Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Illusionists – Deconstructing the Moral – Part Fifteen

Within the first five minutes, usually on C-Span, every Republican governor, senator, congressman trots out The Party mantras:

Spending is bad! Gov’ment is bad! Taxes are bad!

Badness to the east and to the west, to the north and to the south. The rant never changes. It makes no difference what high or lowly office a Republican holds, which part of the country she’s from, single or married, day or night, the same litany: Bad! Bad! Bad! How can that be? Nothing ever stays the same in this world. The most obvious fact about our planet is ceaseless change. A couple thousand years ago, Heraclitus nailed this fact: “You can’t step into the same river twice.” Poet Robert Epp joins the philosopher in recognizing “permanent flux.”

Heraclitus claimed change is the only reality.
Since everything’s in constant motion
the entire world is locked in permanent flux –
the single constant throughout the universe.

So far, so good. Poet and philosopher agree, “Change is the only reality…the single constant throughout the universe.” And then our poet comes up with a dazzling insight:

Being destined to exist in a maelstrom of motion
urges some to cast their lot with certitude.
That allows them the self-deception that change
is an illusion only certainty can trump.

In his Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul writes, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever.” In the hymn, Abide with Me, a Lutheran pleads, “…when other helpers fail and comfort flees, O, thou who changest not, abide with me.”

And then we get this Illusionist blast across evangelical lands, “A changeless Christ in a changing world.”

The Commandments Moses brought down from the mountain 3,500 years ago, which Martin Luther, in the 16th century, wrote out word for word in his Small Catechism, and I learned word for word in the 20th century and can repeat word for word in the 21st, these commandments come through the centuries unchanged. Like Christ, they remain the same. How then do the Republicans avoid the maelstrom of motion?

They go moral!

They shout out “Bad!” to any political action proposed by The Left, tirelessly firing moral broadsides against the President and the Democrats, a vicious flotilla of Washington sting rays out to paralyse. Saying No! is the only action sanctioned.

Every moral system is man-made, often disguised as decrees issued from On High. A mountain works just fine. Without “objectivity” based on The Hypothesis of Comprehensibility protecting against self-deception, there is an open market for Illusionists. As for Critical Thinking, it’s nowhere to be heard on the planet. Thales comes into the story very late. Levi-Strauss observed that the lowliest tribe in the forest, on the verge of extinction, remained convinced that it possessed absolute and permanent moral truth. Of course, each tribe had its own gods, sacrad traditions, rites of worship, even as there are Protestant denominations by the dozen. Each tribe experienced the vicissitudes of history uniquely. However, all tribes shared the same Moral Sense, a biologic structure that shaped man’s thinking for a million years.

If you are certain it won’t compromise your good spirits radiating from The State of the Union, you can tune in to Right Wing Illusionists any day of the week on C-Span.

Without a vision, the people perish, said the prophet Micah.

Thales vs. Ted Cruz – Deconstructing the Moral – Part Fourteen

Remember the ditty, “Wishing won’t make it so?”

Well, Freud discovered the ditty got it wrong. Fantasy whispers in our ear, “Wishing will make it any way you like.” How is the race supposed to turn down such an offer! “Make a wish, Baby. There! Now, isn’t life easier than getting knocked around in this harsh world?” Just like that, fantasy whisks us off to La-La land. Equipped with the omnipotent powers of wishing, there’s no end to the nonsense we alleged sapiens can crank out. Immanuel Kant attributed it to the “accursed fecundity of the race.”

Ted Cruz, freshman Senator from Texas, wishes to be President of the United States, all fifty of them. He led the Tea Party’s shutdown of the government a month or two back. It was a political disaster, but not for Ted Cruz. If only Republicans had stayed the course, insists the Senator, they could have repealed hated Obamacare. Obviously, he learned nothing from the experience, his fantasy of becoming President unaffected, his zip code still an address east of the sun and west of the moon. Cruz suffers a thought disorder, common among politicians, and very dangerous. Fantasy obscures reality; a government founded on wishes does not register the facts of life. Peruse any history. The omnipotent powers of wishing darken every page.

Amazingly, a Greek genius diagnosed the problem, 2,500 years ago! He nailed it. I mean, right on. He was a big-shot, ranked Number One of the Seven Sages. A polymath, lots of folks consider him the Father of Science. You could say he was revered like a Greek Einstein, the creme-de-la-creme. Of course, he had students and disciples, all eager to be recognized as special to the great man. Little wonder. All by himself, he came up with the third visionary invention by the Greeks, a miracle of reason and logic. His name was Thales. Some claim his metaphysical invention should be ranked Number One. Karl Popper thinks so. I still go for The Game, the Hypothesis of Comprehensibility and now the third, The Critical Method, in that order, but that’s just having fun. The Greek Trinity is somewhat like the Christian Trinity as spelled out in the Athanasian Creed. Each invention is a work of genius, but there are not three geniuses, just one: the Greek genius.

Here’s what Thales pulled off. He put together a theory of cosmology. After he had spelled it out to the adoring public, he, Thales, the top sage in the land, the Greek Einstein, a national icon, asked his students to CRITICISE his theory, to falsify it and propose something better. Unlike Ted Cruz, he considered his cosmological idea a mere hypothesis, a conjecture. Unlike The Teddy, he recognized his own fallibility. HE MADE VISIBLE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A FANTASY – “Don’t touch!” – AND A HYPOTHESIS – “Bring it on!”. He demonstrated the scientific method in a nutshell: falsify every hypothesis. When Thales asked his students to criticize his theory and come up with a new and improved one, what happened? Boom! His pupil, Anaximander, proposed a Newtonian universe. Talk about a giant leap for mankind! The power of the scientific method.

Thales’ achievement is breath-taking. He recognized hypotheses are a dime a dozen and need to be culled for error, shot down, falsified. This scientific stalking of factual and theoretic nonsense, however mathematically or elegantly disguised, transforms the accursed fecundity of the race to a blessing. Ted Cruz doesn’t register the absurdity of his judgments. He is above criticism. Omnipotently infallible, wishing whispers in his ear, “You want to be President, Teddy? No problem.”

He is delusional. And dangerous.

The Greek Trinity – Deconstructing the Moral – Part 13

Let’s bask in the three visionary inventions by the amazing Greeks – The Game, The Hypothesis of Comprehensibility, The Critical Method. Broadly speaking, the Greeks pursued what IS. They didn’t bother with The Ought. They focused on the descriptive; didn’t make a nuisance of themselves with the prescriptive. They rejoiced in the facts of life. They pursued the splendours of the world with the persistence of a lover. Especially the inexhaustible complexities of the human race. Even as we speak, they shout across the centuries: Numberless are the world’s wonders, but none more wonderful than man.

The Game celebrates the human body, its symmetry and grace displayed in naked glory. Freud observed that the ego is first and foremost a body ego. Absolutely. The Greeks not only recognized this truth, but by inventing competition transformed this profound insight into the glory of a vision. Over 50 nillion people watched football last Sunday. In agony. Competition does that. But no one got his head chopped off, like Goliath. No gladiatorial killing. Just some harmless hootin’ and hollerin’. Pure Greek.

If that’s not miracle enough, while dancing with laurel-wreathed stars, the Greeks took a metaphysical leap that ended a million years of delusions in ten thousand tribes of hunter-gatherers. – No! Homo erectus. No! Neanderthalensis. No! Homo sapiens sapiens. – thunder is not an angry god sending a message; plagues are not punishments handed down from the heavens; the sun and moon and stars pay no attention to your little band roaming in the middle of nowhere. Those heavenly bodies belong to Nature. I don’t mean to frighten you, but those bright lights turn a meanngless stare on the doings of man. Nature IS! Man is simply part of an unimaginably vast universe…”

What I said was all Greek to them. But Greeks were the first to recognize Objectivity.

It was a momentous achievement. After a million years of relating to Nature on a personal basis, each tribe thinking man and his gods front and center, the Greeks peered over the “edge of objectivity” and ushered in the Life of the Mind, a force with limitless possibilities. Empowered by the vision that man can comprehend Nature and decipher its laws, the Greeks invented the Hypothesis of Comprehensibility. How did they pull that off? For starts, because they did not think themselves the center of reality, projectively confusing themselves with Nature. How this miracle happened, who knows!

But I’ll show you why it’s such an achievement. The Right does not live the Life of the Mind, even after the many thousands of years since the Greeks. Rather, Republicans live in a Big Bubble called “epistemic closure.” It’s so rigid and stiff, it may as well have drifted in from The Stone Age. This Bubble protects Tea Baggers and company from communication with what its passengers refer to as the “reality-based community.” You won’t believe me, but they hold in contempt anyone who takes facts seriously. I watch C-Span a lot, and when The Right is talking, I tell you I have trouble believing what I’m hearing.

Deconstrcting the Moral – Part Twelve

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the two shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth.

What exactly is Kipling telling us that makes these men strong? Not Border, Breed or Birth. Rather, their strength derives from the fact that they are equals, two strong men standing face to face, meeting on a level playing field. These fellows know competitive fairness. They know how to play! They meet as competitors, not as killing warriors. Whether New England East or Denver West, Seattle North or San Francisco South, Tom Brady and Payton Manning hoopla from one end of the earth to the other, we now know that what matters for civilized life is The Game. We learned it from the Greeks. It is their creation, an invention terrifying in its vividness, magnificent and heartbreaking, revealing beauty and courage and grace and the agony of losing. By the way, Agon in Greek means contest. That’s where the word agony comes from. The Game makes naked the soul. By inventing competition, the Greeks raised the level of human consciousness. No longer, Winner Take All! (including the loser’s life). Rather they revealed a new vision, “Let the killings stop and the Games begin.” The Game is arguably mankind’s greatest achievement. It offers escape from the Moral Sense, the greatest scourge on the planet.

Reince Priebus, the Republican Party chairman, counseled his stable of politicians to change how they spoke of women and minorities and the rest of the 99 percenters. And, of course, for God’s sake, knock it off when tempted to weigh in on biology. They didn’t follow instructions, of course, mouthing off clumsily and legislating cruelly – from abortion to unemployment insurance. No surprise there. The Right takes orders from the Moral Sense. And that means The Other is bad, morally defective, requiring a whipping.

The fundamental mechanics of the Moral Sense is splitting. It splits the race into Good Guys and Bad Guys. Unlike The Left, which discounts whether you’re from the east or the west, south or north of the Border, half Breed or three quarters, rich or poor by Birth, Priebus and company pretend these differences are trivial, problems solvable with proper rhetoric. Politically, the Moral Sense splits the Good Guys and Bad Guys into Us vs. Them. In fact, it’s Us or Them! That’s why the Tea Party came to town, morally compelled to destroy the government. They’re not playing games. After all, they insist the survival of the country is at stake.The evil Obama, recklessly spending, dictatorially regulating, demanding the successful ones take care of the losers, like Carthage, delenda est.

The Game was the first of the three visionary inventions by the Greeks. They are giant leaps out of the Pleistocene, offering emancipation from the Moral Sense. Those amazing Greeks. It’s a fight to the finish. “In this corner, The Game, The Hypothesis of Comprehensibility and the Critical Method. Take THAT! and THAT! and THAT! you arrogant, contemptible, patronizing Moral Sense.”

Deconstructing the Moral – Part Eleven

Cicero said that every nation under the sun worships the gods. 2000 years later, in the 21st century, evolution and the Big Bang are taught in Science 101, yet only 7% of Americans claim to be atheists. The Moral Sense remains alive and well, a million year old anachronism and a dreadful nuisance. It is driven by moral judgments, such as Rand Paul trashing the unemployed and Republicans supported in their hatred for Obama by racism. It was alive and well in 776 BC, when the Greeks proclaimed, Let the Games Begin. A glorious proclamation – something new had come into the world. No one recognized that one of them – probably the pesky bozo who put together the first Olympic committee – was a towering genius. He had invented The Game.

The prophet Micah insisted that without a vision the people perish. The three great inventions of the Greeks raised human consciousness by changing the way we think. The Game, the Hypothesis of Comprehensibility and the Critical Method are metaphysical inventions. So is the Moral Sense, a structure put together through evolution, not a Thomas Edison. The Greek inventions prepared the way for Galileo and Darwin and Einstein, and John Locke and John Adams and Barack Obama. The Moral Sense gives us the Tea Party. What is the difference?

Let’s start with The Game. Historians refer to the centuries before the first Olympics as the Greek Dark Ages. I say the million years before 776 B.C. qualify as well. Sure, the tens of thousands of hunter-gatherer tribes survived by the skin of their teeth. No small achievement. But they invented nothing! And why is that? An invention is invariably the doings of the individual. A group never comes up with an original idea. Its speciality is squashing new ones. It enforces conformity and submission. It opposes self-expression. Anyone arrogant enough to propose an idea not based on the received wisdom of the group is not tolerated, no more so than the Inquisition tolerated heretics. “Burn ’em!” (Another three centuries of darkness.)

It’s impossible to get our head around Deep Time. A million years are 10,000 centuries. Very few of us will live a mere one! Four centuries have flown by since Francis Bacon wrote The Advancement of Learning, setting the table for the Indusrial Revolution and beyond. Powered by individual geniuses, the race went from inventing steam boats and cotton gins to a staggering command of solid state physics, like Skype. And for 10,000 centuries, no change in the Stone Age tool kit? Surely you must be joking, Mr. Feynman. Paleontology isn’t. We are much more human than otherwise, and that means we sapient ones were the same then as now. We didn’t suddenly turn into a group of Alan Turings. There is no reason that I can think of to account for the staggering explosion of human inventiveness the laast few centuries other than the fact politics was shaped by the Moral Sense for the last million years. Rand Paul and his Tea Party have been around forever, straight out of the Pleistocene.

What I like best about the first Olympics is that the competitors ran naked. The Greek Olympic committee voted to flaunt the symmetry and beauty and muscular prowess of the human body. Graced with a laurel wreath, the fastest man in the world, separated from everyone by the magnificence of his personal achievement, celebrated the emergence of the individual. And so began the on-going battle between The Group and the individual, the central issue throughout history.

Deconstructing the Moral – Part Ten

Rand Paul claims that extending unemployment insurance would corrupt folks already parked on a couch, their laziness abetted by an enabling government. Passing this legislation, the senator insists, would weaken the moral fibre of workers. Obviously, he has other fish to fry than economics.

There is a mystery: how does Senator Paul shut his eyes and stop his ears to the misery of the unemployed? Surely he watches TV other than Fox, gets inundated with critical emails, is pleaded with by constituents. Can’t he see? Is he deaf? Well, No! he can’t see. Yes! he is deaf. Just a few centuries ago, the moral maniacs burned or drowned at least 40,000 women, claiming they were witches. How could they bring off such unthinkable murders? How could they not see the engulfing flames, not hear the agonizing shrieks? Rand Paul tells us. Moral maniacs don’t feel searing fire or hear the horror of drowning – or register the suffering of the unemployed. The Senator reveals a profound fact. Information from the five senses doesn’t register on The Right. Under the hegemony of the Moral Sense, one deals with reality from the top down. Data from the bottom up are “blowin’ in the wind.” Paul reveals this same epistomological fallacy with Obamacare. That this legislation provides medical coverage to uninsured millions is of no consequence. What millions! Spending is bad, gov’ment is bad. Bad! Bad!The Moral Sense in action and from the top down.

Anthropologist Pascal Boyer reports, “Experimental studies show a specialized moral sense underlies ethical intuitions in all children the world over.” Darwin makes the stunning observation, “The social instincts have acquired greater strength than the instincts of self-preservation, hunger, lust, vengeance.” We are through and through group animals, our behavior driven by our social instincts. Our group constituted a closed society, the Tea Party exhibit A. As for other groups, however, made up of a bunch of aliens or lowlifes or lazy bums, it’s Us vs.Them. Genocide is a constant throughout history, even prior to our divergence from the chimpanzees who systematically set out hunting parties to exterminate their neighbors.

The Moral Sense is a brain structure evolved through natural selection. It is configured in our genes. For 10,000 centuries, the Moral Sense protected our survival kit, the tribe, enforcing cohesion and conformity. Its members knew their place and stayed in it. You can hear echoes from the Pleistocene a dozen times a week on TV interviews. Whenever a team wins and the star most responsible gets interviewed, he will give all the glory to the team. Teamwork made victory possible. For a million years, it made survival possible. Let’s hear it for the Moral Sense!

But wait, that’s only the half of it. Along with submission and obedience within comes violence and genocide without. It’s Them or Us. 2000 years ago, “Carthago – delenda est!” – Carthage must be destroyed. Today, Obama and his evil tribe delenda est! It’s gone on for a million years.

There’s a mystery here. How did the Greeks escape the Moral Sense, at least before Athens and Sparta went for each other’s throat?

Deconstructing the Moral – Part Nine

The Tea Party rides the Moral Sense in full gallop – utter loyalty to the in-group, ruthless cruelty to the rest. Without a hint of shame or embarrassment, these moral maniacs deny food stamps for children and the disabled, deny unemployment insurance for the “takers,” deny Medicaid for the uninsured poor. It’s Pleistocene politics practiced for a million years. Depressing as hell. Thank heaven for the Super Bowl.

– Right on! Football takes my mind off Washington, too.

No! No! The Super Bowl is iconic, not a mere diversion. Let me ask you, What is mankind’s greatest invention, an achievement not even Thomas Edison, who applied for 1300 patents, could match? Some unnamed Greek genius came up with it. No, it’s not their invention of the critical method or their invention of objectivity – polysyllabically known as the hypothesis of comprehensibility, that is, nature is lawful and can be comprehended by the human mind. These are also Greek inventions, but numbers two and three. The Greek story is unbelievable! Athens, Miletus, maybe 200 tiny city-states scattered across an arid, mountainous land and Asia Minor – for Greece to come up with the three greatest inventions of all time! Well, that’s more stunning than Peyton Manning. Okay, the greatest invention is…Envelope, please…

The Game!

For 9998 centuries, give or take, we hominins lived under the lashings of the Moral Sense. Now we can live in a toy department called Sports. We play games with hockey-checking ferocity. On kickoffs, we place a world class sprinter on the south side of the football field and head him north. Then we place a world-class sprinter on the north side and head him south. Kickoff! When each sprinter attains a speed of around 20 miles an hour, Pow!

And what does the ferocity lead to? Handshakes! Surrounded by bloodied, human wreckage, the losers congratulate the winners and the winners comfort the losers. No one gets killed. No one ends up in the morgue. If you played well, chances are you’ll get chased down for an interview. That 40 mile an hour collision between north and south is not meant to kill. It is not intended to harm. It is to glorify us humans. It is to demonstrate through Game that numberless are the world’s wonders, and none more wonderful than man.

It wasn’t like this for a million years. It was Them Against Us! No one kept score. No need to. It was mano-a-mano, winner take all. Losers didn’t live to fight another day. They didn’t live, period. They sure as hell couldn’t learn from experience. And neither have the Republicans. The moral maniacs that make up the Tea Party don’t PLAY! – they take over! A mere 1%, they stomp on the 99%. Well, they play, all right – by their own rules! “My way or the highway.” Pure Pleistocene. David and Goliath. “Chop the bastard’s head off! Yeah. That’s our boy!”

The prophet Micah said, “Without a vision, the people perish.” The Greek inventions are visionary, qualitatively different from the hundreds of those invented by Thomas Edison. The Greeks deepened the mind. The Game, Objectivity and the Critical Method raise the level of human comnsiousness, enabling the race a more profound grasp of the truths of nature. By contrast, the Moral Sense obstructs and falsifies our understanding of the world.