Friday, January 4, 2008

The Stoics

I recently finished the chapter on the Stoics in Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. It was a chore, one of his longer chapters. But I enjoyed it and learned a few things…

I wasn’t aware that Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor portrayed at the beginning of the movie Gladiator as Joaquin Phoenix’s father, persecuted Christians. If you lived through a good liberal arts college education, you probably read Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations.

I wasn’t aware that the Stoics originate in Syria, not Greece. Russell presents the Stoics as something of a bridge between the Eastern philosophy of Asoka’s proselytizing, Buddhist India and European thought.

Most of my life I’ve been involved in Evangelical Protestant Christianity. And over and over I’ve heard teachers in Church suggest that I go back to the Bible and examine my beliefs and try to sort out “Eastern influences” in my Christian thought. So I found this chapter interesting because the Stoics influence early Christianity.

If I say stoic, you probably think of the absence of emotion. Stocks view emotion as destructive and self-control as a virtue. My perspective is that they were half right: self control is a virtue. The stoics were big on virtue; but virtue was internal, introspective. You can’t take it from me because I have it inside of me. Externals, like wealth and power, can detract from virtue (though some of the Stoics, like Seneca, were both wealthy and powerful.

Stoics also believed in determinism – to a greater extent that Greek philosophy had previously embraced that idea. Things are what they are because, well, they’re just bound to be that way.

So a contradiction developed, and it remains in many Western worldviews. On the one hand, things are the way they are because they’re supposed to be that way for some reason. When it’s your time, it’s your time (I don’t believe that). And so on… On the other hand, you should try and do good, make a difference in someone else’s life. The question is, if the life of Bob over there is predetermined to be that way, how does me trying to do good things for him change anything. The answer of the Stoics was, it doesn’t – but it’s virtuous of you to try. That makes virtue a pretty selfish concept.

I see that kind of selfish virtue in Christian circles some time. I see a determinism I don’t believe is Biblical in the mind of the Church. I see confusion about the place of emotions.

I thought the chapter was interesting. Thought provoking. Next I’ll probably read the chapter on the Cynics and the Skeptics (I’m jumping around)…

Biden, Dodd, Gravel Drop Out

The Iowa Caucus cleared up the democratic race a little by reducing the number of candidate. In the wake of poor showings last night, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, and Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska all dropped out of the Democratic race.

That narrows the Democratic field to five; the new frontrunner, Barack Obama, former NC Senator John Edwards, and New York Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton all have reasonable shots at winning the nomination. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich are both still in the race.

On the GOP side the Iowa Caucus seems to have done nothing to narrow the field. Duncan Hunter is counting on Saturday's Wyoming GOP Caucus. At last report Ron Paul was actually leading the opinion polls there and Duncan Hunter had the advantage of not being last there at the moment.

So we are likely to be stuck for with all six GOP candidates until at least February 5 when close to half the states in the US hold primaries. If we get rid of anyone before then, I expect it to be Fred Thompson. All the hype and high expectations surrounding his entrance into the race has meant that he has to start winning soon; if he finishes less than second in South Carolina on January 19, I expect Thompson to bail out...

The biggest question for the GOP is whether there will be an independent in November. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he's not going to run. Do you believe him? In a Washington Post interview last month, Ron Paul wouldn't rule out an independent run. Either candidate would have a Ralph Nadar effect on the GOP, costing them enough votes to ensure a GOP defeat - if that isn't a sure thing already.

Correction: Mike Gravel is still campaigning, as one of my commentors has pointed out. My bad...

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Iowa is Over...

Well, almost.

At the moment about 94% of the precincts are reporting and Barack Obama is the clear Democratic winner with 37% of the vote. The Loser? Hillary looks set to come in third, about half a percentage point behind Edwards. In a state that borders Illinois, it's not surprising that Illinois Senator Obama had a small home field advantage. That doesn't account for a seven point victory. Obama clearly benefited from mobilizing new caucus goers. So the question becomes one of how much momentum her gains from this and whether he can keep bringing new participants to the caucus and primary process.

meThe last I looked, Hillary had a small lead in New Hampshire. And I believe NH is a winner-take-all state, unlike Iowa...

Iowa's Democratic Party uses the caucus process to pick delegates that go on to another caucus to vote on who to send to the nominating conventions. At the moment, CNN reckons that Obama will get 16 delegates sent on to the next level. Hillary will get 15 and Edwards 14, even though Edwards finished ahead of Hillary. Thus are the eccentricities of the system. there are 12 "super-delegates" that are uncommitted; so it's still anybody's guess ow tonight will effect the actual nominating process.

The GOP results seem to only be available through CNN. Even the GOP's Iowa Website doesn't seem to know how the vote is going. (The Iowa Democrats have had a very nice site updating numbers every 30 seconds since shortly after the caucuses started.)

Fred Thompson said that he needed to finish second in this race; he looks set to finish third, with McCain in fourth. But there's still about 15% of the GOP vote out and I'll probably go to bed before the count is complete.

And while the Dems seem to split their delegates, the GOP is closer to a winner-take-all format; Huckabbe, according to CNN, will get 37 of the 40 delegates from Iowa to the GOP nominating convention.

Giuliani is in last place; but considering he didn't really run in Iowa, that's no surprise. Ron Paul, in fifth, is probably the GOP's biggest loser; perhaps the hype about Paul will go away now...

Wednesday, January 2, 2008