Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In Over His Head Or Just Tired?

Paul Rahe ponders whether the President is tired or just dispirited by the dawning realization that he's simply not up to the demands of the office to which he was elected:

In a recent puff piece, The New York Times reports that our President is tired. This is not the first such report. Back in May, when he treated England's Gordon Brown so shabbily, the excuse given - according to The Daily Telegraph - was that wrestling with the economic crisis had left Barack Obama too exhausted to be able to focus on foreign affairs.

Barack Obama may be genuinely tired, and he may be depressed as well. He certainly has warrant. In public, he may claim that he deserves a B+ for his first year in office, but the polling data suggests that he has earned a failing mark, and he has to know better.

[I]f Barack Obama harbored any doubts as to whether he was leading his party off a cliff, William Daley - the brains behind the Chicago machine - put these doubts to rest in the op-ed that he published on Christmas Eve in The Washington Post, warning that, if the Democrats did not plot "a more centrist course," they would "risk electoral disaster not just in the upcoming midterms but in many elections to come."

Rahe writes a very compelling piece, and I commend it to you.

There is much evidence which I think supports the conclusion that Mr. Obama needed a lot more time in government before assuming the responsibilities of the presidency, but, having said that, I think some of the criticism from his opponents on the right, particularly in terms of his prosecution of the war on terrorism, is a bit unfair. I don't think all of it is, a lot of it is warranted, but I do think some of it is petty and childish.

To take a case in point, I tuned in several times the other day to the Sean Hannity radio show, and every time I listened, Hannity, in his characteristic unpleasantly shrill manner, was raking President Obama over the coals because the boxer shorts bomber almost succeeded, and because Obama didn't respond to this would-be attack for several days. This criticism struck me as unfair, trite, and mean-spirited all at once.

People like Hannity sometimes justify hammering away at the President on such minor points by noting that President Bush was subjected to much worse treatment from the Left. Yes, of course he was, but just because the Left often acted like imbeciles for the eight years of the Bush presidency that's not a reason why the Right should do the same now.

When conservatives train their guns on every little slip - no matter how real or imaginary - they lose credibility with those who are not committed to their views (and even many who are). People like Hannity make it inevitable that legitimate criticisms of the Obama presidency will be shrugged off as just more petty "right-wing Obama bashing." Conservatives look hypocritical, for example, when they fume about the Obama administration trying the Nigerian terrorist in a civilian, rather than a military, court after they had said nothing about the Bush administration doing the same thing with the "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid.

Conservatives also make themselves look silly and unserious when they pummel Mr. Obama without extending to him the same benefit of the doubt they would have extended to Mr. Bush. They should avoid exhibiting the same tawdry, mindless behavior we saw from the Left for most of the last decade, and, instead of partisan nit-picking, conservatives should save their fire for things that really matter. It's not as if this presidency hasn't provided enough legitimate targets out there at which to aim.


Mind and Brains

One of the major objections to the notion that we possess an immaterial mind that somehow works in concert with our material brain is that interaction between two radically different substances is incomprehensible. We can comprehend how one material thing can interact with another because we see it all the time, the materialist says, but how can an immaterial thing like mind cause an effect in a material thing like a brain? Since the dualist cannot explain how this is possible their belief in mind/brain interactionism is thereby believed to be discredited.

As physicist Stephen Barr points out in a book review in the January First Things (subscription only), however, few who pose this objection to dualism stop to ask how it is that anything interacts with anything else. The materialist (one who believes that matter is all there is) assumes that matter can interact with matter, but if you ask a materialist to actually explain the interaction you draw a blank.

The same explanatory problem confronting the dualist confronts the materialist whenever he tries to understand how two material objects interact or how a force like magnetism interacts with matter, or how matter interacts with space. We simply don't know how these phenomena take place.

Barr writes:

Material bodies are made up of electrically charged particles that interact with each other through the mediation of electromagnetic fields: The charged particles affect the fields and the fields affect the particles. By what "means" or "mechanism" this happens physics does not say. It simply says that when electromagnetic fields are present, the charges are, in fact, affected as described by a certain equation; and when the charges are present the fields are affected as described by another equation. In other words, physics posits two types of entities and mathematically describes, but does not otherwise explain, their influence on each other.

Gravity poses the same problem. We have no idea how gravity "pulls" objects toward a massive body, or, for that matter, how a massive body produces gravity in the first place, or even what gravity is. If we fall back on the Einsteinian explanation that gravity is simply the bending of space around a material object then we've simply pushed the problem back a step. How, it can be asked, do material bodies bend space? If space is essentially "nothing" how is it affected by a "something" in its midst?

The materialist has no answer, but that doesn't stop him from believing it nor from disparaging the dualist for thinking that mind and brains interact. Pretty ironic, don't you think?