Category Archives: politics

liberal and conservative

When I hear the words liberal and conservative I am reminded of Jim Edwards’ notion that we don’t use these words except as weapons. But I have a friend who uses one of these as a defense against the opposing view. “I am a conservative” he says, as if that would protect him against the onslaughts of the liberal.

I was reviewing and revising my marijuana web site, and I again watched the video from 1996 that is posted in that page. I heard from William F. Buckley, Jr., an avowed conservative, that in order to be a conservative one must first be a realist. That might not be a startling claim for some, but having always respected Buckley for his careful exposition of the world, I recognized an axiom that, though I am not a conservative (or liberal), I think is fundamental to our engagement with people and the world.

The axiom, in its uncomplicated form, states: There is a real world whether we perceive it or not, whether we understand it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, and that real world persists irrespective of our association with it.

In contrast with that reality we criticize people for not living in the real world. In this part of the presidential election cycle we know the politicians are mostly not living in the real world, especially if they expect that we will vote them in based on their promises. Politicians are notorious for failing to keep promises to the electorate. There are good reasons for this, of course. The politicians are beholden to powers that prior to election do not express themselves with teeth bared only after the election. We don’t forgive them for this, but they expect us to forget.

Nate Silver in his book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t, he describes two types of people, metaphorically, hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs are free with their opinions, predicting the future but mostly failing, because they have no sense of the tangled reality of the sandbox in which they play. And they never get any better in their predictions, because they don’t tie real causes and effects together successfully. Contrarily, the foxes are shy about expressing their opinions, because there are really so many factors that determine any outcome. They realize the future is fraught with unknowns and the flux of human interactions. But Silver notes that their predictive success gets better the longer they are at it.

The hedgehog does not live in the real world, even though they contact it every day. Though they may go by the label liberal, or conservative, they are not realists in the important sense. Or if they are, they choose to ignore the tangled web of influence and causal complexity. They live in Wonderland, criticizing Alice even as they remain clueless of their own companionship with her.

The fox, however, lives “circumspectly, as wise,” recognizing that though one can’t have an objective viewpoint, there are more or less objective views. They choose self-consiously the entangled universe that is acknowledged as entangled, accepting the fact of their prejudices as prejudice, being aware that it can mislead them.

So, this led me to think that whatever label we choose for ourselves, or the avoidance of labels, that a realist perspective typified by the fox will always be preferred over that of the hedgehog.

Frankly, I don’t care whether one proclaims oneself a liberal or conservative, a socialist or capitalist, except in the case where they live clueless of the complexity of the world they live in, and expect me to favor them because of their label. Labels have the curious effect of locking out options for thinking. Michel Foucault and many others have suggested that labeling is intrinsically reductionistic. That is, a label prevents one from examining possibilities that are by definition unthinkable. Since we’re talking about presidents, let me remind you that some of the most effective presidents are those who attached their own label to projects of the opposing party and pushed them as their own. That certainly is a realist perspective.

So when Bernie Sanders claims to be a Socialist, he stings the eyes of the capitalist, OK, I meant to say conservative because conservatives in this era are capitalists. Let me play with socialism and capitalism as opposing worldviews. Really, they are not opposing worldviews, they are modes of production, more tied to how we divide ownership than how we rule ourselves. As financial modes they are both unstable, not worthy of the totalizing domains they wish to control. Both of them require a moderating influence, a political structure that both stabilizes and moderates their worst effects. Kai Nielsen, proposing socialism as the more moral of our pair, suggests that the errors of socialism can be lived with more easily than the errors of capitalism.

What are the errors of socialism? As Nielsen says, an all pervasive bureaucracy attempts to control every effort and every possible effect of our lives. The errors of capitalism on the other hand, divide the world into the owners of production, and those who work for them, the peasants, the proletariat, the wage slaves. Nielsen thinks that a democracy can control the pervasive bureaucracy, preventing the intrusion of government into the lives of individuals. And those framers of the Bill of Rights thought that could control the worst depredations of capitalism.

Here we are in the real world today in the United States. We see both the errors of capitalism and the errors of socialism. But what controls these errors is not their opposite. Capitalism is not a solution for socialism, nor vice versa, but a democracy that can vote appropriate people to lead the nation. That is why the travesty of the modern oligarchy is so egregious. It prevents the democracy from actually doing anything more than spin its wheels and justify the status quo. That’s the real world we live in today. Capitalism and socialism are companion parts of the grain of our political system. The socialists engage the bureaucracy to surveil you and the capitalist dispenses with you as an employee when they no longer need you. You are not a person to either one, but an irritation that needs to be controlled. Their methods differ, but the result is the similar. You become a construct to be controlled and manipulated by message and media, by money and meaning. That is why a democracy, or in our case a representative republic, is required. Only it can control the out of control bureaucracy and the one-percenters’ oligarchy.

Classical liberals side with the people against the power of government. Classical conservatives aim at a government for the people by the people. But today’s rubbish heap of political cronies have lost the concept of the people entirely.

How do we exit this political and economic grinder? First and foremost, by becoming realists. Recognize the trouble we’re in and then vote to get us out of it. That means, we’ll have to ignore the press who are in the pocket of the cronies who have been purchased by the special interests to send the messages they think will help us ignore our responsibilities to vote these creeps out. Second, let me defer to politicians who are not afraid to challenge the status quo. And I’m not talking about the newspeak where change means the status quo, but the Libertarians like Gary Johnson, or the Socialists like Bernie Sanders. Will they be able to fix the republic? No, not in one fell swoop, but they will bring a shakeup that can at least throw the drones across the yard. (Bee drones can’t find their way back to the hive if they are taken out of it.) Gary and Bernie are realists. Their mutual outrage at the current state of affairs promises a disruption of the status quo. They are not like Hillary “Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse” Clinton or the drones of the Republican party, as well-meaning and competent in their world as they may be.

We can vote the status quo, following the press recommendations, or we can change the world. It’s up to us I think.

response to an opinion

Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts

Times Opinionator by Justin McBrayer

This is a video of his explanation of the problem presented at Evangel University.

My response to the written piece in the NYT Opinionator

I have always maintained that the equation between truth and proof is fallacious. We’ve moved on past the simplicity of a logical proof to statistical correlations between facts, truths, and opinions. The nice thing about that is that irrespective of whether you are judging opinion or the real world, a statistical correlation gives corroboration and even warrant to the best of our moral intuitions, even as it does to our measurements of the material properties of the universe.

In this way we have learned to judge the negative value of divorce, except in the case of spousal violence. And divorce is a great example because any blanket proscription against divorce because it is “morally wrong” fails to rescue women (or men) from abusive relationships that may, and too often, result in death. Statistical correlation does give warrant for divorce. It is the moral solution in the case of abuse. It is not an opinion. (Or, if it is an opinion, it is also more than that.)

Yes, this judgment relies on the belief that all people are created equal and deserve equal judgment under the law. But even that belief has statistical warrant. It is a negative warrant, but one that has proved to be true over the many centuries when different values have been held. Other grounds for social values all end by breaking social bonds and result in logical, legal, and moral contradictions, subjecting one group to the will of another, and performing unjust actions upon them. This is not strictly a biblical value either, except by derivation. There was no proscription against slavery in the Bible, something that southern landowners knew very well.

Yes the very concept of justice relies on a belief that equity and fairness must be preserved, and that there must be redress for wrongs done, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

To think that values are simply opinions that can be dismissed because they are opinions is the shallow end of the gene pool, both intellectual and biological. They choose this path because it is deterministically simple, and no more complex thought is required, and whether they would be able to perform that complex thought is in question.

The only disappointing thing about relying on statistical correlations is that they must be worked out through arduous research. Logic is much simpler. But can we require certainty? There are plenty of examples where incomplete reasoning, false certainties, or open-ended absolutes are the cause of much abuse and damage to God’s children and the earth he has placed them on. Under which justification can a king claim divine right, the absolute rule over a subject’s life without appeal?

theological posts

I think it is remarkable how divided the Christian world is. So much of what we believe has become important above and beyond any recognizable justifications.

This is less so for philosophy. Though in some places there is hot contention over some issues. In the USA the analytic school feels an obligation to destroy pragmatism. This is irritating to me, not because I am a doctrinaire pragmatist but because the attack is so wrongheaded and uncritical of the limits of its own views.

Religions have some of the same troubles, that is, if Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, Shinto, or Buddhism etc. are true then on some account the others may not be. Some state that exclusive claim outright.

Politicians have the same difficulty. To win against an opponent, or other party, one must often go on the offensive even when the differences between views look like the differences between squabbling children, basically meaningless. If the differences were something between tyranny and anarchy, not that we would aim at either of those, we could tell the difference. Yes, there are differences in how an election will turn out, but nobody knows what will happen in the long run, Nobody knows whether a single bit of legislation will turn out to be valuable or destructive of social bonds. We are guessing with our best sense, but it is still a guess. If nothing else, we must follow Immanuel Kant’s advice not to make rules to bind future generations so that they could not make improvements.


How often has it been in history, when war is caused by disrespect. An important person in my life has just come to the conclusion that their error with respect to me has been disrespect. But I fear we shall fall again into the maelstrom of conflict. We hold fundamentally different views of authority. I, no big surprise, hold no human authority above myself, though I do what government requires of a citizen, and when appropriate obey the powers above me. But that doesn’t mean that I hold their authority with any more reverence than my own reason, or autonomy. My view and sense of egalitarianism doesn’t rob from the appropriate powers, their right to exact whatever tribute the social contract requires. I am not so stupid as to suggest that authority should be challenged in every situation. Authority has its place, and I give it plenty of room. I count it the wisdom of Christ to allow the authorities to exact their proper payment without any rebellion. This is the agreement of the social contract. The state and whatever body represents them need funds to pay police, pay for schools, etc. to make sure the overall movement of any society I could possibly support is supported by me. There are, of course, errors, but that is to be expected in any human authority. Recourse to political means are always available, since they are not sending people to jail for disagreeing with them, and don’t happily prosecute the public will, at least not without a great deal of blowback that leads eventually to some change.

Egalitarianism, not only an Age of Reason and Enlightenment virtue but that of some ancients and moderns, continually plies its trade against the assumption that law is to be obeyed irrespective of the justness of that law. There is no ostensible recourse for one whose belief systems go against the common political stream. This pressure can be either de facto or de jure, reflecting either the status quo or the legal precedent, but setting oneself against the stream has consequences.

Egalitarian politics strives against these pressures. No one has the authority given by God to exercise law of any kind against another just because they disagree with the status quo. Neither, on a more personal level, does one person have a right to judge another unworthy for their failure to conform, and attempt to exact justice for that failure.

Libertarianism informs the issue here. One can’t impinge on another’s rights without recourse. This assumes some form of natural law and some form of the social contract that doesn’t raise itself to the level of government. In other words, we can’t expect that being unfair to others should go unnoticed, or that we shouldn’t respond to it. We need to keep a sense of fairness that doesn’t cross the borders of decency expecting no response from the golden rule. The golden rule stands as the rule of fairness that exacts from us the necessity of judging our behavior in terms of how we would like to be treated. As a general principle it is the foundation of all egalitarian principles, and the denial of any sense of either divine right against a person, or legal authority that oversteps the bounds of reason.

Let me take you to a conflict that has recently been absolved. A person whom I am forced to interact with daily has under the pressure of my continued censure decided that they have been disrespectful of me and so decided that I should be resisted with all force. We had become desperate for the anger I felt and expressed, and for the futility of the situation that didn’t seem to be resolving.

They decided that the only way to resolve this was to play the authority card, and the anger had escalated to the point of verbal violence. I disrespected that authority, well, on top of disrespecting authority in general as a method of resolving issues, and so had become part of that violence as a matter of resistance. I had the high card, in egalitarian reason, and so was ready to let it play out in my favor. They also decided that since they had authority in their favor, they would let it play out. But they were losing, both reason and common decency, and I was losing my mind waiting for understanding to have its day.

They resolved that they had disrespected me and that that was the problem. Yes, I agree, but they played the authority card by giving it to me. I resisted that authority, claiming that in Christ we are all on the same ground, and that we should treat each other with the respect due to ordinary human beings.

I don’t know whether they have taken this hint, but the effort they made to apologize for not respecting me has brought peace. I will make every effort to respect their move and keep peace. But I have to resist their solution of me becoming the authority. That would be a joke. Who am I to exercise authority over an equal? What a complete waste of effort. I don’t have enough brain power to run my life and theirs as well.

Our interaction will have to be played out on an egalitarian field. I am no more capable of being in charge of another adult than I am of being in charge of my own life. My own life I give over to the love of God, not so much as an authority, but as the beneficent Creator. I do not deny his authority as creator, but sense that authority is not the mode of his communication to us in Jesus Christ. He makes the offer of life, and we either take it or not. I say yes to this offer, try to understand what would be pleasing to God and make my decisions on that basis. But this is not a basis of law. What I can live with is that God offers the way for us, and that we either choose to take it or not in any case. If this is the true God, then taking his advice and rule is the route to truth. If this is not the true God then the advice becomes one more voice in the light of reason that has to be taken into consideration.

Globally, the voice of God has to be tested against other voices, and this is not a zero-sum game. If God is God, then there is no real competition for the position. The challenge that Thomas Hobbes delivers to us is that we must govern ourselves as obedient to a ruling authority and that the state will function as the salvation of people in the political enterprise. But if the state of nature is, instead of the constant war that Hobbes observes, but rather, a state of cooperation as some of his more optimistic contemporaries envisioned, then the authority card has lost its usefulness if it ever really had it.

I argue, especially with this significant other, that we are all created equal, as the Declaration of Independence suggests, and that we are all responsible to God for carrying playing that out. There is no essential requirement to submit to authority, nor to try to figure out where in any authority scheme we fit, but that we are all responsible to God for how we make this work out. Otherwise, we are stuck with the terrible prospect of determinism that requires that we find our place in the scheme of things and play out our part in terms of a script that is already written. Oh my God, how could you have let this happen? 😉

“the problem with pot”

I speak in response to an article in the Pentecostal Evangel dated a few days from now. I get them as a courtesy of AGWM Communications where I work. I am entirely sympathetic with the goals and aims of the Assemblies of God World Missions team and their claim to be founded on the Bible as the Word of God. This denomination is one of the most progressive and vigorous groups aimed in this world at the propagation of the good news of Christ non-prejudicially to the whole world. There is complete and sincere concern for the welfare of people and a flourishing future for individuals. I happily subscribe to their missions philosophy, the leadership, and working people engaged in this ministry.

That said, I do not always subscribe to the less than clear thinking of the magazine they put out, though for the most part it is well researched and carefully produced. The Evangel this time, focussing on Convoy of Hope has a distracting little article near the end called “The Problem With Pot.”

Let me start with a good part of the article. Andrew Carpentieri’s story is that he first became acquainted with illegal drugs through marijuana. This is not an unusual story. The good part of his story is that he found salvation in Christ and was released from the bondage of addiction to much stronger drugs into a life of liberty in Christ. I applaud him and God for this transformation. I do not dispute the facts of this story.

Now, to the bad part… Andrew’s story is woven into a fabric of half truths and misinformation that makes it look like marijuana is at fault for his downfall. Information is offered in the article that blames marijuana for Andrew’s inevitable decline into a criminal underworld, captive to addictive substances and contrary to all good sense. The chief argument used is that marijuana is a gateway drug.

In case you haven’t been listening for the last 43 years since Richard Nixon started the war on drugs, marijuana is a gateway drug that leads into the inevitable decline and further drug abuse of anyone who uses it. Dr. Mitch Earleywine1 asks the question whether marijuana use can be a “cause” of further drug abuse. He concludes that on David Hume’s criteria of causality, marijuana cannot be a cause of further drug abuse because studies do not show that. Instead there is no statistically relevant correlation between marijuana use and, as Earleywine demonstrates, cocaine use. If the gateway theory is to be believed, then there should be a strong correlation between marijuana use and cocaine use. But Earleywine shows good statistical evidence that only about 2% of all marijuana users go on to use powdered cocaine on a monthly basis. (I am condensing the statistical arguments here.) Even fewer have used crack cocaine in the last month.

If then it is statistically improbable that marijuana is the cause of addictive monthly cocaine use, then, what is the reason for calling marijuana a gateway drug? It certainly is a gateway, but not in the way the author John W. Kennedy wants you to think, (as the federal government also wants you to think). Marijuana is a gateway into the criminal underworld of illicit drug use, thievery, robbery, fraud, etc. that permeates the gray areas of modern American life. Once a person uses marijuana, they have entered the underworld economy. Outside the distaste this brings to some of us, and the harm to people it actually causes, what does it mean that marijuana is a gateway to this realm?

The story is fairly simple. It has to do with whether someone in authority is a plausible witness to the truth. (The government claims that it is a plausible witness to the truth. It claims that it knows the truth about currently illicit drugs and can decide for you how to behave when it makes laws to punish you for using them.) There is a moral sense in all of us, atheist and theist alike, that knows when it is being lied to. When the government and those who agree with it about marijuana tell the public that marijuana has no medically redeeming virtue, it is lying. We have 5000 years of evidence that people have been using marijuana for medical purposes. There was even a large section on marijuana in the medical compendium before the 1940s in the USA that described the medical value of marijuana.

Here’s the modern kicker. When a teen tries marijuana, they often say that the D.A.R.E. program has mislead them. Marijuana is not as harmful as is claimed.

[Is marijuana not harmful as the Evangel article says people claim? No, marijuana, as a psychoactive drug has potentially dangerous effects that make it necessary to avoid exposing undeveloped humans. Every group seeking legalization of marijuana, including N.O.R.M.L., Drug Policy Alliance, and the Marijuana Policy Project insist that any legalization scheme must follow a similar trajectory as lawful alcohol restrictions, preventing underaged persons from purchasing the drug. No considerate adult would recommend allowing the use of marijuana to minors except in cases of medical expediency. The Evangel article states that marijuana may cause the early onset of schizophrenia to minors who use it. That has been attested in statistically relevant ways. But in these cases, schizophrenia would have presented for those individuals before the age restrictions on legalized marijuana would have allowed them to use the drug, usually by the age of 18. But statistically relevant also is the fact that the increased public use of marijuana shows no increase in the incidence of schizophrenia. Here’s a bit I know you will like, most high school students find it easier to acquire marijuana (black market) than cigarettes or alcohol (both regulated by law). I digress…]

The young person who tries marijuana and finds that it is not as harmful as they have been told, will believe that they have been lied to. They will believe that they have also been lied to about heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, about which they may not have been lied to. You must see the dilemma this places the users of illicit drugs and the authorities in.

Marijuana has been drafted as the gateway drug. It is certainly not the cause of further drug use if we’re to take the statistics seriously, though it has been claimed to be. But the lie of the authorities leaves young people unprepared to encounter stronger and more dangerous drugs and the criminal element they have been introduced to. The legitimacy of the government message has been diluted by a patent lie and further obfuscation. It has disqualified itself from making claims of the sort it does. The fault here lies with the government not with the drug itself.

In the end of the article, Kennedy almost comes clean. He claims that the only authority that suffices to redeem a person is God, and that other authorities are not efficacious. He also moves people toward self-control. I applaud these remarks. They are correct in the best biblical and moral senses. So, I ask why has he bought the terrible story the federal government tells. Why has he woven his story into theirs, when they have done nothing well concerning this drug. He has told truths and half truths, but obscured the real truths that would cause suspicion on the authority of our government. Agreeing with the naughty government, he therefore waffles when it comes to committing to Christ the power of our own resurrection, our healing and security.

Kennedy recommends trusting Christ, but he damages his claim by siding with the fallible and clearly problematic government view about a drug it has lied about for over sixty years. Is Christ and self-control sufficient for living the life of freedom, or do we need the government to control our behavior?

My suggestion is to stick to the message of Christ and avoid the faulty “conservative” bent that seeks to lord it over people. The war on drugs is in reality a war against people who use drugs, people that we as Christians claim to care about. What a terrible hypocrisy. “The greatest among you is the servant of you all.” The federal government, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is in its own service lately, not yours.

(I published this post on October 6, 2015 in my blog dealing with marijuana prohibition.)

1 Mitch Earleywine, Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), pps. 50-60.

self examination

I am finding that movies and books, even at times music is not enough entertainment to keep me from thinking about myself. I am in the process of recovery still from my dissertation, completed over a year ago. I am smarter, more capable, but as one friend Ray said, “Now that I am a Doctor, people expect more of me.” That’s OK. They do, and the investment of their lives in patience for the fruits of my labor should be worth it.

I think some of the fascination with myself as an object, and a subject, is complicated by the material of my dissertation, (get it here.) Complicated because it is a challenge of truth about the reality of my Christian experience, my married life, my children, and all the other relations that require my time. The critique implied in my work brings a rich dialectic about my life. So it is more entertaining thinking about how I will become a better person than it is thinking about my work. Sometimes, the engine of my critique bowls over all other intended activity.

I remember years ago, while I lived in Alabama, that I began to read SF and adventure novels at night before I went to sleep so that I wouldn’t have to process my day, obsessively mark each detail and make a judgment about it. I’m still reading novels before bed, but I find myself thinking about my relation with the novels, the characters, and the scenarios they are in. There is something instructive in the musings of writers who make their characters dance through a plausible world, especially those great ones who are both so human that their failings are understandable, and so good that their life is to be emulated.

This is the classic setup for an Aristotelian tragedy. But it still works. The good ones struggle to keep their integrity, even if their integrity depends on a dark hope, or an absurd end. The struggle is engaging inside the hope that it will resolve itself without the emergence of our worst selves. Being thrown (Heideggerian thrown-ness) into the world that cares nothing for me, or my local clan, involves making peace in a Stoic way with the things that I cannot change. But that’s not enough.

I’ve been reading Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus and coming to the conclusion that our circumstances, whatever they appear to be are worth more than any mourning we might put into it. The experience itself is its own reward. I’ve also been reading something of the ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila. Oh my God, I open myself to an experience of being pierced like her. The pain and the transfinite pleasures not available anywhere else. I remember Thomas a Kempis saying, and I paraphrase, “How many of us would not prefer spiritual pleasures over material ones if they were always available to us?” This rhetorical question makes it obvious that we would choose those pleasures, except that they are not readily available, cannot be conjured up, and leave us a slave of our passion for them. One taste and you will be hooked for life. The funny thing is, that ordinary, everyday freedom, that expressed by the wino, techie, lover, or politician, distracts us.

Not a bad metaphor, addiction to Christ. But God wants more of a relationship than the metaphor of addiction can serve. The objective God, the one that can be sequestered in a box, is not one that can be shown to the skeptic. The enduring God needs no proof, nor does he need our services. He is, however, interested in a relationship, and has sacrificed his son to make that possible.

What’s next? Explore! We don’t need someone to tell us that good things come to those who wait. We need to go out and engage our world.

the president apologized

Today in the New York Times I read something president Obama said. He apologized for making a mistake. He said he screwed up. His critics were doing their best to give him grief. What nobody said was that the practice of big government is so untidy that mistakes are not only possible but inevitable.

What is different about Obama from previous presidents is that instead of betraying weakness by admitting fault, he shows enough strength of character not to fear the attacks of those who would seek his downfall. Admitting error in a system that can’t be freed from them is the position of a realist, not a weak person.

Here is the opportunity to draw more than lines in the sand. We have endured administrations that are inaccessible, furtive, and dodgy while the society around them crumbles. Here is a president who, though faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, is willing to make the White House accountable and make his decisions and discussions public.

What I like about Obama is not his party, which is an accident of history, but his reasonableness. He is the most powerful man in the world, (with some caveats,) but he does not wish to gamble with the people, to put them at risk, to hide his moves, to play Janus.

Democrat, or Republican, or Libertarian or whatever, here’s someone that could dismantle generations of mistrust in federalism.