Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bush Lied, Logic Died

It's amazing to me that the "Bush Lied" meme has gained as much traction as it has. Roughly fifty percent of the population believe it, and it is fair to say that the belief is both unsupportable and ineradicable. In fact, if there were actually a little evidence for the belief that Bush lied about WMD, the assertion would be less believable, because the evidence would then have to be weighed against all of the other considerable evidence that the WMD existed. Thus, by actually having no evidence, the Bush-lied conspiracy theorists can imagine a secret "smoking gun" of such massive proportions that anyone who saw it would know in an instant that Saddam absolutely had no WMD. And the imagination is much more powerful than reality--especially the paranoid imagination.

The conspiracy theorists have it exactly backwards. The burden of proof should be on those who are making the accusation that Bush lied. As it stands, the accusers are getting a free ride, since they are making an ex post facto argument to the effect that, since WMD have not been found, ergo Bush was lying about them. This is such a perverse substitute for thought. In reality, of course, one must consider only the evidence that President Bush had before him at the time he made the decision to invade. Therefore, it is necessary for those who argue that Bush is lying to present us with the evidence that proves that Bush knew the WMD did not exist.

In fact, no one has identified, nor will anyone ever identify, the supposed evidence that President Bush had to have had in his possession that trumped all of the other intelligence and convinced him that there were no WMD in Iraq. For that is what the conspiracy theorists are asking us to believe. If Bush is lying, his lie is necessarily based on some evidence that only Bush and no one else has seen--not the CIA, not the UN, not any of the other intelligence agencies in the world. And it had to be extremely powerful, compelling evidence to overturn all of the counter-evidence. So where is it?

One of the problems is that politics in general, and the Democratic party in particular, is dominated by lawyers, especially trial lawyers. (Ambulance-chasing trial lawyers such as John Edwards are the largest donors to the Democratc party.) And lawyers are trained to think legalistically, not morally. More ominously, they can just as well use an argument to attack truth as a means to arrive at it. This is not necessarily their fault. It is what they do. But we should be able to see through this kind of false logic.

I have a great deal of familiarity with how unscrupulous lawyers think and behave, because I do a fair amount of forensic work in psychology. Apparently, what I would call inexcusably unethical behavior, they would call "being an effective lawyer." This would include muddying an issue rather than illuminating it, twisting logic rather than applying it, and attacking truth rather than honoring it. (Obligatory disclaimer--the field is also full of unethical psychologists, just as there are many fine and decent lawyers.)

Few cases in the field of forensic psychology are absolute "slam dunks." Rather, one takes a detailed history, reviews medical records, administers psychological tests, and conducts a mental status examination, so that there will be a wealth of different kinds of evidence and information to arrive at an opinion. Once you have been convinced that a certain opinion is true, you don't present the opinion as being fifty-one percent true, or seventy-five percent true, but as simply true. In other words, you present the argument as strongly as you can. You give countervailing arguments their due, but with logic, evidence, rhetoric and presentation, you make the strongest case you can

Clearly, this is what the Bush administration did with regard to their belief that Saddam possessed WMD. Undoubtedly there were countervailing arguments, but nothing that outweighed the mountain of evidence pointing to their existence. Therefore, just as in my job as a forensic psychologist, they made their argument as strongly as possible, based on the weight of the evidence. Bear in mind that at no point was the threshold of evidence one hundred percent, or even seventy five percent. Rather, in a life-or death situation such as this, the threshold may not even have had to be fifty percent. For example, what if someone told you that there was a twenty-five percent chance you had a brain tumor? Would you go to the doctor? Or would you wait until you were one hundred percent convinced? What if there was a twenty-five percent chance Saddam would possess nukes within five years?

But just as in my job, it is very easy for a clever lawyer with no interest in the truth to attack some small portion of the argument, so as to convey the impression that the entire argument has been toppled. You will note that this was the strategy of O.J. Simpson's diabolical legal team. By attacking this or that small aspect of the evidence, it was easy enough to sway an invincibly stupid and credulous jury that was predisposed to believe in Simpson's innocence anyway. Simpson's attorneys gave the jury "permission" to believe what they wanted to believe.

The MSM and their political action wing, the Democratic party, are using this identical strategy in putting forth the "Bush lied" meme to a dim and/or credulous population in the throes of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Everyone thinks that Johnnie Cochrane was motivated by some great love of black people and their cause. In reality, he had such utter contempt for them, that he knew that his courtroom trickery would snow them. Likewise, Democratic elites have such contempt for the intelligence of the average Democrat, that they know all they have to do is throw out a couple of bogus arguments, and they can lead them by the nose, much as they have cynically done with minorities over the past forty years.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Vertical Church of the Perpetual Bob Scrapped

When I first began writing One Cosmos Under God, I thought I might have to invent a new religion in order to convey my ideas about spirituality. This would have meant becoming a guru, corralling a bunch of fawning disciples, or "bobbleheads", soliciting constant love offerings (i.e., cash) from my flock, and deputizing Petey to be my official spokesperson.

However, as I immersed myself in Higher Things, I happily discovered that all of the available "big box" religions are perfectly capable of taking you just as far as you want to go in the realm of Spirit. These things aren't necessarily advertised to the masses. Rather, you have to go deep into your tradition, way past the mere Words department, so that you may forego the pastorized milk in favor of drinking directly from the sacred cow.

Christianity is a case in point. If you're anything like me, then it is likely that you internalized a dysfunctional version of Christianity as a child, warping your ability to see it as anything other than a bunch of quaint fairy tales for the slack-jawed masses. From my earliest exposure to Christianity in Sunday school as a child, I had some real problems with it--not because of Christianity, but because of the people presenting it. Something is wrong if religion is conveyed by an adult to a six year-old in such a way that the child thinks to himself, "Geez, what an idiot. Does he really believe this stuff?" It is fair to say that I struggled with some version of this smug and misguided six year-old attitude for the subsequent thirty years or so, which is what undoubtedly prompted me to initially seek metaphysical nourishment elsewhere, in eastern religions. I'm sure this is a common pattern.

As I say in my book, I see spiritual reality as a sort of invisible topology with innumerable "springs" dotting the landscape and bubbling forth vertically from another dimension. Fortunately for me, in the course of writing my book, I stumbled upon one of these springs that allowed me to appreciate the great beauty, power and truth of Christianity. I look at the different religions--real religions--as analogous to, say, telescopes or microscopes in the realm of science. Just as the scientist uses a microscope to enlarge invisible entities so that they may be seen, we "look through" the great religions in order to see another kind of invisible reality that normally cannot be detected. I used to think that you only practiced a religion if you believed in God. Now I understand that you practice a religion in order to know God.

If you are using your religion as a successful macroscope, then it will awaken hidden layers of the soul, which in turn will provide you with the means necessary to see more deeply into the Divine. As this happens, you will experience a compelling influx of new ideas, capacities, sentiments, and aspirations that cannot be explained in any other way. Religions are full of "secret" knowledge that is inaccessible to those who do not take the time to practice one.

In order to allow the things above to be reflected in the things below, you must create a mirror that is clean and stable: "The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror; it grasps nothing; it refuses nothing; it receives, but does not keep" (Chuang Tzu). Effort is required, but effort alone is insufficient. And it is an unusual kind of effort, because it is actually more like a "non-effort." That is, one must first learn to silence the mind and unknow one's thoughts. There is a reversal of figure and ground, so that silence becomes the context out of which thoughts arise and pass away. Effortless silence is anterior to spiritual knowing, but it is a concentrated and expectant silence, a foreknowledge of as yet undiscovered things.

Thankfully, the cosmos is not a closed circle, but an open circle with an entrance and exit. An unknown Christian friend says that the key to reconciling personal effort and spiritual reality is to master concentration without effort and transform work into play. This is why I say that my eight month old is my new spiritual advisor. With single-minded playfulness, he busies himself along that vast shoreline where the infinite sea washes up to the edge of our finite shore, where this world ends and another begins. There is no other moment than this one, and never has been. It just gets deeper.

Friday, December 02, 2005

How I Cured Myself of Leftism

Yesterday, reader Julian asked an excellent question: "How is that I used to be a liberal but then changed? Why are some of the smart people I know still wedded to the Kool-aid, but others not? Is it some sort of blend of inertia and fear of the unknown?"

The first thought that comes to mind is that I knew this would happen once people started tinkering with the definition of marriage. Soon enough, people would be wedding Kool-aid.

Seriously, I used to think this was a purely psychological question, but it can't be that simple. Like you--like almost everyone--I also began as a leftist. I guess I'll have to start with analyzing my own awakening, and then determine if it has any general applicability to others.

At this point in time, I am more inclined to think of leftism as an intellectual pathology rather than a psychological one (although there is clearly considerable overlap). What I mean is that it is impossible to maintain a priori that a conservative person is healthier or more emotionally mature than a liberal. There are plenty of liberals who believe crazy things but are wonderful people, and plenty of conservatives who have the right ideas but are rotten people. However, this may be begging the question, for it is still puzzling why people hold beliefs that are demonstrably untrue or at the very least unwise.

One of the problems is with our elites. We are wrong to think that the difficulty lies in the uneducated and unsophisticated masses--as if inadequate education, in and of itself, is the problem. As a matter of fact, no one is more prone to illusions than the intellectual. It has been said that philosophy is simply personal error on a grandiose scale. Complicating matters is the fact that intellectuals are hardly immune to a deep emotional investment in their ideas, no less than the religious individual. The word "belief" is etymologically linked to the word "beloved," and it is easy to see how certain ideas, no matter how dysfunctional--for example, some of the undeniably appealing ideas underpinning contemporary liberalism--are beloved by those who believe them. Thus, many liberal ideas are believed not because they are true, but because they are beautiful. Then, the intellectual simply marshals their intelligence in service of legitimizing the beliefs that they already hold. It has long been understood by psychoanalysts that for most people, reason is the slave of the passions.

Underneath the intellectual's attachment to the dysfunctional idea is a more insidious fear that their entire intellectual cathedral, carefully constructed over a lifetime, will collapse in ruins. Religious people are not as prone to this same fear, because they accept it that their religion is ultimately based on a leap of faith. One can see how this is playing out, for example, in the intellgent design debate that has philosophical materialists frothing at the mouth. Intellectuals live under the illusion that their system is based solely on facts and logic, which is easily disproved, even with regard to mathematical knowledge (for example, Godel's theorems prove that there is no formal system that does not contain assumptions unwarranted and unproveable by the system). For most intellectuals, understanding actually precedes knowledge. In other words, they have a certain feeling about the world, and then only pay attention to knowledge that confirms that feeling-based view.

That liberalism is a new pseudo-religion seems quite obvious to me. While it is true that the conservative intellectual movement includes religious groups, it has been my experience that conservatism actually maintains a far clearer separation of religious and political impulses than liberalism, simply because it acknowledges a sharp difference between the two. Since leftism denies the existence of spirit, it ends up conflating politics and gnostic spirituality into a single ideology that is neither politics nor religion, but a monstrous hybrid of the two.

As Jonah Goldberg has observed, "Like many spiritual movements, liberalism emphasizes deeds and ideals over ideas. As a result, when liberals gather there’s a revivalist spirit in the air, with plenty of talk about fighting the forces of evil and testifying about good deeds done." The philosopher Eric Voegelin coined the phrase “immanentizing the eschaton” to describe the messianic liberal impulse to remake mankind and to create heaven on earth. Goldberg cites several examples, such as "the spiritual nature of the environmental movement; the quasi-messianic treatment of Martin Luther King Jr.; Bill Clinton’s invocation of 'covenants' with the American people; Hillary Clinton’s 'politics of meaning,' which claimed to redefine what it meant to be a human being in the postmodern world — all of these are examples of what Voegelin would describe as the neo-Gnostic effort to make the hereafter simply here." Similarly, "It should be no surprise that Hillary Clinton justified her Senate candidacy on the claim that she was more 'concerned' about the issues than her opponent. And of course her husband won the presidency by arguing he was better at 'feeling' pain."

At the same time, for the person who is not under the hypnotic psycho-spiritual spell of contemporary liberalism, it is strikingly devoid of actual religious wisdom or real ideas. As such, it is driven by vague, spiritually infused ideals and feelings, such as "sticking up for the little guy," or "war is not the answer." On the other hand, conservatism is not so much based on ideas, but on simply observing what works, and then generalizing from there. It is actually refreshingly free of dogma, and full of dynamic tension. For example, at the heart of conservatism is an ongoing, unresolvable dialectic between freedom and virtue. In other words, there is a bedrock belief in the idea that free markets are the best way to allocate scarce resources and to create wealth and prosperity for all, but a frank acknowledgment that, without a virtuous populace, the system may produce a self-centered, materialistic citizenry living in a sort of degenerate, "pitiable comfort." Thus, there is an ongoing, unresolvable tension between the libertarian and traditional wings of the movement.

There is no such dynamic tension in liberalism. Rather, it is a top-down dogma that is not dictated by what works, but by how liberals would like reality to be. This is why liberalism must be enforced with the mechanism of political correctness, in order to preempt or punish those who deviate from liberal dogma, and see what they are not supposed to see.

Consider this recent piece of work by that older piece of work, Howard Dean. He recently posted this summary of liberal beliefs and achievements on the DNC website. See if you can detect any substantive thought whatsoever. At the same time, note the crypto-religious, messianic tone:

--"Our leaders in the House and Senate... continue to pressure the administration for the truth about manipulating prewar intelligence, sending a strong message that Democrats will fight for what is right."

--"The DNC, the Democratic House and Senate leadership and Democratic mayors and governors are sitting at the same table to create policies and strategies for restoring honest government and fiscal responsibility to America."

--"We need to continue to work together on judicial nominations, environmental legislation, trade and jobs to send effectively the message that we are again ready to lead the American people with purpose and in a fundamentally new direction."

--"The key to winning is running a national campaign based on our different vision and the themes that Democrats around the country have put forward."

--"We will offer real ethics reform and election reform so that the Government Accountability Office can report in three years that we can have confidence in our voting machines."

--"We will offer a program for American jobs that stay in America... "

--"We will offer Americans real security. We all agree that 2006 must be a transition year in Iraq."

--"We will offer the American people a government that is honest in preparing for any deployment of American troops and honor their sacrifice when they come home."

--"Americans believe that using issues to divide us as a country to win elections is bad for America. We will restore America’s sense of community."

--"Most important, we will talk about Democratic values, which are America’s values."

--"Americans believe it is immoral that not everyone has some kind of health insurance. We agree."

--"The vast majority of Americans believe it is immoral to lets kids go hungry. We agree. The other party cuts school lunches (they just can’t seem to leave that one alone.)"

As an aside, have you noticed that leftists always believe they are "speaking truth to power" when they are actually "speaking lies to the powerless"? It occurs to me that Dean works so closely with the a-holes at moveon.org, that after his chairmanship is over he'll be able to switch his specialty to proctology. With that last wisecrack about conservatives having a value system that places a priority on making sure that children go hungry, what can you say but: Physician F**k Thyself. Immediately.

Where was I, anyway? Oh yes. I was about to describe my journey from the darkness of contemporary liberalism to modern conservatism. Next post, I guess.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Conscience, Superego, and Huk al Berri

The psychoanalyst W.R. Bion developed a model of the mind that was a radical departure from previous psychoanalytic models, centering around the importance of truth as opposed to drives, repression, aggression, sexuality, etc. He did not conceptualize the mind in mechanistic terms, but more like an organism whose function is to metabolize and synthesize its fragmented elements into a coherent whole. It was his belief that the mind grew through exposure to truth. For him, therapy consisted of investigating the various ways in which truth either evolves or is blocked. People and groups evade truth for a variety of reasons, usually to avoid pain. And when they do, the consequences, both individual and collective, are catastrophic.

One area where Bion differed with Freud was over the nature and function of the superego, the part of ourselves that Freud believed was responsible for our morality. The problem with Freud's conception is that the superego will reflect the particular family in which one grew up and the particular society in which one lives. As such, the superego is not necessarily moral at all. It is essentially amoral, in that it may well punish the individual for morally good behavior and reward him for morally bad behavior, depending on the culture.

Here we can understand why the emphasis on truth is so vital. For in the Arab Muslim world, they are so inundated with vicious lies about America and Israel that it would be immoral for them not to hate us. In a racist or anti-Semitic society, the superego will actually demand that its members be racist and anti-Semitic. For example, the nazi movement in Germany was animated by extremely high ideals, without which they could not have engaged in their project to exterminate the Jews. Once the lie is established as truth, then the superego takes over, impelling the individual to act in a "moral" way, consistent with the implications of the lie.

Clearly, a casual survey of history will establish the fact that most of what people have believed down through the centuries has been untrue. We see case after case of corrupt superegos that sanction and condone slavery, witch hunts, racism, anti-Semitism, jihads, all based on one vital lie or another. All the superego does is enforce consistency between beliefs and actions. If the beliefs are false, then the actions will likely be immoral. People rarely believe they are evil, no matter how evil they are. You can be assured that bin Laden feels morally superior to you or I, which is what permits him to murder in the name of his "truth."

I believe that the conscience is not identical to the supergo. Rather, the conscience is nonlocal and universal, while the superego is local and particular. The superego is simply a mechanism we evolved in order to get along in small groups. In reality, morality is universal and transcendent, applicable at all times and in all places, such as "thou shalt not murder."

In his book Freud, Women and Morality: The Psychology of Good and Evil, Eli Sagan uses a wonderfully illuminating example from Huckleberry Finn, in which Huck is in the midst of a moral dilemma between what his superego wants him to do--return the slave Jim to his master, Miss Watson--and what his conscience is telling him--that Jim is a human being just like him, and that it would be evil for him to assist in re-enslaving him. First we hear Huck dealing with an attack from his superego as he considers returning Jim:

"The more I studied about this the more my conscience [actually, the superego] went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down ornery I got to feeling. And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time from up there in heaven, whilst I was stealing a poor old woman's nigger that hadn't done me no harm, and now was showing me there's One that's always on the lookout, and ain't a-going to allow no such miserable doings to go only just so fur and no further, I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared."

Clearly, Huck is under assault by his tyrannical superego for violating the racist ethic of his culture. The omniscient superego ("watching all the time") slaps him in the face, accuses him of wickedness, and causes him to become immobilized with fear. He proceeds to write a letter telling Miss Watson where Jim can be found. But as he does so, his conscience--not superego--begins to nag him. He lays the letter down and "set there thinking":

"And went on thinking.... and I see Jim before me all the time... we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him.... I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, 'stead of calling me... and see how glad he was when I came back out of the fog.... and would always call me honey and pet me, and how good he always was... and he said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world... and then I happened to look around and see that paper."

Caught between guilt from doing something at variance with what the superego is demanding, and an awakened conscience telling him to do the right thing, what will Huck do?

"I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied it a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: 'All right, then, I'll go to hell'--and tore it up."

Huck revokes the lie, stands up to the superego, and makes the decision to do wrong, to "take up wickedness again" by helping to free Jim.

One can only wonder. How many in the Arab Muslim world are ready to give themselves over to sin by making peace with Israel? How many are prepared to bear the guilty attacks from the superego for treating women equally? How many will stop confusing the lies of the imam with the truth of God? How many will "go the whole hog" and toss a brick at al Jazeera?

Me? I done tore up my New York Times four years ago and been takin' to wickedness ever since. And it ain't been no easy road. Fact, if'n it waren't for old shrinkwrapped, I'd a-never knowed any lowdown evil headshrinkers, 'cept'n my own poor self.