Et tu, Brauchli?

My track record of political predictions is, admittedly, less than perfectly reliable. But I would encourage you to keep two things in mind. First, I make my predictions very far in advance of most opinion writers. Second, even when I am wrong, the results usually show that I correctly anticipated the general trend. For example, I was wrong about Hillary winning the 2008 Democratic nomination, but recall that I said she would win it back when the consensus was that she would stay in the Senate.

So, this unexpected editorial from the Washington Post is therefore rather interesting in light of my supposedly crazy prediction that Obama is not going to be the Democratic nominee in 2012.

This is a critical moment for the country. From the faltering economy to the burdensome deficit to our foreign policy struggles, America is suffering a widespread sense of crisis and anxiety about the future. Under these circumstances, Obama has the opportunity to seize the high ground and the imagination of the nation once again, and to galvanize the public for the hard decisions that must be made. The only way he can do so, though, is by putting national interests ahead of personal or political ones.

To that end, we believe Obama should announce immediately that he will not be a candidate for reelection in 2012…. We do not come to this conclusion lightly. But it is clear, we believe, that the president has largely lost the consent of the governed.

He certainly has. And if he’s lost the white independents, he’s lost the unemployed youth, he’s lost the Washington Post, and he’s losing the New York Times, how can he possibly expect to beat the Lizard Queen when she shows her true colors? His only hope is to turn on the banks and ride the wave of popular discontent, but given the number of Goldmanites he’s appointed, I assume he’ll look for a golden parachute instead.

UPDATE: Whispers from Washington: “I’m not claiming to know anyone important, just a bunch of old denizens of DC. Mostly they’re mid-level retired military who’ve found themselves a cozy life (that means $100Gs plus and their pensions) in the bureaucracy. Other “Ilk” will probably confirm what’s being said. I’ve been hearing for six months that Obama is erratic, irrational, and paranoid (he may have reason for that last one). It’s rumored the Democratic Leadership and the press have been covering this up since the night he was elected (something happened that night and there’s lots of different stories) but he’s gotten much worse. Every word he utters is canned and without a trace of spontaneity and this is being attributed to his use Anti-depressants… and worse.

Last week I heard that the NYTs (not the WP) was going to do an editorial asking him not to run in 2012. Running off to Diwali after the huge defeat was seen as the last straw. Apparently he’s not met with anyone from the Democratic party since the election debacle and refused to until this coming week. This has allowed Pelosi and her crew to make a move. A reasonable head of the Democratic party, Obama in this case, should have stopped that. But he didn’t to say the least. He left the party twisting in the winds of fate…. The most fantastic charge of all is that Joe Fucking Biden stays as far away from Obie as possible (and not the other way around as I’ve always assumed). Less surprising is Biden has brought up the 25th amendment. Not surprising in the sense that Biden wants to be prez and will never be elected.”

Initial impressions of The Moral Landscape

I tend to do a lot of light reading while I travel, but amidst gorging on a cornucopia of PG Wodehouse novels I also managed to bookmark my way through Sam Harris’s latest book, The Moral Landscape. It was every bit as disjointed, illogical, and rife with incompetent and incoherent arguments as his first two books would lead one to expect. It was also disturbingly petty in parts; I don’t think he has any idea how bad his quixotic public jihad against Francis Collins has made him look in the scientific community. Despite the plethora of reflexive anti-religious cheap shots, the book is actually much more an attack on the greater part of the secular scientific community, (especially Jonathan Haidt and Scott Atran), than it is on the theistic community. While the Nobel laureate’s minor scientific achievements do tend to render one of Sam’s core arguments laughable, that doesn’t suffice to account for his decision to devote nearly an entire chapter of a five-chapter book to a completely irrelevant attack on single individual.

Here is one example of classic Harrisian illogic of the sort that litters the book from a recent Wired interview:

WIRED: [H]asn’t religion made some people behave more morally?

HARRIS: The problem is that religion tends to give people bad reasons to be good. Is it better to alleviate famine in Africa because you think Jesus Christ is watching and deciding whether to reward you with an eternity of happiness after death? Or is it better to do that because you actually care about the suffering of your fellow human beings?

First, note that Harris doesn’t answer the question, except to implicitly accept it. Second, observe that he fails to make the rational response that a) it doesn’t matter why you do something, the morality is primarily to be found in the act, not the intention, and b) there is no reason to believe that the two motivations are mutually exclusive, in fact, there is substantial evidence to indicate that the two usually coincide. It’s a false and irrelevant dichotomy. And third, you really can’t understand the degree to which this response demonstrates Harris’s inimitable incoherence if you haven’t read his section declaring himself to be a consequentialist. Apparently he is that rare breed of consequentialist who doesn’t care about the consequences.

Sam is to be congratulated, however, for being a man about the disappointing results of his neurological research. I helped him refine a few of the religious questions for the fMRI experiments he discusses, and as it turned out, his hypothesis that there would be an observable difference in brain activity when contemplating factual beliefs versus religious beliefs was incorrect. This was Sam’s conclusion: “Our study was designed to elicit the same responses from the two groups on nonreligious stimuli (e.g., “Eagles really exist”) and opposite responses on religious stimuli (e.g., “Angels really exist”). The fact that we obtained essentially the same result for belief in both devout Christians and nonbelievers, on both categories of content, argues strongly that the difference between belief and disbelief is the same, regardless of what is being thought about.”

What Sam neglects to mention is that it also indicates that there is no difference between the two categories of belief, thus removing from his potential arsenal what he had hoped would be a substantive scientific argument in his war on faith. If he had been able to show there was an observable material difference between the two types of belief, he would have used that to make a case for the superiority of one over the other; I surmise that was the primary motivation for the experiment. However, his experiments did produce some interesting results, including the fact that it appears to give atheists a sense of pleasure to deny religious statements. So, ironically, Sam Harris would appear to have produced the first scientific evidence in support of my hypothesis that it is often the assholery that causes the atheism rather than the other way around. On which note, I would be remiss indeed if I did not quote to the following comment from the appendix:

Given my experience as a critic of religion, I must say that it has been quite disconcerting to see the caricature of the overeducated, atheistic moral nihilist regularly appearing in my inbox and on the blogs. I sincerely hope that people like Rick Warren have not been paying attention.”
– Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape, Chapter 1 Note 2

Anyhow, I don’t intend this to be either a review or a critique of the book, I merely intended to pose a question to those of you who are interested in this subject. How would you like me to review The Moral Landscape, in an overall summary, a chapter-by-chapter deconstruction, a thematic critique, or a simple list of the erroneous arguments I noted in the course of reading the book. I can tell you right now that I’m not going to write an entire bloody book as I did with TIA; the book doesn’t even begin to justify that sort of time and effort. I’m not a big fan of the chapter-by-chapter approach since most people who use it make the mistake of anticipatory criticism since they don’t read the whole book before jumping in, but in this case that wouldn’t apply since I have read the entire book as well as the notes. On the other hand, the book is only five chapters and the chapters don’t really stick to coherent themes, so it may not make sense anyhow.