Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Deep Structure of Political Deep Structure

Have we covered Living Constitution, Dying Faith enough? I think so. Just buy the book. I'm already on to something else.

Of course I've thought about it before, and probably posted on it as well, but reading Sowell's A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles has got me thinking about it all over again. Many on the left especially object to "labels," but what is it that makes it so easy to divide the majority of people into two ideological camps, with so many seemingly unrelated issues falling into line?

What is the relationship, say, between global warming hysteria, belief in government imposed racial discrimination, and support of the judicial redefinition of marriage? What do these things have in common, if anything?

Or, on the other hand, what is the common thread between limited government, a strong military defense, and freedom of school choice? Why are people who want vouchers also less likely to favor state imposition of "homosexual marriage," while the same folks who believe in catastrophic global warming don't see global jihad as a big problem? Why is Obama much harder on Fox News than Iran? And what's his real problem with the First Amendment?

By the way, this is definitely a thinking-out-loud, Bob's-Unconscious-behind-the-wheel kind of post, in which we try to work out the answers in real time. Therefore, this post may be unusually desultory, since its point will only emerge -- if at all -- gradually. We won't know if we are being guided by an attractor until we get there.

I might add that I really want to be fair to the left. Of course we like to kid, but it really is a curiosity. Why do so many issues hang together in the way they do? For most liberals, the answer is easy: it's because conservatives are evil, greedy, racist-sexist-homophobes. And for most conservatives, it's because liberals are wrong and misguided. But why are we evil or they wrong in such systematic ways? Why does one person imagine that Rush Limbaugh is a "hatemonger," but not see that Keith Olbermann is the real deal? And why are right wing televangelists and left wing tenurevangelists both so tediously predictable?

As I've mentioned before, I don't actually like to get into psychologizing about the motives of my ideological adversaries, except as a last resort or a festive occasion for insultainment. The other day Spengler wrote a piece on Obama's supposed narcissism, which I thought was off the mark for a number of reasons. For one thing, I would guess that most politicians of whatever ideological stripe have issues of narcissism. And narcissism itself is neither here nor there. My endocrinologist strikes me as a narcissist, but he's still a good doctor -- just as someone who is perfectly well adjusted emotionally can have good intentions that result in horribly bad outcomes. Truth is truth, even if a crazy person believes it. Gödel was off his umlaut, but so what? It doesn't render his principles any less timelessly true.

Furthermore, I think it's sufficient to attribute Obama's beliefs to the fact that he's just not that bright or curious. I'm not one of those people who has ever been impressed by his intellect. Without the TOTUS, he appears to be a pompous airhead who says nothing with great authority -- or who makes equivocation and weak-mindedness simulate thoughtfulness. If anything, he seems unusually callow and intellectually immature, arrested at the bong-fueled college bull session stage. He strikes me as profoundly unworldly, a fact that is apparently obscured merely because of his biracial and multicultural background.

But the idea that "travel broadens" must be one of the hoariest cliches imaginable. I have relatives who have traveled much more than I ever want to, but who are morons. In contrast, Jesus never left Israel and Aurobindo never left his room. Yes, it's an obvious point, but it has a deeper dimension as well, for as Schuon was at pains to emphasize, every man at all times has potential access to total truth in the form of the metaphysical principles embodied in orthodox tradition. To say that this truth can be improved upon by going from here to there is to not know what truth or religion are. It is for us to adequate ourselves to truth, not to imagine that it's sitting over there in Kenya or Indonesia.

The problem is, wherever you go, you go there too and spoil everything. As Bertrand Russell -- of all people! -- said, "Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day" (quoted in CoV). It is this swarm of flies that we want to try to understand. And "flies" is an apt metaphor, since the real problem, as we shall see, is the gaggle of mind parasites that have lives of their own, and which determine both what we perceive and what we conclude based upon that.

In other words, concept is anterior to percept, so we had better be careful about the organizing principles that rule our psyche. Some of these can be articulated, while others -- often the most important ones -- cannot (see especially Polanyi). One of the problems with the garden-variety intellectual -- and Sowell touches on this -- is that he imagines that all of his preconceptions are susceptible to articulation, when this is naive in the extreme. Thus, he will ridicule the mote in the theist's brain while being clueless about the beam in his own.

Churles Fasberger Queeg is a fine example of this kind of pseudo-thinking, as he is relentless in his simple-minded ridicule of religious believers, while having no insight whatsoever into his own preposterous scientism, nor his ironically un-Darwinian attractions. Since he is plainly not motivated by truth, what is his motivation? To suggest that one may arrive at truth through logic alone is a conviction so childlike that it hardly bears refuting. If that were the case, the progress of science would not require great leaps of creative imagination and synthesis -- of genius and vision. Rather, a computer -- or computer programmer -- could do it. Or, in Churles' case, cut, paste, repeat for nine years. (Images courtesy BabbaZee.)

Back to mind parasites. Sowell uses the analogy of ideas as "chips" one uses to play a sort of game. We may think that we are using the chips, but more often than not, it is the chips that are using us. Individuals may be "carriers of ideas, much as bees inadvertently carry pollen." The bee imagines -- if it could imagine -- that it is consciously doing one thing, when it is really unconsciously doing something far more profound.

We are all carrying around sacks of pollen -- or crocks of other substances -- with which we fertilize our world. We do it in raising our children, in relationships, in various cultural transactions. And one of the critical points is how much pollen we start out with because of our specific cultural heritage.

Again, secular extremists tend to be exceedingly naive about this, hence their attacks on the Judeo-Christian principles that undergird our civilization. They may imagine that they would prefer a culture of pure articulated logic, but this would not only be dangerous, but monstrous. We have thousands of years of cultural capital stored in our psyches, including things that were settled long ago. To reopen everything for negotiation is truly to open a pandora's box. You will never get what is released from the unconscious depths back into any kind of container. You just have no idea what is down there, nor the fine line that exists between civilization and barbarism.

This relates to Sowell's main thesis of the "unconstrained vision" of the left and the "constrained vision" of the right. The French revolution is the quintessential example of the unconstrained vision in action -- the idea that we can eliminate all of man's tacit cultural assumptions and "superstitions," and replace them with the cold light of logic.

As I have mentioned before, traditional religion for the typical believer involves metaphysics without knowledge. In other words, the metaphysics are embedded in the symbolic forms of the religion, which resonate on a deep unconscious (actually, supraconscious) level. In contrast, secularism involves articulated rationality with no wisdom. Again, this is what makes it so very dangerous, as it is not only devoid of wisdom, but systematically attacks the very wisdom tradition that resulted in our uniquely wonderful civilization.

To be continued....


Blogger debass said...

"Jesus never left Israel and Aurobindo never left his room."

Yes they did. They just didn't take their body with them.

wv-pasta, come on. I'm on a diet

10/15/2009 08:06:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

The other day Spengler wrote a piece on Obama's supposed narcissism, which I thought was off the mark for a number of reasons.

I was wondering what you'd think of that. I thought it interesting; I didn't necessarily think he was right. I think I read Spengler as much for what he reveals about himself as about anyone or anything else.

Anyway, back to the post...

10/15/2009 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

One problem is that Obama is so secretive, that it's very difficult to know what's actually going on in his interior world. He definitely has a highly developed false self -- which one usually sees with pathological narcissists -- but it is unclear how much of this is conscious and known to him, as opposed to an unconscious defensive structure.

10/15/2009 08:53:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

“To suggest that one may arrive at truth through logic alone is a conviction so childlike that it hardly bears refuting. If that were the case, the progress of science would not require great leaps of creative imagination and synthesis -- of genius and vision. Rather, a computer -- or computer programmer -- could do it.”

Is there even a such thing as pure logic? …without a discriminating mind to evaluate and make decisions? I don’t think a computer program can design a computer program that’s any better than the first one. I mean, there needs to be someone to check the logic.

In other words, anyone who thinks they are using pure logic is just kidding themselves.

10/15/2009 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Yes - he really is kind of a cipher. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think it's just as easy for the right to project into him all kinds of personality disorders as it is for the left to project into him all sorts of saintly attributes. His real self so rarely comes out, it's impossible to know it when you see it.

I still think those little moments when he flipped off his opponents were quite telling, though. Also "I won." But all I know for certain from those is that he's kind of a dick. Ingracious in victory, whiny when he's losing. I always hated that kid.

As far as his friends and acquaintances go, they say a lot, too, but a lot of what they say depends on what the relationships actually were, and there just isn't any way to know that.

10/15/2009 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger Contra Rebels said...

For me, W. was at his best when he threw that pitch to start the 2001 World Series. Perfect strike. And then, when he dodged those shoes.

Obama has a great move to the basket. I wonder if that's how he got that peace prize?

10/15/2009 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger lance said...

During my philosophy program at school it drove me nuts to have to take a mandatory logic class. It seems like such a contrived system to make a case for anything that you wanted to use it for. Bah!!

10/15/2009 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I very much enjoyed my logic class, more for its negative than positive capabilities. That is, armed with knowledge of various logical fallacies, it is easy to pick apart most opinions. But on the other hand, it is impossible to build a functional world view from logic alone.

10/15/2009 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger xlbrl said...

"To suggest that one may arrive at truth through logic alone is a conviction so childlike that it hardly bears refuting."

No, it is a lesson that is never actually won, a conviction that grows like our vanity and bears constant attention, possesses its own gravity, and only needs us to loosen our grip to gain momentum.
Aristotle got that ball rolling, and when it is interrupted it is only briefly.

10/15/2009 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

You know, what I miss are those great pulpy sci-fi stories about how some purely theoretical inventor creates a device that causes somebody to say, "But what if it fell into the wrong hands?"

That can't even begin to make sense to the scientistic -- unless they are thinking about Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Glen Beck or Rush.

Apparently, wv is advertising a special -- perhaps in Las Wages -- nofeewed -- no indication on exclusions.

10/15/2009 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

re: #1. The tomb is empty.

10/15/2009 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"To reopen everything for negotiation is truly to open a pandora's box. "

Which was precisely what Descartes and J.S. Mill claimed to have done and advised people do, to discard all 'preconceptions' and refrain from using them until you've proved them yourself. It sounds deceptively sensible, but it is, an insane quest. Theodore Dalrymple has a brief, and excellent examination of this idiocy, In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas.

10/15/2009 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"This relates to Sowell's main thesis of the "unconstrained vision" of the left and the "constrained vision" of the right. The French revolution is the quintessential example of the unconstrained vision in action -- the idea that we can eliminate all of man's tacit cultural assumptions and "superstitions," and replace them with the cold light of logic. "

Which I'd amend slightly to "...and replace them with the cold light of logicchopping. "

What leftist thought requires, is isolated, dis-integrated, propositions, examined and considered without reference to it's wider, and essential context. That not only enables, but demands, the inclusion of arbitrary assertions and equivocations, the setting which enables you to 'argue' with a straight face, that reality should be what you'd prefer it to be.

And of course, a BIG thumbs up on Sowell's "A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles", an excellent examination the process of thinking.

10/15/2009 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger hoarhey said...

"After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd." --French historian Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)

Time to wake the fuck up America.

10/15/2009 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Lance said "... a mandatory logic class. It seems like such a contrived system to make a case for anything that you wanted to use it for. "

What most modern books and classes on logic nearly all either drop, or hugely de-emphasize, was what Aristotle cautioned must be so, that the premises must reflect not only the facts as you know them, but must have a basis in reality beyond the syllogism; it is utterly useless without that.

But nearly all modern logic, attempts to examine the 'pure logic' of how the particular premises relate to each other alone. Which is... Purely ILL-logical.

10/15/2009 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Pardon a little horn blowing solo, but while de Tocqueville said it better, it is exactly what I was trying to get at here:

"...and it is central to what L'amour's 'simple' Western tale deliberates upon - Choices.

People's simple, day to day, situational, moment to moment, choices. And what someone does in seeking to compel another to act as They see fit, is that they are substituting your ability to make a choice, with the choice they they have pre-selected for you.

Your life is made, formed, deformed, reformed - for better or for worse - through an unending succession of choices which you make. Choices are that point where You lean out from the confines of your skin, and intersect with reality, by making a choice to act in one way or another. As govt power grows bigger and stronger, able to remove more and more actions from your ability to choose them (whether for, against or other doesn't matter), there is less of You in your life.

The more choices that are made for you, or removed from your ability to make any choice at all - the less Life you have to actually Live. The more choices you have available to you, which we call Liberty, the more You are involved in living your life. The more choices that are removed or restricted from you, or made by someone else for you, which we call Tyranny, the less you are present and living in your own life.

If You aren't actively living your own life... who is? Is that life that is lived according to the disembodied, predetermined choices selected by distant legislators and functionaries... Life?

Zombies and Westerns are far less fictional than we like to think.

Again with the Zombies... well... JWM says they're relevant again.

10/15/2009 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger lance said...

Bob said: "I very much enjoyed my logic class, more for its negative than positive capabilities. That is, armed with knowledge of various logical fallacies, it is easy to pick apart most opinions."

That is true the knowledge of the various logical fallacies does help when discussing issues with someone. It also helps me to clarify my thinking on issues.

10/15/2009 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger hoarhey said...


de Tocqueville's words help me feel the slime.

10/15/2009 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Seemingly intelligent, reasonable people of the leftist persuasion are... I can't even come up with a word for it.

Today on NPR they interviewed a well-spoken scientist who has written a book decrying modern "attacks on science". Darwinism goes without saying. His other big theme: global warming. Ok... how crazy/dishonest/psychotic do you have to be to maintain with a straight face that "the science is settled" and that there is literally no room for debate whatsoever? How can this happen? There are plenty of things I believe as a classical liberal that I question from time to time. Recently I have been educating myself on the fractional reserve system and this has shaken up many previous beliefs for perfectly good reasons, not least new evidence. Same with "purist" free-market ideology. Hellooo! People do not act like textbook "rational" actors in the real world. Doesn't mean we abandon economic freedom of course, but it also means we should be careful with the cartoonish simplifications occaisionally tossed about on our side of the fence, most notoriously in some segments of the talk-radioverse.

But I don't think I have very many 7,000 lb elephants sitting in the room with me which I somehow simply ignore or even deny exist at all. The severe theoretical weaknesses and widespread dissent on this global warming issue make it really, really hard not to question the sanity of those who persist in this bizarre parody of actual science.

Leftists seem to be objectively crazy in some hard-to-define way.

10/15/2009 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger jwm said...

Spengler made a superb call when he compared Obama to Stanton Carlyle, the main character of Nightmare Alley.
But the reference doesn't work if you haven't seen the film or read the novel, written by William Lindsey Gresham.

Carlyle is a sociopath, devoid of compassion. He starts as a carny, and hustles his way to fame and fortune with a phony mentalist (psychic)act. He exploits everyone around him, until he over reaches very badly, and comes to a horrible, if well deserved, end.
Obama, like Stanton Carlyle, does seem to be a hustler way way out of his league in this gig.
In that way he is very much like the main character in Nightmare Alley.

as a sideline: Both the book, and the film are excellent. The 1946 novel is a morality play laid out in 22 chapters corresponding to the cards in the major arcana of the Rider Tarot. The movie, with Tyrone Powers, and Joan Blondel is a great piece of film noir. I happened to catch it on late nite TV back in the seventies, and was very taken with the film. I found, read, and then lost a paperback copy of the novel, and then found a first printing of the original. The liner notes start:"This is not a nice book..."

wv: woomin


10/15/2009 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

AP thinks Obama was born in Kenya. Well, they did back when that was an advantage. Wonder how long this page will last before it's "disappeared"...

Kenyan-born Obama all set for US Senate

10/15/2009 06:01:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

NB said "Recently I have been educating myself on the fractional reserve system and this has shaken up many previous beliefs for perfectly good reasons, not least new evidence. Same with "purist" free-market ideology."

Beliefs like 'you can bank on that'?

This article from 1992, by Richard Salsman warned about the 'Too big to fail' notions, and that publicly financing insurance (FDIC) for banks fractional reserve systems, tends to encourage banks to lessen the fractions they keep in reserves, and also leads depositors (you and me) into thinking their money is safe, nothing to worry about (eh... might want to google the current soundness of the FDIC), and leads to notions of 'too big to fail' - and so widespread failures result.

10/15/2009 06:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Bulletproof Monk said...

A bit of digression but I feel I must correct Bob regarding Jesus living abroad. Scripture indicates the infant Jesus, along with Mary and Joseph, fled to Egypt prior to Herod's slaughter of the innocents. According to Matthew, Joseph was warned by God in a dream.

Orthodox and Coptic tradition has much to say on the places the Holy family visited and some of the events that transpired, and there are a number of icons depicting the period. For example, Joseph was at the time a venerable 80 years, but willingly heeded the call to duty to protect those under his charge. His younger son James (later Apostle and leader of the Jerusalem community) accompanied them. The travelers journeyed from Palestine into lower Egypt, down along the Nile and well into upper Egypt, whereupon Herod the Great died (in 4BC) and the family could return to live in Nazareth. In all they were abroad about three years.

In a number of towns they visited, as they entered the town idols and statues are purported to have collapsed before them. There are other stories about some miracles that occurred in certain places, that are today still popular pilgrimage sites. Most of these traditional stories are from the Coptic tradition.

My favorite is an apocryphal account in the "Egyptian Synaxarion." While trying to pass quietly by night through a desert area infested with thieves, the family encountered two robbers on the road, named Dismas and Gestas. A large band of robbers was also sleeping nearby. Dismas, upon seeing the infant, marvelled saying "If God were to take human flesh, He would not be more beautiful than this child!" Then Dismas beseeched Gestas to let the family go by quietly, and not make a noise to rouse the others. Gestas was not inclned to let them pass so Dismas offered him 40 drachmas and his belt as collateral. Mary, full of gratitude for this kindness, said to Dismas, "My child will reward thee richly for having spared Him this day. The Lord God will receive thee to His right hand and grant thee pardon of thy sins." More than thirty years later, at the Crucifixion, tradition holds that it was these same two thieves who were crucified on either side of Jesus. Dismas was to Christ's right hand and Gestas to His left. Dismas, while on the cross, repented of his whole life and said, "This Man has done nothing amiss" [Lk 23:41]. As Scripture indicates, it was Dismas who was that same day with Christ in Paradise [Lk 23:43].

10/16/2009 04:11:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, I was mainly being rhetorical, but your point is well taken. After all, Aurobindo was educated at Cambridge, and even Petey didn't only work on a farm.

10/16/2009 06:18:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

That's interesting, BPM. Also explains why Jesus could be said to have brothers, if I read that correctly; it never occurred to me Joseph might already have kids.

10/16/2009 09:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Bulletproof Monk said...

Upon consideration I realize I made an error in my last post. James, son of Joseph, was not the same as James the Apostle.

Joseph's first wife, Salome, had given him seven children before she died: sons James, Jude, Simon and Joses; and daughters Salome, Esther, and one other whose name is uncertain. Tradition says that Joseph's daughter Salome was the mother of the Apostles James and John. So James and John were technically Jesus' step-nephews.

Joseph himself was a builder and carpenter by trade, which is why Jesus was a carpenter.

10/16/2009 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger xlbrl said...

The higher we climb up the ladder of intelligence, the more we talk with intellectuals, the more likely we are to encounter socialist convictions. Initial surprise at finding that intelligent people tend to be socialist diminishes when one realizes that, of course, intelligent people will tend to overvalue intelligence.
Departments of psychology and sociology, of education, and the characteristic intellectuals whom they produce, are pale reproductions of Rousseau and Marx, Freud and Keynes, transmitted through intellects whose desires have outrun their understanding.

BRUCE CHARLTON evolutionary psychologist, editor Medical Hypohteses
An increasing relative level of IQ brings with it a tendency to over-use general intelligence in problem-solving, and to over-ride those instinctive and spontaneous forms of evolved behavior which could be termed common sense. Since evolved common sense usually produces the right answers in the social domain, this implies that, when it comes to solving social problems, the most intelligent people are more likely than those of average intelligence to have novel but silly ideas, and therefore to believe and behave maladaptively.
This random silliness of the most intelligent people may be amplified to generate systematic wrongness when intellectuals are also advertising their own high intelligence in the context of a modern IQ meritocracy. The stratified context of communicating almost exclusively with others of similar intelligence generates opinions and behaviours among the highest IQ people which are then not just lacking in common sense but also perverse.
Yet, whatever else, to be a clever silly is a somewhat tragic state; because it entails being.... unable to engage directly and spontaneously with what most humans have traditionally regarded as social reality; disbarred from the common experience of humankind and instead cut-adrift on the surface of a glittering but shallow ocean of novelties: none of which can ever truly convince or satisfy. It is to be alienated from the world; and to find no stable meaning of life that is solidly underpinned by emotional conviction. Little wonder, perhaps, that clever sillies choose sub-replacement reproduction.

10/19/2009 09:53:00 PM  

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