The Need for Certainty–Content Optional

A couple of years ago, I ran into a casual friend I hadn’t seen in many years–since college days, in fact.  Back then, in the early 1960s, he’d been a black sheep in his decidedly apolitical family, joining a young socialist group and participating in various protests. I was taken aback to discover that he has remained equally ideological, but is now somewhere to the Right of the Tea Party. Or Genghis Khan.

This sort of switch from far left to far right and/or vice-versa is actually not all that rare.

Libertarians often point out that the political spectrum should not be conceived as linear, going from left to right, but as a circle: at the top, where the left and right meet, are the authoritarians. (They may have different agendas that they want government to impose on the rest of us, but they’re both in favor of having government make the rest of us behave as they think we should…)

There are, of course, people who are authoritarian because they are passionate about a consistent political agenda, and absolutely convinced that it should be imposed because it represents Truth, Justice and the American Way. But there also are people like this old college friend who rather clearly have a need for bright lines and easy certainties–people who find the ambiguities of modern reality intolerable. Much like religious fundamentalists who switch from the literalism of religion A to that of religion B, they are people for whom having a dogma is ultimately more important than the content of that dogma.

The rest of us are left to muddle through contending prescriptions for what ails our body politic, uncomfortably aware that recognizing “it depends,” “I’m not sure” and “it’s more complicated than it seems” lack the appeal of rousing calls to arms.

As another friend of mine says, True Believers are often warriors, but you will search in vain for the armies of the Marching Moderates.

Actually, that may explain Congress….


  1. Remember the old Indiana Republican politician – have forgotten his name – who used to say, It’s a mighty thin pancake that doesn’t have two sides? Usually disagreed with his opinions, but try to keep in mind his point that there rarely are “bright lines.”

  2. The libertarians have it wrong … again. They confuse the political spectrum with political motives and activity. It really is “more complicated than it seems”. What we observe as moderation may be the behavior of someone who is just “going along to get along”. What we see as being passionate about one’s beliefs may well be the behavior of someone who is in reality insecure. There are too many different motives and personal aspirations out there to neatly form a circle and say that it explains it all.
    It’s another case of simplistic answers for complicated questions.

  3. Political Science was presented as the linear line stretching off to the Left and Right back when I was in High School and even in College. Fascism and Communism were at the extremes. I have come along to believe that Left and Right at their extremes join up to complete the Circle. Bottom line Hitler and Stalin had few differences. Both Dictators were fully capable of unleashing the Brutalities of their respective Police States on the people they ruled.

    We do have now superimposed on our Political System a shadow government of Crony-Capitalism. The depths of its influence spread across Politics and the Media. How else do you explain Republicans and Democrats in Marion County who support with our tax dollars the Corporate Welfare handed out to the Colts and Pacers without the slightest dissent. The McMega-Media play their part in the “Play” by never calling the tax diversion to the Colts and Pacers – Corporate Welfare.

    The need for Certainty today seems exemplified in Religion, whether it is US Brand of Bible Thumping or extreme Islam in the Middle East. The Key is using Religion to Control the people, only certain approved content is allowed.

  4. Took Girl’s test; strongly left, towards libertarian; not surprising.

    I would call that the freedom quadrant. Free of but not separate from others. A strong supporter of the vision of America’s founders. Good democratic governmment.

    As I’ve been all over that map why did I end up there as I learned and experienced more?

    Life it turns out is not like a box of chocolates as Forrest Gump opined but, to me, more like a card game. You get to play the hand you are dealt. Everybody plays by the same rules. In the end it’s about the game not the winner. When it’s done right players are laughing.

    I think what did not change during my journey around the board is a rigid sense that there’s stuff that is known by us jointly that’s certain called science and stuff that’s not certain that we choose called faith.

    I know a little science and have chosen my faith some of which is captured by my journey around the board.

    I want my grandchildren to have what I have had. Freedom. Knowledge. Faith that fits them. Pride of accomplishment. Others would like them to be in someone else’s box.

    Sometimes what’s good in life has to be set aside to protect it for others.

  5. “Tolerance for ambiguity” is something psychologists (like myself) pay a lot of attention to, as a sign of psychological maturity and well-adjustedness. The complexities of the world are anxiety-provoking, and many people grab onto belief systems which offer simple answers and hence freedom from that anxiety.

  6. Adding to the uncertainty is the absence of facts and thoughtful opinion from our media outlets. Television has become so stupid, I barely watch it. The News Hour and Nightly Business Report are about as good as it gets – not perfect but at least you get some depth and it’s not all about the Colts, deflate gate, Pacer’s draft choice.

  7. IMO broadcast media is entertainment only. Print media is moving in that direction but has some vestiges of journalism still hanging on. The Internet has it all, the best and the worst. Useful for those few capable of being discriminating.

  8. One of my favorite professors – Dr. George Comfort – would convince us of the rightness of a Supreme Court argument and then take the opposite position and convincingly argue it. He FORCED us to think, to examine broad axioms and subtle nuances, to consider consequences of all sides, and to find the constitutional anchors of decisions. Dr. Comfort’s exams would have been so much easier if he’d just have told us WHAT to think rather than HOW, and I’ve been forever thankful that he forced he latter.

  9. A new video has surfaced that has utterly rocked Planned Parenthood.

    You can find it on Breitbart.

    Politico is reporting that Planned Parenthood has hired a crisis communications firm to deal with the public relations debacle over its organs-for-sale crime scandal.

    Since the public funds Planned Parenthood with tax dollars, PP should be prohibited from hiring a crisis public relations firm.

    These scandals are getting very old. It’s time to shut down Planned Parenthood and put its employees in jail.

  10. Your Political Compass
    Economic Left/Right: 0.5
    Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.59

    This is how far out of whack you wackos are. My result is economically centrist and moderately libertarian, and you’re all miles to the left of me and far more authoritarian than me.

    Think long and hard about what kooks all of you are.

  11. ” “Tolerance for ambiguity” is something psychologists (like myself) pay a lot of attention to, as a sign of psychological maturity and well-adjustedness.”

    Nonsense. This is societal revolution and hatred masquerading as Science. If you’re looking to tear down millenia of shared Greco-Roman-Nordic-Celtic-Germanic morality because you’re an outsider to these cultures, you introduce moral and cultural “ambiguity” on an unsuspecting population and get them to deny their heritage. With the host culture fractured, the outsider seems less out of place and is able to exert greater control.

  12. “If you’re looking to tear down millenia of shared Greco-Roman-Nordic-Celtic-Germanic morality because you’re an outsider to these cultures, you introduce moral and cultural “ambiguity” on an unsuspecting population and get them to deny their heritage.”

    Interesting. Eurocentrism at it’s most extreme. Bordering on Nazi super racism.

    Of course morality is: “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.”

    So “Greco-Roman-Nordic-Celtic-Germanic morality” consists of their cultural definition of what right and wrong is.

    Hitler was certainly their cultural icon for decades as Gandi was for Eastern morality.

    And Gopper is closer to Gandi.


  13. Girl, it is an interesting way to consider things but in my opinion there’s a short coming.

    While it’s certainly common to view right-left as an economic world view it makes it hard to see the truth that most objective people accept that all economies are a mix of both Socialism and Capitalism. Ours about 1/3 vs 2/3s. So neither is blindly preferred but are chosen as appropriate for any given market based on conditions. Socialism in the restaurant market would be as idiotic as Capitalism is in the health care market. Right?

    Recognizing that, I’m not sure what is being measured. It could be that all countries are centrist on that scale as all employ both. It could be a scale reflecting individual comfort with the mix currently employed in their country.

    I suppose that I came out leftish because here and now I believe that we employ more Capitalism in inherently Socialist markets than vice versa.

    On the other hand I love restaurants competing.

  14. It’s interesting that the new liberal Gopper wants to jail PP workers not breaking the law. Sounds very 1984ey to me. Big Brother is Gopper’s friend.

    Like all large corporations PP does employ lobbyists. A long standing relationship with SKDKnickerbocker is what Politico is trying to build on as a response to their being set up by Live Action.

    All in all this tempest in a teapot aligns well with the point made by Sheila the other day that there is no room in the conservative meme for rule by law. They prefer the essence of Nazism which is rule by rulers.

  15. Regrettably Girl, you got me thinking about the measuring exercise that you posted. This time the other axis.

    I’m a freedom nut. Libertarians claim to be. But their approach to me only acknowledges freedom deprivation from the state. My experience here and now is it is much more likely to come from corporations blindly following make more money regardless of the cost to others or individuals either breaking the law or bending it like the NRA minions or Live Action minions trying to impose their morality on folks.

    So maximum freedom to me comes from competent democratic Constitutional rule of law.

    Does that make me more authoritarian or more libertarian?

  16. Considering that Gopper’s go-to references are Fox “news,” the National Review, and Breitbart, I think we should give him the respect he deserves.

  17. Gopper, I’m not surprisingly more left than you are, but also substantially more libertarian than you are. Don’t go making assumptions — the one you’re making appears to be that anyone who disagrees with you is attempting to control you, but that’s not what’s actually going on. We’re just trying to get people like you to stop trying to control us.

    Another two issues that we psychologists look at a lot is self-awareness and perspective-taking. Do you honestly hear how your line about Greco-Roman-Nordic-Celtic-Germanic morality sounds?

  18. Stream of consciousness: I do think it is more about tolerance for ambiguity than anything else. Probably related to neuroplasticity, function of amygdala, etc. Conservatives can’t really help what they are any more than someone born with a low IQ can help being unable to perform complex tasks. The problem is that the natural conservative tendency is to repress other ways of thinking. The low IQ ditch digger doesn’t insist that we all be ditch diggers, but the change-intolerant conservative does in fact try to exert control over society. Much of politics consists of people like me saying leave us alone while people like gopper say here is how you should live. I assume there were evolutionary advantages to these diverse roles being present in early tribal humanity, so in essence the fight between those who knew sacrificing virgins brings rain and those who thought maybe rain came for other reasons still goes on today.

  19. “Do you honestly hear how your line about Greco-Roman-Nordic-Celtic-Germanic morality sounds?”

    Incomplete. I do apologize for excluding the Saxons.

    If I’ve done my job, it should sound cautionary and exclusive to those who aren’t.

    This country was built to be a home for that ethnic stock. Our laws and ways are theirs. Others may come, but they must abandon their cultures and fully assimilate into this new homeland for the noted cultures.

    Those are good, strong cultures with good sound morality. There’s only glory in continuing their line. Those who retain cultures foreign to our origins are not us, do not become us and work against us.

    I suspect you bristle at all of this because you don’t have the gift of such genealogy. 100 years ago, everything I wrote would be accepted from coast to coast as foundational Americanism. You’re merely seeking to destroy Science in service of an agenda of rewriting Americanism to include what it never was.

    That you would use Psychology to enforce a political agenda is a very well-worn Eastern European tactic.

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