Monthly Archives: December 2013

Deconstructing the Moral – Part Six

The Moral Sense, a biologic structure wired somewhere in the brain and passed on through DNA, evolved for a group’s survival. Whether we are on The Right or The Left, we each come with the Moral Sense. Alfred Russell Wallace suggested man was “social and sympathetic” by nature: “Early in the development of human societies the capacity for cooperation and sympathy left all to assist each other,” benefiting each community and was therefore favored by natural selection. David Hume noted that the “social virtues” are part of our instinctive makeup, evolved to foster group solidarity and cooperation.” Darwin observed, “The social instincts possess greater strength, or have, through long habit, acquired greater strength than the instinct of self-preservation, hunger, lust, vengeance, etc.” Allegiance to the group, expressed as the social instincts, made for survival.

Can these great minds – Wallace, Hume, Darwin – help us make sense out of Republicans and the Tea Baggers? Yes and no. They help us understand the fierce solidarity of folks on The Right, their voting en bloc, but make no mention of their dealings with outside groups. Sure, group members may be social and sympathetic with each other, but it’s another matter when dealing with “aliens,” that is, members of other tribes. For Tea Baggers and company, that’s an enemy called “The Gov’ment.” And like ancient Carthage, it must be destroyed. 144 Republicans, the other week, voted to continue the shut down of the government, effectively destroying it. In fact,they openly acknowledge that that’s why they came to Washington, to destroy this enemy group. Referring to these Congressmen as “political terrorists”is not over the top.”Take that, you Kenyan, socialist, Marxist Obama and the donkey that brought you here!”

Steven Pinker describes the consequences of this parochialism: “The most obvious human tragedy comes from the difference between our feelings toward kin and our feelings toward non-kin, one of the deepest divides in the living world.” Winston Churchill wrote, “The story of the human race is war. Except for brief and precarious interludes there has never been peace in the world; and long before history began murderous strife was universal and unending.”

The Right is vulnerable to fashioning a politics shaped by the Moral Sense, which means interacting with reality from the top down. (I’ll investigate that vulnerability by and by.) The Tea Party is exhibit A. The Moral Sense pits one good group, the Tea Party, against a bad group, The Gov’ment, with whom there can be no compromise. Minimizing a view from the bottom up tosses objectivity out the window. The facts of Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, observable in their actual implementation, don’t come into the story. The commonsense world, one registering on the five senses, disappears. A manufactured moral system eclipses reality – spending is bad, taxes are bad, regulations are bad. Bad! Bad! Bad! The real world – hungry children, sick patients, unemployed millions – simply disappears in a Stygian blackout.

The Tea Party is a living fossil, living in a political world shaped by the Moral Sense. No different from the violent world inhabited by Homo erectus.

Deconstructing the Moral – Part Eight

The Moral Sense, a biologic structure synaptically wired somewhere in the brain and passed on through DNA, evolved for a group’s survival, its first and foremost responsibility. Through cooperation, every member augmented the power of his group, thereby improving the odds he himself would survive and pass on his genes. Obedience was of the highest value. Darwin observed, “Selfish and contentious people will not cohere, and without coherence nothing can be effected.” Group solidarity played an indispensable role in hominin survival. The lash of the Moral Sense guaranteed it.

The Moral Sense serves as a launch pad for a self-contained system. It determines whether you’re in or you’re out, with or against. The juggernaut rolls. It brooks no dissent. It takes no prisoners. Yesterday, a Far Right Republican, with a mindset straight out of the Pleistocene, described a fellow congressmen who voted for the budget agreement hammered out by Paul Ryan and Patty Murray as a “Quisling Republican, one who cooperates with the enemy.” deja vu! It’s the 30 Years War all over again.

In Darwin’s grand theory, the Moral Sense is a fundamental component of human nature. Presently, it drives the Republican Right, obliterating judgment, disregarding experience, unleashing a gang of moral maniacs bound together by the power of moral certitude. John Adams noted, “Power always believes itself right and that it is doing God’s service, when it is violating all his laws.”

A devastating consequence from the Moral Sense splitting the world in two, one bad, the other good, is that objectivity goes out the window. The commonsense world, the one registering on our five senses, disappears. A manufactured moral system eclipses reality. Facts vanish. Like an ancient plague, the Moral Sense casts a great darkness over the land. With the ascendancy of the Tea Party to political power, a Do-Nothing-Congress is an inevitability. The only “work” to be done is to deal with the evil of spending, the evil of raising taxes, the evil of regulation. Bad! Bad! Bad!

If one recognizes the mindlessness in a group organized by the Moral Sense, one doesn’t need to stand benumbed and uncomprehending before its disregard of facts. However, it is important to recognize that hunter-gatherers observed enough of reality to make a living, but that was it! Levi-Strauss called them bricoleurs. Republican bricoleurs can’t see the facts driving climate change or – are you kidding me! – the facts of evolution, but they know how to make a million. In their war against Obamacare, of course, they don’t see tens of millions of uninsured. What they see is a mythical entity called “Gov-ment,” an invisible but dangerous outfit intent on organizing Death Squads.

– Death squads? What are they talking about?

Wonderful question!Straight to the heart of the matter.

The observing instrument for the Moral Sense is not the common senses but faith. St. Paul describes it best. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” There is a great gulf fixed between a political system based on the evidence of things not seen, and a political system based on the evidence of the five senses. Little wonder that the political Left inhabits a different universe from the political Right. As for those death squads, that terrifying outfit called gov’ment is setting them up. But I’m on The Left, so like Hamlet’s mother, I don’t see the ghost her boy is talking to. I’ll be damned if I can see those death squads. Poor me of little faith!

And that brings us to a profound fact. Whenever a political system organizes into The Left and The Right, half the citizens give their allegiance to the Left and half choose The Right. Why is that?
It’s a mystery. Got our work cut out for us in the New Year.

– You never talked about the Superego.

Next time.

Deconstructing the Moral – Part Seven

A Conversation Between You and Me

How long have we hominins been group animals?

– A million years, give or take.

How long we’ve been individuals?

– Day before yesterday. Maybe week before last.

Do you think Wallace and Hume and Darwin got it right when they said our conscience, the centerpiece of our humanity, is a structure shaped by group life?

= Hell yes! They’re the Big Boys. Are you kidding me?

We’re on the same page. I always check out important stuff with the Big Boys. Let me ask you, When did the first individual show up in history? What’s his name?

– Her name! Sarah, she laughed – under her breath, of course!- when her husband, old Father Abraham, claimed he could still get it up and make her pregnant. I can relate to Sarah. When did she live? I think 4000 years ago.

Isn’t the few thousand years of recorded history largely the story of individuals wriggling free of the group, which forever threatens any original thinker with its Ueber Alles arrogance? Take an Englishman. His story begins in 1215 A.D. with the Magna Carta, scales the high ground in 1688 with The Glorious Revolution and then ends in thunder across an oceon with the Bill of Rights in 1791. First thing, you know, here comes the full blossoming of the Industrial Age and then, before you can say Alan Turing, the entire world becomes accessible on a pocket computer.

– So why did it take a million years?

A stunning question. Take stone tools, like the Acheulian hand ax. No change for ten thousand centuries. Centuries! 10,000 centuries works out to 30,000 generations. Not one Thomas Edison? or Henry Ford? or a Bill Gates in all that time? In fact, there were without a doubt thousands of them, “wasted on the desert air” by the Pleistocene Tea Baggers. Neanderthals ocupied the Shanidar cave in northern Iraq for 120,000 years. Stratigraphically, from top to bottom, not the hint of an innovation. Okay, dumb Neanderthals, but we achieved Homo sapiens sapiens status no later than 200,000 years ago. Maybe 500,000 years. Same smarties we are today, yet mproving a simple stone tool never happened.

– So what’s your theory?

When a group interacts with reality from the top down, it will see only what its Moral Sense allows. It signals that the group has lost its capacity for learning from experience. Whatever is happening in front of its very eyes doesn’t register. This transmogrifies a WORK to be done – for example, the group providing universal health coverage – into a problem of good and evil. Tinkering with a stone tool and CHANGING it was a fatal heresy.

-What do the Big Boys say?

Darwin took note of the fact that “When baboons in Abyyssinia plunder a garden, they silently follow their leader. If an imprudent young animal makes a noise, he receives a slap to teach him silence and obedience.” In cousins as distant as baboons, the first stirrings of the Moral Sense commands submission. The Republicans who signed the pledge demanded by Grover Norquist come from a long line of forbears.

-I like that. Don’t know why I didn’t see it. McConnell, Boehner, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan – a bunch of baboons. O! Forgot Ted Cruz, the biggest baboon of them all!

Never know what you’ll see in this crazy world if you open your eyes.

Deconstructing the Moral – Part Five

The Moral, often referred to as conscience, is a complex structure, unique to us hominids. A chimp can’t differentiate the Sabbath from Christmas, nor can a chimp figure out what Santa is up to when he determines which children were naughty or nice. It is not generally known that conscience comprises two distinct structures, one a product of evolution and transmitted through our genes, the other a product of our upbringing discovered by Freud. Conscience which evolved through evolution by natural selection constitutes the Moral Sense. Conscience evolved through our personal experiences constitutes the Superego.

Paleontologists recently discovered five hominid skulls in the lair of a sabertooth tiger. How did we hominids survive for 10,000 centuries in a world with such fierce predators ready to pounce? According to King Lear, we’re just “poor, bare, forked animals, unaccomodated” for this terrifying planet, and yet here we are. How’d we pull through? What’s the secret to our survival?

The Group!

We are through and through group animals. The group was our original home, its forever changing zip code determined by nomadic hunters and gatherers. Outside our changing address stretched an infinite, terrifying darkness, the tribe the only refuge. For a million years, we one-time hunter-gatherers mmanaged survival through total submission to the tribe. We knew our place and stayed in it. And what was the engine that drove our submission? The Moral Sense. It evolved over hundreds of thousands of years for the survival of the group. A tribe’s existence depended on cohesion and conformity, and the Moral Sense served as the great enforcer of the facts of life. It set up shop like a town sheriff and went about its business mean as hell. Anything beyond what is necessary for survival was not tolerated.

Biologically, we remain members of a group, the Moral Sense alive and well. 200 nation-tribes march chauvinistically in the Olympics.The Super Bowl changes a city into a gang of fanatics. 2 billion watch the World Cup. For 300 years, the Moral Sense fueled the Spanish Inquisition, murdering 300,000 heretics by flame or sword. It set up the Gulag. It has no problem deputizing suicide bombers. The Moral Sense violently opposes self-expression. Anyone arrogant enough to propose an idea not based on the received wisdom of the tribe is an enemy. An original idea marks the doings of an outlaw. Dissent is never tolerated. Like the Tea Party, compromise is unthinkable. The Moral Sense is part of our biology, written indelibly in our genes. We as individuals do not exist, our place wherever the tribe determines.

The Moral Sense operates from the top down. It obliterates judgment. It disregards experience. It turns us gigantic brained hominids into stupid Tea Party Republicans, following a leader the likes of Ted Cruz. Other than for a few brief moments, such as the age of Pericles, brief Republican Rome, or the miracle at Philadelphia, history is a roll call of secular and sacerdotal leaders appropriating in their person the imperious authority of the Moral Sense and carrying on like grand Poohahs. As Darwin noted, “As soon as a tribe has a recognized leader, disobedience becomes a crime.”

David Hume demonstrated that moral judgments derive from man’s nature and his dependence for survival on a group. Darwin read every word Hume wrote, the great philosopher’s findings dovetailing with his own work that the Moral Sense is a product of natural selection and has evolved incrementally.

Deconstructing the Moral – Part Four

Republicans interact with the political world from the top down. They are guided by three moral principles: spending is bad, raising taxes is bad, regulation is bad. These principles are absolute. They override experience and are not modified by facts in a world forever in flux. The Christian hymn cries out, “Change and decay in all around I see.” Republican don’t look in the direction of change, a place of hubbub, endless messiness, scary unexpectedness. Their eye remains fixed on the moral, a never failing refuge from doubt and confusion. How comforting that pledge not to raise taxes in perpetuity! How happily 95% of Republican lawmakers signed on!

By contrast, Democrats interact with the political world from the bottom up. Facts register. Hunger is real, its pangs reverberating from the bellies of suffering children – suffering now! today! as we speak! Uninsured sick folks need medical insurance even on the Sabbath. The most important fact about Democrats: they understand that the dismal science of economics has one purpose: that we never forget money is our SERVANT and not our master. Current example: the deficit takes a backseat to the need for food stamps.

Politics shaped by a moral system is a piece of cake compared with politics shaped by the five senses. A moral system is a model of simplicity, eliminating disagreements. Predictably, Republicans vote as a bloc. Democrats see, hear, touch, smell, taste messengers from the external world, and guess what? Getting them to vote as a bloc is like herding cats. Every moral system is man-made, which accounts for its simplicity. It operates from the top down, securely in place, pre-empting experience. Take food stamps. The moral imperative that spending is bad is not changed or modified by the fact of children going hungry by the millions. For Democrats, this reality very much registers and shoves aside the economics of spending and budgets. Here’s the difference between The Right and The Left. In a moral universe there is only one way to skin a cat. In the real world, just running after that damn pussy invites different strategies. It’s complicated. For example, “Has anyone taken into account that the screeching feline will wake the neighborhood? Hadn’t thought of that. I vote against skinning.”

Now here’s a “Knock your socks off!” fact: we hominids arrived on the planet a million years ago, give or take. That’s 10,000 centuries. Except for 25 of them, we dealt with the external world from the top down. Only with the Greeks did we begin to value observations by our five senses and the facts they enabled us to recognize. We let experience speak first, not a metaphysics off the top of our head. Not surprisingly, until Socrates, Democrats were as rare as unicorns. Democrats didn’t find a secure place under the sun until the miracle at Philadelphia in 1787. That’s just a little more than two centuries ago. The actual scorecard reads: Homo erectus and Republican descendents, 9998 centuries; Democrats, two centuries.

Little wonder the Republicans keep dragging Obama back into the Pleistocene.

Deconstructing the Moral – Part Three

A food stamp is a food stamp is a food stamp – Right! Whether it’s seen in the universe of objects on The Left or the universe of objects on The Right, each food stamp has the same coloring, same lettering, same feel. Same cash value. After all, Republicans come equipped with the same five senses as Democrats.

A food stamp is a food stamp is a food stamp – Wrong! If you know what to look for, in a Republican universe you’ll see a food stamp is no longer a “common sense” food stamp. It’s the lesson I learned in radiology: I had to know what universe I was in when looking to see x-rayed objects. What I need to look for in a Republican domain is an Ought, that is, an imperative attached to objects in a moral universe. Republicans attach Ought to common sense objects, such as food stamps or unemployment insurance, which changes them profoundly. In fact, Democrats are dumbfounded by the Republican alterations. Shocked, may be a better word. “How can Republicans snatch food from the mouths of hungry kids!” Sad to say, Democrats are simpletons. They don’t know what to look for. They think a food stamp is a food stamp is a food stamp, an object in the common sense world of food, one populated by hungry children, destitute elders, unemployed bread winners. Wrong!

Attached to objects in a Republican universe is a moral tag, an Ought. Food stamps are an example. One has to first look for its moral tag in order to see a Republican food stamp. What factory manufactured these tags? What system of thought cranked them out? Without this information, Republicans seem simply heartless monsters, ruthlessly cutting off food stamps intended to feed millions of needy fellow citizens.

Herewith the moral system that stands reality on its head, changing a common sense action –”Feed hungry children” – to a seeming cruel disregard of children: “It’s not the children. It’s our country. We’ve been spending money like drunken sailors. 17 trillion dollars in debt! Even as we speak, deficit spending pushes our country to the brink of ruin. It has to stop. Now! We’ve been indulging ourselves. Greed and gluttony are deadly sins. Mea culpa. It’s time to rein in spending, time to put our fiscal house in order before we destroy the lives of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.”

So there you go. Republicans aren’t attacking children. They are saving the country. Democrats don’t see the looming disaster. Obama doesn’t have a clue. Spend! Spend! Spend! In this fiscal crisis, ordinary food stamps, that is, without an Ought, must be issued by patriotic Republicans, sadly, in a limited edition.

As I’ve said, you have to look for Republican food stamps in a moral universe or you won’t see them at all.

What about The Affordable Care Act? The Republicans insist it’s a disaster waiting to happen, 2000-plus pages spelling out a medical delivery system guaranteeing a malpractice level of care. The first thing to look for is an Ought, as we did with food stamps – since any spending is bad we ought to stop it, even if it means cutting 400 billion from an understandably important program issuing food stamps. Where’s the bad in the Affordable Care Act? In government! an immoral, reckless, dangerous, blindsiding institution. We ought not, we must not, let government imperil, if not ruin, our lives.

The Affordable Care Act seen on The Left saves 45,000 American lives lost yearly without it.The Affordable Care Act on The Right shoves an intolerably invasive institution into our very bodies and ought to be repealed. If you don’t look for that bad object, government, you won’t see it, and you won’t make sense out of Republican opposition to the program. On The Left, The Affordable Care Act protects against financial ruin from sickness and injury. Seen on The Right, The Affordable Care Act is seen as a threat to the survival of the Republic.

In order to see Republican legislation against food stamps, you look for the bad in greed and gluttony and moral deterioration, badness which is internal. In order to see Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act, you have to look for badness in a terrifying institution called government. In this case, the badness is external.

The first responsibility of the Republican Party is to identify badness and protect the country against it, internal or external, in whatever Democratic guise it shows itself.

Deconstructing the Moral, Part Two

As I noted in my last post, what I discovered during my month as an intern on radiology is that you have to know what you’re looking for in order to see it. In our universe of political discourse, what do we need to look for to see objects on The Right, and what do we need to look for to see objects on The Left?

Let’s consider Sabbath, an object presented to Jesus by the Pharisees. Jesus was busying himself with objects called sick folks. These are two very different objects. Sabbath doesn’t register on the five senses, sick folks do. Sabbath is an object from a sacred book. Sick folks can be seen, heard, smelled, touched, felt in the world at large. Sabbath is an object only in the belief system to which it belongs. Sick folks are objects recognized through one or more of the five senses. So when the Pharisees asked Jesus by what authority he worked on the Sabbath, they referred to an object found only in the Torah. Everyone with common sense believes sickness is real.

I assume the Pharisees think like Republicans. They belong to The Right. What do I need to look for there in order to see objects, such as the Sabbath? This is the heart of the matter. By learning what to look for in radiology, I came to recognize objects in that particular universe. What do I have to look for in order to see objects in the Republican universe?

I have to look for The Ought!

Objects on The Right belong in a moral universe, which means first and foremost they come with an Ought. If you don’t look there, you won’t see them. The Sabbath comes with an Ought. The Pharisees upbraided Jesus for not reflecting this fact in his behavior. He ought not to be tending to the sick on the Sabbath. The Ought operates from the top down, its imperative absolute. Objects recognized through sense experience do not come with an Ought. One does not need to heal the sick just because you recognize them on the Sabbath, or any other day. You may choose to work with them, but you don’t have to. In fact, as David Hume observed, You can’t go from an “Is” to an “Ought.” One looks for objects on The Left, such as the sick, through the five senses. They can’t be outfitted with an Ought. It’s a logical impossibility. The moral universe runs parallel with a common sense universe.

Consider Food Stamps. A food stamp is a food stamp is a food stamp – Wrong! Republican food stamps are not Democratic food stamps. Like the Sabbath they can only be “seen” in a moral system like the Torah. Republican food stamps come with an Ought, and this moral imperative overrides food stamps as recognized by the common senses. A Republican food stamp is linked to an Ought, not starving kids.The Ought trimphs over the Is.

For the earnest citizens on The Right, the moral is always top banana. Cutting the Food Stamp program by 400 billion dollars over ten years happens in a moral universe. Whether it’s The Affordable Care Act or Unemployment Insurance for 1.3 million workers or the Minimum Wage, or Food Stamps, you have to look for the Ought in order to see what Republicans see. Just like in radiology, I had to look for objects in a radiological universe in order to see them. It’s knowing what to look for.

In my next post, I’ll look for the defining Ought of The Affordable Care Act and contrast it with the Ought of Food Stamps.

Deconstructing the Moral, Part One

When I was a medical intern, I spent a month on radiology. The first week all I could make out on an x-ray film were blotches of gray. And here came the radiologists, making visible the invisible. By the time I finished my month, they had turned featureless gray worlds into ones packed with revelatory structures.

Conclusion: you have to know what you are looking for before you can see it. We’ll call this the need to have a preconception. If you didn’t have a framework, an expectation, a preconception, you couldn’t make heads or tails of your experiences. Your five senses would be bombarded by a meaningless hodgepodge of a zillion stimuli. You would be like me the first week I entered the world of radiology – W-h-a-a-t! The simple fact was that I didn’t know what I was looking for. Even when I was staring straight at it, I couldn’t see it. I understood that shades of gray radiologically realized correlate with human anatomy. Everyone knows that much about x-rays. What I learned, however, hit me like a ton of bricks: Objects in the world of radiology exist in THAT “universe.” That they also exist as anatomical objects is a fact about another universe. Anatomy and radiology are populated by their very own unique objects. When I developed a preconception for objects existing in a radiologic universe, I saw what I was looking for. A gallbladder radiologically realized is not the gallbladder in someone’s belly. It’s an x-ray of a gallbladder. If you know what you’re looking for – in the domain of radiology! –  you’ll see it. It took me a couple weeks, but once I knew what I was looking for, I saw it. Eureka! I became a junior astronomer in the universe of radiology.

So, back to our political quest: what is the preconception that allows us to enter the universe of The Right and what is the preconception that allows us to enter the universe of The Left? What do we need to look for in order to recognize what objects populate them? When I knew what I was looking for in the universe of radiology, I could see the objects in it. What is the preconception that enables us to see a universe when viewed from the top down and different from one viewed from the bottom up? Without an acccurate preconception we’ll not see the objects in them. Maybe The Right belongs to the Andromeda galaxy, the Left to the Milky Way. At any rate, here’s the concept that must be understood:

An object transformed by The Right inhabits a different universe from the same object transformed by The Left. A food stamp may be the same object in an economic universe, but an entirely different object in a political universe, one seen from the top down or one seen from the bottom up.

Remember when the Pharisees asked Jesus, “By what authority doest thou these things?” Jesus was healing the sick on the Sabbath, a No! No! in their system. Even though the sick and the dying stared them in the face, over-riding the registration on their five senses was a structure called the Sabbath. Invisible and inaudible, existing only in the universe of the Torah, it commanded their allegiance.

We have here two universes, one accessible only to faith, the other to sense experience; one populated with moral objects, the other with “sensible” objects; one sees the world from the top down, the other from the bottom up. The top-down flaunts the moral, a closed system, its authority based solely on the act of believing. Bottom-up registers the facts of life as communicated through the five senses.

It is said The Last Judgment will separate the sheep from the goats. Maybe so. I do know for certain their precomceptions separate The Right from The Left.

Behold, I Tell You a Mystery

Once a Republican, always a Republican. Happily, he lives out his political days on The Right. Once a Democrat, always a Democrat, a political animal roaming The Left, most of the time not so happily, They are about equally distributed, half the population Republican, the other half Democrats. Yet they differ profoundly in their epistemology. Republicans work politics from the top down, their agenda tied to a moral system. Democrats register sense experience by keeping their eyes and ears open,  accumulating data from the bottom up.

Here’s the mystery. If one party wins 55% of the vote, that’s considered a landslide. In 1936, FDR got 60% of the vote, as did Lyndon Johnson in 1964, unheard of margins of victory. Filibusters require 60% of the vote and bring government to a standstill. Yet the differences between The Right and The Left boggle the mind, but half the race gives allegiance to each.


Every Republican position is shaped by a moral judgment.They want to eliminate $40 billion in food stamps over a 10 year period. They don’t see the children sent to bed hungry, or the depressed face of the elderly without the comfort of Meals on Wheels, or the bitter reproach of the unfed Disabled. They are obligated to achieve a balanced budget. It’s a moral imperative. Cutting food stamps is really a no-brainer. Democrats “see” and “hear”the children, the elderly and the Disabled. Real people in real time shapes their politics. As for the Republican position on immigration reform, granting amnesty for eleven million illegals amounts to moral depravity. It doesn’t matter that amnesty makes fiscal sense. Or that these millions must live under the dread of deportation. Amnesty is morally incorrect, just plain wrong, and there’s an end. Unemployment insurance for 1.3 million workers ends this month if not reauthorized by Congress. Republicans will not vote to extend these benefits. As Paul Ryan indicated, such insurance invites laziness and the morally corrupting seduction of a hammock.

Every moral system is a tinker toy compared with the complexity of reality. William Blake put it famously, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” Little wonder that Democrats, their sense perception attuned to reality, are as difficult to agree on a position as herding cats. No wonder Dems envy the Republicans. Every moral system lends itself to an ideology, a confinement made possible by its fundamental simplicity. For the past four or five years, Republicans have marched in lockstep. After all, they were under the command of that great prophet, Grover Norquist. Using the five senses to interact with reality is asking for trouble.

The epistemology of the Democrats is based on using the five senses which makes learning from experience possible. Unfortunately, as David Hume recognized, one can’t go from an “is” to an “ought.” No matter how much we learn about what “is,” that doesn’t tell us what we “ought” to do, which makes political life complicated for Democrats. The philosophy of science has done brilliant work on explicating what constitutes science. I want to get back to that, but first I want to deconstruct the moral. It’s complicated. Stay tuned.

The Problem of Authority

“By what authority doest thou these things?” the Pharisees asked Jesus accusingly. He was healing the sick on the Sabbath. Now you’d think the Pharisees would recognize sick folks for whom Jesus was providing care and healing.They could see with their own eyes the oozing pus, hear with their own ears the moaning of those in chronic pain, smell the stench of gangrenous limbs. The sick and the dying stared them in the face. Remarkably, over-riding the registration of their senses, however, was a structure called the Sabbath. Invisible and inaudible, it commanded nonetheless the allegiance of the Pharisees. “Observe the Sabbath, ,Jesus! Healing the sick is a violation. Knock it off!”

Pharisees interact with the world from the top down, Jesus from the bottom up. The top always flaunts the moral, the bottom registers the facts of life and goes from there. The moral is always a man-made structure or system, although its authority derives allegedly from a god, or a sacred book, or a prophet.. In the case of the Sabbath, its observance is prescribed in the Torah.  Every moral system is absolute and unaffected by historical forces. Grover Norquist transmogrified taxes into a moral system, that is, he demanded a pledge from the Republicans that disregards invariable changes in everyday life. A Grover Norquist makes it easier to see the man-made structure of a moral system when it is not wrapped in the thunder of a mountain.

The Right pursues political life on the basis of moral, The Left accredits everyday sense experience. A stunning example of the difference is the Affordable Care Act. The fact that tens of millions have no insurance in a world where each of us is vulnerable to disease and injury makes no difference to the Republicans. In this case, the problem is not the Sabbath,  but some evil moral structure called government. Like the Pharisees, the Republicans don’t hear the moaning of the sick or the plea of parents with a sick child.Their attention is fully focused on that bad moral structure, not facts “on the ground.” In short, they carry on like ideologues, preoccupied with instructions from the top, unaware they’re like a dog chasing its tail. The top is their doing, their handiwork, their belief an article of faith that can’t be falsified.

The epistemology of The Right could not be more different from the epistemology of The left. Of course you don’t discuss politics. I’m on The Left. What can I possibly say that a good citizen on The Right would hear? I have sent out political pieces for years to my melting pot, a political congregation organized before my blog. I covered a wide range of issues. The response from my friends on The Right was unchanging: “More bullshit.”

We live in parallel universes.