Sunday, October 03, 2004

Strength in numbers

One of the things we saw in the debate was the contrast between Bush's unilateralism and Kerry's multilateralism.

What is it about liberals that makes them so fixated on consensus? And why does Bush not share their fixation?

One suggestion I have is the difference between humanism and evangelicalism. Bush has a moral certitude that comes of his Christian conviction. In addition, Bush knows the meaning of repentance, remission, and restoration.

Kerry, by contrast, is a nominal Catholic and closet secularist. This leaves him morally insecure and vulnerable. His solution is to spread the blame around. If everyone is wrong, then no one is guilty.

That's one reason, probably the main reason, he wants the UN on board. That way, if things go badly, he cannot be blamed, for his critics would be complicit as well. If you voted with me, then you cannot fault me except on pain of self-crimination.

So the whole exercise is a form of circular blackmail and corporate absolution. The UN is like a police unit in which every cop is a dirty cop, every cop is on the take--from top to bottom. So no one plays the fall guy.

By contrast, a Christian can afford to stand alone--for he is never alone. And he can afford to be mistaken, for he doesn't feel the incessant need to justify himself. If he's wrong, he's wrong. He can admit it.

Strength in numbers, or strength in the Lord. That's the difference.

Who won?

There are a number of different ways to rate a debate. Speaking personally, I agree with Dick Morris that Kerry won on style, but Bush on substance.

Even this oversimplifies. The Democrats have often put up candidate who were smoother, slicker admen than their GOP rivals, only to go down in flames come November.

Most viewers actually judge a political candidate the way they judge a Hollywood actor. Can they identify with the candidate? Is he one of them? Is he someone they'd like to be for a day? Does he come across as authentic?

Parties tend to nominate candidates who project their self-image. The left-wing generally chooses to run urbane, academic-sounding candidates. The right-wing, although it has many urbane, academic-sounding commentators, rarely chooses to run them for public office. That is true, in part, because the GOP is more diverse and bottom-heavy, whereas the DNC is more homogenous and top-heavy.

Liberals either belong to the cultural elite, or aspire to that position. Some conservatives belong to the cultural elite, but if not, have no aspirations to that position. They are content to be good churchmen, family men, and businessmen.

To the extent that politics is perception, Kerry won simply because most people polled think that Kerry won.

Yet the internal numbers tell a--dare I say?--more nuanced story. Although, in public perception, he won, he didn't win over many converts to the Kerry cause.

On substance I would say that Kerry lost. Although he scored some valid points against Bush, a challenger must offer more than a critique, he must offer a choice. But Kerry lacks credibility at many levels.

Show me your glory

In Exodus 33:18, Moses, the man of God, implored the Lord to show him his glory. Many believers have had a similar yearning, and some have led a contemplative life to fulfill their yearning in a mystical encounter.

Conversely, many unbelievers are unbelievers because they say that the existence of God is inevident in the world.

Each of these attitudes is expressive of a certain dissatisfaction with supreme object of faith. And their dissatisfaction assumes, in turn, a certain expectation of how it ought to be possible to know God, if there is even a God to be known.

One thing we need to ask ourselves is whether the knowledge of God presents a special problem. Is God hard to know in a way that other things are easy to know? Is the existence of God inevident?

Plantinga has held that the knowledge of God is like the knowledge of other minds in general. Reid has held that the knowledge of God is like our knowledge of other persons as mediated by their body. Berkeley has held that the world is a form of divine sign-language. It is worth reflecting for a moment on these suggestions.

How do I know another person--any person, whether human, angelic, or divine? Well, let us begin with what we think we know best: our fellow man.

We, of course, take this for granted, so we don’t give it a second thought. And, indeed, we may even set the knowledge of our fellow man in invidious contrast to our knowledge of God.

For our fellow man is a sensible object, like ourselves--whereas God is supersensible, and that’s the problem.

Or is it? In fact, our knowledge of other persons is indirect rather than immediate. I know my fellow man by knowing his body. His personality is hidden to me. In traditional language, and the metaphysics that goes along with it, we’d say that a man is a composite entity, a psychosomatic entity. That his soul is the seat of personhood. That the body is the vehicle of the soul.

I myself affirm this traditional--indeed, Biblical--conception. But for present purposes it is unnecessary to stake out such a strong thesis. It is enough to say that my consciousness, my thoughts and feelings, are inaccessible to you, and vice versa. You are not a mind-reader.

Even if there is such a thing as telepathy, it is non-propositional. We may sense something about another person, but that’s all.

So what’s really the difference between a man and a corpse? We know another man by what he does with his body to communicate his heart, mind, and will. This takes both a propositional and non-propositional form.

The primary function of language is to convey an idea from one mind to another mind. Language is symbolic. All language is code language. The relation between word and object is conventional--a social convention. We assign certain words to certain objects. We agree to certain rules of communication.

The words are significant even though their relation to the object is arbitrary. The words do not resemble the object. But the process of abstraction, of naming, is essential to society. After Adam is made (Gen 2), he begins to name the furniture of his world. After Eve is made, Adam names her and speaks to her.

There is a second form of communication, and that is body-language. At an emotional level, nonverbal communication is more important, more revealing than verbal propositions. You cannot hug a feeling, but you can hug a body--a body which is a medium of feeling, given or received.

A touch, a tear, a smile, a frown, a gesture, a look in the eye, the tone of voice, and so much more, convey of wealth of information. Words can be used to either reveal or conceal, but body-language is generally unconscious and involuntary. And so it is often more telling of our true feelings than our choice of words. Our body may give the lie to our lips.

Yet body-language is even closer to verbal communication in another respect. For, once again, the relation between these tactile or visual cues and what they convey is arbitrary.

Why do we invest such enormous emotional weight in a hug, a kiss, a caress?
Why is a slap, an arched eyebrow, a certain tone of voice, a body that recoils at our touch, freighted with such devastating force?

Again, why do we find one face appealing, and another not? What is beauty? Just a subtle play of light and shade. Why do we like certain colors?

Why do we frequently find a certain vocal timbre, or a certain piece of chamber music, or a sunset, or landscape, or seascape, so deeply meaningful?

Why is "good" sex so important to so many, and "bad" sex so depressing? It’s more than sheer sensation. A delicious meal is a great sensation, but no one commits suicide over a bad meal, whereas many men and women are suicidal over a love affair gone bad. The sex may last after the passion is past.

So the whole sensible world as a language-like quality to it--a form of cosmic sign-language. Like children who come into the world, learning to master their mother-tongue, we did not invent this language. It is innate, irrepressible, and inescapable.

Artists of every stripe exploit this language to manipulate our feelings. And, what is more, we pay them to push our buttons.

Even are words are an extension of the body. We form and project our words by our lips and lungs.

Just as we know another person by his body, we know God by his world. When we hug the world, we put our arms around God--or rather, God embraces us. The soul employs the body as an expressive vehicle, while the Lord employs the world as an expressive vehicle.

This is not, of course, the only way that God may be known, or make himself known. God also speaks to us in words--in the words of Scripture. And Scripture speaks as well of a Beatific Vision (1 Cor 13:12; 1 Jn 3:2).

Thus we experience a divine person in much the same way as we experience a human person. The person proper is impalpable and inaccessible. He can only be known--ordinarily, at least--by some tangible medium. We know our fellow man through his words and body-language; we know our God through his words and sign-language.

In both cases we infer the personhood of the other by analogy with our outward behavior and inner states of consciousness. Thus the knowledge of God does not present some paranormal or preternatural condition. Rather, the knowledge of God flows through the same channels as does the knowledge of our fellow man.

Friday, October 01, 2004 News - Sci-Tech - Hole in ozone layer shrinks

"A GAPING hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica appears to have shrunk by about 20 per cent from last year�s record-breaking size, scientists said today."

You think Bush will get/take credit for this?

A high stakes debate

The presidental debate format makes it easy to lose the thread--because it's all loose-ends. In a formal debate, you have prepared statements and direct cross-examination, which makes the presentation much tighter and on-point.

But in this format, where the debater doesn't know the question in advance, there's a lot of padding and meandering and backpedaling throughout the course of 90 minutes. So you have to strain to pick out the one-liners.

Still, we were treated to a fairly stark contrast in terms of temperament and problem-solving strategies.

In terms of demeanor and delivery, I thought that Kerry was rather better. For the most part he managed to be firm without sounding irate. He is also rather more articulate than Bush, although both of them stumbled over their words from time to time.

All-in-all, he compares well with Democrat candidates of the past. He's about as well-spoken and well-versed as Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, and Gore, but stylistically their superior.

In terms of sheer fluency and flexibility, he is not as well-oiled as Clinton or Stevenson, but, of course, the immediate comparison is with Bush.

Kerry is also tall, well-groomed, and dressed in a dark suit. Kerry may have helped himself last night. Whether he helped himself enough to turn the ship around, only the polling data will tell.

The format, which forbad direct cross-examination, prevented Kerry from seizing the initiative the way he did so successfully in his debates with Weld, but that might have sounded less presidential.

As to Bush, well…he's Bush. He was in pretty good form for Bush. He's been much worse, but he's not been much better. Bush has, as usual, a flat monotonous delivery--one pitch, one dynamic. He combines this with a rather monotonous message--although that's both a strength and a weakness. It's a sign of his singled-minded resolve.

Bush seemed somewhat smaller (because he is), dressed in lighter attire, was not as well-coifed, and began to tire towards the end of the debate.

So he was rather less telegenic, although this is, in part, because, he has a day job, and came across as someone who was taking time out of his real job to do the debate. A busy, hurried, harried man. So I don't know if that hurts or helps him.

In general, I think that Bush began on a stronger note and ended on a weaker one, whereas Kerry began on a weaker note and ended on a stronger note. This could help Kerry, although some (many?) viewers may have gotten bored half way through the debate and switched to the football game.

It is always a bit frustrating for a Bush supporter to listen to Bush. So many missed opportunities to make a better case for his own position. There are a hundred conservative commentators and right-wing bloggers who are more skillful spokesmen for the cause.

Kerry landed a number of punches on Bush's foreign policy failures--as well as gaping gaps in homeland security (although the reference to first responders reflects a post-attack mentality--wait until they hit us again, the send in the coroners).

The problem, though, is that even when Kerry has the right message, he's the wrong messenger. He is a better critic than he is a credible alternative.

Last night he once again attempted to run on both sides of the war-- talking like a dove when attacking the Bush record, talking like a hawk when defending his own position.

In a sense, there is a method to his madness. At heart he's a McGovernite. But he can't win as a McGovernite. If he's too hawkish he'll lose his liberal base, but if he's too dovish he'll lose the swing voters. So he plays both ends off against the middle, depending on what audience he is addressing. The problem is not that Kerry has never articulated a clear position on the war; the problem, rather, is that Kerry has clearly articulated two clearly opposing positions on the war. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Kerry is a hawk; on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, Kerry is a dove; while on Sunday he gets out on both sides of the bed.

Then there's his obsessive-compulsive fixation with the sanctity of the process--a "global test," Kofi Annan, respect abroad, let's have another "round of resolutions"...

Process as an end in itself, regardless of the end-product, regardless of whether the process yields any tangible results or solves any real-world problems.

Another problem with Kerry is that he has a bad habit of badmouthing our real allies while groveling before our nominal allies.

Bush was at his weakest when he sounded like Kerry, going through the diplomatic motions on Iran and N. Korea. This policy simply allows the enemy to stall for time and play out the clock. The enemy can string out the UN ad infinitum until it has its WMD in place.

Kerry also made the stunning proposal that we should give Iran fissionable material and see what they do with it! Gee, while don't we loan them some ICBMs while we're at it!

There were also things thrown in from leftfield, like the Kyoto protocols. Betcha that's gonna to peel away the NASCAR dads, don't ya think?

It comes down to a choice between a candidate who is consistent to a fault, and a candidate who is consistently inconsistent--whose idea of a solution is a summit in Paris.

Kerry may have done himself some good with viewers tuning into the campaign for the first and last time. How much good, with how many, remains to be seen.

To the extent that Kerry did well, and Bush did less well, that's because Kerry is all about image. And in that respect, Kerry is a true-blue liberal, for liberal ideology is image-conscious. It's not about doing anything, but feeling good about yourself; not about solving any problems, but seeming to solve problems. Keeping up appearances is the main thing: diplomatic busy-work and nonbinding resolutions.

This is a great way to sell soda pop, but a losing strategy in a world war against the forces of global jihad. Kerry is a dangerous man for dangerous times; not a danger to our enemy, but a danger to our nation--at a time when we can least afford it. The choice is between a talker and a doer, a blue-blooded Eurocrat and a red-blooded commander.