Monday, October 14, 2013

Upon The Dark And The Rolling Sea

Oh you set your course for the furthest shores
And you never once looked back
And the flag you flew was a pirate cross
On a field of velvet black
And those landsmen who you but lately knew
Were left stranded on the lea
Don't call on them when the storm clouds rise
On the dark and the rolling sea

My teenaged son pondered the extremists who have taken America hostage.

He asked, “How can they not see how crazy they are? How?”

How indeed?

I mean, they must know, right?

Surely, if a seventeen year old high school student can see it, they must be able to see the bizarre folly of their ways, yes?

We’re months into the crippling effects of sequestration. The government has been shuttered for two weeks now. Americans become ever more restive, the financial markets grow ever more fearful, the nation grows ever more afraid. All for the vainglory of an uncompromising few.

And now?

Now they attempt to extort us with default, with a near certain return to recession and an economic disaster that threatens not just our own nation but the economic stability of the entire world.

They must see how insane they have become.

How could they not?

How can they not see how crazy they are?

The answer is this: it’s all part of a set piece.

Consider the following argument from Christian Apologetics:

Either God exists or he doesn’t.

It’s like flipping a coin: heads, God exists and he’s up there like Ceiling Cat watching you right now; or tails, it’s all just a cosmic accident.

God is the ultimate Schrodinger's Cat, his existence is a quantum state. There is no proof either way.  Science can neither prove that God exists nor prove that he doesn’t. For that matter, neither can religion.

According to the rules of the thought problem, there can be no agnostics, you have to call it, heads or tails. 

Before you decide, consider the possible outcomes: 
a) If you call heads, i.e. God exists, and you live your life according to Christian requirements and it turns out that you’re right, you win it all: salvation, eternal life, so on and so forth. 
b) If you call heads and live your life accordingly, but it turns out that God doesn’t exist, you lose basically nothing. In the end you’re worm food, but you lived a virtuous Christian life so you still win.
c) If you call tails and you’re wrong, well, then you’re screwed. No matter how you’ve lived your life, it’s brimstone and eternal damnation for you. You lose, big time.
d) And, finally, if you call tails and you’re correct and there is no God, you get to live your godless purposeless life however you want and then you die and the worms eat you.

Your stake in the game is finite, but the pot may be infinite.

The risk of gain and the risk of loss are equal; in other words, you calls the toss, you flips the coin, and you takes your chances.

Therefore: Given the stated conditions and possible outcomes it would appear that even though you can’t possibly know one way or the other until you die, you should choose to live your life as if God does exist – because there’s everything to gain and nothing to lose when weighed against eternity.

In other words: Given the basic precepts of Evangelical Christianity, when you die you’ll either end up with infinite reward or a finite loss.  Those are the only two options.  Therefore a rational person (“rational” as defined by Christian Apologetics) would, of course, live as though God does indeed exist. And even if you don’t actually believe that God exists you should pretend to believe in him anyway and live a Godly Christian life.

In the end, if it turns out that God doesn’t exist, you lose nothing other than a few paltry earthly pleasures.

But if it turns out that God does exist, you win it all.

This thought problem, one of the first formal uses of Decision Theory (or more specifically, Game Theory), is commonly referred to as Pascal’s Wager after its author, the 17th Century French mathematician, philosopher, and Christian Apologist, Blaise Pascal.

When examined in detail, the wager is a complex logic puzzle in probability that can easily lead the analyst down the rabbit holes of existentialism and other even more esoteric philosophies of human existence and purpose. 

However, as game theory, there are some significant problems with the wager as Pascal formulated it. 

And there are even more problems with how perversion of this thought problem shapes certain modern worldviews.

Hopefully you, being the smart and savvy readers that you are, have already spotted the more obvious flaws.

First and foremost, the Wager is unabashedly biased in favor of the Christian deity, and in point of fact assumes that the God of Christian fundamentalism is the one true God and that there can be no others – the given outcomes of the problem make no sense otherwise.

Pascal limits your choices.  You must call it, heads or tails.  The Wager rigidly confines you to black or white and disallows the many infinite shades of grey in between.

The wager specifies only four outcomes – or more correctly, only two. In Pascal’s original formulation as detailed in Section 233 of his posthumously published Pensées (“Thoughts” or his working notes), the wager specifies only the first two options: a) you chose to believe in God and he does exist, or b) you choose to believe in God and he doesn’t exist. By its very nature, the wager doesn’t allow a “rational” person to choose non-belief. The additional two outcomes, c) you choose not to believe and God does exist, or d) you choose not to believe and God doesn’t exist, are inferred from the context.  In reality, of course, there are many, many other variations of these four basic outcomes, in fact infinite many, unless you specifically limit the problem to the existence of only the Christian God – which is why the wager was biased in this fashion in the first place.

In the problem, statistically, the risk of gain and loss may be equal, but the value of the pot is strictly subjective, i.e. the possibility of life everlasting in Christian heaven may be the ultimate reward for a believer while a life unconstrained by religion may be far more attractive to a person of lesser or differing faith (or none at all) or those with radically different views of how the universe works.

Also, there’s that bit about faking it. 

Unfortunately, for many Apologists the infinite complex details of Pascal’s Wager, and its glaring flaws, are often lost, and the entire argument is often simply summed up in a single declarative statement as such:

It’s better to believe than not to believe, even if you have to fake it.

Essentially: the appearance of faith is more important than actual faith … and apparently God can’t tell the difference.

Ultimately Pascal’s Wager is often misused by Evangelical Christianity to justify belief, rather than as an exercise in examining why you believe in the first place. 

Pascal postulated his wager as an exercise in reason.  However, far too often Pascal’s Wager is used today to avoid thinking.

The problem with ignoring the complexities of Pascal’s Wager, the problem with disregarding the flaws and limitations, the problem of reducing decision theory to a single stock argument, is that it stops being an exercise in thought and becomes nothing more than mindless religious dogma.

It is human nature to question our existence, but the answers – when there are any – are often complex and ambiguous. 

There are many, infinite, human responses to the uncertainty of our existence.

Some people, like me for example, revel in that complexity, in the unanswerable uncertainty of our existence, and we cheerfully charge off ass backward into the unknown grinning like maniacs. For us, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

Some, the pragmatists, simply don’t care, life is what happens. If something comes after, they’ll know sooner or later, and that’s good enough for them.

And some people, such as Blaise Pascal, regard that uncertainty as a challenge, as a complicated puzzle to be taken apart and reassembled and solved through science and/or religion (In Pascal’s time, there was little difference. Both science and religion are attempts to explain how the universe works).  

But for many people that uncertainty is terrifying.

They don’t want to live in a world of complex infinite uncertainty. They don’t regard existence as either a playground or as a challenge. They want answers, simple, direct, explicit answers. They don’t want to have to think about it.  They want the rules spelled out and they want everybody to adhere to them. 

That’s the purpose of Apologetics, to spell out the rules, to define the dogma.

For these people, they don’t need to know why, they only need to check the proper boxes, they only need to follow the recipe. They only need to obey.  They aren’t interested in or equipped to examine the infinite details of Pascal’s Wager, they just want it summed up into a single simple statement.

For them it is indeed better to believe than not to believe, even if they have to fake it.

And that, right there, is the answer to the question posed by my son.

Oh I have no need of a chart or creed
You told your waiting crew
For the winds of chance, they will bear us straight
And you spoke as though you knew
So you paid no mind to the warning signs
As you gave your words so free
Don't change your tack when the timbers crack
On the dark and the rolling sea

Dogma makes you inflexible, robotically responding to the world according to an unwavering punch-card program from which you cannot deviate no matter the overwhelming evidence that you’re embarked on a foolhardy and untenable course.

When you reduce the complexity of human existence to simple dogmatic belief it cripples your ability to reason.

This is the ultimate problem with fundamentalism in any form.

This is the problem with fanatics.

This is the problem with young earth creationism, for example. When you dogmatically believe that the earth is but 6,000 years old you are forced to ignore nearly every provable facet of reality in order to maintain that belief. Once you start believing in magic fairy dust it affects all of your thinking, all of it, it affects your reasoning ability (if that phrase has any meaning here), your ability to compromise, your empathy, your ability to admit error, your ability to rise to a challenge, and your ability to see the world with new eyes. It warps your existence.  Once you start thinking that way, it becomes easy to buy into any form of faulty reasoning from birtherism to various and myriad flavors of denialism to the idea that crashing the government and defaulting on the national debt is somehow a good idea.

Dogma doesn’t answer the questions, it only allows you to ignore them with smug self-righteousness.

The insanity that has taken our government hostage should come as no surprise, given that the most dogmatic of the congressional obstructionists are self-declared Evangelical Christian Apologists who are determined to stay their foolish and disastrous course no matter all evidence that they are profoundly wrong.

Public office is an amplifier, when you elect extremists no matter how small, you get extremism. Every single time.

As the public opinion of the GOP plunges to levels never seen before, as their own personal popularity and support evaporates, as the government grinds into deadlocked rigor mortis, as the economy teeters on the edge of collapse and world markets tumble, these same dogmatic fanatics ignore the myriad warnings all around them and say, “I don’t believe the experts, I don’t believe the scientists, I don’t believe Wall Street, I don’t believe the stock markets, I don’t believe public opinion, I don’t believe the press, I don’t believe the polls, I don’t believe the opposition or even the moderate and reasonable and experienced members of my own political party, I don’t believe the lessons of history, I don’t believe the evidence of my own eyes, I don’t believe that it will be all that bad.”

To quote their own dogma, there are none so blind as those who. will. not. see.

Despite the obvious self-destructive folly of their current tack, the extremists within the GOP refuse to change course.

These are the same kind of deluded fanatics who honestly believe that they can pray away a child’s diabetes or a ruptured appendix. 

When the fever of smaller government struck them, instead of seeking the preventative medicine of real budget reform and actual negotiation, they held to their uncompromising dogma and literally raised up prayers to heaven – and the treatable fever flared into the malignancy of sequestration.  Like a man with a slowly growing cancer, they got used to the malaise and the hobbling weakness and grimly announced that their prayers were being answered. But despite their faith-healing claims, out of sight the sickness was growing day by day, sapping the strength of the nation, using up scarce reserves, driving us ever closer to crisis. When nothing horrible immediately happened, they ignored the ever increasing warning signs and gleefully shut down the government like a gravely ill patient rejecting actual medicine for a Mason jar of snake oil.

And now? Now they threaten us with default.

GOP strategists once hoped to take the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016, suddenly they’re saying that it would be worth losing both of those dreams along with losing the House – if it will allow them to get their way now.

These are not the actions of sane and reasonable people, this is the dogmatic insanity of glassy-eyed religious extremists.

These are the kind of fanatics who seized upon Pascal’s flawed wager and reduced it to little more than rigid inflexible dogma.

For them, it is indeed better to believe than not to believe – even if they have to fake it into destruction.

Now the thunder rails in the great mainsails
And the stars desert the skies
And the rigging strains as the hands of rain
Reach down to wash your eyes
And your oarsmen stands with his knife in hand
And his eyes spell mutiny
Don't call my name when your ship goes down
On the dark and the rolling sea…

      - Al Stewart, The Dark and the Rolling Sea


  1. I will never forget the day that I convinced my friend MaryAnn, in her 40's, that the "world" wasn't black or white, there are shades of gray for everything. Suddenly she understood so much more...sad..

  2. Gorgeous post. One typo that I recall, add an r to "solved though science". A couple of possible missing words. Ha, editing. Gorgeous post.

    1. Well then it also should be 'oarsman' and not 'oarsmen' in the fourth to last line. ; )

    2. "Oarsmen" is how it appears in the lyric printed on the record jacket. Listening to the song, Stewart clearly sings "oarsmen."

      I agree that in the context of the story it should be oarsman, not oarsmen, but the lyric is reproduced here as Stewart wrote and sang it and I'm not at liberty to change his material. You'll have to take it up with him.

    3. Great to see that fine old Al Stewart song here, but if you can hear the difference between "oarsmen" and "oarsman", you have a better ear than I do.

      I like your analysis, but I hope I can wipe it from my mind whenever I listen to the song. These GOPmorons are not what I want to be thinking about during good music. Or ever.

  3. Filker Tom Smith did a wonderful song along similar lines:


    1. Tom Smith and Jim Wright together would be too much awesome in one place.

    2. Filkertom is a GoH at Worldcon 2015, which will be at Sasquan in Spokane WA 19 - 23 August 2015. That might not too be far for Mr. Wright to travel, and with the date so far out, he could pencil it in his schedule...

  4. Brilliant. And terrifying knowing these people put their full faith in, well, their faith & everything else be damned.

    1. Brilliant and terrifying...but also comforting to finally understand what we are dealing with...now we need a strategy to confine them in a box so that they cannot infect the rest of us.

  5. Just. Perfection. Am copying and sending to all the Ohio GOP party leadership and elected officials, including Boehner.

  6. Excellent analysis as ever, Jim!

    I work in regulatory compliance (among other things), one of the most black-and-white fields ever. That world is very "if x, then y" oriented.

    And yet - there are a myriad of gray areas, or nuances, even in this very black-and-white world. I see it daily, hourly, on occasion multiple times per hour. The exceptions to the rules, the situations in which the rules don't apply, the cases in which two things that ought to be exactly the same are actually not the same - and part of my job is to explain these things, these nuances, to ordinary mortals who have, at best, a nodding acquaintance with this work. Killer analytical skills and a background in the construction of argument (I used to be a litigator in a former career) help tremendously, and I can usually get it done.

    Most of the nuances and variances in my work are due to small changes over time. We did essentially the same thing differently in 1996 than in 2002, because things changed over that time. Rules changed. Our understanding changed. Things we thought terribly important in 1996 we scarcely think of today, and things that are very important today were not even blips on the radar just 20 years ago. This is human nature - as we learn, we change, we grow. We adapt.

    The least successful of my colleagues are those who are so wedded to "the rules" that they can never see, much less anticipate or argue for, the exceptions, the variances, the nuances. Watching them try to wrap their heads around nuance can be painful - it often takes multiple explanations to help them understand the point. Never mind the effects of an out-and-out rule change! But they will usually seek out a second opinion, just to cover the bases.

    If I see these gray areas, variances, nuances in something so ordinary as my mundane work, how can I not see them in the greater universe? The universe has been around a lot longer than anything else, and to limit the sum total of human experience to a rigid dogma seems unrealistic at best, and barbaric at worst, at least to me.

  7. Jim,

    Nothing invigorates me more than an article that I will read a second time, and then a third one, too. This is powerful stuff! Your ability to cut straight through to the heart of an issue astounds and humbles me. Wow, just wow.

    Janie Thomas

  8. A very nice expression of how I view the current situation. The really frustrating part is that, no matter who wins, in the end it will be a pyrrhic victory. At this point everyone loses.
    Broker a compromise? How could you negotiate with those terrorists? Now they know they can get you to cave!
    Hold your ground? How could you be so stubborn and careless with our common future and legacy? Our reputation is forever tarnished!

    Admittedly I'm being deliberately shortsighted here. If you want to know who comes out ahead in this situation, just follow the money. Track down who exactly paid for those election victories (on all sides, mind you), and odds are pretty good that you'll find that both side of the current impasse are bankrolled by the same groups who reap a windfall from the economic fallout.

    1. It looks like there is a deal on the table. The stock market jumped by 200 points according to the article I just read. Just saying.

  9. Holy cow Jim. I can say no more. Holy. Freaking. Cow. You nailed it.

  10. A year old, now, but still completely relevant:

    Damn fine wording you do, Chief, and I hope you keep it up.

    1. It's long for a web article, and has lots of links to other long articles that deserve close attention as well, so make sure you have a drink handy before you start.

  11. This should be required reading for ALL politicians. And churches. And teachers.
    Thank you.

  12. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankschaeffer/2013/10/ted-cruz-father-is-a-rabid-right-wing-preacher-what-more-do-you-need-to-know-about-the-why-of-the-shutdown/

    Frank Schaeffer, a former evangelical, has been "warning" us about this for years. There is nothing more frightening that truly crazy people.

  13. Oh these kooks. They can't even follow their own bible. I'm a mere dabbler in things biblical, but even my dumb ass can figure out a few things. From the memos off the desk of Yahweh himself, they ought to be careful. What's the big guy's take on the casual worshipper?

    Revelation 3:16 KJV
    So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

    I'm pretty F'ing cold, so I'm good. Take that, teabaggers...and you rascals that like to quote that fire and brimstone crap from the Old Testament? Here's a treat:

    Hebrews 8:7 KJV
    For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.

    That pretty much means the New Testament usurps the old. Yes, that means all the lovey-dovey crap, notably for the poor, holds quite a bit of sway with that rascal upstairs.

    Enjoy, A-holes.

    1. OH, by the way, from one ex-mil to another, you've got a pretty good thinker...for a goddamned squid. =>

    2. You, Sir, are my new favorite.

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  15. Jim, you are wise beyond your years. Thank you for your thoughts.

  16. Thank you for this, Jim! I don't exactly know what it says about me, but I found myself asking the same question as your 17 year old son! They HAVE to know they are nuts!

  17. They are deliberately trying to wreck the American economy. In violation of the oath they took. And to the everlasting horror of the Founding Fathers, who had a word for what they're doing.

    Dr. Phil

  18. Extremism is a mental condition that is certainly dangerous to others. The person suffering from it never seems to be touched since they are so far out there, but they do cause a lot of crap, or worse, to others. I only hope that this does not end in murder of others while they proclaim their innocence to all who will listen. Too bad they are so bad at listening themselves. Thanks, Jim!

  19. Very nicely written. It saddens me when people on either side of the issue seem unable to rationally hear the points of argument from the other. Sadder still when the other doesn't understand his own points of argument, or is unable to answer in-depth questions. Beyond mere irritation, it pisses me off.

  20. I've just about quit watching the news...I keep feeling like I'm a little slow, and don't get it. I can only make so many calls/emails to my representatives that fall on deaf ears/eyes. It is heartening to read these posts and comments, it lets me know that I'm really not slow or crazy. Thank you, Jim.

  21. I got a little ninja'd by you, as I am currently writing an essay on the exact same topic of how fundamentalism destroys rationality. In my case, it was precipitated by a school in my state which tried to enact a policy to limit religious music in schools to the point where one director disbanded his primary performing group since they wouldn't be able to do any of their Christmas performances. 800+ members of the community showed up to a school board meeting to voice their outrage, while some frothing FFRF folks threatened to sue if the board overturned the administrator's decision, claiming that to allow any religious music at all is supporting religion.

    You hit the nail on the head: fundamentalism in any form destroys rational thinking, whether it be Christian, Islamic, or atheist.

    I love reading your stuff, even as, actually especially as an evangelical Christian. Keeps me honest. :)

    1. The internet is a big place, Peter, there is plenty of room for multiple posts on the same basic subject. Please don't let what I write keep you from expressing similar thoughts, or non-similar thoughts for that matter.

    2. I wonder if Satanists have hymns?

      Hold that thought; I'll get back to it.

      "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

      Not too many ways to interpret the first ten words of that sentence. Either we ensure that our public institutions adhere to not giving voice to specific faiths, or we - for all intents and purposes - choose to strike out a portion of our Constitution so crucial that our Founding Fathers choose to lead off with it in their very first amendment. Or, we crack wide-open Pandora's Box and we sit quietly and smile through the prayerful stylings of some cult that worships Cheez Wiz. We are, emphatically, not a Christian Nation. I respectfully refer any with lingering confusion on that subject to the afore-quoted 1st Amendment.

      Now, this being said, I do tend to think that all sense of perspective tends to get lost in battles such as the one Mr. Kruger talks about. Even as a non-believer, I have to confess to really liking Ave Maria; Schubert truly outdid himself on that one. It's a song. I typically manage to make it through the experience without feeling particularly-indoctrinated. And, until you have sat through and listened - I mean truly listened - to that piece, your cultural education is sorely-lacking. Just my opinion. Keeping some perspective is always a good thing.


      And here's where I get back 'round to my original thought:

      Let's say, theoretically, that one of the other directors' name is Mohammed. And let's say he wanted to have his chorus sing something of a decidedly Islamic bent, say, to commemorate Ramadan. I wager the contents of my wallet that those 800+ members of the community would be turning out demanding not only that his planned performance be stopped by force, if necessary, but they'd be looking for him to be forthwith carted off to Gitmo to be waterboarded until he reveals the location of his secret stash of C4. Because anyone named Mohammed who wants to lead our children in the performance of Islamic music must have a secret stash of C4 somewhere.

      So, the FFRF folks may not be quite as frothy as you like to suggest. Just saying.

    3. Here is the FFRF faq on Religious Music in public schools.
      Hardly frothing, foaming at the mouth stuff.

    4. Satanists don't have hymns, they have Rock & Roll. True story.

    5. The reverend Charles L. Warden.October 15, 2013 at 9:22 PM

      The Treaty of Tripoli (Reference "The Marine Corps Hymn" line: " To the Shores of Tripoli!" ) specifically stated the United States of America is NOT a Christian Nation. Pretty clear stuff if somewhat antiquated history. It was in negotiations with the Moslem nation of Tripoli to prevent recurrences of piracy against American vessels. Sorry if the reference to Marines is impertinent to Naval Personnel. At least, as an individual born at Camp Lejeune, a former soldier in the U.S. Army with a son who served in the Navy and a sister who spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, I feel a pretty broad personal connection to all U.S. forces.

    6. As a Neopagan Druid, I have to say that school concerts should *either* eliminate religious pieces from their program, or (better choice) expand their musical collections to include a variety of faiths (and by this, I DON'T mean various sects of Christianity), especially faiths that are NOT represented locally. Public school is where students should be exposed (in a non-doctrinal way) to ideas that are outside their family's experience. Such exposure enlightens their minds and expands their knowledge of the world around them.

    7. Way to completely mis-state the FFRF's case. Things like this are exactly why nobody trusts evangelical Christians except other evangelicals.

      The FFRF did NOT say that the director had to remove all religious music. They said that the director needed to expand his repertoire, mix more non-Christian music in. If the director is too lazy or just plain unwilling to do that, it's not the FFRF's fault and it doesn't make the FFRF "extremist."

      You're showing a perfect example of fundamentalist thinking here, while (dishonestly) claiming the other side is.

    8. Oh, sheesh. I go back to work for a day or two, and look what happens. How do you do this, Jim?

      The FFRF didn't bring the original policy suit. It was administrators who declared (and then promptly turned around and denied declaring) that it had to be 5:1 secular to religious ratio. That pretty much tosses out things like Christmas concerts, and is why the director dissolved his primary extracurricular performing group, as the vast majority of performances they do around the community at this time of year are things like caroling. The FFRF only has threatened to get involved now that the school board has reversed course.

      The director already does a pretty good job of mixing both religious and secular music into the programs, as do pretty much all directors that I know. And I know quite a few, as my parents are both music teachers. If there's a large enough Islamic contingent in the community to warrant a Ramadan concert, I'd say let's go for it. I've performed music ranging from the Buddhist-inspired "Gate, Gate" through Basler's "Alleluia." We performed Hindu music, Shinto music, and pop songs with no religious connotations at all. We performed Mozart's Requiem, and it's enough to cut a heart.

      BabyRaptor, I started to put together a long reply detailing my history with the FFRF, starting with my involvement with them as an atheist and later my fights with them over censorship, and realized you're not likely to listen to a bloody word I have to say. I'll just leave it here: I've met Dan Barker several times and have had some lengthy conversations with the man. He's the Fred Phelps of atheism in my personal opinion, and I take whatever he and his organization does with a salt lick.

  22. Erudite, as usual Jim; probably too esoteric for those who need to see themselves in it. Little minds need little ideas expressed in little words.

  23. Another way of looking at it is that ideology turns off your brain...

    Daniel Bell said it in a way I love: “Ideology makes it unnecessary for people to confront individual issues on their individual merits. One simply turns to the ideological vending machine, and out comes the prepared formulae.”

    If you drop your coin in the vending machine, you don't have to think...

    1. Isn't it amazing just how many coins those vending machines need? Coins for building the megachurches. Coins for the pastor's houses (or mansions). Coins for the pastor's luxury vehicle(s). Coins for "good works" that are never seen again. So many coins, but there are also paradoxically so few of them that they can not ever be taxed. All for answers to questions about "the next world" that none of us has ever seen. Quite miraculous.

  24. Some what like the Flying Dutchman,forever trying to reach port but not able to grasp what will bring them home. This is the legacy of the tea party

  25. This post stands alone - I can think of no comment, be it sad or pithy that can expand on the reality of hate for one's fellow man, currently demonstrated by the republicans (all of them) in the current congress.

  26. Once again, Jim wright, writes an inspired commentary. Thank you for doing what you do.

  27. I used to tell some Xtians that I envied them their faith, because uncertainty is so much harder to deal with. I stopped saying that out loud after I got a few bibles as "come to the dark side, we have cookies" presents.

    Sound bites will not save us. The universe is not simple. Why do we keep electing simpletons?

    1. Simple answers don't require admitting the fallacy of your beliefs. Conplicated answers run the risk of trampling established dogma.

  28. ..."but the pot may be infinite" I'm thinking I need an infinite amount of pot to get me through the prolonged agony of watching the country being held hostage and our National standing go right down the toilet.

    The kid and I really enjoyed the song by Al Stewart. (I went to You Tube to hear it after I read it to him). Thanks for the intro to him.

    Ooh, that gives me a wonderful idea, how about we invite Cruz, Palin and that crazier idiot that was with them at the shameful demonstration at the National Memorial this weekend, to a low tide picnic? We stake them out at low tide and then watch it come in...just like they used to with the real old time pirates.

    1. Nice thought, but crabs would eat them and die, causing a shortage of crab and other shellfish on the East Coast.The only crab available would have to come from my side of the country. Good for the economies of Alaska & Washington, not so good for the N. Atlantic states!! How about fire ant hills in the former nuclear testing zones?

  29. Jesus did only 3 things on this earth. He loved us. He forgave us. He did not judge us. That is the hard one that we have to manage. He really does not care what happens in this world. If you can,try to view what is happening from above and stay out of the fray as much as we can. Sadly our egos get in the way and we are in the middle of everything. Trying to help with the outcome we deem the correct one. There is a God and all of us gets there in the end. It might take more than one trip to get it right, but we will. GOD IS LOVE. How could a loving God send his creations to hell. It doesn't happen. Try to stay above the fray. As Thomas said in one of his writing that did not make the Bible.
    'Remain a passerby".

  30. Wouldn't all of you agree that the founders were extremists? Inalienable rights to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness? "Congress shall make no law..."? Strictly enumerated powers? If you read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, they are very binary.

    At least up to a point. They were binary on certain fundamental questions, but left open the possibility of infinite outcomes on nearly everything else by guaranteeing the right to pursue happiness as it suited you as long as you didn't trample those fundamental rights that belong to someone else.

    The root of our problem is that those truths are no longer self-evident to a growing majority of Americans, either through ignorance, intellectual laziness, or errant education.

    I wonder what the Constitution would look like if it were rewritten today. The philosophical backdrop of the founders no longer exist. Most have no idea what Cicero, Locke, or Voltaire said, or even that they existed. Certainly there would be few restrictions on what government could. Like the Constitution of South Sudan, we would be promised many things the government could never deliver and be granted privileges "in accordance with law", laws that are written as needed that always benefit the ruling class and supporters/beneficiaries, not inalienable rights endowed by nature, or nature's God if you prefer. The founders would be disappointed, but not surprised by what we have become.

    1. "...the Bill of Rights, they are very binary."

      Not really. Take the Ninth Amendment; the fact that there are unenumerated rights leaves a lot open for debate.

      The fact is, even back then the founding fathers disagreed on what was "in" the Constitution, so I would expect disagreements now.

    2. You again. And singing the damned tune as the last time.

      Anonymous, you're not going to turn this post into a rehash of your previous nonsense. Behave yourself or I'll delete your ass just like the last time you showed up.

    3. Greg - ETC(SW) USN - RetiredOctober 15, 2013 at 8:30 PM

      Seems also worth pointing out that even those supposed "binary" rights are negotiable. You can't yell fire in a crowded theater. There are varying kinds of restriction on speech (pornography, libel, etc). There are varying kinds of regulation (regulated militia, but I digress) on gun ownership. The amendments protecting the rights of the accused get reinterpreted with each SCOTUS session. The list goes on. I don't buy the "binary" assertion in the first place.

  31. Funny, decades ago when I asked myself the question "Does God exists or not?" (and what are the implications), determined to dive into all of my assumptions, I came to a couple of conclusions.

    First, if there is a God, he/she must want what is good for us. Otherwise, why would we worship a God that wants what is bad for us. If there were no God, then we would want to do what is good for us. Fundamentally, there's no difference.

    Second, whether or not God/gods exist, that doesn't mean there is or isn't an afterlife. Again these are just assumptions that one depends on the other.

    A fundamental precept of justice is that the punishment must fit the crime. If God were to be a just god, given the ambiguities of life and the lack of proof, there is no way he/she could deal out an eternal damnation for making the "wrong" choice.

    In the end, we are all responsible for our own actions, and we choose to believe what we choose to believe based on logic, experience, and feelings. If God can't accept that, what kind of god is he?

    1. Basically the same question was asked by ancient Greek sceptics back in the second century BCE, the wrongly attributed "Epicurean paradox":

      Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
      Then he is not omnipotent.
      Is he able, but not willing?
      Then he is malevolent.
      Is he both able and willing?
      Then whence cometh evil?
      Is he neither able nor willing?
      Then why call him God?

      I've never seen an adequate response.

    2. Here's my take on "God": God is above us in so many ways that "he" is incomprehensible. As his "children" we must learn and grow in order to one day attain "grace", or as I think of it, ultimate intelligence, and the only way to do that is to learn from our mistakes. God isn't there to prevent or protect us from our own follies, he is there to guide and succor us when we falter through this difficult life, as we mature enough to rise above our base instincts to become a higher form of being. For you cannot learn and grow if you aren't allowed to make mistakes and endure the consequences. If you cannot experience the worst, how can you know what is the best? If you cannot walk in another's shoes, how can you feel compassion?

      And that right there is called Personal Responsibility. Choice. Self-determination.
      In my experience, that concept scares the crap out of most "religious" people.

    3. My father was in the invasion of North Africa in 1942, he left a fairly devout Lutheran. He came back a non worshiper: "No god I'll worship would do that to children".

  32. There is an excellent book on the nature of human evil, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty by Roy F. Baumeister and Aaron Beck. It is the only one I have read on this topic that agrees with my own observations. There are two items in the book that I think apply to the current situation.

    On is that by far the most dangerous people in human history, in terms of total dead bodies per bad person, are the ones who totally, unflinchingly, believe that they have the only magic recipe to make the world run correctly. Invariably these are simple methods that do not work. When one of these people gets hold of the amplifier of political power they attempt to impose their method. Predictably it works poorly when faced with real people. In frustration the fanatic tries even harder, killing off those who do not get with the program. This scenario gave us Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot as examples.

    The second item was on the nature of religious violence. I read the book while the news was reporting on a Danish immigrant father who had killed his own daughter for dating a Dane. I could not understand what could motivate a parent to do this. Baumeister explains this class of behavior in terms of how a dogmatic religion gives you rules of proper behavior. If you follow them you are supposed to prosper, if you do not you should not prosper. When faced with a person who is not following the rules it may appear to be necessary to give God some help in enforcing the failure to prosper. The daughter's fatal sin was being happy with her out-lander boyfriend. She was prospering against the rules, and that was the one thing that could not ever be permitted.

    I think we are seeing both behaviors from the wingnuts. They are convinced that they are on a mission to bring the one true culture to the US, and later the world. They will kill the economy before they allow people who do not follow their rules to be prosperous or happy.

    1. Howard,
      You bring forth two very good points, but I believe there may be a third that makes the present scenario even worse. It's true that zealots, by nature, believe that they have life's Magic Plan, that everyone should follow it, and that those who do not should suffer.
      The thing that makes our present brand of zealots more dangerous is the fact that most of them believe that the U.S. recently had some pie-in-the-sky, Currier & Ives-soaked Golden Age where almost everyone actually adhered to their Magic Plan - and now it has come (or is coming) to an end. Think about the currently popular meme "We want our country back".
      Now, combine that 'loss of a Golden Age' with the frustration of 'everyone should follow my way' with 'non-believers should not prosper', and I think you get a perfect recipe for desperation- and desperation is dangerous.


  33. In my opinion, and in my current state of belief/disbelief, this is your best post ever! Not just good, but damn good!

  34. Great post as always Jim.
    As to the existence of God and or an afterlife I do have my own belief and don't understand why some people find it necessary to shout their version from on high and expect everyone to conform to them.
    That said, I have always wondered why if there is a God why he treats everyone so badly.
    After much consideration I tried to put myself in his sandals and considered what his day would be like with worshipers constantly bowing, worshiping and fawning over him and praying for things and expect special treatment if they do it just right.
    I came to understand after a while.
    If I had to put up with treatment like that it would piss me off too.

  35. Here's another bozo talking in so many circles it makes you dizzy.


    1. Yes, Sowell tried to comment here on a the previous Deadlock post. His dreck was so ridiculous I didn't allow it to post, plus he's already got a large enough platform I'm not going to give him mine.

  36. On 9-11, nineteen religious extremists resolved to destroy some inhabited buildings.
    On 9-30, twelve religious extremists resolved to destroy a national government...

    False equivalency?


  37. Get out of my head. As a high church (I'm addicted to incense and think Latin is sexy, so shoot me) Catholic, I SEE THIS ALL THE TIME. As a therapist, I observe the language, actions and dynamics, and recognise the patterns. I have a habit of poking to see - 'AH. That's where you're defensive. OK, that tells me...' And without fail, it's where you challenge their safe structure, might make them uncertain, suggest that the hierarchy might be *gasp* human (unless they're liberals or like Pope Francis, who puts pastoral care first and suggests things may not be so definite, in which case, they're EVIL, man!) - anything that might force them to drop the construct and be a real human being.

    It's interesting at the high end, because whilst it's easy to stereotype, 'Well, the evangelicals are mostly uneducated,' you can't say that about the high church: they're Eton and Oxford/Cambridge boys, the privileged of the privileged. They're our neocon, Thatcherite/Reaganite thread who despise the evangelicals that they're exactly like (isn't that always the way?), forgetting that the spectrum isn't a line, it's a CIRCLE, with the extremists right next to each other, because at the CORE, left OR right, extremists are essentially the same when you scratch the surface. Dogma is dogma.

    This passage from one of my favourite books sums it up beautifully, I think:

    But his [Will's] attention was on the two tall riding figures starkly outlined ahead against the soft green of the park. In a few moments, the White Rider, as he felt he must call him, dropped aside and quietly trotted away. The coach went on, following the black upright form of the other.

    "Bran said, 'Why should some of the Riders of the Dark be dressed all in white and the rest all in black?'

    "'Without colour...' Will said reflectively. 'I don't know. Maybe because the Dark can only reach people at extremes - blinded by their own shining ideas, or locked up in the darkness of their own heads.'

    --Susan Cooper, Silver on the Tree (p. 652 of the Dark is Rising Sequence, London: Bodley Head, 2007)

    Thank you for this - I was going to write something similar, but you've done it far more eloquently and clearly than I would have. xx

  38. Best line I've ever heard about Pascal's Wager comes from Terry Pratchett:

    The Quirmian philosopher Ventre put forward the suggestion that "Possibly the gods exist, and possibly they do not. So why not believe in them in any case? If it's all true you'll go to a lovely place when you die, and if it isn't then you've lost nothing, right?" When he died he woke up in a circle of gods holding nasty-looking sticks and one of them said "We're going to show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts..."

  39. I have had major problems with Pascal's wager for a very long time. As you say, it ignores the myriad other possibilities. Like other gods may be in charge. Or God can see through people who fake their belief. Excellent post Jim. Thanks.
    Chandra in MO

  40. Mr. Wright,

    Two things:
    1. Please be careful about conflating 17th century "science" with 17th century "religion." While the Catholic Church did wield considerable power over European scientists, there were many shades of gray including the early 17th century Bavarian Palatine court which welcomed thinkers of all types. Later in the century Newton, Leibniz, and the rest of the Royal Society held sway quite autonomous from the Church.

    2. What happens when Obama leaves office in 3 years and the GOP fanatics loss their entire raison d'être?

    Chris in NJ

    1. I intended that as a simple offhand comment on the times, however, your objection is noted and I edited the text to make the concept more clear.

  41. One of the big problems with Pascal's Wager is that it presupposes that the thinker's time on Earth is worth little or nothing to them. That living their life 'as God intended' incurs no cost to them. This simply isn't true for anyone except the simplest, most dogmatic of people that have literally nothing to live for other than God. If at the end of your life, after living in a Godly way, you have no regrets whatsoever about time that you 'wasted' that could have been spent otherwise, then perhaps religion really was for you.

    This is, of course, setting aside the entire, sprawling question: "What constitutes living life 'as God intended'? Which God? Even if we can safely assume that we're speaking of the Judeo-Christian God, which version of that God? Is it the version that loves us no matter what as long as we accept his son? The version that many born-again types will tell you would forgive Hitler himself if he truly, honestly accepted Jesus as his personal savior upon his deathbed? Or is it the Old Testament version of that God that would smite you where you stood for wearing clothing of mixed fabrics? The one that demands animal sacrifices and complex rituals from a woman during pregnancy?

    The other big problem with Pascal's Wager is that it assumes that the thinker has no personal sense of justice independent of religion.

    I firmly believe that there is no God, just as firmly as nearly everyone else believes that there is no Zeus, or Odin, or Shiva. I subscribe quite closely to that old half-sarcastic mantra: "I contend that we are both Atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all of the myriad other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." But suppose, for just a moment, that the Judeo-Christian God does exist. Suppose that he really does follow some subset of the rules laid out in the bible -- they're contradictory, but ignore that for a moment.

    Such a God, if he exists, is unequivocally an Evil god, and he must be destroyed.

    Consider the infinite cruelty of this creature. What sort of being would deliver infinite punishment for finite transgression? No matter how evil you are in life, no matter how sinful, you are only such for a limited amount of time -- almost always less than a century. Under what framework of justice could such evil warrant Eternal Punishment? Not a hundred years, not two hundred, not a thousand, not a million, not a billion... Punishment Everlasting and Eternal, beyond the end of time. Have you not at any point learned your lesson? Have you not at any point paid enough of a price? But we speak here only of truly vile people, so... but wait. Wait just a minute. The simple crime of Not Believing will also land you in this eternal torment, suffering without end so long as anything exists and even beyond that... simply because you had not made up your mind at the end of your 75-year-average lifespan. For not believing in God, you receive the exact same punishment as the most evil person that ever lived.

    This God, the one that would consider that to be just and fair? This God is an incalculably Evil Monster, and must be destroyed.

    If he does exist? I welcome his punishment, and will gladly join Lucifer's army of freedom fighters and work eternally to destroy him. No just person could ever desire to be in the good graces of a being with such an infinite capacity for cruelty and injustice.

    Pascal's Wager presupposes a lot of things to boil it down to a simple, easy choice free of any real thought or difficulty. Because the kind of person that relies on Pascal's Wager is a spineless person, terrified of having to face the real implications of a system of 'faith' that was born of the desire to control people through fear.

  42. Jim, I question one point. You said the Tea Baggers may be thinking "I don’t believe that it will be all that bad." I think, or should say, I am afraid that their Christian dogma is of the Millenialist / Revelationist variety. The end of the world is not a bug, it's a feature, on the road to their paradise. What if they truly believe the Anti-Christ is here, and if they cannot overcome his evil Obamacare socialist Muslim plot, then they will drive the world to Armageddon, the final battle, so their God can finally return after 2000+ years? So if the default isn't that bad, but it forces the evil one to relent, "good" wins, victory. On the other hand, if the default causes a st5ock market crash and worldwide recession, the evil one takes over, but it's just a bump on the road to Jeebus and the four Horsemen, eventually "good" wins, victory is only slightly delayed.
    Yes, I know how freaking batshit crazy this sounds, but these people *are* batshit crazy. Global warming means nothing to them, either because God won't let bad things happen to his creation, or it's all a part of his divine plan. Same for other destruction of our environment. Same for those hateful gheys destroying "traditional marriage" and our culture (somehow). Same for so many other crazy crap that I need to go find my high blood pressure meds if I continue. Yeah, I'm worried. People are catching on to how nuts these Tea Baggers truly are, but is it too late? Have they already caused irreparable harm to our country and the fabric of our society?

    1. Oh it's certain that a handful of the most extreme are engaged in this kind "we had to destroy the village in order to save it" thinking.

      However, it seems to me that those who shout the loudest about the supposed End Times and the Second Coming, are the ones who fear it the most. Instead of welcoming the climax of their biblical prophecy, they use it in an attempt to frighten others into doing their bidding and thus prolong the their time here on earth. Telling, that.

      Also, I think it's important to remember where funding for these people comes from. Destroying the economy, causing a return to recession or a slid into depression, causing a stock market failure, those things directly impact the money men who are funding these nuts. The people most immediately and directly affected by an economic catastrophe are folks like the Koch brothers, they've got one hell of a lot more to lose than the average "man on the street" does. I expect the financial choke collars around the extremists' necks are pretty damned tight at the moment.

    2. I was starting to get reassured when I read your reply. Then I read the latest news. Yes, Jim, I'm sure the Koch brothers and financiers and corporations have threatened the far right wing lunatics with cutting off their funding to stop a default & recession, but that's mainly *campaign* *finance*. (Direct bribes are _so_ 19th century.) The problem for us is that there is no campaign going on right now. These nutjobs are in office now and will remain so until after next year, holding key positions, or having an over-sized effect on the budget negotiations for their current positions because it looks like Boehner has no control and no exit plan. Even with a financial choke chain, the Tea baggers have ~15 months to enact their idea of God's will on Earth, even if it looks like catastrophe to the rest of us.

    3. Perhaps, but if they do eventually force a state of emergency, they effectively give the Executive authoritarian control over the government and the power to render the extremists moot for the duration.

      They might want to give that some thought.

      Let us hope that it doesn't come to that, but I find it unlikely that the saner heads in either the legislature or the executive will allow the dominionists to destroy the country - or their party's own long term financial power base.

      On the other hand, the dominionists are doing a fine job of destroying themselves at the moment, frankly I'm all about them getting their yellow-eyed insanity out in the open where we can all see it. And I don't mind at all if they manage to end their own little fantasy world while they're at it.

    4. Let us not forget that gerrymandering means one doesn't have to say one is sorry. One merely has to be more extreme than the other one.

    5. Rather than worry about being financially harmed by an global economic meltdown, what if the super rich (Kochs and their ilk) believe they are so rich as to weather any economic storm? What if they think they could actually come out ahead with a worldwide Depression? Maybe they don't want to rein in their wackos. Creeping Fascism becomes trotting Fascism.

      Chris in NJ

    6. For the super Rich, they still want more money. They are also finding out, much like the German Army leaders did with Hitler, once you give them power.... It is very hard to take it back

  43. Ahh, Jim...as always, succinct and pure...always great posts and comments...After we lost our daughter, I believed there was no GOD...There was nothing...we, my wife and I, still suffer the loss, there is no comfort...and now with these, these, "people" who are perverting the "word" of God and forcing their beliefs upon the rest of the country sure seems to be counter to the First Amendment, as well as, the Bible...

  44. This is a trivial point, about an excellent post, but, in contemporary usage, one usually restricts the term "game theory" to situations in which the outcome depends upon not just your own decisions and the state of the world, but the actions of another agent whose best course of action depends on that agent's beliefs about what you will do; that is, one usually restricts "game theory" to the analysis of decisions in "non-parametric" cases. "Pascal's wager" is generally assumed to be parametric -- your decision re: whether to believe has no impact on the exist or non-existence of any gods or other entities, and so would generally be thought of as a case where the reasoning involved "decision theory" but not, strictly speaking, requiring "game theory," per se. It is a classic "decision under uncertainty" but not one where the beliefs of another agent are relevant to the outcomes.

    Given what you've said about your professional experience, it seems likely that you would, naturally, be most familiar with game theory, which is, in many important ways, more general and more powerful than (parametric) decision theory; game theory, after all, is what analyzing intelligence data is all about (as the link below suggests, it is in part what drove the development of game theory!). But for Pascal's wager, it just isn't required, and introducing the full game-theoretic toolset doesn't help. (Of course, Pascal's wager is, for the reasons you note, such a mess that nothing really "helps" but that's another point, one that is well addressed in your post.)

    See: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/game-theory/ for a brief discussion of the history of the terminology and the development of the field.

    (Does it matter what we call it? I suppose not, in the end, but because there is a distinction between "game theory" and "decision theory" in the contemporary literature on these topics, and because the claim that Pascal's wager is best understood as a kind of game theory is, given the distinction in the literature, at least a bit misleading, I thought it was worth a brief note.)

    1. Does it matter what we call it? Probably not. Not in this essay anyway.

      I am indeed familiar with game theory. Very.

      ...your decision re: whether to believe has no impact on the exist or non-existence of any gods or other entities, and so would generally be thought of as a case where the reasoning involved "decision theory" but not, strictly speaking, requiring "game theory," per se.

      Yes. That's the generally accepted view of the wager, that the parameters are fixed and the outcome is based entirely on your actions (i.e. God exists or doesn't exist and your belief has no impact on that one way or the other) and why it's often used as an example of decision theory - as you noted.

      However, there's an assumption there, and that is: God is a constant.

      If you assume that God does exist, and you include God in the equation as a variable, i.e. God's decision to grant you either reward or punishment based on His judgement of your actions (with the added variable of whether or not He can tell the difference (or cares) between actual belief and the appearance of belief (the faking it part)) then you move into game theory. This, as you noted, is the very essence of strategic intelligence. This is exactly what you're doing when you are attempting to project the adversary's possible courses of action in response to a menu of variable actions on your part, e.g. If I attack here, the adversary will possibly respond in the following manners (and then, if you're good, you have to assign validity and probability values to each possible response based on quantitative metrics combined with qualitative indicators).

      I used the terms I did with malice aforethought based on my own experience.

    2. Interesting approach! Thanks for the response.

  45. I don't think the leaders themselves believe. So far as I can tell Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, and Ted Cruz believe only in themselves.

    Five years ago, during the 2008 election, I wrote about fear in current politics; you sent me back to it a few months ago, and I'm going to quote some of it here, “A lot of effort has been spent on making people so concerned and scared about particular single issues that they forget the whole, like someone who lets their panic fear of falling lead them to die in a fire rather than making a safe jump from a window… If only we knew as well how to allay fears and give people courage! … It is difficult for me to draw any conclusion other than that we are in need of vast transformations in our institutions and philosophies.”

    Finally, a few pedantic notes:
    1. Pascal was a Jansenist, a radical Catholic. Loosely, "Fundamentalism" refers to American evangelical Protestantism.
    2. Strictly, "Fundamentalism" refers to American Protestant sects whose ideas are similar to or based on those found in The Fundamentals, an early 20th century American book of theology.
    3. "Apologetics" are rational arguments made for a particular position; they are not themselves dogma, though they can become the basis of dogma.

    1. I would point out that I used fundamentalism with a small f as a general description of religious fanaticism, not the proper noun Fundamentalism with a capital F which describes a specific branch of religious fanaticism - but I understand what you're saying and in retrospect I probably should have used a different word.

      Pascal was a radical, or fundamentalist, Catholic indeed. I didn't see that as particularly relevant to the point I was trying to make. But again, since you pointed it out, in retrospect I probably should have chosen my words with more care for the religious scholars.

      Regarding Apologetics, I believe that's what I said - or at least intended to imply:

      That’s the purpose of Apologetics, to spell out the rules, to define the dogma

      Perhaps I should have said "explain the dogma..." instead.

    2. To me the most frightening aspect is when "explain the dogma" becomes "redefine the dogma".

    3. "So far as I can tell Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, and Ted Cruz believe only in themselves."

      The thing about psychopaths is: they don't really make a distinction between belief in a God and belief in themselves. To them it's all the same. If they believe in God then they also believe God speaks through them. What they cannot believe, what they cannot even begin to think, is that any truth can exist anywhere, even in God, which contradicts the 'truth' that they have concluded is correct.


    4. Jim, if you are looking for a different word, may I suggest authoritarians (as in http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/)? I don't know if you've read this before, but it made a lot of sense to me. The author (Bob Altemeyer) also includes a short addition about the Tea Party and how they fit into his research,

  46. excellent post as always chief if you don't mind I would like to direct readers to The peoples view as churchlady has an excellent post about how the domonionist truly want to crash the big bad gubbmint and restore the govt. in their own biases and thus become the elite. Once I read the article and the premise churchlady was trying to convey it makes sense why the dominionist/tp are on the course they're on. Again excellent post as always your's is one of the sites that help keep me focused and balanced.

  47. Jim, would it be fair to say that there are (for sake of argument) two kinds of people: those who think and those who feel? Sort of like a divide between those who tend to think things through and those who are driven more by their own emotional needs? I do see this sort of divide in our nation today, between a citizen who is thoughtful and considered and another citizen who is emotional and acts out those feelings. The former tend to use education to expand their views while the latter use education to sharpen their focus on what they feel.

    Of course, ideally humans are balanced between their emotional selves and their thoughtful side, but my experience (I'm 65) leads me to think that people tend to default to one mode or the other, particularly under stress.

    If this premise is even partly true, it would explain a lot about why some people "feel" the need to believe and are religious, while others are content to explore their thoughts and keep their emotions at some distance - or at least try not to let their emotions cloud their thought processes too much.

    1. Gunner, there have been quite a few studies done on this exact subject. Most focus on the psychological, (and are well worth reading), but some use statistical physical evidence.

      Two of the neurophysical studies: the Amodio study (Neurocognitive Correlates of Liberalism and Conservatism, 2007), and the Kanai/Colin Firth study (Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults, 2011), found similar results when comparing the neuroanatomy of liberals and conservatives.
      The Amodio study found that liberalism correlated with greater activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, or the ACC, while the Kanai study found that liberalism correlated with increased gray matter volume or a larger ACC, as shown in MRI scans. Additionally, the Kanai study found that conservatism was correlated with increased volume of the right amygdala.

      (Don’t be scared by all the neuro-speak - it will be explained)

      The ACC has a variety of functions in the brain, including error detection, conflict monitoring1, and evaluating or weighing different competing choices. It’s also very important for both emotion regulation and cognitive control (often referred to as ‘executive functioning’)—controlling the level of emotional arousal or response to an emotional event (keeping it in check), allowing your cognitive processes to work most effectively.

      The amygdala is part of the limbic system, the area of the brain associated with emotions. The amygdala is important for formation of emotional memories and learning, such as fear conditioning, as well as for memory consolidation. Persons with a larger or more active amygdala tend to have stronger emotional reactions to objects and events, and process information initially through that pathway. They would be more likely swayed towards a belief if it touched them on an emotional level.

      For a comprehensive, entertaining, and reader-friendly layman’s discussion of these and other findings, please see:


      (the information I've presented here has been excerpted from this link)


    2. Looked at in the light of those studies, that Pew survey showing 58% of scientists self-ID as Democrats, vs only 6% as Republicans makes sense. Frankly, I wonder what that 6% is doing there. They're up to something...

    3. It's a statistical curve - there will always be a few people at the extremes. (as the article pointed out: "Not everyone fits into little personality boxes.") So "Rational Republican" isn't an oxymoron. On the other hand, "Rational NeoCon"...


  48. My main issue with Pascal and his wager is the very premise that we must have a god to have purpose. The secondary issue? That belief is NOT without cost in some societal surrounds....in the old Soviet Union for instance, or nowadays...becoming Christian in any very Islamic nation could be death right then. Guess one really better hope they win that belief bet!

  49. "GOP strategists once hoped to take the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016, suddenly they’re saying that it would be worth losing both of those dreams along with losing the House – if it will allow them to get their way now."

    It's very comforting to know that their foolishness for the last few weeks may cost them the House in 2014. To be honest, I never thought Republicans had a good chance of winning the Presidency in 2016. If their candidate is Cruz, Rubio, Santorum or Bachman, Hilary Clinton will win a landslide.

    Too bad a major political party thinks it is okay to shut down the government, furlough hundreds of federal employees (who need to pay their bills) and threaten to default on the debt ceiling (and drag down the world's economy) just to prevent American citizens from getting access to affordable healthcare. This hostility to the ACA does not make any sense since it is not a government take over of healthcare.

    1. The problem I have with the Tea Party strategy is the creation of voter apathy. Is this something they're doing on purpose? When voter turnout is low, it traditionally benefits conservatives. Vote or put up with the consequences. Voter turnout was low in 2010, and look at what we're dealing with.

    2. Given what happened in 2010, I hope Democrats are energized to come out in force in 2014. I cannot imagine what the US will be like if the Republicans take over the Senate and hold the House. Scary!

  50. So there are the people who believe in Dogma -- as a means to control or be controlled. And there are people who believe in Individual Freedom -- as a means to think for ourselves or not think at all.If you split those people equally, you get 25% of the people thinking for ourselves and 75% preferring to stumble around blindly.

  51. Mid Level Bureau CatOctober 15, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    My definition of ideology is- an excuse to not think. Ideology is the single greatest threat to our (almost, sort of still) democracy.) Even an anti-ideology ideology is distructive. You still have to think dammit.

  52. Brilliant piece. I tend to think that unfetterd greed and fundamentalism are the twin curses of the modern era. Bill Maher was a bit more crass and concise, but he made essentially the same point that you're making here. The fact that people like this have been placed in such positions of power does not speak well for the future of civil, intelligent discourse or rational policy-making in this country. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/12/bill-maher-scalia-bachmann-devil-video_n_4089147.html

  53. They say that one of the signs of insanity is not realizing that you're insane...

    Of course, other factors need to be taken into account for that to be true.

  54. You described my sister-in-law exactly in this post. It's maddening.
    Yet when one questions her as to "bearing false witness", she responds with a resounding "No, I'm not."
    She's gone off the deep end and proud of it.

  55. I am always learning something from your postings. Today I got an interesting philosophy lecture!!! Again, I'm sharing this baby.
    And I'm trying not to think about the state of my finances if this mess continues all the way into November.
    It's been a long time since I've been made to feel this helpless.
    M from MD

  56. As a fellow writer, I know the hardest thing I can ask of my characters is to look into the depths of their own blindness and confront the flaws and weaknesses they find there. Those characters who can't face the challenge become villains. Those who can become heroes.

    If only it were that simple (not easy, mind you, but simple) in real life...

  57. I'm surprised by the number of folks who seem to have been exposed to Pascal's little ditty for the first time. I read it when I was a teenager more than fifty years ago. And I remember what I thought about it - which was "That's bullpucky."
    Very well written article, Sir.
    And you have a very polite son. Congratulations to all involved.

  58. Jim,

    Thanks for another great and fun read. As with most of your posts, I had to read it twice to really get the full meanings.

    It was wonderful to see you using lyrics from Al Stewart.

    And Thanks to You I spent the last two hours searching thru the boxes of vinyl records in the back of the closet in the spare bedroom looking for my copy of Past, Present and Future. I always get tearful listening to the song Roads to Moscow. It is a brilliantly done song in my opinion in that the music is matched so well to the lyrics - spare and haunting.

    Of course, this being 2013, I did a search on Al Stewart and find that - lo and behold - he is performing at Yoshis San Francisco on December 6th. I will be there. Thanks to You.

    Does your 17 year old son listen to your Al Stewart records?

    Keep up the good work,
    An avid reader of the Stonekettle Station

  59. Hi Jim. Great entry...This thought came across my mind recently: Perhaps the the money behind the Tea Party (Koch brothers, et al) and their ilk orchestrated this whole thing behind the scenes because if the economy did go belly up as a result of the shut-down, default, etc., stock prices would drop and they'd be able to buy up all that more stock and perhaps certain companies.

  60. Just read this. Today is the 17th. so the madness ended last night. But, who's to say it won't happen again? thanks


  61. Yes, *of course*, the Tea Baggers are vowing to take up the same fight again in January. They're sure that people will hate Obamacare 'even more' once they see it in action. They're sure that more main stream GOP legislators will back them due to threats of being opposed in primaries by more extreme GOP Tea Baggers. Here's an article: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/2013/1017/Why-did-tea-partyers-surrender-Because-January-will-be-different-they-say

    1. "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result" is claimed to be the most used quote in history. I expect that's because we are continually presented so many examples of it.


  62. First thing I did when I got back from The Turkish/Syrian border, after I gave my better half a big hug, was to start catching up with your posts. As usual you nail it. I envy you your always articulate assessment of any situation that you write about. Thanks Chief!

  63. Great encouragement should be given to the business community to fund the primary races of the non-Tea Party GOP candidate so that no more crazies are elected. The only other option is to get rid of gerrymandered districts, but since that is the purview of the states, don't see how that is going to happen.

    As usual, Jim, excellent post.

    Old Navy Comm O


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