Saturday, April 4, 2009

Fuzzy Logic and the Left

Ever since putting up this post on "Fuzzy Logic and the Church We Know", I have been looking out for additional examples to cite that would illustrate the size of the gap between the two wings of the Church. (I know---there I go being "binary" again, with the Church being broken down into two, and only two, wings. All I can say is: go read the quote from Robert Benchley again that opens my earlier post.)

In the course of my quest, I have come across something that is even bigger than the sizable gulf that divides the Episcopal Church (USA), and so I thought I would share it with you. There is a well-known psychological phenomenon (due to Freud) called "projection"; it occurs when a person projects his own unacceptable feelings onto another as a means of repressing them in himself. In the standard model, projection is a defense mechanism: it is a means "whereby a person can protect their conscious mind from a feeling that would otherwise be repulsive."

But when the progressive or left-wing mind projects motives and narratives onto those whom it sees as "the enemy", or as obstacles to what that person wants to do, it takes on a different twist: repression of unpleasant feelings is not, it seems to me, what is happening underneath in such circumstances. No, the progressive projects onto right-wingers the very motives and strategies that they see as necessary to gaining an advantage---an advantage that is regarded as "unfair." Far from feeling guilty about having such feelings themselves and needing to repress them, those on the left feel inadequate because they do not see themselves as having such motives or strategies, when they think they should. 

Let me illustrate what I mean with two contrasting examples. Here is a passage from an article in the current issue of Commentary Magazine:

. . . Over the past decade, a narrative was adopted among liberals to explain their political defeats. This narrative holds that liberals were repeatedly bested by conservatives because of their unwillingness to employ the same kind of hardball tactics that conservatives used against them. It started with the inability to protect Bill Clinton from impeachment—this is when was founded—and escalated in the years that followed. Liberals believed George W. Bush stole the 2000 presidential election, that the neoconservatives lied America into war in Iraq, that conservatives bulldozed critics of their war on terror tactics by questioning the patriotism of dissenters, and that the Right ensured Bush’s re-election by making charges they believed to be scurrilous about John Kerry’s Vietnam-era military experience as a captain of a swift boat. The “swiftboating” of Kerry proved to be the watershed moment that convinced the Left that the conservative way of political warfare was not just dishonest and insulting, but actually depended for its success on the refusal of liberals to fight back.

From this reading of a decade of political defeats, liberals extracted several lessons: First, that their misfortune was a result of liberal purity, or acquiescence to dirty tricks; second, that these tricks must be countered by equivalent tactics; and most important, that liberalism and liberals themselves were not to blame for their political misfortune. Instead, the problem was how liberals talked about the issues, how they framed the debate, and what they permitted their rivals to say about them. . . .  
And now, in contrast, compare this extract from another commentator, over at RealClear Politics:

I have detected a disturbing trend in the tenor of the debate now coming from the left.

Blogs, phone calls to talk radio and letters to the editor all ring with the same theme. Anything that is remotely critical of our president or the Democrats in Congress is now being characterized as "hate speech." Liberals have even been emboldened to shout at me across busy floors of public commerce. The political dialogue in this country has taken a nasty turn. . . .

A few weeks ago, the editor of a small-town newspaper very publicly banned my writings from his newspaper. Not over something I had written in his newspaper, mind you, but because of a position I had taken in The Tennessean. What could possibly be so distasteful as to warrant my lifetime ban from his publication? I dared ask the question, "What are we getting for our federal tax dollars?'' When George W. Bush was spending money on what people on the left claimed was an "endless, pointless, immoral war,'' then questioning the expenditures of the federal government was not only acceptable but mandatory.

Now that the liberals have taken over Washington, it seems that criticizing massive bailouts and so-called stimulus packages to the tune of trillions of dollars we don't have is suddenly repugnant if not downright unpatriotic.

On the surface of things, these two passages would seem to be talking about different phenomena. The first presents a clear illustration of my thesis: the left ascribes to and projects onto the right the very tactics and motives that it believes it needs in order to win, by "turning the tables" on them. But the second passage describes what sounds at first like a standard form of defense mechanism: feeling guilty about its own nasty critiques of the right (and particularly of former President Bush), the left projects those same feelings and motives onto the right when they criticize President Obama and his programs.

The political context provides, however, a deeper substratum here. Let me quote a little bit more of the second article to show what I mean (and I will add the emphasis):
The left has always had its forums. The Big Three networks along with CNN, PBS, NPR, MSNBC and countless others have always given voice to the liberal way of thinking. Filmmakers like Michael Moore and Al Gore release propaganda pieces disguised as documentaries. Although we on the right point out the obvious, we don't insist that these entities be shut down.
And why not? The plain and irrefutable truth is that those on the right value certain principles above their feelings: disagreement with what someone is saying does not justify interfering with their right to say it. (How many right-wing fanatics have you read about disrupting speeches given by radical leftists? But the opposite phenomenon is all too common, particularly at colleges and universities.)

No, those on the left are much more comfortable with bending a principle (such as free speech) to suit their ends (by transmuting free speech into "hate speech", they can control it) than are those on the right. (I can hear the protests now: "But right-wing capitalists do the same thing! They bend principles of fair competition to take over a market." To which my answer is: "Some capitalists do that, yes---but they are punished if they are caught. No one on the right clamors to repeal the antitrust laws in order to allow monopolization as a matter of principle. You cannot generalize from lawbreakers motivated by greed in order to tar all those who honor and uphold duly enacted laws.")

For a classic example of bending a principle in our own Church, look how the Presiding Bishop, her Chancellor and Parliamentarian all twisted the language of the Abandonment Canon to allow Bishop Cox and Bishop Duncan to be brought up for deposition without ever having been first inhibited, as the Canon irrefutably requires in plain language. The Canon was jettisoned in order that a desirable end could be achieved: ridding the Church of two disobedient bishops who were seen as working to undermine the Church. The official reason given out by the Presiding Bishop for ignoring the plain language of the Canon, moreover, was just as end-oriented as was the unofficial one: 
. . . the General Convention in enacting this canon did not intend to give the three senior bishops a "veto" over the House's right to determine whether or not a bishop who has been certified by the Review Committee as having abandoned the Communion of this Church should be deposed. Rather, that decision was intended to be made by the House.
By what form of necromancy the Presiding Bishop and her advisers were able to divine the "intent" of the 1874 General Convention that introduced the concept of inhibiting a Bishop before deposing him is, of course, a secret. Moreover, in view of the fact that back in 1874, it was the Presiding Bishop who was the most senior bishop in the Church, and that the Canon explicitly called for the Presiding Bishop to obtain "the consent of the three bishops next in seniority", it is difficult to see how this language requiring the four most senior bishops of the Church to consent to inhibition could be read to mean that only the consent of the single most senior bishop actually counted. Nevertheless, I warned you when I started that this post would be about the fuzzy logic employed by the left, and that is just what I am showing to you.

Believing that they in fact achieved the desired end ("deposition")---who cares if it was by illegal means?---the progressive branch of the Church then works overtime to establish the meme ("bad bishops are deposed, so deposed bishops must be bad bishops"), in order that the unlawful means is buried and forgotten. Any visitor to Canon Mark Harris' blog quickly notices how scrupulously and persistently he employs the term "deposed" to describe Bishop Duncan. (Note to Canon Harris: the word "deposed" refers to an act that can be canonically done only by the House of Bishops. They did not, no matter what you say, or claim, or argue, follow the language of Canon IV.9 in voting to "depose" Bishop Duncan. The fact that he chose not to appear and object to the kangaroo court proceedings does not mean that he agreed they were canonically proper: no one can "agree" or consent to a breaking of the law. So his failure to defend himself cannot be described by saying that he "agreed" to his own "deposition.")

To summarize: the right acts in defense of principles, regardless of what outcome may result, while the left acts in order to achieve ends, regardless of what principles are trampled in the process. And that is the gulf that divides us, not only in the Church, but in society itself.

[UPDATE 04/04/2009 (I): No sooner do I put up this post than the morning news provides an example of principles again being bent on the left. Here is Jonathan Adler, writing over at the Volokh Conspiracy about how our current left-wing administration is bending the rules of the bailout even before the ink is dry:
It appears that some of the restrictions placed upon the use of bailout funds is discouraging private sector participation. As a consequence, the Obama Administration is seeking ways to circumvent the rules.
The administration believes it can sidestep the rules because, in many cases, it has decided not to provide federal aid directly to financial companies, the sources said. Instead, the government has set up special entities that act as middlemen, channeling the bailout funds to the firms and, via this two-step process, stripping away the requirement that the restrictions be imposed, according to officials.

Although some experts are questioning the legality of this strategy, the officials said it gives them latitude to determine whether firms should be subject to the congressional restrictions, which would require recipients to turn over ownership stakes to the government, as well as curb executive pay.
First make the rules (to appease the right), then bend them to achieve what you really want. It is the left's recipe for power and success.]

Would you like another example? Look at how the Presiding Bishop has bent the canons time and again to allow groups that wish to "remain Episcopal" to pretend that they are a continuation of those dioceses whose conventions voted to amend their constitutions. First ECUSA's Constitution and Canons are bent to say something that they do not: the restriction on voting to leave is "implied" in them, in order to justify the claim that the diocesan votes were ultra vires and void. Then the Presiding Bishop bends Canon I.17. This Canon applies on its face only to laity, not clergy, and confers absolutely no power on anyone in the Church to proclaim that it has been breached. Still less does it allow anyone, least of all the Presiding Bishop, to apply it to the internal affairs of a Diocese in order to "derecognize" both the lay and the clergy members of diocesan Standing Committees, without any proof whatsoever of whether those members actually voted at their respective conventions in favor of leaving. 

Nevertheless, any Committee that remains is just in the way, so "derecognize" it and clear the way for yet another bending of the canons, by swooping in to a diocese and usurping the functions and powers of its Ecclesiastical Authority. Again, the left sees nothing wrong with any such bending of the Canons, because the bending is done in order to achieve an end that the left sees as desirable: the installation of an episcopus vagans, a person who is "no bishop of no see", to serve as the figurehead in a lawsuit to "recover" diocesan property.

There is no defense mechanism at work in any of this. Instead, principle is simply in the way of getting things done that the left sees as needing to be done, and so hang the principle. The left believes it is resorting to exactly the same tactics used by the right, by "projecting" onto the right a similar abandonment of principle when bishops violate borders. But the right does not see border-crossing as an abandonment of principles; rather it is a real, but unavoidable outcome of adherence to the greater pastoral principle that a shepherd does not leave sheep wandering in the wild, but brings them into the fold. If the shepherd who should be responsible for the sheep refuses to take care of them or make any provision for them, then as Ezekiel tells us, there can be no principled complaint when another shepherd does so.

Ah, but to the left, border-crossing is an even greater sin than leaving sheep to wander untended in the wild. Those sheep who are wandering have left the fold "on their own", because they will not answer their own shepherd's call. If they view that shepherd as a wolf in shepherd's clothing, so to speak, that is their problem, and not the shepherd's. They deserve whatever befalls them in the wild once they have decided not to obey their shepherd. Once again, a principle---that to be a shepherd, one must be acceptable to, and capable of being recognized by, all other shepherds---is bent to an end: so we bring in a wolf to be a shepherd, so what? Wolves can be good shepherds, too; they just need to feel "included". In fact, to deny the right of wolves to become shepherds is to make the wolves feel, well, less than a sheep, and that is just wrong. 

Now, before those on the left get all out of joint thinking that I am equating LGBT persons to wolves, I ask that instead of leaping to such a conclusion, you bear these points in mind:

1. I am demonstrating here tactics and methods, and motives and means, not people and their characters. To do so I am using the time-honored technique of an analogy, which by definition should be taken only as far as is required to make the point at hand.

2. My analogy of sheep-shepherds-wolves can be applied to other periods in the Church's history as well: think of the fourth century, when Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nicaea, and Maris of Chalcedon were all first deposed for their support of the Arian heresy, and then later reinstated as bishops by Constantine's Arian son, Constantius. They then became the wolves, while Athanasius became the rescuing shepherd, ordaining others in their dioceses and making no bones about crossing borders as he did so.   

3. Or, make an analogy to the analogy, and try the shoe on the other foot: What was the ordination of the "Philadelphia Eleven" in 1974, but a form of border-crossing from the left? The bishops performing the ordination were all either retired or resigned, and they crossed into the diocese of Bishop Lyman Ogilby to perform the ordinations. He vigorously protested them at first, so he was the wolf, while Bishops DeWitt, Corrigan, Welles and Barrett were the rescuing shepherds. (Later, however, Bishop Ogilby saw the light, and became a rescuing shepherd, too, as he helped to consecrate Barbara Harris in 1980.)

Thus all I am asking with my analogy is that you examine the motivations it points up: the rescuing shepherds see themselves as obeying a higher call, the following of which necessitates a border-crossing, but the sheep cannot be left to perish in the hostile wild. Those who insist on the integrity of their territory over the welfare of their sheep, however, do so only to the enhancement of their own authority. Some would say that a concern for authority does not befit a shepherd, whose main charge has to be his sheep; but then as I say, an analogy may be pushed only so far.

Thus, a review: the left uses fuzzy logic, it seems to me, because it allows an outcome-oriented approach without being hampered by rigid principles. Those on the right, on the other hand, are repelled by fuzzy logic for that very reason. To uphold principle even when the outcome hurts feelings, or offends the sensibilities, is of the essence of traditional, or Aristotelian, logic. Stated in this way, I see that I am not saying anything new, but have only reformulated a synthesis laid out by Berkeley professor George Lakoff some years before, in his book Moral Politics - How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Here is a summary from one of the reviews at Amazon:
George Lakoff's hypothesis is that people conceptualize abstract ideas through metaphor. One way to help understand the complexities of society and government is to model it as one big extended family. The government is modeled as the parental figure and citizens as its children. I was skeptical about this at first, but after reading the thorough reasoning that went into that hypotheses, I'm convinced that whether you think so or not and whether you're a conservative or a liberal, this is indeed how people think. If you doubt that you think this way yourself, ask what you think is the best method for raising children, then think about what role government should have in people's lives. If you find some similarity then you are probably also using the Nation as Family metaphor. In this context, the difference between a liberal and a conservative is in the kind of family they think society should emulate. Lakoff proposes that there are two models of the family that are used for the Nation as Family metaphor: The Strict Father model and the Nurturant Parent model. As you might guess, conservatives generally favor the Strict Father model where liberals favor the Nurturant Parent model. The reason is in how people view the ideal way to raise children. Each side sincerely believes that their way of reasoning is based on solid morals and that the other side is simply ignorant, misguided, or worse, immoral. . .
In the Lakoff model, the right wing of the political spectrum adheres to principle even at the cost of potential harm: "spare the rod and spoil the child," says the Strict Father. "Dear God, no! Take the poor child into your arms and give him a hug," says the Nurturing Mother. (Notice that Lakoff cannot allow himself this logical parallel in his terminology: while he his perfectly willing to speak of a "Strict Father", his opposite concept is the "Nurturant Parent.") The two mindsets are not reconcilable, and the really interesting question is: are both necessary to the raising of a family? (Watch out how far you try to push the analogy.)

One very huge problem in accepting anything that Professor Lakoff says is that he suffers from a rather gross misunderstanding of Christianity, and is willing to bend its precepts (sound familiar?) to make it fit into his synthesis:
"Christianity works by a moral accounting system. . . Immoral deeds are debits; moral deeds are credits. . . If you have a big enough positive balance of moral credit when you die, you go to heaven; if you have a negative balance, you go to hell. These general notions are shared by most forms of Christianity."
Thus you have to be very careful in reading too much Lakoff. (His book, in fact, forms part of that narrative described in the Commentary article quoted above. As another Amazon review notes: "A self-declared liberal who nevertheless maintains a reasonably objective authorial stance, Lakoff advises liberals to couch their political arguments in the same moral terms that conservatives have been using successfully for years. Liberals are neither immoral nor amoral, as often depicted by Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich and other extremist conservative; they need to make that known and enter the political discussion on those terms.") 

Professor Lakoff's misguided view of Christianity notwithstanding, I think his contrast between the Strict Father and the Nurturing Mother (pace, Professor---that's what your theory requires) expresses in a different type of analogy what I was trying to say above about the contrast between the left and the right wings of today's Church: they are as far apart as they are because they employ completely divergent worldviews. I cannot say it any better than I did earlier: the right acts in defense of principles, regardless of what outcome may result, while the left acts in order to achieve ends, regardless of what principles are trampled in the process. In still another model, it is the ancient ends versus means debate. To clinch my point, let me quote a passage, and see whether you can identify the author:

One’s concern with the ethics of means vs. ends varies inversely with one’s personal interest in the issue.

The judgment of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment.

In war, the ends justify almost any means.

Judgment must be made in the context of the times the action occurred and not from any other vantage point.

Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available.

The less important the end, the more concern there is with means.

Success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics. (There is no such thing as a successful traitor, for if he wins he becomes a founding father.)

The morality of a means depends on whether it is being employed at a time of imminent success or imminent defeat.

Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.

You do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral garments.

Can you guess who wrote that? (Obviously the author was not a right-winger.) Make your guess, and then click here.

I rest my case.

[UPDATE (again) 04/04/09 (II), before I finally rest my case: Did you guess the author? Well and good, even if you had to peek---now try to guess the author of the answer to this question (I give you this much of a hint: it is indeed a woman):

Have you, are you, or will you reinvent yourself and, of course, what does reinventing yourself mean to you?

If a woman doesn’t reinvent herself daily - reaffirm her identity and commit to taking the risk of becoming more of who she truly is and is meant to become - I do believe something in her soul and in her heart dies.
"Reinvent herself daily", while "reaffirming her identity"? Sounds like fuzzy logic to me: what is proposed is the essence of bending things to make them fit, or in other words, the total abdication of fixed principles in order to serve an end, namely, the need to feel "new" each day. What does it mean to "reaffirm one's identity" while "reinventing oneself daily"? Why, don't you understand fuzzy logic? (The author of this confession, should you be unable to guess, is here.

If this author speaks the truth, then does the gap I have been discussing now enlarge from ECUSA, to the whole society of which we are a part---to the gulf that separates men from women? Or is it just the same gulf that exists between right and left, regardless of gender? In either event, I see no hope (pace, President Obama) of a bridge over that chasm. But then, God told us as much in Genesis 3:16, so this is no cause for surprise. And so, once again---

I rest my case.]


  1. Your reflections on free speech and hate speech remind me of how, especially during the Viet Nam war, any criticism of government policy was often characterized as unpatriotic. Both liberals and conservatives need to resist the temptation to place the expression of certain opinions as out of bounds. Even hate speech is, IMV, protected free speech until it incites violence. Then it is up to a jury to determine whether or not the speaker intended to incite violence.

  2. I agree with your application of fuzzy logic to the current conflict in the Church.

    It sounds a bit like Screwtape to say, "Conservatives have been known to fall on the sword of principle, and this weakness is used to the advantage by an unprincipled adversary."