The single issue voter

A fork on the road, one way leads up, the other down.
Choices are hard (Public Domain image from Commons)

I remember sitting in a journalism class at the University of New Orleans almost 30 years ago listening to an old hand from the Times Picayune regaling us with stories about his work at the paper. One that stood out to me was how the church excommunicated a politician for their stance on integration (and then physically blocked him from entering the church for his daughter’s wedding).

The exact details of what he said escape me and so I’m probably wrong on parts, but looking at Wikipedia, I think he may have been talking about the excommunication (and later, after a public retraction, reinstatement) of Leander Perez in 1962 who was the secretary of the Citizens Council of South Louisiana for aggressively opposing the integration of Catholic schools.

I mention this because I was reminded about this when reading the letters to the editor for my local paper. There seems to be some confusion about Biden, the Catholic running for president of these United States. Many people have written into the local paper over the last month and pointed to a single issue—abortion—as a reason no Christian should vote for Biden.

Biden certainly has his faults. A reader was gracious enough to give us a few of them in the Letters page recently. She isn’t wrong.

But as she said, Biden has had 47 years in politics and the issues she managed to find were a molehill compared with the mountain Trump has managed to accumulate during just four (4!) years in political office.

One question—why are some good Catholics willing to support Biden?—really got me to write.

Abortion is a real issue, but no matter if you think it should be outlawed or kept legal, it should not be the only reason a Christian uses to pick a candidate for president.

It is a fact that Biden supports abortion and the Catholic church is against abortion. But, thinking Catholics might also recall that in 2018 the Church reinforced its Culture of Life when it updated the catechism to include these words from a speech Pope Francis made: “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person“.

This thinking Catholic might also remember that, in 1989, Trump paid $85,000 for a full page ad in four New York papers calling for a return of the death penalty—something that just happened to coincide with the trial of the Central Park Five, black men who were ultimately exonerated despite Trump’s best efforts.

Thinking Catholics might also recall that the catechism of the Church says “Every form of social or cultural discrimination … on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated…”.

Then they may remember that Trump’s first appearance in the New York Times was on the front page in October 16, 1973 under the headline “Major Landlord Accused of Antiblack bias in City”.

Christians should use their faith to help them make decisions, but we would be wrong to dictate who any Christian (Catholic or otherwise) should vote for.

Thoughts on “The Geography of Thought”

First things first: I wanted to read this book because my wife is Vietnamese. I’ve spent 20 years married to Alexis and had time to observe how she handles things and I handle things. This puts me at a disadvantage. When she moved from Vietnam to New Orleans, she was five or six, so she has a good 14 or 15 years on me in observing differences and navigating her way in a culture that is different than the one she experiences with her immediate family. I wanted to do a little catch up.

She summed it up nicely when I asked if she wanted to read the book: “I’m sure it won’t tell me anything I don’t already know.”

The book’s shortcomings are apparent almost immediately:

I believed all human groups perceive and reason in the same way. … [I wrote a book] titled Human Inference. Not Western Inference (and certainly not American college student inference!), but human inference. The book characterized what I took to the inferential rules that people everywhere use to understand the world…

I’m a little more than a little surprised that someone could become an academic in human psychology and not understand that people from different cultures see the world in remarkably different ways.

Now, that aside, the book does have the some great insights that come from research the author and others have performed.

If you want a 30-second (or less) synopsis of the book, here it is:

People in the West see the world consisting of various parts. Understand how an individual thing acts and you’ll be able to make reliable predictions about how it will act in any situation.

Meanwhile, people in the East see the world more like an interdependent system. Making predictions based on how you’ve seen something (or someone!) act in isolation is foolish since context is the determining factor in what will happen now.

Of course, when you divide the world up this way, you run into the problem of over-simplification. And, as he makes apparent by comparing populations, the Eastern and Western modes of thought are not a binary system. Asian-Americans, people from Hong Kong and sometimes Germans regularly straddle the East/West divide.

The people who are the penultimate Westerners are Americans, followed by Canadians and the British. Meanwhile, Easterners start with the Chinese and Japanese and move from there.

In the first part of the book, he talks about Aristotle and Confucius and how they created two different systems of thought. The origins of these two modes of thinking, then, are presented as Greek vs Chinese.

What interested me was that Western thought later became more clearly Protestant thought – the connection to Greece was in its generation, but not the “best” modern form. In fact, a lot of my exposure to Orthodox thought has shown that there are sometimes more similarities with Eastern religion than with American Christianity.

Overall, even though this book provided some good food for thought and the studies performed were useful, I was put off by the author’s acknowledgement that he was relatively unaware of thse differences until relatively late in his career.

Brief review of Farewell to Alms

Since all I can manage are brief reviews with a pointer to the quotes I excerpted to Twitter, here is my take on Farewell to Alms:

I loved it. At least, it made me feel like I was getting enough out of it to keep on reading.  It also helped me get a better view on our modern world and how new it really is.  That, and I gained a much better understanding of how little transport is when it comes to the total cost of goods.  Why does “Made in America” not matter?  Because the real cost to ship to America is practically nothing.

(P.S. I should mention that I read this because Dan Lyke recommended it when I saw him in SF last January.  See? It only took me a year!)

Vision for the Future

I’ve got to say that Pawan Sinha‘s TED talk had me going. He leveraged the congenital blindness of some Indian children to learn about how we see (spoiler: it’s motion). In the process he achieved a very Humanistic goal: he gave children sight. I once was blind, but now I see. Our goals work best when we do this: we focus on how they can actually help people now instead of in the great by-and-by. More focus on the now is a good thing.

Facebook is EVIL

Hyperbolic subject, but a couple of Facebook related tidbits. Facebook is dying:

This week’s news that Goldman Sachs has chosen to invest in Facebook while entreating others to do the same should inspire about as much confidence as their investment in mortgage securities did in 2008. For those who weren’t watching, that’s when Goldman got rich betting against the investments it was selling.

And this great Assange quote:

What are the differences between Mark Zuckerberg and me? I give private information on corporations to you for free, and I’m a villain. Zuckerberg gives your private information to corporations for money and he’s Man of the Year.