Tuesday, October 07, 2008

MCain, Obama and the Politics of Causality

I am going to ramble about a bit on an issue that has been flickering on the back burner of my mind. Additional thoughts of a clarifying nature would be helpful. None of this is even remotely new but there are some things that require constant vigilance and reflection in order simply not to forget.

One of things I find continually astonishing is what various things mean to liberals as opposed to what they mean to conservatives. I’ll give you an example. I recently accused a woman of belonging to the party of sodomy and abortion. Her reaction indicated that she never thought of it in this manner—only that they were the party of freedom. I suppose it is somewhat like the difference between looking at the glass as being half full as opposed to it being half empty but the point is that the vantage point you do your looking from makes a difference. If your vantage point is materialism, then the perspective that this viewpoint engenders can be very different from that of the individual who believes in a more traditional concept of God. Now this is so obvious that it is laughable but it is amazing how few people ever take a moment to reflect on it.

To a conservative, it is quite obvious that the moral underpinnings of a society are frayed and deranged by excessive promotion of homosexuality, masturbation, abortion, drug use, pornography, etc. For a conservative, seeing a connection between crime and immoral behavior is just an obvious follow-on. (Are there not more Democrats in jail than Republicans?) For liberals there is a completely different interpretation. There is seldom a connection between what you do with your genitals and your intentions, and the bad things that can actually happen to a person and their society. Note the inability of most liberals to grasp that serious depression may be related to spiritual stagnation or spiritual illness and not just to lack of material success. (Even the chakra model developed thousands of years ago by the Hindus is more realistic than current psychological theory about the problems and issues caused by value-free sexuality) Look at the contortions that liberals went through not to ascribe AIDS solely to homosexuality. At the beginning of the epidemic, one would have thought we were all equally at risk. Now why would liberals think this? Because they assume that everyone is having sex with everyone else. What about the people who aren’t? Chastity apparently didn’t figure into their thinking. (Note also the current liberal inability to discuss violent crime and race in anything but watered down language. Crime is never caused by bad intentions for liberals, it is always caused by not having a job, education or opportunity. These are secondary to spirituality in the formation of character to conservatives but if you don’t have spiritual values then these secondary things would naturally be taken to be primary causes.)

The point being that critical thinking requires a constant re-evaluation of premises. For the life of me, and to take a slightly different tack, I can’t see how anyone thinks Obama is more qualified than Palin to be President when set against the scenario of McCain being elected and dying in office. If an impartial judge had to be completely fair, taking into account not just political but business experience, they would have to admit that there is at least a rough equivalency of experience between Palin and Obama. Palin worked as an oil company exec for a number of years in addition to being both a mayor and a Governor. But Palin is not running for President, Obama is so what is the difference? There isn’t a great deal more experience that US senator has than a governor who presides over both individual state senators and state representatives. They are both going to learn on the job and I suspect that both of them will be equally adept at manipulating the system. What liberals really seem to see in Obama is that his intention is to bridge ideological divides and do what is best for people. He seems like a real man and we could certainly use a real man as president. What they don’t seem to see is the socialistic direction that this may take us in. Palin, on the other hand, is seen as a light-weight opportunist who engages in the superficial dialogue that liberals love but can’t stand when it comes back at them in an ideologically incorrect manner. They can’t see her character because that kind of character is hard to see when you don’t believe in moral character (outside of general niceties) to begin with.

Conservatives then see cause and effect* very differently than liberals. A final quick example that I can’t resist: The current legal emphasis on sequestering a jury so as not to prejudice a trial is so far off the charts of common sense as to inspire ridicule everywhere but in the US. The assumption here is that no one can make up their minds outside of the conclusions of local media. Part of this goes back to the days of the lynch mob and small towns where an individual could not get a fair trial by their peers but the current legal derangement has nothing to do with the current reality of big cities and people who not only do not know one another but who could care less about each other.

For a conservative, is has only one meaning. Something is either this or it is that; it is on or it is off, it is red and not yellow, it is good or it is bad, it is true or it is false, etc., (Aristotle’s principle of non-contradiction). For a liberal, it depends on what you mean by is. And here is the rub. If there is anything that has engendered the kinds of dishonesty in language, politics and business that we have seen growing over the past fifty years, it is the erection of a vast, legal empire of words build on the shifting sands of moral relativism. Just read a prospectus, a medical label or even the annual corporate reports of companies that have failed. Note the endless CYA and the obscure language that glosses over realities that should have been described in harder, more direct words. Obscure and opaque legal language forged largely in the minds of non-conservatives has led to much of our present economic confusion. This has not been caused by conservatives (even if they have lowered themselves to participate in this muddy river); it has been carefully nurtured if not caused by liberals.

So this is why I am always amazed to hear liberals literally cursing at Republican policies as being the root of all evil. Since the policies could not possibly have come from their own side, they MUST be from the other side. A case in point is the liberal shut-down of nuclear power. We are now reaping the harvest of their inestimable stupidity in this regard (delivered with the same hype and media collusion that global warming is being served up with today) and who are the Democrats shouting at, for what is in very real sense, partly their fault? Now I am, clearly, oversimplifying the issue but there is an element of irrational interpretation of data that is rooted in perspective. There must be some reflection on the vantage point one is taking in order to understand what the other side might be disagreeing about.

If as a conservative, I understand that liberals most prize freedom (even if it is the sort that I might call license and even if it is the freedom to be wrong) I at least have a better starting point for dialogue than not. Liberal’s also understand causality as being somewhat disconnected, a point of view finalized in quantum mechanics. In other words, if the exact position of a particle cannot be determined, then it can only be approximated; ergo, all values are approximate. This has led to trickle-down metaphysics for liberals. If our liberal friends would understand that a conservative’s perspective is rooted in cause and effect with a relatively conservative God at the ultimate end of the line, (Aristotle’s final causality*) then there might be an improved dialogue. You can get to compromise by understanding different points of origin. Trying to pretend that there are not different, metaphysical vantage points to the formulation of ideas is what is currently generating a great deal of irrational polarization in regards to the discussion of real issues. (One could even argue that there are liberal and conservative views of God that will engender different political positions.)

Obama is indeed refreshing in his determination to see a larger sense of cause and effect than many of his contemporaries. I think it is natural to him but his present world view is still so alien to conservatives that he and the entire liberal establishment are likely to experience a shocking dose of conservative reality when the polls close in November.

*Aristotle (from Wikipedia)

In his Posterior Analytics and Metaphysics, Aristotle wrote, "All causes are beginnings..."[3], "... we have scientific knowledge when we know the cause..."[4], and "... to know a thing's nature is to know the reason why it is..."[5] This formulation set the guidelines for subsequent causal theories by specifying the number, nature, principles, elements, varieties, order of causes as well as the modes of causation. Aristotle's account of the causes of things is a comprehensive model.

Aristotle's theory enumerates the possible causes which fall into several wide groups, amounting to the ways the question "why" may be answered; namely, by reference to the material worked upon (as by an artisan) or what might be called the substratum; to the essence, i.e., the pattern, the form, or the structure by reference to which the "matter" or "substratum" is to be worked; to the primary moving agent of change or the agent and its action; and to the goal, the plan, the end, or the good that the figurative artisan intended to obtain. As a result, the major kinds of causes come under the following divisions:

  • The material cause is that "raw material" from which a thing is produced as from its parts, constituents, substratum, or materials. This rubric limits the explanation of cause to the parts (the factors, elements, constituents, ingredients) forming the whole (the system, structure, compound, complex, composite, or combination) (the part-whole causation).
  • The formal cause tells us what, by analogy to the plans of an artisan, a thing is intended and planned to be. Any thing is thought to be determined by its definition, form (mold), pattern, essence, whole, synthesis, or archetype. This analysis embraces the account of causes in terms of fundamental principles or general laws, as the intended whole (macrostructure) is the cause that explains the production of its parts (the whole-part causation).
  • The efficient cause is that external entity from which the change or the ending of the change first starts. It identifies 'what makes of what is made and what causes change of what is changed' and so suggests all sorts of agents, nonliving or living, acting as the sources of change or movement or rest. Representing the current understanding of causality as the relation of cause and effect, this analysis covers the modern definitions of "cause" as either the agent, agency, particular causal events, or the relevant causal states of affairs.
  • The final cause is that for the sake of which a thing exists, or is done - including both purposeful and instrumental actions. The final cause, or telos, is the purpose, or end, that something is supposed to serve; or it is that from which, and that to which, the change is. This analysis also covers modern ideas of mental causation involving such psychological causes as volition, need, motivation, or motives; rational, irrational, ethical - all that gives purpose to behavior.

Additionally, things can be causes of one another, reciprocally causing each other, as hard work causes fitness, and vice versa - although not in the same way or by means of the same function: the one is as the beginning of change, the other is as its goal. (Thus Aristotle first suggested a reciprocal or circular causality - as a relation of mutual dependence, action, or influence of cause and effect.) Also; Aristotle indicated that the same thing can be the cause of contrary effects - as its presence and absence may result in different outcomes. In speaking thus he formulated what currently is ordinarily termed a "causal factor," e.g., atmospheric pressure as it affects chemical or physical reactions.

Aristotle marked two modes of causation: proper (prior) causation and accidental (chance) causation. All causes, proper and incidental, can be spoken as potential or as actual, particular or generic. The same language refers to the effects of causes; so that generic effects assigned to generic causes, particular effects to particular causes, and operating causes to actual effects. It is also essential that ontological causality does not suggest the temporal relation of before and after - between the cause and the effect; that spontaneity (in nature) and chance (in the sphere of moral actions) are among the causes of effects belonging to the efficient causation, and that no incidental, spontaneous, or chance cause can be prior to a proper, real, or underlying cause per se.

All investigations of causality coming later in history will consist in imposing a favorite hierarchy on the order (priority) of causes; such as "final > efficient > material > formal" (Aquinas), or in restricting all causality to the material and efficient causes or, to the efficient causality (deterministic or chance), or just to regular sequences and correlations of natural phenomena (the natural sciences describing how things happen rather than asking why they happen)..

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