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Friday, January 15, 2021


I am very much encouraged by the reports of the $1.9 trillion bill that Biden wishes to rush through the Congress. It is way more progressive than anything we could have reasonably hope for from Biden when he was on his way to securing the nomination. Is it perfect? Of course not, but if passed it will make an immediate and very big difference to huge numbers of people who are in desperate circumstances. Tucked into it, by the way, is an increase in the minimum wage to $15, something that was a progressive wet dream only a few years ago. The legislative device that will be used to get it through Congress is called Reconciliation, a process which circumvents the filibuster.   In the Senate, the process gives an outsized role to the Chair of the Budget Committee. And who will that be? Bernie Sanders.


I mention all of this first because I am, as you know, a naturally optimistic person. Now for the bad news. When Trump is gone, convicted or not in the Senate as the case may be, those tens of millions of fanatic supporters will remain, and as I have often remarked, they are the ones with the guns. New reporting of the events in the Senate chamber as the mob approached makes it clear that the extraordinary bravery and quick wittedness of Capitol policeman Eugene Goodman may well have saved the life of Mike Pence. Think what you will of the vice president, we really could do without a vice presidential assassination.


I am also anxiously waiting to see whether Trump issues a blanket pardon to all of the insurrectionists on his way out the door. He could perfectly well do so and it would protect them from federal charges, which means things they did in the District of Columbia. Fortunately his narcissism is so great that he probably cannot bring himself to think about them as he struggles to protect his financial interests and plan pardons for his children. It would be too delicious if his irritation with America’s Mayor causes him to refuse a pardon for Giuliani.


Back to the good news. Speaker Pelosi is apparently planning to impose $5000 and $10,000 fines on members of the House who refuse to go through metal detectors and insist on carrying weapons onto the floor of the House, these fines to be deducted directly from their congressional paychecks. I am awaiting the reports of their cries of outrage.


I know this is all trivial but I have been in lockdown for 10 months and I have to take my pleasures were I can find them.


Anonymous said...

Hearing reports that among the rioters on Jan. 6 were supporters of an organization named “QAnon,” I decided to find out via Google what this organization is about. Well, for those who don’t know, what it is about is stark-raving madness. The organization claims that many Hollywood celebrities and Democratic politicians are part of a cabal which engages in satanic rituals which promotes pedophilia; that they harvest the chemical adrenochrome from the bodies of their child victims; that Trump was on a mission to destroy the cabal; and that the Mueller investigation was a false flag operation supported by Trump to investigate the cabal. See

The above report indicates that not all of QAnon supporters believe all of the organization’s pronouncements, but that 62% of its supporters believe the core belief that such a cabal composed of Hollywood stars (mostly Democratic) and Democratic politicians exists. The final conclusion was that “2.6 percent of the overall population” believes some part of what QAnon espouses. 2.6 percent – not of the QAnon supporters – but of the general American population buy into this lunacy! And Georgia has even elected a Congresswoman, Marjory Taylor Greene, who is a QAnon proponent.

How, I ask is this possible? What explains such massive lunacy? Is the proliferation of social media the cause? But that would not explain the underlying mental deficiency which would render so many Americans susceptible to such insanity. Is it a form of mass hysteria, akin to the Salem witch trials? But the QAnon phenomenon exceeds in numbers and geographic distribution even that sad episode in American history. Is there, perhaps, another virus even more dangerous and infectious than Covid 9?

LFC said...

There was a good segment on PBS NewsHr last night summarizing the flurry of last-minute actions on foreign and environmental policy that the Trump admin is taking, all of them bad of course. (I'll provide the link later today.)

s. wallerstein said...

People believe all kinds of crazy things.

Is believing QAnon any more crazy than believing that Jesus was born from a virgin, that he was the son of the supreme deity, that after his crucifixion his body rose to heaven and that thanks to Jesus's suffering on the cross, after you die, you don't really die?

Is it any more crazy than believing in astrology?

Yes, I know that Christianity has a long tradition behind it and that QAnon is new, but we live in the age of novelty and just as a new Iphone appears every 2 months (I have no idea of the frequency) to satisfy consumers' need for "being ahead of everybody", so too new superstitions and mass delusions appear with increasing frequency.

Anonymous said...

s. wallerstein,

You raise an interesting question (one for which, were you commenting on another blog, you would receive a torrent of condemnation, and possibly death threats).

Are the delusions of the QAnon supporters in any significant way distinguishable from the religious beliefs of those who believe, e.g., that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and was himself resurrected; or that Moses parted the Red Sea and received the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai; or that Mohammed, who was illiterate, wrote the Koran as it was recited to him by Allah and rose to heaven from the Temple Mount on a black steed; or that Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon on golden plates buried in the hill Cumorah; or that an immortal spiritual being named Thetan resides in all humans; or ….?

I guess one possible distinction which I would like to think applies is that the religious ideologies referred to above emerged in times before the Scientific Revolution, so that today there is more information available which should debunk such uncorroborated beliefs. In addition, more people have been exposed to some form of education which is supposed to yield rational thinking. But then there is Scientology and its dedicated – and educated – adherents. So, maybe you are right. But to choose Trump as your savior?

s. wallerstein said...

Not only are they the ones with the guns, as Professor Wolff points out above, they are the ones with fundamentalist religious beliefs.

I know some progressive people who are religious, but they are never fundamentalists. I recall one brilliant woman whom I tutored in English: she wore a crucifix and had a picture of Saint Francis on the wall of her office, but on the other hand, was pro-choice and liked to read Erich Fromm. As I got to know her better, I dared to ask her about her Catholic beliefs and it turns out that although she didn't see it in philosophical terms, she was a Pantheist. Jesus was the wisest and most morally perfect human being for her, but not really the third person of the trinity. Having been raised in the Catholic tradition, she took her symbols and reference points from it, as many Reform Jews (almost all progressive) do from the Jewish tradition, but was far from a fundamentalist.
I believe that she is fairly typical of liberal religious believers.

However, if a person in this day and age is capable of believing that the Bible is literally true (not just that is a very wise and beautiful book with many moral and spiritual lessons for all of us), then they are capable of believing in QAnon or that a
conman and demagogue like Trump is their savior.

David Palmeter said...

Religious beliefs like the virgin birth, the resurrection, the parting of the Red Sea etc. have been taught to millions of people almost form birth. Our family of origin usually determines our religious beliefs, or lack of them. Most people just go unquestioningly through life with the religious beliefs of their parents. It’s the same with political parties. Most people inherit their political beliefs and never question them.

Belief in QAnon seems different to me, at least in significant degree. No one is born into it. It doesn’t try to explain something mysterious that can’t be verified empirically: the origin of the universe or the meaning of life, questions that humans have sought to understand for as far back as we know. QAnon asserts as fact something preposterous about the contemporary world, something that could be factually checked right now. A few years ago, a gunman from South Carolina came to DC, armed to the teeth, to rescue children he believed were being abused by Hillary Clinton in the basement of a pizza parlor. That there were no children being abused by Hillary or anyone else, that Hillary had never been there, that the building didn’t even have a basement, doesn’t appear, however, to have led many of them to question the whole idea.

(Re: science and the meaning life: a few years ago my wife and I toured CERN, just outside Geneva, Switzerland. Before the tour, a physicist explained what we would be seeing and what they hoped to learn from it—how it could get us very close to the Big Bang itself. When he asked for questions, a woman with a very proper British accent asked: “At the Big Bang, what banged and who banged it?” He replied: “Physicists don’t know; you should ask a theologian.)

Michael said...

It's very difficult to make sense of the fact (?) that people believe in palpably absurd things like QAnon, Young-Earth Creationism, and Trump's fitness for Presidency.

Perhaps this is wrong on my part, but I'm not comfortable to chalk those beliefs up to extreme stupidity and/or mental illness. This is partly because of my personal acquaintance, including some close familial ties, with some pretty extreme conservatives.

Lately I wonder if "belief" is even an accurate term for what's going on with these folks. Maybe it's more like "belief-in-belief," or "make-believe," etc. - because (so it seems to me), "Surely they don't fail to know that Trump isn't telling the truth about the election results. Right?"

Maybe it happens that the "true believer" on the far right is a person who favors a far-right agenda so strongly that they're willing (in conversation, anyway) to play fast-and-loose with facts and evidence: After all, to speak in the usual way of "facts" and "evidence" is to betray one's loyalty to non-far-right causes; and the far-right's contempt for such things is expressed in language and gestures that register with their opponents as literal insanity/wickedness, but in reality (as a friend suggested to me) are more akin to the pro wrestling fan's expressed "animosity" to the "villains" of pro wrestling.

The wrestling fan doesn't fail to know that the character Vince McMahon plays on a wrestling show is not a faithful portrayal of who Vince actually is - but the fan "plays along" and "despises" Vince's persona anyway. Similarly with the person who supports Trump? (Or rather, supports what Trump represents, and supports it so deeply that they "believe" whatever Trump says?)

Anonymous said...


I agree wholeheartedly with the factors you point out as distinguishing the delusional mythology being proliferated by QAnon vs. the beliefs espoused by different religions. I could not have written your explanation better, a concession I rarely make.

mesnenor said...

I doubt Trump could pardon the insurrectionists. The Constitution grants the president pardon power for "offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment".

He's being impeached for inciting the insurrection. Hence pardoning the insurrectionists would be ruled out by that clause.

Anonymous said...


I wish you were correct, and I can see the ambiguity in the provision that you are referring to. Does the provision mean he is only precluded from pardoning those who have been impeached, as he has, or does it mean that once being impeached, his pardon power ends? The latter interpretation would entail that once being impeached, all of his powers as an Executive are terminated. But this surely is not the case. He still has the power, for example “to fill up all Vacancies.” In addition, in criminal law there is a principle referred to as the “principle of lenity,” which means that in interpreting a provision in criminal law, if the provision is ambiguous, it must be interpreted in favor of the defendant. In this case it would mean that if Trump pardoned accused insurrectionist A, and a prosecutor sought to then prosecute A, A could invoke the principle of lenity and argue that the ambiguity in Article II, Sec. 2 regarding the pardon power must be interpreted in his/her favor, that the President had the power to pardon notwithstanding his impeachment.

LFC said...

A couple of comments.

First, that clause in the Constitution doesn't seem all that ambiguous to me. "Except in cases of impeachment," as I read it, means that a President can't pardon someone for an offense for which that person has already been impeached. Since none of the insurrectionists has been impeached, Trump, as long as he remains in office, could pardon them. (I doubt he will, at this point -- some of the cases are moving fast, it seems, at least in terms of people being charged, and T. only has a few days left -- but that's a separate point.)

Second, on Michael's comment above, I don't know what T. supporters know, believe, or convince themselves of, or whether they're pretending to believe things. The particular people who stormed the Capitol probably believe the election was stolen, i.e., they think the election was actually stolen, even though there's no evidence to support that.

Those who don't believe the election was actually stolen, but purport to believe it for political gain, are the Cruzs and Hawleys of the world. Jeremi Suri, a fairly well-known historian, had a piece recently that someone linked to and that I read quickly, in which he criticized elite universities for producing people like Cruz, Hawley, and Tom Cotton, for fostering a culture of self-promotion and ruthless egoism, and for not doing enough to inculcate values of civic responsibility, concern for the common good, etc etc. I thought that was maybe a bit ironic, for lack of a better word, inasmuch as my guess is that Suri himself was educated at elite universities (though I haven't checked). He is the author, among a number of other books, of a book about Henry Kissinger that, from dipping into it briefly a while ago, I think is not unadmiring of its subject -- another irony, perhaps.

Here's the Suri piece, btw:

Ed Barreras said...

Regarding the connection between religious belief and belief in the delusional QAnon conspiracy: the dabate is, I think, in many ways a function of our assumptions about secularization. Theologians and other sophisticated thinkers have all kinds of subtle ways justifying their religious beliefs; and the epistemologies they invoke to do so often look strange to people who don’t share their assumptions, i.e., people who simply take for granted the “naturalistic” worldview that has grown since the Scientific Revolution. Still, it seems to me that most of us naturalists are happy to let those strange epistemologies flourish when it comes to things religious and metaphysical. Within that field let a thousand flowers bloom! It is only in the “secular” realm — the realm of science and scholarship and politics — that we insist on and expect everyone to acknowledge a consensus reality.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that we don’t come to the table with wildly different political ideologies, wildly different interpretations about what motivates political actors or what role institutions serve. It only means that when it comes to matters of fundamental fact in the secular realm, there can be no rational disagreement. Consider three questions: Should I be a conservative or a Marxist? Is the cosmos just particles swirling in a void, or is it the arena in which souls are redeemed? Are our politicians who they say they are, or are they really a cabal of baby-eating Satan worshippers? The first two questions, I submit, are ones about which rational people may disagree. The third one is not.

Ultimately this seems to me a sociological fact. I suspect that, even for sophisticated theologians who actually believe Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, the QAnon conspiracy theory comes across as pure lunacy. They know better that to be taken in by this particular delusion because they have been acculturated, via their education, into a community that insists on making the sharp distinction I just outlined. That’s what makes them sophisticated. The believers in QAnon and other similar lunacies, on the other hand, are not sophisticated, and they must be taught what counts as a rational way of sorting the world.

Ed Barreras said...

Regarding the “except in cases of impeachment” clause, from what I understand, many scholars consider this to mean, simply, that the president may not pardon officials who have been impeached. However, the matter is ambiguous, and a court may well find that, per the clause, a president can’t well be impeached for inciting an insurrection and then pardon the insurrectionists. I imagine that if Trump were to try such a thing, the outrage would be so deafening that the Supreme Court ultimately would decide that the pardons aren’t within his authority.

marcel proust said...

IANAL: Some of the commenters here are, so I direct these questions to them.

1) Can the president issue pardons en masse, without naming the individual?
1a) In that case, would Trump have to say that all individuals in the Capitol building on 1/6 are pardoned for any crimes committed while there?
1b) In that case, wouldn't it be impossible to prosecute anyone for the police officer's death?

2) Can Trump pardon people for crimes under DC rather than federal law (which I assume include run-of-the mill crimes like murder, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, etc.)?

Anonymous said...

It is not secularization as-such which in the last several hundred years toned down the beliefs of religious fanatics to the extent they seem (here, though hardly in the Islamic world) less attached to their former ambitions of absolutist dominance. Rather, secularization was a counter-reaction to the intolerable overreach and insupportable cost, self-inflicted, of wars over religion. In our Anglophone frame of reference, this secularization was the hard-learned lesson, the legacy of the English Civil wars; the result of which was a compromise; that compromise which was the emotional and and intellectual basis of the US constitutional formula. To boil it down to a caricature, the English determined that if trade were to be king, then religious doctrinal disputes should not be allowed again to bring the country to the point of civil war. This would have been the view equally of Tories like Hume and liberals like Paine a generation later. The inheritance of the English Civil wars was the inoculation here against the tendency for religion to arrogate to itself the right, the obligation to rule in every crack and crevice of life, public and private -- if only it could.


LFC said...

@ marcel p.

I'm pretty sure the answer to (1) is no, but I'll defer to others who know more. Anyway, the chances T will pardon any of these people in the few days remaining are v slim, I think. It wd conflict w his current "let's all be peaceful" rhetoric, for one thing.

Anonymous said...

This whole exchange regarding the meaning of the provision in Article II, Sec. 2, limiting the pardon power is reminding me of the arbiter trying to settle a dispute between A and B, - the arbiter tells A, he’s right; then he tells B, whose position is the direct opposite of A’s, you’re also right. C interjects, A’s right, and B’s right -they can’t both be right. The arbiter turns to C, says, “You’re also right.”

My original position in a comment to a prior post was that once impeached, Trump could not pardon himself, or anyone else who may be impeached. Since none of the insurrectionists have been impeached, and, unless one of them holds a federal office, cannot be impeached, Trump could still pardon them even after being impeached, even for crimes they have not been charged or indicted for. I also concluded, based on Pres. Ford’s mass amnesty of draft dodgers in 1974, that Trump could pardon rioters even without identifying them by name. However, if he does so, I believe he increases the likelihood that he will be convicted in the Senate trial. Such a pardon would enrage even Republican senators who did not support the impeachment. If Trump were to pardon the insurrectionists, I am quite confident that if the constitutionality of the pardons made it to the S. Ct., the Court would hold that he had the right to pardon the insurrectionist even after he was impeached, since he was not pardoning anyone else who had been impeached. So my answers to Marcel Proust’s two questions are: (1) Yes, he can pardon them, even en masse, by announcing, for example,"All those who participated in any way in the rally on Jan. 6, including all those who entered the Capitol. are herby pardoned for any and all crimes for which they may be charged, indicted, or convicted, as long a they report by [date] to the FBI and report what role they played in the events in question." (2) He can pardon anyone for a federal crime, e.g., even murder, but not for a crime under D.C. local law.

Regarding the intersection between science and theology, many scientists are deeply religious and are able to separate the two issues. For example, Francis Collins, who headed the human genome project, was a devout Christian and saw no contradiction in his believing in the rectitude of science and his religious faith. He and Christopher Hitchens were good friends.

LFC said...

Why is Trump not going to pardon the insurrectionists, individually or collectively? The main reason, imo, is that he realizes his "brand" has been damaged by recent events, and he also realizes that a pardon would damage it further. That a pardon would increase his chances of being convicted in a Senate trial is doubtless true, but it's not the main reason he's not going to pardon the rioters.

Anonymous said...

"he realizes his "brand" has been damaged by recent events"

What was the defining feature of his "brand"? Wasn't it his role as the mob-boss?

Now the "mob" has a dual sense here -- perhaps he was unsure of which he'd rather play to: [1] the mob as in what they used to call in the 70s "the syndicate; [2] the mob as in the rabble, the plebs, the roman mob. The "syndicate" boss doesn't like publicity -- it's bad for the business.

LFC said...

New York City is cancelling all contracts w the Trump Org, Deutsche bank is cutting him off, and once he leaves the White House his centrality in an already restive Repub Party will start to wane. And Twitter has permanently banned him. He'll find other ways to communicate, and other sources of financing probably, but he has been hurt by recent events in rather concrete ways. Or so it would seem. Why compound this by pardoning the rioters? That's why I think he won't.

Jerry Brown said...

There is no reason to ask a lawyer about the legality of such a political question as 'can the President pardon people who did the very actions that caused the President to be impeached in the first place'- after he was already impeached for it.

The only question is if the Supreme Court would want to support Trump or would not want to. They decide in a very political way these questions. And they can always find some legal precedent or constitutional 'requirement' to support their decision either way.

Anonymous said...

Jerry Brown,

I view a lot of world events and American politics with a cynical eye. Cynicism certainly has its place in a world saturated with false news, QAnon fanatics pursuing wild conspiracy theories, and most people acting solely out of self-interest and greed, rather than patriotic or altruistic motives (e.g., Senators Cruz and Hawley). But I believe your cynicism in your comment above is misplaced. If the three justices whom Trump nominated followed their instincts to act solely out of their self-interest and political motives, they would have voted in one of the several appeals which Giuliani and his team brought before it to overturn the elections results in Pennsylvania and Arizona to grant certiorari and overturn Trump’s electoral loss in those states. They did not. And surely they could have found, if they dug deep enough, some legal precedent or constitutional argument to support, however lamely, such a vote, as you claim. They did not.

Your cynical view of the Supreme Court, which is sometimes justified in some instances, does not explain Justice Roberts’ multiple votes to support the constitutionality of Obamacare, since it is highly likely that he did not vote for Obama to be President. Nor does it explain Justice Barrett’s recent vote not to overturn Obamacare. Nor does it explain Justice Gorsuch’s vote in favor of holding that gays, lesbians, transgenders and transsexuals are protected by the provision in Title VII prohibiting discrimination based on gender, a ruling for which he received a lot of condemnation in the Christian community. Often Supreme Court justices do the honorable thing and do not allow their personal political predilections to override their oath to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. And I believe this happens more often than you give them credit for. For some justices this is never the case, e.g., Justices Alito and Thomas. But for many others, throughout the course of the Supreme Court’s history, their oath to follow the Constitution and the rule of law has taken precedence over their personal political biases.

s. wallerstein said...

All of us were taught certain religious beliefs (or atheist beliefs) and political postures as children and at some time we either reaffirmed those beliefs or questioned them. I can't believe that a person in contemporary society (we're not talking about the 12th century) has never been confronted with a challenge to their family religious beliefs or political postures and thus hasn't had to either question them or reaffirm them, consciously and deliberately.

I am aware that lots of people choose to reaffirm the religious beliefs and political postures that they learn from their parents as they get older, maybe out of loyalty to their family or maybe out of intellectual laziness, but I still don't see much difference between choosing to reaffirm clearly wacky theories such as Jesus being born from a virgin (even if you are a distinguished theologian and well paid for it) that one learned as a small child and adopting a clearly wacky theory as an adult such as QAnon.

I agree that there are certain theological theories (for example, Deism or Pantheism) which are within the range of rational discurse, but no, Jesus being born from a virgin isn't one of them.

David Palmeter said...

A couple of points: Andrew Johnson issued blanket pardons to former Confederate officials and soldiers--all of whom committed treason as it is defined in the Constitution. They were required to sign affidavits promising to be good boys in the future, but whether this would be a legal requirement is anyone's guess. Second, the fact that Trump is impeached does not affect his ability to pardon someone else. Once he's convicted, then of course he can't pardon anyone for anything because he would no longer be president. But the fact that he has been impeached twice,but so far no convicted, doesn't affect his authority to pardon anyone else for anything until he is convicted.

LFC said...

Re "Barrett's recent vote not to overturn Obamacare..."

I thought the Obamacare case wasn't going to be heard until March (or thereabouts)?

Anonymous said...


Sorry, you are correct. They held the oral argument in November. I had already concluded, judging form the questions J. Barrett asked, that she was not inclined to vote to overturn the legislation.

Anonymous said...

Interesting answers to questions about the Senate trial of Trump:

Howie said...

About QAnon, don't try to rationalize their beliefs intellectually- you must enter their headspace- they live in a scifi cinema world, where such fabulous bullshit seems believable
You have to suspend disbelief- whatever pops up on the movie screen is happening and is real, whatever can be represented is reality. They believe it because they can see it in their collective mind's eye

Anonymous said...

"You have to suspend disbelief- whatever pops up on the movie screen is happening and is real"

Specifically, whatever crap pops up on You-Tube is authoritative. Especially if that ominous boom-boom-boom scoring is running quietly in the background. This phenomenon has poisoned even friends of mine who are *not* crackpots. But when they say, literally, "Well, we've found doctors saying such-and-such who aren't parroting the party-line (say in regard to cov)" well, there's the poison at work. They are very proud of themselves for their perspicuity -- besting the stupid scientists who merely 'parrot the party-line'.

This all comes to a head because -- until now -- there's been no *cost* for them if they want to 'believe' in one variety of chicken-shit or another. The debt-collector will come though; just like Death; the smarty-pants fools and knaves carrying their holy cell-phone and its You-tube vulgate have their "Appointment in Samarra" sure as day is day and night is night.


Ed Barreras said...

Is it rational to believe in the literal virgin birth of Jesus? The problem, of course, is that the term “rational” is nearly on par with “scientific” — so slippery as to be virtually impossible to define. Here, tomes have been written. In theology, the question of miracles usually takes place in the context of discussions of faith and reason, and theological schools have various ways of finessing the issue, ranging from fideism to Thomism, which posits that natural reason can vouchesafe a strong form of theism (not pantheism or deism) to such an extent that claims about miracles are, as it were, given a rational boost. In what sense are we permitted to condemn these forms of discourse as *irrational*? As Richard Rorty once said in a slightly different context, it’s not as is they’re foaming at the mouth. Or perhaps we think that they must just be presenting bad arguments. Well, try entering into argument with someone adept in these sorts of debates, and you’re bound to find yourself scratching your head. Eventually you arrive at a place where your spade is turned.

Speaking for myself, when I read, for example, Hume on the natural history of religion, I find him to be articulating a worldview that is so obviously true that it’s a wonder anyone could find it controversial. The dream of epistemology was to uncover some means by which we could demonstrate once and for all, via something approaching mathematical proof, just what makes Hume’s worldview *rational* and the religious one not. Alas, most epistemologists (I imagine) would admit that no such wholesale arguments are forthcoming, and the general consensus seems to be in favor of “context-senstive” approaches.

For what it’s worth, this is the view of Graham Oppy, a prominent defender of philosophical atheism, who refers to it as “doxastic permisiveness”.

Anonymous said...


What you are describing is a form of technological brain-washing. How wide-spread is it; how long can it be expected to last; is it irreversible?

I assume that many of your acquaintances whom you describe as having fallen victim to this are college graduates. Why hasn’t their college education taught them to read critically and analytically, to question assumptions as they read? No one seems to have anticipated this potential effect of computer and phone technology. Why not? During the 1970s, the most popular futuristic book was “Future Shock,” by Alvin Toffler. All he predicted was that the rapidness with which new technology was developing would start to overwhelm the cerebral cortex and cause a shock to the central nervous system. He did not predict the kind of brain-washing that you describe. Is there an antidote? If not, can we expect various forms of QAnon to emerge and gain currency in the future?

Anonymous said...

"No one seems to have anticipated this potential effect of computer and phone technology. Why not?"

There was always an implicit bias -- that the better-read and the better-schooled they became, the better able they'd be to make sensible decisions.

There was another implicit bias, which was that authority had mangled its credibility with Vietnam. So the *real* story is always to be found beneath the surface and whoever takes the surface layer as the truth is a dupe.

There is another thread to this tendency also, which is the commercial one; it is manifest in those pictures of happy families at barbecues whose every wish is granted by the mere touch of a touch-screen; who are captivated by this flattery, that even they, the lowliest commoners, are included in the servant-owning class; because of this device; because they have so many *choices*, effortless choices....

Orwell, Huxley and others foresaw it. They wrote about those *TVs* that couldn't be disabled.


Jerry Brown said...

Anonymous MS @6:02, I hope you are right and I would be happy to be wrong.

LFC said...

I'm inclined to think that technology is not the underlying cause here, rather that it is abetting dispositions and forces that are psychological and political and that would find what they are seeking in one way or another. I think a glance at the history of radio, in the years when it was the unrivaled non-print medium of mass communication, would be instructive.

GJ said...

"Is it rational to believe in the literal virgin birth of Jesus? The problem, of course, is that the term 'rational' is nearly on par with 'scientific' — so slippery as to be virtually impossible to define. Here, tomes have been written. In theology, the question of miracles usually takes place in the context of discussions of faith and reason, and theological schools have various ways of finessing the issue, ranging from fideism to Thomism, which posits that natural reason can vouchsafe a strong form of theism (not pantheism or deism) to such an extent that claims about miracles are, as it were, given a rational boost. In what sense are we permitted to condemn these forms of discourse as *irrational*?"

You're moving in the wrong direction. "Rational" has a respectable use. Patently psychotic delusions (e.g., that one is Napoleon) are irrational, as are beliefs based on the visual or auditory hallucinations one might have while in a state of psychosis. Is there a difference, in principle, between those beliefs and culturally sanctioned religious beliefs? I don't see that there is.

This question, then, is wrongheaded:

"In what sense are we permitted to condemn these [religious] forms of discourse as *irrational*?"

It assumes that religionists have succeeded in distinguishing religious beliefs from psychotic delusions. But there's no reason whatever to believe that they have (see the work of, e.g., Ryan McKay and other researchers who've looked into the supposed differences between the two).

Ed Barreras said...

I never said that “rational” doesn’t have a respectable use. Obviously it does. Just as “scientific” does. The problem is that we seem perfectly capable of using certain words even when we lack clear definitions and criteria for applying them.

“It assumes that religionists have succeeded in distinguishing religious beliefs from psychotic delusions.”

I don’t see why they should have to, since common experience teaches that there clearly is a difference between religious beliefs and psychotic delusions, notwithstanding the fact that religious tropes often figure in delusions (as do political ones).

I had never heard of the work of McKay and Ross, which is no wonder, since the article you seem to be referring to is very recent. It evidently isn’t available to read for free online. However, I found this brief summary they put out ( Suffice it to say that I doubt any of this will make much of a splash; at most, it’ll be seen as just the latest salvo in the atheism wars (the authors seem to align themselves with Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker). Also, their conception of religion seems rather narrow and tendentious.

But anyway, getting back to my point, consider this: “the emerging picture is of continuity between religious cognition and cognition associated with mental disorders.” Setting aside the question of what counts as “religious cognition,” what they seem to posit is a spectrum, where at one extreme you have, say, Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins and at the other extreme you have the schizophrenic who thinks he’s Napoleon (or Jesus). Presumably, Pope Francis and Etienne Gilson would fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Alright, but what does this have to do with rationality? One could easily argue that it’s possible to occupy the middle of this spectrum and still count as a rational person.

s. wallerstein said...

Sure, Pope Francis would count as a rational person.

There seem to be a couple of factors involved in whether we consider someone with irrational religious beliefs to be a rational person or not.

First, whether it's an individual delusion or not. If I claim that I'm Elvis, I'm crazy, but if I claim that I'm a member of the Chosen People, chosen by the one and only Deity when He (it's a "he" in the Old Testament) talked to Moises out of a burning bush, then I'm sane.

Second, historical weight. If I claim that Jesus was born to a virgin, I'm reiterating a delusional idea that people have believed for thousands of years and I'm considered sane, but if I claim that Hillary Clinton is a pedophile, then I'm crazy, even though in spite of the fact that there's no evidence indicating that Clinton is a pedophile, it is still possible that she is one (a certain percentage of the population are pedophiles), while it is impossible that a virgin can give birth.

"Normal" meaning "what everybody or a lot of people do or think" often seems to merge into "normal" meaning "sane".

Anonymous said...

This discussion regarding whether there is a difference between the views of cults like QAnon and religious views, such as the virgin birth, Moses parting the Red Sea, Mohammed rising to heaven on the back of steed, is fascinating. If there is no difference, as s. Wallerstein maintains, then this is a strong condemnation of the rationality of religion. On the other hand, I believe there has to be a difference, because some very prominent people – even some who have won Nobel prizes – claim to be religious. T.S. Eliot, for example. No one would claim that he was crazy or irrational, having won the Nobel Prize for literature, was a devout Catholic. Did he believe in the virgin birth? I don’t know. But if he did, does that mean that the views of QAnon are not necessarily irrational, or that there a subtle difference between the mythology of QAnon and that of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. Another example is C.S. Lewis, who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, in which the characters representing the forces of good are metaphors for Jesus and his disciples. Did C.S. Lewis believe in the virgin birth? I am inclined to believe that he did. If so, did this mean that, actually, he was basically irrational. I do not think so. Saul Kripke is a prominent mathematical logician and an Orthodox Jew. Does he believe everything in the Old Testament, e.g., that Jacob wrestled with an angel; that Moses parted the Red Sea and received the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai. The latter belief is a central tenet in Orthodox Judaism, so I suspect he does believe it. No one who knows anything about Kripke’s work would claim that he is a delusional fanatic.

The same is true of Francis Collins. You can’t be a delusional fanatic and decipher the human genome, yet Collins is a devout Christian:

“In his 2006 book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Collins wrote that scientific discoveries were an "opportunity to worship" and that he rejected both Young Earth creationism and intelligent design. His own belief, he wrote, was theistic evolution or evolutionary creation, which he preferred to call BioLogos. He wrote that one can "think of DNA as an instructional script, a software program, sitting in the nucleus of the cell". He appeared in December 2006 on The Colbert Report television show and in a March 2007 Fresh Air radio interview to discuss this book.[84][85] In an interview with D. J. Grothe on the Point of Inquiry podcast, he said that the overall aim of the book was to show that "one can be intellectually in a rigorous position and argue that science and faith can be compatible", and that he was prompted to write the book because "most people are seeking a possible harmony between these worldviews [science and faith], and it seems rather sad that we hear so little about this possibility. Collins said he had been a Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Episcopalian, emphasizing that denominational differences were not essential to him. He recalled that, growing up, he participated in the choir of an Episcopal church.” (Footnotes omitted.)

So, either there is a subtle difference between religious beliefs and the pronouncements of QAnon that we are missing, or the pronouncements of QAnon cannot simply be dismissed as irrational. This is a subject that would make for a fascinating college course (and perhaps is a course at some universities), but I do not think the solution is amenable to the space available in a blog.

Anonymous said...

s. wallerstein,

I do not believe in the virgin birth, primarily, I think, because I was not brought up to believe in the virgin birth. I was brought up to believe that the Hanukkah candles burned, miraculously, for eight days. But I believe your statement, “[I]t is impossible that a virgin can give birth,” is erroneous. If one believes in a supreme being that is omnipotent (but not perhaps, omnibenevolent), then, in this context, it is perfectly possible for the supreme being to impregnate a woman who has never had sexual intercourse with a male human. It is only impossible if you can prove that it is impossible for such a supreme being to exist. I do not believe that you can.

Anonymous said...

An observation regarding what beliefs are rational and what are irrational. Some of these beliefs are sorely tested by the experimental results of quantum mechanics, which, despite its paradoxes, is generally accepted by physicists as the most accurate description of what occurs in the physical world.

It is rational, for example, to believe in Aristotle’s principle of the excluded middle, that nothing can be both A and -A. Well, how does one explain the double slit experiment, which has demonstrated that light simultaneously manifests the characteristics of particles and waves. And what about Schrödinger’s cat, which is simultaneously dead and not dead. And then there is the mind-boggling phenomenon of particle entanglement, in which particles located in different parts of the universe appear to instantaneously communicate with one another faster than the speed of light, a phenomenon which Einstein maintained was impossible “spooky action at a distance,” but which Bell’s Theorem proved was in fact possible.

LFC said...

There is at least one "subtle difference" between religious beliefs and nutty "theories" like QAnon. Religious beliefs answer, or purport to answer, basic questions about the origins and meaning of life and of the universe, questions that reflective people have been asking for millennia.

QAnon, by contrast, doesn't "answer" or address itself to any comparably basic questions. The delusion that there is some kind of sex ring involving Dem politicians operating from the basement of a pizza restaurant in Wash. D.C. (one that, as D. Palmeter pointed out, doesn't even have a basement) doesn't attempt to clarify or answer any of what Justice Kennedy, I think it was, in one of his reaches for profundity, called "the mysteries of human existence" (or something like that). QAnon is an example of batsh*t craziness that elevates trivial "questions" to ridiculous heights of ostensible significance. QAnon doesn't even appear to be concerned with the purported victims of this nefarious ring. Where are the victims? Who are they? Why isn't QAnon out looking for them?

Religious belief and conviction presumably leads some people to engage in useful (e.g., charitable, philanthropic, or social change-oriented) behavior. Just as there is a religious Right, there has always been a religious Left. QAnon, by contrast, doesn't lead anyone to do anything useful or admirable. Indeed, the opposite.

s. wallerstein said...

Beliefs are rational or irrational. People aren't.

We human beings all have rational and irrational beliefs. My beliefs about religious miracles may be strictly rational, but when I fall in love, I may act on very irrational assumptions. It well may be that many QAnon believers handle their financial investments more rationally than I do.

What's more, there seems to be a historical factor involved. Anonymous above mentions
T.S. Eliot and C.S. Lewis as devout Christians and as far as I can tell, traditional religious beliefs have been subjected to increasing rational criticism in the past century since Eliot wrote the Waste Land. I mean, we're not going to claim that Descartes, the father of modern rationalism, was irrational for believing in a benevolent God, are we? That is, standards of rational belief seem to evolve and thus, for someone to be a traditional Christian today seems an example of irrational belief, while that wasn't the case in 1921, when atheism was still a vanguard thing.

Anonymous said...


You are correct that one of the differences you point out between the beliefs of QAnon and Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. is the latter seek to offer answers to the meaning of life and provide spiritual solace, while QAnon’s objectives are more pedestrian, but that is not the difference I was suggesting we are looking for. The difference I believe we are looking for is in their epistemic value. S. Wallerstein maintains that with regard to their epistemic value, they are indistinguishable, and therefore the views of both are indistinguishably ludicrous – that the idea of a virgin birth is ludicrous, as is the idea that there is a basement in a pizza parlor in in N.Y. in which some individuals engage in satanic rituals and pedophilia. If we are to maintain the latter is epistemically ridiculous, thereby discrediting QAnon, then we have to draw the same inference regarding the overall epistemic value of religion – that they are all equally ludicrous with the views of QAnon. If he is correct, then the various religions deserve to be treated with the same degree of disrespect with which we believe QAnon’s beliefs should be treated. And the fact the objectives of religious beliefs are more lofty than those of QAnon’s is not sufficient reason to treat the former as more worthy of adherence than the latter, because we should only adhere to views that have legitimate epistemic value.

My problem is that I do not believe they have the same epistemic value and should be treated with the same degree of disrespect, because many intelligent, rational people have believed in religions, and I suspect none of those who adhere to QAnon’s beliefs are going to win a Nobel Prize for anything, nor successfully explain the paradoxes of quantum mechanics. S. Wallerstein responds, “Beliefs are rational or irrational. People aren’t.” Phooey. We often say of people that they are or are not rational, and we make this evaluation based on the overall rationality with which we regard the overall scope of their beliefs – the more rational or irrational beliefs you embrace, the more rational or irrational you are. Regarding the claim that examples from the 1920s are not convincing because of all the great progress we have made since then, Francis Collins and Saul Kripke are alive today, and they are devoutly religious people, and both are highly intelligent and rational. I strongly suspect neither is (or would be if they knew what QAnon was) an adherent of QAnon or conceivably could be. Moreover, I would not think of walking up to Francis Collins and saying to him, “You are absolutely nuts because you are a devout Christian,” nor to Saul Kripke, “You are absolutely nuts because you are an Orthodox Jew.” Indeed, as I pointed out above, Christopher Hitchens, who wrote “God Is Not Great,” had the highest respect for Collins.

Here lies the difference, I believe. I suspect those of us who are not religious are willing to give people like Collins, and Kripke, etc. a pass for the reason LFC points out, that the goals of these theological beliefs are loftier, and less destructive than QAnon’s. When we think of Collins and Kripke and give them a pass, do we think, “Well Collins, you know he is very bright and knows a lot about genetics, but he has this one quirk that you have to overlook.” Does this give Collins, or Kripke their just due? Why do they believe in these views if they have absolutely no epistemic value – just because they give their lives meaning? Collins believes in the existence of a supreme being, which is both sentient and cognitive. According to s. wallerstein, this is a totally ludicrous notion with no evidence to support it (but not, as I commented above, impossible). If we asked Collins, why do you believe this, what would he say? If you asked Kripke why he believes God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, what would he say? That they just believe these things on faith, and not every belief needs to have epistemic value?

LFC said...

I can't write a long comment right now, but the suggestion or implication about degrees of "epistemic value" is interesting. So, for instance, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is nuts and 1 is indisputably true, QAnon is at 10 and belief in a supreme deity is at, what, 7 -- or 8? I'm actually not all that interested in these old and never-ending debates about the epistemic status of religious belief etc., and I have more mundane things to attend to today, for better or worse, so I think I'm going to bow out of this discussion.

GJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GJ said...

"If we asked Collins, why do you believe this, what would he say? If you asked Kripke why he believes God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, what would he say?"

They'd probably say that such beliefs give their life meaning (as you've suggested), or that they can't fathom living in a universe that's indifferent to them, or that they like being the object of a divine being's affection, or something like that.

They wouldn't say, "Well, I believe in my god because I find the traditional arguments for her existence irresistible."

In discussions like these, the distinction between beliefs based on motives and beliefs based on reasons merits emphasizing. Beliefs for which there are motives and no reasons, like the belief in God, or that Shakespeare didn't write all those plays and sonnets, or that Trump is fighting a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles, may be true, but in the absence of reasons for a belief, the belief is irrational (by definition).

Of course, those who profess belief in God (say) will steadfastly insist that they have reasons for their belief, but if you do a little digging, you'll find that those "reasons" are normally just ad hoc rationalizations of the belief, a belief long foreordained.

Anonymous said...


Don’t give up. This is really important.


You bring up some interesting points. I believe this discussion is important, because I cannot accept s. wallerstein’s thesis that Qanon’s mythology is as valid as Christianity’s, or, to put it another way, they are equally invalid, and that if you reject QAnon’s pronouncements as lunacy, you are compelled to do the same for Christianity, and Judaism, and Islam, all of which endorse at least one tenet as part of their religion which is as equally irrational as QAnon’s claim of a cult of pedophiles operating out of a pizzeria in N.Y. There must be a valid distinction which places the religions on a higher epistemic plane than QAnon. That is my instinct, anyway, and I am trying to justify it intellectually.

We can neither prove nor disprove the existence of a supreme sentient and cognizant supreme being which is the causative agent of the universe. Can we say the same of the virgin birth, or that the supreme being gave Moses the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai? True, we cannot prove them; but nor can we disprove them. A virgin birth, as I commented above, is possible, if you have the right supreme being. What about QAnon’s claim of a pedophile ring operating out of the basement of a pizzeria in N.Y. They can’t prove it, but can we disprove it?. If we go to the pizzeria and show that there is no basement, can they retort, well, no, the basement is not there when you show up, but as soon as you leave, there it is again, and you can’t prove this just by going back to the pizzeria, just as you can’t prove that your computer is still on your desk when you leave the room and there is no one there to see it, ala’ Bishop Berkeley.

Ed Barreras said...

S. Wallerstein writes: “If I claim that I'm Elvis, I'm crazy, but if I claim that I'm a member of the Chosen People, chosen by the one and only Deity when He (it's a "he" in the Old Testament) talked to Moises out of a burning bush, then I'm sane.”

This strikes me as an invidious comparison. The belief that one is Elvis is what we would call a psychotic delusion rooted in mental illness; the stories of the Old Testament are the collected expressions of the religious worldview of a very distant premodern society. These two things are not equatable, in etiology or in almost any other way. What is more, most Christian theologians are happy to consign the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, Noah’s flood, etc, to the realm of myth and allegory. Religious fundamentalism — the belief that everything in the Bible is literally true — only dates to the nineteenth-century, so it is an enormous error to equate it with religion as such. Indeed, it’s not even accurate to say that the people who first wrote down the OT thought of it as *literally* true, since the very notion of historical time, to which myth and religious symbol might be compared, had not yet risen.

I doubt Pope Francis would assent to the claim that his religious beliefs are rooted, as you say, merely in their ancientness and their prevalence. Being Catholic, he is probably a Thomist (St. Thomas is known as the “common doctor” of the Church), which would mean that his fundamental beliefs about the cosmos are radically different than yours or mine. Simply put, Catholic philosophers tend to adhere to an Aristotelian metaphysical framework, while modern “naturalists” adhere to one that is essentially Cartesian. And once the central miracles of Christianity (the Resurrection, primarily) are placed in that Aristotelian-Thomistic framework, they gain in plausibility. They are still matters of faith, but they can be rationally countenanced in the same way you would rationally countenance a report about something from a person you consider generally reliable. Or so the argument goes.

Finally, if we are talking about the prevalence of belief in miracles, I highly doubt there is much difference at all between educated people in the 1920s and their counterpart cohort today. That is much too late in history for there to be a real difference here. It may be true that all levels of society were nominally more religious back then, but surely claims about miracles seemed just as implausible to people then as they do now, and for the exact same reasons.

Eric said...

No one would claim that he was crazy or irrational, having won the Nobel Prize for literature, was a devout Catholic.

There is a frequently recurring tendency in the comments on this blog to assume that people who are highly educated and who have achieved prominence in their fields must also be brilliant, rational thinkers in other spheres of intellect. There are many cases that show that assumption to often be erroneous, so why does this tendency persist here on a philosopher's blog?

Wrt to Francis Collins, I don't really see Collins as a great thinker. Like Ben Carson or James Watson, Collins is a very adept technician, as a scientist. He's not a philosopher, and he's no DaVinci or Ben Franklin. I would be much more interested in hearing someone like Cornel West explain his faith than Collins. (I suppose I should add here that Collins was one of two faculty who taught a genetics course I took; and when I was an undergrad, before he became famous, he also attended a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting that some friends dragged me to, where he described how his conversion from atheist to devout Christian was catalyzed by reading C.S. Lewis, who had been suggested to him by a minister he'd gone to for counsel.)

Most people go through life without deeply examining in any critical way the religious beliefs they grew up with. If most of the people who are influential in their lives (whether family members or people they admire) believe something, that's usually sufficient for accepting the received wisdom without much challenge. It's also natural to compartmentalize different areas of life, and religion tends to be one area that most people do not seem to feel is worth seriously questioning.

GJ said...


"We can neither prove nor disprove the existence of a supreme sentient and cognizant supreme being which is the causative agent of the universe."

This is false. There are many definitional, deductive evil, doctrinal, multiple attribute, and single attribute DISPROOFS of such a being. There are also many inductive or evidential atheological arguments. These latter aren't conclusive, but they're very compelling nonetheless.

But to get to the point, are you suggesting that the difference between belief in the virgin birth and belief in a pedophile ring operating out of a pizzeria basement is that the latter, unlike the former, can be disproven, at least in principle?

This won't get you very far. Suppose I start a religion because I sensed the presence of an invisible dragon in my garage. A central dogma of Dragonism (viz., that there's an invisible dragon in my garage) can't be disproven, but it's no less insane than the belief in a pedophile ring operating out of a pizzeria basement.

Anonymous said...

Ed Barreras,

Thank you for your clarifying comments. You apparently know a lot about the history of religion. The literal truth of the events described in the OT is not as important as the life lessons that it contains, regarding the motives, the flaws, the sacrifices of the people portrayed therein, regardless whether they actually existed. The accepted scholarship regarding the origins of the OT among bible scholars is that it was written by various scribes during the Babylonian exile, after the Babylonians defeated Assyria in 597 B.C.E., and destroyed Jerusalem and the First Temple. The OT, or Torah, was written during the exile in Babylonia to give the exiled Hebrews hope in the future, which came to pass when Cyrus the Great defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Hebrews to return to Judea, where the Second Temple was rebuilt, and ultimately destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.

I would be interested to know if you have a response to Eric or GJ.


I believe you give short shrift to Dr. Collins, He is more than just a genetic technician. He could not have supervised the completion of the mapping of the genome project if he were. Regarding Watson, your criticism is appropriate, since it is generally recognized today that he and Crick did not really deserve the credit they were given for unraveling the DNA helix, since they stole their ideas from Rosalind Franklin, who did not receive any credit. Your general criticism, however, that intelligent people are often given too much credit for being rational obviously depends on the person in question. I believe that Eliot and Lewis were very reflective people who demonstrated that their intelligence was not limited to narrow areas. The Wasteland, for example, is an extremely complicated poetic analysis of the connection between the past and the present and the meaning of contemporary life.

In addition, more people question the validity of the religious beliefs in which they were raised than you give them credit for. I’ve met and spoken to many non-professional people who have expressed doubt about the religious precepts they were raised to believe.

Anonymous said...


My reference to a supreme being was not relating to the God of the Old or New Testaments, who purportedly manifests particular attributes. While the various proofs of the existence of that God, e.g., the ontological argument; the teleological argument, have been successfully criticized, I was referring to a belief in a supreme sentient and cognitive being as the causative agent of the universe. I challenge you to prove that such a being cannot exist. By the same token, I admit that I cannot prove that such an entity does exist. But it is not impossible.

I don’t understand how you inferred your last question from what I wrote. I specifically stated that I am troubled by the prospect that belief in the virgin birth and the QAnon beliefs may be on the same footing – either equally valid, or equally invalid, which entails that if the QAnon pronouncements are insane, then so too must be all religious pronouncements. It is this equivalence that I am troubled by. If it turns upon the question of evidence – as in Ayer’s verification theory of meaning – then unless we can offer evidence that verifies to some degree that a statement is true, then the statement is meaningless. So, since your dragon is invisible, and presumably leaves no signs of its existence, your assertion that it exists is meaningless. The same could be said of the cult which performs rituals in the basement of the pizzeria, where the existence of such a basement cannot be verified. And this lack of evidence under a verification theory is not rebutted by saying that he basement just happens to disappear whenever someone tries to verify its existence, since this is an admission that it cannot be verified.

Biblical beliefs are different, since they are purported to have occurred in the distant past, when evidence for their occurrence would not have been preserved. The assertion that Jesus was born of a virgin can be understood, because we know what evidence we would need to prove that it is false, as well as what evidence would prove that it is true. The fact that we know of no other instance in which this has ever occurred without sexual intercourse with a human male (or today, without in vitro fertilization), does not mean, as I stated in a comment above, that it is absolutely impossible for a supreme being to have impregnated Jesus’s mother, and we would have no way of disproving this. Nor could we prove that such a supreme being cannot exist – those who believe in such a being could say, look around you, evidence of its existence is all around.

Eric said...

Someone has to point out that a "virgin" birth is not entirely outside the realm of credibility. For one thing, impregnation can occur absent coital intromission—it just takes a few drops on the fingers after all. (And parthenogenesis occurs in other vertebrate species, so while mammalian parthenogenesis has not been documented, and seems highly, highly implausible, it might theoretically be possible.)

It's all the other wacky stuff that strains credulity (eg Matthew 21:19).

QAnon arose in an environment in which there were many news stories about powerful people and authority figures engaging in, or turning a blind eye to, or covering up pedophilia & sexual assaults. The Joe Paterno/Penn State scandal, the USA Gymnastics/Michigan State scandal, the Boy Scouts scandal, the whole, never-ending, Catholic Church crimes & coverups scandal. The Bill Cosby and Democratic Party superdonor Harvey Weinstein scandals. The Jeffrey Epstein scandals. Then there were the allegations of sexual assault against Bill Clinton, and Hillary's defense of Bill in the face of those allegations.

There are enough bits and pieces of broadly-agreed-upon-as-true news stories mixed in with the more far-fetched bits (cannibalism, Satanism) that I don't think it's too hard to see how people who are convinced vaccines cause autism and who believed Barack Obama was a Muslim (a Muslim who regularly attended the sermons of Rev Jeremiah Wright in a Christian church, no less) could embrace some of the QAnon conspiracy theories. Especially when some Trump administration officials testified to Congress or admitted in print that they had been resisting Trump policies that they thought were unlawful; a QAnon supporter could easily interpret this as evidence of the so-called deep state.

GJ said...


Mea culpa. I thought that I might have misunderstood you there.

Two minor things.

"I was referring to a belief in a supreme sentient and cognitive being as the causative agent of the universe. I challenge you to prove that such a being cannot exist."

Such a challenge has been undertaken. E.g., it's been argued that a cognitive or psychological being can't be disembodied (though perhaps you'd be willing to say that disembodiment isn't an essential property of the supreme being you describe).

Second, verificationism is almost certainly false. The claim that there's an invisible dragon in one's garage is perfectly meaningful--anyone who speaks English understands what it means--even if it can't be verified. We deem the claim to be meaningful but false because there's no evidence for it. Many do the same for the virgin birth.

Eric said...

Jerry Brown @January 16, 2021 at 4:15 AM,
I agree as far as the political aspect of the Supreme Court goes.

There's a great new podcast btw in which three attorneys talk about this aspect of the courts all the time.

(I particularly enjoyed their episode in which they took Ginsburg to task for refusing to step down when Obama could have appointed a much younger replacement for her. Five-Four Podcast)

Anonymous said...


In J. Ginsburg's defense, she thought, like most of us, there was no way that Trump would get elected. And she was right about the popular vote. The only person who predicted that Trump was going to get elected was Michael Moore - and who would have thought a documentarian from Flint, Michigan would be a political pundit.

Anonymous said...


A disembodied mind cannot exist only if one believes in materialism. But this belief is based on the only examples of cognition which we know, i.e, of human beings. But there is no consensus on materialism. Why couldn’t a pure mind exist in the universe, without a corporeal capsule? Such a mind would perhaps not feel pain or other sensory stimuli, but it could still solve equations in three unknowns and communicate telephathically. I think there was an episode on Star Trek where this was part of the plot.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

“Plato saw both mind of matter,
Tom Hobbes naught but the latter
Now poor Tom’s soul doth fry in hell
Shrugs God, ‘tis immaterial.”

John Barth, “The Sot Weed Factor”

Eric said...

Anonymous, as the podcast hosts argue, Ginsburg should have retired before the midterm election in Obama's first term, while Obama had the Senate, and certainly by 2013, well before Trump had officially announced his candidacy. She was already in her late 70s and had had two serious cancer diagnoses by that point.

Also, Michael Moore was not the only person who thought that there was a real possibility that Trump could win the 2016 election.

Anonymous said...

"the only person who predicted that Trump was going to get elected was Michael Moore - "

I did, but perhaps I am just a stopped clock, correct twice a day.
Nonetheless, the inference was hard to avoid, when, in the summer of 2016 in Michigan, my good friends informed me that they were "shocked", just "shocked" that they'd been deprived of their birthright -- that is of their innocence; and would not be able to elect their favored candidate, a saint; so that, in this innocent purity, the only choice was to sit on their clean hands, sing the tweedle-dum tweedle-dee tune, pretend to a cynicism at variance with their attested puritanical innocence; and watch the fire from across the river. I said, you are pissing on your parents -- who were drafted in 1942 because of this very variety of poison -- you are pissing on their graves, you disappointed innocents! But they were adamant. And from those interchanges I knew what I had feared -- and it is on this point, where I am correct twice a day, so to speak, because, while my hopes may be vague and disorganized, my fears are exact and concentrated: I knew that the disappointed innocents, whether they through their lot in with the nazi, or whether they stood on the side, keeping their baby-hands clean; they were driven by something else, something other than the preservation of their ostensible innocence. They were driven -- just like the less circumspect of their fellow citizens -- by the fascination with thuggery, the enviable possibility of speaking directly, without circumspection, speaking whatever one so struggles to suppress; the chance, the once-in-a-lifetime chance of a liberation, if only transitory and eventually suicidal, a liberation from the joint burden of the christian pieties, and the ignominious position of the 'little man' who takes guff in every quarter and at every turn: the possibility of running-with-the-mob.


Anonymous said...

"She was already in her late 70s and had had two serious cancer diagnoses by that point."

Talk about disembodied minds! Hubris. Like all others high and low, rank and distinction no matter ... she wished to think she could avoid that appointment in Samarra: by redoubling her efforts at work, binding herself ever more tightly to the "mortal coil" !

Anonymous said...

This is beating a dead horse, but the Sanders supporters (is he the “saint” referred to by IEL?) who refused to vote for Hillary for her sins (connections with Wall St.; political ambition; having not opposed the war in Iraq) share the lion’s share of the blame, not J. Ginsburg. It was a rational inference that there were enough rational voters who would be sufficiently offended by Trump’s egotism and misogyny to choose Hilary over this lunatic. But, no, Hilary wasn’t good enough, so they stayed home. And now they have three conservative appointments to the S. Ct. to look forward to for the rest of their lives. Stop blaming J. Ginsburg. If you refused to vote for Hillary, blame yourself.

s. wallerstein said...

Clinton's comment that Trump supporters were "a basket of deplorables" didn't help her win either. How many voters wavering between her and Trump were totally alienated from her after that comment and decided definitively to vote for Trump?

Anonymous said...

s. wallerstein,

Which was worse, Clinton’s reference to Trump’s supporters as “a basket of deplorables” or Trump’s comment about having the license to grab women by their privates? If anyone was wavering between Clinton and Trump after it was reported he made this remark, they deserved to be included in the basket of deplorables. Moreover, any Sanders supporters who still couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton after Trump’s reported remark, belong in the basket of deplorables with them.

Anonymous said...

"many voters wavering between her and Trump"

What we used to be taught, that there was a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other; and that they were constantly at each other in a debate; the purpose of the debate of course was to win us over to one course of action or another.

But let us descend from the abstract realm of Kantian imperatives and pose the question -- it is a concrete question about concrete psychological types -- *what* sort of person is it who may have been "wavering" between her and that creature?

Someone who despised one because she was an unattractive and ambitious snob who talked down to the rabble; but who also despised the other because he talked up to the rabble -- pretending (as Kraus put it) to be as stupid as they are?

Perhaps on Tuesdays he despises the lady politician; and on Wednesdays he despises the rabble-rouser. Perhaps he only pretends to despise the rabble-rouser. After all the rabble-rouser says he is quite all right in his obdurate stupidity; whereas the lady politician says he can and ought to do better than that! How insufferable ... of a woman. Just like that horrid first-grade teacher I can still remember!

And this is the *same* person, the same disappointed "innocent" who'd staked everything on the saint who was not nominated?

This is an extremely com-pli-cated psychological portrait. And it is not far from reality too.


s. wallerstein said...

Winning elections is about convincing the voters as they are, not the voters as they should be.

Since I anticipate that I'll soon be accused of being a "ultra-liberal" (actually, I'm not a liberal) innocent who staked everything on the saint who was not nominated, I suggest that before you draw your swords, you look at my comments in this blog in September or October 2016.

Anonymous said...

s. wallerstein,

The problem was that many of us thought we knew the voters as they are, and believed that equated to how they should be. Trump, unfortunately, proved us to be naïve. The question now is, how many of them deviate from how they should be (moderately rational), is it futile to hope that they will be rehabilitated, and, if it is, what kind of a future is there for this country?

Anonymous said...

"the voters as they are"

The voters "as they are" are not static; their propensities are dynamic; and what "they are" follows from what they "become"; and that depends and devolves upon who speaks to them and how.


Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

To Anon., Wallerstein,,

I think the discussion re: Clinton’s loss above is a bit off the mark. Clinton lost because she ran a bad campaign. It is that simple.

1) She had the worst slogan in presidential campaign history (I might be exaggerating a bit). “Forward Together” does not function well as a slogan. A slogan should ideally lead voters to draw a conclusion you want them to draw. If you are running against a shady incumbent who seems ethically challenged a slogan like “ Do you want honest government? Vote ______!.” . Forward Together is just lame: it does not give a voter a reason to vote for her. If you have a good slogan, you can build your campaign speeches around it and keep driving it home. Pretty soon, to use the slogan above, you will be driving home in the papers, social media, paid media, the opponent’s ethically challenged record, voters will be reaching the conclusion you want them to reach. Post election interviews with campaign staff painted a picture of a candidate who didn’t know how to answer the most basic of political question: why are you running? The implicit answer was “I am entitled to it.”

2) Inadequate field organization: Clinton, for whatever reasons, did not have sufficient field organization in several states including PA, MI Wisc. Field staff were lacking in rural areas. As a result, the campaign had no clue that the expected Democratic votes in these areas were not going to materialize. Had field organizers been there, they would have detected that change as they canvassed, after which the campaign could adjust. The campaign had plenty of money, so that is no excuse. Clinton didn’t campaign in WI, MI, and PA, after the party convention. Obama had the best field organization in the last 50 or more years, and they know how to use the information gathered. The biggest mistake a campaign can make is assuming the voting pattern will remain the same as it has been.

Sanders’ supporters voted approx 75% for Clinton. Sanders was not a Dem, so it should not be surprising that there was significant voter support for others. A large group voted for Trump. That, again, was not surprising because Sanders had gathered a lot of support from fairly conservative voters especially in rural Midwest states. Bottom line is that the best only one can do is 90% of a core demographic group. It’ is all downhill from there, so 75% from Bernie supporters is very good.

Finally, I find the notion that one can criticize people for how they cast their vote to be oddly undemocratic. And it’s not to the point: Clinton’s campaign gave millennial voters no substantive reason to vote for her, and many are rightly sick of the lesser of two evils crap. If that is the best reason one has to sell to voters, then one in shoulder deep in the big muddy, and the big fool is saying mover on..

Anonymous said...

"many are rightly sick of the lesser of two evils crap."

Then they get the real *crap* that the deserve! They think they can check out and live in cell-phone land. Think again.

Jerry Brown said...

Christopher J. Mulvaney is right. Criticizing people for how they vote is undemocratic. And blaming people who supported Sanders in 2016 for having a President Trump is just stupid. And it is wrong. Clinton was a terrible candidate- face that fact. If your candidate cannot motivate people to vote they are just not a good candidate. I voted for her but did not like it at all. Voted for Sanders in the primary. Again in 2020. Biden would not have won if most of the people who supported Sanders did not turn out and vote for Biden. Remember that at least.

Anonymous said...

"Criticizing people for how they vote is undemocratic"

What about the Germans who voted for you-know-who in 1932?
Does it pain you to "criticize" them too? Because doing so would be "undemocratic" ?

Anonymous said...

"If your candidate cannot motivate people to vote they are just not a good candidate"

True beyond dispute!

"Criticizing people for how they vote is undemocratic"

So the morality or rationality of an individual's choice is off-limits to criticism. Apparently it's entirely the lousy candidate's fault. That voter, on the other hand, has no agency. He's merely a meter, registering the acuity of this or that candidate's campaign; he's a flag that blows this way or that. But the lousy crappy campaign bears the responsibility.

Twenty plus years ago it somehow transpired that a convicted embezzler, the politician Edwards was the candidate in the Louisiana senatorial race and his opponent was the famous and good-looking nazi who's name is beside the point today (except that the piece of trash lately in the white-house pretended in 2016 not to know the name of this nazi, who happened in that period to announce his approval for the said piece of trash). Edwards ran the very wise campaign, "Vote for the crook!" and the decent people of Louisiana by and large took to it. In the end, we like to praise the decency of the electorate at that juncture. Had Edward ran a crappy campaign, well then, the good-looking nazi might have prevailed. It all depends -- in your theory -- on the craft and cleverness of the campaign does it? The individual voter is just a puppet, from whose actions we can infer how well the candidate played his role. If the candidate does a lousy job and the better job is done by a nazi, we blame the latter for the success of the former. And the good people are beyond reproof; because they cannot be blamed if they've been conned; if they're stupid; if they're venal; if they cannot resist the coiffure of the "better" campaigner. Other than that, nothing to be said about them. To do so would offend against "democracy".

Humbug! The right word is too ripe to publish here.


Anonymous said...


Hear, hear! Bravo!

Jerry Brown said...

No one said democracies don't make mistakes or even evil choices, or that they should not be criticized when they do make bad choices. But you should know when you are castigating those who choose to vote their conscience that you are also criticizing a key element of democracy.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

Brief responses:

Anonymous, re; your post at 10:49 - It does no good to rant about who didn’t vote the way you think they should have voted. Analyzing the results does some good and usually proves the popular opinions wrong. Everybody lives in cellphone land these days, do they not? Further, the millennial voters I know are not checked out. They are very involved and are very sophisticated in their analyses.

I.E.R.- I said that the Clinton campaign’s errors were sufficient to explain her loss. Think of it as an Occam’s razor thing: don’t postulate more metaphysical entities than are necessary to explain the phenomena. I do not think voters are puppets, and my discussion in paragraph 1) contradicts your claim to that effect. Candidates/campaigns need to provides reasons to vote for them, and they engage in discourses with voters to persuade them. At least that’s what good campaigns do. I thought that was clear in my original comment. Finally, face the facts of Clinton’s loss: while winning the popular vote, she lost 3 states by about 100,000 votes in three states where field staff asked for more resources and didn’t get them. If you lose because you didn’t compete where you needed to, then the fault lies in the campaign.

As to blaming voters, I don’t go there. It may provide emotional release and that’s nice. People have the right to decide who to vote for and I respect that right. While I think Trump, Hitler, and David Duke (my guess is he was the one who shall not be named) voters made fundamentally bad political decisions, the issue is what to do next. Blame does no good. Analysis is good. Consider that the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research did precisely that during Hitler’s rise to power and the work they produced is the foundation for the analysis of fascist movements to this day. They also influenced a prominent American historian, Richard Hofstadter (a product of Columbia University) That influence is seen in his monograph “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”

I agree with your comment at 9:30.

Anonymous said...

C.J.M PhD:

"I do not think voters are puppets, and my discussion in paragraph 1) contradicts your claim to that effect. "

Nor do I (think they are puppets). The comment to which you refer was so twisted by irony that it is not surprising it was misinterpreted:

"So the morality or rationality of an individual's choice is off-limits to criticism. Apparently it's entirely the lousy candidate's fault. That voter, on the other hand, has no agency. He's merely a meter, registering the acuity of this or that candidate's campaign; he's a flag that blows this way or that. But the lousy crappy campaign bears the responsibility.

What I mean to say is this: if the lousy campaign is at fault for it's shortcomings; then the lousy voter is at fault for his as well. We are (as a supremely calm colleague of mine likes to say) halfway along toward a position of violent agreement.


GJ said...

"But you should know when you are castigating those who choose to vote their conscience that you are also criticizing a key element of democracy."

There's a fallacy here, I think. I don't criticize my friend for voting his conscience when I criticize him for voting for Trump. Indeed, I don't criticize *him* at all. Rather, I criticize the *reasons* for his vote. Please vote your conscience, but do so with clean hands.

Criticizing our opponents' reasons for their vote is as key to democracy as anything. It's at least one way of changing minds.

Anonymous said...

["Who am I to judge"]

"The moment moral issues are raised, even in passing, he who raises them will be confronted with this frightful lack of self-confidence and hence of pride, and also with a kind of mock-modesty that in saying 'Who am I to judge?' actually means, 'We're all alike, equally bad, and those who try, or pretend that they try, to remain halfway decent are either saints or hypocrites, and in either case should leave us alone'. Hence the huge outcry the moment anyone fixes specific blame on some particular person instead of blaming all deeds or events on historical trends and dialectical movements, in short on some mysterious necessity that works behind the backs of men and bestows upon everything they do some kind of deeper meaning. As long as one traces the roots of what H. did back to Plato or Gioacchino da Fiore or Hegel or Nietzsche, or to modern science and technology, or to nihilism or the French Revolution, everything is all right. But the moment one calls H. a mass murderer -- conceding, of course, that this particular mass murderer was politically very gifted and also that the whole phenomenon of the Third Reich cannot be explained solely on the grounds of who H. was and how he influenced people -- there is general agreement that such judgement of the person is vulgar, lacks sophistication, and should not be permitted to interfere with the interpretation of History."

-Hannah Arendt