presidency.

Similarly, the death of Gerald Ford is now a useful warning against the impeach-Bush fanatics: Ford, despised at the time for pardoning Nixon, is now remembered fondly as a man who sacrificed his political interests for the sake of national healing.

[When] Ford issued a full pardon to Richard Nixon ... This city [Washington] went berserk. Ford was savaged day after day in the press, night after night on the network news. His approval rating sank 40 points. The air was poisonous, with accusations of a "deal" by which Ford got the presidency in return for Nixon getting the pardon.

In an address to Congress on Aug. 12, Ford had said, "I don't want a honeymoon with you, I want a good, long marriage."

But a Congress that had been denied, by Nixon's resignation, the pleasure of impeaching, convicting and expelling him from the White House was in no mood for romance. Nor was this city, which had just been robbed of a delicious year-long public trial of the disgraced former president.

A House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice directed Ford to appear on Capitol Hill to explain the circumstances of the pardon. Had anything fishy turned up, Congress would have tried to impeach Ford, so rancid was the atmosphere in this city.

Partly because of the pardon, the GOP suffered a loss of 48 House seats that November. In January 1975, a radical Congress was sworn in, determined to end all aid to our allies in Southeast Asia, bring about their defeat, then tear apart the CIA and FBI.

In April, Hanoi, with massive Soviet aid, launched an invasion of South Vietnam. Ford went to Congress to beg for assistance to our embattled Saigon allies. His request was rebuffed. Two Democrats walked out of the chamber.

Within weeks, South Vietnam and Cambodia had fallen, and Pol Pot's holocaust had begun. By summer, tens of thousands of Vietnamese had been executed, scores of thousands put into "re-education camps," and the first of hundreds of thousands had pushed off into the South China Sea, where many drowned and others met their fate at the hands of Thai pirates.

Who is the author of these lines? PAT BUCHANAN! I'm confused. Doesn't Buchanan realize that his condemnation of the post-Watergate Democrats applies a fortiori to himself, today?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


This is from the New York Times, not the most reliable source, but it sounds like good news:

Counting on the support of the new Democratic majority in Congress, Democratic lawmakers and their Republican allies are working on measures that could place millions of illegal immigrants on a more direct path to citizenship than would a bill that the Senate passed in the spring.

The lawmakers are considering abandoning a requirement in the Senate bill that would compel several million illegal immigrants to leave the United States before becoming eligible to apply for citizenship.

The lawmakers are also considering denying financing for 700 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico, a law championed by Republicans that passed with significant Democratic support.

Details of the bill, which would be introduced early next year, are being drafted. The lawmakers, who hope for bipartisan support, will almost certainly face pressure to compromise on the issues from some Republicans and conservative Democrats.

Still, the proposals reflect significant shifts since the November elections, as well as critical support from the Homeland Security Department.

No fence, earned citizenship, no requirement for illegals to leave the country? Let's hope this happens!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

In an article entitled "Illegal Immigration: A Rich Americans' Game", From Harrup writes:

Who doesn't suffer from illegal immigration? For starters, the people who write about it. I speak of the journalism profession, which has the habit of covering the issue by anecdotes. Reporters thrive on sympathetic stories about illegal immigrants who work hard and go to church.

But, were a busload of illegals from Australia to turn up at their newspaper and offer reportage at 10 percent below the going rate, the writers would call the authorities so fast that your head would spin. And the publisher's argument that thanks to the cheap Australians, he's able to trim a few cents off the newsstand price would make no impression.

The opposition to illegal immigration has a cynical worldview. They see mankind as engaged in a Darwinian struggle, and they're afraid of losing. From this point of view, good will towards one's fellow men is rooting for the other team.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Paul Campos, who I'm ashamed to say is an old friend of my dad's, writes:

Voltaire's epigram crossed my mind when I heard neo-conservative military strategist Frederick Kagan holding forth on National Public Radio, regarding his plan to send a "surge" of new combat troops to Iraq. The word in Washington is that Kagan's plan is much to President Bush's liking, and that the president is inclined to put it into action next month.

Voltaire noted that in 18th century England mistakes made in the heat of battle could result in the most savage punishment. In America today, we are beset by the opposite problem: an incompetence so grotesque that it is as a practical matter difficult to distinguish from treason and in fact only increases the power and prestige of those who are guilty of it. (my emphasis)

Got that? To disagree with the left is "difficult to distinguish from treason." Lenin also found the distinction a difficult one to draw. What makes this so scary is that for every Paul Campos who brings his McCarthyism out into the open, there are probably ten pundits and/or professors who are just as deranged, but are shrewd enough to keep under a mask their urge to jail those who disagree with him. Of course, there's a certain consistency here: those who wanted to keep the Stalinist Saddam in power in Iraq have a Stalinist attitude to speech here at home.

Campos goes on to repeat a wild meme with, as always, not the slightest semblance of argument in its defence:

it's worth noting that the chief architects of the Iraq war have suffered no punishment whatsoever for plunging the nation into the biggest foreign policy disaster in our history. (my emphasis)

Campos teaches at the University of Colorado, a very liberal campus. We all know about "bubbles" and "liberal professors," but the way Campos writes makes me think we've underestimated how dangerous to liberty is the dementia that they foster.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Harry Reid is willing to support a troop surge in Iraq if it's "temporary." Arianna Huffington is livid, and insists that the mandate of Election '06 was for withdrawal. Trouble is, that's not so clear; Democrats let themselves make the "incompetence" argument as well, and part of the "incompetence" argument was that not enough troops were sent in the first place. So if Bush wants to right old wrongs by sending more troops in now, Democrats have weakened their grounds for objecting. (And Reid, representing red-state Nevada, has his race in 2010 to think about.)

Meanwhile, the Iraqi economy is booming:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports 34,000 registered companies in Iraq, up from 8,000 three years ago. Sales of secondhand cars, televisions and mobile phones have all risen sharply. Estimates vary, but one from Global Insight puts GDP growth at 17 percent last year and projects 13 percent for 2006...

[T]here's a vibrancy at the grass roots that is invisible in most international coverage of Iraq. Partly it's the trickle-down effect. However it's spent, whether on security or something else, money circulates. Nor are ordinary Iraqis themselves short on cash. After so many years of living under sanctions, with little to consume, many built up considerable nest eggs—which they are now spending. That's boosted economic activity, particularly in retail. Imported goods have grown increasingly affordable, thanks to the elimination of tariffs and trade barriers. Salaries have gone up more than 100 percent since the fall of Saddam, and income-tax cuts (from 45 percent to just 15 percent) have put more cash in Iraqi pockets. "The U.S. wanted to create the conditions in which small-scale private enterprise could blossom," says Jan Randolph, head of sovereign risk at Global Insight. "In a sense, they've succeeded."

None of this was happening under Saddam.


We all know that Bush encountered a serious setback last month in the Congressional elections. Now Ahmadinejad is feeling the heat:

With most of the results for local elections announced throughout the country, the president's allies have failed to win control of any council.

With about 20% of the Tehran votes counted, Mr Ahmadinejad's supporters were said to be in a minority. Candidates supporting moderate conservative Mayor Mohammed Bagher Qalibaf were ahead.

Not a single candidate supporting the president won a seat on councils in the key cities of Shiraz, Rasht or Bandar Abbas.

The president's supporters have also failed to main significant gains on the Assembly of Experts, which can dismiss the supreme leader.

BBC Iran affairs analyst Sadeq Saba says the message is loud and clear and is likely to increase pressure on President Ahmadinejad to change his policies.

Reformists hailed the early results. The Islamic Iran Participation Front said: "It is a big 'no' to the government's authoritarian and inefficient methods."

The biggest winner, our correspondent says, is Mr Rafsanjani, who was defeated by Mr Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential elections.

Of course, Iran doesn't count as a democracy, because of the power of the Guardians to vet candidates etc. But it never belonged in the "Axis of Evil" alongside Iraq and North Korea, either. The Islamic Republic is a far less-bad regime than Saddam Hussein's ever was, a point missed by those, like Niall Ferguson, who think we should have regime-changed Iran instead of Iraq. Elements of consent and democracy in the Iranian regime give that regime some degree of legitimacy, whereas Saddam Hussein's government, based on pure fear, never had any at all. And the same elements of consent and democracy may yet bring the regime down. Khatami, alas, did not turn out to be the Gorbachev of the Islamic Republic. Perhaps Rafsanjani will be?

Saturday, December 16, 2006


In one respect, the way I've managed the discussion of philosophical themes on this blog may be a bit unfair. I've engaged in a sustained skeptical critique of materialism, naturalism, and Darwinism, as being based on inadequate evidence and groundless assumptions, and broadly at odds with experience. I have often mentioned, but never elaborated on or defended, my own Christian position, from which the critiques are launched. Of course that is too large a task for a single blog post. But I want to provide at least the outlines of that here.

A lot of thinkers want to characterize themselves as Christian because it provides them with a built-in supportive audience, but the set of views they hold would surprise or offend many believing Christians. Perhaps I am in the same position: my rejection of Biblical inerrantism would certainly offend many fundamentalist Protestants. While I think the Catholic and Orthodox Christians would be more favorable to it, my preference for saying that the Eucharist is "mystically" rather than "literally" the Body and Blood of Christ might make some Catholics and Orthodox uncomfortable. Of course, many liberal Protestants (and perhaps Catholics) would be perfectly happy with my rejection of Biblical inerrantism and share my discomfort with the idea of "literal" transubstantiation, but with respect to some of them, I would be the one offended by their using the "Christian" label for their views, feeling they had turned their backs on the true teachings of the Christian faith.

So as a touchstone of small-o orthodox Christianity (I am also a capital-O Orthodox Christian, but the purpose of this post is to give an outline of the case for Christianity in general, and not for Orthodoxy), I will use the Nicene Creed, which was established in a Church Council in 325 (and amended in 381) A.D., in the late Roman Empire, and has been accepted by Catholics, (most) Protestants, and Orthodox alike for one-and-a-half millennia. It runs as follows:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

Is there a rational argument proving the existence of God? The Catholics have a doctrine that there is a rational proof of the existence of God, but they do not say, authoritatively, what it is (though they offer St. Anselm's ontological argument as a non-binding example). I suppose I would accept this odd doctrine, but a proof of the existence of God that I would find interesting would require that reason be defined in a certain way. (I am not interested in a priori proofs like the ontological argument.) Reason without faith, the functional meaning of which in this context can be elucidated by the phrase the legitimacy of extrapolation, has a mostly negative function: it undermines, erodes, and topples beliefs, leaving either an abyss of pure skepticism or perhaps a skeleton of a priori tenets like the truths of math, but certainly nothing like a system of beliefs adequate to constitute a sane worldview. Just as the coin flipped a hundred times and coming up heads is no proof that it will come up tails next time, reason-- in its most austere, Humean sense-- forbids us to anticipate the rising of the sun merely it has tended to happen before.

Once induction-- faith, the legitimacy of extrapolation-- is allowed for, we can conclude that the sun will rise tomorrow, and that all objects (on Earth) are pulled downwards at a rate of 9.8 meters per second-squared; or we can, with C.S. Lewis, argue that since every human desire has a corresponding satisfaction-- for hunger, there is food, for thirst, drink, for lust, men/women-- then there must be an Entity corresponding to the desire that men feel when they yearn for God. Let me accept Lewis's point but offer different approach to (I think) the same truth.

If we see the lower slopes of a mountain rising up into mist and cloud, so that what is further up is invisible, we assume that the slope continues rising, and that there is some summit. It is my experience that in the life of the mind-soul there is always a higher up. Not for nothing did the pagans believe in gods of the earth and the air, of the sky and of growing things, or see the trees as dryads and the streams as nymphs. In my most sublime, poetical moods, walking through the forest on a spring day amidst the buds and the young leaves and the vital air and the radiance, I feel angelic presences around me. The parts or aspects of nature have their own personalities, which is not illuminated by biology but is communicated to the mind through moods. One senses that the nymph-streams and dryad-trees, that Jupiter the sky-god and Poseidon the god of waters and Demeter the goddess of greenery are discoursing to another in a language we do not fully understand-- it would be more appropriate to say, singing in harmony, except that that suggests the trained, regimented harmony of human, earthly choirs, whereas in the serene ecstasy of nature, freedom and harmony are one. (I wonder how many people have left the Church because of the, in this respect, unfortunate-- though profoundly sublime and true if properly understood-- depiction of Heaven as "angel choirs singing.") "The heavens are telling the glory of God," writes the Psalmist. Yes, they are, but our understanding of that glory is so limited-- or ruined, marred, spoiled-- that we understand what they are saying only dimly. Like children sitting at the table with adults engaged in an important conversation, wanting, trying-- at least intermittently-- to follow it, and sensing that it is more important than their toys or candy, but not (yet) able.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made;

Behind these words lie several fierce disputes from 3rd- and 4th-century theology. There was a long struggle for supremacy between the orthodox, the Monophysites (who believed Christ had only a divine nature), the Nestorians, and the Arians. One of the disputes concerns whether Christ had one or two "hypostases": this word apparently has no English equivalent, because historians tend to use the Greek word, making the debate quite opaque to readers, or at any rate to this one. What is significant here is the idea of community within God, which in turn provides an assist to the idea that God is love. That is, since Jesus Christ the Son always existed, there was room for love within the divine nature even before creation occurred. The nature of God is an important matter and I certainly don't blame my ancient fellow-Christians for taking it seriously. However, I must admit that these doctrines seem arcane to me and I don't fully understand how 3rd- and 4th-century Christians could have had such strong opinions about them.

who [meaning Jesus] for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;

If one wanted to approach the issue as rationally as possible, one might break down the Incarnation into two claims that would seem to need independent defense: first, that God becoming incarnate as a man in order to save the world is possible, or plausible, or probable, or necessary; second, that that incarnation occurred in the person of Jesus Christ. If the Incarnation is impossible, or implausible, or improbable, or unnecessary, then one will either disbelieve in Incarnation, or not be interested in it. If, having examined the issue, one determines that God saving the world through Incarnation is something that is possible, and, if it occurred, important, then one would look for evidence whether it occurred, and compare different historical candidates for the character of God Incarnate, and accept Jesus as God if and only if he seemed like the best of these candidates.

Of course no one would naturally approach the issue this way. The Gospel-- "the Good News"-- comes as complete event, a surprise, a shock, a glorious Answer to all the soul's deepest Questions. And, having been accepted, it remains a mystery, in the venerable though today partly lost (at least in mainstream society) sense with which the ancient (and continuing) Church used (uses) that word. The Christian "I believe" will always differ from the rationalist's "I believe," because the former is not the expression of the rational mind alone, but also of those parts of our mind-souls from which our capacities for joy and wonder spring.

But considering that in our day, the intellect is so often a stumbling-block to Christian faith, it might be worth venturing this kind of two-part defense of the Incarnation. So, first, why is an Incarnation of God necessary?

This world in which we live and love is a dying world. I do not merely that we are all doomed to die, though of course that is part of it. This world is dying every single moment: the present is an infinitesimal point between a changeless past and an unknowable future; flowers wither; lofty words, confessions of love, poetry and music thrill the heart, but it soon settles back to its mundane norm. Everything good, everything we labor for, passes away. Perhaps the most poignant illustration of this is the experience of falling in love. How the soul can soar, how many doors to paradise are opened, by a mere glance, or a few words! How spontaneously the heart puts its whole trust in someone, and values them above everything in the world! And yet how subtly, how mysteriously, and how irrevocably it can all be lost. She loves me, she loves me not...

There is a strange inconsistency here between the internal and the external or material perspective. In the thwarted lover's, or in the bereaved husband's, mind the beloved still exists; he can conjure her up with ease, indeed she moves through the halls and courtyards of his memory without asking his leave, and scenes may appear to his mind as vividly as when they first occurred, or even more so. There is no law in the life of the mind that all good things (or bad things) pass away. Why is the material world cursed to be the slave of Time?

However, while in the mind, there is no law that all good things pass away-- they sometimes, unexpectedly, come back-- they certainly can pass away, and regularly do, and we seem to have little power to prevent them from doing so. The mind is a chaos, and one of the reasons that the Design work I recently wrote about is so difficult is that it is terribly hard to force the mind to work in an orderly fashion to achieve a goal, rather than cut it loose to follow a free, meandering stream-of-consciousness. (It's easier to shovel dirt, disciplining the body, letting the mind wander.) The mind can get in touch with eternal things: it can come back to the same place ("place" on the soul's metaphysical plane, of course, not the same materio-physical place). I think this is what underlies the experience of deja vu: our body has not been physically-here before, but our mind has been mentally-here. But we cannot come back merely by wanting to. It is one of the mysteries of our nature that our will has a certain definite, if limited, dominion over the body, but in the thought-realm it is only one member of a steering committee, and the faces of the other committee members remain masked. And all too often we are steered against our will into the shadows: into depression and despair; into obsession and madness; into nightmares.

Which is why even this dying world is a blessing of inestimable worth. The physical world is perpetually invading, interrupting the mind: an unexpected sight or sound interrupts our thoughts; a bright summer morning changes our mood. We awake from a nightmare to see the morning light stream through the window, and dark thoughts run away like thieves from a floodlight. We take advantage of these invasions and interruptions to impose our will on our wayward, rebellious minds. That is, we routinely use the material world to influence the thought-realm. Books are an example of this-- they are physical objects that influence our thoughts-- but they also obscure it because books are typically a form of communication between minds, though of course they don't need to be. When calculating sums, or when writing an essay, we scribble on pads of paper, intending for no one but ourselves to read it. Why don't we just remember our own past thoughts? Because memory is unpredictable. The physical world is a weapon for our will to use against the chaos within.

And of course, the physical world is also the street, the public square, where we go out and meet one another, in contrast to the lonely private apartments of our minds. And yet it is dying, and we, or at any rate, we-as-hybrid-body-souls, are dying. The notion that the mind perishes with the body has no doubt been held on a few occasions in history, but it seems for the most part to be an artefact of the modern attempt to reduce the mental to the physical. Yet what we know about the life of the mind, by introspection, is more fundamental than what we know about the life of the body, through the senses, and it is irrational to believe that the former must terminate with the latter. Of course, the life of the mind is in practice parasitic on the life of the body, at least in many respects-- the content of our dreams and nightmares is derived, or at any rate clothed, in the memories of sensory experiences-- but we do not know that our thoughts necessarily take this form, and in any case if will and memory outlive the body, they would still have a store of sensory experiences to draw on. Induction gives us no reason to believe in the possibility of our own mind's death. The most obvious approach to understanding what death will be like is on the analogy of sleep, which suggests that it will involve an intermittent, shadowy, sometimes frightening form of consciousness. The ancient Greeks believed, more reasonably, that the dead descended to Hades, where "Achilles, though he was the son of a goddess and half-divine, had become only a shadow in the gloom and could only say fretfully that it were better to be the meanest and most miserable slave among the living than king of all the dead." The Jewish concept of Sheol was similar.

So prior to the mystery of God's Incarnation is the mystery of our (temporary)incarnation: why are we these curious amphibians, these body-souls, bound to this dying world, what does it mean, and what comes after it? We can touch the eternal things with our minds but cannot hold them. The physical world is a blessing and we do not (usually; and certain not in our wisest moments) wish to die, yet what use would it be to be immortal in this dying world? Even the elderly in this world seem to have aged not only physically but in the soul: their memories are bound to things that are passed away, they lose interest in the busy rush of new things, some are sad as they yearn for the past, others are buoyed up by hopes of something better beyond the grave. No doubt if their bodies remained young they would live in the present a bit more, but one still feels that to live forever, while loving mortals, and watching them die one by one, generation after generation, would be a sorrow. We fear our own deaths; we fear it more if we are denied the comfort of disbelieving in the immortality of the soul and expect to be condemned to a shadowy Sheol of nightmares and dreams; yet to live in this dying world forever would itself be a curse of a different kind. We need for this dying world to be changed, we need it to cease to be a dying world. We need it to be infused with the Eternal Things that we can sometimes touch-- but not hold-- in our sublime but chaotic minds. We need God to Incarnate himself in this world, to transfigure it, to revoke the law that all good things pass away.

So why Jesus Christ? I'm sure I can't put into words all the reasons why the story of his life-- the story told with such brevity in the Gospels, his teachings, his casting out devils and healing the lame and the blind, his teachings which constantly led to misunderstandings and dissent among his disciples, who nonetheless kept following him, his love for his disciples and for simple people, his challenges to the powers that be, his unresisting death at the hands of two of the greatest civilizing forces of the ancient world, Jewish religion and Roman law-- never ceases to be the Spring of Truth from which I have only to drink so as never to be thirsty. I suppose it would be just as difficult to explain why so often I fail to drink of it even when my soul seems to be dying of thirst. But the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount:

"You hae heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder,' and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyon who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment... You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also... You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you... Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break through and steal... Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear... seek first [God's] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own... Do not judge, or your too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye..." (Excerpts from Matthew 5-7.)

From the point of view of this world, of common sense, of the way that ordinary people do business with one another, Jesus's teachings are absurd. And that is part of their merit, for the way that people treat each other in this world is not good enough. I don't live by Jesus's ethics, I'm the first to admit. Christians are the world's greatest hypocrites: because their ethics are loftier than others', the gap between what they preach and what they practice is always wider. I wouldn't quite know how to live by Jesus's teachings-- not completely anyway-- and I'm sure I don't do it even as well as I do know how. If I tried to, I think it would probably lead me into some kind of monastic-style retreat from the world; and as I have argued before, one of the themes of past twenty centuries of history is that striving Christians have, again and again, retreated from the world, only to inadvertently renew it. Yet it is the counter-point between Jesus's absurd, unattainable teachings and the sordid ways of this world that is constantly sowing seeds of aspiration in my soul, which, when I let them grow, make me better. Sometimes the teachings of Jesus are obscure to me, but I find that my conscience never either tires of them, or rejects them. The Sermon on the Mount is the mountain rising into the mist. It always leads one higher up.

from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead;

This is one place where my views would perhaps strike some Christians as a bit wayward. It is not consistent with my view of a loving God that God will judge us and send some of us to Hell as punishment. But I know that people can create a Hell for themselves, from my own experience-- having seen others do it, and having done it myself. In this life the personal hells that we can create for ourselves are interrupted by sensory input from without. But our current incarnation is temporary, and when it ends, if our minds are fit to produce only nightmares, then we will no longer be able to wake from them. Will God keep trying to lift the damned out of Hell? The creed does not suggest it; and perhaps it is not my business to know. But I know that we can shut the "still small voice" of God out, and a soul that is habituated to doing so might become unreachable to God.

If Judgment Day is really to occur, when will it occur? Are we talking about a literal end of the world here? One of the most embarrassing parts of Christian history is that people are constantly thinking that the end of the world is just around the corner. And with some reason: Jesus says "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." But of course, he also emphasizes that "no one knows about that day or hour" and that the end will come "like a thief in the night." Hmm. Christians are thus exhorted to be skeptical about any claims about the imminent end of the world, and have a ready rejoinder whenever kooks chant "Repent, the end is near!" But when is Judgment Day? is a question I'm not quite sure what to make of...

whose kingdom shall have no end.

Our dying world will be changed...

And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.

The Holy Ghost is perhaps less objectionable from the modern point of view than the Incarnate Jesus Christ. We hear the poets talk about their "inspiration." We are charmed by the Greeks' talk of "the Muses." The idea of a spirit that can commune with our souls is not unfamiliar to mainstream culture. The word holy, though, sounds strange to modern ears. Yet we still have an intuition, we still understand and use the word; even materialists might describe it with psychologisms rather than dismissing it altogether. Perhaps my position is not so different. Some thoughts are better, nobler, loftier; some are worse, baser, meaner. To say that that which draws the mind up to better, nobler, loftier thoughts is holy, and that which drags it down to worse, baser, meaner thoughts is unholy is too simple and relativistic because it is too individualistic. Part of the nobler, loftier state of mind that is holy is love, which is between persons, and so what is holy cannot be holy only from an individual perspective; holiness is in the eye of the beholder, but the beholder must be a community. But different communities can hold different things to be holy; and this leads to the practices related to "holiness"-- venerating saints' relics and all that-- seem a bit absurd. Though of course secular folks seem just as foolish dragging their spoiled teenagers who would rather be playing video games to the cathedrals of Europe.

In one holy catholic and apostolic Church;

The Church is said to be the mystical Body of Christ, yet century after century it falls short! It sanctions tyrants, it persecutes "heretics", it condones and fortifies unjust social orders, it consecrates hypocrites, it clings to sterile doctrinal formulas, it fosters spiritual pride, it gets split into factions that fight each other and pays more attention to intra-Christian divisions than the Christian message. Why do we need it? I've known people who say they believe in God and in Jesus Christ but who think going to church is pointless, or even that they feel insincere, phony, dishonest there.

But if Jesus wanted his disciples to bring the Good News to the world, surely some vehicle is needed to achieve this! He didn't plan to do it by getting a Bible written and printed, using the printing press and taking advantage of modern mass literacy to convert mankind, or at least those with sufficient reading comprehension. Protestants over-emphasize the Bible. The Bible is a priceless treasure, God be praised for it, but it is also contingent, an accident. Matthew, Mark, Luke or John could have fallen under a cart-horse sometime. Or they could have fallen into temptation and failed to answer God's call. And many others might have been called to write Gospels who were not. Paul's epistles are even more obviously contingent: something happened in some Christian community that made him want to write.

One of my favorite Scriptural verses is the last verse of John, which reads, "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of thm were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." John could be satirizing the notion that the Bible is an adequate instrument for communicating the Gospel. We need the Church, with all its variety of music and art and architecture and hierarchy and other traditions. It is one of the mysteries of Christianity that God does his saving work through persons who are themselves sinners, and who thus impart to the Church, age after age, a sinful character. This is only an extension of the mystery of the Incarnation: that a sublime and perfect message could be incarnated in a vehicle as inherently corruptible and weak as flesh.

we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;

Ritual, like writing, has an arbitrary character, though perhaps less so: ritual is symbolic, and some symbols are more intuitive than others, thus the baptismal notion of "washing" away one's sins thus seems appropriate. More generally, the church, like many communities, needs some way of distinguishing those who are "in" and those who are "out." If someone in my life is committed to the Christian faith I may exhort him using Christian phrases and teachings and expect him to listen; if not, I must speak to him in other terms. It's nice to know which. Whether an unbaptized soul can be saved is, as it were, none of my business: I am a baptized Christian, and will be judged as such. Though it would seem a bit odd if the accidental non-occurrence of baptism in a person's life (if, let's suppose, faulty record-keeping recorded them being baptized when in fact they were not) could prevent that person from being saved. But I don't really know.

we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The literal resurrection of the dead? One may ask, given that our current bodies are inherently corrupt and mortal, why should we want to be resurrected into them again. The question is useful for underlining that this teaching is a "mystery," meaning here that we can only see the vague outlines of a great truth. Lazarus was raised from the dead, but died again; that is not what the Creed is talking about. If I say that we will have "deathless bodies," the phrase is perhaps paradoxical, since we have never encountered deathless bodies in this life and have no basis-- except possibly some form of extrapolation, but it's not clear what-- for knowing what they would be like. What I believe is that we will be enabled to participate in the transfiguration of this dying world, which will become a deathless world. This is a threshold that our mortal imaginations cannot cross, but towards which desire and hope can nonetheless reach towards.

In the meantime, I have my work cut out for me to live a Christian life in a simpler sense.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Ellen Goodman at the Seattle Times has the right idea:

Now that the Iraq Study Group has handed in its term paper, now that we have stopped talking about "winning" and are waiting for the president to offer nothing new, may I suggest an exit strategy. Why not hold an election? Why not ask people to vote on whether American troops should stay or go?

I'm not talking about an American election. After all, we already voted against the Iraq war in November. This week, a CBS poll says that75 percent of us now disapprove of the president's handling of the war.

I'm talking rather about letting the Iraqis vote. I'm talking about an Iraq referendum on whether we should leave within a year.

I realize that we don't really put wars up to a vote. It may be a flaw of democracy. And I realize that we don't let foreigners make our foreign-policy decisions, even when war is on their soil. Nor do we allow foreigners to determine our national interest, although we may determine theirs.

But Iraqis and Americans are supposedly allies, even if we are trapped in their civil war. We went into Iraq on the false assumption that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. In Condoleezza Rice's infamous phrase, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." When it became apparent that there were no WMD, no mushroom-cloud makers, the president justified the war as a way of bringing democracy to Iraq.

The brightest moment in the whole fiasco occurred this past December when 70 percent of Iraqis went to the polls and the purple ink-stained finger became the emblem of hope. The president said the vote proved that "America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror." Well, not exactly.

A year later, the Iraq Study Group calls the situation "grave and deteriorating." The "experts" in Washington now pin the blame for failure on the culture, the character, the history or the religions of the Iraqis. The executive summary of the report says, "The most important questions about Iraq's future are now the responsibility of the Iraqis. The United States must adjust its role in Iraq to encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny."

Then why not have them vote on their own destiny?

As the president said, "We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there." Why not let the Iraqi people say whether they want us there? He says that we'll stay until the Iraqis establish a country that can sustain itself, govern itself, defend itself. Who will decide when that moment has come? Why not let the Iraqis be the "deciders"?

Exactly. Spread the word! I hope this meme picks up enough steam that the "realists" and the Bushies will have to either to embrace it or respond to it.

UPDATE: Nato thinks letting Iraqis vote would just lead to civil war. My preferred referendum would be conducted as follows: we would promise to (a) withdraw from the whole country if the vote against us was 75% or more, and (b) retain responsibility for all areas of the country if less than 50% want us out. Finally, if (c) those voting for us to leave are between 50% and 75%, but majorities in some regions wanted us to stay, we would reserve the right to maintain local occupations, on the sole ground that some local populations had voted for protection against potential ethnic cleansing. This would be negotiated with the Iraqi government. How likely the third outcome is I don't know. But at least we would try to get a mandate to protect selected areas from ethnic cleansing. Naturally we would do our best to get UN support for this limited mission. They probably wouldn't help too much with troops, but they might be able to provide some useful expertise and boost legitimacy.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Robert Samuelson writes:

With hindsight, we may see 2006 as the end of Pax Americana. Ever since World War II, the United States has used its military and economic superiority to promote a stable world order that has, on the whole, kept the peace and spread prosperity. But the United States increasingly lacks both the power and the will to play this role. It isn't just Iraq, though Iraq has been profoundly destabilizing and demoralizing. Many other factors erode U.S. power: China's rise; probable nuclear proliferation; shrinking support for open trade; higher spending for Social Security and Medicare that squeezes the military; the weakness of traditional U.S. allies, Europe and Japan.

By objective measures, Pax Americana's legacy is enormous. Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no nuclear device has been used in anger. In World War II, an estimated 60 million people died. Only four subsequent conflicts have had more than a million deaths (the Congo Civil War, 3 million; Vietnam, 1.9 million; Korea, 1.3 million; and China's civil war, 1.2 million). Under the U.S. military umbrella, democracy flourished in Western Europe and Japan. It later spread to South Korea, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Prosperity has been unprecedented. Historian Angus Maddison tells us that from 1950 to 1998 the world economy expanded by a factor of six. Global trade increased 20 times. These growth rates were well beyond historic experience. Living standards exploded. Since 1950, average incomes have multiplied about 16 times in South Korea, 11 times in Japan and six times in Spain, reports Maddison. From higher bases, the increases were nearly five times in Germany and three in the United States.

From the 2005 Human Security Report:

Over the past dozen years, the global security climate has changed in dramatic, positive, but largely unheralded ways. Civil wars, genocides and international crises have all declined sharply. International wars, now only a small minority of all conflicts, have been in steady decline for a much longer period, as have military coups and the average number of people killed per conflict per year.

The wars that dominated the headlines of the 1990s were real—and brutal—enough. But the global media have largely ignored the 100-odd conflicts that have quietly ended since 1988. During this period, more wars stopped than started.

The extent of the change in global security following the end of the Cold War has been remarkable:

° The number of armed conflicts around the world has declined by more than 40% since the early 1990s (see Figure 1.1 in Part I).

° Between 1991 (the high point for the post–World War II period) and 2004, 28 armed struggles for self-determination started or restarted, while 43 were contained or ended. There were just 25 armed secessionist conflicts under way in 2004, the lowest number since 1976.3

° Notwithstanding the horrors of Rwanda, Srebrenica and elsewhere, the number of genocides and politicides plummeted by 80% between the 1988 high point and 2001 (Figure 1.11).

° International crises, often harbingers of war, declined by more than 70% between 1981 and 2001 (Figure 1.5).

° The dollar value of major international arms transfers fell by 33% between 1990 and 2003 (Figure 1.10). Global military expenditure and troop numbers declined sharply in the 1990s as well.

° The number of refugees dropped by some 45% between 1992 and 2003, as more and more wars came to an end (Figure 3.1).

As for the economic growth that comes with peace, just a reminder:

The world economy is booming. To see the evidence, check out the back page of The Economist. There is a column showing the GDP growth rates of 27 developing countries. In a typical copy from the late 1990s as many as one-third to one-half of these could have minus signs in front of them.

Today, every single one of these developing countries' growth rates is positive. Substantially positive. The slowest growth rate, in Brazil, is still a respectable 3.4 percent.

In the 1990s, the GDP of developing countries grew at an average of 3.6 percent. Now a faster rate of growth seems to have set in. In 2003, developing countries' economies grew by 5.6 percent. In 2004, they achieved a sizzling 7.1 percent, then settled back to a still-impressive 6.4 percent in 2005. Rich countries are growing, too -- the OECD economies grew at 3.2 percent in 2004 and 2.7 percent in 2005 -- but at more a pedestrian pace.

If anything, 2006 looks to be even better. China's economy grew at 11.3 percent in the second quarter of 2006. India's busy economy is growing at about 8 percent. US GDP grew at a 5.6 percent annual rate in the first quarter.

The trend is towards more Pax, though possibly less Americana. Of course, Samuelson could be proved right if the trend of the past 10-15 years experiences a sudden reversal in 2006. But Samuelson is missing two important points. First, in his blind homage to stability (see the rest of his article), Samuelson forgets that some of that stability took tyrannous and totalitarian forms that many regarded as worse than war. (At least as of last April, "[t]hree-fourths of Iraqis (77%) said in January that ousting Saddam was worth it despite any hardships they may have suffered since the 2003 invasion, while 22 percent said it was not worth it.")

Second, if China's rise continues, China will eventually surpass us. I think "the American century" will turn out to have been neither the 20th, nor the 21st, but half of each: the century after World War II, 1945-2045 or so, after which China will be the world's dominant nation (though India will give it a run for its money). Now, China has a strong interest in stability, but is, at this point at least, fairly indifferent to freedom. We should make the world that China inherits as liberal a one as we can. For that reason, toppling a totalitarian dictator like Saddam-- and the fall of Saddam is more important than anything that followed; at the time, events' news coverage is to some extent proportional to the time they take up, so that the liberation was a blip and the transition a saga, but history is more discriminating-- is an excellent precedent to set.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tom writes in the comments:

The universe cannot disobey logic. You may call that a "faith-proposition" if you like, though I will call it an axiom. Since the universe obeys logic, induction necessarily follows. It's no more complicated than that.

No, no, no, no, NO. Induction does not follow from mere logic. No matter how many times you flip the coin and it comes up heads, that does not logically imply that it will come up heads the next time. It doesn't, logically, imply anything about the future at all. That is Hume's case against induction, which generations of philosophers have acknowledged and wrestled with.

Deduction does follow from the principles of logic, i.e. if "Socrates is a man," and "all men are mortal," then "Socrates is mortal" follows. But since we can never prove "all men are mortal" without induction, this doesn't do us much good.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pat Buchanan calls the Iraq War "the worst strategic blunder in U.S. history." As usual, he offers not the slightest shred of argument for the claim. He doesn't compare the Iraq War to past "strategic blunders" and explain why it is worse. He doesn't explain why the Iraq War was a strategic blunder. He doesn't even pretend to.

From the liberal/internationalist point of view, the rising sectarian violence in Iraq is embarrassing. From the "realist" point of view, there's no reason that it should be. If anything it's good: the more the Sunnis and Shias kill each other, the less of their angst they can vent against us, and the less able they are to form a united front against us-- or Israel. No wonder Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently said:

"I know all of his (Bush's) policies are controversial in America. There are some who support his policies in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, and some who do not," he said.

"I stand with the president because I know that Iraq without Saddam Hussein is so much better for the security and safety of Israel, and all of the neighbors of Israel without any significance to us," added Olmert, who was speaking in English.

"Thank God for the power and the determination and leadership manifested by President Bush."

Another reason for Pat Buchanan to dislike the Iraq War?

UPDATE: Wait, I was wrong, Buchanan does have something resembling an argument:

The people who were right about Iraq were those who rejected bipartisanship to warn that invading Iraq was an unnecessary, unwise and, yes, even an unjust war that would inflame the Arab and Islamic world against us.

An unforgivably stupid-- or, perhaps, dishonest-- analysis. The Arab and Islamic was already "inflamed against us" before the war. The war inflamed some in the Arab and Islamic world with support for us-- see bloggers like Iraq the Model and Mesopotamian. It inflamed many in the Arab and Islamic world against each other. It certainly didn't provoke some kind of unified anti-American movement in the Islamic world. I don't think even Pat Buchanan is stupid enough to think that it did. He's simply lying, in a soulless bid to bamboozle Middle America into buying into his depraved Fortress America ideology.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Nato writes:

[W]e can sidestep Humean circularity if we cease throwing modal logic at the problem in the hopes that we'll somehow arrive at some granule of non-contingent empiricism. We don't need it. All we need to show to justify empirical belief is that the "inductive" approach is objectively (not merely intersubjectively ["we all do it"]) privileged.

Hmm. Finding an objective basis for induction is what I think we can't do. I think the more you learn about induction-- the more you study the statistical and high mathematical properties of the patterns that "common sense" recognizes as plausible-- the more strange and arbitrary the process of induction seems. One can mistake induction for an a priori truth because it seems simple to us. A more careful examination reveals that it is not simple at all, and it becomes implausible to treat it as a priori.

One is left with this: that we all do it, that we always will do it, that we can't escape doing it, that to engage in induction is an indelible part of our nature. And that's all we can say.


One commenter, upon reading the last post, calls my position "skeptical reductionism." Actually, I end up agreeing with the general rejection of skepticism. But I do take it as a premise that Humean skepticism about induction is unanswerable in strictly logical/rational terms. One cannot refute the induction-skeptic, but one can easily show that the induction-skeptic is inconsistent, constantly forming beliefs based on induction.

An e-mailer writes that: "everyone has to agree that there is some order in the world-- not just because we'd go mad otherwise, but because if there weren't there's no explantion for how we can describe and predict as well as we do-- and that mundane fact seems loaded with significance about the nature of the world." But how do we know that "we describe and predict as well as we do?" Isn't induction involved in the very perception processes by which we recognize the truth of our predictions, i.e. the accuracy of our induction? Don't we fall into the trap of Hume's circularity once again?

To clarify, I argue that all induction depends on a certain meta-belief that there is order/patterns in the world, and that without that belief, one would sink into skepticism/madness. If you do accept that meta-belief, however-- and all of us do accept it, it seems to be an indelible part of our natures-- then the Empiricist Project can go full speed ahead!

Indeed, I think I can claim to be more rationalist than the rationalists. I applaud rationalists, of whom for these purposes the paradigm case is the scientific naturalist, precisely for their great faith. Einstein, for example, knew that there was something NOT* right about the old Newtonian physics in which all motion was relative to the "ether." He envisioned a grand alternative scheme-- the theory of relativity-- which at first seemed counter-intuitive, absurd, almost mad; but he was undaunted, he made his predictions, he was vindicated! An ordinary empiricist could justify believing that Einstein was right, but I'm not sure he could justify the admiration that he feels for Einstein. One meta-belief may be more useful than another, but why is it morally superior? The peculiar notion of faith that I have introduced predicts that Einstein should be not only believed, but admired.

*UPDATE: Initially this erroneously read "something right." Nato finds this post "opaque"... Now that this typo is corrected, are things any clearer? Perhaps not...

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Nato writes:

[D]efining all empirical knowledge as faith because it is always contingent is a great rhetorical success for those who want to demote naturalism, but like many such, it's a fickle victory. At some point, someone will notice that the relabeling doesn't invalidate Popper's central critique, and the new rubric would allow one to evaluate faith for how well justified it is in the same naturalistic context as before. Serves in Ronald de Sousa's "intellectual tennis without a net" can go both ways.

I can see why Nato sees my claim that empirical knowledge is ultimately based on faith is a rhetorical point, and to some extent it is. But I think it's also a substantive one. Consider each of the following propositions:

1. There is order/patterns in the world.
2. There are other people (i.e., other beings of the same kind as myself).
3. There is a God.

I regard all three of these as faith-propositions, or meta-beliefs. That in itself is not very illuminating, but it is not mere rhetoric; rather, it is a terminological innovation for what I think is a substantive similarity between the three statements.

For the moment, though, let's put the last one (Theism) to one side.

First, note that the first two claims are almost-always-tacit assumptions that underlie vast domains of reasoning. All empirical reasoning rests on an assumption that there is order/patterns in the world. All moral reasoning rests on an assumption that there are other people.

Second-- an extension of the first point-- anyone who denies the first two claims would be compelled to a skepticism that would constitute what we call madness. Imagine a skeptic about there is order/patterns in the world sitting in a cafe, drinking coffee, and reading a newspaper. Impossible! In merely lifting the coffee cup to his lips, he would be guilty of unpardonable superstition! Why, after all, should he believe that, when he lifts the cup, the coffee will also move? Merely because that has happened in the past? Again, there is no reason-- other than invalid inference from past patterns-- to think that, when he tips the cup, the coffee will spill into his mouth, rather than spilling out the other side of the cup, onto the ceiling. Reading the newspaper is even more absurdly superstitious: why should he believe that the words "Queen of England assassinated" have the same meaning as they have had in the past. Nor does he have any reason to think the sounds that emerge from the waitress's mouth-- "Shall I bring the check?"-- have any meaning, or that, just because other cafes expected him to pay his bill, this one does, too. He may as well simply walk out of the cafe without paying, except that walking involves an invalid assumption of object constancy (of the ground, that is) and of many other (as superstitious people call them) "physical laws"...

Similarly, a person who does not believe that there are other people would be a psychopath. He might, of course, refrain from killing others, merely because he foresaw consequences unpleasant to himself if he did, but if he could get away with it, he would have no more qualms about slicing up one of those pinko-grey (or brown, or tan-crimson) fleshy blobs with hair on top that move around and make noises with their lips and tongue, than he would about slicing up a watermelon. (Though he would probably be less likely to be a murderer-- a crime that benefits a person only in special cases-- than a rapist.)

Third, note that the statements are not only unprovable, but almost undefinable. Now, you might say that this is true of all statements; still, I think it is more radically so with these ones. A clever philosopher like, say, Hillary Putnam, could twist the phrase "the cat sat on the hat" into any number of ingenious paradoxes, and a tedious Cartesian skeptic might ask "how do you know?" until you ran out of answers, but the business of defining terms and providing evidence is nonetheless one that would not leave us feeling especially baffled. But how could you prove, or define, "there is order/patterns in the world?" Complete the following sentence: "A pattern is ..." Anything you say will be a travesty. Induction actually involves a sort of simplicity-ranking of patterns: thus we must be able to intuit that "the sun rises every day" is a "simpler" hypothesis than "the sun rises every day for 2 million days, then skips one, then two million more..." We prefer the simpler hypothesis, but how can you define which one is simpler? And anyway

Likewise, how can I define, or prove, that there are other beings like myself? Like myself in what way? How can I know that others ever understand me, rather than engaging in a complex game of mimesis, with all the words having no meaning? How can I know that other beings actually think and feel, or that their thoughts are in any way analogous to mine-- and what would it mean for their thoughts and feelings to be "like mine?" Some theorists of consciousness have arrived, I think, at the conclusion that we can never know whether other entities are conscious or not.

Fourth, note that while everyone believes, in a way, that there is order/patterns in the world, and that there are other people (beings like myself), we often fail to apply them. For example, I might set my alarm clock for 8am and be late for work every day, yet I never apply induction to realize that the trip takes longer than I thought. Or I may insult other people, yet get angry when I'm insulted, not realizing that by the principle which I apply when I get angry would-- if I believe that other people are like myself-- I would frequently condemn myself. The word stupid could be applied to the first case, the word inconsiderate to the second, and notwithstanding the universality, in some sense, of the beliefs that there are patterns in the world and there are other people like ourselves, people very often behave in stupid or inconsiderate ways.

Fifth, note that to hold and apply the meta-beliefs is regarded as virtuous: we praise people who are smart, or considerate; we blame people when they are stupid or inconsiderate; and we recoil in horror from madmen and psychopaths. One does not, in general, regard mere beliefs as virtuous or not. If I think that New York City is the capital of New York, and you think it's Albany, one of us (me in this case) is mistaken, but neither of us is exactly culpable.

Now, do all these features of faith-propositions, or meta-beliefs, apply to the belief in God? Some clearly do; others, one may doubt. Certainly "there is a God" is a difficult statement to define or prove (trait 3 of meta-beliefs). Indeed, Theists would be the first to affirm that God is inscrutable, that we cannot know His full nature and our language about Him is often negative, e.g. He is Infinite, without end. (4) seems to hold as well: religious people who affirm God often behave in ways that suggest they do not believe in Him. (5) holds, at least among religious people: faith in God is regarded as virtuous, lack of faith is blamed, and atheism is regarded with horror.

While (1) and (2) are less obviously applicable, it may help to clarify that the following three sets of people:

those who claim to believe in God
those who think that they believe in God; and
those who really believe in God

Are different and may overlap in complex ways. There are certainly some-- and there may have been more in the past-- who did not believe in God, yet had to affirm it anyway for appearance's sake. Are there also some who do believe in some Higher Power, yet, repelled by the sterile theological formulations and the behavioral hypocrisy of professing Theists, and unsure how to express a belief which they cannot define, nonetheless classify themselves as agnostics or atheists?

Would a person go mad without having some belief in a Higher Power? This is more than I can say. And I also hesitate to write about the mysterious Heavenly worlds that are opened up to the mind-soul when one is in the act of worshipping God. Still, I hope that I've thrown a little light on what I mean by faith.

Friday, December 08, 2006


Whoever gets a date with this girl is a lucky guy:

You don't want any woman larger than a Size 4 - You don't want any breasts smaller than a 36C - You want her to have a career, but not be so focused on it that it takes attention away from YOU (otherwise she is a frigid, career-driven bitch) - You want her to be sexually adventurous and kinky, but not to have had an adventurous or kinky past (that makes her easy, a slut, a piece of meat) - If she wants kids, she's trying to trap you; if she doesn't, she's a frigid manhating, kidhating, family-hostile feminist bitch - You want an educated woman but who isn't strident/opinionated/bitchy - You want a girl who looks like a model (stylish and put together) but not one who is overly concerned with fashion or materialism - You don't want a 'dinner whore' but if a woman pays for dinner your manhood is insulted - You whine about why women don't smile at you on the street, and when we explain to you that many men basically consider it an invite to harass or threaten us you discount what we've said - do you listen, or do you just want to hear yourselves talk? - You say you want a super smart or super sexual woman but you are totally threatened by them - You think women are there to validate your existence/good looks/success/blah blah blah - You throw your good looks/money/success/flash car around as bait and then wonder why you attract gold-diggers - You spew hatred towards women and then wonder why women can't stand you - do you think we're stupid? - You insist til you are blue in the face that there are no good women left in USA when there's actually an army of them - they're just not the brainless, spineless, 98-lb geisha dolls you really want - If you want a woman that is beautiful, in shape, smart, successful, gracious, etc., you just have high standards for yourself - If a woman wants a man that is all of the above, she is unrealistic, expects perfection, and should lower her standards and 'get real'. - You really don't want a woman who's an equal. You want a combo-platter whore/housekeeper/mommy. No one wants to be your Mommy, buddy. Or your whore or housekeeper for that matter. - You want the hot pussy but you don't want to be obligated to call her afterwards. WTF? - If a woman 'gives it up' too easily and f***s you without a bunch of dating and dinners, etc., she's a whore/slut - If a woman won't f*** you until you've had a bunch of dating/dinners, etc, she's a gold-digging dinner whore - You always talk about what women should be doing for you instead of what you could be doing for them to show them how much you enjoy their attention/time/energy - this goes both ways - You blame women for your dating woes instead of either asking yourself if the issue might be you or all the other men who treat women like s*** and force us to be wary and self-protective Of course I am playing devil's advocate a little bit, but from what I read posted on CL all the time you guys seriously do demonstrate the above. Guys (and girls, too, for that matter), wake up. People are people. I'm a woman and believe me, it's just as hard meeting decent men in USA as women, if not harder. No one has a monopoly on malice or virtue, but I do think men are by and large pretty ignorant of the daily reality of women's lives and what a struggle it is and continues to be. Life is struggle for men, too, but you are NOT subjected to the same type of BS (namely, sexual) we are (when was the last time you smiled at a woman on the street and she followed you and threatened to rape you? When was the last time someone got you pregnant and bailed on you? When was the last time you went into a corner store to buy a Coke and the guy behind the counter told you to give him a smile? and that's just the tip of the iceberg). Everyone just get real.

I've got to admit, there's some justice in it. I like her. Hey, young male readers, if you're in town, ask her out. I dare you.


Econlog blogger (and GMU prof) Bryan Caplan writes:

Last week I stumbled upon a little gem outside of Larry Iannaccone's office: a chapter by Rodney Stark and Alan Miller on the religious gender gap. Long story short: Women are more religious than men by virtually every measure in virtually every culture.

But the fun doesn't stop there. Once people admit that this gender gap exists, the most popular explanation is that women are "socialized" to be more religious. Stark and Miller put this theory to the test. If the socialization hypothesis is true, they reason, then the gender gap should be larger in more traditional societies where socialization pressure is more intense. Make sense to me.

Survey says: Dead wrong. In fact, the gender gap is smallest in the most traditional societies, and largest in the least traditional societies! In societies that approve of single motherhood, with a high abortion rate, low fertility, and high female labor force participation, the religiosity gap between women and men is especially large.

If socialization is wrong, what's right? Here Stark and Miller lose me. They attribute the gap to men's greater taste for risk. In a nutshell, men are more willing to throw the dice on Pascal's wager than women are. Unfortunately, this story has two obvious problems:

1. Greater risk preference could explain why men engage in less religious activity, but not why they are less likely to have religious beliefs in the first place.

2. The risk-preference story doesn't explain why the gender gap gets bigger as societies become less traditional.

Can I do better? I think so. My story has two building blocks:

1. Men and women have different cognitive orientations - a difference that is in large part genetic. As the Myers-Briggs personality test powerfully confirms, men are more Thinking, and women are more Feeling. (Or if you prefer the Five Factor Model, men are less Agreeable).

On a deep level, then, men are more inclined to want some hard proof that religious claims are true, while women are more willing to take religious teachings on faith because they sound nice. Burn me at the stake if you must, but it's true.

2. As the great Timur Kuran persuasively argues, social pressure leads to "preference falsification." If other people hassle you for lacking piety - as they do in traditional societies - people will pretend to be pious even if they aren't. The weaker the social pressure, the more sincere people become.

Implicitly, Caplan assumes that "thinking" and wanting "hard proof" are more likely to lead to truth than "feeling." But critical reason, by itself, only leads into an abyss of skepticism. As Enlightenment philosopher David Hume showed long ago, even induction, the key to the scientific method of gaining knowledge about the physical world which "rationalists" tend to accept as the only legitimate source of knowledge, is ultimately based on prejudice. (Karl Popper's ideas about "falsifiability" were an ingenious attempt to get round Hume's problem, but although they provided a brilliant trick for "demarcating" science and non-science, they don't avoid the basic problem, that our belief in order/patterns in the world must ultimately be a sort of faith.) Feelings, meanwhile, are real; they bear witness to something; they are part of the world. We have better evidence, indeed, of their reality, than we do of that of the physical world.
It's a cop-out to say that religious teachings "sound nice." A lot of them don't sound nice at all. But they speak to our psychic experience more profoundly than worldly alternatives do.

UPDATE: Commenter Justin Bond (also the author of the blog Irrational Knowledge) writes:

[W]omen are more vulnerable than men. Women are more more vulnerable
physically. Women are more vulnerable when a pregnancy occurs outside of
marraige. And Women are more vulnerable inside marriage because choosing
childrearing over career leaves them dependent upon their husbands while their
resume grows old and stale, reducing their ability to survive without their

Given these increased vulnerabilities, women are far more likely to assign
a high value to marriage.

I'm prepared to believe that as a generalization. Sadly, it's not my personal experience.

Robert Kagan approves of the Iraq Study Group report. But Iraqis seem skeptical:

Amid growing Iraqi criticism of the findings of the Baker-Hamilton commission, senior government figures yesterday expressed bewilderment at a proposal to take the police force out of the hands of the interior ministry and put it under the control of the ministry of defence.

The report claimed the problems with Iraq's police - poor organisation and training, corruption, sectarian divisions and infiltration by militias - were so profound that only a radical reorganisation would enable them to carry out their mission "to protect and serve all Iraqis".

But a senior security adviser to the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, dismissed the proposals. "Like too many of the Baker report's recommendations, it is likely to cause more problems than it solves," he said. "The interior ministry needs cleaning of some bad elements, and we are doing so. Transferring the national police lock, stock and barrel to the defence ministry is unworkable and unrealistic."

Or hilariously hostile:

The title is an Iraqi proverb which may be roughly translated as follows: Entrust the cat to guard a piece of mutton fat; meaning what do you expect if you put a tomcat in charge of guarding a piece of fat?

There seems to be some real geniuses in Washington. I must say, the brilliance of these gentlemen really makes me speechless. It seems that the commission charged with preparing a report dealing with the Iraqi question has come up with the inspired solution that the matter should be entrusted to Iran and Syria of all other, after the U.S. washes her hands clean and go home to live in tranquility never to meddle in world affairs again. Of course it is not stated in these terms but rather couched in reasonable sounding phraseology: gradual reduction of troops; involvement of neighboring states such as Iran and Syria to help resolve the problems etc. etc. Well! Well! Well! Iran and Syria above all and by name, too!! I congratulate these astute gentlemen on this amazing discovery. The world hold its breath in waiting for the official issue of this great report, that President Bush is awaiting impatiently to enlighten him as to the proper direction of the Iraq policy.

But really, it is not right to burden these poor elderly gentlemen with such hard work; it is rather inhuman; what with the problems of old age, Alzheimer’s disease and all that. One fully understands their inclination towards rest and quiet retreat. No wonder we hear of reports that the President is not very enthusiastic about the recommendations of this report, although politely the white houses announces respectfully that they are awaited and will be considered carefully. Of course, if the United States does withdraw altogether and leave the Iraqi government out in the cold to manage on its own, the latter would have no option but to acquiesce into an alliance with these two regional powers, as the least evil of all available courses. At least neither of these two regimes is going to be as bent on genocide against the Shiites and the Kurds as others might be. Neither could be very interested in seeing the Saddamists , Al Qaeda or any such groups, take over. Indeed the outcome of the American project would be the creation of an Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian axis, an axis in which Iraq would be the junior and powerless partner, forced to follow all the dictates of its seniors. Deprived of all western support it would be desperate for any help from anybody who can help it fend off the savage sectarian and genocidal assault that would undoubtedly be raging in the country. Apart from Turkey, there are no serious military powers in the region to rival these two. Turkey would have to be satisfied or it might well intervene militarily and complicate matters. God only knows what might happen, but whatever that might be it cannot be good.

I'm in favor of referenda in Iraq, generally. So far, elections have exhilarated the Iraqi populace, mobilized millions, and been potent symbols of liberation, while demoralizing the enemy. The problem is that the party/political system is underdeveloped, and uncertainty is too great for there to be implicit long-term electoral accountability. That's the advantage of having Iraqis vote on a what rather than a who: people know what they're voting for, or against. Problems of name recognition and political communication are dodged.

Why implement the Baker commission findings if they're unpopular in Iraq? I say: break them down into self-contained parts, and hold 3-5 referenda (or one referendum with multiple initiatives), and implement the parts that pass the electoral test. Of course this would apply only to the intra-Iraq parts, not to broader regional diplomacy.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Nato offers an intriguing thought-experiment:

I will definitely agree that the point of wanting gay marriage to be called marriage rather than union is precisely because gay people want it to be publicly treated like any other marriage rather than some alien mind-meld experiment resulting in similar legal consequences. I suppose it's separate but equal and all. Permit me a moment of hyperbole when I suggest that perhaps we could have stopped at granting mixed-race unions the same legal rights as married people but calling it "civil miscegenation" or maybe "jungle union" so that racists didn't feel their own marriages were being mocked. I'm sure that would satisfy everyone.

"Civil miscegenation" is not an analog of "marriage" because it seems to be a general term for a behavior rather than clearly connoting a specific relationship. So let me tweak the analogy and suppose that instead of allowing inter-racial marriage, 1960s law had allowed inter-racial "civil unions," without calling them marriages.

My prediction is that in that case, either the population would spontaneously begin to refer to inter-racial civil unions as "marriages" in private conversation, with "civil union" reserved for legal documents, or, possibly, the word "civil union" would come to be a quasi-synonym for marriage, only with contextual rules about its application, the way "beautiful" and "handsome" are synonyms in English (Russian uses the same word for both) except that they must be applied to men and women, respectively, or "a" and "an" are synonyms except that which one is used depends on the initial letter of the following word. This would occur because there is not a morally or behaviorally relevant difference between intra- and inter-racial marriages. (Of course, it would depend partly on how churches behaved; to much of the population, it is the church and not the state that really has the authority to sanctify marriage. If churches would marry inter-racial couples then popular usage would surely follow their lead.)

If gay "civil unions" are allowed, and if these turns out to be behaviorally similar to straight marriages, I predict that over time, civil union and marriage will come to be considered quasi-synonyms, differentiated only by contextual rules about usage, like handsome and beautiful. Or, possibly, people will just start referring to gay unions, spontaneously, as "marriages." If, on the other hand, gay unions do not turn out to be behaviorally parallel with straight marriages, the meanings of "civil union" and "marriage" will start to diverge.

If civil unions are permitted, the decision of whether gay and straight unions are to be considered analogous can be, in effect, delegated to the normal processes of evolution of language and culture. There is something wholesome, libertarian, and democratic about this approach. By contrast, to label a new kind of entity "marriage," against the will of most users of the language, has a tinge of totalitarianism about it-- like creating the "Soviet new man."

(Of course, no one ever thought of calling inter-racial marriages anything other than marriages. That's just one more data point in the case for what should be obvious: that there is no analogy between gay marriage and inter-racial marriage. The plausible historical analogy for the move to gay marriage is the historic shift from polygyny to monogamy.)


While I'm skeptical about whether liberal-libertarian fusionism can really happen, it would be great if liberals would follow some of Brink's policy advice.

Allow me to hazard a few more specific suggestions about what a liberal-libertarian entente on economics might look like. Let's start with the comparatively easy stuff: farm subsidies and other corporate welfare. Progressive organizations like Oxfam and the Environmental Working Group have already joined with free-market groups in pushing for ag-policy reform. And it's no wonder, since the current subsidy programs act as a regressive tax on low-income families here at home while depressing prices for exporters in poor countries abroad--and, to top it off, the lion's share of the loot goes to big agribusiness, not family farmers.

Bravo! But how are you going to get that past the farmers' lobby?

Tax reform also offers the possibility of win-win bargains. The basic idea is simple: Shift taxes away from things we want more of and onto things we want less of. Specifically, cut taxes on savings and investment, cut payroll taxes on labor, and make up the shortfall with increased taxation of consumption.

Economists have long tended to favor a move to consumption taxes.

Go ahead, tax the rich, but don't do it when they're being productive.

But it's against the populist-Democrat ideology to believe that the rich are rich because they're productive.

Tax them instead when they're splurging--by capping the deductibility of home-mortgage interest and tax incentives for purchasing health insurance.

YES! The deductability of home-mortgage interest is a bizarre distortion in the tax code, which creates perverse incentives for sprawl and investing in gigantic homes. It also benefits the middle class and the affluent, while people who can't muster the funds to buy a home don't get access to the benefit. But getting rid of this is a political non-starter.

And tax everybody's energy consumption. All taxes impose costs on the economy, but at least energy taxes carry the silver lining of encouraging conservation--plus, because such taxes exert downward pressure on world oil prices, foreign oil monopolies would wind up getting stuck with part of the bill. Here again, fusionism is already in the air. Gore has proposed a straight-up swap of payroll taxes for carbon taxes, while Harvard economist (and former chairman of George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers) Greg Mankiw has been pushing for an increase in the gasoline tax.

Another good idea! But gasoline taxes are the paradigm case of good policy, bad politics.

Brink Lindsey is trying to make a pact with a type of responsible, conscientious liberal that hasn't been too visible on the political landscape lately. I wish him luck, but I'm afraid the Kossack populist-opportunists will have other ideas.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Nato writes:

I believe that the "official" libertarian heirarchy is: 1)remove government recognition of marriage qua marriage entirely or, failing that, 2)legalize all marriage arrangements or, failing that, 3)allow any two people to marry.

That's logical! We oppose government recognition of marriage, but if we have to have it, let's have as much of it as possible! Imagine applying that to taxes. Taxation is theft, but if you're going to do it, don't discriminate by expropriating one portion of people's income, and not another portion. You'd better take it all!

The libertarian case for gay marriage I've heard is that libertarians think people should be able to form whatever contracts they want, including marriage. But do libertarians really think that people can form any kind of contract they want? I can think of at least two that most libertarians would probably not want to let people to form, which we can call slave contracts and (for lack of a better word) odd contracts.

A slave contract is something like this: if you lend me $5,000 and I fail to pay it back, I will become your slave, and do anything you want for the rest of my life. A certain type of purist libertarian might actually endorse slave contracts, but it does sort of go against the grain of libertarian rhetoric (freedom and all that). Another kind of contract the state won't, and shouldn't, enforce, is a promise like following. Suppose my needy, grasping mother is psychotically possessively towards me, and, leaning on my weak personality, she gets me to make a promise never to travel more than five miles from her; afraid of her and desperate to reassure her, I'm willing to sign anything. (Assume that I am an adult, say, 25 years old.) Five years later I regret this promise and want to leave the county. There is no document by means of which my mother can enlist the power of the state to prevent me from doing so. (In both these cases, the intuition is that there are limits to the rights that my present self should have over my future self, or, in other words, limits to my future self's obligation to subject himself to the whims of my present self.)

Marriage, viewed merely as a contract, is one part slave contract-- you make a promise for your whole life, which you can never, in the normal course of things, discharge-- and one part odd contract-- among the promises you make is a weird restriction on your sexual freedom. This is not the kind of contract the state should ordinarily endorse and enforce.

But here we come to a weak point in libertarian ideology generally: What do you do about children? Libertarians specialize in treating everyone as free agents, maximizing their choices, and letting them take the consequences, but this is not an appropriate attitude towards children. If you see someone forcing an adult into a car obviously against his will, you are witnessing a kidnapping, and you should call the cops, but if it's a child, this is probably a parent exercising legitimate and necessary authority. Libertarians seek to purge paternalism of the state towards adults, but it's absurd to try to eliminate paternalism towards children.

So children mark a sort of zone of exception to the general tenets of libertarian ideology, and one of the ramifications of this is the need to recognize marriage. A mother has obligations to, and rights over, her child; a father has obligations to, and rights over, his child; and the overlap of these rights and obligations creates a special relationship between the mother and father, which needs to be arranged beforehand and to receive government sanction to prevent its abuse. Since homosexuals can't have children this ground for government sanction of gay relationships does not apply, so the state does not have just cause to impinge on the rights of gay men's future selves to be free from the wishes of gay men's present selves.

A silly argument is sometimes made here that if marriage is just about children, then only married couples with children should have access to it. In the past, the law sometimes did require marriages to be consummated (i.e., an attempt to have children) in order to be valid, but obviously this would not only be completely impracticable but would be unduly invasive into partners' sexual lives, intentions and hopes, etc. I apologize for insulting my readers' intelligence by rehashing this no-brainer, but unfortunately Andrew Sullivan and others have sometimes introduced this as if it were a serious argument, so it needed to be addressed.


Brink Lindsey, a genuine Cato Institute libertarian, makes the case for liberal-libertarian fusionism in the New Republic. It's great to see this defense of Social Security reform in one of the bastions of reactionary leftism:

Entitlement reform is probably the most difficult problem facing would-be fusionists. Here, libertarians' core commitments to personal responsibility and economy in government run headlong into progressives' core commitments to social insurance and an adequate safety net. Yet a fusionist synthesis is possible nevertheless, for the simple reason that some kind of compromise is ultimately unavoidable.

With millions already dependent on the current programs, and with baby boomers beginning to retire in just a couple of years, libertarians' dreams of dramatically shrinking federal spending are flatly unrealizable for many years to come. But liberals must face some hard facts as well. Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is now projected to increase from about 9 percent of GDP today to approximately 15 percent by 2030. Already, spending on the elderly consumes more than a third of the federal budget, and the fun is just getting started. If a fiscal crisis is to be averted, if economic growth is to be sustained, and if there is to be any money left to fund domestic programs for people under 65, the federal safety net is going to have to be recast.

One possible path toward constructive compromise lies in taking the concept of social insurance seriously. Insurance, to be worthy of the name, involves the pooling of funds to protect against risky contingencies; "social" insurance fulfills the same basic function but makes the government the insurer. Unemployment insurance is a species of legitimate social insurance; wage insurance, much talked about, would also qualify. But Social Security and Medicare as currently administered are not social insurance in any meaningful sense, because reaching retirement age and having health care expenses in old age are not risky, insurable events. On the contrary, in our affluent society, they are near certainties.

We can have true social insurance while maintaining fiscal soundness and economic vibrancy: We can fund the Earned Income Tax Credit and other programs for the poor; we can fund unemployment insurance and other programs for people dislocated by capitalism's creative destruction; we can fund public pensions for the indigent elderly; we can fund public health care for the poor and those faced with catastrophic expenses. What we cannot do is continue to fund universal entitlement programs that slosh money from one section of the middle class (people of working age) to another (the elderly)--not when most Americans are fully capable of saving for their own retirement needs. Instead, we need to move from the current pay-as-you-go approach to a system in which private savings would provide primary funding for the costs of old age.

Whether liberal-libertarian fusionism is possible depends on whether libertarians place more value on economic freedom or on the more paranoid and/or libertine aspects of libertarian culture. There are two issues that don't belong on the libertarian agenda at all: gay marriage and abortion. Abortion and libertarianism are ships in the night: if the fetus is a person, his/her life must be protected regardless of the rest of one's philosophy of government; if not, there is no call to intervene; so one's position on abortion should depend on a quasi-scientific judgment and not on political philosophy. And gay marriage should be anathema to genuine libertarianism: it is Big Government imposing a cultural change on an unwilling populace. (The whole point of marriage, of course, is that it is not just between the two people, but it draws in the whole community, demanding and having a right to its approval: this is why people want it, and this is why the community should get a say in whether it's granted.) Those for whom (support for) abortion and gay marriage are paramount issues have no legitimate claim to be part of the tradition of Locke, Jefferson, Adam Smith or Hayek. Yet the "libertarian" label is sometimes applied to people with those priorities.

It's a little bit silly, though, when libertarians rant and rave about George Bush's betrayal of conservatism, then think that an alliance with the Dems is a way out. Bush is basically a centrist on spending. Libertarians' preferences in this area are, unfortunately, far to the right of America's political center of gravity. That's why they can't get what they want.

The Republican coalition fell apart in 2006 because power made its constituents greedy: personally greedy in the case of the Abramoff crew; ideologically greedy in the case of conservative/libertarian intellectuals. It's easier to hold a coalition together playing defense. If-- when-- the Democrats overreach, the Republican coalition will come back together easily enough.