02 December 2002

What's Wrong with Liberalism?

The Democrats, the party of a benevolent Liberalism since the 1960's, and with them Liberalism itself have been hijacked by a Leftist Fundamentalist minority. Lest we be accused of bias, see also What's Wrong with Conservatism?


The core Democratic sympathy has become identified with what is left of the political Left in this country, which is a group of people commonly (and mistakenly, but the term has stuck) called Liberals. Perhaps a better term would be Leftist Fundamentalists, or Leftie Fundies. Fortunately, most people who really are liberal (small "l") have generally given up labelling themselves, so I doubt much confusion will be created by using what has become the common terminology. Liberals have let their ideology become shaped by the Leftie Fundies who, like Fundamentalists everywhere, secretly loathe themselves, and seek to become cleansed — good — by giving themselves to an ideology. They are just as dangerous as the Fundamentalists who make up the politically active Christian Right (whom I criticized during the elder Bush Administration), and for the same reason. They seek power so compulsively that they set aside some of the rules that bind us together as a democratic (small "d") society.

It never occurs to Leftie Fundies that there might be a sinister aspect to their orientation toward the world. Let's start with their most basic mantra, which I learned in childhood: the rich hate the poor. In point of fact, the Democratic Party has more large donors than the Republican Party, which gets most of its money from small donations. What is actually going on is that financially successful (or endowed) Liberals feel guilty about having wealth. They must prove that they don't hate the poor by subjecting themselves (as well as those of us who just want to achieve a comfortable retirement) to confiscatory taxation. It's a great scheme — now that they have ascended the financial heights, they pull the ladder up after themselves. (Not to worry, they'll take care of us with Social Security.) And of course they give liberally to the party that espouses their redeeming ideology. The Democratic party is partly funded by the self-hating (or at least pathologically apologetic) rich, and supported by the poor folks who think that their handouts are the best they can get.

Of course, redistribution of wealth is necessary for any society to remain healthy, because wealth naturally concentrates in all economies. Richer people can afford to take bigger chances with their money than poorer people can. Over time such risk-taking is rewarded: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in comparison to one another. It a universal process in all economies ever studied: if you plot wealth vs the number of people who have each level of wealth you get the famous Pareto curve. Sound economic policy does not try to change the shape of the curve, because that has proved impossible, even for the Soviets. Sound economic policy seeks to move the curve so that more people have more wealth, and almost nobody has so little that deprivation shortens his or her lifespan. To do this, we must create more wealth, and to make it more accessible to more people. For example, we might revive affirmative action, but base it on socioeconomic class and availability of opportunity rather than on race.

But Leftie Fundies are not concerned with wealth creation. They seem not to know that it is possible to create wealth, despite the simple agrarian example of creating wealth by planting, tending, and harvesting a potato vine, or the obvious example of the stock market, which both creates and destroys wealth. Many of them are sympathetic to the idea that the elimination of wealth would mean the elimination of poverty, when it would actually mean the elimination of economic activity and with it the universalization of poverty to the extent that a large fraction of humanity would starve. For Liberals, there is only so much wealth in the world — it cannot be created. This means that those who have wealth must have stolen it from those who do not. Therefore the mere possession of wealth is an injustice which must be corrected by taking from the rich and giving to the poor.

Leftie Fundies are therefore concerned with maintaining the poor, but not with increasing socioeconomic mobility. Hence their nostalgia for their welfare programs, which gave people just enough to keep them poor. They want to keep the poor alive, but they do not want them to become richer. This is not a paradox. The self-haters feel good about themselves when they help the helpless. For this to be a viable long term solution, they need the helpless to remain in need of their ministrations. Liberals leach their self-esteem from creating and maintaining permanent client classes, whom they can then serve. It is a kind of economic (and spiritual) vampirism.

This is more clearly illustrated by another Leftie Fundie pet program, Bilingual Education. Teaching immigrant kids in their native language delays the acquisition of English until the kids are too old to speak it without an accent. In other words, Bilingual Ed as it had been practiced in this country was a way to decrease the average English proficiency of selected ethnic groups (I've never heard a passionate advocate of Bilingual Ed for Europeans) so as to create and maintain a permanent client class to help an army of self-hating do-gooders feel better about themselves. Since speaking English well can confer an economic advantage, some self-hating "haves" (people who feel guilty for having more than someone else, whether or not they are actually wealthy) become self-hating Anglophones, as well.

Fostering communities of non-English speakers combines with the currently fashionable "identity" politics to fragment America. This is perfect for those self-hating "haves" who realize that merely being an American confers a certain amount of economic advantage in the world. They become self-hating Americans, and try to assuage their guilt by seeking to give this country's foreign aid to our enemies as well as (and sometimes in preference to) our friends. Such self-hating Americans tend to side with non-European underdogs against what they see as unfair domination by the West. In other words, its a short trip from self-hating "have" to self-hating American to self-hating Westerner (and Israel basher, since Israel is Western).

The trip can end in a morbid environmentalism. I remember a waitress in Berkeley declaring that the world would better off without any people in it. She had become a self-hating human, assuaging her guilt for being unfairly advantaged with respect to animals and plants by wishing that she and the rest of us didn't exist. To help her feel better, I didn't leave a tip. She might have sent it to the Khmer Rouge (who massacred millions in the Cambodian killing fields).

Lest I be misunderstood, let me state that the ostensible quests of the Leftie Fundies and their too uncritical fellow-travelers, Liberals, are good. Lefties Fundies champion a social agenda that aims to help the downtrodden, the outcasts, the regular working people, and especially the women in all these categories. One problem is in their execution. Their need to be either rescuers or victims (either status confers "goodness") precludes them from offering effective assistance. Their help is enough to get by, but not (generally speaking) enough to get going.

The other problem is in their will to win. As I stated above, the self-haters extract their sense of goodness from their environmental and social programs, particularly their defense of women's access to abortion (with which I am sympathetic). Because these programs, especially abortion, are necessary to Liberals' self-esteem, they must be preserved by all means, fair or foul. This justifies a facile re-interpretation of the laws of this country to advantage Leftie or at least Liberal champions. In particular, Liberals believe the Leftie Fundie lies when they scream "injustice" at the idea of their being held to the letter of the written election laws of Florida, New Jersey, or the United States. What they miss is that the letter of the written law, and a disciplined process for interpreting it, are the greatest guarantors of our liberty, and that their actions and rhetoric undermine it.

"Totalitarian? This government?" sneered Senator Ted Kennedy at the confirmation hearings of (I think) John Ashcroft. Yes, this government and yes, you. Leftie Fundies currently lie and cheat to further their agenda. How great a leap is it for them to return to the more mob-like tactics of the 1960's Chicago Democratic machine in their quest for the power that enables them to redeem themselves?

Now I can harbor doubts about my beliefs, because my sense of "goodness" does not depend on the details of what I believe. Right-wing Christian Fundamentalists and Leftist Fundamentalists (Christian and otherwise) cannot let themselves experience doubt, because their beliefs are what confers "goodness" on them. They cover their doubts with a facade of certainty, which they will defend at aggressively (or passive-aggressively) against their perceived enemies, namely, each other, whom they demonize. If I could, I would put them in a large room together and see if they would mutually annihilate, like particles and anti-particles, liberating enough energy for the rest of us to do something constructive. [Note that this experiment wouldn't work with Leftie Fundies and Islamofacists, because Islamofacists do not threaten the Leftie Fundies' power to redeem themselves — many Lefties would seek redemption by donating to the Islamofacists' charitable front organizations.]


Let me amplify an earlier thought: The written law and its systematic interpretation are the greatest guarantors of our liberty. Leftie Fundies, on the other hand, see the Law as an instrument of Justice, to which they alone have a direct line.

In this much, they are right: Law must be an instrument of Justice. Lex iusta non est lex (an unjust law is not Law) has been known since the Roman Republic. For example, the unjust body of segregationist Law and legal opinion known as Jim Crow (which some readers may be surprised to know was originally enacted by Democrats) had to be broken and swept away. In that sense, Civil War was not truly won until the late 1960's, and it was won largely by Liberals in the name of Justice for all. The entire country is immeasurably better for their effort and their victory.

But they are also wrong: Law, including its systematic and disciplined interpretation, must generally be respected as embodying the agreement of us all on how we shall behave, and the admission that this agreement is currently as close as we can get to Justice. The name for this concept is "procedural Justice." Absolute Justice cannot be achieved by mortals, but it can be approximated by following certain agreed upon procedures, including the procedures for modifying the procedures. In other words, for Law to be effective as an instrument of Justice, we must generally play by the rules.

Leftie Fundies, on the other hand, believe that, since Justice will only be done if they win, procedures that impede their winning must be unjust. This is why they promote the myth that "the Bush brothers stole the election" in Florida in 2000. They saw the effort to hold them to the letter of the written Law as no more legitimate than abusing Robert's Rules of Order in a legislative committee meeting. And since it denied them victory, it denied them Justice.

Again in New Jersey, this month, the letter of the written Law dictated that the incumbent Democratic (and Liberal) Senator Torricelli (who had won the Democratic primary) could not be replaced by a more palatable candidate, because the deadline for ballot changes had passed. Liberals saw the deadline as a mere administrative detail — their belated substitution of Lautenberg was not done out of malfeasance, but out of a desire to prevent the injustice of the enemy regaining a majority in the Senate. The rule could be swept away, and it was, by the New Jersey State Supreme Court. I cannot express my comtempt for that decision adequately with any combination of expletives. Especially since the same party is willing to run a dead person in Hawaii, where their victory is more assured.

I recall another time when someone else believed their quest for Justice was above the written Law. That someone was Oliver North, who abrogated the written Law by funneling money for arms to help the Nicaraguan government fight against the (leftist) Sandinistas. The question of whether the Congress was right to restrain the President on this particular issue is immaterial. At issue was whether the President could exceed his just powers as delegated by the Constitution. And the answer is "no." Because the power of the President must be limited in order to protect the liberty of us all.

Similarly, the right to vote, and to have that vote respected, is fundamental to the protection of all our other rights. If the vote can be tampered with (as the Leftie Fundies attempted in Florida), or set aside (as the Leftie Fundies did to the primary vote in New Jersey), then we no longer have a voice in our government. The guarantee against such tampering is supposed to be the written Law regarding elections — for which the Leftie Fundies exhibit no respect when the Law favors someone else. In this, I label them tyrants, or more precisely, tyrant wannabes by rationalization.

The Raw Deal

Here then is the Leftie Fundies' deal: The rules don't count unless they favor the Leftie Fundies in their quest for power to take from the "haves" in order to maintain the "have not's" in permanent need of more taking from the "haves" so that the Liberals can feel better about themselves. The Leftie Fundie willingness to lie and cheat to sustain this destructive agenda has excited a backlash. The Leftie Fundies, by their excesses, have created such a deep spiritual hunger for an alternative viewpoint in the rest of the country, that it is almost as if they have inadvertently conjured Rush Limbaugh into existence.

Well, more power to ya, Rush. At first, I couldn't stand you. But after Bill Clinton and his apologists, I'm glad you're there. I oppose many of your views, and I don't like your style. But keep it up. When National Public Radio punches my buttons, I punch "AM," and turn to you.


  • 10/20/02 A friend wrote: "You may be right about Liberals. The NBC affiliate in Milwaukee has just filmed Democratic campaign workers handing out small amounts of money and free food to residents at a home for the mentally ill in Kenosha after which the patients were shepherded into a separate room and given absentee ballots. One of the Democratic Party workers fled when she saw the NBC camera. The local district attorney is investigating." If I am wrong, I would like someone to explain to me how these folks can do what they do and still believe they're OK.
  • 12/2/02 See "How I was Smeared," by Harry Stein for a first-person account of the "Politically Correct" lie factory in action.
  • 12/8/02 For an alternative point of view see "Proud to be Liberal," by Brian Elroy McKinley.

29 November 2002


Someone was shouting, "F--k you, bitch! F--k you!" The SUV weaved erratically through lanes of parked cars and whipped into a space. Two smiling teen-aged boys emerged. The taller one glared at me. "What are you lookin at?" he said. They passed me by and went into the grocery store, most probably on an errand for their mother. I had forgotten how precariously men balance on the edge of sanity through adolescence.

The miracle is that almost all of us come out of it as decent, intact human beings. Those who don't are rare enough that, when they act out, they make news — bad news — the stuff that gets reported, because the good news is too ordinary. Let us give thanks for that.

One of those who emerged from adolescence as a psychopath who threatens genocidal attacks with a mild demeanor and a smiling face, is Usama Bin Laden. If he had his way, he would erase Western Civilization from the globe. But Western Civilization cannot be conquered from without — if it falls, it will be by internal disintegration. Ultimately, Bin Laden's efforts will be futile. Let us give thanks for that.

What Bin Laden has succeeded in doing, is bringing America to the realization that it needs a Department of Homeland Security. I can't say I have an insider's view of the emerging organization, but everyone I talk to who is involved with it warns that we can't let it become another Gestapo. They are aware of the risk in what they themselves are doing. Let us give thanks for that, too.

Bin Laden, the recent shootings in the Washington, DC, area, the riots in Nigeria over a reporter's comments on the upcoming Miss World pageant, and all the other bad news make us forget the good news that normally saturates every part of our lives except the mass media.

I was scooping up my dogs' poop in my back yard today, and noticed the sun glinting through the steam rising from the most recent deposit. The steam curled into exquisite vortices, rising, expanding into diaphanous veils that vanished into the pale blue morning. I staggered to think that the photons that illuminated this vision burst into being in the thermonuclear hell of the sun's core, then took some 50 years to percolate to the sun's surface before racing the next 93 million miles in 8 minutes — to strike this shimmering ribbon of steam, and then bounce into my eyes that I might see this beauty.

Truly this a wonderful world. Wonder and beauty are all around and within us, even in the most mundane things. Let us give thanks for that.

25 October 2002

We can Avoid War in Iraq

If we are to believe the press, Iraq continues to attempt to develop weapons of mass destruction. The United States and many other countries perceive this as particularly dangerous, because Iraq does not have a government. Iraq has a family-owned and operated extortion/protection racket, namely Saddam Hussein and his mob, that masquerades as a government. As part of its War against Terrorism, the United States wants to deal definitively with this threat, citing the aid Saddam Hussein is known to give to terrorists of various sorts.

Well, the stated goal of US policy is the disarmament of Iraq. It is a worthy goal, which we can achieve without war. But we cannot achieve it without credibly threatening war, because that threat is the only thing in the Universe that seems to get Saddam's attention.

The Congressional resolution authorizing the President to use force was an essential first step. A United Nations resolution authorizing the use of force to enforce its previous binding resolutions, which Iraq has flouted, is an essential second step. It is not necessary in terms of whether the United States can credibly threaten Iraq with war, but it is necessary in terms of the future relations of the United States with the rest of the world in general, and Europe in particular.

Suppose the resolution passes. We can still avoid war. We can adopt a modest proposal I call "The Iraqi Site Preservation Plan," or ISPP for short.

The ISPP works like this. The UN inspectors attempt to enter Iraq to inspect one or more sites. Either they are allowed to inspect the sites, or they issue a notice to evacuate the areas around whatever sites they are denied access. As soon as reasonably practical thereafter, allowing some time for civilian and personnel evacuation, the site or sites get bombed to rubble. Either way, the UN gets to check the site or sites off the list, and progress toward disarmament is made. The choice of which sites get preserved is left to Iraq.

There are other details to work out, such as providing armed protection to the inspectors to prevent their being taken hostage, whether we can have enough confidence in such an inspection regime to lift economic sanctions against Iraq (which Saddam's propaganda machine has played against the US, despite Iraq's currently selling more oil than it did before the Gulf War), etc. It is not my purpose to present a complete solution, only to sketch a possible line that may lead us to a desired outcome without a major war. But it will not be possible to pursue this line without being willing and able to threaten and wage war, to back it up.

Given who we are dealing with, this is probably as peaceful as we can get. The removal of Saddam Hussein's ability to threaten his neighbors with mass destruction will not solve the problems of the Middle East, but it will improve the region's politics. Maybe it will give the world a moment to catch its breath, and think about that other family-owned and operated business failure, North Korea.

22 October 2002

In the Mind's Eye

Atheist physicist implies the existence of God?
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
in the forest, in the night.
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame they fearful symmetry? — William Blake
Steven Weinberg, whom I had the privilege to know when I was a graduate student, is an atheist. He believes the vast weight of evidence gathered from 300 years of science since Newton points to the inescapable conclusion that God, as Jews, Christians, Muslims, or anyone else might conceive of God, does not exist.

Prof. Weinberg shares the 1979 Nobel Prize in physics with Abdus Salaam and Sheldon Glashow for their key contributions to what has become the "Standard Model" of elementary particle theory and cosmology, namely their unification of the electromagnetic and weak-nuclear forces. As such, Weinberg is eminently qualified to write the three-volume graduate level text, The Quantum Theory of Fields. As if this were not enough, he writes with a grace and clarity that make it a relative delight to read what, in lesser hands, can be a tedious subject. It is a "must read," if you are a theoretical physicist. Short of that, however, there is still a revelation in it that I must tell you about.

To begin, Weinberg admits that we believe that Quantum Field Theory (QFT) is only an approximation to a more exact theory that may grow out of current attempts at String Theory. Therefore, he emphasizes those aspects of QFT that he thinks will stand the test of time, and will continue to be features of a more advanced theory. The most fundamental of those aspects is symmetry — the way the properties of a particle stay the same (or not) under certain transformations of space-time. These transformations are rotations (spinning around), translations (standing at different places) and boosts (which are shifts to a frame of reference that is moving at a high, but constant, velocity). Together, these transformations are called the inhomogeneous Lorentz group.
Now there are a number of mathematical ways to represent the Lorentz group. Any set of symbols and rules to manipulate them will do, provided that the symbols and rules behave the same way the Lorentz group does. Those representations, that cannot be decomposed into subgroups that also represent the Lorentz group, are called irreducible representations of the Lorentz group.

And now the point of all this mumbo-jumbo: Weinberg writes on page 63 of Volume I, "It is natural to identify the states of a specific particle type with the components of a representation of the inhomogeneous Lorentz group which is irreducible...."

I'm stunned by that statement. What it means is that the irreducible representations of the basic symmetries of our universe give rise to the possibilities of all the sub-atomic particles, and thus to all the matter, in the universe. This is the closest thing you are ever likely to see to a Platonic Form in actual existence and effect.

In case you skipped that part of the college experience, the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, a student of Socrates, believed that things existed in reality only because their ideal, perfect Forms existed in the realm of the mind. For example, a circle could be drawn on the ground only because of the existence of the ideal Form of a circle in the mind.

Now we know that Platonic Forms are hogwash, because our minds are not powerful enough to make anything exist, just by thinking. One can think very clearly of things that do not and cannot exist, and even draw pictures of them, like the art of M. C. Escher. And yet, there it is — the irreducible representations of the inhomogeneous Lorentz group are the Forms of elementary particles, and thus, of all matter that exists.

To me, it begs the question: In whose mind can the irreducible representations of the inhomogeneous Lorentz group give rise to reality? This is probably as close as theoretical physics has ever come to postulating the existence of God, and we have been brought here by an atheist.

Who knows? God may have planned it that way, just for the irony.

11 September 2002

One Year Later

A year ago on this day, Islamic blasphemers hijacked airplanes and drove them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and - due to the heroic actions of passengers who discovered their intentions - into the ground in rural Pennsylvania. What have they achieved? The Pentagon is whole again. The World Trade Center site is cleared and ready for reconstruction. Grass is reclaiming the site in Pennsylvania. America, its people and its economy are recovering.

At the same time, Afganistan is recovering, too. Not so much from the relatively bloodless and brief US intervention, but from years of oppressive rule by the Taliban, the bought boys of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network. And bin Laden is dead or in hiding.

But we are not yet done with this episode. Islamic culture has been in decline for 500 years, and has yet to produce a legitimate — by which I mean elected — government in the Middle East. In fact, Israel is the only state in the Middle East in which an Arab woman can vote. What the world needs is not a defeated and crushed Islamic culture (although that can be arranged if Islamic culture insists), but a vibrant and forward-looking Islamic culture that respects its neighbors as it wishes to be respected. Note that I didn't say love — I said respect, and we must insist on that respect without exception, and back up that insistence with the willingness to use force.

We must also insist that our government and commercial sectors respect our individual rights and freedoms. This is problematic, given that over the long haul, technological advances increase the power of individuals and small groups to do great good as well as great evil. Unless there is a revolution in human affairs, human empowerment will come increasingly into conflict with human security, which will require the sacrifice of human freedom to achieve.

We must eventually pass a constitutional amendment to the effect that any information that specifically identifies a citizen is the inalienable property of that citizen, and may not be used for any purpose (with limited exceptions) without that citizen's consent. That will allow each citizen to finally participate in the market that already exists for his or her information (credit ratings, purchasing patterns, medical records, etc.). It will also allow each citizen to push back against the steamrollers of big business and big government. But ultimately, updating our legal protections will only slow the erosion of our freedom.

America is proving more than a match against those external agents who would take our freedom from us. The greatest threat to our freedom comes from ourselves, and our own fears. And the greatest guarantee of our freedom is for all of us to learn to use our freedom well.

In the short term, however, there are some things that can be accomplished by using various technologies to help thwart, apprehend, or kill terrorists. We in the scientific, engineering, computer science, and applied mathematics communities are ready to give it our best shot.

03 August 2002

And Then I Had the Dream

Contributed by Kay Goodnow

And then I had the dream.

I was standing in a room. I thought it was a hospital room, but there was a nightstand next to the bed. On it was a green plant, a philodendron, and I knew that it was dying. The room was darkened by curtains that covered the windows. It was quiet there, no sound at all. I was neither cold nor warm but I felt surrounded by the silent darkness, as by fog in the early morning.

I stood there, unmoving. As my eyes adjusted I noticed a wheelchair next to the window. It was facing me, facing the middle of the room. I did not feel fear, and so I took a few steps forward, closer to the man who sat in the wheelchair.

He was covered with a blanket, a plaid blanket. I remember noticing red stripes against a brown background. The blanket had been pulled up nearly to his chin but his hands were free and they moved slowly, as though playing with the blanket's fringe that lay across his chest.

His hands were just as I remembered them; slender, with long and graceful fingers. They were pale, nearly white, translucent with age. I knew who he was even before I looked into his face. Long ago, he had been my priest.

I smiled and said, “Hello, Jack. I am Kay London Goodnow. How are you?”

I realized that he could hear me, because he looked into my eyes. I felt him recognize me. And then I saw that I was dressed in my Catholic school uniform, that I was 15 years old again. I knew that my hair was blonde, my posture erect and full of grace from years of ballet exercises. I started to move forward, because I wanted to hug him, to assure him that I am fine, just fine, that I had survived the life to which he had condemned me.

He made a motion with his hand to stop me. It was a signal for me to stay where I was and I responded to it immediately. I watched him breathe, one slow breath after another, and then he looked directly at me again.

“I recognize you, Honey,” he said. “I have been expecting you. It took you a long time to get here but I knew all along that you would come.”

I felt pleased that his mind was clear, his speech distinct and that he seemed rational. I started to speak, tried to talk but nothing would come. There were so many things I wanted to tell him about the past fifty-odd years, and they rushed through my head like waves pounding on a beach before a hurricane. But I could not begin. I was waiting, as in the past, for him to lead so that I could follow. I watched him silently. I looked into his eyes and they seemed as blue as they had been when first I had fallen in love with him. I managed another step forward and yes, his eyes were blue, but lifeless.

“Honey,” he said, “I am old and there is little time. I have waited a long time for you to ask what it is that you have to ask and for you to say what it is that you want to say.”

I remained where I was, 15 years old, still in my uniform. There was more light in the room now. I became aware that it was coming from me, that it surrounded me. The dim outlines that had prevailed earlier were sharpening now. Behind his wheelchair an altar was visible, covered with a long white cloth. Vigil lights burned brightly in the far corners of the room, twinkling gold, red and white. I could smell incense, that faint, vaguely sweet smell that followed the Benediction service. I could hear the organ and the choir of young female voices: Tantum ergo sacramentum…

Still I didn’t move. I sensed that I had been given a second chance. I felt stronger now, the 15-year-old was moving forward in time, accelerating at a tremendous rate of speed. The wife-mother-grandmother that I am now stood there, watching him. As the memories flashed past, and with them the pain, the struggle to comprehend, the years and years that it had taken to empower that 15-year old and force her into assuming responsibility for herself… and I understood.

The room had become considerably brighter, even though the curtains were still closed and the lights were still off. The confusion of who I was cleared from my brain and with it, the darkness cleared from the room. I stepped forward once more.

“There is just one question that must be asked,” I said, and I smiled. “I would like to know, Jack, why you did this to me?”

I saw a spark of life as his eyes briefly glimmered icy, steely blue. He sat upright in his wheelchair, straightening his shoulders. He stopped fingering the blanket fringe and rested his hands one atop the other. He looked at me, and I knew that my smile had struck him to the core.

“I did it, Honey,” he said, “Because I could.”

I turned and I walked out of that room, along a corridor, and I passed what I thought was a nurses’ station. I knew that it wasn’t, because there was a priest standing there, his white collar contrasting with his stark black suit.

“He died early this morning, I am sorry,” the priest said to me. “I know that it was important to you that you talk with him. Shall we pray now, my dear?” He reached forward to take my hand.

I moved away from him. I smiled. “Pray if it will make you feel better,” I said to this man whose aura was not favorable to those of us who trust ourselves. “God is here with me now as He always is. God alone is the final authority.” I was still smiling. I felt like jumping into the air and yelling, “I did it! I am free! I am alive and well and happy!” I felt like doing a cartwheel and handstands, I felt like playing a concert grand piano in Carnegie Hall and figure skating at the Olympics. The priest didn’t speak and I walked away. I went on down that long hall, half walking and half skipping. I went through the last remaining door and found myself in my own room, at home, in bed.

It was nearly dawn when I was fully awake, and as I communicated my joy to the life force in all of us, I felt the light from those who have survived from the dawn of time on this world and in this universe and even some from beyond this universe. I felt the light of survivors of the present and those of the future. We are all one, after all, and when Creator/God/Life Force is in our core, what more do we need?

I neither sense, nor do I feel, any darkness at all. It’s out there, I know that, and it has my permission to remain there. It no longer has any power over me and I am long overdue for a trip into my own future.

Editor's Note: As adolescents we were each vulnerable for years while we submerged our child self and grew our adult personality in its place. We trusted key adults to guide us through these years, during which we had the life-forming experience of first love. Now imagine yourself as a devoutly Catholic adolescent, completely seduced by your 35-year old priest, who eventually abandons you when the Church moves him to his next parish, leaving you wounded emotionally, sexually, and spiritually, and silenced because nobody talked about such things back then, and because everybody would have blamed (and shamed) you. Kay Goodnow has survived and decades after her experience, has become active in SNAP and Link-Up, organizations of those who have been abused by clergy. - Scooper

20 July 2002

A Declaration of Co-Dependence

Whatever it is, I can make it better. You can count on me. I will always be there for you anywhere, anytime, and sacrifice my time, effort, money, and dignity to maintain you in your delusions. I will even come to believe some of them as if they were my own. I will do and be whatever you need me to do and be, because you have that way of making me feel needed, wanted, and sometimes even loved. I will be your rock and your strength, because you need the stability that I bring to your life. I know how to be and do all these things because I have been practicing them since I was a child. I have been trained by my family of origin and by my culture to give my all for someone. And that someone is you. You have only to be yourself, and to do what comes naturally to you. I will mold my identity to yours because you are now the source of my identity. You give me a way to justify my existence, a reason to be, and a way of being. The meaning in my life comes from serving you.

Editor's Note: Addicts often need a co-dependent to aid them in maintaining themselves in their habit. I first encountered the phenomenon as a Stephen Minister. This is my attempt to "get inside" the co-dependent mindset. Co-dependence is self-sacrificing in a way that damages both the co-dependent and the primary addict. It is also subtly idolatrous.

14 June 2002

Of Pedophiles and Suicide Bombers

Catholicism and Islam in Crisis

As I write this an ad hoc council of American Catholic Bishops has just met in Dallas, TX, and passed a so-called zero-tolerance resolution concerning priests that have sexually abused their parishoners. By zero-tolerance the Bishops mean that sexual abusers may under some circumstances remain priests, but may no longer have contact with parishoners.

Excuse me, but that kind of bullshit is a lot more American than it is Catholic, or even Christian. It smacks of the recent Clintonian "continental drift" in American morality that seems almost automatically to excuse a man for not keeping his word. The vow of celibacy is a vow made to God as part of assuming a holy office, which is to be discharged in God's Name. The breaking of the vow is the breaking of the office. In particular, he who breaks his vow of celibacy in order to have sex with a minor rapes the child physically (a crime against the child's body which the State must prosecute), emotionally (a crime against the child's relationship with him/her self and with others), and spiritually (a crime against the child's relationship with God - which is ultimately a crime against God).

If I were hearing a priest's confession, and he were to admit that he had sexually abused a child during his priesthood, I would assign him this penance: He must go to the civil authorities and confess his crimes. Under appropriate supervision he must confess each crime before each victim together with the victim's parents. At his trial, he must confess his crimes before the court and demand the maximum penalty the law permits. In prison, he must continue as a priest to serve the spiritual needs of his fellow inmates. But when he leaves prison, he must leave the priesthood.

Now this is not to say that I agree with the Catholic position on priestly celibacy, or the non-ordination of women. But the rules are the rules. You either play by them or change them, but you don't subvert them and cover it up. It is the "community of subversion" that has formed within the American Catholic church that has brought on the current crisis. And it is deserved. You can save souls in a lot of ways, but as far as I know, you can't do it with your penis.

The crisis in Islam is no less shameful. There are Palestinian publications (on-line and off) that announce the death of a young man in a suicidal attack against random civilians (who almost always include children) as if it were a marriage — he has been "wedded to the dark-eyed" they say, referring to dark-eyed houris (ever young, ever virginal beings who will attend to the every need of one who arrives in heaven). More than one commentator has described the sales pitch used to recruit suicide bombers with the words " Heaven as whorehouse," which miss the mark, but not so widely that they should be ignored. The real whoredom here is that some people who call themselves Islamic clerics countenance the slaying of children, which from my reading of the Qur'an, is expressly forbidden.

And yet these clerical abusers of children are open about it, and have followings, and recruit more people to do more of the same. I make the comparison with sexually abusing priests, because if having sex with a child is abusing that child, so is killing the child, even if it is done through an intermediary. The glorification of suicide bombers is a kind of bullshit that is more tribal than Islamic. In particular, it is a self-justification by focusing on one's enemies' atrocities (both real and imagined) without adhering to the Moral Law as a whole. As far as I know, you can't save souls with your bomb, either.

I invite comments from anyone, especially Catholics and Muslims.

01 June 2002

God's Reasons Reconsidered

A Response to Professor George
June 2002


In "God's Reasons" my friend and former classmate, Robert George, argues that abortion is intrinsically evil and a violation of human rights, and that therefore any morally legitimate government must severely restrict the practice. Since only one VCBC reader has stepped forward to challenge Professor George, and chose to raise new points (about which more later) rather than to challenge his points directly, I feel compelled to try. I will first try to strengthen those of his arguments with which I agree. Then I will attempt reasonably to refute those points with which I disagree.

I must state that I am not trained in jurisprudence or political theory, as is Prof. George, nor am I as knowledgeable in theology. I therefore cannot argue as an attorney on this topic, but can only volunteer my thoughts as if I were a juror evaluating to Prof. George's statements.

I must also thank Prof. George for a sustained and remarkable work of civility and citizenship, as embodied in his papers and books, in which he states with care, skill, and above all reasonableness, his conservative positions on many social issues. I had thought that moral philosophers had gone AWOL in the twentieth century until I began reading Robert George. The United States would be a better country if liberals were as civil toward conservatives as he is toward liberals. I thank him for making "God's Reasons" available on this web site, and encourage everyone to read his new book, The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis, in which yet another revision of "God's Reasons" appears.

Nolo Contendere

To begin, I would like to emphasize a point on which I think Robert and I agree, even if I stray beyond what Rawls would call "public reasons" — the value of a single human life. We are each made in the image of God, according to Genesis. This statement is at first enigmatic, given that we are forbidden by the Second Commandment to make and worship any images of God at all. Its meaning however, is given in the Church's teaching about the incarnation of God as Christ. The Nicene Creed states that Jesus is simultaneously truly human and truly God — that Jesus the man is nevertheless "of one substance" with God. Therefore, it seems to me, being made in the image of God means human nature is such that God can become human and still be God.

Now I know of only one mundane relationship that is anything like this. In mathematics, an infinite set can be mapped in a one-to-one relationship onto a smaller subset of itself, but only if that subset is also infinite. You can map the whole numbers (going from 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on to infinity) onto the even numbers (going from 2, 4, 6 to infinity) by multiplying each whole number by 2. Now between any two numbers you choose, there are half as many even numbers as there are whole numbers, so the set of even numbers is half as big as the set of whole numbers. Notice also that every even number is also a whole number, but not the other way around — the even numbers are a subset (are contained in) the whole numbers. And yet for each and every whole number there is a unique even number. This doesn't work for finite sets. The set consisting of 1,2,3 (and no other numbers) can be multiplied by 2 to get the set 2,4,6 (and no other numbers) but the set {1,2,3} does not contain the set {2,4,6}, even though they have the same number of elements. [The notation for an infinite set is {1,2,3,...} where the ellipsis means ad infinitum, "and so on to infinity."]

In other words, the Incarnation of God in Jesus implies to me that being made in the image of God means being made as an infinitely lesser infinity than God, but an infinity nonetheless. Which means to me that the value of each single human life is infinite. The Commandment "Thou shalt not kill," bears more weight than any of us can imagine.

On another point, I must agree that a fertilized human ovum is obviously a new unique individual member of the species homo sapiens sapiens. That is, a fertilized human egg is a biological human being by definition. [More specifically, since a fertilized human egg can give rise to multuplets, it is at least one biological human being.] Historically, there has arisen a distinction between human beings and persons — a distinction that continues to be abused — but while one may reasonably debate whether a fertilized human ovum is a person, one may not reasonably deny that it is a human being.

But whether a fertilized human ovum is a person or not, it is certainly trying with all its might to become a person, and once implanted in a womb, it will do so absent accident, disease, or human intervention. The likelihood that it might already be a person seems low when one contemplates a clump of a few cells, but that likelihood grows as rapidly as the clump. Now, if you think there is some possibility that an innocent person might be standing behind a curtain, it would be morally wrong - evil - for you to shoot a bullet into that curtain. [Our classmate Tim Romano told me of this example in 1977.] By the same token, I agree with Robert George, and with His Holiness John Paul II, that abortion is evil. Moreover, I agree that it is intrinsically evil in that the goal of getting an abortion (other than abortions done to prevent permanent and substantial injury to a pregnant woman) is to kill a human being before it can become undeniably a person, with a moral claim on its parents and its society.

I must also point out that the US Declaration of Independence states that human beings are "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these being life...." The right to live was acknowledged by the founders of our government to be part of human nature itself, and therefore to exist independently of and prior to any government whatsoever. In particular, it exists prior to and independently of any vote on the question. [A majority vote to deny unjustly a person's right to live is wrong, no matter how many people believe otherwise. Though the majority rules in a democracy, the majority is not infallible. Consider that a democratic majority condemned Socrates, and that a democratic majority passed the Jim Crow laws that later showed the Nazis how to separate a minority from the general population.] In other words, the right to life is acknowledged (not granted) in the foundational documents of the Government of the United States. The government of the United States was instituted to secure that right, among others. There is nothing comparable in the founding documents that might be used to establish a right to abortion.

Thus far I can go with Robert George: Abortion is evil, and unlike the right to life, abortion is not a right, but a wrong. But, before we make public policy, we must try to understand the necessity and possible consequences of that policy.

On Becoming a Person

The objections to banning abortion are all driven by anxiety over the status of women. Abortion is seen as underpinning a woman's right to determine the course of her own life, and more intimately, what happens to her own body. Mary Anne Mills in "One Woman's Reasons," argues that while she would not get an abortion, it is of crucial importance to her that abstaining from it is her choice, rather than someone else's. In particular, she objects to the idea of someone who cannot become pregnant, such as a man (or presumably a postmenopausal woman), using the coercive power of the State to dictate what her choice must be.

Elsewhere in The Clash of Orthodoxies, Robert George argues that our bodies are not objects that are owned by our disembodied minds (or souls) but are in this life inextricably bound up with our minds as indissoluble single units — our selves. Robert makes this argument as part of his demonstration that euthanasia is intrinsically evil (with which I also agree) and I accept it here. Thus, dictating to a woman what access she shall or shall not have to abortion diminishes her power of determining what will happen not just to her body, but to her self. It impinges upon her power of self-determination.

Self-determination is recognized in the United States as a right (although the founding documents recognize it more as a right of communities than of individuals), at least in so far as one's actions do not conflict with the rights of any other person. The argument to ban abortion hinges on the idea that an unborn human being is a person at every stage of development, and that its right to live always trumps a pregnant woman's right to self-determination. Thus, when we even begin to consider the status of women, we are immediately turned to the question of whether an unborn human being is a person, and when it becomes one.

Robert argues that a fertilized human ovum develops continuously into an embryo, a fetus, a baby, a toddler, a teenager, an adult, and so on to a senior citizen without any change in nature. That the development is continuous (smoothly proceeding, uninterrupted) is beyond question. However, the phrase "without a change in nature" bears some scrutiny. Just as I used an example from mathematics to support one of Robert's points, I would like to use one from physics to challenge this one.

An isolated water molecule cannot freeze, melt, or evaporate. It has no surface tension. It cannot dissolve anything. Nor can a few water molecules. And yet, when we assemble enough water molecules together, they can do all these things and have all these properties. There is no change in nature in terms of the composition of the water molecules — but the mere aggregation of a sufficient number of water molecules suffices for for bulk properties and behaviors to emerge that are discontinuously different from the properties and behaviors of the constituents, even though the aggregation itself may be a continuous process. It is quite legitimate to say that the nature of a water droplet is different from the nature of a single water molecule, even though the water droplet is composed exclusively of water molecules. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

This is true for a trivially simple system like a water droplet, and much more profoundly true for living things. In particular, a fertilized human ovum has few of the properties and behaviors of a human infant other than the human genome. Moreover, a human infant lacks certain properties of a single fertilized human ovum — it will not become twins if you separate it into two halves, for example. In other words, the nature of an unborn human being changes discontinuously as it develops. This is what makes it reasonable to speak of "stages" of development.

Therefore, Robert's intuition that personhood is an inherent property of a human being from the moment of fertilization is precisely that — an intuition. In the field of public reason, it is open to challenge, and I challenge it here. I am not asserting that the person comes from without to dwell in the developing embryo. Rather I assert that the embryo, executing its self-directing genetic instructions, develops the capacity for personhood as an integral part of itself, and indeed becomes a person, a dynamic unity of body, mind and spirit, as Robert so eloquently states.

Thus, I believe there is some span of time in which the right of the developing embryo to live does not automatically trump a woman's right of self-determination. I don't know how long that time is. Hence, we are back at the analogy between getting an abortion and shooting into a curtain when one cannot insure that there is no person behind it. The act is manifestly evil, and the State can point to a dead body. But, just as we cannot check behind the curtain before the shot to insure that no person is behind it, neither can the State determine beyond reasonable doubt that the body indeed was a person prior to its death by violence. The evidence does not support an equivalence between early abortion and murder.

And yet, in our safety conscious culture, we shut down a production line, or recall a product if we find that there is a chance that some person might be harmed. Permitting abortion is an exception to this ethic. In abortion, we take the chance that we are killing an unborn person, while insuring to the extent possible the safety of the pregnant woman undergoing the procedure. The hypocrisy of this situation is obvious.

Less obvious is the hypocrisy of some claims that an unborn human is a person from the moment of conception. Consider that most anti-abortion positions allow for abortion in cases of rape or incest. The idea is that a pregnant woman should not be forced to deal with the consequences to herself of actions performed against her will. Such an "escape clause" is needed to get the electorate to even consider an abortion ban. But if a human is a person from the moment of conception, then that person has the same right to live as humans conceived by consensual sex. Permitting abortion in the case of rape or incest makes that unborn human less of a person than another unborn human. If one is going to permit early abortion in the cases of rape or incest, I think it more consistent to assert that a human being becomes a person during pregancy, rather than to assert that a human being becomes a person at the moment of fertilization.

The question then becomes, "Does a developing human that is not yet a person have a right to be allowed to become a person, and does that right trump the right of a pregnant woman to self-determination?" The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, implied that the developing human becomes a person with inalienable rights sometime between the first and third trimesters of pregancy, and that during the first trimester, a pregnant woman's right to self-determination must be given priority. This does not imply that a pre-personal developing human has no right to live — only that its right is subordinate to its mother's right to self-determination.

Until our society has a collective change of heart, I must agree with that implication for the following reason: Suppose we were to ban all abortions outright. The historical experience is that a substantial minority of women (some of them married mothers who already have children) will be desperate enough to seek illegal abortions. Some of these will be done under less than the best possible circumstances (including simple lack of follow-up) which will cause some of these women to sustain permanent and substantial injury or death. That is, a public policy, a law will have resulted in injury and death to humans who are undeniably persons. Those who enact such a policy must bear responsibility for those injuries and deaths, not perhaps on an individual case-by-case basis, but in aggregate. Consequentialism is not the only criterion of morality to be sure, but in the field of public policy, the policy makers must answer for how the numbers come out. In short, even though abortion is intrinsically evil, banning it is not automatically intrinsically good. Perhaps it is better to give people a "grace period," in which we let them choose for good or evil as best they can, and forgive them when they realize they need forgiveness.

Second Thoughts

Now, continuing to grant abortion on demand during the first trimester (which is when the overwhelming majority of abortions take place, indicating a kind of consensus among those seeking abortion that the earlier it is done the less evil it is) may be necessary for our "hardness of heart," as manifested in our failure to love our unborn children, our failure to love and support women in need, and our unwillingness to accept in loving submission to our Creator the burden they and their children may place upon us. Such an abortion license may be necessary to "create a fence" around the dignity, worth, and independence of women as persons. But there are consequences to society of so doing, and a multiplying danger that these consequences will get worse.

Elsewhere ("The Redoubt of the Soul") I have described the gathering assault on human nature that is beginning to happen as a result of the convergence of computers, communications, nanotechnology, and biotechnology. As Francis Fukuyama notes, the future may be "post-human" even though I think he lacks imagination in considering biotechnology to the near exclusion of the parallel developments I just mentioned. In particular, the technological augmentation of humans may result in the fragmentation of humans and human nature into various enhanced types, none of whom could grant equal status to unenhanced humans such as ourselves, any more than we could bring ourselves to let a gorilla become a commercial airline pilot. The fragmentation of human nature may create vast inequities, lay siege to fundamental human values, and at the same time undermine the foundation of Natural Law theory as a basis to criticize the process. And it may happen fast enough that those who read this in the year 2002 may see themselves become unwelcome and unpitied "living fossils" in a world they no longer recognize as their own.

I thus see the debate over abortion as an early stage of a much larger and more problematic series of moral problems in which the "humanity" of future humans is at stake. In that light, I take seriously Robert George's warning that automatically dismissing a fertilized human ovum as a non-person creates a class of disposable humans, potentially available for experimentation, and with it the potential for great evil. In other words, even if I am right that innocent personhood and its unconditional right to life emerge during gestation, this may be a debate that is better to lose.

If we as a society are to decide that personhood emerges sometime during fetal development rather than at fertilization, then we had better create a special status for the pre-personal unborn in which we recognize that although their right to live does not automatically trump a woman's right to self-determination, they nevertheless have other rights by virtue of their being both alive and human which must not be violated. Robert George is right in implying that what we do to society's most vulnerable members we might allow ourselves to do some day to anyone. I fear that "anyone" might someday come to include all "persons" as we know them today. I remind the reader that the Zimbardo and Schachter-Singer experiments of the 1960s support this warning. There is a little bit of Eichmann in us all.

02 April 2002

The New World War

June 28, 1914 — Austrian Archduke Fanz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie are murdered by a member of a Serb nationalist group, who attempted to commit suicide to cover the connections behind his crime. The assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was one of four young men, who were equipped with pistols, bombs, and cyanide capsules by a terrorist group with connections to the Serbian government and army. Thus began the cascade of crises that became World War I, the War of European Monarchies against emerging Liberal Democracies.

December 7, 1941 — Japanese bombers strike the US Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in an attempt to deliver a blow so crippling that the US would not be able to interfere with Japan's territorial ambitions in Asia. In response, the United States enters the ongoing World War II, the War of Facism against the Liberal Democracies.

September 11, 2001 — Nineteen young men, sponsored by an Islamic terrorist group with connections to an Islamic Fundamentalist theocracy in Afganistan and an Islamic Fundamentalist sect in Saudi Arabia, hijack four aircraft over the United States. They fly two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, ultimately causing the buildings to collapse. A third plane is flown into the Pentagon in Washington, DC, the nation's capital. They crash the fourth plane into an open field in Pennsylvania when the passengers, who by then had found out the fate of the other aircraft via in-flight telephone calls to relatives, tried to retake control of the plane.

I mention these events one after the other to point up some obvious parallels. September 11, 2001 shares state sponsored terrorism with June 28, 1914, and a devastating sneak attack with December 7, 1941. But there is one more. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians threatens to become one of the cascade of crises that, like the events of 1914, leads the world into war.

We might be able to avoid a hot World War if we can achieve a peaceful "two-state" solution to the "Israel/Palestinian Problem." But we can no longer avoid a prolonged conflict similar to the Cold War of Communism against the Liberal Democracies, which I consider to have been World War III. The War of the Islamofacists (I thank Francis Fukuyama for the term) against the Liberal Democracies was begun by Ayatollah Khomeini, who won its first battle by overthrowing the Shah of Iran and establishing an Islamic Fundamentalist theocracy in that country. That victory, however well deserved, marked the return of militant Islam to the stage of world history, and it isn't going to leave until it plays itself out or is removed by someone else. World War IV is simmering upon us, trying to go from cold to hot.

However, making peace in the Middle East is likely to become possible only after both the Israelis and the Palestinians are exhausted by sufficiently intense and prolonged hostilities. After over 18 months of intifida, both sides want only to beat the other into some kind of submission. As horrible as it is to say this, it appears that not enough people have been maimed and killed for either side to want peace badly enough to forgive the other.

In other words, the prospects for keeping World War IV cold depend less on Israel and Palestine, and more on the good will of the wider Islamic World, the umma, in their terminology. I use this mystical term in the same way I would refer to the Christian World, fragmented as it is, as the Body of Christ. Both terms have a meaning that transcends the vagaries of culture, geography, and current events. If I may borrow a metaphor from Tolkien's Silmarillion, both terms point to themes in the music of world history. And Judaism has a similar term, Eternal Israel.

So the question for the umma, is whether the Islamofacists (totalitarian Facists like the Taliban and al-Quaeda who wrap themselves in culturally Islamic dress) are leading the Way to Truth, or are seducing their children into the Pit of Hell. I think of the lovely, soft-spoken teenaged girl, Ayat al-Akras, who blew herself up in front of an Israeli market in order to shame the young men of the umma into doing likewise. My first thought on hearing the news of this event went immediately to the words of Jesus Christ (known to Muslims as the Prophet Issa):

It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. — Luke 17:2 (NRSV)

Can terrorism really be the Will of "God, the Compassionate, the Merciful" (as God is so named in beginning of all but one of the 114 chapters of the Qur'an)? Or is there some better, higher way? My friend Bob Mantei maintains that if a few hundred Palestinians were to have sat on the Temple Mount and sung "We Shall Overcome," in Arabic, instead of making intifada, there would have been a Palestinian state a long time ago.

But the issue for the umma is larger and more serious than either the Palestinian situation, or even the prospect of a hot World War against the Liberal Democracies. Bernard Lewis pointed out recently that oil has been a curse, rather than a blessing, for world Islam. In order to consolidate their power, the House of Saud made a bargain with the Wahabbis, a facist Fundamentalist sect that is to Islam what the Ku Klux Klan is to Christianity. The result is that the Wahabbis have access to an effectively infinite supply of oil money, and have used it to set up or take over madrassahs (schools) all over the Islamic world, including many in the United States of America. For a comparison, Lewis invited his listeners to imagine the Klu Klux Klan having the funds to set up schools all over Christendom. A sect that, without access to money and power, would be marginalized and ignored even in its own country, Saudi Arabia, is hijacking Islam.

And they're doing it with our money. There is a commercial on American TV these days to the effect that if you buy drugs, you are supporting terrorists. The same is much more true if you buy oil or gasoline. Thus, part of winning World War IV for the Liberal Democracies may be using nuclear power to dissociate water into its elements and creating a hydrogen fuel cell economy. It is certainly less violent than unrestrained Global Warfare, it is certainly better for the environment than the status quo, and it has the advantage that, by drying up the money supply of the Islamofacists, it may help Islam win back its soul.

Now back to our parallels. World War II started because Europeans were short-sighted and provincial when it came to foreign affairs, and rather loathe to stand up to tyranny until it was too late. The same can be said of the present situation, in which it has become fashionable for the European Left to make common cause with the European Right in condemning Israel, but not the Palestinians in the current conflict. Beyond mere siding the the apparent underdog, they are trying to slough off their existential guilt for the Holocaust by comparing the Israeli devastation of a couple of city blocks in towns (not camps) like Jineen to the Nazi's systematic extermination of European Jewry and Yiddish culture. The comparison is false, as are those who embrace it. I do not to excuse the wantonly hateful acts of many Israeli soldiers and their superiors, but I do want to call the Europeans on their game. Since they live in Liberal Democracies, they are also targets in the War that the Islamofacists insist on having. And once again, the leadership to win the war must come from outside Europe, from the original Liberal Democracy, the US. This is due to European, rather than US exceptionalism — during most of the 20th Century, Europeans have proven themselves exceptionally bad at world affairs.

Hot or cold, World War IV has some themes in common with previous global conflicts, including the ancient conflict between Islam and Christendom. But one theme is coming to the forefront — so-called "asymetric warfare." If you feel that you must strike at an enemy whose strength is vastly superior to yours, what do you do? Historically, inferior forces have used various tactics and devices to "even the odds," ranging from George Washington's crossing of the Delaware to win the first significant victory of the American Revolution in a surprise attack, to the first use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war by the forces of Saddam Hussein. In this war, technology has become so powerful that individuals and small groups of people can wreak mass destruction on lightly defended targets — what the rest of us call civilians. Anthrax is not bulky, and can be smuggled at least as easily as illicit drugs. Radiological dispersal weapons can be made from nuclear reactor waste and ordinary explosives.

But, as in the attack of September 11, no material need be smuggled in at all. Like those aircraft, our own technologies can be used as weapons against us. Those involved in the manufacture, handling, transportation and use of any potentially dangerous materials, including gases and chemicals, need to be on their guard.

We had been counting on moral restraint to prevent such occurrences. Prior to September 11, passengers understood that if they did not interfere with the hijackers, they would eventually be released. That the passengers were of no interest to the hijackers other than as a distraction to flying fully fueled aircraft into large buildings full of unsuspecting people, was hitherto unthinkable. But the line has been crossed by our enemies, whose publicly stated goal is to kill as many Americans, Jews, Westerners and other designated enemies as possible, wherever they may be found. If this were the intention of a militarily superior force, no one would hesitate to call it genocide.

The mix of genocidal intent with religious fervor is not new — the Nazis did precisely that, even though they had to invent a pre-Christian pagan legend to achieve it. But the mix of genocidal intent, a hijacked established religion (Islam), and weapons and techniques of mass destruction is new, and leads naturally and insidiously to an ugliness that is sickening to contemplate. If a single person can cause the kill and maim hundreds or thousands, then what is the face of our enemy? Is it the delicate-looking woman wearing a long dress, her head covered by a white shawl, whom I saw walking into the supermarket? She looked neither right nor left, and wore her face like a mask — of determination to strike, or fear of the discrimination that will grow in Western societies as we struggle to respond to attacks from within our midst? If the Islamofacists choose to make this war widespread and intense, it will have a corrupting influence on all its participants, to the detriment of the very people whom the Islamofacists purport to respresent.

Of course, the other pathway for intensifying and widening the war is for the various predominately Islamic nations to try to engage the Liberal Democracies in open conflict, making this less a war of Islamofacists against the Liberal Democracies, and more a war of Islam against the West. That the Islamic nations would be militarily defeated seems almost certain, but their leadership would then pursue further legitimization of "asymetric response" which might then lead the West to try a new round of colonialism. This would only prepare the bitter ground for the seeds of World War V.

There is no way out now, only a way through the present war. We must all recognize it for what it is, and set our faces against totalitarianism and facism whether they take on Islamic or any other cultural trappings. The predominately Islamic countries need to develop legitimate democratic governments that are true to the predominately Islamic character of their peoples, but nevertheless grant full citizenship to non-Islamic peoples in their midsts. The Palestinians are now a nation that needs a state to protect it, but they must learn the discipline to co-exist with their neighbors. And those of us in the Liberal Democracies (including Israel) must stand firm in support of our core values, clinging to the Just War tradition (see Just War: an Exchange by George Weigel and Paul Griffiths in First Things) to guide us in our conduct of this conflict, and to the generosity of the Marshall Plan in cleaning up after its conclusion.

02 February 2002

You Can't Know Jack

But you have to try
Essential Blind Chihuahuaism

Theoretical physics, the piece of modern science in which I have participated, is successful because it uses a description of reality that is reduced to only a handful of numbers relevant to a given set of problems. For example, if you want to know how hard you will hit the ground if you jump off a one-story building, I need only your weight to tell you the answer. That is to say, I reduce the description of you, a potentially infinitely complex being made in the image of God, to a single number. I can safely ignore your name, race, state of health, relationships with your fellow humans, your religion, your thoughts — everything else about you — and be confident of getting the right answer.

Or can I? Have I reduced the description of you too far? Have I left something out? The only way to know for sure is to have you do the experiment — jump off the building — over and over again to see if the force with which you hit the ground is statistically significantly different from my calculation. If it is, then my reduced description needs to be enlarged to include some additional information. If not, then my reduced description is good enough until some reliable evidence shows otherwise.

This reduced description of reality is what gives theoretical physics its power. By picking out the essential stuff, and ignoring the rest, a physicist's limited mind only needs to deal with a few things at a time. And these things have been chosen to be so simple that relationships among them can be described by mere mathematics! That enforced simplification is what enabled a pacifist patent-office clerk to realize that if the speed of light was really a universal constant, then mass could be converted into energy, which opened the way for the invention of the atomic bomb. If Einstein's mental model of reality had been complete, he could never have sorted that out of all the confusion.

I used to think that building such an absurdly reduced description of reality was exclusively the province of the hard sciences, but I was wrong. We all do it, all the time. Reality is simply too big and too complicated to fit in our heads. So we each construct a stripped-down, simplified model of reality that we carry around in our imaginations — and that is our world view, or weltanschauung, as the German philosophers called it.

We construct our worldview from real data — that tiny portion of reality we can perceive with our senses. What little of that percieved data we can retain in memory we organize into a model using a framework that is built into our brains, and we revise the model we make based on our experiences. If you have managed to become a reasonably self-sufficient and contented person who is able to live more or less comfortably in community with the rest of us, then your model of reality is probably good enough. But it can't possibly be complete, because there is just too much reality. To survive, you simply have to ignore the non-essential stuff, and you do.

Let's say you want to buy some vegetables from a grocer. You must have a mental model of how people generally behave in these situations, so that you have a context for the interaction. You know in advance what to say and how to say it, and you know in advance pretty much what the seller is going to say, at least in direct relation to the sale. But you don't need to know the genealogy, medical history, and intimate thoughts of the seller. Your mental model of the seller is so incomplete as to be a mere caricature, but it is accurate enough for the purpose at hand. And if it isn't — if the seller is sufficiently different from what you expect — there will probably be no sale.

Now, if your mental model of another human being is incomplete (but complete enough to get by), it should not surprise you that the same can be said of your mental model of God. In fact, your mental model of God is your creation as surely as if you had carved a statue of God with your hands — it is a graven image, an idol, which, if you are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, you are forbidden to worship. Do not fall in love with your theology. And have a little respect for religions like Buddhism, which avoid that idolatry by refusing to have a mental image of God, at all.

But it gets more intimate than that. You have a mental model of yourself, which is also incomplete. If it were complete, you would know why you do everything you do, think everything you think, and you would never need to go to a doctor to find out what's wrong with you. Your mental model of yourself is the hardest of all models to revise. Generally speaking, people are so attached to their mental models of themselves that they experience embarassment, shame, or guilt at the attempted introduction of new data, and often transmute those feelings into anger.

It also gets more public. Your politics, whether you are liberal or conservative, are based on your mental model of reality, which, as I have labored to convince you, is approximate and incomplete, as all models must be, to have any power (to enable you to think) at all. The two most popular models of political reality, liberal and conservative, are so severely reduced that they have almost no overlap. The result is that liberals and conservatives can't really engage each other, even when they talk to each other about the same topic. Each thinks the other is deliberately and maliciously wrong. And indeed, they are.

You see, if the other person is a reasonably capable and functional human being, his or her mental model of reality must contain some elements of truth. In other words, it is not possible for the other person to be completely and entirely wrong about everything. In fact, it is highly likely that the other person is very nearly completely right about some things.

So you liberals and conservatives out there, get a clue. If you can't constructively engage each other on public policy matters, if all you can do is shout and accuse and evade each other's arguments, then you are bound to be missing something in your mental models. You need to build an addition to your model, or maybe to revise the whole thing. An unbending liberalism or conservatism is a sign of mental laziness and cowardice. It is a sign that you are willing to let your politics be determined more by your genetics than by your reason.