Timothy Birdnow

"For now we see through a glass darkly."

That phrase, from the Letter of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, pretty much sums up the human condition; Man lives in the present here in the material world and remembers the past - and neither of those temporal states are well grasped, because human beings are very limited. We can only see what is in front of us, or what has been told to us by others, and our memories tend to fade with time, often playing tricks on us as well. We do not perceive reality directly, but rather through the efficacy of photons. The Apostle Paul captures a fundamental truth of the lot of Man with this statement, for our knowledge is all acquired through a glass darkly. Or as Plato understood before him, Man is but a prisoner in a dark cave with shadow puppets performing a show in front of his darkened eyes.

We simply do not understand the totality of things. That is especially true when trying to predict the future, because the future requires us to coordinate an enormous series of variables that we do not fully grasp. There are some things that are easy - such as predicting the tea cup you just released from your hand will shatter on the ground momentarily - but even that is not absolutely certain (it will fall if we are on the Earth but not necessarily shatter), and so predicting the future is messy business, one at which we often fail.

That is why political prognostication is so difficult; there are too many variables, many of which may not be apparent to the onlooker. Who would have believed that Barack Obama would be nominated for the Presidency, and win election twice? The man has no credentials, little experience, and should, by all accounts, have fallen to the seasoned professionals Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, but he is now at the pinnacle of electoral success while the aforementioned seasoned pros are wandering in a political desert.

What's the point I'm trying to make? The smartest guy in the room is still locked in a room, and his smarts aren't all that helpful.

Take this case in point.

Charles Krauthammer is a brilliant man; of that there can be no argument. But Krauthammer has also been wrong on occasion, actually, on many of them. (He predicted that Kosovo would be a quagmire and that it would turn into a larger regional war, for instance.) But he is held in admiration, nay awe, by many on both the Left and Right.

Charles Krauthammer is a remarkable man, but he is still just a man, with the same problems seeing through the dark glass.

And that is precisely where so many go wrong - especially those on the Left. Liberalism deifies Man and human reason. Divine Revelation or extraordinary wisdom are dismissed by liberals as superstitious nonsense, and the success of science has given the liberal the belief that everything can be handled by "experts", intelligent men who are knowledgeable in their fields. There is a strange viewpoint in the Liberal religion that argues for a mystical view of human reason and of the exercise of power. As a result, the cult of personality is a common aspect of successful liberalism, because a man capable of accomplishing something in any field (and that includes government or politics) makes them de-facto gods, objects of worship.

Conservatives, with their belief in a Supreme Being and Natural Law, tend to go in for this sort of thing less than the liberals, but it is there nonetheless, and the respect for a Charles Krauthammer, or Ronald Reagan for that matter, can sometimes overwhelm reason.

Reagan is another case in point; while I greatly admire him, I do not worship him, but some conservatives do. Reagan, you may remember, ran up huge deficits, raised taxes, amnestied 3 million illegal aliens, and handed the Bush family the keys to the kingdom, which they summarily looted. Reagan did many good things, though, and we all remember him for those, not for the failures. But to ignore the failures is to ignore reality and that makes us no better than liberals, who put sunglasses on before peering through that dark glass. We are supposed to be better than that, because we believe in a concrete reality created by a God outside of ourselves.

Our limitations can make for capricious fate. Unfortunately, even conservatives can fall for this "we know better" viewpoint.

The above cited article fêting Charles Krauthammer drew a number of responses, many disdaining this "hail fellow well met" viewpoint, as Krauthhammer has often failed the grassroots conservatives. His most recent failure is his mockery of Ted Cruze and the others who fought to defund Obamacare.

As our very own Jack Kemp pointed out:

"Any doctor or Harvard grad bureaucrat who denies me or another senior citizen medical coverage is "smarter" than I am, in an intellectual sense. But that doesn't make them a decent or a non-cruel person - or an advocate of the Constitutional rights we have enjoyed for 200 years. Former IRS director Lois Lerner is "smarter" than I am, but she used her intelligence to undermine Tea Party groups - and everyone's - individual rights as a citizen. And, yes, med school grad Dr. Josef Mengele was "smarter" than I am. But none of these people - in their differing degrees - gave a damn about the typical citizen's rights to decent government or healthcare. Am I equating Krauthammer with Josef Mengele? No. Dr. K. someone who looks the other way and rationalizes cruelties with his indifference on a national media stage while Mengele actively ordered people to die and probably injected them with poisons himself. If someone with a handgun and a visible Harvard grad ring raises my taxes or, more directly, robs me on the street, am I supposed to be grateful because "they are smarter than I?"

End comment.

And therein lies the crux of the matter; one can be entirely too smart. There is a difference between wisdom and intelligence. Wisdom is the ability to peer through the glass while smart is the ability to manipulate that which is apparent. They are very different critters. Some of the smartest people are quite foolish (take V.I. Lenin, say, who was brilliant and a complete moron) because they cannot transcend the perceptual universe, and they often trust their "smarts" to the exclusion of that which is unseen. The wise man often understands that the unseen is actually the more important of the two.

Russell Kirk understood this. In "The Roots of American Order" he devotes a large part of the beginning of the book discussing this in relations to ancient Israel, making the case that the the revelation of God to the Israelites made human civilization take a quantum leap - and laid the foundation for America's social and philosophical order. The Israelites didn't reason this out; it was handed to them from above. It was received wisdom, wisdom that transcended human reason.

And the ancient Israelites prospered or failed based on how well they ignored reason in favor of the Word of God. Often the rational action was antithetical to the success of Israel; alliances with the Egyptians, for instance, brought down the wrath of the Assyrians. Reason said to seek Egypt for protection, while the prophets demanded Israel not do that. Who was right? The kings of Israel and Judah peered through a dark glass and arrived at the logical conclusion - which happened to be profoundly wrong.

So there are limits to human reason, limits imposed by reality itself. It is a mistake to overplay the importance of reason alone.

In game 3 of the World Series last night, the St. Louis Cardinals won in what was perhaps the most bizarre episode in Series history. The Redbirds victory came in the 9th inning as a result of an obstruction penalty. The game was tied at that point (and that was partly because of a hit by pitch that barely grazed the batter's elbow protector) and a hit saw a potential double play in the making. The throw home got the lead base runner, but the throw to third base was off, and the base runner and third basement tangled up. The Red Sox baseman, trying to get to his feet, stuck his legs in the air, tripping the Cardinal. He was thrown out at home plate, but the referees ruled he would have scored had he not been obstructed.

Nobody could ever have predicted this would happen.

As the ancient Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu pointed out "opportunities multiply as they are seized". Action is preferable to inaction, because we cannot see the outcome of events, and if we are active we are more likely to find an opportunity, which can lead to another opportunity, and to another. If we try to plan the whole thing out in advance we are likely to never leave our current spot.

Which is what handed the Cardinals the victory last night; they pushed, and eventually fate smiled upon them. Nobody could have foreseen what happened last night. But if you keep slugging away even a seemingly hopeless situation can change.

Which makes the case against a man like Charles Krauthammer, and the rest of the naysayers who condemned the Defunders. Enthralled by their own brilliance, they have looked at the battlefield and concluded the fight was lost, and so admonished our side withdraw before battle was engaged. It was a classic illustration of the arrogance of intellect, and why so many in the Tea Party view the GOP elites with distrust; they are all armchair warriors, unwilling to do battle because they think they have it all figured out. The grassroots, the Tea Party, are not ivory-tower game theorists but doers, people who have actually gone out and seen how quickly the tide can turn. The inaction of the elites is maddening, because it is an unwillingness to take a leap of faith, to trust that some unforeseen element will intervene. The reasoning of the elites is identical to that of the liberals; it looks at that which can be touched, tasted, smelled, heard, and seen and ignores that which lies beyond the smoked glass. It lacks FAITH. Faith is not to be discounted. Oddly enough, the liberals have more of it than the elites in the GOP, because they have come to believe absolutely in their own rationality to the point where they think their victory is inevitable. As a result they fight like demons, waiting for something unforeseen to come along. We just keep waiting and waiting.

Good things do not come to those who wait; mostly bedsores, hemorrhoids, and a paunch are the rewards. Waiting has to serve some visible purpose.

It is common in Christian circles to say that Jesus doesn't seek out the best or brightest but the most willing. See, actually doing something is better than endless strategizing. And maintaining ones moral compass, acting with integrity, doing what you are SUPPOSED to do while remaining open to what God wants you to do is the key. This holds true in other aspects of life, particularly in politics. We have been asking for wizards who will outsmart the opposition, or brilliant deal-cutters like John Boehner or Mitch McConnell, men who are very capable politicians but who lack a certain amount of integrity.

We don't need hero worship. We don't need wizards. We don't need brilliant minds so much as we need men and women of integrity who are willing. That is what Cruz, Lee, and the rest of the defund crowd offered. Charles Krauthammer, for all his brilliance, for all his smug rationality, just cannot see that. These are the warriors who will bring about victory. Not the deal cutters, not the brilliant strategists, not the GOP consulting class, not even the monied crowd. No. Victory will only come through integrity and willingness. God will not support those who worship idols.

One never knows what the chill winds of fate will blow our way. We see through a glass darkly. We have to be willing, have to have faith, and have to be ever ready to fight.

Just ask the Cardinals.

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Comment by Conrad C Gabbard on October 30, 2013 at 4:29am

That's why there are so many versions, Dennis: some group decided the Bible doesn't say whatever they want it to say and they change it to suit.      King James was the first to deviate from the original 72-book Vulgate, taking out all the books empowering the church over the king and rewriting some of the remaining verses to accommodate the new reality.    The Teaching Company has a wonderful series of lectures (on DVD) titled "Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication" that I found fascinating.

Comment by kate bows on October 28, 2013 at 3:36pm

Great article.

Throughout the Bible God chose to use what some would refer to as the "no-bodies", but through them he did great things.

Comment by Judy Lyford on October 28, 2013 at 12:10pm

Thank you, Timothy. Many wars have been won by the few instead of the well trained, well-armed armies with more troops. We can do anything with God on our side.

Comment by Conrad C Gabbard on October 27, 2013 at 4:53pm

Dennis, what's wrong with the Vulgate, King James, New American or other nine or so "authorized" English translations?     What's special to you about the New International Version not covered in the others?

Comment by Vincent Pertoso on October 27, 2013 at 2:45pm

I agree with the other comments.  It is a most excellent article well written and enlightening.  It has given words to what I have been feeling and seeing of late.   Remember the fourth verse of the national anthem; Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation. - Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, - And this be our motto: "In God is our trust." - And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave - O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!  God is what I trust and he will preserve this nation.

Comment by Dr. Arthur W. Carpenter on October 27, 2013 at 1:15pm

One of the better articles I've read in quite some time, Mr Birdnow.  I think it is time to put this computer down and get something done.

Comment by Lizzie on October 27, 2013 at 1:07pm

I'm glad you took the time to write this.  I think it's excellent.

...they have looked at the battlefield and concluded the fight was lost...

I am even less charitable than you; and have concluded the perpetual RINO surrender was not an accident of hubris, but the design to serve other interests and follow other principles, than the ones which got them elected.  You may be right.

Comment by Debrajoe Smith-Beatty on October 27, 2013 at 1:05pm


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