The illusion which exalts us is dearer to us than ten thousand truths. –Aleksandr Pushkin, poet, novelist, and playwright (1799-1837)

There is a general consensus that our political system is broken. The electorate views with disdain the inability of those in charge of our government to treat opponents with civility, let alone to govern efficiently, forgetting all the while that it is we who continuously place such people in office. We thus now, to paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson, are having to sit down at our banquet of consequences. Among citizens, those on opposite sides of issues often also fall on each other like wolves. As illustrated in the following table, the irreconcilable policy chasm between our two political parties has now reached seismic proportions.

Percentage who rate their support for issues at 8-10 on a 1-10 scale

Source: Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, taken in mid-December (Margin of error = +/- 4.9%)

ISSUE REPUBLICANS DEMOCRATS
Traditional Definition of Marriage 69% 25%
Support Gay Rights 14% 63%
Support “Right-to-Life” 57% 23%
Supporters of “Black Lives Matter” movement 6% 46%
Support the NRA 59% 11%
Combat Climate Change Immediately 13% 62%
Support Unions 15% 52%
Support Business Interests 49% 26%

Worse still, the disrespect that each party has for the other further jeopardizes the possibility of any meaningful dialogue. According to a 2014 PEW Research Study, 79% of democrats hold an unfavorable view of republicans, almost half of whom (38%) harbor a “very unfavorable” view, and over a fifth of whom (27%) view republicans as being a threat to the country. Similarly, 82% of republicans view as unfavorable the democrat party, over half of these (43%) hold a “very unfavorable” view, and 36% (nearly 45% of those in this category) view democrats as a threat to the country.

Look closely, however, and the eight major issues of contention in the above table. What problem do any of the positions solve? Does what the proponents and opponents of each issue advocate serve the principles of American constitutional traditions? Moreover, most of those positions are empty slogans. “Right-to-Life” is not opposed by “pro-choice” advocates; it is simply that the latter deems the quality of life of the mother as a higher priority. Similarly, “Right-to-Life” proponents are hardly anti-choice; it is just that their choice is the one that they believe should be enforced. A larger, wholly ignored, issue however is that there is no agreement on what “life” is. How is it possible to resolve the controversy of legalized aborton when some define life as beginning at conception, whereas others view it as being when the fetus takes its first breath. If we could first come to an agreement on what is life, the debate might well be different.

What we are witnessing at work however is a focus on issues that is the product of ideological simplification. By definition, an ideology is a worldview that explains why things are and how things work. It is not, therefore, a hypothesis that was arrived at through empirical research and trial and error, nor is it the product of a non-result-oriented search to discover what works. It is, however, a simplified, top-down approach to address infinitely complex problems; problems which, because of the myriad of actors within a society, each of whom influences and changes the behavior of others, cannot possibly be correct all the time.

The damage of ideological decision making is not limited to occasional failures. It also exacerbates problems in two crucial ways. First, as a belief system an ideology is a self-contained set of principles built upon one or more major premises or values. These major premises or values are taken as “givens” and thus are not subject to contestation. Thus, each side of the ideological divide cannot debate each other as neither will critically analyze the propriety of their own fundamental postulates. This, of course, leads to the ad hominem assaults that now permeate our political debates. As the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed, “Men follow their sentiments and their self-interest, but it pleases them to imagine that they follow reason. And so they look for, and always find, some theory which, a posteriori, makes their actions appear to be logical. If that theory could be demolished scientifically, the only result would be that another theory would be substituted for the first one, and for the same purpose.”

Second, and both more troubling and fundamental, ideologies lead to a focus on the wrong issues, issues that are not the problem. In the words of Thomas Pynchon, “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.” Perhaps the clearest example of this is the current debate between the progressives and the conservatives on the benefits and detriments of socialism versus capitalism. This is a false debate. As will be shown in the balance of this piece, socialism is not an alternative to capitalism; under our American system, it is an alternative to liberty.

To begin with, capitalism is a policy pursued in all socialist countries, such as in the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, etc, while the United States, a country that primarily pursues capitalist principles, has also adopted some socialist programs. Thus is it clear that capitalism and socialism are neither opposites nor necessarily incompatible with each other. However both socialism and liberty, as the latter term is defined under our American constitution, are approaches to how our society deals with and protects rights in property, and that is precisely where the conflict arises. The types of rights that are the focus of socialism, for example, are the right to a free education, the right to a guaranteed income or minimum wage, and the right to healthcare. By its very definition, however, since such “entitlements” do not fall like mana from heaven, socialism operates by making claims on property of others.

Our Founding Fathers drafted our Constitution with a focus on property rights. Contrary to current, progressive misconceptions, this was not because they were primarily “propertied” – as we use that term today – patricians. Rather, the term property encompassed all rights to which a citizen was entitled as a matter of natural law, whether tangible or intangible, as a consequence of being a member of a republic that cherished liberty above all things. Indeed, the most valuable “property right” within a free society was not material wealth, but access to knowledge, the principal protector of which is the “property” right of freedom of speech. As succinctly stated by John Adams in his 1765 “A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law:”

Be it remembered, however, that liberty must at all hazards be supported . . . cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people . . . And the preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country.

The application of this approach to property was expressly set out by James Madison in his March 29, 1792 essay in The National Gazette entitled “Property.” In it he established that under our American system of government, “property” is connected to all of our rights, including things such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The truly American thinking of Madison’s day was that a person’s rights in general – separate and apart from material possessions – were also an extremely important, if not the most valuable, part of his property; that, in Madison’s words, one has not only a right to property but a property in his rights. It is worth setting forth the opening of this piece at length:

This term in its particular application means “that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.”

In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage. [The emphasis is Madison’s.]

In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandize, or is called his property.

In the latter sense, a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.

He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them.

He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person.

He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.

In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.

Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.

Where there is an excess of liberty [and here the expression “excess of liberty” refers to license], the effect is the same, tho’ from an opposite cause.

Madison’s expansive definition of property therefore was a reflection of his firm belief in his holistic view of human beings as a fully integrated and inseparable combination of both body and soul. The Constitution therefore was specifically constructed to adopt as its primary values, from which all of its specific provisions both were derived and intended to serve, the four cardinal virtues set forth by Plato in his Republic and adopted as an essential part of the Christian tradition; namely, courage, temperance, justice, and prudence.

This formulation of our property right of freedom necessarily deprives us of the false security and veneer of certainty that follows from ideological dogma. But then as Søren Kierkegaard noted, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”

The ideologues of the left and of the right thus seek to save us from this dizziness that only freedom can offer and seek to give us the inferior substitute of license. As the noted jurist Learned Hand warned,

I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon law and upon courts. These are false hopes, believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no courts to save it.

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© Richard L Wise and RLWise.wordpress.com 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and RLWise.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The New McCarthyism

December 30, 2015

“You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott? [Maxwell Scott:] No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

America’s political dialogue has ceased to be about facts; it is only the narrative that matters now. Grand and petite juries speak, but when their evaluation of facts fails to support the narrative legend, the legend prevails and is what is discussed by a somnambulant press seeking to cater to the ideological fervor.  Computer models, whose predictions are regularly wrong and are thus recalibrated, are accepted as fact instead of recognized as fallible theories conflating coincidence with causation in their obeisance to the Ptolemaic narrative of man-made global warming. Those who disagree are ridiculed as believing in a flat earth and are shouted down with hosannas of “the subject is settled science.”

The narrative of Barak Obama’s presidency was set early in his first term. When a white, Cambridge, Massachusetts, police officer, responding to a citizen’s call that someone was trying to break into a black man’s home, arrested an arrogant, effete Harvard professor who happened to be black and a crony of the president, Mr Obama turned this minor incident into a national debate on racism in America because the professor was his buddy. Holding a press conference on the incident, the president began by conceding that he did not have all the facts, and then proceeded to express his judgment. Why proclaim judgment in advance of examining all the facts? Because the facts did not matter. It was all about the narrative.

I have little doubt that Mr Obama suffered some painful and repulsive discrimination because of his skin color when he was a youth. I, too, suffered and continue to suffer similar abuse due to my religion. So what? Must this nation repeatedly rend its garments and beat its breast because of the president’s childhood trauma? We cannot answer for the actions of others in the past; we can only answer for ourselves and for what we do today. We overwhelmingly elected a black president. Does that not speak volumes as to how we have changed as a nation? Is Mr Obama ridiculed by his opponents? Of course. That is what is done irrespective of skin color. The ridicule directed at Mr Obama is, frankly, tame compared to that experienced by past presidents such as Lincoln, Cleveland, and Bush Junior.

For Mr Obama, however, racism is everywhere and is the root cause behind all actions and positions with which he disagrees. It is the New McCarthyism. Ad hominem illogic has become the guiding principle. Jury decisions cannot be correct when they fail to support the major premise of this twenty-first century witch hunt. They are decisions based in racism and thus may justly be ignored. Of course there is not the slightest shred of evidence of racial motivation, but the narrative does not require this because we all know that we are a racist society at its core. Yet if one thinks about it, charges of racism only work against people who are not racist. Real racists, like the KKK, revel in the name.

The truth is that racism is as dead in this country as it will ever be. My generation did that job in the 1960’s. It is not gone, of course, but that is because there will always be envious, mean-spirited people and because we revere freedom of speech. Like the teachings in the ancient Nordic myths, we ought to make it disappear by turning our backs on it and forgetting those on both sides of the subject who seek to prolong its prevalence. We all know that publicity feeds evil.

For the young, progressive radicals, they are rebels in search of a cause and, in their inability to find a just cause that comports with their narrative – G-d forbid they condemn Islam’s violence against and abuse of women – they rend our society by resurrecting and railing against an apparition that exists in prevalence only in their own minds. Note that their narrative prescribes that it is currently racist to say that all lives – black, white, police – matter. One is only permitted to say that black lives matter.

George Santayana observed that “In every generation we face a barbarian threat in our own children.” Note that he said not “to” our children. Sadly, as a consequence of the neurosis caused by trauma in his youth, a lust for power, or both, our president’s narrative seeks to foment discord, urging the country to abandon the pursuit of reasoned debate in favor of a commitment to a futile ideology, dedicated, figuratively, to the building of a bridge in a place where there is no river.

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© Richard L Wise and RLWise.wordpress.com 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and RLWise.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

At least one way of measuring the freedom of any society is the amount of comedy that is permitted, and clearly a healthy society permits more satirical comment than a repressive, so that if comedy is to function in some way as a safety release then it must obviously deal with these taboo areas.  This is part of the responsibility we accord our licensed jesters, that nothing be excused the searching light of comedy.  If anything can survive the probe of humour it is clearly of value, and conversely all groups who claim immunity from laughter are claiming special privileges which should not be granted.  –Eric Idle, comedian, actor, and author

I tire of having to listen to the left’s incessant, public ranting of how Mr Sadek’s puerile trailer depicting Mohammed as a lecherous incompetent, in the words of a September 12, 2012 New York Times editorial “did true damage to the interests of the United States and its core principle of respecting all faiths.”  True, the purported denizens of free speech all gave the obligatory lip-service-condemnation of the savage murders in Libya, the simultaneous attacks on other United States embassies around the world, and the public burnings of American and Israeli flags.  However the juxtaposition of the two “wrongs” in the same breathe clearly implies some degree of empathy or understanding for the Islamic Neanderthals, even though the Times would never agree – at least openly – that two wrongs may have made a right.

Anyone with an intelligence quotient north of double digits who tried to view this trailer – I could only make it through around nine of its fourteen minutes before my brain waves started to flat line – would know instantly that it was not possible for any sentient human to be offended by this banal production.  Thus any purported outrage over this clip was simply a pretext to carry out the murders and terrorism that we now know had been planned for September 11th last.  This trailer is too trivial, too ridiculous to be able to rise to the level of being condemned.  I have seen better acting and better make-up in my children’s kindergarten plays.  The risible computer animation would, in comparison, make the “killer bunny” on a string in Monty Python and the Holy Grail appear to be worthy an Academy Award for special effects. 

The hypocrisy of the left’s double-standard political correctness is almost palpable.  Compare for example the New York Times’ support in its October 2, 1999 editorial of the Brooklyn Museum’s decision to display Chris Ofil’s painting entitled Holy Virgin Mary.  If you are unfamiliar with this vile but proper exercise of freedom of speech, the description of it from Artnet is as follows:

“A very black woman cloaked in a stippled, Prussian-blue robe hovers over an intricate golden ground of enamel dots and glitter. Her mantle is open to reveal a black breast made of elephant dung and festooned with pins. The painting rests on two clumps of dung; one is decorated with the word Virgin, the other with the word Mary.

The figure is surrounded by 100 cutouts of female genitalia and buns. At first these variously colored bottoms look like little putti, a celestial choir; it’s only when you get close to the painting that these flickering cherubs turn rude.  Ofili loves to mix the sacred and the profane — the image of the spirit with the stuff of the earth.  Absurdity and humor mingle with something intensely penetrating and rise off Ofili’s image like a dank perfume.

Here was the New York Times’ view of this exhibition:  “…[A] Daily News poll shows that the majority of New Yorkers support the museum over Mayor Giuliani by a ratio of two to one. Those numbers show a broad-based support for New York’s role as the nation’s cultural capital. The people understand intuitively what Mr. Giuliani ignores for political gain.  A museum is obliged to challenge the public as well as to placate it, or else the museum becomes a chamber of attractive ghosts, an institution completely disconnected from art in our time.”

So where is the outrage at this “painting’s” violating America’s “core principle of respecting all faiths”?  Is Roman Catholicism entitled to less respect that Islam?  Is it a second class religion?

Take also the Monty Python films The Life of Brian, which closes with a dancing “kick line” of crucifixions, or The Meaning of Life, where Catholics are skewered for their rejection of birth control in one vignette which shows a poor Catholic family with what seems like a hundred children and the mother unceremoniously dropping yet another baby from her womb as she continues to clean her house.

What would the Times have said if Italians murdered the American Ambassador to Italy in protest to any of these?  What would the Times have said if instead of the Virgin Mary, Ofil’s painting had been of Mohamed similarly depicted?

Obviously, no Roman Catholic ever considered engaging in any of the rabid responses as did the Islamic fundamentalists, no matter how they were offended, because they understood that such a response had no place in any civilized society, because they understood that freedom of speech meant that we must also suffer the utterances of fools who wished to make asinine and hurtful statements, and because they are a decent people, respectful of life and property.

So why is it that the left is offended by gross insults to Mohamed but not when made about the Virgin Mary?  Are they saying that they are only offended if the targeted group engages in extreme violence?  Are they saying that we know it is offensive only because it incited violence; indeed, if that be the case, are they not giving the Islamic fundamentalists an incentive to riot?

The fact is that, according to the left’s political correctness policy, Islam is a protected class, whereas the Catholic Church is not (perhaps due to its opposition to another sacred totem of the left, namely abortion).  According to that theory, cultural relativism requires that we Westerners engage in yet another affirmative action policy, and abase ourselves by being more sensitive to the mores of another culture and that not criticize it merely because its customs are not ours.

I contend that that dogma is obscene.  There are fundamental norms of all civilized societies which are universally true.  This therefore means that there are practices which are universally unacceptable as being reflective of a barbarous, uncivilized people.  The generally accepted practice in certain societies of clitoral circumcision is but one example.

But that is beside my point.  For these terrorists have, it appears, successfully brainwashed the liberal elite into sacrificing their otherwise stalwart defense of Freedom of Speech so as to be thought “tolerant” of what is in reality merely a barbaric sect. 

Neville Chamberlain in his well-intended, foolish politically correct belief that Hitler was a reasonable man who could be bargained with, allowed Europe to be plunged into our most destructive war yet rather than mobilizing to stop the entrenchment and spread of fanaticism.  Only time will tell if we intend to make the same mistake.


© Richard L Wise and RLWise.wordpress.com 2012tten permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and RLWise.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.  –Francis Bacon, essayist, philosopher, and statesman (1561-1626)

Let me try to simplify the choice we have to make in analyzing the two principal candidates for the presidency.  Unquestionably we have two, highly principled men.  For me, however, the core consideration is not their philosophy of what should be done, their personal views on life or even what their specific policies may be.  All candidates once elected invariably move towards the center.  All candidates make promises that they do not, and perhaps even never intended to, keep.  The central issue, it seems to me – as a long-time admirer of Coach Belichick – is how each adjusts to the challenges of reality that appear to conflict with their stated “positions.”

This analysis, I submit, requires us to focus more on the core, essential methodology of a man rather than on the veneer.  The strengths and weaknesses of platitudes that may appeal to one constituency or another do not become apparent until tested in the fiery crucible that reality’s challenges present.  This should therefore cause one to assess the choice that a candidate must make when his philosophy conflicts with empirical results.

Historically, there are but two choices:  top down or bottom up.  Thus, one may start with the premise that one’s principal approach, one’s fundamental tenets, are reflective of the truth.  Thus contradictions between expected results and reality is a consequence of not being within a frictionless environment, of having to compromise in order incrementally to achieve partial victories, and thus only minor adjustments are necessary.  Under such an approach, ultimate success, and hence happiness, will be  achieved only by perseverance in the fundamental overarching, central plan.  

The alternative approach is one where a person may still hold a fundamental belief in the correctness of his beliefs, but elects to put them aside for a time because his “being right” is viewed as less important than solving a dangerous threat to everyday happiness.  Such individuals’ hard wiring is simply to focus on “what works” when faced with life’s challenges.  One may categorize such an approach as “flip-flopping” on one’s principles if one is inclined to be mean-spirited, or one may view such changes as a reflection of inner confidence and humility resulting from an acknowledgment that they will never be able to understand the full panoply of existence.   I grew up with World War II veterans who hated guns and killing, who throughout their lives were pained by the men they had killed, but who nonetheless  knew that they had to do what they did.  They resigned themselves to being most imperfect men having to deal imperfectly with forces beyond their control. 

Thus in most cases when one must choose between two morally and caring upright men, I find their stated positions to be less relevant than their methodology in responding to failure. 

This, of course, brings us down to the present two candidates. 

I do not think there is much disagreement about whose words are more appealing.  Mr Obama surely presents a warmer, more caring and empathetic view of how we may wish reality eventually to be.  Even Mr Romney’s Republican supporters acknowledge that there is an issue with his being less “likeable” – whatever that may mean – than Mr Obama.  Moreover, Mr Obama is clearly the better orator; a man who engenders passions of hope in most of us.  Thus, those who support Mr Obama and who are not mere sycophants generally acknowledge that he has made many bad decisions and mistakes in dealing with both foreign and domestic policy, but assert that as he is extremely bright – a conclusion that should be obvious – he has learned from his mistakes and his resulting experience, combined with the fundamental correctness of his basic philosophy, give him credentials that Mr Romney cannot duplicate.

I do find it ironic that this argument’s reliance on experience is diametrically opposite what Mr Obama asserted in the last election commended him for the office of president.  Nonetheless, it illustrates the “top down” approach to governance.  It requires one to conclude that four years is not enough of a sample by which to judge Mr Obama.  It further requires one to evaluate the candidates on what they say, versus on the basis of what they have done.  Clearly, Mr Romney comes up short on the basis of that analysis.

On the other hand, if we judge each of the candidates on the basis of what they have accomplished, what they have done, Mr Obama appears to be the Lilliputian in such contest.  Mr Obama has no comparison to Mr Romney’s unbridled successes at Bain Capital, as a Bishop in his Church, in reorganizing a bankrupt US Olympic committee, and in governing a state controlled by the opposing party.  Thus supporters of Mr Romney naturally assert that four years is enough time for us to see what Mr Obama can do, and urge voters to choose by focusing more on what a candidate has done than on what he may promise.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was fond of saying that “when you go to court you don’t get justice, you get law.”  Any experienced practitioner will tell you that because this is not understood by the newly-minted lawyers who show up in firms every fall thinking that they understand the law, their work product can easily be torn to shreds.  This is because law schools do not turn our lawyers, but rather only law students.  And whether one aspires to become a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, programmer, mechanic, chef or whatever, one learns that there is a “black art” that must be mastered if one is to become successful in one’s trade; that is, techniques that one can only learn empirically from daily exposure to the subtle nuances of reality and which enable one to form a dowser’s sixth sense how to address a given situation.  As the great pianist Artur Schnabel observed, “The notes I handle no better than many pianists.  But the pauses between the notes — ah, that is where the art resides.”

In reflecting on Republican monetary policies of the recent past, Mr Romney acknowledged that “we let the nation down.”  That statement is reflective of his businessman’s empirical approach to problems, and of his faith in the supremacy of what works over his own personal predilections and ideology.  Mr Obama’s approach, befitting his professorial roots, is that of Plato’s Philosopher King: that in the long run, his ideology will be proven to be the best for us.

Those are the choices that are ours, as will be the consequences of that choice. 

Let us be careful what we wish for.


© Richard L Wise and RLWise.wordpress.com 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Richard L Wise and RLWise.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.